Book of Acts and Paul’s Epistles: Match Made in Heaven?

How closely and often do Acts and Paul’s epistles agree? Fifteen tables, plus two bonus tables, in this post, laying out the parallels.

It must be admitted that Luke’s history genre and Paul’s epistolary genre can produce many differences (but no contradictions) or omissions in Acts, but the agreements are remarkable. Let’s look into these tables.

TABLE 1

Adolf von Harnack was not friendly toward Christianity, but even he saw the parallels, in a long list, between Acts and Paul’s epistles.

OVERVIEW OF EVENTS AND RELATIONSHIPS

Unit Event Acts Epistles
1 Jerusalem was headquarters (and not another town) Many verses Gal 2
2 Church in Judea was very early, outside Jerusalem 9:31 1 Thess 2:14; Gal 1:22
3 Church was called “churches” or “church” and therefore united 9:31; 12:1 Ga; 1:13
4 Christians were called saints Many verses Many verses
5 Jewish Christians endured persecution from other Jews Many verses 1 Thess 2:14
6 Jewish Christians held to the law, so Paul was not sure of the Judean Christians’ attitude towards him 15:1; 21:20 Gal 2:12; Rom 15:21
7 Twelve led Jerusalem church 1:13 Gal 1:17; 1 Cor 15:5
8 In addition to twelve, other apostles existed, like Barnabas 14:4, 14 1 Cor 15:7; 9:5, 6
9 Peter and John stood out among twelve 3:1-4; 8:14; 12:17; 21:18; 15:13ff. 1 Cor 15:7; Gal 2:9, 12
10 Peter was the leader 2:37, etc. Gal 1:18; 1 Cor 15:5
11 Peter was commissioned to minister to Jews 10:11 Gal 2:7-8, 11
12 Lord’s brothers formed a group 1:14 1 Cor 9:5
13 James was at head of this group 12:17; 21:18; 25:13 1 Cor 15:7; Gal 2:9, 12
14 Paul and Barnabas were important missionaries 9:27; 12:22ff. 13-15 Gal 2:1ff. 1 Cor 9:6
15 Barnabas was a significant part of earliest Christianity 4:36ff. Gal 2:11
16 Mark was connected closely with Barnabas 13:37-39 Col 4:19
17 Silas and Timothy (subordinate) were Paul’s companions and were involved with him in founding churches in Thessalonica and Corinth 15:40ff.; 16:1 ff. 17:1-9; 18:1-5; 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Cor 1:19
18 Church was large 2:41; 4:2 1 Cor 15:6
19 Baptism was important, but reception of Spirit was very important 8:14ff. 1 Cor 1:14, 17
20 Baptism was in name of Jesus 2:38 (etc.) Rom 6:3; Gal 3:27; 1 Cor 1:13, 17
21 Baptism and forgiveness of sins were connected 2:38 Rom 6:1; Col 2:12;
22 Breaking of bread 2:42, 46; 20:7, 11 1 Cor 10:16; 10:16; 11:17ff. 24
23 Eucharist and breaking bread belong together 27:35 1 Cor 11:23ff.
24 Teaching of apostles is foundational 2:42 1 Cor 15:1-3
25 Fellowship is important 2:42 Gal 2:9; 1 Cor 1:9, 10:16, 20; 2 Cor 2:7; 6:14; 8:4, 23; Phil 1:5; 2:1; 3:10; Phm 17
26 Prayer is important 2:42 Many verses
27 Prophecies about crucifixion and resurrection are extremely important Acts 2-3; 10:41; 13:31 (etc.) 1 Cor 4:17; 15:5-11
28 Signs and wonders 2:43; 3:12ff.; 8:6ff.; 13:3 (Etc.) Rom 15:18; 1 Cor 5:1f.; 2 Cor 12:11
29 Paul says, “I am a Jew” 20:3 Phil 3:5; 2 Cor 11:22
30 I was a zealous Pharisee, outpacing others 26:3 Gal 1:14; Phil 3:5
31 Paul persecuted Christians at first 8:1-3; 9:1 Gal 1:13; 1 Cor 15:9
32 Paul appears as apostle on same level as Peter Gal 2:17ff. 2 Cor 11:23
33 Paul was converted near Damascus by revelation of the Lord 9:1-19 Gal 1:12, 17; 1 Cor 15:8
34 Paul escaped Damascus in basket from wall 9:24-25 2 Cor 11:32
35 Paul went to Jerusalem 9:26-29; 23:11 Rom 15:19
36 Paul appears as missionary who labored the most Many verses 1 Cor 15:10; 2 Cor 11:23
37 Homogenous narrative of Paul’s suffering in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium and Lystra 13-14 2 Tim 3:11
38 Paul established elders in Lycaonia 14:23 1 Thess 5:12
39 Paul proclaims essence of message: righteousness through faith in Christ, not law keeping 13:38 Many places
Adolf Harnack, The Acts of the Apostles. Trans. Rev. Wilkinson. (Williams and Norgate, 1909), 264-72. HT: Keener. Pp. 25-26
Keener sees other parallels (pp. 25-26), as follows.
40 They faced hostility in Thessalonica 17:5-9 1 Thess 1:6-7; 2:14
41 Paul began Corinthian mission before Silas and Timothy arrives 18:1-4 1 Thess 3:1, 6
42 Paul ministered briefly in Athens en route 17:15-34 1 Thess 3:1
43 He earned his living in Corinth 18:3 1 Cor 4:12; 9:6
44 One notable convert in Corinth was Crispus 18:8 1 Cor 1:14
45 Apollos’ Corinthian ministry followed Paul’s and was compatible 18:24-28 1 Cor 1:12

