Book of Acts

Why does it matter when the Bible's Book of Acts was written?

Why does it matter when the Bible's Book of Acts was written?

THE QUESTION:

When was the New Testament’s Book of Acts written and why does it matter?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

This topic cropped up recently when The Guy visited the adult Bible class at a prominent Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation. Participants are taught that the Book of Acts, which depicts the three decades directly following Jesus Christ’s earthly life, was written between 110 and 120 A.D., a generation later than scholars’ consensus.

Does that seem a trivial technicality?

“A good deal rides on decisions about the date of Acts,” says Joseph Tyson of Southern Methodist University.

Christian tradition holds that Acts reliably records what Jesus’ original followers believed and how the earliest churches spread that message. But if it was written long after the events, that opens up radical theories. Bible experts left and right agree that Acts and the Gospel of Luke are in fact two volumes of a unified work by the same writer, although separated by John’s Gospel in Bibles. (Both books are anonymous but Paul’s colleague Luke is identified as the author in 2nd Century texts so The Guy follows that custom.)

Luke’s Gospel begins: “Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us,  just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word,  I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first,  to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,  so that you may know the truth. ...(New Revised Standard Version)

Acts then begins with a specific link back to Luke: “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning. ...”  Because of those opening words, the credibility of the New Testament as history is at stake here.  (If interested in who that Theophilus was, see “Religion Q & A” for December 22, 2015, in the archive.)

The Acts discussion is a very revealing example of how various types of Bible scholarship go about their business.

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You are a priest in Syria (or a U.S. pastor): What do you think of the news today?

You are a priest in Syria (or a U.S. pastor): What do you think of the news today?

Let's run through this life-and-death equation again, because it's at the heart of this week's GetReligion "Crossroads" podcast, which centered on two different posts (here and here) about threats to the ancient Christian churches in Syria. Click here to tune that in.

Start here. You are a priest in an ancient church in Syria, part of a body linked to a form of Eastern Orthodoxy or with Catholic ties of some kind. In recent years you have seen members of your flock -- perhaps even a bishop -- kidnapped or killed. This may have been by the rising tide of the Islamic State or by one of more of the insurgent groups that is trying to defeat the armies of President Bashar al-Assad. 

You know all about the crimes of the Assad regime. However, you also know that -- at the moment -- Assad knows that religious minorities of all kinds in Syria are under attack and thus they are standing together.

The bottom line: ISIS is killing Christians faster than the anti-Assad Sunni Muslim insurgent forces, some of which are receiving U.S funds and help, but the insurgents are pretty good at killing infidels, as well. Deep down, you wonder if the insurgents -- most allied with Saudi Arabia -- will end up trying to divide Syria with the Islamic State. The main thing you fear is complete and total chaos, since the one thing the insurgents and ISIS leaders agree on is that they want the current government gone and those who supported it dead, in slavery or driven away in the river of refugees.

So, what do you think of the following news from -- pick an elite U.S. news source -- The New York Times

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How, and why, did St. John the Baptist baptize Jesus?

How, and why, did St. John the Baptist baptize Jesus?

GERALD’S QUESTION:

When John the Baptist baptized Jesus, what would the baptismal formula have been? “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” wasn’t used until the 2nd Century.

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Even a highly skeptical scholar like John Dominic Crossan considers it historical fact that Jesus inaugurated his public ministry with baptism performed by his cousin John the Baptist, who was “preaching in the wilderness.” There’s also wide agreement that John would have used full immersion in the waters of the Jordan River (those loud amens you hear are coming from Baptists). But as for what words John recited, the Bible doesn’t say though, yes, it doesn’t seem plausible he would have spoken Christianity’s familiar invocation of the triune God that Gerald quotes.

The Acts of the Apostles depicts three baptisms during the earliest phase of the Christian movement, each performed in the name of Jesus and not the Trinity (which is the practice of modern-day “Oneness” Pentecostals). However, the Gospel of Matthew, written in the same time frame as Acts, suggests belief in the three divine persons in the Trinity in its account of Jesus’ baptism  (3:13-17, paralleled in Mark 1 and Luke 3). As Dale Allison comments, “the Son is baptized, the Father speaks, and the Spirit descends.” Then the Trinity becomes explicit in Matthew 28:19 as Jesus directs his followers to make disciples, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

So invocation of the Trinity quickly emerged in the 1st Century as a permanent feature of Christian baptism. 

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Memory eternal: A giant of Orthodoxy has died

Let me state right up front that, as a member of an Antiochian Orthodox parish, this post hits close to home. However, this is also a story that is linked to one of the most important news trends in our world today, which is the growing state of chaos in Syria and the plight of religious minorities in the wider Middle East.

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