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Did *Any* Companion of Paul Write Luke and Acts?

I am circling around the ultimate question of this thread, whether Luke, the companion of Paul, wrote the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts.   A big reason this matters: if Paul’s companion, “the gentile physician,” wrote Acts, he had first-hand knowledge of Paul’s life and teachings.  That would certainly increase the likelihood that he was giving an authoritative account!

The first step to answering the question — was it written by Luke? — was to show that Paul never *mentions* Luke as a gentile physician in any of his undisputed letters. The second step involves asking the question of whether *any* companion of Paul – whether Luke or anyone else – wrote these books. The argument that a companion of Paul did write the books is based on the “we-passages” that I mentioned in the previous post. Now I want to advance the argument by saying that I don’t think the we-passages indicate that a companion of Paul wrote Acts (or, by inference, Luke) because I think there is good counter-evidence to indicate that Acts (and Luke) were decidedly NOT written by someone who was familiar, personally with Paul.

Here I’ll reproduce my comments on it from my college-level textbook, more accessible than some of my other posts recently. The basic point I’m making at this stage is that the book of Acts is not very reliable in its report of Paul.  The implication of that will be (in a subsequent post) that a companion of Paul almost certainly didn’t write it.  That in turn will mean that the “we-passages” have to be explained on other grounds.  And more germane to our point, it will suggest that Luke/Acts was not written by Luke the gentile physician (or more accurately: if they were, we have no evidence of it).

So, for now, let me lay out the argument for thinking a companion of Paul did not write Acts, namely, that its author does not seem to have known about Paul’s life and teachings very well.


 For a historically reliable account of what Paul said and did, can we rely on the narrative of the book of Acts?  Different scholars will answer this question differently, some trusting the book of Acts with no qualms, others taking its accounts with a grain of salt, and yet others discounting its narrative altogether — that is, discounting its *historical* credibility for establishing what Paul said and did, not necessarily discounting its importance as a piece of literature.

My own position is that Acts can tell us a great deal about how Luke *understood* Paul, but less about what Paul himself actually said and did. for discerning the reliability of Acts we are in the fortunate situation that Paul and Luke sometimes both describe the same event and indicate Paul’s teachings on the same issues, making it possible to see whether they stand in basic agreement.

What is striking is that in virtually every instance in which the book of Acts can be compared with Paul’s letters in terms of biographical detail, differences emerge.  Sometimes these differences …

This is important information about the New Testament and it’s second most important figure, the apostle Paul.  Want to know more?  Join the blog.  You’ll get your money’s worth in about 47 seconds.  And it’s not much money.  And all of it goes to charity.  So whatcha waiting for?

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Does the Book of Acts Accurately Record Paul’s Teachings?
Does the Author of Acts Identify Himself?



  1. Avatar
    jriley1509  January 16, 2020

    I would very much like your take on a theory I have encountered more and more of late, i.e., that Jesus was neither a myth (a la Carrier et al.) nor a single individual, but a composite character such as Robin Hood is thought to have been.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 19, 2020

      It completely depends on what one means. There certainly was a single person named Jesus about whom we can say a lot. But the “Jesus’ people have in their minds is a composite of all the things they’ve heard and thoguht about him.

  2. Lev
    Lev  January 17, 2020

    I agree that these discrepancies are difficult (some are impossible) to reconcile with Paul’s own writings, and that the author of Acts had made mistakes (even in other chronological details such as Theudas’ revolt in Acts5:36).

    However, the Jerusalem visit by Paul may not be far off the mark. Paul says in Galatians that after three years he did go down to Jerusalem. In Acts 9:23 it says “After some time had passed…” he went to Jerusalem. Wouldn’t this be vague enough to allow for three years?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 19, 2020

      I’m not sure what you’re asking: yes, Paul definitely went to Jerusalem. One problem is reconciling the number of times he went, according to Paul and according to Acts.

      • Lev
        Lev  January 19, 2020

        “The book of Acts, of course, provides its own narrative of Paul’s conversion. In this account, strikingly enough, Paul does exactly what he claims *not* to have done in Galatians: after leaving Damascus some days after his conversion, he goes directly to Jerusalem and meets with the apostles (Acts 9:10-30).”

        You claim that Acts says that Paul went to Jerusalem “some days after his conversion” but in Acts it says “After some time had passed…” he went to Jerusalem (according to NRSV). I’m claiming that Acts retains accordance with Galatians as “some time” and “three years” could amount to the same thing.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 20, 2020

          It says he went there just as soon as he left Damascus. According to Paul he did not — he went to Arabia for three years first.

