The Book of Acts is the Biblical account of the first century Apostolic church. It begins with the ascension of the resurrected Jesus and ends deep into the ministry of the Apostle Paul. Its authenticity has been highly debated among scholars, especially around the timing of authorship. When was the book of Acts written? The divide in academia is whether Acts was written in the first or the second century. Some claim will date the Acts of the Apostles as early as before 62 A.D. while others will state that it was most certainly beyond 100 AD. Does it really matter when was the Book of Acts written? It most certainly does.
It is believed that the Evangelist Luke wrote the Book of Acts. Luke traveled with the Apostle Paul and was also a Physician and Historian. Many attest that he followed up his Gospel with the Acts of the Apostles to share the history of the early church that exemplified the five fold ministry gifts.
Evangelist Jason Koch D’Ambrosio teaches a segment titled “When was the Book of Acts written?”
According to our faith, the Book of Acts is not a story, like Homer’s Iliad. We claim it as the accurate historical account of Christianity’s first generation. To make that claim, Acts has to be able to withstand tests of historicity. One of those tests is when was book the book of acts written? The timespan between an event and when it was recorded is extremely important.
If the skeptics are correct and it was dated into the second century, then Acts becomes less credible as a historical account. In the late 19th Century, a German Theologian named F.C. Bauer put forth a case for the Book of Acts being a creation of the second-century church. This view became widely accepted. If Acts was written after 100 A.D. were true, how would this damage the credibility of the Bible?
With nearly 2 generations passing, Acts would be a legend, not a historical account
Remember, there was no internet or even encyclopedias. Things were spread by oral tradition or handwritten documents. Anything passed 2 generations is a legend.
A second-century dating would remove eyewitness accounts
This is important because eyewitnesses have the opportunity to agree or refute claims. Even the credibility of miracles could be called into question.
The dating of when was Acts written has implications of the datings of the Gospels
If Acts was written after A.D. 100, then the gospels can be later as well. As stated earlier, Acts is the second half of the Gospel of Luke. Obviously, Luke would have had to have been composed before Acts. This puts him well into the eyewitness period.
While academia and apologists quarrel on the dating of authorship, the argument for the first century being when was the book of acts written is strong. In fact, there is ample evidence that the work was constructed prior to 70 AD.
First, we will start with what was not included. As a historian, Luke was careful to be detailed in his accounts. Later in this article, we will circle back to his commitment to historical accuracy. Even though proof by omission can never fully validate an argument, we cannot ignore what Luke did not write.
There is no mention of the fall of the Jerusalem temple | AD 70
The fall of the temple in Jerusalem was hugely significant throughout the world, especially relating to the Christian and Jewish population. When reading through the end of Acts of the Apostles, we get the sense that the temple is still standing. The destruction of this once holy place was prophesied by Jesus in Luke 21 and Matthew 24.
When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Luke 20:21
“Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” Matthew 24:2
Also, consider that the author goes out of his way to mention fulfilled prophesies in his writing, such as Acts 11:28. Why not add credibility to the movement of Christianity by including perhaps the most important prophesy fulfilled by Jesus Himself?
The Jewish Roman Wars is not mentioned | 66AD – 70 AD
The years A.D. 66-70 were difficult ones for the Jews. The Jewish war with the Romans began in A.D. 66, culminating in the destruction of the city and the temple in A.D. 70. They were oppressed by Rome from A.D. 66 and thereafter. However, in the Book of Acts, the Jews are the oppressors rather than the ones who are being oppressed. This would not have been the case after A.D. 66.
There is nothing in Acts that indicates the deterioration of the relationship between the Jews and the Romans. Could this answer the question “When was the book of Acts written?” as before 66 AD?
There is not detailed account or the Emperor Nero or the Roman persecution of Christians | 64 AD – 313 AD
Nero was a wicked ruler. He kicked off what was 2 centuries of brutal persecution of God’s people starting in 64 AD. The book of Acts makes no mention of God’s church being killed by the Romans. Luke mentions other martyrs such as Stephen, (Acts 7) and James (Acts 12). Why would he not mention any of those who died at the hands of the Emperor Nero or his predecessors?
