Beyond Tradition

"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men." Colossians 2:8

Meet the Ghost Writers

Part II of II (click here for Part I):


Internal evidence

In Part 1, I analyzed the external and common sense evidence supporting the ascribed authors of all four gospels. The internal evidence is much stronger in the case of John and Luke, and in tandem with the other evidence makes it almost indisputable. Though John would be the only prime pick out of the disciple pool we would expect as an obvious choice of authoritative pseudonyms for a Christian work, one of the other arguments against John's authorship is the question whether a Galilean fishermen would have been able to even scribe the gospel of John, which most scholars agree had a rather elegant command of Greek. However, this holds very little weight being that it's purely suppositional. After all, the apostle Paul, who had a firm command of Greek and possibly Hebrew and Aramaic, had a command of exegesis of Jewish scripture unlike any other, and who wrote letters that contain the most profound Christology of any work in the New Testament was a tent maker by trade (Acts 18:1-3). 

Another incident in Acts, which contributes to this, is the astonishment of the religious leaders at John's and Peter's teachings and the fact they had no formal education (Acts 4:13). However, there are a few things to consider here. It's doubtful the religious leaders knew them personally, being that they barely recognized them as followers of Jesus prior and it seems they were shocked not that they had any education per se, but rather because they did not specifically attend their schools or were members of their particular sect. Secondly, the author of Acts himself neither confirmed nor denied in his narrative whether they were right or not about the status of their education, so this is under the assumption that these religious critics were in fact correct (they could have easily thought this about Peter and John, yet been wrong). It seems obvious they didn't make this assumption about their education based on hearing them preach since their preaching was the reason they marveled at this conundrum, thus their preaching actually affirms they were educated.

This is also under the assumption that at no time between then, which was in the earliest stages of Christianity, and when they had died they ever sought to improve their education. I can't think of any better reason that would inspire a supposed uneducated fisherman to seek higher education and knowledge than a religious experience in order to convey and express that religious experience more effectively to a broader audience. It doesn't take much stretch of the imagination to assume that since Peter and John were thought of as the major "pillars" of the early Christian movement, any lacking they had in education would have become a nagging limitation to their apostleship, giving them all the inspiration they needed to remedy this problem the best they could, especially considering they were in a time and place that such debates with opposing groups was simply unavoidable.

Moreover, this argument is further discounted by the fact that we also know many of the Christian works were often written by secretaries (this is admitted in many of the letters), thus even if the works weren't written directly by their own hand does not in any way support the argument that it was not based on their personal witness.


There was a time, before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), that the late date for John's gospel was primarily sustained by its supposed Greek influences (mainly his logos theology -- "The Word" -- in the beginning of his gospel, which wasn't associated with Hebraic concepts), so much so that it was thought an impossibility to relate it to a first century Galilean Jew. The post-DSS discovery has virtually reversed that argument completely (discussed in more detail here: Gospel Date: Introductory: John). James Charlesworth, commenting on this issue, states...

"The Fourth Gospel is now judged to be Jewish. Most commentators now study it in terms of first-century Palestinian Jewish writings, especially the Dead Sea Scrolls."[1]

Martin Hengel states of the author of the gospel of John...


"As far as I can see it, the author of the Fourth Gospel, who is identified with the "old one" (ho presbyteros) of the second and third letters of John, came from the priestly aristocracy of Jerusalem."[2]


Another distinct aspect of John's gospel that clearly distinguishes the writer as Jewish is his understanding and his association of the Wisdom theology of Jesus. John identified Jesus as being God's Word (the logos), yet John's inferences of Christ's preexistence elsewhere in his work is probably the most Jewish implications in all of John's gospel. The following is a list of the Wisdom theology in John's gospel that parallel other ancient Jewish literature, such as Proverbs 8, Wisdom in Sirach, and the Wisdom of Solomon (the latter two works were originally in Hebrew until recently)...[3]