          • Avatar
            joemccarron  January 31, 2020

            Acts says he spent several days in Damascus but that is beside the issue correct? The issue is how much time passed between his conversion and him meeting with the apostles in Jerusalem. I agree acts 22:14-21 seems to suggest he went back to Jerusalem after Damascus but it doesn’t seem to suggest he met the Apostles at that time. Instead he seems to indicate he left quickly.

            I wonder if you see a connotation in the Greek that is not represented in translations I am reading.

            Could you tell me exactly what verse you are referring to?

            I also wonder if you accepted these arguments before your research on memory. If Luke was writing decades after he was with Paul it certainly seems possible that some of the details about what he learned of Paul would be misremembered. Luke doesn’t claim to have been with Paul when he went to Arabia (or necessarilly for very long at all) so if Luke misremembered the precise timing of when he went to Jerasualem (assuming Paul even told Luke that precise timing) does not seem a significant lapse.

            I would think Paul did keep the old law when he was with other Jews. Acts suggests that it was Paul’s custom to go to Synagogues to argue with them. Moreover, Acts 24:21 and 23:6-10 suggest that he was being tried about his views on whether people can be resurrected. I assume (as does acts) that was Paul putting it cleverly.

            I’m not sure I would read 28:17-18 as Paul saying he always kept kosher even after becoming Christian. I don’t think Paul understood his view that he is no longer bound by Kosher laws as violating Jewish laws but rather that the rules have changed. If we pass an amendment to the constitution and then follow that amendment we are not violating the customs of the founding fathers or Americans. He believes his views are built into the cake.

            Finally even if we assume Luke as “gentile physician” was not written by Paul does that mean we should completely discount what it says? I have heard Luke’s introduction is similar to what one would expect in a technical writing such as a medical treatise in ancient times. Does Loveday Alexander argue this?

          • Bart
            Bart  January 31, 2020

            What verse? I’m not sure what you’re asking. I was referring to the very verse you were.

            But no, in Acts Paul definitely does not think the rules have changed. That’s why he has to go to make the sacrifice in the temple that led to his arrest i the first place.

            And no, the question of authorship has no direct bearing on the question of accuracy, one way or the other.

          • Avatar
            joemccarron  February 3, 2020

            “I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. 18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas[b] and stayed with him fifteen days.” Galatians 1:17-18

            If I say “I did not go to Oak Brook in 2017 to see Bart Ehrman present at the defenders conference, but I did go in 2019 to see his presentation”, does that mean I did not go to Oak brook *at all* for any reason in 2017? It seems to me that is not what the words mean.

            In the exact same way I would not read Galatians as Paul claiming he did not go to Jerusalem for over three years for any reason at all. Rather he is saying he did not to there *to see the other apostles.* I don’t think Acts says he did go to Jerusalem to see other apostles and in fact Acts suggests, he did not do that when he went to Jerusalem right after Damascus.

            “But no, in Acts Paul definitely does not think the rules have changed. That’s why he has to go to make the sacrifice in the temple that led to his arrest i the first place.”

            I have a few reservations about that reading of Acts.

            First Paul seems to be pretty practical about such things when we consider his view of 1 Corinthians Chapter 8 on eating food sacrificed to idols. It would seem refusing to go through the purification process would be quite offensive to some so it would seem he may do something like that just so he does not cause needless friction.

            Second your reading seems to have Luke having contradictory views. Consider Peter’s vision that he can eat unclean foods in Acts 10. Is Luke not saying Peter (a Jew) is free to eat unclean foods? Yet Luke think’s Paul is still bound by such laws? I find that unlikely. Does Luke think Jews violating Kosher laws is “wrong” or not? Does he think it is ok for Peter to violate the Kosher laws but not Paul?

          • Bart
            Bart  February 4, 2020

            Well if you said I went to see Ehrman at Oakbrook in in August 2017 and then after a few days I saw him in Evanston, most people would assume you didn’t mean “three years later”

          • Avatar
            joemccarron  February 4, 2020

            Where is the “after a few days” verse that you are talking about? Perhaps there is something in the Greek that is not brought out in the translations I am reading because I am not reading anything that suggests that in Acts 9. Acts 9 is the description of the visit to Jerusalem where Luke does say Paul successfully tried to associate with the apostles thanks to Barnabas.

            Acts 22 is where Paul is explaining a sequence of events and Luke is putting words in Paul’s mouth. This visit to Jerusalem seems different than the Jerusalem visit described in Acts 9. In Paul’s description in Acts 22 (so again Luke’s version just out of Paul’s mouth) Acts he seems to just go to a temple fall in a trance and leave.
            “When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking to me. ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.’”
            Acts 22:17-18

            I do agree Acts seems to have the same sequence of events of Damascus to Jerusalem to Caesaria. But the two descriptions of the what happened in Jerusalem seem different in Acts.

