Genre of Acts
Richard Pervo (Profit with Delight) compares Acts with ancient novels and finds striking resemblances. . . .
The literary genre of Acts. 1: Ancient Prologues
by Neil GodfreyRichard Pervo (Profit with Delight) compares Acts with ancient novels and finds striking resemblances. We tend to resist finding the thrill of novelistic adventure and humour in the books of the Bible. Holy books are supposed to be read with much gravitas, after all. But Pervo’s comparison with ancient novels has persuaded him that Acts shared their particular qualities that excited and entertained his audiences. I have read many ancient novels over recent years — and many ancient historians over a longer period of time — and fully agree with him.
This is not to deny that the author of Acts wanted his narrative to be read as history. But by the standards of the day it was very much a history told like a popular novel. It was pitched at an audience whose tastes were more towards light and exciting reading than for the heavier and drier tomes of Thucydides. (I avoid the term “historical fiction” because the work was not read as fiction. It was meant to be read as history but it was pitched at the tastes of the wider public.)
Students of biblical literature should read widely in literature contemporary with those biblical books. It’s the only way to really dispel impressions we pick up from our religious background that the Bible’s books are like no others. I suspect that a cultural predisposition to read Acts as a devotional-like religious history has focused many till now on attempting to find parallels with ancient historians at the expense of “less serious” literature.
One major pillar of the dogma that Acts is ancient historiography comes from the use of a preface, the employment of speeches, and of course, the sustained narrative of events, including references to secular history. For those nurtured on the classics, Acts looks a bit of somewhat familiar ground. (p.4, Profit)
1. The Prologue
The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after he through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom he had chosen, to whom he also presented himself alive after his suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.Many readers are persuaded by the fact that Acts has a prologue just like ancient secular histories do that it must be considered a priori an attempt at real history. But Pervo notes the following:
(Acts 1:1-3 — some prefer to restrict the prologue so it ends at “to the apostles whom he had chosen”, but one will see from the samples of prologues below that they would sometimes slide in to the main story without any clear division. A later rhetorician and satirist, Lucian of Samosta, tells us that this “easy and unforced transition to the narrative” was a good thing.)
- Part of the same prologue introduces the Gospel of Luke. If Acts is a priori real history because of the preface than so must the Gospel of Luke. (Some will not see a problem with thinking of the gospels as real history, but the implications are major and many. That’s another discussion.)
- The similarities between the prefaces of the gospel and Acts to the preface of Josephus imply “no more than that they conform to late first-century c.e. historical style.” (p.5)
- Prefaces were highly conventional, and probably taught in school. Their claims could be parodied.
- Medical writers, astrologers, dream interpreters, and novelists all used prefaces. They were not the preserve of historians. Novelists could use them to create verisimilitude.
- To add to Pervo’s note that prefaces were a feature of a wide range of genres, an online essay by Henry Wansbrough cites Loveday Alexander:
A large number of short treatises, of about the length of Lk’s work, have been examined in Loveday Alexander’s authoritative work (Alexander 1993). She establishes that it was a convention to begin with a preface similar to his, including such matters as name of author and recipient, his aim, the sources of his information, the importance of the subject, and a claim to personal competence for the task. Luke’s preface accords with these conventions, though in detail it is more similar to medical, mechanical, military and mathematical treatises than to historical works.So Pervo concludes that the author’s use of a preface or prologue cannot decide the question of the genre of Acts, or lead us to conclude a priori that the ensuing narrative must be historical.
But we can’t expect to be persuaded without seeing some examples. (I’ve taken these from a range of online sites, Cadbury’s The Making of Luke-Acts, and Reardon’s Collected Ancient Greek Novels, and the Penguin publication of Selincourt’s translation of Arrian’s Anabasis or Campaigns of Alexander.)
