The Book of Acts
as an Historical Source
The oldest Christian writing that aspires to give an historical presentation is the Acts of the Apostles. The Gospels repeat a succession of traditions concerning historical events; but it was the Acts of the Apostles that first tried to form from traditional material the continuous account of an actual period in history. Many details, however, especially the speeches, will make it clear to the reader that this is not the ultimate object of the book, which aims to preach and to show what the Christian belief is and what effects it has. This dual aspect of the book has, from the beginning, ever since there has been any critical knowledge of the Bible, compelled those who investigate the book of Acts to ask what value it has as an historical source. In doing so, scholars have often reached an impasse because they have considered the question subjectively; they have referred, for instance, to the improbability of certain scenes, as, for example, to the fact that both Stephen and Paul make long speeches before raging crowds, or that Paul assumes toward the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem a yielding attitude which we cannot possibly believe he would have adopted.1 In doing this, however, each critic really forms his own personal conception of the times and the characters in order to measure events, which is a dangerous procedure. The form-critical method uses the form and style of the tradition in order to draw conclusions about it as to its origin and the conditions out of which it arose,2 and in this way seeks observations which are universally valid in order to establish less subjective criteria of the tradition’s historicity, criteria which can be verified at any time.
Before each particular analysis we must acquire a certain amount of general information about the author’s method. Nothing in this book indicates that the author had already had models for the preparation of his version. In his Gospel he speaks of “many” who had undertaken the same thing (Luke 1:1), but he does not similarly mention any in Acts. A consideration of the contemporary circumstances makes it seem likely that he was a pioneer in this