LUKE AND ACTS
The traditional belief is that the Gospel of Luke was composed by the companion of Paul in Greek no later than 65 AD. It was based on his personal research and extracts borrowed from the Gospel of Matthew. Those claiming this Gospel was written anonymously about 85 AD, or in the second century, deny the author was a companion of Paul.
So let us look at the evidence.
The author declares his aim is to set out an orderly account of the events in the life of Christ and His followers. He does so in the form of a letter to Theophilus. In a second volume, known as ‘Acts’, the author continues the story from where he left it at the end of his Gospel. If it can be shown that Acts was composed prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, it follows that Luke’s Gospel was also composed prior to 70 AD.
The author of Acts records the conversion of Paul in his ninth chapter and then spends eighteen chapters detailing his travels with Paul. This included Paul’s arrest, voyaging, shipwreck, arrival in Italy and two years awaiting trial. But when we would expect details of Paul’s trial; sentence or release; there is an abrupt silence. The absence of this information is a clear indication that Luke completed Acts before 64 AD.
Acts ends at a time of peace for the church in Rome. Yet secular historians tell us there was a great persecution of Christians after 64 AD. As this does not appear in Acts, we have an indication that Acts was sent to Theophilus before this event.
This dating is confirmed by the way Jerusalem and its Temple are treated. Luke-Acts constitutes one third of the New Testament, yet contains two thirds of the references to Jerusalem. In the Gospel and Acts, the city is mentioned 31 times. We can see that the Temple and Jerusalem are very prominent in the thinking of the author. Yet he ignores their destruction, the civil and religious symbolism of such destruction and the impact on the life of the Church and her missionary preaching. Again, the obvious reason is that Jerusalem and the Temple were still standing at the time he wrote.
The letters sent by Paul to various destinations became well known and copied for reading in other churches. Luke, as the companion of Paul, would not have foreseen their future importance, so did not mention them. But a writer of a generation or more later, giving an account of the life of Paul, would have alluded to at least one as an example of Paul’s writing ability and his thought. Yet nothing is said.
Critics work hard to find alleged discrepancies in the New Testament, but it is prudent to check their assertions. Some claim that Luke’s Gospel tells us that Christ ascended to heaven soon after His Resurrection (Luke 24: 50), while Acts (also composed by Luke) speak of a forty day delay (Acts 1: 3). But the Gospel does not say how long it was between Christ speaking to the Apostles in the Upper Room and leading them out to Bethany. As we know from other parts of the Scriptures, ‘then’ does not mean ‘immediately’.
In four places in Acts (16: 10-17; 20: 5-15; 21: 1-18; 27: 1-28) the author uses the pronoun ‘we’, when recording the journeys of Paul. The obvious meaning is that the author was with Paul in the 60s. Those arguing against this meaning, claim ‘we’ could have been a stylistic device or that the author was copying from an old manuscript without adjusting the wording. But these claims are pure speculation to avoid acceptance of the clear meaning. Acts contains a whole range of pronouns such as: I, me, he, us and they. Together with ‘we’ they all fit naturally into the manuscript.
Paul, when acting alone, is referred to as ’he’. When Paul is separated from the author but with others, `they` is used. When Paul is with the author ‘we’ or ‘us’ is used.
Paul’s companions are referred to as ‘they’ until Paul arrives for the first time in Troas (Acts 16: 8) when ‘we’ and ‘us’ is used till Paul leaves Philippii with Silas (Acts 16: 40). ‘They’ is used again until ‘they’ return to Troas (Acts: 20, 5). Then for the remainder of the travels of Paul, the word ‘we’ is used.
It is common for a writer to give greater detail to events in which he has been involved compared with those he has learned of second hand. It is noticeable that the author deals at great length with the ‘we’ events at Philippi, yet provides a short summary of the ‘they’ passages (Acts: 16: 4-8; 18: 18-23).
For the remaining time the author is in such close touch with Paul that events are often recorded on a day-to-day basis. The suggestion that Luke was using the royal ‘we’, when meaning ‘I’, is contrary to the narrative. When he refers to himself in Acts 1: 1, he uses ‘I’.
Luke devotes one and a half chapters to Stephen (Acts 6: 8 - 8: 1). He could only have obtained this information first-hand from Saul/Paul. He had been closely involved in the trial of Stephen and in his execution (Acts 7: 58). Christians would not have been close enough to those events to hear the conversation in such detail.
An early Greek prologue says that Luke was an unmarried physician, a Syrian by birth who died aged 84 at Thebes in Boeotia ((RO 144)). Irenaeus in his ‘Against Heretics’ took it for granted that Luke was the author of one of the four Gospels. The heretics with whom he was disputing must have accepted this as true, otherwise the arguments being used by Irenaeus would have been useless.
There is nothing in the many early writings or in more recent discoveries that remotely hints that the author was not the companion of Paul. The only reason it is alleged to have been someone else, is because the acceptance of Luke’s position destroys the theory of Markan priority.
Luke says Christ came to preach (4: 18) and that he did preach (20: 1) yet, according to Markan priorists, Luke not only failed to report this preaching but substituted the views of a later unnamed creative theologian.
Christ said to his Apostles: “You shall be my witnesses” (Luke 24: 48 and Acts I: 8). The Gospel writers call themselves ‘witnesses’ (Acts 1: 22; 2: 32; 3: 15; 5: 32 etc.). So the Apostles had a deep commitment to witnessing to the historical events of the life and teaching of Christ and his followers.
The only way to reject this view is to assert that the books of the New Testament are a massive confidence trick of falsehoods invented by theologians to fool their readers and later generations.
It has been claimed that as the author of the Gospel and Acts did not give his name, these writings are anonymous. But no one writing to a named person, such as Theophilus, would write: “it seemed good to me …to write”, without letting the recipient know who was writing to him. If the correspondent had a reason to omit his name from the scroll, he would write his name and address on the wrapping or in a covering note. The most likely reason Luke omitted his name in the text was explained in our chapter 11.
The first twelve chapters of Acts concern the early church in Jerusalem with Peter as the key figure. In the twelfth chapter we read of Peter escaping from prison, hiding in the home of John Mark and leaving for ‘another place’ (Acts 12:17). This would have occurred in 41 or 42 AD ((CTJ 44)). In the first chapter of his Gospel, Luke stresses that he has made careful researches, and throughout his writings we find he is very precise when giving place names. So why was he vague here?
Theophilus would know of Ezekiel 12: 1-13, where it was written: ‘Therefore …prepare for your-self an exile’s baggage ... in the dark … and go into exile …to another place’. In 12: 13, ‘the other place’ is identified as Babylon. At this time Rome was coming to be known as a second Babylon. Peter himself refers to it by this name in chapter 5 of his first Epistle. The Apocalypse (Chapters 14, 17 and 18) also refers to Rome in this way. So the author was writing in code to Theophilus, and informing him that Peter had gone to Rome. The early historians report Peter preaching in Rome, none reported that he visited Babylon of the Chaldeans ((BC 44)).
Following his escape from prison, Peter was a fugitive. Herod had executed two guards because of the escape. So we have Luke, who aimed to be factual in his accounts, using code regarding the whereabouts of Peter. If Acts had been written after the death of Peter in 65 AD, the author would have been free to say Peter had fled to Rome.
All these observations point to Acts, and therefore also Luke’s Gospel, as being written some time before this date. Jerome stated that ‘Acts’ was completed in the fourth year of Nero which would be in 64 AD. ((DVI chapter 7)).