Posts Tagged ‘Acts’

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Did Luke use Josephus when writing Acts?

April 23, 2011

The Claim

It has been claimed that Luke used the writings of Josephus (specifically ‘Antiquities of the Jews’).[1] [2] Since Josephus wrote in 93 CE, this would date Acts no earlier than this time.[3] The following passages are claimed as examples of Luke’s dependence on Josephus.

*  Luke 3:1: Josephus and Luke record the census of Quirinius, but Luke’s differs from that of Josephus and cannot be verified independently; both Luke and Josephus refer to Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene

*  Luke 13:1: Luke’s description of the murder of the Galileans is similar to Josephus’ description of an assault on Samaritans[4]

*  Acts 5:36-37: Luke mentions Theudas and Judas the Galilean, but reverses the order in which Josephus listed them, dates Theudas 15 years before the date Josephus gives[5]

*  Acts 11:28-9: Luke and Josephus both record famine during Claudius’ reign[6]

*  Acts 12:21-3: Luke describes Agrippa I’s death in a manner similar to Josephus, but with certain differences[7]

*  Acts 21:38: Luke describes ‘the Egyptian’ rebel leading sicarii into the wilderness but Josephus’s reference to sicarii in the wilderness is separate from his reference to ‘the Egyptian’[8]

*  Acts 25:13, 23; 26:30: Like Josephus, Luke implies that Agrippa II and Berenice are married, or consorts[9]

*  Acts 24:24-6: Like Josephus, Luke shows he is aware Drusilla (the wife of Felix), is a Jew

Scholarly Commentary

The claim is so insubstantial that most scholars consider it highly debatable at best,[10] rejecting it on a range of grounds and arguing Luke and Josephus used common traditions and historical sources. [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23]

This consensus is even acknowledged by those who argue for Luke’s dependence on Josephus, or the other way around.[24]


[1] ‘This theory was maintained by F. C. Burkitt (The Gospel History and its Transmission, 1911, pp. 105–110), following the arguments of Krenkel’s Josephus und Lucas (1894).’, Guthrie, ‘New Testament Introduction’, p. 363 (4th rev. ed. 1996).

[2] Two recent examples are Richard Pervo’s ‘Dating Acts’ (2006), and ‘Acts: A Commentary’ in the series ‘Hermeneia: a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible’ (2008), and Steve Mason’s ‘Josephus and the New Testament’ (1992); Pervo’s is considered an academic argument worthy of response (though it has failed to convince most scholars), whereas Mason’s is rarely referred to in the relevant scholarly literature.

[3] ‘If Acts is dependent on Josephus for information, it cannot be earlier than 93. But such dependence is not proved and is highly unlikely.’, in Douglas & Tenney, ’New International Bible Dictionary’, p, 13 (1987).

[4] ‘A number of events to which allusion is possibly being made are discussed by J. Blinzler*, 32–37. These include: 1. the affair of the ensigns in Jos. Bel. 2:169–174; Ant. 18:55–59, but this took place in Caesarea in AD 26; 2. the tumults associated with the building of an aqueduct (Jos. Bel. 2:175–177; Ant. 18:60–62), but this incident involved the murder of Judaeans with cudgels outside the temple; 3. an attack on some Samaritans (Jos. Ant. 18:85–87), but this took place in AD 36; 4. the slaughter of about 3,000 Jews offering Passover sacrifices by Archelaus in 4 BC (Jos. Bel. 2:8–13; Ant. 17:213–218). This incident, however, took place some thirty years earlier and was committed by a different ruler; moreover, the murder of 3,000 men would not bear comparison with an accident to 18. It is wisest to conclude that the event is not attested from secular sources. This, however, is no argument against its historicity, since Josephus’ account of Pilate’s career is very incomplete (cf. Philo, Leg. 299-305). Pilate would have been in Jerusalem at Passover time, and the Galileans had a reputation for rebelliousness. The suggestion that Zealots were involved (O. Cullmann, The State in the NT, London, 1957, 14) lacks proof.’, Marshall, ‘The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text’, New International Greek Testament Commentary, p. 553 (1978).

[5] ‘There are two problems: (1) Since Gamaliel was speaking well before AD 44 (the year in which Herod Agrippa I died, 12:20-23), a reference to the Theudas mentioned in Josephus would be anachronistic on his lips. (2). Gamaliel goes on to describe the rising of Judas after this; but the rising of Judas took place in AD 6 before the Theudas incident in Josephus. So, it is argued, Luke makes Gamaliel commit an anachronism and put the two stories in reverse chronological order. It has been argued that Luke was led to this error by misreading Josephus who goes on after the Theudas story to mention the sons of Judas and then to explain parenthetically who this Judas was and how he had led a revolt against Rome. But this supposition is highly unlikely, since Josephus’ works were not published till c. AD 93, and since Luke cannot possibly have got the details of his story (the 400 men) from him. No plausible explanation of Luke’s alleged error has been offered. There is, therefore, much to be said for the suggestions either that Josephus got his dating wrong or (more probably) that Gamaliel is referring to another, otherwise unknown Theudas. Since there were innumerable uprisings when Herod the Great died, and since ‘Josephus describes four men bearing the name of Simon within forty years and three that of Judas within ten years, all of whom were instigators of rebellion’ (cited by Knowling, p. 158), this suggestion should not be rejected out of hand.’, Marshall, ‘Acts: An Introduction And Commentary’, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, volume 5, pp. 122-123 (1980).

