Part II of VI:
In Part I of this series I explored varying degrees of evidence from weakest to strongest for a pre-70 gospel date. Now I'll start digging deeper.
This one has long been an apologetic argument for a pre-70 date, but I thought I'd examine it with a little more detail than what I've seen. We have a pretty strong case that the author of the gospel of Luke also wrote the book of Acts (discussed here: ), and very few scholars disagree with this. The contention is typically who penned both works because to assume Luke -- Paul's companion Luke -- himself wrote Luke-Acts puts somewhat of a crimp on the post-70 date for both works, as Luke would probably have been either very old by that time (at least by the standards of that era; the fact he was most likely a well educated gent indicates his possible seniority) or most likely martyred with Paul and the others at the hand of Nero.,
However, I presented some pretty firm evidence in that article lending strong support to the view that this was indeed Paul's companion Luke. In fact, the internal and external evidence in favor of his scribal hand is stronger than the ascribed authors of the other three gospels (Mark, Matthew and John). But since the authorship issue isn't strong enough in and of itself to presuppose a date, and since it's certainly not impossible to still maintain Lukan authorship in spite of a late date (assuming Luke was very young when he was with Paul and had escaped martyrdom, which is something that cannot be confirmed one way or the other), we'll put authorship aside and specifically examine their arguments for a late date.
One of the recent late date arguments held by a small majority is that it subtly or indirectly references the works of Josephus (90's CE) for much of its historical information, which if true would fling Acts about a decade later, possibly even into the second century. However, even though I will concede that that particular argument at least has a bit of meat to it than just anecdotal suppositions and that requires a bit of effort of analysis to point out the flaws, this is an argument I also dissected in a previous article and is demonstrably false (here: Post-70 View: 7 Key Points, ); again, certainly not strong enough to support a date as late as the second century.
Most people who know anything about this subject have a pretty general idea that Acts was basically a chronicle of the early church movement in and around Judea immediately after Jesus' proclaimed ascension, from the 30s up to about the 60s. Paul is clearly the predominant figure in the second half of Acts which illustrates his conversion and missionary exploits. The fact that Acts includes Paul's capture at Jerusalem, as well as his transfer to Rome for a trial before Caesar only to leave out his martyrdom (undoubtedly killed at the hands of Nero around the mid 60s), much more so the actual outcome of the trial itself seems to suggest a composition before the outcome of the trial ever happened.
At least this is what the pre-70 camp argues. Moreover, since Luke wrote his gospel ("first account" -- 1:1-2) before Acts, this would naturally push the gospel of Luke earlier, far earlier than 70 CE, perhaps even a decade or more earlier. Though the pre-70 camp sees the exclusion of this information as evidence that Acts was written prior to Paul's trial and final fate, this argument has been hotly debated and challenged by the post-70 camp. Thus, since it's necessary, I'll quote the disputed passage and then include the entire breakdown…
This is the closing passages of the work of Acts. Keep the passages that I have colored and bolded in mind for later reference. The preceding events before this passage that span about five chapters illustrate Paul being captured in Jerusalem and led in chains to Rome where he stands trial. The consensus view is that Paul died anywhere from 62-67 CE undoubtedly at the hands of Nero in Rome. The big mystery with the ending here is not just why Luke left out both Paul's and Peter's martyrdom (both of whom were not only the most notorious apostolic names in the early church around Luke's time but prominent figures in the book of Acts itself), but why Luke climatically built up the preceding events of getting to those passages above only to leave out Paul's fate or what happened to him after two years. Luke conspicuously details Paul's capture and imprisonment, his public pleas and speeches during his imprisonment, his meetings with such renowned officials as Felix, Festus, Bernice and Herod Agrippa II, his perilous voyage across the Mediterranean as he's being transferred to Roman authorities, a shipwreck, miracles, then his appearance in Rome presumably to meet Caesar himself only to end it at the verse in blue where Paul is being detained in Rome for two years without any conclusion of his fate or the conclusion of his sentence.
Not only are we left with what seems to be an intentional setup, again that spans about five chapters prior, with absolutely no punchline to justify the setup, but left with quite a few unanswered questions. What happened to Paul's trial? What happened to Paul after two years? What happened to Peter? What happened to all of Paul's companions? What did the Jews do after they left him undecided? What happened to the evangelistic movement in Jerusalem and essentially in Rome afterward? Those who hold the view that Luke-Acts was composed decades after these events (80-90 CE) must come up with an explanation for this silence. The common argument is that Luke wanted to exude a perpetual Pauline theme or further highlight a triumph of Christian evangelism to the "ends of the earth" through Paul. They argue Paul's fate clearly didn't fit into Luke's literary agenda, thus the anticlimactic ending was actually a victorious climax for Paul, Christianity and the great commission that spread all the way to Rome because of Paul, hence Luke ended it just the way he wanted and had intended from the start. For example, Luke Timothy Johnson writes...
"It is through attention to Luke's overall narrative interests that we are best able to appreciate this ending not as the result of historical happenstance or editorial ineptitude, but as a deliberately and effectively crafted conclusion to a substantial apologetic argument."
Joseph A. Fitzmyer also writes...
"In any case, it may seem strange that the reader is not told anything about the death of Paul, the hero of the second half of Acts. Yet the ending, such as it is, may not be as puzzling as some think, because it does record that Paul continued to preach the kingdom of God, even in Rome, 'with all boldness and without hindrance' (28:31). That is the note of triumph on which Luke wanted his story to end."
When one attempts to read the mind of an ancient writer, this inevitably leads to highly theoretical conclusions of the author's agenda. As a result, this will often spiral into a web of imaginative conjecture used to underscore the plausibility of the theory itself. There are actually many theoretical variations of supposed ulterior motives Luke had in writing Acts in order to explain the missing historical information we would expect to read if it was after the fact other than what I described above -- i.e. anti-Marcionite, anti-Semitic, anti-Papias, Paul-the-real-apostle apologetic, Christian/Roman-compatibility apologetic, Christian/Jewish-to-Roman-transition apologetic, Pauline-harmonization-to-Judeo-evangelism apologetic... and on and on.
