Acts As A Historical Source Or Historiography Theology Religion Essay

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University of Manchester  University of Wales  University of Chester 
Date submitted 25/02/2013
Unit/ Module number and name 224 Acts and Hebrews
Essay title Why did luke write Acts? Is his purpose reflected in the structure of the book?
Actual word count 2540
Tutor’s name Dr Pieter Lalleman
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Spurgeon College
Why did Luke write Acts? Is his purpose reflected in the structure of the book?
A paper submitted for Bachelor in Divinity (BD)
Carlington Hamilton
Date: 25th February 2013
Word Count 2540
All Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Versions of the Bible unless otherwise stated.
Content Page
Introduction 4
Acts as a Historical Source or Historiography 4
Acts as an Apologetic 5-6
Defences against Judaism 6
Defences against Roman Law (Political Accusation against Christianity) 6
Defences against Paul as Apostle 6
Acts as the confirmation of the Gospel and the Proclamation of Salvation 7
The continuity of God’s Purpose in Acts 7
Conclusion 7-8
Bibliography 9
Internet Source 9
1.0 Introduction
The book of Acts has been ascribed to Luke as the author of perhaps one of the most exciting book of the New Testament. However, for many commentators and scholars it is difficult to know exactly what was on Luke’s mind as he began to write. Furthermore, there are different arguments and views where most scholars come to consensus that Luke must have had a purpose for writing Acts. However, Paul Walaskay affirms, ‘Not everyone agrees on what this purpose was, but several possibilities have been identified’. [1] However, there are scholars that would agree on the views that would emphasised of the possibilities that ‘Luke was writing a historical narrative about the beginnings of Christianity’, although, there were other possibilities such as it was put over as a particular theological point of views. [2] However, these possibilities does not weigh Luke purpose for writing Acts as there are other suggestion that Acts characterises a Hellenistic historiography.
Therefore, this essay will examine why did Luke write Acts? Using various scholarly and authoritative internet sources to probe the argument surrounding Luke purpose and then evaluate these arguments that will examine, is his purpose reflected in the structure of the book? Then come to a meaningful conclusion.
2.0 Acts as a Historical Source or Historiography
C.K. Barrett affirms that Acts cannot be considered as a historical source without some thought of the author’s purpose in writing. [3] However, because of the fact that there are some theological interests in the composition of Acts, perhaps led many scholars to question the historical authenticity of Acts. According to Dunns, ‘Luke’s narrative can certainly be described as a history, but that title history raises issues which Luke himself probably never envisaged’. [4] This is perhaps because of the notion of historiography and what is accurate to a history has changed considerably over the centuries. Although there are views that Luke’s narrative in Acts and the Gospel of Luke have taken place amid the cross-currents of Greek, Romans and Jewish history. Therefore, Luke’s narrative would seems to be deeply woven and fabric in a more Jewish context. For example, in Acts Luke emphasised that ‘Paul teaches in the synagogues of the diaspora, in spite of his adherence to Jewish law, he comes in conflict with their high council in Jerusalem Acts 15:1-29’. [5] 
However, David Aune argued Luke is an amateur Hellenistic Historian who is qualified in Greek rhetoric, whereas before Historians were not trained in historiography but most likely in rhetoric which was supported by rich patron or of independent means. He commented that Luke patron was Theophilus the recipient of the Gospel of Luke and Acts whereas there are not much known about him. He also commented that Luke is converted to Christianity and that his innovative literary work resulted from a combination of his Christian faith and Greco-Roman literary skill. He further commented Luke reformed the genre of general history by using his rhetorical skills as an applicable literary means for illustrating the origins and development of Christianity. [6] 
Therefore, the fact that Luke would seem to be treated as a historian most scholars argued that the stress on Luke’s reliability in Acts depends on the sources used in the composition of Acts. However, Todd Penner argued that ‘the historical reliability of much of Acts account was in question, but this was, in Haenchen’s views, not the point of Luke’s work in the final analysis. Luke wanted to captured and edify his readers, contributing to the spread of God’s word through the retelling and reshaping of the past’. Therefore, Acts could be read as a reliable historical narrative precisely because Luke relied on historical sources. [7] 
Although all the evidence would seems to indicate that Luke is an Historian or historiographer most scholars would seem to agree while others would seem to degree on the reliability and accuracy whether Acts was written as a historical source or historiography. Vincent McCann affirms;
‘In times past and present the book of Acts has been subjected to some of the most severe criticism in regards to its historical value; for this reason it has rightly been called "the storm centre of modern New Testament study." Firstly, the Tubingen School asserted that the book of Acts was merely a piece of propaganda literature written in the early second century and completely unreliable as an historical document. Secondly, Kummel believes that Acts misses the basic criteria of other historical documents and boldly asserts that it is not a true historical work and that its author was not the first Christian historian. Thirdly, other scholars such as Ludemann tend to view Acts as a combination of both historical fact and unhistorical tradition. Fourthly, but despite these assailing comments, the book off Acts still stands as an accurate and trustworthy historical document, especially in the light of contemporary scholarship and archaeological discovery’. [8] 
Therefore, it would seem that Luke purpose for writing Acts remained unanswered although there are some scholarly consensuses that indicate to a historical source.