i. Not only historiesThat dedications were written to introduce a variety of texts, Onasander, about 58 c.e., prefacing his essay on The General which he dedicated to the general Veranius, wrote:
It is fitting, I believe, to dedicate monographs on horsemanship, or hunting, or fishing, or farming, to men who are devoted to such pursuits’ but a treatise on military science, Quintus Veranius, should be dedicated to Romans, and especially to those of the Romans who have attained senatorial dignity . . . . p.203, Cadbury, 1927
ii. Linking or split prefacesThe preface to Acts is a linking preface. It’s first part was to introduce the Gospel of Luke. Some nonbiblical examples of similar linking or secondary prefaces follow. The one that bears the most striking resemblance to the prologue in Acts is the one I cite first, from a book about dream interpretation (Note Wansborough’s citation of Loveday Alexander’s comments above):
Artemidorus, Oneirocritica ii.1 (A book on the Interpretation of Dreams)
In the first book, Cassius Maximus, I gave an account of the materials of the art and of the teaching as to how dreams ought to be interpreted, etc . . . But in this book I shall make the differentiations that are necessary. (Cadbury, 1927)“I gave an account” is εποιμσαμην τον λογον
Compare in Acts 1:1 “the account I gave” λογον εποιμσαμην
Chariton, Chaereas and Callirhoe, Book 5, 8 (A popular novel)
[Summary of what has been narrated till now] . . . Now I shall describe what happened next. (Reardon, 1989)Lucian, A True Story, 2.32 (Lucian is a parodist)
I am going to talk about the town first, because no one has ever written about it except Homer, and what he says is not very accurate. (Reardon, 1989)Diodorus Siculus, Iambulus (An imaginary voyage — see Winston article)
iii. Some examples of secondary prefaces from historiesLinks are direct to the prefaces or pages on which they appear.
Polybius, Histories, IV, 1
Josephus, Antiquities, 13 and Antiquities, 14
Diodorus Siculus, 17th book (The beginning of his history of Alexander)
iv. Prologues from non-historical works
Links are direct to the prefaces or pages on which they appear.
Lucian’s preface to his “True Story” (Lucian is a parodist)
Longus, Daphnis and Chloe (A popular novel)
Antonius Diogenes, The Wonders Beyond Thule (Prose fiction pretending to be historical fact — Reardon, p.776)
Xenophon, Cyropedia (About a noble education — case study, Cyrus)
Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana (a biography of a holy man said to have lived not long after Jesus)
Prologue to Sirach (A Jewish example — non-historical)
Pseudo-Callisthenes, The Alexander Romance (not available online: the prologue below copied from Reardon, p.654)
No finer or more courageous man is held to have existed than Alexander, king of Macedon. He had a special way of doing everything and found his own qualities always had Providence for a partner. In fact, his wars and battles with any one nation were over before historians had time to gather full information on its cities. The deeds of Alexander, the excellences of his body and of his soul, his success in his actions, his bravery, are our present subject. We begin with his family — and the identity of his father. People are generally under the misapprehension that he was the son of King Philip. This is quite wrong. . . .
v. Prologues from historiesLinks are direct to the prefaces or pages on which they appear.
(I have previously discussed some of the following in comparison with the evidence for Jesus here.)
Thucydides, Peloponnesian War
Polybius, Histories, 1.i
Plutarch, Life of Alexander (Not really a history as he says himself in his introduction)
Tacitus, Annals of Rome
Josephus, Antiquities and Wars of the Jews
Marcus Junianus Justinus (Justin), Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus
Arrian, Campaigns of Alexander (Anabasis) (I have not been able to find an online text that includes Arrian’s preface. Below is the translation by Aubrey De Selincourt, Penguin, 1958)
Wherever Ptolemy and Aristobulus in their histories of Alexander, the son of Philip, have given the same account, I have followed it on the assumption of its accuracy; where their facts differ I have chosen what I feel to be the more probable and interesting. There are other accounts of Alexander’s life – more of them, indeed, and more mutually conflicting than of any other historical character; it seems to me, however, that Ptolemy and Aristobulus are the most trustworthy writers on this subject, because the latter shared Alexander’s campaigns, and the former – Ptolemy – in addition to this advantage, was himself a King, and it is more disgraceful for a King to tell lies than for anyone else. Moreover, Alexander was dead when these men wrote; so there was no sort of pressure upon either of them, and they could not profit from falsification of the facts. Certain statements by other writers upon Alexander may be taken to represent popular tradition: some of these, which are interesting in themselves and may well be true, I have included in my work.
