One of the new commenters to All Along the Watchtower claimed that the Historicity of the Acts of the Apostle’s to him was a boring endeavor. Nonetheless, the same person, replied to some of my comments on the topic two separate times. Of course, the person attempted to claim that the book is not to be considered historically accurate. The first time, I was simply going to let him have the last word because I thought it fruitless to add anything more to the conversation because the historical consensus is moving toward my position–TheActs of the Apostles can be trusted–on the subject anyway. However, it appears he needed some sort of validation from me as he commented again; unfortunately, the comment section closed before I could reply to him. So, I’ve decided to go ahead and make it a post.
The scholarship that Acts isn’t to be trusted is outdated. The commenter did offer to post the link to me if I need it; however, I don’t find the need to be deceptive with my sources
A graduate student Jonathan Blake has posted on a scholarly forum on the Historicity of Acts. The academic paper is a good source for the current scholarly understanding of this particular book found in the New Testament and its relation to historical events. It has an incredible amount of citations for anyone to view the many different takes on historicity on the Acts of the Apostles.
Blake acknowledges that “current scholarly attitudes to the historicity of the New Testament book of Acts range widely,” which shows that there is hardly a scholarly consensus on whether it should be accepted or dismissed, so whether it should be accepted as history can still be considered by serious scholars.
Blake mentions that British scholarship on Acts has tended to view the Acts of the Apostles as historical, whereas German scholarship has been more critical of the document. Blakes writes, “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. In North American there is no scholarly consensus on the Acts of the Apostles.
The entirety of scholarship agrees that the book is reliable in its depiction of the first-century period. “Professor of Religion Charles Talbert judges Acts to be consistently accurate with regard to many details,” writes Blake.
Blake gives examples of these accurate details:
- Thessalonican city authorities called politarchs (Acts 17:6, 8)
- Grammateus is the correct title for the chief magistrate in Ephesus (Acts 19:35)
- Felix and Festus called procurators (Acts 23:24, 26; 24:27)
- Centurion Cornelius, tribune Claudius Lysias (Acts 10:1; 21:31, 23:36)
- The title proconsul (Greek anthypathos), used for the governors of two senatorial provinces (Acts 13:7‐8; 18:12)
- The prohibition against Gentiles in the Temple’s inner court (Acts 21:27‐36)
- The function of town assemblies (Acts 19: 29‐41)
- Soldiers in the tower of Antonia descended stairs into the Temple precincts (Acts 21:31‐37)
Blakes also mentions that Historian Justin Taylor likewise describes the accuracy of Acts positively,10 and lists many examples.
- Trial scenes throughout Acts11
- Reference to Phrygo‐Galatia (Acts 16:6; 18:23)12
- The voyage from Troas (Acts 16:11‐12)13
- Lydia a historical figure (Acts 16:14)14 15
- Magistrates named correctly (Acts 16)16
- Paul objects to a beating without examination (Acts 16:37)17
- A synagogue in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1)18
- Jason before the city rulers (Acts 17:5‐9)19
- Jews in Berea (Acts 17:10)20
- Athens full of idols (Acts 17:16)21
- The Athenians’ curiosity (Acts 17:21)22
- Paul on the Areopagus (Acts 17:19) 23 24 25
- The ‘unknown god’ (Acts 17:23)26 27
- Paul’s visit to Athens (Acts 17:16‐33)28
- Jews expelled from Rome (Acts 18:1‐2)29
- Gallio the governor of Achaia (Acts 18:12)30
- The tribunal of Gallio (Acts 18:12‐16)31
- Events in Ephesus (Acts 19:28‐41)32
- Paul’s appeal to Caesar (Acts 25:11‐12)33
Blake acknowledges that Peter’s address: Acts 4:4 is a point of contention for historians. However, even if historians challenge the notions of 5,000 converts, as discussed I’ve discussed on this blog many times with other ancient histories such as Alexander the Great, the use of numbers in ancient historical documents are consistently used for grandeur and symbolism, not for accurate numbers.
There is some objection to this particular passage but Blake notes that Historians such as Bond, Speidel, Hilhorst, and Saddington see no difficulty,
The Jerusalem Council: Acts 15
Blake writes, “The description of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, generally considered the same event described in Galatians 2 is considered by some scholars to be contradictory to the Galatians account.”
The Jerusalem Council is probably the most contested historical part of the narrative of Acts of the Apostles because of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. What is important though is that in the past, what appears to be a contradiction “Recent scholarship is inclined to treat the Council and its rulings as a historical, though this is sometimes expressed with caution,” as Blake explains. He further explains that “There is an increasing trend among scholars toward considering the Jerusalem Council as historical event. An overwhelming majority identifies the reference to the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 with Paul’s account in Gal. 2.1‐10, and this accord is not just limited to the historicity of the gathering alone but extends also to the authenticity of the arguments deriving from the Jerusalem church itself.’”
The “we” passages
There currently is no scholarly consensus on the “we” passages.
The three most common theories on the “we” passages as examined by Blake:
- the writer was redacting existing written material or oral sources, whether by genuine eyewitnesses or not.
- 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,
- the writer was a genuine historical eyewitness.
Blake does acknowledge the critical commentary citing that “Critical scholars Gerd Lüdemann, Alexander Wedderburn, Hans Conzelmann, and Martin Hengel have treated Acts with scepticism, tempered with occasional acknowledgments of historical validity.” However, as Blake does preface, “Recent modern studies are far more positive in their assessment of the historicity of Acts than many previous critical commentaries.”
I will quote the entirety of Blake’s conclusion
“Current scholarly attitudes towards the historicity of Acts remain mixed, with extremist views expressed at both ends of the spectrum. However attitudes have generally become more positive since the publication of influential works by writers such as Hemer and Hengel, and historians of Rome have renewed their interest in the use of Acts as a valid source of information on the social, legal and political milieu of the empire in the first century. A number of objections to the historicity of specific events in Acts have now been dismissed conclusively, and a new consensus has emerged concerning therelationship of the ‘we’ passages to the question of authorship.”