            Both accounts are sandwiched in between Damascus and Caesarea. But either Luke seems to be inconsistent about what happened in Jerusalem (assuming Luke does not have Paul giving wrong information in his speech) or Paul did visit Jerusalem at least two times after Damascus but before traveling to Caesarea according to Luke.

            Do you agree that what occurred in Jerusalem in Acts 9 seems different than what occurred in the account given in Acts 22? I agree the fact that they are both sandwiched in between Damascus and his leaving for Caesarea would suggest that they were the same trip if we had no reason to think they were different. But what occurred in Jerusalem seems different *in Acts itself* and this suggests Acts may be talking about two different trips.

          • Bart
            Bart  February 5, 2020

            You’re right, it says many days. So I gues in your understanding that means something like a thousand days? And yes, Acts 9 has key differences from Acts 22, rather famous contradictions. So too the account in Acts 26.

          • Avatar
            joemccarron  February 6, 2020

            I defer to what scholars think “many days” (or whatever the Greek term is) could mean. If scholars of ancient Greek think it could cover years then OK. If they don’t, that is OK too.

            But in all of this I think we should be mindful of how our human memory works. My daily work where I am questioning accounts and memories as a trial lawyer forced me to quickly adapt to the reality of how people’s memories work. I think others (including others in academia) have very unrealistic expectations.

            If you think that Luke traveling with Paul for a while, years before he wrote his account, means he must be able to get details about how long Paul was in Arabia how many trips Paul made to Jerusalem exactly how Paul’s experience of Christ went down exactly how Paul’s atonement doctrine works etc., completely accurate, then we have different expectations of how memory works.

            And isn’t that the basis for your argument that Luke could not have traveled with Paul? Your argument is if Luke traveled with Paul 1) He must have been told these details and 2) Luke couldn’t not have gotten them so wrong in an account written years after he was traveling with Paul. I think both premises are based on unwarranted assumptions. That is why I asked if you accepted this argument before you studied memory, and if your study of memory effected your views.

            Even if Paul traveled with Luke it is unclear how much he spoke with Luke at all. Did Paul say he went to Arabia? Did he tell him how long he was there? Maybe Paul spoke with Luke about it but never said exactly how long he was there and for whatever reason Luke thought it was just months. Our memory fills gaps. We shouldn’t think that if Luke traveled with Paul for a while then Luke suddenly must know everything about Paul’s life and views as clearly as Paul does!

            If Acts was written by one author then the discrepancies between the descriptions in Acts of the visit(s) does suggest Paul made more than one visit to Jerusalem. Neither Luke nor Paul explicitly tell us.

  3. Avatar
    scissors  January 17, 2020

    “its author does not seem to have known about Paul’s life and teachings very well.”

    Ive always wondered if this could also be attributed to Luke’s over all agenda to present Christians as one unified movement triumphantly marching from Jerusalem to Rome. That is, Luke eliminates things
    about Paul that show differences, tensions and disagreement. For example, he eliminates Paul’s trip to Arabia and has him go straight to Jerusalem to meet the apostles.

  4. kt@rg.no
    kt@rg.no  January 17, 2020

    ,,,,,in my mind, Lucius of Cyrene could also have been in such a position to be the author of the Acts and the gospel of Luke.

  5. kt@rg.no
    kt@rg.no  January 17, 2020

    ,,,Lucius of Cyrene was among those who was among the founders of the Christian community in Antioch. Also he (probably) was disregarded and questioned by those who were of the Jewish faith who were the close followers of Jesus,,,(the Jerusalem Christians who confronted Paul) John, Peter, Andrew, James and those of the closer following. His position, his role was closely related to Paul and his missions,,,,being among the seventy (two) disciple after Christ,, Yes,,,he might be a candidate of authorship of Acts and the Gospel of Luke.

    Kjell Tidslevold

  6. Avatar
    mannix  January 17, 2020

    The “New Catholic Bible” published in 1947, in its introduction to Luke, plainly states the author was the companion of Paul (and therefore the author of Acts) and that Acts was written “around 63 AD”. The current New American Bible, published in 1970, makes no such claim in its own intro to Luke. Shows you what difference modern scholarship has made within our own lifetimes.

  7. Avatar
    ragavatara  January 18, 2020

    How does the biblical inerrancy crowd deal with the contradiction between Paul’s trip to Jerusalem after “three years” in Galatians vs. “days” in Acts?

