Sep 23, 2010

History in the Book of Acts

New Testament interpreters have long debated the historical reliability of Acts. Opinions are all across the spectrum from extreme historical unreliability to undeniable historical reliability. I happen to hold that Acts is historically reliable, but I think that what is meant by historically reliable is a question worth asking and answering. In asking and answering this question, it may be more profitable to first ask and answer the question “what kind of history do we have in Acts” before asking and answering “is that history reliable.” Daniel Marguerat attempts to answer the first question by applying Paul Ricœur’s historical taxonomy to Acts which I have attempted to represent in the table below. Thoughts?

Marguerat’s Application of Paul Ricœur’s Historical Taxonomy to Acts

Documentary History

Explicative History

Poetic History

Seeks to establish verifiable facts

Seeks to evaluate events from a social, economic, and/or political perspective

Seeks to interpret the past and the possibility it offers to a community to understand itself in the present

Question: How did Titus take Jerusalem in AD 70?

Question: What were the consequences of Titus’ conquest of Jerusalem for Jews and Christians?

Question: Why did God allow Titus to conquer Jerusalem?

Acts contains this kind of history (e.g., Paul’s travel itinerary in 20:13–15)

Acts contains this kind of history (e.g., God’s intervention in 5:19; 7:55; 9:10)

Modified from Daniel Marguerat, The First Christian Historian: Writing The "Acts of the Apostles," Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 121, ed. Richard Bauckham (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 8–11.

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