If anyone should wonder why I should have wished to write this history when so many other men have done the same, I would ask him to reserve judgement until he has first read my predecessors’ work and then become acquainted with my own.
vi. More about prologues, from Cadbury, 1927 (pp.194-204)
When, where and who
Prologues or prefaces came into vogue in the Hellenistic era.
They were used in all kinds of formal prose.
In the Greek Bible the only other prefaces are by the grandson of Jesus ben Sirah (Ecclesiasticus) and the author of the Second Book of Maccabees.
Prefaces were the usual form for Greek and Latin historians, geographers, scientists, doctors and other prose writers, and even poets provided prefaces (sometimes in prose).
ConventionsContents of the prefaces were prescribed by the rhetorical rule-books.
Prefaces often include references to particular preceding writers on the same theme (sometimes to comment on them negatively), to the author’s authority in the subject, to his decision to write and his purpose in writing.
Prefaces mention the official addressee of a work, to whom it is dedicated and his interest in the work following.
The author’s name is usually included at the end of the preface.
Prefaces were often in marked by a sophisticated style in contrast with the technical books they introduced. Aim was to make a favorable impression at the start. Even purely scientific works had artistic prefaces.
This interest in the style of prefaces led to the custom of writing prefaces for practice; to sometimes treating prefaces as quite separate subjects from their main work; to writing them as separate units; and prolonging them to become out of all proportion to the main work. (Cicero had written for himself a supply of prefaces for him to select from as needed. He once accidentally used one twice, for two separate works.)
Secondary prefacesWhen a work required more than one volume, a secondary preface often occurs.
The preface to the later book would begin with summaries of the preceding book and of the book just begun.
Sometimes the latter summary occurs instead at the close of the preceding book, or even in both places.
In Acts there is no summary of the new book. “The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which . . . ” leads over into a repetition of the closing scene of the gospel. “This sentence lacks the systematic arrangement which we often find in contemporary transitions of the sort.” (Cadbury raises the possibility that the preface has been tampered with so that it no longer appears as it was originally written.)
Secondary prefaces were not universal. In many cases the books followed one another with no obvious break. And in many cases, the divisions into the books we know were not the work of the original author.
Rhetorical writers, however, could elaborate each separate volume with artistic prefaces — often alien to the subject of the volume to follow — as if they were completely new works.
We are told Ephorus wrote 30 books prefixing each with a new preface.
Diodorus Siculus claimed to write regular prefaces to prevent, he said, others from revising the works into something he hadn’t said.
Jerome justified prefaces on the grounds that they helped keep the books or volumes in their correct order.
Possibly books without prefaces and on separate rolls risked becoming mixed up in order.
When a work was of more than one volume it was customary to mention the addressee at the beginning of each volume.
Confusion with lettersSometimes the preface took the form of an attached letter.
This custom has led to moderns mistaking formal treatises for personal letters. (e.g. “letter” of Aristeas to Philocrates, and the so-called Epistle to Diognetus). Neither of these treatises was really a letter.
Significance of the addresseeThe relation of the addressee to the work and to its author varied. Personal friend, fellow author, patron, a name to add prestige, or any person appropriate to the book’s contents (e.g. a general for a work on military strategy). The name may not have had any personal association with the author and may not even have been personally interested in the work written.
The significance of including an addressee was to declare that the work was for public reading. The real readers may have been quite different from the addressee in the preface.
vii. ConclusionThe prologue of itself cannot assign Acts to the genre of historiography. “For such devices could be employed by novelists to create verisimilitude.” (Pervo, p. 5)
Of all the examples of ancient prologues cited and linked above, the closest one in appearance to Acts is the one introducing a treatise on how to interpret dreams. When comparing the words used, its brevity, its structure and the function of its contents in relation to the main text, its avoidance of self-identification and other specific details about sources and predecessors, the prologue of Acts is least like the more well known prefaces to ancient histories.
But note Cadbury’s comments on the preface to Acts to quite unconventionally fail to mention the purpose or contents of the book it introduces.
The literary genre of Acts. 2: Chronology
by Neil GodfreyThere is not a lot to say about the use of chronological markers in Acts. There aren’t many.
