There is controversy surrounding the dating of the Book of Acts. It is clear the Book of Acts was written after Luke wrote his Gospel. The dating of the book of Acts is important because Acts was written after Luke. If Acts was written in, say, A.D. 60, this would mean the Gospel of Luke was written before that period and would add credence to the claim that the gospels were written early, close to the events, by the eyewitnesses.
The Evidence for an early date to the Book of Acts (written sometime before AD 64/65) is as follows:
- Luke was clearly a companion of Paul on his missionary journeys. The “we” passages: Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; and 27:1-28:16. (The author may, in these sections, be using a travel diary that he himself wrote at an earlier time, drawing on a diary written by a companion of Paul.)
- Luke must have written Acts during the two year period of Paul’s imprisonment as described in Acts 28:30-31. The guesstimate places it some time between AD 60 and AD 61. The evidence they point to for an early date is:
- The fact that there is no hint in Acts of Nero’s period of persecution in AD 64/65. There is no indication at all in the book of any oppression from Rome. Therefore it had not taken place yet.
- There is no evidence of the Jewish revolt of AD 66 nor the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. There the claim is the book must have been written before this time.
- The inclusion of Agabus’s prophesy in Acts 11:28 has no “fulfilment” in the body of the book. The famine took place in the time Claudius’ reign.
- There is no record of Christian martyrs apart from Stephen (Acts 7:55-60) and James (Acts 12:2). Why did Luke not record the martyrs during the time of Nero?
- The abrupt ending to Acts suggests with Paul’s death Luke just ground to a halt. These critics see Acts 20:25 as hinting at Paul’s death.
- There is no mention in the book of the death of Paul, the end is left hanging.
- There is also no mention of the death of James, the brother of John. Not the one referred to in Acts 12:2. This is the James spoken of in Acts 15:13ff and Gal 1:19, an apostle and the Lord’s brother.
- Many topics included in Acts such as Gentile admission to the church, food controversies, apostolic decrees were all pre AD 70 in timing.
- Some claim the inclusion of “the Christ,” “the Servant of God,” “the Son of Man”, Christians as “disciples,” use of “laos” for Jews, and the use of Sunday as the first day of the week are all early theological terminology and consign Acts to an early writing.
Those who opt for a later period for Luke to write Acts give the book a second century origin in the time of the Church Fathers. The claim is made that Josephus (writing in AD 93) used Luke as a reference. If Luke cited Josephus then Luke’s was a late work. But it could be Josephus who quoted Luke. Luke and Josephus disagree and are not in harmony on more points than they are in agreement. Thus any supposed parallel is mere chance.
An early writing of Luke and Acts would place Luke before Mark which many feel is the first gospel and therefore the chronology of the gospels is compromised. I have clipped for your interest the coverage of this topic from E-Sword. It is faster that way and a reminder to you of all the information available to you via E-Sword.
Luke’s Relationship to Josephus
The acceptance of the Lukan authorship settles the question of some of the dates presented by critics. Schmiedel places the date of Acts between 105 and 130 ad (Encyclopedia Biblica). He assumes as proven that Luke made use of the writings of Josephus. It has never been possible to take with much seriousness the claim that the Acts shows acquaintance with Josephus. See Keim, Geschichte Jesu, III, 1872, 134, and Krenkel, Josephus und Lucas, 1894, for the arguments in favor of that position. The words quoted to prove it are in the main untechnical words of common use. The only serious matter is the mention of Theudas and Judas the Galilean in Act_5:36 and Josephus (Ant., XX, v, 1 f). In Josephus the names occur some twenty lines apart and the resemblance is only slight indeed. The use of peı́thō in connection with Theudas and apōstḗsai concerning Judas is all that requires notice. Surely, then, two common words for “persuade” and “revolt” are not enough to carry conviction of the writer’s use of Josephus. The matter is more than offset by the differences in the two reports of the death of Herod Agrippa (Act_12:19-23; Josephus, Ant, XVIII, vi, 7, XIX, viii, 2). The argument about Josephus may be definitely dismissed from the field. With that goes all the ground for a 2nd-century date. Other arguments have been adduced (see Holtzmann, Einl, 1892, 405) such as the use of Paul’s epistles, acquaintance with Plutarch, Arrian and Pausanias, because of imitation in method of work (i.e. parallel lives of Peter and Paul, periods of history, etc.), correction of Gal in Acts (for instance, Gal_1:17-24 and Act_9:26-30; Gal_2:1-10 and Acts 15:1-33). The parallel with Plutarch is fanciful, while the use of Panl’s epistles is by no means clear, the absence of such use, indeed, being one of the characteristics of the book. The variation from Galatians is far better explained on the assumption that Luke had not seen the epistles.
