Acts Gives Us The Foundation Of Whole Paul Is!
The next usual question about the Book of Acts is when it was created. As you can imagine there is little agreement about this with the earliest suggested date being around 65 A.D., and the latest around 115 A.D. or even a bit later. Generally speaking that late date of 115 A.D. is accepted by very few, and mostly by those who don’t hold much stock in the reliability of the Book of Acts.
The majority of Bible scholars and Bible historians settle closer to sometime just before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. as an early date and 90 A.D. as the latest date.
Tom Bradford’s opinion is that Luke completed his work sometime before 70 A.D. For one reason, all of the events and people depicted in the Book of Acts (such as the reigns of various governors, procurators, and Caesars) happened not later than 68 A.D. This is verified by extra-Biblical Roman and Jewish documents (and by the way, the term extra-Biblical simply means that the source is not the Bible, it is something else).
And even though in the Book of Acts some of the central activity takes place in Jerusalem, there is no mention of its destruction by the Romans. Since that destruction in 70 A.D. was so monumental and catastrophic for the Jewish people and their way of life it is unimaginable that Luke would simply skip right over it since it was such a game-changer.
The only way to reconcile a much later date with that self-evident reality is that some say that Luke wrote his book 30 or more years after the destruction of Jerusalem and so its impact had softened by then and wasn’t worth mentioning. That is a major stretch that seems highly unlikely.
And when he had seen the vision, we (including Luke) tried to go on into Macedonia at once, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
So setting sail from Troas, we ran a direct course to Samothrace, and the next day [went on] to Neapolis; and from there [we came] to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony. We stayed on in this city for several days; and on the Sabbath day we went outside the city gate to the bank of the [Gangites] river, where we thought there would be a place of prayer, and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had come there.
A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a dealer in purple fabrics who was [already] a worshiper of God, listened to us; and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention and to respond to the things said by Paul. And when she was baptized, along with her household, she pleaded with us, saying, “If you have judged me and decided that I am faithful to the Lord [a true believer], come to my house and stay.” And she persuaded us.
It happened that as we were on our way to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination [that is, a demonic spirit claiming to foretell the future and discover hidden knowledge], and she brought her owners a good profit by fortune-telling. She followed after Paul and us and kept screaming and shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God! They are proclaiming to you the way of salvation!”
Acts 16:10-17 AMP
Notice how the narrative in this section speaks about “we” and “us”. We know that one-half of the “we” is Paul because it says so.
Who is the other half?
The plain reading of it along with the context makes it clear that the other party of “we” is the writer Luke himself. In fact in some of Paul’s letters he refers to a man named Luke who accompanied him at times, and it is difficult to find cause not to conclude that this is the same Luke who is the writer of Acts. Here is but one example of finding Luke in Paul’s Epistles:
Epaphras sends greetings; he is one of you, a slave of the Messiah Yeshua who always agonizes in his prayer on your behalf, praying that you may stand firm, mature and fully confident, as you devote yourselves completely to God’s will.
For I can testify to him that he works hard for you and for those in Laodicea and Hierapolis.
Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send you greetings.
Colossians 4:12-14 CJB
Luke is also mentioned by Paul in 2 Timothy 4 and in Philemon 24. The point is that while most of Acts is Luke writing about things he had been told in his investigations, and taken from interviews with eyewitnesses, and information extracted from other documents he deemed as reliable, some of what he wrote about was first hand knowledge as he actually personally knew Paul and participated with him on some of his mission trips.
Why is that fact so important?
It is because we first learn of Paul in the Book of Acts, not in his several Epistles. And it is in Acts that we see the new Believer Paul in his Jewish context, and learn how it is that he came to be a follower and an Apostle of Christ.
Let me say this another way; Acts gives us the foundational background for understanding who Paul is, and without Acts we don’t quite see Paul as the committed Jew that he is. It is Luke who knows Paul intimately, and so Luke can speak knowledgably about Paul’s devotion to his Jewishness and Torah observance that never waned as a result of his newly found belief that Yeshua was the Messiah Israel had been waiting for.
Let’s explore this fact about Paul as depicted in the Book of Acts.
And consider the patience of our Lord [His delay in judging and avenging wrongs] as salvation [that is, allowing time for more to be saved]; just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given to him [by God], speaking about these things as he does in all of his letters. In which there are some things that are difficult to understand, which the untaught and unstable [who have fallen into error] twist and misinterpret, just as they do the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.
2 Peter 3:15-16 AMP
I readily stipulate that Paul says many things in his Epistles that in one letter seems to say one thing, and in another letter seems to say nearly the opposite. Since Paul was an excellent speaker, well educated and quite articulate by all accounts, Peter can only be referring to the same issue that many laymen, Pastors, Bible Scholars and Bible Teachers encounter with Paul: he seems to be contradictory on some subjects.
Nevertheless, it is unequivocally so that the modern Church’s doctrinal differences hinge on the teachings of Paul. In fact for at least a couple of centuries, now, many intellectually honest Bible scholars freely admit that we are far more the Church of Paul than we are the Church of Christ. That is, it is the doctrines extracted from Paul’s teachings that form the bulk of Church doctrine; and the fact that Paul can be (as Peter said) “hard to understand” is perhaps the primary reason that the Body of Christ has broken into about 3000 denominations because the tendency is to pick and choose which statements of Paul suit the denominational authority the best.
But another of the main culprits for this fracturing of Christianity also has to do with an institutional unwillingness to take the Book of Acts at its word as concerns Paul. Yet another is a reluctance to research what the early Church Fathers had to say as concerns Paul and the Book of Acts.
Let’s continue to follow this line of thought a little further because it highlights the reason that the Book of Acts is critical to our faith. So the issue of how to interpret Paul and where to place him in a hierarchy of Scriptural authority goes all the way back to around 48 A.D. with Peter (who was one of Yeshua’s 12 original disciples who heard Messiah’s teachings directly from the Lord’s own lips; teachings on the very subjects that Paul later expounded upon).
One can only imagine how hard it must have been to hear Paul say words that Peter at times couldn’t exactly square with what He heard Yeshua say. But about 100 years later, the issue of Paul’s difficult sayings became even more problematic when a fellow by the name of Marcion decided that it was time to have a Christian Bible, containing teachings only from Christ Believers. He also decided that the only reliable Apostle was Paul.
In my next blog post we are going to talk about who Marcion is!