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Who Wrote Luke and Acts?

In this thread I have been discussing whether Luke, the gentile physician, the traveling companion of Paul, wrote the Third Gospel. 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):


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.

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The Historical Accuracy of Acts
Not for the Faint of Heart (Authorship of Colossians)



  1. Avatar
    Rosekeister  September 3, 2013

    In this series of posts I hope you will address how much historical accuracy you believe is contained in Luke/Acts. I have been reading the Homilies and Recognitions of Clement as well as books about the early sources found in the fictional framework. Now when I read Acts I can’t help but see a fictional framework with early traditions because of the resusitated Jesus, angels, jailbreaks and shipwrecks as well as the miracles of Paul that seem to contradict his self-presentation in his letters. Is that what redaction criticism is for Acts, determining the traditions from the fictional framework? This leads to the question that if Acts was written by a gentile in Ephesus maybe as late as 115 CE then are its traditions actually secondary traditions of the Hellenist Jewish churches that were accepting gentiles rather than Galilean or Jerusalem traditions?

  2. Avatar
    Wilusa  September 4, 2013

    You may have addressed this question in a section I skimmed too briefly, but…here goes.

    I assume the “Gospel of Luke” was first called that in the second century. How did that come about, if there wasn’t a well-known figure named Luke – comparable in name recognition to Mark, Matthew, and John?

    Did the “Church fathers” who named it know the same person was the author of Acts? I find it hard to believe people in that era were comparing writing styles to assign authorship. So, was it recognized from the start that these works had a common author, because the “Church fathers” knew all along what he was doing?

    In any case, they couldn’t have expected readers of *either* the Gospel or Acts to recognize a name that had appeared once in a letter of Paul’s! So who *was* the “Luke” whose name they slapped on the Gospel?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 4, 2013

      Yes, in an earlier post I explained how they came by the idea that someone named Luke wrote it. (see a few posts ago). And it was always assumed that the same person wrote both books because of what is said in the opening verses of each book.

      • Avatar
        fred  September 5, 2013

        My understanding is that your argument assumes that some 2nd century Christians performed the analysis you described. But I don’t think we really know that, do we? Apologists suggest that Luke’s identity was known, or at least it’s not implausible to think that it might have been known. What’s your best counter argument to this notion?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  September 5, 2013

          Sorry, your first comment lost me. I’m not sure what you’re referring to.

          If Luke was “known” it is very strange he is never mentioned as the author of the Gospel until a hundred years after it was written….

  3. Avatar
    Dangelus  September 4, 2013

    Fascinating. Would shifting between the third and first person while narrating a particular event have been considered “bad Greek” in the same way it is considered “bad English” to do so today or was it a common literary tool?

    Could the inconsistencies be attributed to the author “copying and pasting” some of his sources into the narrative in a lazy way? I think you commented on this theory in one of your books concerning the inconsistencies of individual gospels.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 4, 2013

      Yup, these are options. I’m debating whether to get deeper into the we passages — or whether that’s too much for the blog.

      • Avatar
        Scott F  September 4, 2013

        The “we” sections are so awkward, I for one would appreciate a bit more discussion

  4. Avatar
    Scott F  September 4, 2013

    Is Vernon Robbin’s theory of parallels with the use of third person plural in other Mediterranean sea voyage descriptions considered viable?

  5. Avatar
    FrankofBoulder  January 16, 2014

    The Book of Acts 16:6 mentions “Paul and his companions,” so apparently, Luke wasn’t the only one who wasn’t seized re: the slave girl. Only Paul and Silas were seized, according to Acts. Paul’s other companions weren’t seized. So, Luke doesn’t stand out as the only person who was left behind. Luke isn’t exceptional for not having been seized. Just because Luke wasn’t seized (others weren’t seized, either) doesn’t show that Luke wasn’t part of the group.
    The “we” passages are credible. Unless someone was a traveling companion of Paul, how would he know this story and other stories about Paul’s travels? It makes sense that the author of Acts traveled with Paul, although we can’t be sure of the traveling companion’s name.

  6. Avatar
    James Cotter  June 7, 2017

    quote :
    Moreover, if “we” were with Paul when he rebuked the spirit of the possessed girl, how is it that only Paul and Silas were seized, not “we”? Did the eyewitness leave the company in 16:18 suddenly and for no expressed reason? If so, why is he still in Philippi much later in 20:6?

    DR Bart

    when you say “why is he still in philippi” are you saying that he couldn’t have left the company in 16:18?
    some apologists reply :

    Luke was simply not arrested. Not everyone has to be arrested. Only those who are prominent I assume.”

    One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you[d] a way of salvation.” 18 She kept doing this for many days.

    19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities.

    paul took out the spirit and the text tells us that silas got nabbed .
    one would assume that silas was INVOLVED with paul even though it does not attribute to silas anything. so why didn’t the “we” get arrested regardless if prominent or not? do authorities really care about prominence?

  7. Avatar
    Chrishuntley  December 10, 2018

    The timeline really screws me up with Paul and the writings of Luke/Acts. If Paul is still alive at the end of Acts, doesn’t it seem very possible that Paul himself had access to Mark and Q during his lifetime? They must have been circulating for Luke to have been written, and Luke certainly predates Acts. But I thought Paul’s letters were all written before Mark and Q… Very confusing.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 11, 2018

      If he did, it would have been after he wrote his own letters, some 10-20 years earlier.

      • Avatar
        Chad Stuart  February 4, 2020

        Is there any speculation among scholars about why Paul didn’t write “Luke” instead of his companion?

        It has always seemed odd to me that a companion of Paul was assumed to have written “Luke” instead of Paul himself when he was apparently a prolific writer who founded many early churches.

        • Bart
          Bart  February 5, 2020

          Are you asking why Paul didn’t write an account of his own travels? My guess is he had more important things to do, thinking the end was coming very soon (and so not needing to make a record). Or why he didn’t write a Gospel? It’s very interesting to note how little Paul seems to be interested in talkinga bout the things Jesus said and did during his life….

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