When we discussed Luke’s Gospel we looked at where Luke’s sources came from to write his gospel. Luke himself told us that he carefully researched the evidence to give us an ordered account. I told you that likely as not Luke interviewed Peter, Mary, Elizabeth and others among the disc iples to gain a more detailed picture of what went on behind the scenes. Clearly Luke included in his gospel, material that is not found in the other gospels. So his source had to be from those involved. But as we discussed, Luke used both oral and written sources to compile his gospel. How else could he get the details of the birth of Jesus and John the Baptist? I suspect he was very thorough in the way he put it all together. He was a doctor and clearly a very good historian as we discussed in earlier Gems. When it comes to his second book, he writes for us an account of the expansion of the church. We will see later how he structures it and layers the story. During our investigation of the Gospel of Luke we saw what he meant when he said he wrote an ordered account. He was not talking about a chronological account of the story of Jesus. He was giving us a thematically ordered account. I trust you have had some time to go back and put the pieces together as you read the Gospel of Luke again during the break between Luke and Acts.
Now we turn our attention to Luke’s second book. It is likely that Luke’s initial statement of methodology applied to his gospel also applies to some degree to his second book – History 2 as David Pawson refers to it. But what is Luke’s source for the material we find in the book of Acts? What are the clues available to us that help us put the pieces together to help us understand the book? I trust you have spent the time pre-reading the book of Acts before we pull it apart line by line. If we look at Acts in general outline, we see it is called the Acts of the Apostles. Primarily it is the account of the spread of the Gospel through Paul, Peter and Phillip to both Jew and Gentile. You will see as we examine the detail that it is structured geographically in a particular order but there are also other elements to the way Luke has arranged the story. It could also be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit.
Where did he get all this information from? It seems Luke must have given up his practice as a doctor to be a part of the spread of the Gospel. Luke was a companion of Paul for the most part of the account recordedin the book of Acts. In the segment included from E-Sword, your attention was drawn to the “we” sections, Acts 16:11-17; Acts 20:5; Acts 21:18; 27 and 28). If we can agree that Luke is the author of the Book of Acts then it follows that Luke accompanied Paul on the larger part of his missionary journeys. Luke does not record for us his involvement apart from the use of the royal “we”. When Luke uses the pronoun “we”, he is giving us a clue to the fact that he was with Paul on that part of the journey.
So what about the portions of Acts where the royal “we” is not used? If we are to infer that Luke was not present during those times, where does he get his facts from? Simply in accompanying Paul at the other times we must assume that he had ample opportunity to question Paul about those times when he was not present. In the same way he put the gospel story together by interviewing those who experienced the events Luke writes about, we must assume that Luke takes the same thorough approach for his second book. I imagine that Luke picked the brains of those who were Paul’s travelling companions at other times as well. It is likely that Luke was with Paul also during his last stay in Jerusalem and during the imprisonment at Caesarea. There is no reason to think that Luke suddenly left Paul in Jerusalem and returned to Caesarea only when he started to Rome (Acts 27:1). The absence of “we” is natural here, since it is not a narrative of travel, but the events of Paul’s arrest and his series of defences of the gospel. The very abundance of material here, as in Acts 20 and 21, argues for the presence of Luke. But at any rate, Luke has access to Paul himself for information concerning this period, as was true of the second, from Acts 13 to the end of the book. Luke was either present or he could have learned from Paul the facts used. He may have kept a travel diary, which was drawn upon when necessary. Luke could have taken notes of Paul’s addresses in Jerusalem (Acts 22) and Caesarea (Acts 24 through 26). From these, with Paul’s help, he probably composed the account of Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-30). If Acts was written during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment, Luke had the benefit of a long period of time to question Paul on all points of the narrative and the specific facts related to the events as they unfolded. But hisapproach was thorough and purely Luke’s own style as he put togetherthe facts for us like the dedicatedhistorian and chroniclerthat he was. Paul and Philip were the witnesses to the events recorded in Acts 6:8 through 8:1 and a participant of the work in Antioch (Acts 11:19-30). Philip was present during Paul’s last journey to Jerusalem (Acts 21:8), and was probably in Caesarea still, during Paul’s confinement there. He could have told Luke the events in Acts 6:1-7and 8:4-40. The story of Peter’s work in Caesarea may have possibly even come from Cornelius himself (9:32 through 11:18).
Whether Luke ever went to Antioch or not we do not know (Codex Bezae has “we” in Acts 11:28). But he did go to Jerusalem. However, the events recorded in Acts 12 probably rests on the authority of John Mark (Acts 12:12, Acts 12:25), in whose mother’s house the disciples were assembled. Luke was apparently together with Mark in Rome (Col 4:10), if not before. Luke’s personal involvement in the action of Acts 1 through 5 is not clear, but these chapters are not necessarily discredited for that reason. Barnabas (Acts 4:36) was able to tell much about the origin of the work in Jerusalem. So could Mnason. Philip also was one of the seven (Acts 6:5; Acts 21:8). We do not know that Luke met Peter in Rome, though that is possible. But during the stay in Jerusalem and Caesarea (two years) Luke had abundant opportunity to learn the narrative of the great events told in Acts 1 through 5. He perhaps used both oral and written sources for this section.
What is the Connection Between Acts and Paul’s Letters?
It is not likely that Luke used draft copies of Paul’s epistle to write his account. There is no evidence that Luke copied any of Paul’s epistles. He was with Paul in Rome when Colossians was written (Luke 4:14), and may have been Paul’s amanuensis for Colossians, Ephesians and Philemon. There is no indication that Luke saw or used the Thessalonian or Corinthian letters, nor Galatians or Romans. It seems more likely that Luke had direct access to Paul and his companions as the source of his information rather than to Paul’s epistles. It seems likely that Luke wrote Acts while Paul and his companions were still alive. [If Acts was written very late, it would be strange for the author not to have made use of some of Paul’s epistles.] Acts appears to cover some of the same ground as the earlier epistles, but from an independent view point. Paul’s connections with the Jerusalem apostles is somewhat clouded, however it is clear from Luke’s account in Acts that they agree. In Acts 15 the apostles and elders were gathered together (Acts 15:4, Acts 15:6), and twice we are told that Paul and Barnabas addressed them (Acts 15:4, Acts 15:12). It is therefore natural to assume a cross fertilisation of ideas and a sharing of the facts.
Some have claimed contradictions between Paul’s epistles and Luke’s account in Acts:
- Paul didn’t mention the visit recorded in Acts 11:30.
- There are also distinctly separate accounts recorded in Acts and Galatians (Gal 1:17-24, and Acts 9:26-30).
- Acts includes no reference to the visit to Arabia nor any mention of the private conference in Acts 15.
- There is no mention in Acts 15:35-39 of the sharp disagreement between Paul and Peter at Antioch, recorded in Gal 2:11.
Yet all these alleged disparities show the degree to which Acts and Paul’s Letters supplement each other.
So how are we to handle the connections between Acts and Paul’s letters? Clearly the two are connected. Luke’s general account of the historical overview dovetails nicely with the details recorded in Paul’s letters. What we are to do with it will be the subject of the next Bible Gems.
Everyone is entitled their own opinions, but not their own facts.D. M. Moynihan
Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.Ralph Waldo Emerson
To admit you were wrong is to declare you are wiser now than before.Anon
Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly.Robert H. Schuller
Chch – what’s missing? U R. It won’t be the same if you’re not there.Ian Vail