External and internal evidence confirm that Luke the physician, author of the Gospel which bears his name, is also the author of Acts. As early as c. A.D. 170 the Muratorian Canon asserts the Lucan authorship of the third Gospel and Acts. The testimony of the early church fathers (A.D. 100–500) clearly affirms that Luke wrote Acts.
Although Luke never names himself as the author, evidence within the book itself further confirms the external testimony. Luke was an eyewitness to many of the events in Acts, as is confirmed by his use of “we” in many sections (16:10–17; 20:5–21:18; 27:1–28:16). As the traveling companion of the apostle Paul, Luke was undoubtedly present when these events in the “we” sections occurred. In addition, Paul refers to Luke as a “physician” in Colossians 4:14, and the vocabulary of Luke and Acts seems to suggest that the author was a physician. Finally, Acts 28 makes it clear that Luke was present with Paul upon the latter’s arrival in Rome as a prisoner. Philemon and Colossians (along with Ephesians and Philippians) were written from Rome during Paul’s first imprisonment there, and both these books identify Luke as present with Paul (Col. 4:14; Philem. 24). Acts concludes with Paul in Rome, most likely because the narrative has been brought up to the time of writing. On the basis of this, Luke fits all the circumstances as the author of Acts.
Traditionally Luke has been considered to be a Gentile, though this is never stated to be the case by any of the early church fathers (see Luke, “Introduction: Author”).
DATE: c. A.D. 63
There are two primary views regarding the date of Acts: c. A.D. 70 or later and c. A.D. 63. The date of c. A.D. 63 is to be preferred, due to the lack of any reference to four significant events: (1) information concerning the outcome of Paul’s imprisonment and trial; (2) the Neronian persecution in A.D. 64–68; (3) the death of Paul in A.D. 66–67; and (4) the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. If Luke had known the outcome of Paul’s trial, he most certainly would have recorded it.
Luke’s Gospel, as well as his history of the early church, is addressed to Theophilus. Beyond knowing that this is a Greek name meaning “lover of God,” precise identification is impossible. Several possibilities, however, have been proposed: (1) Theophilus is a new convert in need of full knowledge concerning the initiation and growth of Christianity. (2) Theophilus is Paul’s attorney for his defense in Rome, and Luke-Acts is a defense brief. (3) Theophilus is an interested, but yet unconverted, Greek to whom Luke has addressed an apology with the intent of winning Theophilus for the kingdom. (4) Theophilus is a friend of high Roman office to whom Luke dedicates his books, which are intended for a general audience. (5) Theophilus refers not to a specific individual, but to anyone who is a “lover of God.” Though no solution is available, option (1) is the most likely.
THEME AND PURPOSE: History and Theology
Acts is both history and theology. It is history in that it narrates the birth and growth of the early church from Jerusalem to Rome, spanning a period of thirty years. It is theology in that Luke’s purpose is to show God’s plan of salvation through Jesus and the establishment and growth of the kingdom of God (cf. Luke’s use of “kingdom” in 1:3 and 28:31). Acts cannot be understood apart from the Gospel of Luke in the matter of theme and purpose. The prologues to each book reveal that Luke intended them as a two-volume work. From a comparison of the prologues, a third and practical purpose emerges for Luke-Acts: Theophilus needed to be encouraged and challenged in his faith. Other purposes suggested by scholars: (1) to demonstrate the universality of Christianity, (2) to provide an apologetic for Paul’s apostleship, and (3) to provide an apologetic for Christianity, in order to establish its character as nonthreatening to the Roman Empire.
KEY VERSE: “To the End of the Earth”
The key verse in the book is 1:8, showing the threefold geographic description of the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome. The title of the book, “The Acts of the Apostles,” is very old (at least as old as the second century), but perhaps, on the basis of 1:8, a more accurate title would be “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.”
Acts is a crucial book in the canon of Scripture in that it serves as the bridge between the Gospels and the Epistles. It narrates the continuing work of the resurrected Jesus through His church. Furthermore, it provides present-day churches with the pattern of church growth principles in evangelism, missions, and discipleship. The speeches in Acts present a clear indication of early Christian doctrine regarding the Person and work of Christ, as well as the nature of salvation.
W. A. Criswell et al., eds., Believer’s Study Bible, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991), Ac 1:1.