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Article: The Historicity of the book of Acts

December 4, 2010

How historically accurate is the book of Acts? Current scholarly attitudes range widely; [1] German theologian Adolf von Harnack’s extreme criticism has been discredited, [2] but Ramsay’s views [3] are considered exaggerated, [4] and Sherwin-White’s praise [5]  is qualified. [6]

Article here.


[1] ‘British scholarship has been relatively positive about Acts’ historicity, from Lightfoot and Ramsay to W.L. Knox and Bruce. German scholarship has, for the most part, evaluated negatively the historical worth of Acts, from Baur and his school to Dibelius, Conzelmann, and Haenchen. North American scholars show a range of opinion.’, Setzer, ‘Jewish Responses to Early Christians: history and polemics, 30-150 C.E.’, p. 94 (1994).

[2] ’It is difficult to acquit Harnack here of an exaggerated hypercriticism. He offers a lengthy list of inaccuracies (Acts pp. 203-31), but most of the entries are bizarrely trivial:’, Hemer & Gempf, ‘The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History’, p. 7 (1990).

[3] ‘Over a hundred years ago, the British archaeologist Sir William Ramsay set out to disprove the historicity of Acts, but, after extensive work, particularly in Turkey, became convinced of the book’s reliability and converted to Christianity.’, Blomberg, ‘From Pentecost to Patmos: An Introduction to Acts Through Revelation’, p. 15 (2006).

[4] ‘Ramsay no doubt put the point much more strongly than many of his contemporaries would have been prepared to accept, and he was capable of making assertions about Luke’s historical accuracy which went beyond what could be shown by the available evidence.’, Marshall, ‘The Acts of the Apostles: an introduction and commentary’, p. 34 (1980).

[5] ‘For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming. Yet Acts is, in simple terms and judged externally, no less of a propaganda narrative than the Gospels, liable to similar distortions. But any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted.’, Sherwin-White, ‘Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament’, p. 189 (1963).

[6] ‘he is quite willing to believe Luke made mistakes.’, Marshall, ‘The Acts of the Apostles: an introduction and commentary’, p. 36 (1980).

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