Acts in the Setting of the History
of Early Christian Literature
The Acts of the Apostles is unique in style not only in the New Testament but also in great literature. It is distinguished from the New Testament and many other early Christian writings by its literary character, and from the work of the historians by what we may call a theological purpose. But it is primarily the content of the book which makes it unique: as far as we know, no one undertook—before, near the time of, or after the writing of the canonical Acts—to tell in a consecutive narrative the story of the first Christian community and the decisive expansion in the spread of the Christian belief to the West; such was not the aim, for example, of the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles.
With regard to the question of authorship, it has already been shown that in the Lukan writings the tradition of the Church since Irenaeus and the Muratorian Canon should be taken more seriously than in other instances.1 Here, in Acts, we shall have to consider the question of whether someone who belonged to Paul’s circle could have written a book which is sometimes found to contradict Paul’s epistles.2 But the foremost consideration is that of its style and content.
The book portrays events from the Ascension of Jesus to Paul’s arrival in Rome. One distinct section is found preceding 13:1. From here onwards the author tells only of Paul and no longer of the mother-communities in Jerusalem and Antioch—with the sole exception of the so-called Apostolic Council (15:1–35), which is reported because of its bearing on Paul’s mission. The first half (1–12) contains the portrayal of the life of the earliest community (1–5); this is followed by an account of the martyrdom of Stephen, with which the author has linked in his own way both the conversion of Paul and the stories of Philip and Peter and the results of their mission, and finally the story of