Everything in Acts is then interpreted from these suppositional templates in a presupposed context of a post-70 date. In short, when we are presupposing a post-70 date as a premise for the work of Acts, we must then suppose the intent of the author to explain the incongruity of the ending which backs the premise, and in turn, use the premise to validate the variety of supposed intentions behind Acts. The sky's the limit with this type of analysis of Acts, hence the sheer array of theoretical literary intentions I listed above that scholars have proposed in the past. One could easily theorize certain ways Luke intentionally set up and structured Acts from start to finish without limit and then probably find a slew of anecdotal evidence scattered throughout his work for support, which not only grounds the theory entirely on speculative guesswork, but makes a circular argument here more than glaringly obvious.
More of a problem is not just how Luke ended it, but in relation to other religious dramas about the apostles of the time. When we suppose any intent of Luke to explain why he left out expected information, we must be certain there is no religious or cultural conflict with this supposed intent. When we examine how other Christian literature glorified martyrdom, the issue is then not so much the abrupt ending than Paul's missing martyrdom itself.
The idea that Luke intentionally left out Paul's martyrdom for some supposed agenda is clearly at odds with the expressions of other Christian literature close to that era, such as apocryphal works like The Acts of Peter and The Acts of Paul. Both were purportedly written around the second century and both illustrate details of Peter and Paul's demise at the hands of Nero. Other second century works include the Acts of John that highlights John's miraculous feats up to the time he dies; the Acts of Andrew that features a dramatic tale of Andrew's heroic martyrdom at the hand of Roman inquisitors; and the Acts of Thomas, a late second-third century work that features Thomas' dramatic martyrdom. The point here is not whether these accounts are historically accurate but the fact there is evidence of widespread interest to know the details of such outcomes in Christian dramas; details that became the driving force behind many Christian legends in the first few centuries of the church.
We also see this in the works of the earliest church fathers, such as Clement I who gave honorary mentions of Paul and Peter's martyrdom in his Corinthian letter with great pride and that he also used to encourage the Christians who were themselves facing persecution. Other early fathers like Polycarp and Ignatius all spoke of martyrdom in an admirable light; in fact, both Polycarp and Ignatius actually desired their own martyrdoms. Ignatius declared his desire to proudly follow in the steps of Paul who died at Rome and admonished those who would think to prevent this. The Martyrdom of Polycarp, probably one of the earliest illustrations of martyrdom drama, "whose martyrdom all desire to imitate," gives detail account of Polycarp's trial and execution in like fashion, which was later celebrated as an anniversary "both in memory of those who have already finished their course, and for the exercising and preparation of those yet to walk in their steps."
Other fathers such as Hegesippus, Irenaeus and Eusebius showed much interest in cataloging and detailing these early martyrdom traditions and often referred to them as "glorious" and "illustrious." Clement of Alexandria declared martyrdom a fate that was "perfection, not because the man comes to the end of his life as others, but because he has exhibited the perfect work of love." Justin Martyr believed it was a perfection of one's "testimony in the confession of the Saviour." Tertullian proclaimed that the uncleanliness of the flesh "is washed away by baptism, but the stains are changed into dazzling whiteness by martyrdom."
This martyrdom celebration expressed in the early to later second century follows from a pattern we see illustrated from as early as the first century, unquestionably the inspiration of the former. For example, Acts itself illustrates the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7:57-59) and James (), the brother of John. Luke's dramatic martyrdom of Stephen, a minor character in Acts, falls within this typical genre scope we find expressed in the later Christian tradition, and is just the type of drama we would expect to find from the first century assuming this pattern is what inspired this traditional sentiment in the later centuries. Of course, we also have the drama of Christ's own martyrdom with unique and conspicuous religious drama expressed from both Matthew and Luke. Luke illustrates this sentiment in other areas of Acts, such as...
Acts 14:21-22: "After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, 'Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.'"
Acts 21:13: "Then Paul answered, 'What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.'"
We also these expressions of martyrdom celebration described in other New Testament literature...
Matthew 5:11-12: "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Mark 8:34-35 "And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.'"
John 15:20: "'Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.'"
Philippians 1:21-23: "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better."
2 Timothy 3:12: "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."
Revelation 2:10: "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life."
Christian martyrdom was not something thought of by the early Christians as a tragedy or defeat but was in fact a triumph; a spiritual triumph, and this was clearly an important and consistent theme found in literature written from the earliest stages of the Christian church.
Other examples include: Luke 21:16-19;Romans 5:3-4; 1 Peter 4:12-16; Hebrews 11:35-38; 6:9-11, 13:10 20:4). It was something aggrandized as the ultimate sacrosanct. It concluded one's consummate devotion to Christ, the gospel, and the perfection of one's salvation. Luke denying Paul this was denying his readers the romanticism of Paul's sainthood, his courage and honor, his eternal designation, and an event that indelibly exemplified high spiritual ranking in Christian lore.;
Moreover, supposing Acts dates a decade or more after Paul's death is supposing Luke wrote this at a time the Christian communities had undoubtedly accepted Paul's martyrdom with nothing but exaltation and celebration; at a time when even early forms of legend undoubtedly swirled around it. If for nothing else, perhaps Luke would have seen fit to offer a more accurate account to accentuate legend as an eyewitness. It's certainly not impossible that Paul was strangely the odd man out in Luke's account and that Luke's ulterior motive was just more relevant than this celebrated tradition, but we need to remember that any such intent behind Luke's work is but mere supposition. Fact of the matter is that to suppose any other intent Luke had other than celebrating Paul's death with illustration clearly doesn't jibe with the common religious sentiment of martyrdom or the typical genre reflected from the time, including within Luke's very own work.