  • The Word was in the beginning (John 1:1); Wisdom was in the beginning (Prov. 8:22-23, Sir. 1:4, Wis. 9:9)
  • The Word was with God (John 1:1); Wisdom was with God (Prov. 8:30, Sir. 1:1, Wis. 9:4)
  • The Word was co-creator (John 1:1-3); Wisdom was co-creator (Prov. 3:19, 8:25; Is. 7:21, 9:1-2)
  • The Word provides light (John 1:4, 1:9); Wisdom provides light (Prov. 8:22, Wis. 7:26, 8:13; Sir. 4:12)
  • Word as light in contrast to darkness (John 1:5); Wisdom as light in contrast to darkness (Wis. 7:29-30)
  • The Word was in the world (John 1:10); Wisdom was in the world (Wis. 8:1, Sir. 24:6)
  • The Word was rejected by its own (John 1:11); Wisdom was rejected by its own (Sir. 15:7)
  • The Word was received by the faithful (John 1:12); Wisdom was received by the faithful (Wis. 7:27)
  • Christ is the bread of life (John 6:35); Wisdom is the bread or substance of life (Prov. 9:5, Sir. 15:3, 24:21, 29:21; Wis. 11:4)
  • Christ is the light of the world (John 8:12); Wisdom is light (Wis. 7:26-30, 18:3-4)
  • Christ is the door of the sheep and the good shepherd (John 10:7, 10:11, 10:14); Wisdom is the door and the good shepherd (Prov. 8:34-5, Wis. 7:25-7, 8:2-16; Sir. 24:19-22)
  • Christ is life (John 11:25); Wisdom brings life (Prov. 3:16, 8:35, 9:11; Wis. 8:13)
  • Christ is the way to truth (John 14:6); Wisdom is the way (Prov. 3:17, 8:32-34; Sir. 6:26)


Not only has it been firmly established that the writer of John had strong Judaic influences, but like the gospel of Matthew (even more so in some cases), the geography, topography, traveling routes, culture, and Judaic customs are so detailed in John's gospel and sometimes offered so casually within the narrative that it was undoubtedly done by a Jewish contemporary writer who was, at the very least, extremely familiar with this culture and most likely lived in Judea pre-70 CE. He states things that aren't just found in the other gospels but any other contemporary work, most of which have been confirmed by modern archeology, such as:


  • Jacob’s well being located in Sychar (John 4:5-6), and that it was deep (4:11).
  • That Bethany was about "two miles" (or "fifteen furlongs," Greek word stadion) from Jerusalem (11:18).
  • Knowing there is a descent (translated "he went down" which is the non-accidental Greek word katabaino, and literally means "to descend") from Canaan to Capernaum (2:12).
  • His statement "his disciples went down to the sea" (6:16).
  • In contrast to his use of another Greek word anabaino ("to ascend"), such as "Jesus went up to Jerusalem" (2:13), "Jesus went up into the temple" (7:14), indicative of the most subtle knowledge about the geography of Judea.[4]
  • He also displayed subtle implications of experience like "stooping down" (20:4-5) to look inside the tomb, something that was a necessity with typical Jerusalem tombs (see Fig.1).


He knew that the pool of Bethesda (Fig. 2) had five "porticoes" or colonnades (5:2) -- a pool, by the way, that was considered utter fiction because of its lack of mention in any other historical record (with the exception of the Dead Sea Scrolls that also mentioned the pool, which weren't discovered until the late 20th century).[5] The site was dug up along with the five porticoes.[6] It also had shrines dedicated to Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, not only firmly substantiating its existence, but how John described it as a place of miracle healing. He was casually acquainted with the details of certain Jewish customs such as the Dedication/Hanukkah (10:22), the arranging and accurate size of water pots for purification (2:6), burial customs (11:43-44), and the purification ritual before Passover (11:55). He knew intimate details of things that happened with the disciples and Jesus not described in the other three gospels (see John 2:11, 4:6, 4:27, 6:19, 13:30, etc.), which either suggests a very creative and imaginative fiction artist or recollections of an eyewitness with an exceptional place within the group (note that the only eyewitnesses with Jesus during some of these descriptive scenes were Peter, James, and John). Remember, much of Judea and its culture, particularly Jerusalem, was undoubtedly irreparably altered in the aftermath of the 70 CE war, which made these descriptions even more obscure to an outsider.