TABLE 2

This table offers the big-picture timeline without too many details.

OVERVIEW OF TIMELINE SEQUENCE

Unit Travels Acts Epistles
1 Persecution Ch. 9 Gal 1:13-14
2 Conversion Ch. 9 Gal 1:15-17a
3 To Nabatean Arabia Gal 1:17b
4 Damascus Ch. 9 Gal 1:17c
5 To Jerusalem Ch. 9 Gal 1:18-19
6 To Syria and Cilicia 11:25 Gal 1:21
7 To Jerusalem after 14 years 15:2-29 Gal 2:1-10
8 Antioch 15:30-35 Gal 2:11
9 To Philippi Ch. 16 1 Thess 2:1-2; Phil 4:15-16
10 To Thessalonica Ch. 17 1 Thess 2:1-7
11 To Athens Ch. 17 1 Thess 3:1-3
12 To Corinth Ch. 18 2 Cor 11:7-9
13 To Ephesus Ch. 19 2 Cor 2:12
14 To Troas 20:6 2 Cor 2:12
15 To Macedonia Ch. 20 2 Cor 9:4
16 To Jerusalem Ch. 21 Rom 15:22-25
17 To Rome Ch. 28 Rom 15:22-25
Ch. = Chapter

Keener, pp. 26-27, who depends on T.H. Campbell “Paul’s Missionary Journeys’ as Reflected in His Letters.” JBL 74 (2, 1955) 81-84, 87; Talbert, Mediterranean Milieu, pp. 202-06.

TABLE 3

Schnabel provides this illuminating table of the timeline of Paul’s missionary activity. Note how the Book of Acts and Paul’s epistles mutually confirm each other.

OVERVIEW OF PAUL’S MISSIONARY TRAVELS

Unit Period Location Scriptures Year
1 Period 1 Damascus Acts 9:19-25; Gal 1:17 AD 32/33
2 Period 2 Arabia / Nabatea Gal 1:17; 2 Cor 11:32 32-33
3 Period 3 Jerusalem Acts 9:26-29; Rom. 1:16 33/34
4 Period 4 Syria / Cilicia, Tarsus Acts 9:30; 11:25-26; Gal 1:21 34-42
5 Period 5 Syria

Antioch

Acts 11:26-30; 13:1 42-44
6 Period 6 Cyprus (Salamis, Paphos) Acts 13:4-12 45
7 Period 7 Galatia (Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe,

Pamphylia (Perge)

Acts 13:14-14:23;

 

14:24-26

45-47

 

47

8 Period 8 Macedonia (Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea) Acts 16:6-17:15 49-50
9 Period 9 Achaia (Athens, Corinth) Acts 17:16-18:28 50-51
10 Period 10 Asia (Ephesus) Acts 19:1-41 52-55
11 Period 11 Illyricum Rom 15:19 56
12 Period 12 Judea (Caesarea) Acts 21:27-26:32 57-59
13 Period 13 Rome Acts 28:17-28 60-62
14 Period 14 Spain 1 Clement 5:5-7 63-64?
15 Period 15 Crete Titus 1:5 64-65?
Schnabel, p. 549. He says that a conservative estimate is that between AD 32-65 Paul traveled at least 15,500 miles (25,000 km). Of that total, 8700 miles (14,000 km) were on foot.

TABLE 4

Luke knows the famous ones (Units 1-8), but he also records the lesser known disciples who also appear in Paul’s epistles.