Luke the Evangelist
Another one of the fundamental flaws is that the supposed literary agendas proposed by post-70 proponents aren't the only agendas that can be supposed of Luke as an evangelist in relation to events that were occurring at the time, or even how he structured Acts. Luke was undoubtedly a traveling missionary, evident by his extensive knowledge of sea travel and topography, certainly privy to his environment and culture. If we are to imagine this within a genuine historical context, there are better and more authentic ways Luke could have went about this that would have been consistent with a methodology of spreading evangelistic appeal, reflecting both the social and political reality of the church at the time, and even possibly inspiring a religious fervor.
Not only do we know that Christian martyrdom was clearly important, but there was further no defeat in the gospel's ascendancy evident in the aftermath despite Paul's saintly end. Christianity was already flourishing in Rome prior to the war and had not come to any end in spite of both Paul's and Peter's passing. Clement I (88-97 CE) had succeeded as bishop of the Roman church in a line of previous bishops years prior. We see in Acts that Judaism is Christianity's only formidable foe and rival in the early stages of the movement, thus by the time post-70 proponents assume Luke set out to write this work (around 80-95 CE), Christianity was already triumphing. It had surpassed and even supplanted Judaism, which was essentially extinguished from the Empire in the war's aftermath. That Christian persecution shifted to the Imperial government is indicative that Christianity was making a noticeable impact on Greco-Roman society.
In the context of an 80-95 CE date, the church had just witnessed the Neronian reign of terror, during which time Peter and Paul had been killed, and was either currently experiencing or just on the cusp of Domitian's hostility (81-96). Though the severity of persecution in direct association with Domitian has been debated, tensions between the church and the imperial state at this time were an unquestionable reality. Instead of leaving the ending of Acts open to mystery interpretation (evident by the many varying scholarly views about it), Luke could have used Paul's martyrdom as a model to parallel the hardships and persecution the Christian movement was undoubtedly undergoing, or would undergo at the time -- the intent Clement I and other church fathers clearly had in their own works; smoldering the flames of religious fervor by taking up Paul's torch and following the example of courage and faith he displayed that many of them would undoubtedly face due to political and social pressures.
There is no guessing about Paul's message at the very end of Acts. His pronouncement against the Jews implies a clear finality; that the open window for them to receive the gospel as God's exclusive people has now been closed. In light of that message, Luke could have seized the opportunity to emphasize the message by portraying Paul as God's true prophet, able to pronounce the coming destruction that would befall Jerusalem and underscoring the ultimate culmination of Christian victory (I'll discuss this more later). Remember, we're trying to suppose not only Luke's intent as an evangelist editor driven by ulterior motives, and figuring out a conclusion that would fit consistently with the period genre, but how Luke dramatically built up the suspense in the last five chapters to get to that point.
In other words, no one can read the mind of a first century writer. However, post-70 proponents may certainly entertain such imaginations about Luke's ulterior motives, but so can we. The imagination of Acts proposed by post-70 proponents, however, doesn't seem to be the type of apologetic one would expect of the ending or a Christian evangelist of that period whose intent is to perhaps entertain, encourage, inspire, teach, mold and shape Christendom around events that would have been reflective and familiar to his audience; during a time social and political opposition against the church would have been a reality to at least some degree.
In any event, not only are we left with the reality of a building drama in the last five chapters of Acts only to leave its audience depleted with unanswered questions, but Luke intentionally leaving out Paul's martyrdom is starkly inconsistent with what was common with martyrdom celebration reflected in Christian tradition particularly with such an important apostle as Paul. It is also glaringly inconsistent with martyrdom spectacle reflected elsewhere in Luke's own work with much more minor characters.
Luke's knowledge of Paul's death?
Since a specific intent behind the writer doesn't confirm the date of the work, this certainly can't be used to support the date a priori. Post-70 proponents also rely on a couple of additional elements that are essential as props used to support the post-70 argument, yet if proven inaccurate, pretty much renders the support utterly useless. They assume that...
The former argument used to support the post-70 view -- or as Hans Conzalmann put it: "The farewell speech in Miletus leaves no doubt as to how this came about" -- is the argument that Paul knew he was going to die because he implies this while visiting the church of Ephesus (in Miletus) prior to his trial. From this, post-70 proponents suggest that Luke, looking back at Paul's death, embellished the account to make it seem like Paul was some sort of uncanny prophet who was able to predict his fate in advance, or this was merely Luke's way of giving us a subtle hint of Paul's fate without actually illustrating it directly.
This is actually quite logical. If we assume Luke wrote the work many years later with perfect knowledge of Paul's fate, we might assume a desire of Luke to illustrate the event, thus an urge being quenched with at least subtle hints and clues here and there. However, assuming Luke fudged this with the knowledge of Paul's death in mind is actually glaringly inconsistent with the last verses at the end of Acts that are in red and blue (passage above). Let's first look at the specific passage they're referring to…
Acts 20:17-38 "But I [Paul] do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face" [click here to read the whole thing].
I only included a brief snippet here but left a link so you can read the whole passage yourself. After Paul says this, he proceeds with his farewell speech -- no question it is a final farewell -- and then the scene gets pretty sentimental as the Ephesus Christians start weeping, hugging, and kissing him as he leaves. However, there are five possible options against any argument that Luke had foreknowledge of Paul's fate that I'll give in following detail...
Foreknowledge is unnecessary outside of Luke's assumption Paul would be killed
Even if we assume Luke embellished this scene, we don't need the supposed causation offered by post-70 proponents to explain this. In other words, we don't need to assume Luke knew Paul was killed because we could just as sensibly assume Luke wrote this during the two years Paul was still in detainment when the final decision had not yet been determined. Since Paul's trial was overseen by Caesar himself, or perhaps various rumors Luke picked up here and there, things didn't look hopeful for Paul, thus Luke was simply reflecting in the Miletus scene what he perceived as dire and inevitable circumstances while Paul was being detained.