I still recall my first readings of the synoptic gospels and Acts and wondering over what time span readers were meant to understand the narratives taking place. There are simply no clues within the text itself. No absolute chronological markers worth the mention. How long was it from Pentecost to the conversion of Paul? There are a few mentions of several month stays and weeks of traveling, but no clue is given in the text itself about whether the events covered a handful of years or a generation.
Pervo writes in relation to determining the genre of Acts:
Nor does chronology settle the question. Luke’s absolute chronology is so thin that one of his defenders was driven to assign chronological data to a projected third volume by Luke and another to blame the problem on sources.¹ Relative chronology is also problematic. Only those readers supplied with data from other sources perceive that the book records events that took place over an entire generation.² If chronology, both external and internal, was an important concern for historians, it was not so for Luke. (p. 5)His footnotes elaborate:
- Poor sources: Bruce, 15. (What of Luke 3:1-2, where the source is known?) Most of the chronology of Acts derives from the mention of known persons (e.g. Gallio, Claudius) whose dates are elsewhere available.
- Thus Acts 12:1-23, if it refers to Agrippa, implies more than a decade has elapsed since the ascension. No one would guess this, nor imagine that chaps. 12-18 covered eight years.
I have discussed in brief a possible source for Luke’s chronology in Luke 3.1 in a post that is part of another series I am working on. See Dating the Book of Acts: 5
Dating the Book of Acts: 4, the late date reconsidered (1-3)
by Neil GodfreyTyson has presented the selective summary of views on the date of Acts (outlined in previous 3 posts) to bring to readers’ attention the fact that the current majority view for the intermediate date for Acts (80-100 c.e.) has not always held the floor. He believes recent scholarship in a number of fields invites us to re-open the question of the second-century date for Acts, even though it has not been widely entertained now for 100 years. Tyson sees five issues as significant for this reconsideration of a late date for Acts:
- External references to Acts
- Significance of the events of 70 c.e.
- Bearing of the end of Acts
- Possible influence of Josephus on Acts
- Use of Paul’s letters by the author of Acts
1. External referencesHaenchen and Conzelmann both concluded that definite evidence for Acts exists only from the second half of the second century.
While short phrases before then (in 1 Clement, Ignatius, Barnabas, Polycarp, 2 Clement, Papias) appear to contain fragments that are similar to passages in Acts, Haenchen shows that none of them is necessarily or clearly drawn from Acts. Rather, the first to indicate debt to Acts according to Haenchen is Justin Martyr. He considers Justin’s 1 Apology 50:12 narrating a sequence of events that mirror the last chapters of Luke and first chapter of Acts. (See also my links to tables illustrating Justin Martyr’s knowledge of canonical gospel and church history, including links there to 1 Apology.)
Townsend (in Luke-Acts, 1984) doubts Justin Martyr’s knowledge of Acts (so do I — see my tables linked above). For example, he comments that while Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho 105 may be taken to cite Luke 23:46, it is equally plausible that it is a citation of Psalm 31:5. In Townsend’s view the earliest definite citations and allusions to Luke-Acts are from 170 c.e.
It may be argued that the absence of definite external references to Acts before 170 c.e. is an argument from silence and that there are plausible explanations for this absence of evidence of Acts prior to this time. Thus the lateness of external attestation for Acts does not establish a late date for the composition of Acts. But it does give us permission to embrace such a late date if other arguments offer a probability for it.
2. Significance of 70 c.e.The absence of any “explicit and precise reference” to the fall of Jerusalem and with it the collapse of institutional Judaism is inexplicable if Acts were written after 70 C.E. (Robinson).
- But how “explicit and precise” does a reference have to be? Assuming that Acts was written with or after Luke, “most scholars take Luke 19:41-44 and 21:20-24 to be just the kinds of specific detailed prophecies ex eventu that Robinson requires” (p.12). Robinson counters that these references are not as explicit as a “prophecy” after the event in the Sibylline Oracles (See Book IV, 125) — apparently assuming that if an author “does not make explicit and precisely detailed reference to the fall of Jerusalem, it is reasonable to conclude that the author was writing before 70 c.e.” (p.12).
- It can also be countered that Robinson imposes his own expectations of what should have been important for the author.
- Robinson further assumes that Luke-Acts must have been “written either before 70 C.E. or in the immediate aftermath of these events and in a context in which they had a significant impact” — such as being in conversation with Palestinian or diaspora Jews. His assumption precludes consideration of a second century date or a non-Palestinian context.