AD 80 is the Limit if the Book Is to Be Credited to Luke
The majority of modern critics who accept the Lukan authorship place it between 70 and 80 ad. So Harnack, Lechler, Meyer, Ramsay, Sanday, Zahn. This opinion rests mainly on the idea that the Gospel according to Luke was written after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 ad. It is claimed that Luk_21:20 shows that this tragedy had already occurred, as compared with Mar_13:14 and Mat_24:15. But the mention of armies is very general, to be sure. Attention is called also to the absence of the warning in Luke. Harnack (The Acts of the Apostles, 291 f) admits that the arguments in favor of the date 70 to 80 are by no means conclusive. He writes “to warn critics against a too hasty closing of the chronological question.” In his new book (Neue Untersuchungen zur Apostelgeschichte, etc., 1911, S. 81) Harnack definitely accepts the date before the destruction of Jerusalem. Lightfoot would give no date to Acts because of the uncertainty about the date of the Gospel.
Before AD 70
This date is supported by Blass, Headlam, Maclean, Rackham, Salmon. Harhack, indeed, considers that “very weighty considerations” argue for the early date. He, as already stated, now takes his stand for the early date. It obviously the simplest way to understand Luke’s close of the Acts to be due to the fact that Paul was still in prison. Harnack contends that the efforts to explain away this situation are not “quite satisfactory or very illuminating.” He does not mention Paul’s death because he was still alive. The dramatic purpose to bring Paul to Rome is artificial. The supposition of a third book from the use of protō̇n in Act_1:1 is quite gratuitous, since in the Koinē, not to say the earlier Greek, “first” was often used when only two were mentioned (compare “our first story” and “second story,” “first wife” and “second wife”). The whole tone of the book is that which one sould naturally have before 64 ad. After the burning of Rome and the destruction of Jerusalem the attitude maintained in the book toward Romans and Jews would have been very difficult unless the date was a long times afterward Harnack wishes “to help a doubt to its lust dues.” That “doubt” of Harnack is destined to become the certainty of the future. (Since this sentence was written Harnack has settled his own doubt.) The book will, I think, be finally credited to the time 63 ad in Rome. The Gospel of Luke will then naturally belong to the period of Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea. The judgment of Moffatt (Historical New Testament, 1901, 416) that “it cannot be earlier” than 80 ad is completely upset by the powerful attack of Harnack on his own previous position. See also Moffatt’s Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament (1911) and Koch’s Die Abfassungszeit des lukanischen Geschichtswerkes (1911).
It is important for us to consider the dating and timing of Acts in order to understand Luke’s reasons for including what he did in his second historical work – namely the Acts of the Apostles. We need to pay attention to what Luke includes and what he doesn’t. Why the book is structured as it is and contains the features it does. All this to work out the purpose of the Book of Acts.
The Bible without the Holy Spirit is a sundial by moonlight.Dwight L. Moody
Acts of the Apostles or Acts of the Holy Spirit?
The aim of Israel’s history: “That all the peoples of the earth may know that Yahweh is God; there is no other.”1 Kings 8:60
Sometimes the greatest insight emerges from the mistakes made and opportunities wasted.T D Jakes
To move to a new level in your life, you must break through your comfort zone and do things that are not comfortable.T. Harvey Eker