The following are my notes of Ed Gravely’s lecture on the book of Acts at SEBTS.
The Importance of Acts
Without the book of Acts our knowledge of the early church would be severely limited. We would not know:
– How the church expanded to the Gentiles
– Who the Apostle Paul was
– How to date the 4 gospels
– About the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
– How the early church behaved and lived (Entire denominations have been started because of the way people have understood whether or not Acts is prescriptive or descriptive.)
Arguments For An Early Dating of the Book of Acts
– An early date best fits the traditional authorship of Luke and the history of his travels with Paul.
– An early date best explains the neutral friendly attitude toward Rome.
– An early date best explains why Acts is generally unacquainted with Paul’s letters.
– No mention of Paul’s death is strong (though not conclusive) evidence for an early date.
Acts Is A Theological Document
– From beginning to end it is occupied with Jew-Gentile debates and issues.
– Acts undergoes a definite switch from the ministry of Peter (“Apostle to the Circumcision”) to the ministry of Paul (“Apostle to the Gentiles”)
– Acts follows an outline: the gospel goes from “Jerusalem” to “Judea and Samaria” to the “ends of the earth.” This is more than just a statement about geography, it is the outline of the book.
– Acts closes with a theological declaration about the gospel and its relationship to Jews and Gentiels.
– The dominance of “tongues” as theological affirmation of the gospel’s movement from Jew to Gentile.
Historical Reliability of Acts
Historical material can be categorized in three ways:
1. It can be proved to be true.
2. It can be proved to be false.
3. There is no way to prove it is true or false.
Acts is full of category one and category 3 and even though there are scholars label some of Acts into category 2 I do not believe there is any good reason to believe so.
In order to determine historical reliability of any ancient document you need these 3 things: Integrity, Historicity, Antiquity
Speeches In Acts
– The speeches in Acts make up about 25-30% of the book.
– The speeches in Acts are clearly not verbatim transcripts. For example, Peter’s sermon in the temple square lasted according to Luke from 3pm until evening (Acts 3:1; Acts 4:3) but only 17 verses of the speech are recorded. Luke seems to be giving accurate summaries of what was said. It was common in ancient historiography to prescribe accurate summations of speeches.
Genre of Acts
Acts exhibits many features of ancient Greco-Roman and Jewish historiography:
– Requests and dedications
– An apology for defective style
– Comments on the value and utility of the history
– Mention of predecessors
– Assurance of impartiality
– Use of appropriate methodology
– Reason for writing
Acts is a theological history, written in an educated style and methodology, a style not particularly beholden to any one precursor.