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Is Acts Historically Reliable? The Affirmative Argument

I am ready now to explain how I did the debate with myself in front of my undergraduate class on the resolution, Resolved: The Book of Acts is Historically Reliable.

As always happens in a debate, the Affirmative side goes first and gives a prepared speech. In arguing for the affirmative, I made the following points. (Note: I’m not saying I personally agree with these points, just as I’m not going to be saying that I agreed with the Negative points. I’m simply making the best case I can for both positions.)


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My Book Sales and the “Relatives” of Paul: Weekly Reader’s Mailbag March 25, 2016
Major Themes in the Book of Acts



  1. Avatar
    Boltonian  March 24, 2016

    Good try but not terribly convincing. The evidence relies on three things: 1) the author tells us he is trying to be accurate, which is not evidence at all, except of a very circular sort; 2) there are some events that appear in both Paul’s letters and Acts – well, if they knew each other (and perhaps worked together for a time) that is not surprising; and 3) archaeology bears out a few passages but if the target audience was contemporary why lie when these things could easily be checked? Also, just because the author is accurate about some things that can be checked at the time does not mean that he is accurate about anything that occurred historically.

    BTW, I think you mean ‘first person plural – ‘We’ rather than ‘second person’.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 25, 2016

      Corrected! Many thanks.

    • Avatar
      godspell  March 25, 2016

      Pretty sure Bart is just presenting one side of the case, and will get around to the other side. I found it fairly convincing–AS ANCIENT SOURCES GO, Acts is reliable. That’s a very significant qualifier.

      • Bart
        Bart  March 26, 2016

        Yup, I’ll get to the other side.

      • Avatar
        Boltonian  March 26, 2016

        ‘Pretty sure Bart is just presenting one side of the case…’

        I realise that.

    • Avatar
      JakSiemasz  March 28, 2016

      Re: Major Point Three:
      Spiderman, the movie, takes place in NYC and includes many factual places and circumstances, but that doesn’t confirm the existence of Spiderman.

  2. talmoore
    talmoore  March 24, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, to tie together your discussion of the Book of Acts with your most recent book on historical memory, I have to say that when I stand back and take in the Gospel and Acts of “Luke” as a complete two-volume work, I see a definite trajectory from implausible to plausible, from inaccurate to accurate, from unreliable to reliable. That is to say, starting with Luke chapter 1 all the way up to Acts chapter 28, if we were to plot position in the text against plausibility, accuracy and reliability — say on a graph — I’m pretty confident that we would find a positive correlation. (That is, to get technical, if we were to imagine a graph with a horizontal labelled “Position from Luke 1 to Acts 28”, and a vertical labelled “Plausibility/Accuracy/Reliablity”, we would probably see a positive slope.) And this is what we would expect from a written account that moves from hearsay to first-person, from second- and -third-hand to first-hand, from received memory to lived memory. And that would also explain not only why the end of acts appears to have so much more extraneous detail compared to the meticulously manicured details of Luke, but also why the details themselves appear to go from highly fanciful and supernatural in the beginning to banal and mundane at the end. So in that sense, talking about whether Acts (or Luke) is “reliable” — yes or no — is a bit of an overgeneralization.

    I should add that this would require a content analysis that could have been done? Would you know?

  3. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  March 24, 2016

    But then archaeologists dug up Lystra, and what did they find? They found a temple of Zeus outside the walls. Once again, the archaeological record has verified the narrative of Acts. This kind of verification happens time and time again.

    ” I feel the same way! “

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  March 29, 2016

      So, when a fiction writer like John Grisham does research in preparation so that he gets the way that courts and litigation work and then uses real place names and sets his fictional story within a totally realistic framework, has he given us any reason at all to believe his story is not fiction? No.

  4. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  March 24, 2016

    Wow, very interesting. Can’t wait for the rest.
    Have you ever debated other scholars on the historical reliability of Acts?

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    Jim  March 24, 2016

    If one wishes to argue for the affirmative case, and in relation to point 11 about the author of Luke wanting “to produce a historically accurate account”, can one also reasonably extend the argument to include arguing for an early date for Luke/Acts (say pre-mid-60s CE) since Paul’s execution is not addressed in Acts? James’ execution is mentioned, so why shy away from mentioning anything about Paul’s if it he had died 15-20 years prior to writing Luke/Acts.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 25, 2016

      Yes, one could argue that! But there are good reasons for thinking that Luke would not want to talk about Paul — the hero who could not be stopped — being executed.

  6. Avatar
    joewaters  March 24, 2016

    Oh, boy. Can’t wait to hear the negative case. I heard that Ehrman guy is a tough debator! 😉

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    Aliyu  March 25, 2016


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    Todd  March 25, 2016

    Very good. I am convinced. I await tomorrow’s post. 🙂

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    dragonfly  March 26, 2016

    So Mr Affirmative, are you arguing that there are no discrepancies between Acts and Paul’s writings at all? For some reason I thought you had mentioned in a previous post that there were. But then again, my memory is worse than most.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 26, 2016

      I, the affirmative guy, think the differences are very minor and virtually non-important for anything.

  10. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 26, 2016

    This affirmative argument has more substance than I expected. I suspect that the negative argument will deal with the “remarkable consistency” claim by showing some discrepancies and inconsistencies..

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    bobnaumann  March 30, 2016

    Do you think the author of Luke/Acts actually accompanied Paul (the “we verses”)? And if he wrote the Gospel of Luke ~80 CE, when was Acts written?

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    tcasto  April 7, 2016

    Being new to this blog, I’m still learning how to navigate. And so it is that I read the negative case first. As such, I am considerably impressed by Dr. Ehrman’s ability to weave an eloquent, if unconvincing, case for the affirmative. I can only hope his considerable skills are not commandeered by any of the current crop of presidential contenders.

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  April 8, 2016

      Would you please say more about why you find it unconvincing?

  13. Avatar
    Dhul_Qarnayn  July 13, 2016

    nice stance you separated yourself from biases in your analaysation, however where is the negative i’m looking for your post of it but can’t find it.

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