[6] ‘Famines are mentioned in various parts of the empire during the time of Claudius. Josephus tells of a famine in Palestine during the governorship of Tiberius Alexander (46/48 C.E.):’, Conzelmann, Epp, & Matthews, ‘Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles’, Hermeneia, p. 90 (1987).

[7]The details of Herod’s death are recorded slightly differently by Josephus, but the accounts are complementary. …Luke’s description of Herod as being eaten by worms is probably directly related to the abdominal pains referred to in Josephus’ account.’, Carson, ‘New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition’ (4th ed. 1994).

[8]According to Josephus (Bel. 2:261–263) there had been an Egyptian false prophet who had led 30,000 men to the Mount of Olives in order to take Jerusalem; he promised that they would see the walls of the city fall down. The governor, Felix, killed or captured his followers, while the prophet himself managed to escape. Clearly the tribune thought that this person had reappeared; the discrepancy between the number of his followers in Acts and in Josephus reflects the latter’s well-known tendency to exaggeration, and the tribune’s estimate will have been nearer the mark.’, Marshall, ‘Acts: An Introduction And Commentary’, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, volume 5, p. 371 (1980).

[9] ‘There was gossip about the relationship between the brother and sister (Josephus Ant. 20.145; Juvenal Sat. 6.156–60). ‘,Conzelmann, Epp, & Matthews, ‘Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles’, Hermeneia, p. 206 (1987).

[10] ‘The use of the LXX is not debatable, but the influence of Josephus and Paul has been and is subjected to considerable debate.’, Tyson, ‘Marcion and Luke-Acts: a defining struggle’, p. 14 (2006).

[11] ‘Arguments for the dependence of passages in Acts on Josephus (especially the reference to Theudas in Acts v. 37) are equally unconvincing. The fact is, as Schurer has said: “Either Luke had not read Josephus, or he had forgotten all about what he had read”‘, Geldenhuys, ‘Commentary on the Gospel of Luke’, p. 31 (1950).

[12] ‘But it is hardly logical to hold that Luke depends on Josephus and yet be obliged to admit that Luke shows wide divergence from him in relating events that are supposedly the same.’, Harrison, ‘Introduction to the New Testament’, p. 240 (1971).

[13] ‘The argument that Luke used the historian, Josephus (ad 93), was never fully convincing (HJ Cadbury, BC 11, 357). Today it is seldom pressed.’, Ellis, ‘The Gospel of Luke’, p. 55 (1977).

[14] ‘Sterling concludes that, while it is impossible to establish a literary dependence of Luke-Acts on the writings of Josephus, it is reasonable to affirm that both authors not only had access to similar historical traditions but also shared the same historiographical techniques and perspectives.’, Verheyden, ‘The Unity of Luke-Acts’, p. 678 (1990).

[15] ‘After examining the texts myself, I must conclude with the majority of scholars that it is impossible to establish the dependence of Luke-Acts on the Antiquitates. What is clear is that Luke-Acts and Josephos shared some common traditions about the recent history of Palestine.’, Sterling, ‘Historiography and Self-Definition: Josephos, Luke-Acts, and Apologetic Historiography’, Supplements to Novum Testamentum, pp. 365-366 (1992).

[16]It seems probable that Luke and Josephus wrote independently of one another; for each could certainly have had access to sources and information, which he then employed according to his own perspectives. A characteristic conglomerate of details, which in part agree, in part reflect great similarity, but also in part, appear dissimilar and to stem from different provenances, accords with this analysis.’, Schreckenberg & Schubert, ‘Jewish Historiography and Iconography in Early and Medieval Christian Literature’, Compendia Rerum Iudicarum Ad Novum Testamentum, volume 2, p. 51 (1992).

[17] ‘A. T. Robinson, Redating, p. 88, regards the Josephus line of approach as almost totally abandoned.’, Guthrie, ‘New Testament Introduction’, p. 364 (4th rev. ed. 1996).

[18] ‘From Krenkel’s remarks it can be seen that this proof can be offered only with very powerful mental contortions. See Hemer, Acts (n.37), 95: ‘the theory of Lukan dependence on Josephus has had in its day a certain vogue, and has been used as a major argument for the late dating of Luke-Acts’; cf. also Sterling, Historiography (n.37),365f. n.281.’, Hengel & Schwemer, Paul between Damascus and Antioch: the unknown years’, p. 325 (1997).

