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Does the Author of Acts Identify Himself?

In this thread I have been discussing whether Luke, the gentile physician, the traveling companion of Paul, wrote the Third Gospel and the book of Acts. The first point I’ve made, over a couple of posts, is that the idea that Paul *had* a gentile physician as a traveling companion is dubious. That notion is derived from the mention of Luke in the book of Colossians, but Paul almost certainly did not *write* Colossians. Paul does mention a companion named Luke in the book of Philemon, but he does not say anything at all about him (not, for example, that he was a gentile or that he was a physician).

Still, one could argue – and many have! – that whatever his name, it was a companion of Paul who wrote the books of Luke and Acts. The main argument in favor of that thesis – with which I heartily disagree – is the presence of the “we-passages” in Acts, that I mentioned previously. My view is that these passages do NOT demonstrate that the author was Paul’s traveling companion. But it’s a complex issue, and to get to the bottom of it takes a lot of demonstration.

Here I will again, over a series of posts, reproduce what I say elsewhere, but in a book very few members of this blog will have read (Forgery and Counterforgery). I have omitted the footnotes here to make it easier to read. This is a section where I talk about what we can say about who wrote the book of Acts (who was the same person who wrote the Third Gospel):

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The key to any discussion of the authorship of Acts is provided by the so-called “we-passages” that occur on four occasions (depending on how one accounts), narratives in which the author shifts from third- to first-person plural narrative. The scholarship on these passages may seem daunting in its scope, but it is even more disheartening in its execution, one suggestion even more implausible than the one preceding. Several full length studies have been devoted to the question, the most recent by William S. Campbell, but including earlier important contributions by C. Thornton and J. Wehnert.

Now *here’s* something you’re not gonna learn in Sunday School!  But it’s important knowledge — for anyone interested in the New Testament.  Is that you?  Then join the blog!

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Did *Any* Companion of Paul Write Luke and Acts?
Problems with Thinking That Luke Wrote Luke (and Acts)

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  January 13, 2020

    I can understand shifting points of view in terms of hastily or sloppily constructed fiction. There are plenty of examples. For instance, “Stranger In a Strange Land” and Norman Mailer’s “Deer Park”. And yet, most of the people who read novels like this are not disturbed by the inconsistencies. They have an engaging narrative flow. I doubt that many casual readers of these epistles are disturbed by the inconsistencies and oddities you’ve pointed out. So maybe Acts is a kind of fiction? The Pauline forgeries are certainly fiction in a sense. Not, of course, crafted to entertain. Not that kind of fiction. But certainly something assembled and composed largely in the imagination of the author? Perhaps using pieces of oral tradition or accounts that were heard from unnamed sources, and then assembled into the documents we have today? Enough skill and sophistication to create a nice narrative but not a narrative without seams and inconsistencies on close and careful examination?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 15, 2020

      Yes, one prominent author, Richard Pervo, has argued Acts is best read like an ancient novel.

  2. Avatar
    Stephen  January 13, 2020

    I read ‘Forgery and Counterforgery’ with a great deal of pleasure. I’ve been reading in this field for over thirty years so another popularization is not going to help much. Even a lack of Greek is not an impediment. I keep some favored translations and commentaries nearby for reference.

    I think the best reason for doubting that Luke/Acts was written by a companion of Paul is that the author seems unaware of Paul’s actual views as expressed in his letters. But I assume you’ll get to that!

    In an interview associated with his last book Dale Martin mentioned that his next book was about this very issue. I look forward to that as I do your next scholarly work.

  3. Avatar
    doug  January 13, 2020

    Even today, some people try to justify lying in support of a “higher truth”.

  4. Avatar
    robbeasley  January 13, 2020

    The architect of “acts” is Nerva

  5. Avatar
    Scott  January 14, 2020

    I look forward to your next post in this series. The abrupt switch away from the third person strikes me as odd as well.

  6. Robert
    Robert  January 14, 2020

    Bart: “How is it that “we” included Paul in 16:10 and 11, but then are differentiated from Paul in 16:17?”

    Why is this problematic? The putative author traveled with Paul and thus implied (falsely) that was an associate, a direct or indirect witness of the immediately following events without being a primary actor in the narrated events.

    Similarly, in Acts 20,36 it is only Paul who prays (προσηύξατο, singular), while it is all of the Ephesians brethren who react, not merely the immediate group of Paul’s traveling companions. Most of the events happening on the ground in these locations prioritize Paul as the principal actor. The putative author merely indicates where he was present as an associate or witness. This need only be indicated by including himself among Paul’s traveling companions, but he never presents himself as a primary character in the narrative.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 15, 2020

      I understand v. 17 to be transitional, from the “we” of v. 16 to the “they” of vv. 19-20; it goes from “we” to “Paul and us” to “they”

      • Robert
        Robert  January 15, 2020

        Bart: I understand v. 17 to be transitional, from the “we” of v. 16 to the “they” of vv. 19-20; it goes from “we” to “Paul and us” to “they”

        Paul is the main character of the story. He is the one who casts out the spirit from the slave girl. He and Silas are the only ones dragged before the authorities. Nowhere is it said that the author and putative companion of Paul left and traveled elsewhere for a while without Paul. One should therefore presume that he is still present even if not specifically called out as a major character.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 15, 2020

          Well OK, but I’m not familiar with narratives that work that way! Especially since it talks not just about Paul, but his companions, calling them “they” instead of “we” all of a sudden.

          • Robert
            Robert  January 15, 2020

            It’s not so hard to figure out.

          • Bart
            Bart  January 16, 2020

            Hey, you’re not the first person to discover I”m thick!

  7. Avatar
    Gron49  January 15, 2020

    It seems like the Occum’s Razor solution as to the I / We authorship is given by the author of the Gospel according to Luke himself at the very beginning of the Gospel:

    “1 Seeing that many others have undertaken to draw up accounts of the events that have reached their fulfilment among us,
    2 as these were handed down to us by those who from the outset were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word,
    3 I in my turn, after carefully going over the whole story from the beginning, have decided to write an ordered account for you, Theophilus,”

    It is a cut & paste document from multiple sources. Some authors of some bits claimed to be there, others didn’t. It’s an anthology. It’s herky-jerky in structure and flow, as you would expect an anthology to be. I would imagine that if you did a deep dive into the word / phrase uses as you did with the authorship of Colossians, you’d find significant dissimilarities, leading to the conclusion of different authors.

    So, where do I pick up my Honorary Bible Thinking Doctorate Degree?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 15, 2020

      It’ll cost you $79.95. You can make the check out to me.

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