Though all this doesn't necessarily prove it was John himself, it indicates almost without doubt that this was someone who was a Jewish contemporary, well familiar with the culture and landscape (details not found in other historical sources, including Josephus), and had intimate knowledge of the inner Twelve. This is in contrast to all the later Christian works or the apocryphal works that not only display very little detail about first century Judea and its culture, but much of the things they do describe, including topography, are incorrect. Not only does James Arlandson illustrate much of the accurate archeological detail in John's gospel, but points out details that the later gnostic texts got wrong, which is just what we would expect of someone in an ancient world, lacking sufficient information resources, who was not an actual eyewitness.[7] 

The glaring omission of the disciple John's name and his brother James entirely from his gospel, yet acknowledging them one time as "the sons of Zebedee" only (John 21:2), in addition to the fact John and Peter were two of the most primary apostolic figures in the early church is inexplicable. To imply the author had no specific reason to mention John, when John was mentioned by the other gospels, when the gospel of John contained accounts from the other gospels that included John, and when the writer of John had mentioned virtually all other disciples becomes a strained explanation for this. It's more apparent that the writer didn't mention John for a specific reason, or that the writer was in fact John himself, and that he excluded his name out of modesty in addition to his brother James since they were almost always mentioned in tandem in the other gospels. This is additionally true if his targeted audience already knew he was the author to begin with.

What we should also note is that John the Baptist is mentioned in the gospel of John as just "John." This is another clue strongly suggesting that the author's name was John who naturally took this for granted, as opposed to someone with a different name who would consciously want or need to distinguish John the Baptist from John the Disciple to prevent any confusion. The fact he excludes "Baptist" is particularly puzzling considering the regularity of the author identifying others by double names or their idioms, such as Simon Peter, Thomas Didymus, Philip of Bethsaida, and Judas Iscariot (examples: John 1:40, 11:16, 12:21, 6:71).

The fact that the disciple John's name is excluded altogether and identified as "the beloved disciple" was not self-aggrandizement, but is argued as either being a necessity to clear up confusion with himself and John the Baptist, argued by some scholars as actually being a form of humility on the part of the author, [8] or just identifying himself with perhaps an idiom given to him by the very audience he was writing to. So, to sum this up, the author:


  • Almost surely had the name John himself, which is why he unconsciously overlooked the potential confusion between John the disciple and John the Baptist.
  • Was unquestionably Jewish and prolific in Jewish exegesis.
  • Was undoubtedly an early first century contemporary of Judea and almost surely a resident therein.
  • Knew intimate details about the disciples and had inside information about things that happened between them, especially incidences between Peter, James and John that the others didn't (which leads us to conclude that either he made it up as fiction or else he was directly associated with the group).
  • Had some odd and inexplicable reason for excluding any mention of the disciple John's name and his brother even though he exhaustively mentioned names of the other notorious disciples.
  • Is the only name ascribed to the earliest manuscripts we have of the gospel of John. [9]


These factors remain inexplicable unless the author is in fact the disciple John himself, which would explain all the above internal intricacies of his work.


The book of Acts is basically a chronicle of the apostle's early missionary activities in and around Judea and Rome, post-resurrection. The fact that the author of the gospel Luke was the same author of the book Acts is pretty much an irrefutable argument and few scholars dispute this (which I'll discuss in a bit). However, the evidence that the author of both works was the apostle Luke himself -- or at least the "Luke" Paul mentions in his letters, his traveling companion -- is where the disagreement lies.

There was a time in the 19th century that scholars such as F.C. Baur readily dismissed much of Luke/Acts as being historically accurate, based primarily on fictional history and Christian theology. Today, scholars have discredited this argument many times over based on new assessments of Acts and it's comparison to current archeological data,[10] and this is in spite of the fact of Luke's supposed gaffe with Quirinius and the census which is still a highly controversial issue (discussed here). Much of the opposing argument against Lukan authorship now, other than the supposed date, is:


  1. Paul is portrayed differently in Acts than he actually portrays himself in some of his letters, suggesting that the author did not know Paul intimately, or he was just outrightly making up fictional characterizations of Paul.
  2. Based on supposed inaccuracies Luke made in his book Acts that seem to conflict the parallel accounts found in Paul's letters.