3.0 Acts as an Apologetic
According to Walaskay, Luke might have been concerned of the relationship between the early Christian community and the Roman Empire or perhaps his intention was to present a defence to a Roman official who may have needed to make a decision regarding the concern of legal standing or political attitude of Christians. [9] However, Acts has been described as Apologetic whereas it is in a sense that apologetic shades in to evangelism where Luke would seem to commend the faith of Christian as truth. Nonetheless Luke purpose in writing Acts was recognised by scholars not that it is a record of history but might have serve as an apology for Christianity. Loveday Alexander affirms that ‘of all the books of the New Testament, the one which has most persistently attracted the label apologetic is Acts of the Apostles’. [10] Although Acts been designate variously as a defence of the early Church against different factors and political charges, as a defence of Christianity against Judaism, Roman Empire to the Church and as a defence of Paul against rival theological concern within the Church. Bruce suggested that;
‘The author of acts has the right to be recognised as the first Christian apologist. The great age of Christian apologetic was the second century, but of the three main types of defence represented among the second century Christian apologists Luke provides first prototypes: defence against pagan religion (Christianity is true; paganism is false), defence against Judaism (Christianity is the fulfilment of true Judaism), defence against political accusations (Christianity is innocent of any offense against Roman law). [11] 
Although it is correct to describe Acts as a work of apologetic, it is also not a suitable description. According to Barrett ‘in particular the view, sometimes held that Acts is an apology addressed to the Roman judiciary and intended to show that Christianity is a movement which right thinking Roman officials will view with tolerance is unconvincing’. [12] Therefore it is difficult to commend Acts as an apologetic to Luke’s purpose for writing although the presence of apologetic essentials in Luke’s narrative.
3.1 Defences against Judaism
The fact that Luke is a Gentile Christian he demonstrated in Acts the concern of the rejection of Jesus by the Jews but the largely acceptance of Jesus by the Gentiles. Therefore, if there has been rejection of the gospel by Jews and the Gentiles been accepting it. Led to the question why Luke shared this concern with the Gentiles. However, in spite of the criticism by the Jews, it would therefore seems Luke perhaps wrote Acts to the purpose to defend God purpose according to (Acts 2:23; 4:25-28 and 28:24-27) where Luke demonstrated this assurance to his reader, that God foretold of the Jews rejection of Jesus. [13] Luke however, illustrate this defence of God purpose to legitimate his extension of the promise he made to Abraham Acts 2:39 through the speech of Stephen in Acts 7 and Paul in his defence Acts 21:29-28:28. Furthermore, Luke demonstrated that Christianity is the successor of God’s promise and prophecy of the Old Testament and is now worthy of admiration and acceptance. [14] 
3.2 Defences against the Roman Laws (Political Accusation against Christianity)
According to Loveday Alexander the reading of Acts is view as an apologetic and is written to provide an apology against charges such as political charge that is brought before a Roman tribunal. In some case it been argued by scholars that Acts was written in defence of Paul trial before Nero. However, most scholars would regard Acts to be an apology of the political innocence of the Christian movement within the Roman Empire. [15] Although Paul was place in a positive spotlight in Acts as an innocent victim to persecution and slander where he been accuse and perhaps charge for being a troublemaker and a person who is infiltrating riot all over the world within the Jewish community, the proconsul always seem to dismiss the accusation put across against him, because they did not want nothing to do with the breaking of the Roman Law Acts 18:14-16. [16] 
However, James Dunn would seem to agree with Loveday Alexander that Acts was perhaps wrote by Luke for Paul’s defence in his final trial before Nero. But would be difficult to explain the reason why the narrative became so advanced before Paul was introduced. Therefore this would lead to the question why the focus on Paul trial fades almost completely from the last two chapters? However, Dunn argued that Luke was not just writing in concern to defend a political status of Christianity, but his concern was much deeper that could defined its theological identity. [17] 
3.3 Defences for Paul as Apostle
John Walvoord view Luke purpose for writing Acts is a Pauline apologetic which perhaps is supported by occasions of contrast or parallel between Peter and Paul. Although in some possibilities it would seems that Luke intention was to defend the apostleship of Paul whereas the authority and power in Peter was not differentiated from Paul. However, although there are contrast between Paul and Peter ministries the evidence of the defense of the apostleship of Paul cannot be Luke’s main purpose for writing Acts. [18] 
4.0 Acts as the Confirmation of the Gospel and the Proclamation of Salvation
Barrett affirms ‘an important observation to be made here is that Luke had provided his Church (whatever that may have been) with its NT’. [19] However, scholars view that the third Gospel was supposed to make available what Luke fellow Christians would wanted to know about the teaching and life of Jesus. Therefore Acts consistently kept in check with the apostles and their teaching to what the Church would need to know.
