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Post Info TOPIC: Dating Luke-Acts: Early, Middle, or Late?


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Dating Luke-Acts: Early, Middle, or Late?
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Dating Luke-Acts: Early, Middle, or Late?

The academic debate over the dating of the composite New Testament writing, Luke-Acts, is a complex one with a long history among biblical scholars and historians. Joseph Tyson has an exceptionally clear and balanced presentation of the various arguments for an early (early 60s CE in Paul’s lifetime), intermediate (80-90 CE) and a late date (110-120), “When and Why Was the Acts of the Apostles Written?” over at BibleInterp.com. You won’t want to miss this one.

Marcion Disputes with the Apostle John

Marcion Disputes with the Apostle John

What makes Tyson’s essay stand out in my view is that he does not focus on the usual concern that an early date is “conservative” position and thus supports the authenticity or accuracy of the work, whereas a “late” date is a “liberal” view, favored by those who put little historical stock in the account of the author, either of the Gospel of or the writing we call Acts of the Apostles. Tyson shows that this issue should not be central. Rather we should be interested more in the historical context that the author appears to address. It is the case that the rise and development of the teaching of Marcion, often ignored by students of the New Testament, provides a meaningful historical context to which the author of Luke-Acts most likely responds.

The influence of the Acts of the Apostles in shaping what became the “Master Narrative” of early Christianity can hardly be overestimated.  Of course Acts was only the beginning, as Robert Wilken has so ably shown in his classic work, The Myth of Christian Beginnings, but it was a beginning that continues until our own time to influence all we think about everything “early Christian.” Try imagining “Christian Origins” of the first four decades without Acts in your head and you will see what I mean–but imagine we must. I try to do a bit of this in my book, Paul and JesusThe difference it makes is enormous.

When people think about what happened “after the cross,” more than anything else they have the narrative of the book of Acts in their head. The role of James, the brother of Jesus, is muted. Peter and John become the leading apostles. Paul soon takes over and dominates the story (chapters 9-24 are almost exclusively about Paul). Even the speeches of Peter in the early chapters of Acts are recast in Pauline garb–the so-calledkerygma of the early Church. I remember being so impressed years ago, as a young college student, with C. H. Dodd’s little volume, The Apostolic Preaching and its Development. It was a few years later that I had my world at least cracked, but not yet shattered, by Henry J. Cadbury’s The Making of Luke-Acts, as I realized the author of Acts was simply reflecting common Hellenistic literary conventions in both his narratives and his speech composition, as well as the so-called “We Source” (Acts 16:10–17; 20:5–15; 21:1–18; 27:1– 2). Acts, to be sure, relies on earlier sources, especially the speech attributed to Stephen in Acts 7 that is so closely parallel to Ebionite sources, including so-called “Ascents of James” embedded in the Clementine Recognitions. Nonetheless, as Arthur Droge has so convincingly demonstrated, the world of Acts is the world of the first decades of the 2nd century CE.[1]

  1. Did “Luke” Write Anonymously? Lingering at the Threshold,” in Die Apostelgeschichte im Kontext antiker und frühchristlicher Historiographie, eds., Jörg Frey, Clare K. Rothschild and Jens Schröter (Berlin; New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2009): 495-518 []


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