Was Acts really written around 150 AD?

Q.  Recently at our Bible Study someone mentioned that the book of Acts was written much later than the gospel of Luke (like about 150 AD). This was released by the Jesus Seminar — which already has my warning lights blinking. Is there any concrete evidence (like in Church history) to refute this?

Some scholars believe that there are allusions to the book of Acts in the first epistle of Clement, which is generally dated to the 90s AD.  If these are indeed allusions, they would be a “smoking gun” that positively ruled out a date of 150 AD.

Irenaeus of Lyon, who was born around 120 AD, makes definite references to the book of Acts in Against Heresies, which he likely wrote around 180 AD.  In III:12.1, for example, he offers this nearly verbatim quotation from the book: “The Apostle Peter, therefore, after the resurrection of the Lord, and His assumption into the heavens, being desirous of filling up the number of the twelve apostles, and in electing into the place of Judas any substitute who should be chosen by God, thus addressed those who were present: ‘Men and brethren, this Scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of David, spake before concerning Judas, which was made guide to them that took Jesus. For he was numbered with us: … Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein; and, His bishop-rick let another take.'”  This is not definitive proof of a first-century date for Acts, but it’s highly unlikely that Irenaeus would treat Acts as so authoritative if that book had only been around for a few decades.

But I think the main evidence for the date of Acts comes from the ending of the book itself.  It leaves Paul in prison, with the outcome of his trial undetermined.  Certainly if it had been known at the time of writing that Paul had been acquitted and released, Luke would have included this information, since he takes pains throughout the book to demonstrate that Jesus’ followers are good citizens–reasonable, peaceful, and charitable–on good terms with Roman officials.  (Acts is dedicated to Theophilus and Luke addresses him as “most excellent,” using a title customarily reserved for such officials, so they are a primary audience for the book.)

In other words, what is known in historiography as the “criterion of embarrassment” (an author wants to say something, but can’t, or has to explain something difficult) makes the book of Acts itself a piece of historical evidence for its own original composition sometime during the lifetime of Paul, meaning no later than the 60s AD.

Uncial 0189, the oldest surviving parchment manuscript of the New Testament, containing a fragment from the book of Acts, dated to around AD 200

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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