The Movement: Who & When Was the Book of Acts Written

This past Sunday we launched our new series, The Movement. You can watch or listen to the sermon from last Sunday HERE. This year Vintage Church will take a journey through the book of Acts looking at The Movement Jesus began with his church. While we don’t know everything about the early church, we can learn a lot about the church from the book of Acts. The book of Acts is a historical account of who the early church was. This account is a picture of The Movement. To give us a better understanding of the book of Acts we created a small introduction booklet. This past Sunday we also gave out copies of this introduction booklet. You can find an electronic version of this book HERE. Below are two excerpts from the booklet answering two questions: (1) Who wrote the book of Acts and (2) When was the book of Acts written?

Who Wrote the Book of Acts?

The Bible makes clear that “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). However, the Bible is also clear that the books of the Bible were written by human beings. 2 Peter 1:21 says “for no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, while the Bible is certainly written by God, it is done so through the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of human beings as they write. Who was the human author of the book of Acts? Unfortunately nowhere in the letter does it say, “I, so and so, wrote this book.” This, however, does not mean we are unable to discern who wrote the book.

First, it is important to see the connection between Acts and the Gospel of Luke. Both are written to a man named Theophilus. This simple point shows that whoever wrote the Gospel of Luke probably wrote the book of Acts. The two books also share a similar vocabulary and writing style. Additionally, throughout Acts 1–16:9, Paul and his traveling companions are always referred to in the third person plural (“They”). However, a subtle shift occurs in Acts 16:10. Here it says, “and when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia” (Acts 16:11). The subject shifts from the third person plural to the first person plural (“we”). Whoever wrote the book of Acts was a personal eyewitness and travel companion of Paul’s from Acts 16:11 on. We know from some of Paul’s letters (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11) that Luke, the beloved physician, accompanied Paul on his journeys, including his journey to Rome, where Paul possibly wrote his letters to Colossae, Philemon, and Timothy. Therefore, it makes sense that Luke would have been the author of Acts. Furthermore, early church tradition (AD 170–180) credits Luke for writing his Gospel and the book of Acts.1 Because of this, we can proceed confidently knowing that Luke, a Greek-speaking, second generation Christian, and travel companion of Paul, wrote his Gospel and the book of Acts.

When Was the Book of Acts Written?

The dating of the book of Acts is ultimately tied to the dating of the Gospel of Luke. It is presumed that Luke was written prior to Acts. We can at least say that Acts would have to be written after AD 62 when Paul was imprisoned in Rome for two years. Others have argued that Acts was written as late as mid-second century. If Luke is the author of the text this date seems far too late. Also important to the dating of Acts is Luke’s description of the destruction of Jerusalem in Luke 21:20–24. Here, Jesus prophesies that Jerusalem will be surrounded by armies  and that those inside the city will flee to the wilderness. While we believe that this actually was a prophecy of Jesus, the details seem more precise than in Mark 13:14–23. Therefore Luke was not just recording Jesus’ prophecy but also writing it in light of Jerusalem’s actual physical destruction. These facts leave many to conclude that Acts was written some time between AD 70–90. Based on Luke’s historical accuracies, it is easily possible that he wrote Acts in the early 70s. Still, regardless of when Luke wrote Acts, he is only ten to thirty years removed from the last recorded events of Acts if he wrote it between AD 70–90. This again points to the historical accuracy of Acts and the trustworthiness of the text.

Click to Download

Click to Download

1David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles. The Pillar New Testament Commentary, ed. D.A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 1.