Which of Luke's writings were first, Acts or Gospel?


#1

Of course this discussion changes nothing from the standpoint of the message of these Sacred Scriptures, but I’d be interested in thoughts on which others think was written first.

The scholars have varying opinions, some say Acts was written first (60-64 AD), and Luke’s Gospel second (75-100 AD). And, others contend the Gospel was written earlier (37-61 AD).

I had always subscribed to Acts preceeding the Gospel theory…but in reading the last verse of today’s first reading (Acts 13:25), I’m not so sure.

In this verse (Acts 13:25), Luke seems to be reiterating Luke 3:16, which would lead me to believe the Gospel had been written first.

However, it could be as simple as the fact that Luke had already become familiar with Mark’s Gospel (which also cites John the Baptizer as speaking of his unworthiness to undo the sandals of Jesus), which many scholars contend was a documentary source drawn on by Luke in writing his gospel (in addition to interviewing witnesses, most notably the Blessed Virgin)…but then there is the unsettled confirmation of just when Mark was written.

After all this, I think I’m still leaning towards the Acts first, Gospel of Luke second camp, but I would be interested in your thoughts.

Peace and all good!


#2
  • In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.

Acts 1:1-2

Then what was the first book?


#3

We know that the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles were written by the same person. At the beginning of Acts, he says, “In the first book, Theophilus…” then he goes on to summarize the Gospel of Luke. (Both Luke and Acts are addressed to Theophilus). This indicates that Luke must have been written first, and then Acts.


#4

Yep, and notice, it specifies what the first book was about, namely about Jesus and His actions and teachings. Plus both books are addressed to the same person. So it makes no sense to assume that Acts was written before the Gospel. To even be plausible, it would mean that Luke wrote a different Gospel first, then Acts, then the Gospel of Luke.

Very implausible. Look to the simplest answer.

Additionally, if Acts were written before Luke, then why were none of the questions left unanswered in Acts recorded? Acts leaves off abruptly with Paul in prison but alive, Peter alive, and the Temple still standing. Both men were soon martyred and the Temple destroyed. Why wouldn’t these be at least mentioned in the Gospel if it were written later?

Let’s look at the end of Luke and compare it to the beginning of Acts:

Luke 24:46 And he said to them, “Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day 47 and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And [behold] I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

50 Then he led them [out] as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. 51 As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. 52 They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and they were continually in the temple praising God.

Acts 1:1 In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught 2 until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father* about which you have heard me speak; 5 for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the holy Spirit.”

6 When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. 10 While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.

Notice that his description of the first book lines up perfectly with the end of his gospel.


#5

The prologue to Acts of the Apostles references the first book as a record of all that Jesus began to do and teach.

Acts of the Apostles recounts what Jesus continued to do and teach through the Apostles.

Acts of the Apostles is a continuation of the first book.

-Tim-


#6

Yes. I think so, sort of!

But, The prologues of the two books, the second referencing the first, is not all that problematic.

And, Acts being a “continuation” makes sense if you are saying that Acts is a continuation in the sense that it was originally part of a larger work, and not a sequel or separate writing that picks up where the Gospel left off.

There is scholastic debate based on the possibility that the two prologues (Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1-2) were the last thing written, after first writing a continuous account from Luke 3:1 to 24:49, and Acts 1:3 to 28:31, then deciding to split the massive work into two volumes.

So now, this presents the possibility that the Gospel nor Acts were written one before the other, but that it was a single continuous work later divided at a logical point, between the life of Christ and the Acts of the Apostles.

Peace and all good!


#7

Whether they were written apart or together during the first century is really besides the point. The fact is that they go together.

Luke’s Gospel is about what Jesus began to do and Acts of the Apostles is about what Jesus continued to do. Jesus’ actions through his Apostles and through his Church continues to this day.

I tend to agree, that they were written together, but that discussion is really academic. To this day it is nearly impossible to find a commentary on Acts of the Apostles or the Gospel of Luke, one without the other. They are like peanut butter and jelly - one without the other is good but they really belong together and which one comes first is really not important.

God gave us the Bible so that we might be saved. The point of the Bible is salvation, not which books came first.

-Tim-


#8

Tim,

We’re both on the same page, you just lost focus of the discussion. The discussion, is, as you say, “really academic”. My original post began with that precept.

CAF can be a forum for theological discussions detached from spirituality, just as it is in the academic pursuit of biblical theology.

Peace and all Good!


#9

All good. Agreed.

The older I get the less interest I have in the academics of the Bible and the more interest I have in finding Jesus in the pages. The Scriptures first and foremost are a profound meeting with Christ. I think that should be everyone’s focus.

I teach this stuff in adult faith formation classes and see it all the time - people who have a crisis of faith because some date doesn’t line up or because some name doesn’t make sense or because of Q or because they don’t know who wrote Hebrews. I need not be that way. People should enter into the mystery of the life of Jesus first. That’s what it is all about. Everything else is a distant second.

But yeah, I think they were written at the same time and the first half delivered to “Theopholus” as it was completed, thus two “books” yet one work.

-Tim-


#10

I’ll actually say you’re in the minority. Most people believe that Acts is the second volume. They read Luke’s preface to the work as pretty much implying that:

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

That’s actually why Luke-Acts is often considered together: the dating of one influences the other. If you believe that Acts was written (let’s say) in the 60s, that would necessarily mean pushing the date of Luke’s gospel earlier than that; if you believe Luke was written around the 80s, that would mean Acts was written some time after that.


#11

I read somewhere that there were practical limits to book lengths due to scroll restrictions in those years.


#12

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