Assuming there are mistakes on Luke's part, mistakes are certainly to be expected in a genuine account, as with any historian (I should note here that my stand is not based an "inerrancy of scripture," or that it is not possible that there are no mistakes anywhere in NT scripture). However, even assuming that the touted mistakes attributed to Luke are all in fact mistakes doesn't in any way prove authorship or disprove authorship one way or the other. If an adviser and admirer to a particular president wrote a biography about that president, yet things in his biography seemed inconsistent with things written in an autobiography by the president himself, this would obviously not be an adequate argument to prove that the adviser was not the original author of his biography. After all, it would certainly be unrealistic to assume that Luke and Paul, who were obviously writing independently and with different purposes, agendas, and from different perspectives would have been in perfect harmonization at all times.

Nonetheless, most of the so-called mistakes or discrepancies touted in their arguments are just based on downright careless research, and in some cases, based on some rather precise and exaggerated technicalities, or at best, just plain nitpicking (things that could be picked to death between any two documents about a similar historical account), most of which are capable of simple solutions.

Arguments used against authorship are even less genuine when considering that some of the same critics typically date Luke-Acts as far as the 80-90s, two or three decades after Paul's martyrdom, making it highly likely that Paul's letters would have been acknowledged at that time and quite accessible to anyone who would have had the urge to simply travel to these churches and acquire information from the letters, even if they weren't yet in wide circulation. Thus, the fact that Acts and Paul don't synchronize in "perfect" unison actually bolsters the belief that Acts is a legitimate and independent source, and an early source.

I'll first point out some examples of some of these so-called mistakes in Paul's letters and Acts to show how slipshod they actually are. The first is in Paul's Galatians letter, where Paul discusses what he did after his conversion…

Galatians 1:15-18 "to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas (Peter), and stayed with him fifteen days."

Let's compare this to Paul's conversion in the book of Acts (note that Paul's original name was Saul)...

Acts 9:3-9 "As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do. The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank."

Paul states that he went to Arabia after his encounter in Damascus, returned to Damascus and then ventured to Jerusalem to meet some of the apostles. Acts, however, does not mention this trip to Arabia. This seems to present a contradiction with Paul going to Arabia before he went to Damascus that he claims in his Galatians letter. However, a contradiction is not necessarily an option when omission is a viable explanation unless the accounts clearly overlap. Notice that Luke describes Paul spending "several days" in Damascus after he encounters Christ and is healed by Ananias, preaching in the synagogues there (Acts 9:17-20). Then Luke specifies another period of time that follows (9:23-26), an elapse of "many days," before Paul arrives at Jerusalem to meet the apostles. Paul tells us that the "many days" was a total of three years (Galatians 1:17-18). Thus, there is no reason not assume there is a gap between the several days Paul spends in Damascus and the elapse of three years that follows, presumably where he spends time in Arabia and returns to Damascus that Luke omits. The fact Paul claims (Galatians 1:16) he didn't immediately consult anyone about his experience also fits in nicely with Luke's account, who indicates Paul fasted alone for three days before he met with Ananias (Acts 9:8-12). Notice how the two accounts work like separate puzzle pieces. 

Omission of the trip to Arabia in Acts might justifiably lead one to question why Luke excluded this trip (though this could be due to either lack of knowledge about the trip or Luke's personal preference for exclusion because it wasn't significant) but doesn't equate to a contradiction when there are "many years" in Luke's account that are clearly unaccounted for. Another example in Paul's Galatians letter…

Galatians 1:22-24 "I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; but only, they kept hearing, 'He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy." And they were glorifying God because of me."

The fact that no one in Judea recognized him "by sight" after his conversion seems to suggest that Paul was never in Judea prior to his Christian conversion, which contradicts the pre-conversion account in Acts (7:58), where Paul is standing at the scene of Stephen's stoning in Jerusalem, Judea, in addition to Paul's fierce persecution of Christians in Jerusalem thereafter (Acts 8:1-3, 9:1-2). The critical argument is that if Paul was in fact in Jerusalem persecuting Christians, at least some Christians in and around Judea would have recognized him.

Since we know that Paul as a former Christian persecutor is in fact true from his own admission in the quote above and in other places of his letters (1 Corinthians 8:9; Galatians 4:29), there is an obvious question we need to ask here: where was Paul, a devout Jew, persecuting Christians if not in Judea, which was where the Christian epicenter was located during that time and before Paul was killed?