Paul declared his motives to visit the far west
An argument that Luke in fact embellished the scene needs to be supported by more than just supposition, thus we don't even need to assume Luke embellished it at all or that he was expressing his opinions through an event that never really happened the way he described. We know that Paul in fact had plans to evangelize in Spain after his visit to the Christians at Rome, which he specified in his Romans letter (). Whether Paul actually traveled to Spain is irrelevant because we know for a fact he at least had the intent to do so. Acts indeed points out that he was planning the final trip to Rome prior to his visit to Ephesus before his capture (Acts 19:21). With the intent of traveling to the far west in an ancient world that was unpredictable and had no long distance communication technology would have been just one reason Paul believed the elders at Ephesus (emphasis on the word elders) would probably never see him again.
There were already threats against Paul and his belief he would be killed at Jerusalem
One doesn't need to suppose preternatural gifts to know that there is such a thing as intuition. Post-70 proponents never seem to point out the actual context of Acts that preceded the Miletus farewell, such as the riot that occurred at Ephesus in regards to Paul prior to his final farewell (Acts 19:23-41). Paul himself was kept away from the lynch mob by his companions while some of his other party were seized and almost killed. The citizens of Ephesus were enraged because Paul's teachings disrupted their main source of commerce, which was a lucrative market that included merchandise dedicated to the goddess Diana (Artemis). Acts indicates that Paul did not return to Ephesus, but "sent for" his party whom the Ephesus citizens had seized once they were finally let go (Acts 20:1).
Paul then continued his journey elsewhere only to find out that there was yet another plot being formed against him by zealous Jews on his way to Syria, thus his traveling plans were thwarted once again (Acts 20:3). Paul, however, was still determined to visit Jerusalem for the Pentecost regardless before his sojourn to Rome (Acts 20:16). He again did not return to Ephesus but stopped in Miletus where he then summoned for the elders of the Ephesus church to meet him there where he gave to them this final farewell.
Once again, nothing in all this makes it necessary to assume anything preternatural about Paul's ability to read the writing on the wall that his life was in serious danger, particularly since he was heading to Jerusalem for the Jewish festivals; a particularly dangerous hot spot for assassins and zealous orthodox fundamentalists. As pointed out earlier, Paul had planned to visit Rome as a free man before this incident (Acts 19:21), clearly illustrating he wasn't anticipating his capture prior to this encounter. However, Paul indeed recognized he was now a marked man by Gentiles at Ephesus, who believed their entire city's commerce was in jeopardy because of this man, and by Jews elsewhere. The anticipated angst is clearly expressed in his speech (Acts 20:19-23) and later where he anticipates he would actually die in Jerusalem instead of Rome (Acts 21:13). Based on closer analysis of the circumstances, the obvious conclusion is that Paul was anticipating inevitable dangers at Jerusalem instead of Rome, hence the reason for the finality of his speech at Miletus.
A visit to Caesar is self-defeating to a supposed intent of Luke
Now that we have a few good reasons to dismiss Luke's supposed foreknowledge, the problems continue to mount against the argument of Luke's intent in a post-70 context. We are told multiple times in Acts (see Acts 25:8-12, 25:21, 27:21-24) that Paul must face Caesar, which was Nero at the time. Anyone with any familiarity of Nero and his horrendous actions against the church recorded by Tacitus and Suetonius, which occurred prior to 70 CE, knew that facing Nero at a trial as a Christian pretty much implied certain death.
Consider that Paul's confinement also only allowed him to preach to those who visited him, yet if Luke had prior knowledge and embellished the farewell scene at Miletus, this suggests he was already preparing his audience for Paul's grand finale, thus mentioning that his ministry carried on for just two years in confinement seems hardly a triumph or even a reason to hold back Paul's actual fate. In other words, not only does it become unnecessary at this point for Luke to try and hide Paul's death, but if he was trying to exude a Pauline or Christian triumph by avoiding it (which is what many post-70 proponents argue), the fact we are told multiple times Paul must face Nero and that his mission would be in confinement until that time is pretty self-defeating as a triumph. Moreover, assuming Luke's literary agenda to emphasize the spread of Christianity from Judea into Rome (as per Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8) is also rather pitifully exhibited in this case.
The less conflicting option is that Luke's work was done prior to Paul's death, thus didn't in fact end in triumph because Paul hadn't received his glorious entrance into the kingdom yet and was locked up. Since we know Nero was none too friendly to the Christian movement, Luke likely embellished the "unhindered" part as a way to make it sound triumphal not as a substitute for his martyrdom but because this was as triumphal as the unfortunate circumstance allowed at the time of composition.
Luke's contradictory ending
Lastly, that Paul was dwelling in his own abode for two years welcoming guests at will (verses in blue in the passage above) contradicts Luke's supposed invented farewell scene at Miletus. In that scene, Paul indicates that "all" of the elders at Ephesus would no longer see his face, yet according to the ending, at least some of them could have visited him anytime "unhindered" as he was "welcoming all who came to him" for those two years he was being detained in Rome. In light of all the other things we've pointed out, it seems highly unlikely Luke was just sloppy in his own work as to blatantly contradict himself this way, particularly since it is supposed he was meticulously crafting all this from start to finish.
Whether the reasons I just gave deflate a post-70 argument all together is a matter of one's own prerogative about the matter, but the arguments clearly deflate any sort of supposed foreknowledge of Paul's death Luke had when writing the work, thus the post-70 argument has very meager if any support at all relative to such a view.
If your position is that Acts was written well after 70 CE, it certainly is natural to assume that Paul did in fact die immediately after those two years had completed. Had Paul actually been released after the two years, this would have been both a resolution and good news to the reader, information that was certainly worth recording in Acts and would leave us once again with a burden to explain why Luke excluded this information.
There is indeed some good evidence supporting the possibility that Paul was released after the two years of his detainment (see discussion here: Paul out of Rome), which would render the post-70 argument for the ending even more problematic. Though this is really an aside, even if we dismiss Paul's release as unsubstantiated and speculative, as it stands, the genre inconsistency I mentioned earlier and the fact that the foreknowledge argument deflates under scrutiny pretty much sends the post-70 premise into tailspin of pure conjecture without any type of legitimate or plausible support from within Acts itself other than anecdotal interpretations of certain scattered verses here and there. Just from this alone gives us a solid case against a post-70 argument, which allows us to look for alternative reasons for the unusual outcome of the work that better fit the historical data.