- Windisch also contends that the disaster of 70 c.e. “by no means resulted in breaking the pride and self-confidence of the Jews, least of all in the Diaspora” — so the extent to which it is referred to in the gospels is quite adequate anyway.
- Witherington agrees, thinking that the way Luke portrays the fall of Jerusalem and its contrast with Mark’s account strongly indicates a look back on 70 c.e. in hindsight.
- While a lack of specific reference to the fall of Jerusalem might seem strange if the work were written within a decade of the event and in dialogue with Palestinian or diaspora Jews, it would not be at all surprising if the work were written as late as the second century. And in Tyson’s view, Luke 19 and 21 give ample testimony to the author’s knowledge of, and writing well after, the event. His failure to be more specific is what we would expect if he were writing in the late first or second century.
- Harnack argued that the references to the fall of Jerusalem in Luke and their absence in Acts pointed to the author knowing of the fall but writing many decades later.
3. End of ActsThe conclusion of Acts does not tell readers what happened to Paul, and many find this too difficult to accept if the book were written after the fate of Paul were known, or at least long afterwards when there was no longer a risk involved in revealing Paul’s movements after his release from house confinement.
“Most scholars would agree that, although sufficient notice of the fate of Paul was given in Acts 20:25, Luke’s major purpose was not to portray the life and death of Paul but to provide a basis for legitimating the Gentile mission. Luke’s main story in Acts was that of the progress of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome.” (p.13)
The assumption made by Robinson and Harnack that the absence of explicit reference to the fate of Paul is the same one made in relation to the lack of clearly explicit reference to the fall of Jerusalem. To assume that if the authors were writing after these events they would necessarily have made more detailed references to them is to “impose on the author of Acts our own assumptions about what he should have known, should have considered germane to his purposes in writing, and should have included.” (p.14). Modern tastes should not influence our judgments about the dating of the work.
Dating the Book of Acts: 5, the late date reconsidered (4. Josephus)
by Neil Godfrey
4. Influence of JosephusPervo writes that Luke would have used Josephus as a source quite differently from his other sources such as Mark, Q, Paul and the LXX. He did not quote Josephus or imitate his style. But there are good economic arguments for believing Luke used Josephus as a source and if so, that would mean that he must have written after 93-94 c.e.
Evidence for Luke’s use of Josephus (Pervo):
- Acts 5:36-37 refers to insurrectionists Theudas and Judas in incorrect historical order. Interestingly, Josephus also refers to them in reverse chronological order, despite being clearly aware that he was doing so. See chapter 5 paras 1 and 2 in Antiquities book 20. Josephus reversed their order for his own narrative reasons. It appears that Luke has recollected the order as he heard them from a reading of Josephus.
- Luke 2:2 introduces the census of Quirinius (historically 6 c.e.) as the “watershed”, the beginning of the new stage of Jewish and human history with the birth of Jesus, and is the only gospel author to do so. Josephus also wrote of this same census as the “watershed” of Jewish history, as marking the beginning of time of Jewish rebellion against Rome which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and her Temple. (See chapter 1 paragraph 1 references to “Cyrenius” (=Quirinius) in Antiquities 18, and resulting revolt begun by Judas.)
Other probably correlations between Josephus and Luke (Pervo):
- Luke 3:1 historical reference to Lysanias as tetrarch of Abilene in Antiquities 19, ch.5, para.1. The appearance of Lysanias here is something of an enigma. Neither he nor his jurisdiction plays any part in the story. But twice Lysanias is mentioned in Josephus and each time in association with Philip. Antiquities 18.237 and 20.138. (We know of know other sources Luke could have drawn on for this association. They may have existed, but until they surface then the possibility the name derives from Josephus must remain a good possibility.)
- Acts 21:38 the mistaking of Paul for “the Egyptian prophet” Antiquities 20, ch.8, para.6.
- Acts 22:3; 26:5 the characterization of the Pharisees as AKRIBHS (very strict), only elsewhere described as such by Josephus, e.g. Wars 1, ch.5, para.2.
- Acts 24:24 the reference to Drusilla as the wife of Felix, Antiquities 20, ch.7, para.2.