  8. Avatar
    WLFobe  January 18, 2020

    Is it possible to know when the various companions of Paul became companions?

  9. Avatar
    brenmcg  January 18, 2020

    But doesnt Acts understand that the trouble Paul had with the Jews was came from his preaching to gentiles to not follow the law?

    Acts 18:12 “But when Gallio was proconsul of Acha′ia, the Jews made a united attack upon Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, This man is persuading men to worship God contrary to the law.”

  10. Avatar
    RichardFellows  January 22, 2020

    Paul does not actually say that Timothy was ever with him in Athens. I suggest the following:
    Paul travelled to Athens with some Macedonian converts (Acts 17:15a). Paul then sent those Macedonian converts back to Macedonia to ask Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible (Acts 17:15b). The instruction to Timothy was to travel via Thessalonica. Thus Paul was left alone in Athens (1 Thess 3:1), but he was willing to put up with the solitude because he would then hear Timothy’s news of the Thessalonians sooner. Donfried proposed something similar. On this view Paul is left alone in Athens after he sends his companions to Timothy with the instruction to come to Athens via Thessalonica. It works, doesn’t it? Paul can have sent Timothy using the messengers of Acts 17:15, rather than by face-to-face conversation in Athens.

    Our assessment of Acts depends, to a large extent, on how we understand Galatians. See my recent article: “Paul, Timothy, Jerusalem and the confusion in Galatia” Biblica (2018) 544-66.

  11. Avatar
    Thespologian  January 27, 2020

    It seems odd to me to have various small discrepancies such as when and where or how many times. If an author is posing as a companion to Paul, these small facts seem more easily replicated than say Paul’s raison d’etre — which the author may have every intention of tweaking. Would the author not have been referring to Paul’s letters throughout this whole process?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2020

      I think the problem is that we are so accustomed to having easy access to books that it just seems natural that Paul’s letters were known thorughou the Xn world. A better analogy would be to imagine there was *no* mass communication or even postal service, and a preacher in Virginia writes a bunch of letters to his churches. How likely is it that another preacher in Vermont would know about them. He *might*; but no reason he necessarily would. Luke show no evidence of knowing the letters, and my guess is that this is becaus he didn’t…

  12. Avatar
    RichardFellows  January 27, 2020

    Luke writes that Paul’s escape from Damascus was after some time had pass (δε επληρουντο ημεραι ικαναι). We can imagine Paul’s two or three year visit to Arabia being during that interval. Why, then, was Luke silent about that visit to Arabia? Perhaps Paul’s evangelistic efforts in Arabia were unsuccessful. Or perhaps Paul got into trouble with Aretas in Arabia (2 Cor 11:32) and Luke wanted to avoid giving ammunition to the opponents of the faith. You, Bart, suggest that Luke wanted to present Paul as being close to the Jerusalem church leaders. All these explanations are possible, and none of them require us to believe that the author of Acts was not a companion of Paul, do they? How do we make the jumps from Luke’s silence to Luke’s ignorance to Luke’s distance from Paul?

    I once saw a list of ways in which the Paul of the undisputed letters contradicts himself. It was a longer list than the list of apparent discrepancies between the Paul of Acts and the Paul of the undisputed letters. Paul was a very “high context” writer, so we need to be careful. Paul is more positive towards the Law in Romans and Acts than he is in Galatians. He exaggerates his opposition to circumcision and the Law in Galatians (and he knows his readers know that he is doing so). See my 2018 Biblica article.

    Since Acts presents Paul (rightly I think) as being accommodating to Jewish practices, doesn’t this argue that the author was close to Paul? Someone writing a generation later, when the church was more Gentile, would surely have distanced Paul from Jewish customs. Colossians is a case in point. This fake letter thinks that Paul had only three circumcised coworkers (Col 4:10-11), whereas the audience of Acts takes it for granted that Paul’s fellow missionaries had to be circumcised to be effective (otherwise Acts 16:3 falls flat as an explanation of why Timothy was circumcised). Your own work on anti-semitic textual variants confirms that the trend over time was for Christians to want to rewrite the NT to distance it from Jewish customs and identity. If Luke’s Paul is Jewish, then Luke is early, isn’t he?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2020

      I don’t think “some days” makes sense if he means “three years.” He could just as easily have said “three years.”

      And I don’t agree that Paul never did anything contrary to the law, as Acts says. Paul says just the opposite in 1 Corinthians 9:20: he was often acting as one “not under the law.”

      Of course we could argue about these things till the cows come home. But unless soneone has a goal of reconciling these passages (as I used to have) I don’t think a generous reading (letting the author say what he says and assume that he means what he says) will see them as compatible.