Others who see the holes in this argument and disregard the ulterior suppositions used to explain the formation and ending of Acts, yet still cling to a post-70 date for Acts suggest that Luke died before he could finish Acts. If this is true, then there is no doubt that the end (verses in red and blue in the passage above) was forged by an interpolator, because the ending doesn't suggest this at all. Though the end is abrupt, it's not that abrupt, and certainly does not suggest Luke left it obviously unfinished or at least without intentionally adding in a conclusive filler at some point. Thus this argument is essentially based not only on the assumption that Luke left it unfinished, but an interpolation assumption. However, there is no textual critical evidence of an interpolation in any early manuscripts with the exception of the verse in red bold (above). Some early manuscripts may not contain the verse in red bold, but all the earliest manuscripts contain the following verses in blue. This option is also not supported or suggested by any church father who knew of no interpolation. Therefore, not only is there an interpolation problem, but it brings up the question of what reason the forger himself had in keeping Paul's martyrdom silent. With the boldness to add content to the work of someone else, are we now going to assume the supposed forger also had the same intent to end the work on an anticlimactic note contrary to popular martyrdom genre of the time?
Others argue that Luke was planning a series of books but never got a chance to accomplish Acts the sequel. Ironically, some of the same post-70 proponents who sponsor the previous theory -- Luke's pre-planned literary design -- flirt with this theory as well (they seem to be undecided), probably because of the many problems with the previous theory we pointed out that make it implausible. Indeed, on the surface, this theory is a bit more reasonable because if Luke was in fact planning a continuation, then the problems we previously raised thus far are automatically solved. It makes sense now that Luke built it up and left out obvious details if he was planning a part 2. They argue that "first account" stated by Luke in the beginning of Acts (Acts 1:1) in Classic Greek implies a first in a series of three (i.e. Gospel of Luke, Acts part 1, Acts part 2?).
However, this is disputed by other scholars, including Daniel Wallace who argues that this is not so in koine Greek (the Greek of that era). It's also not the way Luke used the word in similar instances elsewhere in his work. There is also no tradition expressed by the church fathers that Luke was killed prematurely before he had a chance to finish a third work, thus it becomes just pure convenient conjecture to uphold a later date with absolutely nothing to support it. And since, as I mentioned, the ending in Acts is not that abrupt and in no way reflects an unfinished continuation, we would have to assume Luke was conveniently hindered precisely between the end of part one and the beginning of part two.
Historical focal point
Additionally difficult is getting past the historical focal point of Acts as a late composition, particularly if Luke was composing this with a specific literary or evangelistic motive in mind. However, before we get into that, I should also point out that there are subtle hints and clues of primitive language buried within the text that would be expected of a work written by a Christian historian who was directly and intimately involved with the church around the mid-first century. Examples include:
Though minute, this is what you call supportive evidence, and evidence that suggests an eyewitness directly influenced by personal experiences of the early church in a very subtle and unconscious way. Moreover, among the many problems for those who take the position that Luke is a post-70 writer is the accuracy of the pre-70 social, political, historical detail and topography displayed throughout Acts, which leads us to only one of two conclusions: either this work was done by a writer with unprecedented access to historical information of pre-70 Judean culture, topography and history (something we don't see with the later apocryphal Christians writers, who aren't as detailed and often get things wrong when they try to be), or it was written by an actual contemporary of this culture who had personal and casual experience in the things he recorded. The former faces a number of problems in that, unlike today, there was obviously no Internet. Reference documents, encyclopedias or maps that might have been available (a very questionable might) were racked with inaccuracies or lacked sufficient information, the type of detailed information that saturates the book of Acts. Martin Hengel states…
"That even educated Jews had little information about the geography of Palestine is clear from the imaginary description of Judea and Jerusalem in the Letter of Aristeas or that of the Holy City by Pseudo-Hecataeus; we can presuppose that even Philo had only a vague knowledge of Jerusalem, the Temple and the Holy Land, though he did visit it once in his life… Strabo’s account of Palestine, which has a great many errors in it, and to the confused remarks of Pliny the Elder, who completely muddled up his sources. Tacitus, too, had only very inaccurate ideas of the geographical relationship of Samaria and Galilee within the province of Judaea. Even Ptolemy, who sought to give exact locations of places in Palestine with indications of longitude and latitude, makes serious mistakes: his mention of Idumeaea, which lies well to the west of the Jordan’ is an anachronism in the second century AD and his location of Sebaste and Gaza in Judaea, in contrast to Joppa, Ashkelon... is also misleading."
What compounds the problem for Luke is that this type of detailed knowledge of names and locations made it a necessity to be a firsthand witness when documenting accounts in an ever-changing ancient political environment, particularly in relation to governors, kings, procurators, etc. F.F. Bruce points out…
"The accuracy of Luke's use of the various titles in the Roman Empire has been compared to the easy and confident way in which an Oxford man in ordinary conversation will refer to the Heads of Oxford colleges their proper titles-the Provost of Oriel, the Master, Balliol, the Rector of Exeter, the President of Magdelen, and so on. A non-Oxonian like the present writer never feels quite at home with the multiplicity of these Oxford titles. But Luke had a further difficulty in that the titles sometimes did not remain the same for any great length of time; a province might pass from senatorial government to administration by a direct representative of the emperor, and would then be governed no longer by a proconsul but by an imperial legate (legatus pro praetore)."
Chris Price also adds…
"Cities might achieve their Roman franchise. Provinces may be split up. Client kingdoms may be split up with different parts being ruled in different ways. For example, Palestine after the reign of King Herod was split into a Roman Province ruled by a Prefect and to Galilee, ruled by a Tetrarch (as a client king). Obviously, keeping oneself knowledgeable about so many different parts of the Roman Empire over any period of time would have been an almost insurmountable challenge. When it came to knowledge about where ordinary people were, what they were doing, and why they were doing it, the problem was even greater."