Though this question lingers without an adequate answer assuming Acts is wrong, conversely, there are other things to consider that would logically explain this seeming inconsistency about Judea that exists between Acts and Paul. First of all, it seems highly possible that certain churches in Judea were distinguished from other churches in the same region, including Jerusalem. Luke indeed distinguishes them in areas of Acts (8:1, 9:31), so if this was a case in general, this would certainly apply to the main church at Jerusalem. In other words, Paul may not have been known to the churches in Judea, but this did not include the church at Jerusalem since Luke distinguishes it from churches in Judea even though Jerusalem was in Judea.

Secondly, Paul states that he did not return to Judea until three years after his conversion (Galatians 1:15-18). Though Paul indicates in his Galatians letter that the converts he had come in contact with after his conversion didn't recognize him, there are some sensible reasons to consider why:


  • Judea was a pretty vast region to say the least, and the churches had probably grown at an exorbitant rate with new converts (Acts 8:25, 8:40), thus there was most likely a quantity of new converts who had joined the movement prior to his return after three years.
  • To suggest that Paul met with every single convert in all churches of Judea would be pure speculation since there is obviously no way to know for sure just how vast Christianity had spread at that time.
  • We could assume that Paul would have been known "by sight" to those he had personally come into direct contact with during the persecution (out of a number of other Christians who may not have come in contact with him that we have no definitive number of), and we could certainly assume some of those Christians survived, since he did have a reputation, but it would be mere speculation to suggest that most of them survived and were not perhaps killed in the persecution.
  • These certainly weren't the days of mass information and communication systems, smartphones, or sketch artists able to draw a portrait of Paul and mass produce copies to distribute to Christians throughout Judea in order to warn them of this person -- Paul's face was obviously not shown on the Judean nightly news, broadcasting across the region.


Therefore, considering those four points, it's not at all unreasonable that no one Paul came in contact with, post-conversion, recognized who he was other than what they had heard of him.

Thirdly, Luke (Acts 8:1) indicates a fierce persecution of Christians was taking place during Paul's reign of terror, which had scattered all the coverts from Jerusalem throughout Judea which were, at the very least, 8,000 converts in Jerusalem during this time (Acts 2:41, 4:4). Obviously this was not orchestrated by Paul alone, and we could logically speculate that he was but a face in an organization of an unspecified number of other men operating to this end. Indeed we know for a fact he was with others on his way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-7), so the unfortunate victims who did see Paul and survived the outcome merely perceived him as but a hostile face among many other hostile faces.

Fourthly, the Greek word for "by sight" (in bold above) is prosopon. Richard Bauckham suggests that, though it usually did mean a face-to-face encounter, could sometimes imply a certain degree of intimate knowledge (see 1 Thessalonians 2:17 where the word is translated as "in person"). In other words, instead of this meaning that they did not know who Paul was per se, it could instead mean that Paul was not well known in person.[10]

Thus, as you can see, there are many other nuances to these issues to consider, and to simply play fast and loose with the surface details and argue contradiction in order to support a fabrication on Luke's part is clearly either subjective analysis or just shotty and lazy research.

Paul often expressed his emphatic view of abolishing Mosaic law and practice in favor of faith and grace in Christ throughout his letters (in some rather colorful and graphic language at times), and was vehemently against some of the Jewish Christians at Jerusalem, "party of the circumcision," who insisted otherwise. On the surface, this seems to contradict the Paul who is portrayed in Acts as a sympathizer to his pious Jewish colleagues, on occasions willing to compromise in order to keep the peace with them, even having one of his companions, Timothy, conform to the ritual of circumcision just to appease them (Acts 16:1-3). This is starkly in contrast to Paul's fierce opposition expressed in his Galatians letter against the practice of circumcision (Galatians 2:1-9). Acts also implies that James had more authority than Paul (Acts 12:17, 21:18-26), and even has James ordering Paul around, which also seems to conflict with some of the sentiment Paul expresses in his letters.