  13. Avatar
    RichardFellows  January 28, 2020

    The culture of the time was high context, so Paul’s hearers would have expected him to adapted his message according to the circumstances and according to who he was addressing. In Acts 28:17 Paul is addressing Jewish leaders at a time when he is facing death for violating Jewish law, so of course he will play up his own allegiance to Jewish customs and people (and the audience of Acts would expect him to do so). Acts 9:10 introduces Ananias as a disciple, but when Paul addresses Jews in Acts 22:12-15 he presents Ananias as a devout Law-observant man who endorsed his work. Clearly Luke’s Paul adapts his message according to his audience. He does the same in Acts 17. He was deeply distressed at the idols (Acts 17:16) but, when addressing Gentiles, he holds back his disgust and opens by complimenting them for their religion (Acts 17:22-23). Luke’s Paul was “all things to all people”, and that is exactly what Paul says about himself.

    If we take Acts 28:17 too literally we make the same mistake that the Galatians made when they inferred from Paul’s circumcision of Timothy that he was preaching circumcision (Gal 5:11). His circumcision of Timothy and his words in Acts 28:17 were messages aimed at Jews, and have to be understood in that context.

    • Avatar
      joemccarron  February 5, 2020

      “However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, 15 and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16 So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.”
      NIV Acts 24:14-15

      “But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, ….”
      KJ Acts 24:14

      Paul is saying he believes the OT. But he is explicitly saying he worships differently than the Jews who accuse him. He says they call Christianity (followers of “the way”) a sect (or “heresy” although “heresy” might be too strong) so it is reasonable to think they have disagreements on what it means “to go against [his] people or the customs of [his] fathers.” He believes Moses and Abraham would approve of him following God’s will in accepting Christianity.

      But even if he did follow laws while in Jerusalem that does not mean he believes he must. Paul is not out to offend and says it can be ok to eat food sacrificed to idols. Paul likely acted in accordance with the Jewish codes that he no longer felt he had to follow. Just because I do not burn a Koran when I visit a Muslim city does not mean I think it would be a sin against God to do that. So just because Paul followed ceremonial aspects of Jewish law that does not mean Acts is saying Paul thinks he must do that or he sins against God.

      Clearly Luke is saying Jews are not bound by kosher laws any longer Acts10:9-13. “Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”” Unless you interpret this voice as coming from Satan, Luke couldn’t be more clear. Peter, a Jew, does not need to keep Kosher. Is Luke saying Paul disagrees with this? That is a hard sell. But that is what you have to swallow if you accept the view that Luke is contradicting the views Paul expressed in his epistles on these issues.

  14. Avatar
    johnnyutah9  April 7, 2020

    maybe flogging a dead horse.

    A point that might be of interest:

    Acts 8.3 claims that Paul carried out his persecutions in the vicinity of Jerusalem and then went to Damascus.

    BUT at Gal 1.22, Paul (himself?) writes that even after his conversion he was not known by sight to the churches of Judea.

    Hultgren, Arland. “Paul’s Pre-Christian Persecutions.” Journal of Biblical Literature. Vol. 95, No. 1 (Mar., 1976), pp. 105

  15. Avatar
    stumeyer63  May 6, 2020

    Paul states that the Law has been fulfilled through Christ. My issue with this statement is Paul’s personal background as a persecuting Pharisee of the followers of the Way. While Paul states that he comes from a long line of Pharisees, we don’t hear anything about any of his family members (or for that matter, his mentor Gamiliel) being persecutors of the Way, even though they, like Paul, would have strictly followed the Law. In other words, is Paul targeting the Law as an excuse or explanation for his own past transgressions (he repeatedly admonishes himself as being the worst of the worst) because he does not want to accept personal responsibility for the families that he harmed (they were imprisoned and in some instances killed)? Perhaps that is why there is no evidence that Paul, after “seeing the light” on the road to Damascus, ever made amends to the families that he harmed in the past. Instead, he seems to just walk away from his troubled past as “Saul” and start his new life as “Paul,” apostle to the Gentiles. Thanks, Stuart.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 8, 2020

      I dont’ think so. Paul says that before the law he was “blameless.” The problem with the law for Paul is that it instructs people how to live but it cannot bring salvation. Only God can, through Christ.

  16. Avatar
    Didaemus  July 5, 2020

    Did Paul see the way he experienced the risen Jesus as no different than those of the disciples? Luke seems to differentiate them.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 6, 2020

      He doesn’t say, but he certainly doesn’t talk about the vision itself as if it were different. What was different was what he took from it: he had been called to be the apostle to the gentiles.

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