The content throughout Acts is indicative of not only an author with a first person eyewitness perspective, but recording history as he saw it from a pre-70 CE perspective. What's most apparent is the obvious Jewish catalyst throughout Acts. One would expect an evangelist, assuming his intent is to use creative license and reshape facts and figures to suit his religious purposes, to have used the apostles to accentuate Christian evangelism current with the times and especially in the aftermath of the extinction of Judaism; that the "body of Christ" or the church as a whole fulfilled the functions of the Temple in a spiritual sense, thus the Temple and its rituals were unnecessary and even evangelically repugnant. These are indeed some of the earliest implications we see expressed heavily by Paul and other authors throughout the New Testament (examples: John 2:19-21; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-10; Hebrews 9:23-28).
From Luke's work, however, we obviously get the complete opposite implication. The apostles are spending much time exclusively evangelizing to the Jewish people in and around the synagogues and the Jewish Temple. They're praying in the Temple. The Jewish Christians, even the apostles, are still observing Judaic customs (even Paul! -- Acts 16:1-3). This is also in contrast to the tendency Acts has in some places to polemicize against Judaism and underscore its irrelevance, especially evident in how it directly attributes the Jewish religious leaders to the cause of Jesus' crucifixion (2:23, 2:36, 4:10).
The introduction of Gentiles into the Christian fold is not only illustrated in Acts as a major production, but seems almost as if Luke is presenting it as a necessary apologetic at Peter's expense (Acts chap.10, 11:1-18). This is something that is hard to find reason when Gentiles were being accepted even before 70 CE, much more so a decade or two after 70 CE. Other nonessential issues include continuing Judaism, whether Gentles should or should not be circumcised, and quarrels between Hellenistic Christians and Hebrew Christians.
Can we conclude that these issues were essential enough to spend as much time and detail on as Luke did if these were outdated events at the time, especially when the many issues and quarrels illustrated between the apostles don't at all reflect too positively on the early apostolic church itself? We should note that second century daters, or those who argue Acts should be dated to the second century recognize these very clear pro-Jewish elements which pose issues for late daters and actually use them to support an anti-Marcion view of Acts; that the author was writing in the mid-to-late second century to counter Marcion's antisemitic views and his attempts to sever all the church's ties to early Judaism.
Luke indicates the Sadducees are an active force against the apostles (see Acts 4:1, 5:17, 23:6-8). Sadducean function ceased to exist after the Temple's destruction, unlike the Pharisees. Acts even mentions the Sadducean sect unnecessarily with the Pharisees (Acts 5:17).
These anecdotal factors subtly scattered throughout Acts are additional cumulative indicators of not only a pre-70 work, but someone intimately involved in the pre-70 church and who subconsciously recorded history in the view of such issues that were pertinent at the time.
Now we come toof the typical elements that pre-70 proponents use in their arguments, which hold far more weight than some post-70 proponents give them credit for, especially since we challenged the contrary arguments used against it. Admittedly, the arguments for a pre-70 date I will now present essentially rest on arguments from silence. An argument from silence is reasonable when there are no convincing arguments beyond supposition and conjecture that give a plausible explanation for the silence.
If a historical work that chronicled Jewish culture in Europe was found with no date or author, was told from a first person perspective ("we/us") in some areas of the narrative (discussed here: Meet the Ghost Writers; Evidence that both works were written by Luke, Paul's companion), included names of people and events that occurred in the 20s and 30s yet excluded any mention of events that led to the rise of the Nazis, the War and the Holocaust, modern historians would naturally conclude a work written by a contemporary before these events took place, despite the fact one could say that this is an argument from silence. It would be highly unusual to assume that the work was written after the fact and that the author had a specific literary agenda to keep those facts out of the story, which is precisely the argument in the case of Acts. I break this down into categories that include:
Nero's persecution of Christians
Luke leaves out some of the most crucial events that were taking place in the mid-to-late 60s CE, such as the Roman persecution of the Christians by Nero, recorded by Tacitus, and the great fire of Rome. This is often countered by the supposition of Roman appeasement, or that the writer's evangelistic appeal to non-Jews would have shown a bias tendency to underreport non-Jewish persecution. However, if the work was written at least a decade or more after these events, the events would have likely been known to his readers.
Though the writer certainly could have been swayed by his own bias, appeasement for the sake of his audience seems unnecessary and unlikely. Moreover, such statements as the gospel being taught "unhindered" at the end of his work would have been a blatant contradiction with this historical reality, particularly in light of the fact Luke plainly tells his readers Paul was being led to Nero, as pointed out earlier, thus would have been seen as an obvious contrivance at best, reflecting badly on his reliability as a historian in general at worse.
Missing martyrdoms of key figures in Acts
Absent is the martyrdom of Peter and Paul. Absent is the fate of most of Paul's companions, especially Barnabas, Mark, Timothy, Priscilla, Aquila, and Silas. He also leaves out the martyrdom of James the Lesser (Jesus' brother), something that even Josephus recorded. Moreover, there is inconsistency here since he does in fact describe the widespread persecution of the Jerusalem church in general, in addition to detailing the apostles' sporadic interrogations, abuses and imprisonments they faced throughout Acts, both from Jewish and Roman opponents. He also illustrates the earlier martyrdom of even minor characters in Acts, such as Stephen and James the Greater (John's brother), both of which occurred pre-60 (7:57-59, 12:2).
Retrospect of James the Lesser
James the Lesser gives a speech in Acts in support of Gentiles being accepted into the early movement and cites a prophecy that looks back in retrospect during a time there was discussion for plans to build the second Temple ). The prophecy declared that the second Temple would be built from the ruins of the first Temple and used by God to turn the Jews back to him and subsequently draw the Gentiles to him in like manner. The head of the Jerusalem church conceding to the allowance of Gentiles into the Judeo-Christian fold and ordaining it with Holy scripture about the Temple was a pivotal moment in the whole story. It seems unlikely a speech Luke would have left unedited in hindsight of the Temple when it had already been reduced to but rubble at least a decade or more prior.