However, not only was Paul not always portrayed as being congenial with the Jewish community even in Acts (see Acts 13:46, 15:1-2, 28:24-29), but this argument disregards the situational context of Paul's letters, such as the Galatians letter. In regards to the Galatians letter, the situational context is made obvious in the first two chapters (chapters 1 and 2). There were apparently Jewish Christians who were teaching the Galatians that circumcision was a necessary practice of the Christian faith, and were obviously attacking Paul's character and authority in order to undermine his teachings to the contrary. In other words, the Galatians letter was a letter of reactionary passion and outrage, and everything Paul stated was in the heat of battle.

People are not robots and are inherently different -- in character, mood, attitude, ideals, views, manners, etc., -- when writing a letter than they are in person. And indeed, others noticed a difference about the Paul in person compared to his letters, and even addresses this in his second Corinthian letter (2 Corinthians 10:9-10). Moreover, Paul also admitted that he is a Jew when necessary and a Gentile when necessary, "becoming all things to all men" in order to effectively evangelize to all classes (1 Corinthians 9:19-23), which would also explain the many faces and contrasting voices of Paul.

Most of the time in Acts, Paul was not addressing Christian believers like he was in his letters, but addressing rather hostile Jewish opposition, and in a lot of cases, whole crowds of hostiles, hence could have easily erupted into a full blown riot, thus he had to be careful how he addressed them in these particular situations as opposed to the way he freely spoke in his letters. It should come as no surprise that the speech Paul gives to the Ephesus Christians in Acts (20:16-35) does in fact reflect his style of speech we find in his letters.

I'm addressing this not necessarily as an apologetic, because I feel it's not really needed here, but pointing out how basic and logical some of this subject matter is, yet how important when analyzing this issue sensibly and historically, thus amazes me how some critics miss these points.

I'll point out just another one of these supposed mistakes of Luke in general. Luke gives the impression that there are hordes of Jews converting over to Christianity in Jerusalem between chapters six and seven of Acts (no less than 8,000 or more in a very short time span -- 2:41, 4:4). He also points out the persecution, mentioned previously, involving Paul that had dispersed "all" these Christians, save the apostles, throughout Judea (Acts 8:3, 9:1). Yet this seems to contrast later on in Acts chapter 21 where James declares there are "thousands" of converted Jews in Jerusalem who were all "still zealous for the law." How can this be if all the Judeo-Christians had been chased out prior? This contradiction, the critic retorts, proves Luke was carelessly fictionalizing as he went along, contradicting himself in his own work.

First of all, most of these conversions, particularly the three thousand recorded during Pentecost occurred during a Jewish celebration where Jerusalem may have tripled with Jewish pilgrims living outside of the region, thus we could assume that not all the Christian converts were Jerusalem locals.

Secondly, the events in Acts between chapter eight (the persecution) and chapter twenty (James' thousands of converts declaration) did not occur over a period of days, weeks, or even months, but a gap of many years. How do we know? The latter incident with James occurred before the incident where Paul first had a falling out with some of these zealous converts (Acts 15:1-6) where they demanded his followers be circumcised in order to convert to the faith. This is the same incident that Paul records in his Galatians letter (Galatians 2:1-5), where he indicates it had occurred after a period of fourteen years within his ministry. Then he gives us yet another chronological timeline of three more years prior to this incident (Galatians 1:13-18), which also corresponds with the incident in Acts just after his conversion (Acts 9:26) where he first meets Peter and James. Therefore, if we assume Paul wrote his Galatians letter exactly at this seventeen year point (the Galatians letter itself could have been much later), then a span of not less than seventeen years occurred between the persecution in Acts chapter 8 and James' declaration of thousands of Christians in chapter 21.

So, as you can see, most of these arguments are a telltale sign of careless attention to detail and quite frankly borders on amateurism. Though I certainly would expect human error on Luke's part every once in awhile, most of the arguments leveled against him are baseless and yet these are typical of the types of supposed "mistakes" I've seen to support an argument against Lukan authorship.

Evidence that both works were written by Luke, Paul's companion

Luke's authorship is by far the strongest externally attested. The earliest physical evidence (currently at the time of this article) for Luke is p75, a manuscript titled: euangelion kata Loukan (Gospel according to Luke) that dates to the late second/early third century. The name is also attested to in the earliest second century sources such as Muratorian Fragment, Gospel of Marcion, Irenaeus, and Clement II with no other alternative name provided, nor was it ever in dispute.