“Nearly every item of ‘modern’ history to which Luke refers can be found in Josephus. That may not be remarkable. Yet when Luke calls Jewish parties philosophical ‘sects,’ when he views the Census of 6 ce as a watershed event, when he introduces such characters as Judas, Theudas, ‘the Egyptian,’ and sicarii, it is appropriate to introduce the adjective ‘remarkable.'” (Pervo, p.198)
Josephus is clearly dated at 93/94 c.e. so we have good reasons for considering Luke-Acts to have been written later than this.
Next part (5) to summarize the use of Paul’s letters in Acts. Though Paul is said to have written in the mid first century, his letters are thought to have only been collated and widely distributed from the end of the first century. Hence the relevance of their possible influence in assigning a date to Acts.
Dating the Book of Acts: 6, the late date reconsidered (5. Paul’s letters)
by Neil Godfrey
5. Use of Paul’s Letters in ActsThe following hyperlinked notes (continued from Tyson) outline evidence from Knox, O’Neill, Enslin, Walker, Leppa, Aejmelaeus, Goulder and Pervo for collectively “mounting a serious counterargument” that the author of Acts knew and used Paul’s letters.
The apparent nonuse of Paul’s letters — given the centrality of Paul to the story of Acts — has often been cited as a factor that prohibits a late date for the composition of Acts.
Tyson observes that this apparent absence of Paul’s letters appears to pose no problems for those who argue for an early (pre 70 c.e.) date for Acts. Those who argue for this early date and for the author of Acts being a close companion of Paul seem not to be troubled by that companion not knowing of or showing any interest in the letters of Paul when he wrote about his life. (Tyson, p.16)
Since Goodspeed is widely taken as the authority for dating the collection of Paul’s letters from around 90 c.e. scholars generally take the absence of Paul’s letters from Acts as a sign that it was written prior to that date.
Knox presented a case for believing that the author of Acts did know the letters of Paul but deliberately chose to ignore them. The reason was that this author was writing after Marcion, and against Marcion, who made extensive use of Paul’s letters, indeed claiming them as his authority. Knox’s argument is that it would have countered the author’s intention in writing Acts to have made reference to them. He was attempting to promote a completely different image of, and theological position for, Paul.
O’Neill dates Acts to around 130 ce, just prior to Justin Martyr. He does not accept Knox’s argument and instead notes that it was Polycarp, around 135 ce, who was the first to demonstrate a knowledge of Paul’s letters. O’Neill thus argues that if the Pauline corpus was unknown till around 135, then it is still plausible that the author of Acts was in ignorance of them even up to around that time. In support of this assertion, he notes that Justin Martyr, writing after the Pauline letter collection must surely have been known, fails to acknowledge them, and makes no reference to Paul at all.
Enslin suggests that Luke did know of Paul’s letters and did make use of them, but not in the way we have assumed he might:
- Paul’s journeys take him to the same places he addressed his epistles — Galatia, Corinth, Rome, Thessalonica, Philippi, Ephesus. Coincidence?
- Why the curious and unelaborated statement in Luke 24:34 that Christ appeared to Simon? Was this a reference to 1 Cor. 15:5 (where Cephas is used as the Aramaic name for Simon)?
- The ascension of Acts 1:3 is delayed until long after the resurrection, yet this appears also to be a revision of the pericope about the ascension in Luke 24:50-51. Was this delay built in to accommodate the catalogue of appearances in 1 Cor. 15.?
- Does the longer text of Luke 22:19b-20 derive from 1 Cor. 11:23-25 (thought Enslin suspects the longer Lukan text is not original)?
- Does not Acts 15 read like a revision of the same conference in Galatians 2? (For extensive notes on the comparisons between these two chapters see my blog post How Acts subverts Galatians.)
- The letters offer little narrative material, and since Luke’s interest was in minimizing any suggestion of conflict in the early church, use of the letters may have even been counterproductive to his purposes.
Walker followed Enslin’s lead. He also saw Acts 16:1-3 as a revision of the question of circumcision as addressed in Gal. 2:3-5.) Walker concluded that Luke was attempting to “rescue” Paul from “heretics” such as Gnostics and Marcionites by making him sound more like Peter, and bypassing explicit reference to his letters. Simultaneously Luke was re-writing Peter to make him sound like Paul and the message he preached in his letters. The whole exercise was an attempt to introduce a catholic harmony into the history — and contemporary situation — of the church.