The war and the destruction of the Jewish Temple
The fighting actually began as sporadic revolts before 70 CE. The first notable Jewish revolt against Rome that failed actually took place in the early part of the first century by Judas the Galilean, and his adherents apparently became so formidable that Josephus actually classified the movement along with the other influential Jewish sect heavy-hitters of the time, including the Pharisees. In 66 CE the Romans were driven out of Jerusalem by force, which was the event that culminated into the great and final war of 70 CE. The events being recorded by Luke would have preceded this event by three to six years or less, perhaps even some of this activity overlapping. Factoring in his total silence, not so much as even a hint about the 70 CE war and the Temple's destruction in Acts, the most pertinent historical event to a first century Jew and Christian, or even the struggles taking place between these two political entities makes it very difficult to find a reasonable explanation why all this is completely missing.
Moreover, it's easier to dismiss this issue assuming Luke wrote in real-time of the event (pre-70), thus isolated from immediate information about the event than if he was writing when much more information was available many years (ten to even twenty years) in hindsight of the event. Imagine a post-911 writer, writing about social, religious and political events that occurred in New York City just years before 911, even including things that happened in and around the World Trade Center Towers, yet not mentioning anything, not so much as even a hint about that tragic 911 event.
Stark inconsistency of Luke as opportunist editor and redactor
Are we to suppose that Luke was a fictional editor in his first work (his gospel) but not his second? It's interesting to note that many critics, particularly those of the post-70 camp, argue that Luke shows creative embellishments in his first work, the gospel of Luke, where, they argue, there are clear signs of redaction of some of Jesus' prophetic dialogue about the war at Jerusalem to fit that event more accurately (discussed here: Amazing Tales of the Failed Post-Prophecy, The Olivet Discourse). However, we are to assume he remains absolutely silent about this in his second work?
A counter argument can certainly be posed here that the event came subsequent to events Luke focused on in Acts and that he was so staunchly intent on getting his specific agenda across, the external events would have been irrelevant to Luke's timeline or even distracting to his purpose. However, since it is already supposed by many post-70 proponents that Luke is an opportunist editor, driven by ulterior motives to shape his work with fiction seems to suggest it wouldn't have been a problem for Luke's creative ability to work this spectacular development in somehow.
Writing a book, based on a supposed mixture of fact and fiction, in hindsight of such an impactful event that took place in the same location, involving some of the same exact places and people being chronicled within just several years makes it difficult to assume there weren't opportune and even practical moments for some allusion or hints to these missing elements; i.e. the many discussions Luke recorded between Roman centurions, kings, officials, dignitaries, crowds of common folks, crowds of political and religious folks, etc. Luke also makes numerous incidental historical side notes throughout Acts.
Aside from pre-war external situations that were undoubtedly occurring in and around the area at the time (i.e. rumors of war, war preparations, politically exasperated and restless groups or communities, etc.), an ideal opportunity of allusion would have been with the apostles themselves, such as from the mouth of Paul. It certainly would fit into the rather nasty denunciation Paul makes against his Jewish countrymen for their rejection of Christ at the end of Acts (verses in red in the passages above). In fact, as mentioned earlier, Luke could have guised Jerusalem's destruction as a prophetic utterance made by Paul in order to make the denouncement more passionate, dramatic and prophetic much like post-70 proponents assume of Paul's farewell speech at Miletus. It should be noted here that this interaction with Paul's obstinate countrymen in conclusion of the work was nothing novel, as Luke recorded similar scenes prior to this (see Acts 13:46-47, 18:5-8).
Another allusion could have been in Acts (chapter 7) where Stephen is giving a long retrospect of the religious history of the Jewish people and the Temple; again, a rather ideal situation to allude to Jerusalem's fate in the guise of a prophetic judgment, particularly when Stephen too caps off his speech with a rather vicious denouncement of his countrymen for their unbelief (Acts 7:51-53).
Though one might argue that Luke didn't want the apostles themselves to outshine Jesus' amazing prior prediction about Jerusalem's destruction (noted in his first work), Luke could have just as easily had them recall Jesus' prophecy of desolation (Luke 13:34-35) and total destruction (Luke 19:43-44). Luke indeed showed this tendency with other recollections of Jesus' teachings (see Acts 20:35, 11:16), including reminding us of a prophecy that was fulfilled in subsequent time (Acts 11:28). Jesus himself indeed equated his own rejection and that of the gospel he presented with that of the coming destruction that would befall Jerusalem (Luke 13:34-35).
Imagine Luke, supposedly redacting and editing his work with a mixture of fact and fiction, with the opportunity through Stephen, Paul or someone else to reemphasize the prophecy of "their house" left desolate or being encircled by their enemies as a direct rebuke against their countrymen for continued resistance against the faith, hence able to underscore the resounding triumph and vindication of Christian evangelism as God's true faith in the Roman Empire and even Jerusalem, in addition to exploiting it as an ultimate divine reason for the event to his readers who were supposedly reading this in that tragic historic aftermath many years later.
The historical default
The idea that Acts was written later than 70 CE is the abstract approach that requires greater explanation and supposition to support it. Again, if an anonymous historical written work about the social and political events of Europe was found written in a first person voice and that had no hints or clues of any elements of WWII and the Holocaust, the default historical position would be a WWII antedated work. It would require much more complex imaginings to argue it as being a postdated work in spite of these missing elements.
