Give the evidence to support Luke as author of Acts. How could Luke become aware of privileged information such as found in Acts 23:25–30, 25:14–22, and 26:30–32? How important are the “we” passages in Acts to determining authorship?
Four significant factors point to a Lucan authorship of the book of Acts. First, although D. A. Carson and Douglas Moo note that both Luke and Acts are anonymous, the prologue to Luke-Acts alludes to an author who is well educated, not an apostle, versed in the Old Testament, and knowledgeable of first century society, which all align with a current understanding of Luke. Second, Joseph Fitzmyer explains that Luke appears as Paul’s fellow worker in Philemon 24, as the beloved physician in Colossians 4:14, and as Paul’s sole companion in 2 Timothy 4:11, which may provide support for the shift from third person to the first person plural in Acts and further support for Luke as author. Third, Jimmy Dukes cite the Muratorian fragment, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Jerome, and Eusebius as additional external evidence supporting Lucan authorship. Fourth, Dukes notes that the author’s use of medical language in the book of Acts also supports Lucan authorship in light of Colossians 4:14.
Acts 23, 25, and 26 all refer to either written or verbal correspondence between four government officials of Rome – Claudius Lysias, Felix, Festus, and King Agrippa. The natural question arises as to how Luke could have possibly gained access to such privileged and, at times, confidential information. Three explanations provide potential answers to this provocative question. First, Luke admits in the prologue to his Gospel that he was not an eyewitness to all he writes, but claims he obtained his information from credible sources so the reader would “know the exact truth” (Luke 1:4, [NASB]). Second, although Fitzmyer admits that defining Luke’s sources with complete accuracy is impossible, he suggests potential sources for the passages in question include a copy of the letter referred to in Acts 23, a potential Pauline source, and actual discussions with Paul himself. Finally, A. N. Sherwin-White supports the historical authenticity of Acts by referencing the famous Roman legal historian, Theodor Mommsen, who states that Luke’s account of Paul’s trial before Felix and Festus is “an exemplary account of the provincial penal procedure.” Accordingly, it appears Luke took great pains to use credible sources and provide accurate information even when documenting privileged information. From a practical perspective, modern Christians would do well to follow Luke’s lead in learning and providing accurate information and interpretations of God’s message to a modern audience.
Carson and Moo identify four passages where the author of Acts shifts to a first person plural suggesting the author was present at these events (See Acts 16:8-10; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16). Accordingly, the internal evidence suggests the author must be an individual not mentioned in these four passages and a person Paul would likely mention in his letters if a close companionship existed. Since Luke meets both of these criteria, it is probable that the “we” passages are an important ingredient in supporting Lucan authorship. Alternatively, Fitzmyer summarizes two alternative explanations for the “we” passages originating from modern commentators, which include a possible eyewitness account other than the author or the possibility that the author used the first person plural as a literary device to enhance the writing. Todd Penner expands on Fitzmyer’s observation by arguing for a complex fusion of genres to support the “we” passages including the possibility that Luke wrote a “scientific treatise, a historical or biographical composition, a novel, and/or an apologetic text.” However, Martin Hengel endorses the more likely scenario that highlights the importance of the “we” passages in determining the authorship of Acts, which is that the “we” passages appear “in the travel accounts because Luke simply wanted to indicate that he was there.”
. D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 290.
. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New Haven, CT: Yale University, 2010), 50.
. Jimmy W. Dukes, “Introduction to Acts,” Theological Educator, no. 42 (September 1990): 51, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 12, 2014).
. Ibid., 51-52.
. Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, 80, 85-8.
. A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1963), 48.
. Carson and Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 290.
. Ibid., 290-91.
. Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, 99-100.
. Todd C. Penner, “Madness in the Method?: The Acts of the Apostles in Current Study,” Currents in Biblical Research 2, no. 2 (April 2004): 239-40, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 12, 2014).
. Martin Hengel, Acts and the History of Earliest Christianity (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2003), 66.
Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.
Dukes, Jimmy W. “Introduction to Acts.” Theological Educator, no. 42 (September 1990): 49-61. Accessed May 12, 2014. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.
Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The Acts of the Apostles: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New Haven, CT: Yale University, 2010.
Hengel, Martin. Acts and the History of Earliest Christianity. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2003.
Penner, Todd C. “Madness in the Method?: The Acts of the Apostles in Current Study.” Currents in Biblical Research 2, no. 2 (April 2004): 223-93. Accessed May 12, 2014. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.
Sherwin-White, A. N. Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1963.