[19] ‘Nevertheless, direct literary dependence on Josephus by Luke is consistently dismissed for various reasons.’, Denova, ‘The Things Accomplished Among Us: prophetic tradition in the structural pattern of Luke-Acts’, p. 207 (1997).

[20] ‘The relationship between Luke and Josephus has produced an abundant literature, which has attempted to show the literary dependence of one on the other. I do not believe that any such dependence can be proved.’, Marguerat, ‘The First Christian Historian: writing the “Acts of the Apostles”‘, p. 79 (2002).

[21]Most scholars today deny any dependence one way or the other, and we think this judgment is correct.’, Heyler, ‘Exploring Jewish literature of the Second Temple Period: A Guide for New Testament Students’, p. 362  (2002).

[22] ‘When we consider both the differences and the agreement in many details of the information in the two accounts, [of the death of Herod Agrippa I] it is surely better to suppose the existence of a common source on which Luke and Josephus independently drew.’, Klauck & McNeil, ‘Magic and Paganism in Early Christianity: the world of the Acts of the Apostles’, p. 43 (2003).

[23] ‘Some attempt to argue a literary dependence on Josephus, and date Luke-Acts after 93CE. But, without a doubt, Luke’s theology is of an earlier type than Justin.’, Hear, ‘Simon Magus: the first gnostic?’, p. 71 (2003).

[24]Neither position has much of a following today, because of the significant differences between the two works in their accounts of the same events.’, Mason, ‘Josephus and the New Testament’, p. 185 (1992).

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The Historicity of the book of Acts (5)

April 22, 2011

Paul’s Commission: Acts 9:1-2

It has been claimed there is no historical basis for Paul’s commission from the High Priest to extradite from Damascus to Jerusalem any Jews who had become Christians,[1] and that neither the High Priest nor the Sanhedrin had any jurisdiction in Damascus.[2] [3] [4]

Evidence & Commentary

Peerbolte raises a parallel in the history of the Maccabees, in which a Roman consul ordered Jewish rebels in Egypt to be extradited to the High Priest for punishment according to Jewish law[5] (qualifying this with care[6]); noting support for the record,[7] he still urges caution.[8]

The Maccabean parallel is dismissed as historically inadequate by Légasse[9] and Marshall,[10] but Bruce defends it with reference to a decree by Julius Caesar re-affirming all the previously held rights of the High Priest.[11] Kistemaker and Hendriksen likewise believe the High Priest actually had extradition authority.[12]

Dunn disputes the idea of formal jurisdiction,[13]  but notes the informal influence of the high priest and Sanhedrin over provincial synagogues was far higher.[14]

Bond[15] and Williams[16] note similarly that the letters would have carried influence despite their lack of formal weight.

Wallace and Williams approach the legal-historical background with care.[17] Observing the letters were addressed to the synagogues not local officials, they argue the matter was internal Jewish business in which Roman officials would not become involved.[18] Noting the apparent absence of Roman forces in Damascus at the time, they suggest this would have reduced the probability of Roman interference. [19]

Klauck and Bailey also view the letters as simply letters of introduction rather than legal documents with which to exercise authority over local officials,[20] and note no difficulty with the record. Oepke,[21]  Bond,[22] and Gaertner[23]  take a similar view.


[1] Acts 9: 1 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing out threats to murder the Lord’s disciples, went to the high priest 2 and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, either men or women, he could bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

[2] ‘Neither the high priest nor the Jewish Sanhedrin in Jerusalem ever had such powers of jurisdiction. The persecution would have taken the regular process in the local synagogue:’, Köster, ‘Introduction to the New Testament’, volume 2, p. 107 (2006).

[3]neither the high priest nor the Sanhedrin had judicial authority outside the eleven toparchies of Judaea proper. Their moral authority might be persuasive, but they could not empower Paul to make arrests, particularly on the territory of a Roman province.’, Murphy-O’Connor, ‘Paul: a critical life’, p. 66 (1998).

[4] ‘The jurisdiction of the High Priest and the Sanhedrin would in fact have been limited to the eleven toparchies of Judaea.’, Légasse, ‘Paul’s pre-Christian Career according to Acts’, in Bauckham (ed.), ‘The Book of Acts in its Palestinian Setting’, p. 389 (1995).

[5] ‘The Roman legal system was not built on the territorial principle of law, but on the personal.64 This meant that a Roman citizen fell under Roman law wherever he was. In consequence, it may have been that the High Priest in Jerusalem could extend his jurisdiction to Jews in Damascus.65 That this practice was indeed prevalent is often argued on the basis of a passage from 1 Maccabees: 1 Macc 15, 16-21. Here, the Roman Consul Lucius writes to the Egyptian king Ptolemy (probably VIII) on the subject of the Jews: ‘if any scoundrels have fled to you from their country, hand them over to the High Priest Simon, so that he may punish them according to their law’ Peerbolte, ‘Paul the Missionary’, p. 154 (2003).

