Most scholars date the book of Acts somewhere between 80 and 90 AD (1). However, some other scholars have forwarded several arguments as to why a date in the early 60s AD is likely (2). If Acts could be dated to the early 60s it would be significant as it would require us to date the Gospel of Luke earlier, perhaps into the late 40’s and into 50’s (before 60 AD). This is because Acts is a follow on from Luke’s gospel, the reason why scholars term these works Luke-Acts (3). It is also certain that Luke consulted Mark (and other materials such as Q & L – known as the four-document hypothesis (4)) before he authored his gospel. If so then Mark’s gospel must date to even earlier. Contemporary scholarship dates Mark at 70 AD (5). This would change should the conclusion follow on from the arguments presented here. The following arguments are typically presented.
First, Acts has no mention of the fall of Jerusalem in 70. This is quite odd since much of the activity recorded in Luke-Acts centers around Jerusalem. A large section unique to Luke focuses on Jesus’ last movement to the Holy City, the resurrection appearances occur around Jerusalem (see Luke 24:13), and Jerusalem plays a key role in the structure of Acts. The omission of any mention of the fall of Jerusalem makes sense if Luke-Acts was written prior to the event itself. It’s worth noting that this event was significant to the Jews. If it was important the destruction of their holy temple would have been noted. This is interesting as Jesus seemed to have predicted that this would happen (Matthew: 24: 1-3). One might then ask why did this not warrant a mentioning especially since this fact would have corroborated Jesus’ prediction?
Second, no mention is made of Nero’s persecutions in the mid-60s and the general tone of Acts toward the Roman government is irenic. This fits the pre-65 situation well. Neither the tone of Acts nor the omission of an account of Nero’s persecutions can be adequately explained by saying it was an attempt to appease the Roman government. It was not the nature of the early church to appease anyone.
Third, the martyrdoms of James (61 AD), Paul (64 AD), and Peter (65 AD) are not mentioned in Acts. This is also surprising since Acts is quick to record the deaths of Stephen and James the brother of John, leaders in the early church. These omissions are further surprising when one realizes that James, Peter, and Paul are the three key figures in Acts. The silence in Acts about these deaths makes most sense if, again, we assume that Acts was written before they occurred.
Fourth, the subject matter of Acts deals with issues of importance prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The falling of the Holy Spirit on different people groups (Jewish, Samaritan, Gentile), the divisions between Palestinian Jews and Hellenistic Jews, Jewish-Gentile relations centering on circumcision and the law of Moses, and other themes make sense prior to the year 70. At that time Jewish Christianity was wiped out and the importance of a record of how Gentile pagan converts are to relate to Jews in the church would be much lower than the importance of such a record prior to 70.
Fifth, several of the expressions in Acts are very early and primitive. But the phrases the Son of man, the Servant of God (applied to Jesus), the first day of the week (the resurrection), and the people (the Jews) are all phrases that readers would understand without explanation prior to 70 AD. After 70, they would need to be explained. These phrases, therefore, indicate that Acts was intended for an audience that would remember these terms and their usage.
Sixth, the Jewish war against the Romans (from 66 onward) is not mentioned in Acts. As Hugo Staudinger argues, “The Jewish war is an important part of the history of the early Church. The original followers in Jerusalem lose their significance through the war. With the destruction of Jerusalem Jesus’ prophecy is moreover fulfilled. If Luke had been writing after 70, it would be incomprehensible that he should break off his narrative shortly before the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy, and not indicate the fate of the followers in Jerusalem” (6).
So, as some have argued, a strong case can be made for dating Acts at 62 to 64. But this means that Luke should be dated just prior to that. Further, Matthew and Mark should be dated even earlier, perhaps from the mid-40s and before the 60’s. However, if the case appears persuasive then why have most scholars not dated the gospels and Acts accordingly? It would be because it implies an early date for the gospels, as scholar France informs us: “It is tempting to suggest that the early date has failed to find widespread acceptance not because it is unconvincing in itself but because the results of its acceptance would be too uncomfortable!” (7)
1. Berkett, D. 2002. An Introduction to the New Testament and the Origins of Christianity. p. 195.
2. Moreland, J. 1987. Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity.
3. Berkett, D. 2002. Ibid.
4. Thomas, R. 2003. Three Views on the Origins of the Synoptic Gospels. p. 64.
5. Perkins, P. 1998. The Synoptic Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles: Telling the Christian Story. p. 64.
6. Staudinger, H. 1981. The Trustworthiness of the Gospels. p. 9.
7. France, R. 2003. The Evidence for Jesus. p. 120-121.