The debate over the historical accuracy of the book of Acts is important, in no small measure because – as I have pointed out already – it provides us our one and only narrative of what was happening among the followers of Jesus in the years immediately after his death. This is the key, formative period in the formation of Christianity. How did it start as a religion? Acts is our only surviving historical account. But is it an accurate history?
The first thing to stress is that Acts – like all histories – is highly restrictive in what it talks about. It is not a comprehensive history and makes no pretense of being a comprehensive history. The title “The Acts of the Apostles” was given it by later readers and scribes. The author himself (whoever he was) does not give it a title. And this particular title is not particularly apt, for one very important reason: most of the apostles do not figure in the account at all. This is a narrative of some (very few) of the activities of Peter (and to a lesser extent John), the main character of chapters 1-12, and of Paul, the main character of chapters 13-28.
The other apostles figure in on the margins and usually only as a group. Most of them are not even named, let alone discussed. What were Bartholomew or Jude or Matthew …
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