[6] ‘However, although the assumption is that this custom was still in use in Paul’s day, it is unclear whether this was correct’, ibid., p. 154.

[7] ‘Many students of the book of Acts nevertheless consider 9, 1-2 as evidence that Paul was sent as a shaliach by the Sanhedrin’, ibid., p. 154.

[8] ‘Still, a more cautious approach is to be preferred: we simply cannot decide with certainty on the historicity of Paul’s commissioning by the High Priest. It is a possibility, but remains far from certain.’, ibid., p. 154.

[9] ‘But, even supposing this letter is authentic,85 it is not addressed, like the letter of which Acts speaks, to the ‘synagogues’ but to a local ruler by the Roman authority. The case is therefore wholly different, as are the period (the events mentioned are supposed to have occurred in 139 BC) and the political situation: whereas at the time of Paul Judaea was a Roman province administered by a Roman governor, Simon, the brother of Judas Maccabeus, was a sovereign, autochthonous vassal of the Seleucids of Antioch.’, Légasse, ‘Paul’s pre-Christian Career according to Acts’, in Bauckham (ed.), ‘The Book of Acts in its Palestinian Setting’, p. 389 (1995).

[10] ‘Haenchen (p. 320 n.2) argues rightly that previous scholars have drawn unwarranted deductions from such passages as 1 Maccabees 15:15–21, which deals with a different and much earlier situation;’, Marshall, (1980). Vol. 5: ‘Acts: An introduction and commentary’ Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, volume 5, p. 178 (1980).

[11]Julius Caesar confirmed those rights and privileges anew to the Jewish nation (although Judaea was no longer a sovereign state), and more particularly to the high-priesthood.5 Luke’s narrative implies that the right of extradition continued to be enjoyed by the high priest under the provincial administration set up in A.D. 6. The followers of The Way whom Saul was authorized to bring back from Damascus were refugees from Jerusalem, not native Damascene disciples.’, Bruce, ‘The Book of the Acts’, New International Commentary on the New Testament, pp. 180-181 (1988); his source for the decree of Caesar is a passage by Josephus, ‘I also ordain, that he and his children retain whatsoever privileges belong to the office of high priest, or whatsoever favors have been hitherto granted them;’, Antiquities 14.195, in Whiston, ‘The Works of Josephus: Complete and unabridged’ (electronic ed. 1996).

[12] ‘The high priest served as head of the Sanhedrin, which as a legislative body had jurisdiction over the Jews living in Jerusalem, Palestine, and the dispersion. Thus the high priest had power to issue warrants to the synagogues in Damascus for the arrests of Christian Jews residing there (see 9:2; 22:5; 26:12).’, Kistemaker & Hendriksen, ‘Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles’, Baker New Testament Commentary, volume 17, p. 329 (1953-2001); as evidence they cite ‘Emil Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.–A.D. 135), rev. and ed. Geza Vermes and Fergus Millar, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: Clark, 1973–87), vol. 2, p. 218.’, p. 329.

[13] ‘the high priest had no formal jurisdiction over synagogues, least of all in other countries.’, Dunn, ‘Beginning from Jerusalem’, p. 337 (2009).

[14]But he had at least two considerable constraints which he could bring to bear on archisynagōgoi and synagogue elders. One was that he was responsible for much of the content and timing of lived-out Judaism; he and his councillors were the ultimate authority in matters of dispute, and it is not at all unlikely that Jerusalem authorities occasionally wrote to disapora synagogues to encourage them to maintain the traditions and possibly to take sides in some dispute on timing of festivals and the like.86 The high priest might even have been willing to claim jurisdiction over a ‘greater Judea’ which included Damascus. In any case, the high priest was not a person whose envoy could be lightly disregarded or dismissed with his mission unfulfilled. The other is that the Temple in Jerusalem held an amazing range of financial deposits for Jews at home and abroad; it was Judaism’s ‘central bank’. It is quite conceivable, therefore, that any requests were backed, explicitly or implicitly, with threat of financial sanctions.’, ibid., p. 337.

[15] ‘Writing letters to Diaspora communities was one of the high priest’s duties (see above, p. 47). Such letters would have had no formal weight (the high priest had no legal jurisdiction in Damascus, situated as it was in the Roman province of Syria), but his position as high priest would have conferred authority on his requests.’, Bond, ‘Caiphas: friend of Rome and judge of Jesus?’, p. 81 (2004); she also suggests ‘Second, and more probably, the rather vague reference to “the high priest” in 9:1-2 and in the flashbacks of 22:5 and 26:12 may be simply another example of Luke’s attempt to give opposition to Christians official backing.’, p. 81.

