Archibald Thomas Robertson


By Way of Introduction

But for the Acts we should know nothing of the early apostolic period save what is told in the Epistles. There are various apocryphal “Acts,” but they are without historical worth. Hence the importance of this book.

Luke the Author

It ought to be possible to assume this as a fact since the work of Ramsay and Harnack on various phases of the problems concerning the Acts. Harnack, in particular, has covered the ground with his accustomed thoroughness and care in his two volumes (The Acts of the Apostles, English Translation by Rev. J. R. Wilkinson, 1909; The Date of the Acts and the Synoptic Gospels, English Translation by Rev. J. R. Wilkinson, 1911). Ramsay’s view may be found in Chapter I of St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, Chapter XII of Pauline and Other Studies. A good summary of the matter appears in Part V of The Synoptic Gospels and the Book of Acts by Dr. D. A. Hayes, in Robertson’s Luke the Historian in the Light of Research, and in the introduction to the various commentaries by Knowling, Rackham, Furneaux, Rendall, Hackett, Meyer-Wendt, Zahn, Blass, Campbell-Morgan, Stokes. In Part I of The Acts of the Apostles, Vol. II of The Beginnings of Christianity, edited by Foakes-Jackson and Kirsopp Lake both sides are ably presented: The Case for the Tradition by C. W. Emmet, The Case against the Tradition by H. Windisch. The Internal Evidence of Acts is discussed by the Editors, Foakes-Jackson and Lake, with an adverse conclusion against Luke. Henry J. Cadbury surveys The Tradition (the external evidence) and draws a negative conclusion likewise on the ground that the early writers who ascribe Acts to Luke were not critical scholars. A similar position is taken by Cadbury in his more recent volume, The Making of Luke--Acts (1927). But all the same the traditional view that Luke is the author of the Acts holds the field with those who are not prejudiced against it. The view of Baur that Acts is a Tendenz writing for the purpose of healing the breach between Peter and Paul and showing that the two factions came together had great influence for a while. In fact both Ramsay and Harnack at first held it. Ramsay broke away first and he was followed by Harnack. Both were influenced to change their views by the accumulation of evidence to the effect that the author of both the Gospel and Acts is Luke the Physician and Friend of Paul. Part of this evidence has already been given in the Introduction to the Gospel according to Luke.

The Author of the Gospel Also

The author of the Acts expressly states that he wrote “the first treatise (ton prōton logon) concerning all things, O Theophilus, that Jesus began both to do and to teach until which day he gave command through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen and was received up” (Act 1:1.). There is no room for dispute that the reference is directly to the Gospel according to Luke as we have it now. Like the Gospel the book is dedicated to Theophilus. And, what is even more important, the same style appears in both Gospel and Acts. This fact Harnack has shown with great pains and conclusiveness. There is the same interest in medical matters and even Cadbury, who denies by implication the Lukan authorship, admits identity of authorship for both books.

The Unity of the Acts

There are some scholars who are willing to admit the Lukan authorship of the “we” sections when the author uses “we” and “us” as in chapter 16:10-40; 20:6-28:31. It has been argued that Luke wrote a travel-document or diary for these sections, but that this material was used by the editor or redactor of the whole book. But, unfortunately for that view, the very same style appears in the Acts as a whole and in the Gospel also as Harnack has proven. The man who said “we” and “us” in the “we” sections wrote “I” in Act 1:1 and refers to the Gospel as his work. The effort to disprove the unity of the Acts has failed. It stands as the work of the same author as a whole and the same author who wrote the Gospel.

Sources of the Acts

Beyond a doubt Luke employed a variety of sources for this great history as he did for the Gospel (Luk 1:1-4). In fact, Cadbury argues that this Prologue was meant to apply to the Acts also as Volume II whether he intended to write a third volume or not. Certainly we are entitled to say that Luke used the same historical method for Acts. Some of these sources are easy to see. Luke had his own personal experience for the “we” sections. Then he had the benefit of Paul’s own notes or suggestions for all that portion where Paul figures from chapter 8 to chapter 28, since Luke was apparently with Paul in Rome when he finished the Book. This would include Paul’s sermons and addresses which Luke gives unless one wishes to say, as some do, that Luke followed the style of Thucydides and composed the kind of addresses that he thought Paul would make. I see no evidence of that for each address differs from the others and suits precisely the occasion when it was delivered. The ancients frequently employed shorthand and Paul may have preserved notes of his addresses. Prof. C. C. Torrey, of Yale University, argues in his Composition and Date of Acts (1916) that Luke used an Aramaic document for the first fifteen chapters of the Acts. There is an Aramaic element in certain portions of these chapters, but nothing like so pronounced as in Luke 1 and 2 after Luk 1:1-4. It cannot be said that Torrey has made out his case for such a single document. Luke may have had several such documents besides access to others familiar with the early days of the work in Jerusalem. There was Simon Peter whom Paul visited for two weeks in Jerusalem (Gal 1:18) besides other points of contact with him in Jerusalem and Antioch (Acts 15 and Galatians 2). There was also Barnabas who was early Paul’s friend (Act 9:27) and who knew the beginnings as few did (Act 4:36.). Besides many others it is to be observed that Paul with Luke made a special visit to Caesarea where he spent a week with the gifted Philip and his daughters with the gift of prophecy (Act 21:8.). But with all the inevitable variety of sources for the information needed to cover the wide field of the Book of Acts the same mind has manifestly worked through it and it is the same style all through that appears in the “we” sections where the writer is confessedly a companion of Paul. No other companion of Paul carries this claim for the authorship and no other was a physician and no author has the external evidence from early writers.