Likewise, looking at Acts as a post-70 work requires much more imaginative supposition and subjective reasoning. On the other hand, the pre-70 position doesn't require us to imagine intent behind the writer to explain the ending or the missing elements previously described. It doesn't require us to explain how a supposed post-70 writer accurately described extensive details about the geographical and political environment in and around Judea during a pre-70 period. It doesn't require us to dismiss the subtle hints and clues of a writer intimately connected to the early pre-70 apostolic church era than if he was writing two decades or more later. It doesn't require us to imagine intent of the writer to exclude Paul's martyrdom despite being totally contrary to widespread Christian martyrdom sentiment of the time. Moreover, as I've pointed out in this article, a pre-70 scenario is in harmony with the available historical data, not in spite of it.
Everything we've viewed and examined thus far directs us to a much more genuine and less complex scenario for the formation of Acts: Luke completed Acts during Paul's two year detainment (mid-to-early 60s) which was an opportune time to complete such an endeavor. Preaching "with all openness unhindered" was Luke's attempt to satisfy a dire situation that had yet to be determined and added it as "a filler" just in case he either was not able to conclude the outcome or because he was anticipating Paul's fate beforehand and wanted to end it as triumphantly as the situation currently allowed. Whether Paul was then released or martyred after the two year period, Luke either had other evangelistic endeavors, copies of the work had already been distributed and circulated, or perhaps Luke had passed away or was killed.
A post-70 bias?
A lot of the arguments we've discussed in support of the post-70 view come from some pretty scholarly heavy-hitters like Luke Timothy Johnson, Hans Conzelmann, and Joseph A. Fitzmyer. However, reputation doesn't make a theory any more or less plausible; careful analysis of the data does. There are indeed scholars who argue in favor of a pre-70 date that are just as reputable such as D.A. Carson, Joseph S. Exell, David A. Fiensy, Robert H. Gundry, Gary R. Habermas, Simon J. Kistemaker to name a handful.
Though I highly respect the former scholars in other areas of their field, they simply fall flat here in their analysis of Acts. In light of the extremely weak arguments used in support of a post-70 view, such as I have analyzed in this article, this suggests to me a very strange and revealing bias, or scholars with unmovable affinity to a post-70 belief and with the intent to uphold that argument at any cost in spite of the contrary evidence and data, or in short, what's known as confirmation bias. The following is an excerpt from Peter Kirby's website who writes in favor of a post-70 view…
"In Acts 25:13, Luke writes, 'When a few days had passed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived in Caesarea on a visit to Festus.' Luke assumes a knowledge of who this Bernice was in his Greco-Roman readers. This would be most easily assumed after she had been made famous by her affair with the emperor Titus in c. 69 CE. Juvenal mentions her in his Satires in the book on 'The Ways of Women,' while Suetonius comments on 'his notorious passion for queen Bernice, to whom it was even said that he promised marriage' (Titus 7.1). This lends further probability to a post-70 date of Acts."
This is one among many types of post-70 arguments I'm referring to because it's simply based on a series of pure assumptions. We are to assume that just because Luke's audience was predominantly Gentile, and since Bernice was of the Jewish Herodian dynasty, they would have had no clue who she was prior to 69 CE. Then we are to assume that even though she was a prominent political figure, the granddaughter of Herod the Great, sister to Agrippa II and Drusilla who was the wife of the Roman procurator Felix, she was not known well enough for Luke to take his reader's familiarity for granted. Then we must assume once again that it would have been that much of a concern to Luke whether they knew her or not had he written this prior to her assumed notoriety.
I use this as an illustrative example because this is what I typically see from the post-70 side of this issue when they're presenting anecdotal type arguments. The post-70 arguments I focused on in this article are, in my opinion, the primary, thus the strongest arguments supporting the post-70 view of Acts which, as you can clearly see, falter under closer scrutiny.
There really can be no doubt Acts was written no later than the mid 60s, with firm evidence to support it and no reasonable evidence to the contrary. Acts alone is the smoking gun to a pre-70 date that we know without a doubt postdates the gospel of Luke. If we assume the gospel of Luke was written very closely to his second work, then it too should not date any later than the mid 60s. To assume otherwise is just a stretch of the imagination at best, a post-70 fringe bias at worse.
1. Luke Timothy Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles, p.475; 1992.
2. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles, p.791; 1998.
3. The Acts pf John (http://gnosis.org).
The Acts of Peter (http://wesley.nnu.edu).
The Acts of Paul (www.newadvent.org).
The Acts of Andrew (www.newadvent.org).
The Acts of John (www.newadvent.org).
4. Clement of Rome, epistle to the Corinthians, chap. 5 (www.newadvent.org).
Polycarp, the Martyrdom of Polycarp (www.newadvent.org).
5. Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, book 4, chap. 4 (www.newadvent.org).
Justin Martyr, The Martyrdom of Justin, chap. 5 (www.newadvent.org).
Tertullian, Scorpiace, chap. 12 (www.newadvent.org).
6. Greg MaGee, The Origins of the Church at Rome; Christianity’s Presence in Rome in the Time of Claudius; 2008 (https://bible.org).
8. G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, pp.7-16; 1999.
9. Bruce Terry, A Student's Guide to New Testament Textual Variants; Acts 28:29 (http://bible.ovu.edu/terry).
10. Daniel B. Wallace, Acts: Introduction, Outline, and Argument: C. Date (www.bible.org).
11. Craig S. Hawkins, The Book of Acts and Archaeology (html); 2008 (http://thecollegeoftheology.com).
F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: The Writings of Luke, chap. 7 (www.bible.ca/b-new-testament-documents-f-f-bruce-ch7.htm).
12. Martin Hengel, The Geography of Palestine in Acts, pp.29-30; 1995.
13. Bruce, ibid.
14. Price, ibid., Chapter 2: The Historicity of the Acts of the Apostles; The Challenges Faced by Ancient Writers.
15. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, book 20, chap. 9 (www.ccel.org/).
Also see James the Just: Death.
16. Josephus, ibid., book 18, chap. 1:6
17. Encyclopedia Britannica, First Jewish Revolt (http://www.britannica.com).
18. Peter Kirby, Early Christian Writings: Acts of the Apostles (www.earlychristianwritings.com).