[16] ‘The letters to the synagogues (v. 2) would be a help, for though the Sanhedrin had no legal authority outside Judea, its reputation did give it some moral authority over the Jews of the Diaspora (see Sherwin-White, p. 100). Paul would also have had to seek the cooperation of the local magistrates, but the name of the Jewish Sanhedrin may have carried sufficient weight even with them for him to be confident of their acquiescence, if not their active assistance.’, Williams, ‘Acts’, New International Biblical Commentary, pp. 167-168 (1990).

[17]Unfortunately, we know very little about the internal affairs of Damascus  in Paul’s day. It is therefore difficult to know how to make sense of Paul’s commission from the High Priest to seize and carry to Jerusalem ‘any belonging to the Way’ (Acts 9, 2).’, Wallace & Williams, ‘The Three Worlds of Paul of Tarsus’, p. 163 (1998).

[18] ‘Since Acts says quite clearly that the letters Paul was carrying were to the synagogues at Damascus (9, 2) and not to the Gentile authorities, whatever he was doing must have been an entirely internal Jewish affair.‘, ibid., p. 163.

[19] ‘Since it is unlikely that the arrest and extradition to Judaea of dissenters was one of the privileges enjoyed by diaspora communities (for discussion see Wallace and Williams 1995:51-2), what Paul was engaged in must have been unauthorised; that is to say, kidnapping. So why was he not stopped? Such evidence as there is suggests that no Roman forces were stationed in Damascus (Millar 1993:37), so that unless an appeal was made to the governor, or serious disorder broke out, the Roman authorities would not have become involved. As for the city authorities, if the business was done discreetly without causing public disturbances they might well have taken the view that what went on in the Jewish community was none of their concern, especially if those involved were not citizens of Damascus, but incomers.‘, ibid., pp. 163-164.

[20] ‘As a persecutor of Christians Paul carried letters with him to gain admittance into the synagogues in Damascus as an otherwise unknown representative of the high priest and the Jewish elders (Acts 9:1-2; 22:5).’, Klauck & Bailey, ‘Ancient Letters and the New Testament: a guide to context and exegesis’, p. 76 (2006).

[21] ‘Oepke, ‘Probleme’, 403/426, who does not exclude a request from Paul to the High Priest, sees it, not as a mandate to arrest officially entrusted to Paul, but a letter like the sustati kai epoistolai to which 2 Cor. 3:1 refers.’, Légasse, ‘Paul’s pre-Christian Career according to Acts’, in Bauckham (ed.), ‘The Book of Acts in its Palestinian Setting’, p. 389 (1995).

[22] ‘The question is whether any evidence supports a situation in which the Sanhedrin had authority over synagogues so far from home.4 The point may be moot, however, in view of the fact that Luke does not say that the letters were papers of extradition. The letters may simply have been letters introducing Paul and his mission, as well as recommendations that such Jews be handed over to him. Such letters would carry no official authority to enforce the arrests.’, Gaertner, ‘Acts’, The College Press NIV Commentary (electronic ed. 1993).

[23] ‘It is possible that Caiphas supplied Saul with letters of recommendation to Diaspora synagogues (rather like those of 2 Cor 3:1), introducing him to their leaders, asking for help to root out troublemakers’, Bond, ‘Caiphas: friend of Rome and judge of Jesus?’, p. 81 (2004).

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Article: The Historicity of the book of Acts (4)

April 17, 2011

The historicity of Acts is taken seriously (though not accepted completely), even by highly regarded critical scholars such as Gerd Lüdemann,[1] Alexander Wedderburn,[2] Hans Conzelmann,[3] and Martin Hengel.[4] Furthermore, recent modern studies are far more positive in their assessment of the historicity of Acts than many previous critical commentaries.[5]

Acts 1:1-14: Visions of Christ

Lüdemann acknowledges the historicity of Christ’s post-resurrection appearances,[6] the names of the early disciples,[7]women disciples,[8] and Judas Iscariot.[9] Wedderburn says the disciples indisputably believed Christ was truly raised.[10] [11] Conzelmann dismisses an alleged contradiction between Luke 13:31 and Acts 1:3.[12] Hengel believes Acts was written early[13] by Luke as a partial eyewitness,[14] praising Luke’s knowledge of Palestine,[15] and of Jewish customs in Acts 1:12.[16]

Acts 1:15-26: The New Apostle

Lüdemann is sceptical with regard to the appointment of Matthias, but not with regard to his historical existence.[17] Wedderburn ridicules the theory that denies the historicity of the disciples,[18] [19] Conzelmann considers the upper room meeting a historical event Luke knew from tradition,[20] and Hengel considers ‘the Field of Blood’ to be an authentic historical name.[21]

Acts 2: Pentecost

Lüdemann considers the Pentecost gathering as very possible,[22] and the apostolic instruction to be historically credible.[23] Wedderburn acknowledges the possibility of a ‘mass ecstatic experience’,[24] and notes it is difficult to explain why early Christians later adopted this Jewish festival if there had not been an original Pentecost event as described in Acts.[25] He also holds the description of the early community in Acts 2 to be reliable.[26] [27]


[1] A German critical scholar and atheist who he expresses extreme scepticism of the New Testament record of Christ in ‘The Great Deception: And What Jesus Really Said and Did’ (1999).