The author of Acts distinguished his personal involvement by using the first person "we" or "us" when recounting Paul's activities in his narrative (see Acts 16:10-21; 20:5-21:18; 27-28:16). This is always used sporadically, which works against the suggestion of someone trying to fool the reader into thinking he was there instead of ensuring that the reader would not miss it by emphasizing the point consistently, much like apocrypha writers did. Some have even tried to downplay the first person voice as being some literary devise by the author to make Paul's adventures more exciting to his readers. However, this is clearly grasping at unnecessary straws since not only is it questionable if this was even a common device in ancient literary history, but again, the voice is used sporadically.

The author abruptly switches between the first person "we/us" and third person "they/them" during situations when he is presumably not with the group. One instance is when he is present during a particular voyage (16:1-9), but in the proceeding verses (16:10-21) the third person plural drastically shifts to the first person plural in the middle of the voyage, suggesting they picked him up somewhere between Macedonia and Troas; then shifts back to the third person plural (16:22-40) when Paul and Silas are arrested. This occurs once again later on (20:1-16), suggesting they picked him up somewhere mid-voyage.

It's also unusual that Paul's prominent companions in both Acts and Paul's letters, Silas and Timothy, were not the choice picks of authorship instead if there was ever any doubt about the authorship of the two works. Silas is also identified as Peter's scribal secretary (1 Peter 5:12) and Timothy had two Pauline letters dedicated to him. This strongly suggests Lukan authorship was always undeniable, in spite of the fact he is a minor character in comparison. Much firmer evidence is that Paul, a prominent figure in the book of Acts, names Luke as his companion in a few of his letters (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24; 2 Timothy 4:11), yet Luke is not mentioned anywhere in the Acts narrative along with Paul's inner traveling circle that are in fact mentioned, such as Barnabas, Mark, Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius (of Derbe), Tychicus, Trophimus, Silas/Silvanus, or Timothy/Timotheus. It frankly makes no sense at all why Luke is not mentioned since he was clearly an intimate traveling partner mentioned in Paul's letters. The most probable conclusion is that Luke was the author of Acts himself, and thus identified as the "we" and "us" that distinguished him from all the others. 

Despite the nitpicking and technicalities over minor differences, when comparing Paul's letters to the Paul described in Acts, there is unquestionably a connection with both names and events. The links below show the passages from Paul's letters and parallels the book of Acts to show the comparisons -- all the passages are listed vertical on the page, so just scroll down after you click the links to see the comparisons of the two (note that Paul's name was Saul prior to his conversion):

  • Paul was a Pharisee and of the tribe of Benjamin (Paul-Acts).
  • Paul's persecution of Christians (Paul-Acts).
  • Paul's conversion in the midst of his persecution (Paul-Acts).
  • Paul's conversion in the vicinity of Damascus (Paul-Acts).
  • Paul's mission to the Gentiles (Paul-Acts).
  • Paul's narrow escape from Damascus (Paul-Acts).
  • Paul stoned and almost killed (Paul-Acts).
  • Paul's teaching that man is not justified by the Mosaic law (Paul-Acts).
  • Paul beaten with rods (Paul-Acts).
  • Paul's contention with some of the fundamental Judeo-Christians over the issue of circumcision (Paul-Acts).
  • Paul and Barnabas commissioned to preach to the Gentiles (Paul-Acts).
  • Paul's fellowship with Silas (Silvanus) and Timothy (Timotheus) (Paul-Acts).
  • Paul's fellowship with Gaius (Paul-Acts).
  • Paul's fellowship with Tychicus (Paul-Acts).
  • Paul baptizes Crispus at the church of Corinth (Paul-Acts). 
  • Paul's acquaintance with Aquila and Priscilla and their connection with the Corinthian church (Paul-Acts).
  • Paul's acquaintance with Apollos at Corinth (Paul-Acts).