There is no mention of the death of the Apostle Paul | 62AD – 68AD
Luke uses “we” throughout the Book of Acts. Only a sojourner of the mission could make that claim. A second-century account would be a dishonest one.
When was the Book of Acts written? Let us now look at what is actually included to drive home its first-century authorship. The Book of Acts is literally a historical anomaly. One of the most important factors of judging the historicity of a literary work is the historical accuracy of its content. There are facts that Luke mentions that point not only to a skilled historian but an eyewitness.
In his book The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, Colin Hemer lists many instances where the Author speaks of subtle, yet powerful, accurate details of his journey. We could not say “his journey” if the book was written in the second century.
Tim McGrew, Professor of Philosophy at Western Michigan University, lists 41 examples of details that Luke gets right in an article titled On the Historical Accuracy of the Book of Acts. I encourage taking a look at the list but at a high level Luke mentions over 80 accounts that strengthen the authenticity that Acts was not only written in the first century but by an eyewitness.
For instance, Luke mentions it take two days to sail from Troas to Neapolis. Then he shares that it is five days to accomplish the return trip (Acts 16:11; 20:6). Only someone who has sailed this distance would know that and we can know verify the discrepancy of time is because of prevailing winds on the return trip. Only a person with first hand knowledge would note the time difference in journeys.
In short, the historical detail, whether intentional or not, shared in the Acts of the Apostles lends tremendously to its credibility. This credibility is not solely because the author is accurate, but also because of the probability that the author (Luke), was actually there. This most definitely lends to help answer the question “When was the Book of Acts written?”.
The events described actually happened in the first century. The Author not only uses the term “we” to express his eyewitness testimony but also backs up his account with historical accuracies in the description of his journey.
The British Scholar Sir William Ramsay not only questioned when was the Book of Acts written, but also its validity altogether. It had become a popular opinion among academia that Acts was not a reliable source.
Ramsay, influenced by those around him, ignored the scripture’s historical references in his studies until he hit a wall on a project. He had set out to develop an independent historical/geographical study of first-century Asia Minor. The amount of usable historical information concerning first-century Asia Minor, however, was too little for him to proceed very far with his work. That led him, almost in desperation, to consult the Book of Acts for any help possible. What Sir William Ramsay found compelled him to change his viewpoint on the Book of Acts completely.
One major stumbling block to many was an account that was declared inaccurate in Acts 14. In this chapter, we find Paul and Barnabas persecuted in Iconium. Because they were in danger, they flee the city. The passage says that went to Lystra and Derbe, which were cities in the district of Lycaonia. Iconium, however, was the city in which he and Barnabas were persecuted, was in a different district.
Paul and Barnabas went to this different district because it was safe from the persecutions they were experiencing in Iconium. However, later Roman writers, such as Cicero, contradicted the passage, asserting that Iconium was also in the district of Lycaonia. Therefore, fleeing to the cities of Lystra and Derbe would not have made Paul and Barnabas safe from the people of Iconium.
For years, this was used as an example to show the historical unreliability of Acts. The argument was… how could a first-hand author get the district he was in wrong?
In 1910, however, Sir William Ramsay discovered an inscription declaring that the first century Iconium was under the authority of Phrygia in A.D. 37-72. It was ONLY during these years that Iconium was not under the authority of Lycaonia. That means the writer of Acts was likely reporting within that timeframe which would prove when was the book of Acts written. That time period was the first century.
Sir Ramsay’s discovery completely turned around what had been a rebuttal against the validity of Christianity. The Apostolic Christian church turned the world upside down 2000 years ago and if what is claimed in scripture, especially in Acts, is true, it is so much more than a movement of man. It is further proof that God Himself sent His son to die for humanity and then charged the Body of Christ (You and Me) to continue to change the world generation upon generation.
In closing, if the Book of Acts was written in the first century, it is one of the most accurate literary works available to humanity today. We at Sound of Heaven church strongly encourage that you study the Book of Acts. Discern how the efforts of the early church impacted the world around them and ask God to show you how you, a modern disciple and Apostolic Christian, can all live a life that spreads the Gospel and the love of God.
Jesus gave us the Great Commission in Matthew 18:6-20
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”