The Date

There are three views about the date of the Acts. Baur and his Tubingen School held the second century to be the date of this late pamphlet as they termed it after the fashion of the Clementine Homilies. But that view is now practically abandoned save by the few who still strangely oppose the Lukan authorship. Probably the majority of those who accept the Lukan authorship place it in the latter part of the first century for two reasons. One is that the Gospel according to Luke is dated by them after the destruction of Jerusalem because of the prophecy by Jesus of the encompassing of the city by armies. Predictive prophecy that would be and so it is considered a prophecy post eventum. The other reason is the alleged use of the Antiquities of Josephus by Luke. Josephus finished this work a.d. 93 so that, if Luke did use it, he must have written the Acts after that date. Usually this argument is made to show that Luke could not have written it at all, but some hold that he may have lived to an age that would allow it. But it cannot be assumed that Luke used Josephus because of his mention of Theudas and Judas the Galilean. They differ so widely (Act 5:36. and Josephus, Ant. XX. v, 1, 2) that Von Dobschutz (Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, art. Josephus) argues that the two accounts are entirely independent of each other. So Luke (Luk 13:1.) alludes to a Galilean revolt not mentioned by Josephus and Josephus records three revolts under Pilate not referred to by Luke. A comparison of the accounts of the death of Agrippa I in Act 12:20-23 and Ant. XIX. viii, 2 redounds to the credit of Luke. The Josephus phase of the argument may be brushed to one side. The third view, held by Harnack and adopted here, is that Luke wrote the Acts while with Paul in Rome and finished the book before Paul’s release, that is by a.d. 63. This is the obvious and natural way to take the language of Luke at the close of Acts. Events had gone no farther and so he ends the narrative right there. It is argued against this that Luke contemplated a third volume and for this reason closed with the arrival of Paul in Rome. But the use of prōton (first) in Act 1:1 is a common Koiné[28928]š idiom and does not imply three volumes any more than first and second stories with us means that the house has three. Of course this date for the Acts puts the date of the Gospel further back either in Caesarea (57 to 59) or in Rome (60 to 62). And that means that Mark’s Gospel is still earlier since Luke used it for his Gospel and the Logia (Q) earlier still. But all these dates are probable in the light of all the known facts.

The Historical Value

It was once a fad with a certain school of critics to decry Luke in the Acts as wholly untrustworthy, not above the legendary stage. But the spade has done well by Luke for inscriptions and papyri have brought remarkable confirmation for scores of points where Luke once stood all alone and was discounted because he stood alone. These will be duly noted in the proper places as they occur. Ramsay has done most in this restoration of the rank of Luke as a credible historian, as shown in particular in his St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen and in The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament. In every instance where discoveries have been made they have confirmed the testimony of Luke as concerning politarchs in Thessalonica, proconsul in Cyprus, etc. The result is that the balance of evidence is now in favour of Luke even when he still stands alone or seems to be opposed by Josephus. Luke, as it stands today, is a more credible historian than Josephus. Ramsay dares to call Luke, all things considered, the greatest of all historians, even above Thucydides. An interesting book on this phase of the subject is Chase’s The Credibility of the Acts of the Apostles (1902).

The Purpose of the Acts

It is not easy to say in a word precisely the object of Luke in writing this book. It is not the Acts of all the apostles. Outside of Peter and John little is told of any of them after chapter 3. And all the acts of Peter and John are not given for Peter disappears from the narrative after chapter 15, though he has been the central figure through chapter 11. Paul is not one of the twelve apostles, but Luke follows Paul’s career mainly after chapter 8. Stephen and Barnabas come in also. Still (St. Paul on Trial, 1923) argues that Luke meant the book as an apology to be used in Paul’s trial at Rome or at any rate to put Paul in the right light with the Jews in Rome. Hence the full account of Paul’s series of defences in Jerusalem, Caesarea, Rome. There may be an element of truth in this idea, but it clearly does not cover the whole purpose of Luke. Others hold that Luke had a dramatic plan to get Paul to Rome as the climax of his campaign to win the Roman Empire to Christ. The book is not a history of all early Christianity. Peter and Paul dominate the atmosphere of the book with Paul as the great hero of Luke. But one can easily see that the work is done with consummate skill. The author is a man of culture, of Christian grace, of literary power. The book pulses with life today.

The Text of the Acts

A special problem arises concerning the text of Acts inasmuch as the Codex Bezae (D) with some other Western support presents a great many additions to the Neutral-Alexandrian text of Aleph A B C. Blass has even proposed the idea that Luke himself issued two editions of the book, an attractive hypothesis that is not generally accepted. J. M. Wilson has published The Acts of the Apostles from Codex Bezae. The whole subject is elaborately treated by J. H. Ropes in Vol. III, The Text of Acts in Part I of The Beginnings of Christianity. Besides thorough discussion of all the problems of text involved Ropes gives the text of the Vatican Codex (B) on the left page and that of Codex Bezae (D) on the right, making comparison easy. Blass’s ideas appear in his Acta Apostolorum. 

Taken from "Word Pictures in the New Testament" by Archibald Thomas Robertson