The critic might argue that the author of Acts simply had access to Paul's letters for this information. However, even though we know that Paul's letters were almost certainly circulating as soon as they were delivered and read (see Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:27; 1 Timothy 4:13), this is unlikely. Not only did the author of Acts not specifically mention Paul's letters, or directly reflect any of the teachings from Paul's letters in Paul's many speeches and dialogues in Acts, and though not as much as critics tout, but some of the details of similar accounts between the two slightly vary. The fact that the author of Acts deviated from some of the details found in Paul's letters, which I discussed earlier, further bolsters a uniqueness in the details, such as Paul's conflicting attitude towards circumcision and his relationship with James.

The fact that Acts and Paul don't synchronize in perfect unison at all times is all the more reason to believe that Acts is genuine and was legitimately written by an eyewitness and acquaintance of Paul, both of whom knew about and shared common experiences that they told from different perspectives. However, the critics can't have it both ways. Since the so-called non-synchronization of some of the parallel events is an issue critics use to denounce Lukan authorship that I discussed earlier (discussed here), if we then assume the author of Acts in fact used Paul's letters for his information, the argument that he was not Paul's companion because of his ignorance about Paul obviously cannot be used here.

In other words, this leaves critics in a bit of a quandary that works against them either way. If the author used Paul's letters, then he had all the information he needed about Paul, thus the argument that he was not Paul's companion because of his supposed ignorance of the accounts involving Paul obviously doesn't fly. Therefore, a better explanation of why he deviated from some of the similar accounts needs to be given. If he did not use Paul's letters, the intimate details that do parallel the details in Paul's letters suggest that this was unquestionably an eyewitness to the actual events involving Paul, which would greatly strengthen the fact that this was indeed Luke the companion of Paul that much more.

An explanation to solve this dilemma posed by at least one critic I've read was that the author was actually subverting the content from Paul's letters. This to me is even more of a stretch considering not just the early church's adoration of Paul, including those considered heretics, but the author's own admiration expressed in how he portrayed Paul. The internal evidence for Luke-Acts is really beyond refutation, and it would simply take someone to stubbornly ignore most of the cumulative evidence here in order to continue to deny his authorship. To summarize this two part article as to why accepting the ascribed names is the better of the two options:


  • Attestation as early as the second century to their authorship is unanimous, even among those who were thought of as heretics who edited and redacted scripture for their own purposes, with no disputes or textual variants on or in any of the manuscripts to the contrary.   
  • There is the internal evidence within Luke, by far the strongest of the four in this regard, with John closely following; John unquestionably written by a Jewish contemporary of pre-70 Judea and undoubtedly by someone named John.
  • We have common sense evidence -- the fact that Mark, Luke and Matthew were the least likely apostolic choices of ascription -- Matthew, written by a Jew for Jews, who had a vocation that was quite detestable to Jews -- and the fact they were written anonymously with no necessary signatures within the work to give them authority logically works in favor of apostolic authorship, not the reverse.
  • The fact they were viewed as authoritative by early scattered apocryphal works, which often used them as guidelines or foundational templates, presumably because of their apostolic clout.    

There are just too many holes and unrealistic factors to contend with arguing that the names are wrong on all four works, and to dispute this evidence will require some pretty heady evidence to the contrary. Such contrary evidence just doesn't exist.


Go home 


Source References

1. James H. Charlesworth, The Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls, p.101; 2006. 

2. Martin Hengel, Charles Kingsley Barrett, Conflicts and challenges in early Christianity, p.4; 1999.

3. J. P. Holding, Jesus: God's Wisdom (

4. Charlesworth, Jesus and Archaeology, pp.604-605; 2007.

5. The pool is mentioned in the Copper Scroll from Qumran. John J. Rousseau and Rami Arav, Jesus and His World: An Archaeological and Cultural  Dictionary, pp.156-158; 1995. 

6. Charlesworth, The Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls, pp.103-104. 

7. James M. Arlandson, Archaeology and John’s Gospel.

8. Daniel B. Wallace, The Gospel of John: Introduction, Argument, Outline: The Beloved Disciple (

9. Wallace, ibid.; I. Introduction.

10. Craig S. Hawkins, The Book of Acts and Archaeology (html); 2008 (

11. Richard Bauckham, The Book of Acts in its Palestinian Setting, p.376; 1995.

12. Josephus, Against Apion, book 1, section 1 (

13. Bruce J. Malina, Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, p. 224; 2003.