Sunday, January 26, 2014

Acts' Authorship

Craig Keener notes that dating the book of Acts to the second century "remains a distinctly minority position" (n. 74 on 395). He argues at length for an earlier dating. Whoever wrote the document seems to have been writing in the first century. Keener writes:

He [the author of Acts] grows more detailed in the Pauline material in Acts and especially the "we" material in Acts 20-28, the most recent material and that on which he appears most fully informed….

Today almost all scholars acknowledge that Luke and Acts share the same author….

Beyond this general agreement, a majority of (but not nearly all) scholars agree that Luke was a Gentile, writing for a largely Gentile (or, perhaps more accurately, mixed Gentile and Jewish) Diaspora audience. A much smaller number, though probably still the majority, argue that the author was at least a short-term companion of Paul….

The primary reason for many scholars treating "we" in Acts differently than they would in most other ancient historical works is the argument that a genuine traveling companion of Paul cannot have so misunderstood him. I do not judge this reason sufficiently plausible to overturn our normal expectation for first-person pronouns in ancient historical literature. Aside from the question of whether most of Paul's modern interpreters have understood him well enough to pass judgment on some of Luke's interpretations (see discussion in ch. 7, esp. sect. 7, of this introduction), the argument betrays inadequate familiarity with ancient historians. If Luke frames his material about Paul (especially in the speeches) in light of what Luke wants to say, he simply acts like many other ancient historians did. Material from ancient authors sometimes remains extant alongside biographic reports about them, and the range of perspectives between the epistolary and Lukan Pauls is no greater than the presentations in these other sources. When we factor in the popular level of Luke's historical writing, the assumption that Luke never knew the historical Paul because he uses him for his own rhetorical purposes (influenced by Paul but also by other early Christian sources) becomes untenable….

Most [scholars] accept at least an eyewitness as the source of the "we" material…

That, according to my view, the author occasionally traveled with Paul and noted carefully Paul's legal situation does not mean that the author was intimately acquainted with details of Paul's theology as expressed in the sample letters of Paul today extant. Nor, if he were so acquainted, would he (having a broader sample than we do) necessarily choose to emphasize these aspects of Paul's life and thought or need to express his own theology in the same terms as Paul's occasional letters….

Other ancient biographies provide the same kinds of challenges when compared with the subject's extant letters….

Nock, Essays, 828, indeed suggests that Luke need not have been intimate with Paul, though traveling with him, and if he "failed to understand Paul's theology, he was not alone in that."…

Classicists normally start with the external evidence, the most concrete evidence we have….

One of the least likely lapses in early Christian memory would be the name of the author of two major works (Luke and Acts), especially the widely circulated Gospel…

Our earliest external evidence unanimously supports Luke's authorship….

But given Titus's greater prominence in Paul's letters than Luke, why would the tradition have unanimously settled on Luke?…

Luke was not otherwise prominent in tradition, and so the unanimous support for his authorship in the tradition is noteworthy….Moreover, it is unlikely that a work the size of a Gospel would have circulated anonymously in the churches…

Indeed, as one scholar notes (accurately for at least Anglophone scholarship at the time of his writing), this "traditional view of its authorship [Luke as the author of Acts], unquestioned till the end of the eighteenth century, but seriously challenged in the nineteenth, is once again generally accepted now."

(Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Volume I [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2012], 131, 402, 406-7, n. 33 on 407, 409, n. 46 on 409, 410-2)

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