The First Christian Historian: Writing the "Acts of the Apostles"

The First Christian Historian: Writing the "Acts of the Apostles"

The First Christian Historian: Writing the "Acts of the Apostles"

The First Christian Historian: Writing the "Acts of the Apostles"


Luke's Acts of the Apostles is the only documentation available on the birth of Christianity, despite the author's vigorously disputed reliability as a historian. Daniel Marguerat avoids this true/false quagmire by establishing his evaluation of Luke's talent as an historian within the framework of ancient historiography (the rules of ancient historians and narrative criticism). His study portrays Luke as a skillful and sound theologian, and provides an original approach to the classic themes of Lucan theology.


Luke, not Eusebius of Caesarea, was the first Christian historian. In antiquity, he was the first to present a religious movement in a historiographical manner. As for all historians, the aim of Luke is identity. When he recounts the birth of Christianity, its undesirable rupture with Judaism, and then the universal adventure of the Word, the author of Acts offers the Christianity of his time, an understanding of its identity through a return to its origins.

My reading of the historiographical work of Luke combines two procedures of investigation: historical criticismand narrative criticism. I am convinced that the understanding of a biblical writing requires that it be immersed in the historical milieu of its production (this is the epistemological credo of the historical-critical method). Constantly, in the course of the study, I shall be examining the culture and codes of communication of the ancient Mediterranean world to which Luke and his readers belong. However, the author of Acts is also a storyteller; the tools of narrative criticismhelp to identify the strategy of the narrator, the organization of the story, and the programmatic clues for reading that he has sown in his text.

One of the insights defended in this book is that we cannot reach the theology the author has written into his work without adopting the itinerary he imposes on his readers; this itinerary is the twists and turns of the narrative. I think that narrative reading makes it possible to do justice to the thinking, often scorned by scholars, of this talented storyteller. Because he tells his story well, Luke's thinking is not systematic. In rediscovering the hidden architecture of his work, one discovers the mastery and coherence of this great historian and theologian, without whom Christianity would be ignorant of most of its origins.

This book is the translation of eleven chapters of my work La première histoire du Christianisme (Actes des apôtres) (Lectio Divina 180; Paris, Cerf and Geneva, Labor et Fides, 1999). Chapter 10 has been published in a slightly abridged formin David P. Moessner,Jesus and the Heritage of Israel (Harrisburg, PA, Trinity Press International, 1999), pp. 284–304.

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