However, W.C. van Unnik argued that Acts is the confirmation of the Gospel and suggested that the Gospel of Luke demonstrated the saving action in Jesus and its authenticity, and then in Acts Luke demonstrated the Church confirmation and proclamation of this salvation. However, the church confirms this account of the expansion and life of the Gospel claim in Jesus and the result of his work are true. [20] Therefore this would seem that Luke demonstrated in Acts the continuity of the Gospel of Jesus and the story of the early Church as a foundational narrative of the Church. He was perhaps explaining the good news or Gospel by confirming it beginning and the spread that cover from perhaps Jerusalem to Rome. According to Daniel Marguerat, ‘Thus the Acts of the apostles is offered to the readers as a site for verifying the promise of the Gospel. Did not the author in his preface, inform the most excellent Theophilus that his narrative would enable him to verify the truth concerning the things about which he had been instructed’. [21] 
Howard Marshall affirms that the effects of Acts demonstrated how salvation that has established by Jesus during his earthly reign in some degree of area of country for a short period became a reality of increasing numbers of people over a wide geographical area and during an extended period of time could be regarded as an evangelistic work that proclaims salvation to its readers. [22] However, it could be argued that if the Gospel gave the evidences of Jesus ministry, Acts could demonstrate how the evangelisation of Jesus as the Christ verified and confirmed the evidences accounted for in the Gospel. Therefore, in J.C. O’Neill views he asserted that Acts main purpose is evangelism. But other scholars would seem to agree with O’Neill that Acts is written by Luke on the purpose of evangelism but also a believe the possibility of this purpose goes a bit further than just material that is purely evangelistic. [23] 
5.0 The Continuity of God’s Purpose in Acts
The events accounted in Acts are seen to bring about the continuity of God’s purpose whereas Luke’s narrative of the death and resurrection of Jesus traced to the definite promise and intuition of God. Nonetheless the same become true to the events in the life of the Church. Consequently, it is understood that the disapproval that was divinely foretold has the same character of what the Church has experienced Acts 4:27-29. [24] Marshall affirms the narrative accounted in Acts is considered as ‘standing in continuity with the mighty acts of God recorded in the Old Testament and with the ministry of Jesus’. Therefore, the phrase that express the terminology in theology characterise the history of salvation through the continuity of God’s purpose. [25] 
6.0 Conclusion
In considering why did Luke writes Acts? And whether his purpose reflected the structure of his book would therefore seem that all the evidence points most closely to a historical source of the beginning of Christianity or the early Church. Although, there have been different views, argument and even consensus to the fact there are other possibilities of the purpose why Luke wrote Acts such as the possibilities of the confirmation of the Gospel and the proclamation of salvation, the continuity of God’s purpose and also as an apologetic. However, all the evidences would seem to support these purpose but there are some evidences that seem to propose otherwise as there are no real evidence to suggest what was on Luke’s mind when he wrote Acts.
Therefore, the observation that could be made of Luke’s purpose of why he wrote Acts is it reflected in the structure of the book? However, it would therefore seem that there are perhaps no evidences that propose otherwise because there are no real consensuses to Luke’s purpose to why he wrote Acts.
So, to conclude why did Luke write Acts? Is his purpose reflected in the structure of the book? Would however seem that the purpose Luke perhaps have in mind was as a historical source of the beginning of Christianity or the early Church. However, one could argued on this purpose because of the events which are recorded in Acts such as the Old Testament prophecies as was recorded in the Scriptures and also the narrative in which the early Church was put across as part of the on-going narrative of the continuity of God’s purpose. Therefore Luke’s purpose would seem to relate to more than one purpose but it would seem that there are no consensuses on these purposes.

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