Joseph Tyson in Marcion and Luke-Acts cites textual evidence from Walker that supports the hypothesis that the author of Acts did know the letter to the Galatians, and attempted to subvert the message of the letter by recontextualizing key phrases.
On pages 18 and 19:
Both refer to proclamation to Gentiles as gospel (Gal 2:7; Acts 15:7).Tyson notes that Walker concludes that “virtually every idea and much of the actual working of Peter’s speech in Acts 15:7-11 have parallels” in Galatians. “Indeed, the Acts passage is so remarkably similar to the material in Galatians as to suggest the author of Acts almost certainly knew this letter and . . . used it as a source . . .” (p.19)
Both speak of a division of responsibility (Gal 2:7; Acts 15:7).
Both speak of divine selection of Paul and Peter (Gal 2:7-8; Acts 15:7).
Both speak of divine impartiality (Gal 2:6; Acts 15:9).
Both speak about the reception of the Holy Spirit (Gal 3:2-5; Acts 15:8).
Both refer to the law as yoke (Gal 5:1; Acts 15:10).
Both speak of the inability to observe Torah (Gal 2:14; Acts 15:10).
Both express the same view about the law and gospel (Gal 2:16; Acts 15:10-11).
Both assert the importance of faith (Gal 2:16; Acts 15:9).
Both assert the importance of grace (Gal 2:9; 1:6, 15; Acts 15:11).
Tyson draws on the studies of Walker and a 2002 dissertation by Leppa to demonstrate the strong possibility that the author of Acts 15 drew on Galatians. For details see my earlier post: How Acts subverts Galatians
“It is the dense correspondence between Acts 15 and Galatians 2 that most impresses Leppa.” (Tyson, p.19). Leppa analyzes verbal similarities and unusual combinations of words in similar contexts between Acts and Galatians:
- sumparalambano is used only 4 times in the New Testament; it is used only in connection with Paul and Barnabas taking or not taking a companion on a trip; these 4 usages in Gal.2:1, Acts 12:25; 15:37, 38 “do not seem to be just random isolated incidents.”
- zelotes huparcho “is a very rare combination, appearing only in these three verses in known Greek literature from the third century b.c.e. to the third century c.e.” It appears only in Gal.2:1; Acts 22:3; 21:30.
- Acts 11:2-3 brings together three terms appearing in a related context in Paul’s Gal 2:7, 12 — ho ek peritome [those of the circumcision], akrobustia [uncircumcision] and sunesthio [eat with]: “An unusual, in fact hapax legomenon, word in Luke does not alone prove literary dependence. But, he employs the expression [ho ek peritome] and the rare verb [sunesthio] in the very same context. Three unusual words or expressions in a closely related context is stronger evidence. The probability that all these details are just random isolated incidents is quite small.” (Leppa, 56-57; in Tyson, 19)
Leppa offers reasons for Luke’s subversion of Galatians. Luke wants to stress:
- the continuity between Judaism and Christianity
- Paul’s close relations with the other apostles
- the unity of the first believers
Aejmelaeus argues that the farewell speech of Paul at Miletus (Acts 20:18-35) draws heavily on Paul’s epistles.
The English translations necessarily obscure most of the argument, but can at least to some extent convey the general idea:
- But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. — Acts 20:24
- holding the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or laboured in vain. Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. — Phil.2:16-17
- Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. — Acts 20:31
- For you remember, brethren, our labour and toil; for labouring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe; as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, that you would live a life worthy of God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. — 1 Thess.2:9-12
Aejmelaeus also sees the author of Acts drawing on 1 Clement, both in the citation formula and an unattributed saying that he assigned to Jesus, suggesting that Luke belonged to the same community as the author of 1 Clement:
- Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood. — Acts 20:28 (6 parallels with the following . . . .)