[2] A critical scholar with what he describes as ‘a more than somewhat agnostic view of the evidence for the nature of the resurrection and its implications for Christian faith’, Wedderburn, ‘A history of the first Christians’, p. 17 (2004).

[3] A German critical scholar sceptical of much of the gospels and Acts, and who did not believe them to be inspired.

[4] A German critical scholar with a sceptical attitude to the gospels and Acts who nevertheless writes ‘after Josephus and Philo’s two historical writings, the Acts represents the most important source for the history of Judaism between Herod and A.D. 70.’, Hengel, ‘Early Christianity as a Jewish-Messianic, Universalistic Movement’, in Hengel & Barrett, ‘Conflicts and Challenges in Early Christianity’, p. 28 (1999).

[5]At the same time it must be admitted that such indictments against Luke as a historian are not so firmly based as is sometimes claimed. (1) Although study of Acts as history continues to be plagued by a relative dearth of corroborative evidence, whether literary or physical, recent examination of that evidence by C. J. Hemer has encouraged a much more positive assessment of the historical reliability of Acts (see also Hengel). (2) The sometimes spectacular accounts of healing in Acts (e.g., Acts 5:15; 19:11–12) have given some scholars pause in accepting the whole as an historically faithful account. However, in the wake of postmodern epistemology and in light of increasing criticism of the biomedical paradigm for making sense of non-Western accounts of healing (see, e.g., Hahn), such miraculous phenomena—previously understood as expressions of duplicity, mental pathology, superstition, fantasy and/or a prescientific worldview—are not so easily dismissed and have begun to be reexamined for their sociohistorical significance.’, Green, ‘Acts of the Apostles’, in Martin & Davids (eds.), ‘Dictionary of the Later New Testament and its Developments’ (electronic ed. 2000).

[6] ‘”There were in fact appearances of the heavenly Jesus in Jerusalem (after those in Galilee)” (ibid., 29-30)”’, Lüdemann quoted by Matthews, ‘Acts and the History of the Earliest Jerusalem Church’, in Cameron & Miller (eds.), ‘Redescribing Christian origins’, p. 164 (2004); he attributes the appearances to hallucination.

[7]‘”The names of the disciples of Jesus are for the most part certainly historical[”].’, Lüdemann quoted by Matthews, ibid., p. 164.

[8] ‘[“]The existence of women disciples as members of the earliest Jerusalem community is also a historical fact” (ibid., 31).’, Lüdemann quoted by Matthews, ibid., p. 164.

[9] ‘”The disciple Iscariot is without doubt a historical person… [who] made a decisive contribution to delivering Jesus into the hands of the Jewish authorities” (ibid., 35-36).’, Lüdemann quoted by Matthews, ibid., p. 165.

[10] ‘Whatever one believes about the resurrection of Jesus,5 it is undeniable that his followers came to believe that he had been raised by God from the dead, that the one who had apparently died an ignominious death, forsaken and even accursed by his God, had subsequently been vindicated by that same God., ’ Wedderburn, ‘A History of the First Christians’, p. 17 (2004).

[11] ‘Whether they expected it or not, they came to believe that God had in fact raised Jesus and this was for them a truly revolutionary conviction.’, ibid., p. 17.

[12] ‘According to this verse Jesus seems to appear only to the apostles (for Luke, the Twelve), while the parallel in 13:31* says he appeared to all who went with him on the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. The contradiction is not a serious one, however, nor is there any real difference between the forty days mentioned in this text and the ἡμέρας πλείους, “many days,” of 13:31*.’, Conzelmann, Limber (trans.), Epp, & Matthews (eds.), ‘Acts of the Apostles: A commentary on the Acts of the Apostles’, Hermeneia, p. 5 (1987).

[13] ‘That makes it all the more striking that Acts says nothing of Paul the letter-writer. In my view this presupposes a relatively early date for Acts, when there was still a vivid memory of Paul the missionary, but the letter-writer was not known in the same way.’, Hengel & Schwemer, ‘Paul Between Damascus and Antioch: the unknown years’, p. 3 (1997).

[14] ‘Contrary to a widespread anti-Lukan scholasticism which is often relatively ignorant of ancient historiography, I regard Acts as a work that was composed soon after the Third Gospel by Luke ‘the beloved physician’ (Col. 4:14), who accompanied Paul on his travels from the journey with the collection to Jerusalem onwards. In other words, as at least in part an eye-witness account for the late period of the apostle, about which we no longer have any information from the letters, it is a first-hand source.’, ibid., p. 7

[15] ‘So Luke-Acts looks back on the destruction of Jerusalem, which is still relatively recent, and moreover is admirably well informed about Jewish circumstances in Palestine, in this respect comparable only to its contemporary Josephus. As Matthew and John attest, that was no longer the case around 15-25 years later; one need only compare the historical errors of the former Platonic philosopher Justin from Neapolis in Samaria, who was born around 100 CE.’, ibid., pp. 7-8.

