Is The Acts of the Apostles Historically Reliable? Part 1 of 2 -- By: Brian Janeway
CTSJ 5:1 (January 1999) p. 46
Is The Acts of the Apostles Historically Reliable?
Part 1 of 2
[*Editor’s note: Brian Janeway earned his B.A. degree from the University of Kentucky and has begun work towards an M.A. in biblical archaeology. He has worked on several archaeological digs in Israel with the Associates for Biblical Research. Mr. Janeway is employed as a pilot for American Airlines in New York City. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Whether The Acts of the Apostles is historically accurate is a question that has engaged scholars for centuries. The debate has become particularly acute since the Tübingen School addressed it in the middle of the nineteenth century. The intensity of the debate has waxed and waned since that time. But even now the scholarly community’s assessment of Luke as an historian is deeply fissured.
Originally my purpose was to examine the question from an archaeological perspective. However, I soon realized that this approach was unsatisfactory for two reasons. First, a simple listing of archaeological discoveries would amount to a survey in the spirit of John McRay or Jack Finegan.1 While these are outstanding works which deal with the archaeology of The Acts of the Apostles, as well as the rest of the New Testament, they were written for a narrow and specified purpose. Secondly, I concluded that to answer
CTSJ 5:1 (January 1999) p. 47
adequately the question required a study of issues beyond the scope of archaeology. The history of modern criticism introduced me to these concerns. Therefore, my attempt to answer it will necessarily examine various non-archaeological issues within The Acts of the Apostles that impinge upon its essential reliability.
In order to understand the present state of scholarly opinion, it is useful to review the history of that criticism. An objective “critical” analysis does not entail a negative result as many have come to believe. Numerous scholars have maintained traditional views of historicity despite their “critical” study of the book and charges of apologetisch. As I. Howard Marshall has noted, “everybody looks for the evidence that supports their hypothesis and attempts to account for seemingly contrary evidence.”2
The speeches of Acts comprise a major portion of the book. They were important and were a literary device used in ancient historiography reaching back at least to the time of Thucydides in the fifth century B.C.3 The author of Acts used speeches for a reason and they will be discu...
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