Yesterday we concluded that Luke, “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14), was the author of Acts. If that is the case, then it necessitates a date within the 1st century. Those who place it late in the 1st century (A.D. 80-100) do so by assuming a late date for the gospels (if Acts comes after Luke’s gospel and Luke used Mark’s gospel as the basis for his own, then dating Mark’s gospel affects the date of Luke and Acts). However, the most likely date for the book of Acts is the early-60s A.D., or approximately 30 years after Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension.
The primary piece of evidence for the early date is the way Acts ends. The final eight chapters of the book detail Paul’s legal proceedings as he makes his way to Rome in the early 60s A.D., but Luke did not include the saga’s conclusion in his account. Acts ends with Paul spending two years under house arrest (Acts 28:30-31); Luke does not mention Paul’s release, his re-arrest a couple years later, or his execution in A.D. 64 or 65. The best explanation for these historical omissions is that they had not happened yet—that Luke wrote his account in or around A.D. 62, while Paul’s fate was still undetermined.
The most common objection to this line of argument is that Luke must have intended to write a trilogy, and that Paul’s fate would have been included in the third volume. Yet, as D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo point out, “Luke’s focus is not biographical but theological—he is not interested in a life of Paul but in the expansion of the gospel” (p. 299). As we’ll see later this week, Acts 1:8 can serve as an outline of the book. Luke examines the gospel’s expansion in Jerusalem first, then Judea and Samaria, and finally to the ends of the earth. With Paul arriving in Rome and preaching the gospel unfettered during his house arrest, Luke’s purpose in writing has concluded—by infiltrating the capital of the Roman Empire, the gospel has effectively spread throughout the known world, and Luke thus concludes his account. The fate of the gospel and of the church is secured by Acts 28:31, even if Paul’s fate is not.
Other points of evidence for an early date include the vividness and specific detail of the narratives late in the book, which would seem to indicate that they were fresh in Luke’s memory; Luke’s failure to mention the persecution of Christians by Nero in the mid-60s (during which time both Peter and Paul, the primary characters in Luke’s account, were executed); and Luke’s portrayal of Judaism as a religion with full legal rights, which was not the case following the Jewish rebellion in A.D. 66 that led to the destruction of Jerusalem four years later.
It is most likely, therefore, that Luke began to write the book of Acts while Paul was under house arrest in Rome, and that he finished and published the book shortly after his release, but before his re-arrest and execution in A.D. 64 or 65.
Other Posts in the Series:
- The Author of Acts
- The Genre of Acts
- The Provenance & Destination of Acts
- The Purpose & Theme of Acts
References & Further Reading:
Carson, D. A. & Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.
Lea, Thomas D. & David Alan Black. The New Testament: Its Background and Message. 2nd Edition. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003.