Who wrote Acts?

Who wrote Acts?

A Defense for Lukan Authorship of Acts

Who wrote Acts? Did you ever wonder? Because it doesn’t say. What’s the difference—Does it even matter? Well, yeah – I’d say it kind of matters. So, here’s a 1,950 year old spoiler alert: Luke most likely wrote Acts. Not only that, but he wrote Acts as a follow-up to the longest of the canonical Gospels; The Gospel of Luke. But, how did scholars arrive at this conclusion? How do we know? Here are some factors that we can use to determine the authorship of Acts. Will the real author please stand up?

Evidence to support Lukan authorship comes in two forms, external evidence and internal evidence.[1] The external evidence is what scholars have said about the document’s author and the internal evidence are what clues we can get from the document itself.

As far as the external evidence goes, at the top of the list is the testimony of the early Church Fathers. They fully supported Lukan authorship. This testimony is both early and unchallenged. Moving on, The Muratorian Canon (AD 180) affirms Lukan authorship, as does Irenaeus in his work, “Against Heresies” (ca. AD 180). Also the Anti-Marcionite Prologues, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian in “Against Marcion” all in the late 2nd Century unanimously support Lukan authorship.

When we come to the internal evidence the case is a little harder to establish, but still pretty clear. First of all, if you look at the formal literary introduction of the prologues of Luke and Acts, both mention that the recipient as “Theophilus” (which means, “Friend of God” [whether this was an actual person or a generic term for any Christian reader is debatable]). The author also mentions his “first book” in Acts, which would indicate that Acts was a second book (or what we might call today, a sequel). The sophisticated writing styles of Luke and Acts are extraordinarily similar: Hellenistic Greek used, vocabulary, common themes, and literary devices (such as the travel narrative). Both authors have knowledge of Roman law, nautical terms, and Greek society… which points to Luke.

 The “We” Passages of Acts

If Luke wasn’t there then how did he write about it? Here is where it gets interesting. First and foremost let’s not belittle the Holy Spirit’s work in all of this. “All Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16).” However that process looks, the Holy Spirit was absolutely vital to the writing of Acts. Amen! Secondly, this privileged information that Luke mentions in Acts can be explained by the “We” Passages.

In Acts 23:25-30, 25:14-22, and 26:30-32, the author switches from the regular third person narrative (he, she, they) to a first person plural (we). This denotes someone who was actually there as an eyewitness. Some believe this portion to be copied from “an itinerary or diary that he himself wrote.”[2] This is intriguing for several reasons. The author obviously recognizes himself as a traveling “companion of Paul.”[3] We learn in Col 4:14 that Luke was one such traveling companion. Secondly, since the author uses “we,” he would not use his name in these instances and anyone mentioned in these passages cannot be the author. Thirdly, since this person is mentioned with Paul in chapter 27-28 as going with Paul to Rome, it is reasonable to assume that the author was with Paul as he was imprisoned.[4] While Paul was in prison he wrote many letters and mentions people by name that were there too. Luke is on that list. So if we take the names of the people mentioned in the “we” passages and subtract them from the people listed in the prison epistles, the only person is—Luke.

[1] Robert Wayne Stacy, TheDocinabox, “Lukan Authorship of Acts,” accessed January 14, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35FfvIyIZcw.

[2] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 292.

[3] Ibid., 296.

[4] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2003), 283.


Carson, D A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2005.

Lea, Thomas D., and David Alan Black. The New Testament: Its Background and             Message, 2nd ed. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2003.

Stacy, Robert Wayne. 2012. “Lukan Authorship of Acts,” TheDocinabox, January 3, 2013. Accessed January 14, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35FfvIyIZcw.

Submitted to Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of the course NBST 520 New Testament Orientation II


About mrpatvincent

Follower of Jesus. Husband. Father. Pastor.
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