[16] ‘The term ‘a sabbath day’s journey’, which appears only here in the New Testament, presupposes an amazingly intimate knowledge — for a Greek — of Jewish customs.’, Hengel, ‘Between Jesus and Paul: studies in the earliest history of Christianity’, p. 107 (1983).

[17] ‘”One is… inclined to challenge the historicity of the election of Matthias… This does not mean, though, that the Jerusalem Christians Matthias and Joseph were not historical figures” (ibid., 37).’, Lüdemann quoted by Matthews, ‘Acts and the History of the Earliest Jerusalem Church’, in Cameron & Miller (eds.), ‘Redescribing Christian origins’, p. 166 (2004)

[18]Yet is such a theory not an act of desperation?21 Is it not in every way simpler to accept that the Twelve existed during Jesus’ lifetime and that Judas was one of them?’, Wedderburn, ‘A History of the First Christians’, p. 22 (2004).

[19] ‘The presence of some names in the list is, in view of their relative obscurity, most easily explained by their having indeed been members of this group.’, ibid., p. 22.

[20]A local tradition about the meeting place can still be detected. The upper room is the place for prayer and conversation (20:8*; cf. Dan 6:11*), and for seclusion (Mart. Pol. 7.1). The list of names agrees with Luke 6:13–16*.’, Conzelmann, Limber (trans.), Epp, & Matthews (eds.), ‘Acts of the Apostles: A commentary on the Acts of the Apostles’, Hermeneia, pp. 8-9 (1987); he nevertheless believes the waiting for the spirit is a fiction by Luke.

[21]The Aramaic designation Akeldamakc for ‘field of blood’ has been correctly handed down in Acts 1:19; this is a place name which is also known by Matthew 27:8′, Hengel, ‘The Geography of Palestine in Acts’, in Bauckham (ed.), ‘The Book of Acts in its Palestinian Setting’, p. 47 (1995).

[22] ‘Although doubting that the specification “Pentecost” belongs to the tradition, Lüdemann supposes, on the basis of references to glossolalia in Paul’s letters and the ecstatic prophecy of Philip’s daughters (Acts 21:9), that “we may certainly regard a happening of the kind described by the tradition behind vv.1-4 as very possible.”’, Lüdemann quoted by Matthews, ‘Acts and the History of the Earliest Jerusalem Church’, in Cameron & Miller (eds.), ‘Redescribing Christian origins’, p. 166 (2004)

[23] ‘”The instruction by the apostles is also to be accepted as historical, since in the early period of the Jerusalem community the apostles had a leading role. So Paul can speak of those who were apostles before him (in Jerusalem!, Gal. 1.17)” (40.)’, Lüdemann quoted by Matthews, ibid., p. 166.

[24] ‘It is also possible that at some point of time, though not necessarily on this day, some mass ecstatic experience took place.’, Wedderburn, ‘A History of the First Christians’, p. 26 (2004).

[25] ‘At any rate, as Weiser and Jervell point out,39 it needs to be explained why early Christians adopted Pentecost as one of their festivals, assuming that the Acts account was not reason enough.’, ibid., p. 27.

[26]Many features of them are too intrinsically probable to be lightly dismissed as the invention of the author. It is, for instance, highly probable that the earliest community was taught by the apostles (2:42)—at least by them among others.’, ibid., p. 30.

[27] ‘Again, if communal meals had played an important part in Jesus’ ministry and had indeed served then as a demonstration of the inclusive nature of God’s kingly rule, then it is only to be expected that such meals would continue to form a prominent part of the life of his followers (Acts 2:42, 46), even if they and their symbolic and theological importance were a theme particularly dear to ‘Luke’s’ heart.47 It is equally probable that such meals took place, indeed had to take place, in private houses or in a private house (2:46) and that this community was therefore dependent, as the Pauline churches would be at a later stage, upon the generosity of at least one member or sympathizer who had a house in Jerusalem which could be placed at the disposal of the group. At the same time it might seem unnecessary to deny another feature of the account in Acts, namely that the first followers of Jesus also attended the worship of the Temple (2:46; 3:1; 5:21, 25, 42), even if they also used the opportunity of their visits to the shrine to spread their message among their fellow-worshippers. For without question they would have felt themselves to be still part of Israel.’, ibid., p. 30.

