Acts was an afterthought for Luke. It was added to the Gospel at the time when thje Gospel itself was revised (as Luke B), this portion being Acts I (Ac 1:1-15:35). Acts I ended on a message of historically specious but psychologically helpful amity between Jewish and Gentile Christians. This was the church-history counterpart of analogous additions to the Gospel in acceptance of the Mission to the Gentiles (eg, the Call of the Seventy, the Travel through Samaria). This amity theme was carried to the extreme of making Peter and Paul virtual doublets of each other, and attributing to Peter, not to Paul, the first conversion of Gentiles. Acts was written with knowledge of the collected letters of Paul, which it artfully avoids or silently reverses at several places. Paul's characteristic but divisive doctrine of the atonement, for example, is entirely suppressed in Acts.Thus even Acts I must postdate the collection and promulgation of the Pauline canon.
Later, some external event seemed to Luke to portend the end of Jewish/Gentile Christian amity. The most plausible candidate so far mentioned is the adding of the Birkat ha-Minim, a prayer against heretics, to the Jewish daily prayers, an event placed by Torrey at c85. As a response, there was added to the previous text an extension, Acts II (Ac 15:36-28:30), which announced that thenceforth, the message of Jesus would be carried only to the Gentiles. This extension also features a cameo appearance of the author, in the form of some first person travel reports, the "we" passages (Ac 0:0, 0:0, 0:09, 0:0). These feature miraculous deeds of Paul, and to that extent remind the reader of the tone of the Apostolic literature (which makes much use of sea voyages). They also amount to an implicit claim of direct knowledge of Paul's travels, analogous to the role of the "beloved disciple" in John, not to mention the naked youth in Mark. This annexes the probity of Luke to the authority of Paul, who by then was sufficiently accepted as an Apostle for the claim to be a worthwhile one for Acts II to make. It probably reflects increasing interest in authority arguments, and thus the beginning of the canonicity question. Nearly everything written in the last three decades of the 1st century, the post-Apostolic period (see for example Jude), relates itself, in one way or another, to this new authority question.
For notes on the above and a few other passages in Acts, see this selective Commentary:
Date. Mitton has shown that Acts II (and in particular the Ephesus Farewell passage) was known to Ephesians, and Ephesians in turn was clearly known to 1 Clement (c96), so that the date even of the final version of Acts must be put in the 1st century. The relative sequence (with suggested absolute dates) is:
- Death of Paul, c60
- Collection of the Pauline corpus
- Luke B / Acts I (after Matthew, and also after the destruction of the Temple in 70, as witness Lk 0:00), perhaps c75
- Birkat ha-Minim (or some equally decisive event), c85
- Acts II (climaxing in a Jewish/Gentile split), c87
- Ephesians (c90) is aware of Acts II
- 1 Clement (c96) is aware of Ephesians
The Acts literature is large, but the present writer wishes to put on record his appreciation of the following commentaries and studies: Cadbury, Lake et al, Fitzmyer.
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