Most scholars date the book of Acts somewhere between 80 and 90 CE (1). However, some other scholars have forwarded several arguments as to why a much earlier date in the early 60s CE is more likely (2).
Indeed if Acts could be dated to the early 60s it would be significant as it would require one to date the Gospel of Luke earlier, perhaps into the late 40s and 50s (before 60 CE). This is because Acts is a continuation of Luke’s gospel despite its presence in the New Testament as a separate book. This is why scholars term these works Luke-Acts (3).
It is also certain that Luke’s author consulted Mark and other earlier materials such as Q and L, from which he derives much of his information (4). If so then it means that Mark’s gospel must date to even earlier than 60 CE although scholarship currently dates Mark at 70 CE (5). These would be large changes to academic consensus and would more or less rest on the following arguments.
First, Acts has no mention of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, which is odd since much of the activity recorded in Luke-Acts centers around Jerusalem. A large section unique to Luke focuses on Christ’s last movement to the Jerusalem and the resurrection appearances that occur in it (see Luke 24:13), and Jerusalem plays a key role in the structure of Acts. The omission of any mention of the fall of Jerusalem makes sense if Luke-Acts was written prior to the event itself. It’s worth noting that this event was significant to the Jews because it involved the destruction of their holy temple. But it is not mentioned in Acts, which is also interesting because Christ seemed to have predicted Jerusalem’s destruction prior to it happening (Matthew 24:1-3). One might wonder why this did not warrant a mention in Acts if it would have corroborated Christ’s prediction?
Second, no mention is made of Nero’s persecutions in the mid-60s and the general tone of Acts toward the Roman government is irenic. This fits the pre-65 situation well. We would expect the tone to be much different if it Acts was composed post the destruction of Jerusalem.
Third, the martyrdoms of James (61 CE), Paul (64 CE), and Peter (65 CE) are not mentioned in Acts. This is also surprising since Acts is quick to record the deaths of Stephen and James the brother of John, leaders in the early church. These omissions are further surprising when one realizes that James, Peter, and Paul are the three key figures in Acts. The silence in Acts about these deaths makes sense if, again, we assume that Acts was written before they occurred.
Fourth, the subject matter of Acts deals with issues of importance prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. The falling of the Holy Spirit on different people groups (Jewish, Samaritan, Gentile), the divisions between Palestinian Jews and Hellenistic Jews, Jewish-Gentile relations centering on circumcision and the law of Moses, and other themes make sense prior to the year 70. At that time Jewish Christianity was wiped out and the importance of a record of how Gentile pagan converts are to relate to Jews in the church would be much lower than the importance of such a record prior to 70.
Fifth, several of the expressions in Acts are early and primitive. The phrases “the Son of man”, “the Servant of God” (applied to Jesus), “the first day of the week” (the resurrection), and “the people” (the Jews) are all phrases that readers would understand without explanation prior to 70 CE. After 70, they would need to be explained. These phrases, therefore, indicate that Acts was intended for an audience that would remember these terms and their usage.
Sixth, the Jewish war against the Romans (from 66 onward) is not mentioned in Acts. As Hugo Staudinger argues, “The Jewish war is an important part of the history of the early Church. The original followers in Jerusalem lose their significance through the war. With the destruction of Jerusalem Jesus’ prophecy is moreover fulfilled. If Luke had been writing after 70, it would be incomprehensible that he should break off his narrative shortly before the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy, and not indicate the fate of the followers in Jerusalem” (6).
1. Berkett, D. 2002. An Introduction to the New Testament and the Origins of Christianity. p. 195.
2. Moreland, J. 1987. Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity.
3. Berkett, D. 2002. Ibid.
4. Thomas, R. 2003. Three Views on the Origins of the Synoptic Gospels. p. 64.
5. Perkins, P. 1998. The Synoptic Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles: Telling the Christian Story. p. 64.
6. Staudinger, H. 1981. The Trustworthiness of the Gospels. p. 9.
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