Bart Ehrman on the Date and Historical Reliability of Acts. A Challenge to Evangelicals to Renew Studies on NT Introduction

Bart Ehrman’s Challenge to Evangelicals to Renew Studies on NT Introduction
Bart Ehrman, in his youtube video “Christianity One Year After Jesus,” speaks favorably both of scholars who suggest that Luke was dependent on the writings of Josephus from the 90s AD, and other scholars who suggest that Luke was written around 120 AD. Ehrman eventually settles for around 80s AD for the date of Luke.

Not surprisingly, he also questions the historical reliability of the book of Acts. According to Ehrman, Acts says things which seem implausible given what else we know about the world at that time and what we know about early Christianity etc.

If one rejects the historical reliability of Acts, the earliest historical record of the birth of Christianity, everything else in the NT is called into question. NT history is then reconfigured according to the skeptical presuppositions of critics like Ehrman.

One of the consequences of seminaries dumbing down their curriculum in recent years is the cancellation of courses like OT and NT Introductions. These “Introduction” courses are not about introducing simple preliminaries or basics to beginning students. Instead they are aimed at equipping students on how to engage with critical scholarship dealing with questions of authorship, contextual historical matters and sources, and dating of various books of the Bible. These courses were *compulsory* courses in my time when I was studying theology in the early 1980s.

This is a wake-up call to evangelical seminaries and their students to take seriously issues of OT & NT introduction and to find ways to educate their churches on how to answer skeptical questions from critical biblical scholars and from Muslim apologists who rely on critical scholars when they question the historical reliability and integrity of the Bible.

Dating the Book of Acts
Craig Keener sums up after a review on different dates of the Acts considered by contemporary scholars: “Nevertheless, having worked through Acts examining patterns that suggest what Luke desires to emphasize, I believe that a date after 70 is likelier than an earlier date. Because charges against Paul and his death in Roman custody appear to remain a live apologetic issue (see the discussion of apologetic for Paul in ch. 7 above), however, I am also inclined to date Acts much sooner after 70 than are some other scholars. I believe that the value of Paul’s legacy (and not merely its content) remained in dispute especially in the years immediately after his death.

Of the four positions surveyed below, the centrist position (70s–80s), which I hold, has by far the most adherents (perhaps four times as many adherents as supporters of a second-century date); probably the early date (60s) is second in number of adherents (Pervo cites more than thirty scholars); a date in the 90s ranks third; and the second century (clustering toward its beginning) boasts the fewest adherents.To my knowledge, no one dates Acts outside these ranges; the conclusion of Luke’s narrative precludes an earlier date, and textual and patristic evidence a later one.

Various factors support the first-century date, and in my opinion a date closer to 70 rather than later. First, as I have mentioned, authorship by a companion of Paul is, given ancient usage, by far the most natural way to construe the “we” citations in Acts, despite the reluctance of many NT scholars to grant this observation (see comment on Acts 16:10). Second, the massive correspondences between Acts and first-century historical events, shown by Talbert and others, reflect early memory (or at least heavy reliance on early sources). Third, the Pauline apologetic in Acts
responds in detail to memories of fairly detailed local charges, memories that would have mattered most in the early period.” (Craig Keener Acts: An Exegetical Commentary 4 vols (Baker 2012-2015), vol.1, p. 384)

For a defence of an early date of Acts see, David Seccombe, “Dating Luke-Acts: Further Arguments for an Early Date,” Tyndale Bulletin (2020). Seccombe concludes,

The case for dating Acts in the early 60s has been argued by others. This
paper offers two additions to the case for a date in the early 60s and a
restatement of a third. First, the manner in which Luke has portrayed
salvation in terms of Israel’s national hope would have been dangerous
for the author and recipients of the book any time after the outbreak of
hostilities with Rome, and well into the second century. Second, the
viewpoint of Acts presupposes a church whose Jewishness is taken for
granted, with justification needed for Gentiles to be admitted. This was
the situation before AD 70, not afterwards. Third, the prominence given
to the voyage to Rome and the vividness of detail in the account indicate
an author at work prior to the extraordinary disruptions of the following

Note that Ehrman himself accepts that a later date for Acts does not entail historical unreliability. If need be we shall defend the historical reliability of Acts based on the tradition of William Ramsay, F.F. Bruce, Colin Hemer, etc.

Recommended Books
NT Introductions
1) Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction (IVP, 1990).
2) D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Zondervan, 2005).
3). Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (B & H, 2009).

Old Testament Introductions
1) Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Moody, 2007).
2) R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 1979).
3) Tremper Longman &  Raymond Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Zondervan, 2006).