- For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing. And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labour among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you — 1 Thess.5:9-12
- I have shown you in every way, by labouring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ — Acts 20:35
- Let us therefore be lowly minded, brethren, laying aside all arrogance and conceit and folly and anger, and let us do that which is written. For the Holy Ghost saith, ….. most of all remembering the words of the Lord Jesus which He spake, teaching forbearance and long-suffering: for thus He spake . . . . — 1 Clem.13:1-2
- Wherefore do we tear and rend asunder the members of Christ, and stir up factions against our own body, and reach such a pitch of folly, as to forget that we are members one of another? Remember the words of Jesus our Lord: for He said, . . . . — 1 Clem. 46:7-8
- And ye were all lowly in mind and free from arrogance, yielding rather than claiming submission, more glad to give than to receive . . . . — 1 Clem. 2:1
Goulder sees numerous comparisons between the Gospel of Luke and 1 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians indicating Luke knew those letters.
(Part of a discussion re the above is snapshot here.)
Pervo draws on Enslin, Walker, Leppa, Aejmelaeus among others to mount the most comprehensive argument for Luke’s knowledge of Paul’s letters and their use in Acts and influence on his gospel. Instead of large chunks of material being copied as in the case of Luke’s use of Mark’s gospel, Pervo finds “fragments and short phrases . . . . a number of unusual expressions that occur in similar contexts or treat similar situations. . . . He is aware that no single pair of passages, taken by itself, can prove Luke was acquainted with Paul’s letters, but he is convinced that the presence of a significant number of apparent parallels constitutes a weighty cumulative argument.” (Tyson, p.20)
Pervo sees 86/87 places in Acts that echo Pauline letters, including Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians.
With Ephesians and Colossians in the above list, it is apparent that Luke was far enough removed from the real Paul to be unable to tell (as modern scholars can) the difference between the authentic and inauthentic works of Paul. He only knows “the Paul who had been filtered through the deutero-Pauline school.” (p.20)
Pervo admits that some of the comparisons appear to be random echoes, but others carry more weighty relationships. Especially noteworthy is the comparison between Galatians 2 and Acts 15 — the treatment of the meeting between Paul and the Jerusalem leaders. Pervo says that the best evidence for literary dialogue comes from Lightfoot, although Lightfoot himself did not draw this conclusion:
- Geography is the same: headquarters of false brethren is Jerusalem and they are infecting those in Antioch; gentile apostles go up from Antioch to Jerusalem and return again to Antioch.
- Time is the same: or at least not inconsistent.
- Persons are the same: Paul and Barnabas represent the gentile churches; Cephas and James are leaders of the circumcision party; the agitators are described as converted Pharisees or those who attempted to impose the law on the new converts; both Paul and Barnabas are with others (“certain other Gentiles”/Titus).
- Subject of dispute is the same: circumcision of gentile converts.
- Character of the conference is the same: exemption of gentiles from the law; Jerusalem church recognizing the apostolic commission of Paul and Barnabas.
In addition Pervo (following Walker and Leppa) considers the role of Titus in Paul and Timothy in Acts:
- In Gal. 2:3 Paul says that his companion, who was “with him”, Titus was not compelled to be circumcised — leaving the reader with the impression that Titus remained uncircumcised, not even submitting to circumcision voluntarily. There is no reference to Timothy in Galatians.
- In Acts 16:1-3 the author informs us that Timothy (there is no reference to Titus in Acts) was circumcised, although he was not compelled to. It was because Paul wanted him to be his companion, “with him”, and the act was a voluntary concession to Jews.
Pervo follows Walker in observing that Peter’s speech in Acts 15:7-11 expresses the argument of his protagonist Paul in Galatians. But Pervo adds a significant detail: Peter’s speech expressing Pauline theology is couched in the deutero-Pauline terms we find in Ephesians, such as Eph. 2:8. Peter in Acts 15 (like the deutero-Paulinist author of Ephesians) substitutes “salvation” for the more authentic Pauline “justification” as found in Galatians. Luke employs the Deutero-Pauline terminology to wash over the differences between Peter and Paul.
Many similarities between Galatians 2 and Acts 15 have been noted before, but the textual links have not been recognized because of a failure to understand that the purpose of Luke (or the author of Acts) was to subvert Galatians.
Tyson sees the above arguments combining to force the removal of the argument that Acts’ ignorance of Paul’s letters is a barrier to accepting a second century date for the composition of Acts.