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Article: The Historicity of the book of Acts (3)

December 28, 2010

Peter’s address: Acts 4:4

Robert Grant claimed that the population of Jerusalem was too small for 5,000 converts to Christianity.[1] Grant’s estimate of the population of Jerusalem relied on an influential study by Jeremias in 1943, [2] [3] but did not mention that Jeremias calculated a far higher population figure for festival seasons such as passover, at which he estimated Jerusalem would contain up to 125,000 pilgrims.[4]

Furthermore the lower estimate of Jeremias is significantly lower than the lowest of the moderate to high estimates made by Wilkinson in 1974 (70,398 under Herod the Great),[5] Broshi in 1976 (60,000),[6] Maier in 1976 (50,000, with three times that many during festival seasons),[7] and Levine in 2002 (60,000-70,000).[8]

Accordingly, Cousland notes that ‘recent estimates of the population of Jerusalem suggest something in the neighbourhood of a hundred thousand’.[9] Estimates for the number of Christians in the Roman empire by the end of the first century range widely from 7,500 to more than 50,000. [10] [11] [12]

Article here.


[1] Grant ‘A Historical Introduction to the New Testament, p. 145 (1963).

[2] Jeremias, ‘Die Einwohnerzhal Jerusalems z. Zt. Jesu’, ZDPV, 63, pp. 24-31 (1943).

[3] ‘Jeremias, for instance has estimated that there was a population of 25,000 in first century Jerusalem,’, Rocca, ‘Herod’s Judaea: A Mediterranean State in the Classical World’, p. 333 (2008).

[4] ‘Thus one would arrive at 125,000 festival pilgrims.’, Reinhardt, ‘The Population Size of Jerusalem and the Numerical Growth of the Jerusalem Church’, in Bauckham (ed.), ‘The Book of Acts in its Palestine Setting’, p. 261 (1995).

[5] Wilkinson, ‘Ancient Jerusalem, Its Water Supply and Population’, PEFQS 106, pp. 33-51 (1974).

[6] ‘This also gives a figure of around 60,000 at the time of the first Christians.’, Reinhardt, ‘The Population Size of Jerusalem and the Numerical Growth of the Jerusalem Church’, in Bauckham (ed.), ‘The Book of Acts in its Palestine Setting’, p. 247 (1995).

[7] Maier, ‘First Christians: Pentecost and the Spread of Christianity’, p. 22 (1976).

[8]‘According to Levine, because the new area encompassed by the Third Wall was not densely populated, assuming that it contained half the population of the rest of the city, there were between 60,000 and 70,000 people living in Jerusalem.’, Rocca, ‘Herod’s Judaea: A Mediterranean State in the Classical World’, p. 333 (2008).

[9] Cousland, ‘The Crowds in the Gospel of Matthew’, p. 60 (2002).

[10] Stark, ‘The Rise of Christianity’, pp. 6-7 (1996); this influential study dominates the literature, but has been questioned as it involves projecting backwards from fourth century estimates.

[11] Wilken, ‘The Christians as the Romans Saw Them’, p. 31 (1984).

[12] ‘Estimates for the number of Christians by 100 C.E. range from as low as 7,500 to upwards of 50,000 out of the approximately sixty million inhabitants of the Roman Empire.’, Novak, ‘Christianity and the Roman Empire: background texts’, pp. 12-13 (2001).

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Article: The Historicity of the book of Acts (2)

December 10, 2010

Some verses in Acts use the second person plural (‘we’), indicating that the writer is participating in the events he is describing. The traditional interpretation (that the writer was an eyewitness, the traditional Luke),[1] was challenged in the twentieth century.[2]

Although there currently exists no scholarly consensus on the “we” passages,[3] three interpretations in particular have become dominant: a) the writer was redacting existing written material or oral sources, whether by genuine eyewitnesses or not, b) use of the second person plural is a deliberate stylistic device which was common to the genre of the work, but which was not intended to indicate a historical eyewitness, c) the writer was a genuine historical eyewitness.[4]

Article here.


[1] ‘Irenaeus’s understanding of the “we” passages was for many centuries the accepted interpretation of them. Indeed, there was no serious challenge to the author-as-eyewitness solution until the beginning of the modern period a millennium and a half later.’, Campbell, ‘The “we” passages in the Acts of the Apostles: the narrator as narrative’, p.3 (2007).

[2] ‘By the second decade of the twentieth century, most Acts scholars were in agreement that the author had fashioned the narrative out of a variety of written sources. A number of them, however, did not accept the source-as-eyewitness solution to the “we” question.’, ibid., p. 6.

[3] ‘Present scholarship still struggles to make sense of the so-called “we-passages” in Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16.’, Rothschild, ‘Luke-Acts and the rhetoric of history’, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen testament 2. Reihe 175, p. 264 (2004).

[4] ‘Three interpretations dominate: 1) the author offers a perspective from his own life experience; 2) the author is in possession of an itinerarium source; and 3) first person plural pronouns represent stylistic insertions.’, ibid., p. 265.

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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).