WELL-KNOWN AND LESSER-KNOWN NAMES IN ACTS AND PAUL’S EPISTLES
Name Acts Epistles
1 Peter Many verses 1 Cor 1:12; 3:22; 9:5
2 John Many verses Gal 2:9
3 James (Lord’s brother) 12:17; 15:13; 21:18 Gal 1:19; 2:9, 12
4 Barnabas Many verses 1 Cor 9:6; Gal 2:1, 9, 13; Col 4:10
5 Silas Many verses 2 Cor 1:19; 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:1;
6 Timothy Many verses Many verses and two epistles
7 Aquila and Priscilla 18:2, 18, 19, 26 Rom 16:3, 19; 2 Tim 4:19
8 Mark 12:12 (etc.) Col 4:10; Phm. 24
9 Aristarchus 19:29; 20:4; 27:2 Col 4:10; Phm 24
10 Tychicus 20:4 Eph 6:21; Col 4:7
11 Sopater 20:4 Rom 16:21
12 Crispus 18:8 1 Cor 1:14
13 Trophimus 20:2; 21:29 Cf. 2 Tim 4:20
HT: Keener, p. 27, but a mysterious absence of Titus

TABLE 5

Paul just had his Damascus Road encounter with the resurrected Jesus, and Paul’s ministry was launched. But religious enemies threatened to kill him, so he escaped in a basket lowered from the city wall (Acts 9:23-25 and 2 Cor 11:33). He went to Jerusalem. It is this trip that he writes about in his epistles.

PAUL’S VISIT TO JERUSALEM IN ACTS 9:26-30,

GALATIANS 1:18-19, AND ROMANS 15:19

Acts 9:26-30 Gal. 1:18-19; Rom 15:19
1 Paul went from Damascus to Jerusalem (25-26) Paul went from Damascus to Jerusalem (Gal. 1:17-18)
2 Paul met the apostles (27) Paul met Cephas and James (Gal. 1:18-19)
3 Paul continued in association with the apostles (28) Paul stayed with Cephas fifteen days (Gal. 1:18)
4 Paul evangelized in Jerusalem, early in his ministry (28-29) Paul evangelized in Jerusalem, early in his ministry (Rom. 15:19), which fits Luke’s generalizing tendency
5 Paul’s stay was apparently relatively brief (29-30) Paul’s stay was brief (Gal. 1:18)
Keener, p. 287, slightly edited.

TABLE 6

The focus is mainly on Galatians 1:17-21 and Acts 9.

PAUL’S MINISTRY IN ACTS 9 AND HIS EPISTLES

Events Acts, esp. chapter 9 Epistles
1 Paul persecuted Christians 7:58; 8:1-3; 9:1-2 Gal 1:15-16; 1 Cor 15:9; Phil 3:6; 1 Tim 3:15
2 Conversion outside Damascus 9:3, 19 Gal 1:17 (implied)
3 Encounters Risen Christ 9:3-6 Gal 1:12; cf. 1:15-16; 1 Cor 15:8
4 In Nabatean Arabia Gal 1:17; 2 Cor 11:32
5 Damascus three years later 9:23 (“Many days later”) Gal 1:17
6 Escapes from Damascus, lowered in basket through hole in wall 9:25 2 Cor 11:32-33
7 In Jerusalem 9:26-29 Gal 1:18-19
8 In Syro-Cilicia 9:30 (Tarsus); 11:26; 13:1 (Syrian Antioch) Gal 1:21
9 Syrian Antioch is Paul’s home base; his ministry accepted on level of Peter’s ministry 11:26; 13:1; 14:26; 15:22-23, 30, 35; 18:22 Cf. Gal 1:21; 2:11 (Paul is well known in Antioch)
10 Outreach to S. Galatia 13:14-14:24 Gal 4:13-14; cf. 1 Cor 16:1, cities in 2 Tim 3:31
11 Judaizers in Antioch 15:1-2 Gal 2:11-14 (implied; events after 2:2-10)
12 Return to Jerusalem (after fourteen years) 15:2 (or 11:30) Gal 2:1
HT: Keener, p. 283; As for Nabatean Arabia, Keener writes: “Luke either does not know about Paul’s Nabatean sojourn or does not deem it sufficiently relevant to his main account to warrant digression” (p. 283).

TABLE 7

TWO VERSES IN PAUL’S DISCOURSE IN PISIDIAN ANTIOCH

IN PAUL’S WRITINGS AND OTHER NT WRITINGS

Acts 13:38-39 Primary Lukan Parallels Parallel’s in Paul’s Writings Other NT Writers
1 Forgiveness of sin through Jesus Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38; 5:31; 10:43; 26:28 Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; cf. Rom. 4:7; 5:9 1 John 2:12; cf. 1:7, 9
2 For everyone who believes Acts 10:43 Rom 1:16; 3:22; 4:11; 10:4, 11; Gal. 3:22; 2 Thess 1:10 John 3:15-16; 6:40; 11:26; 12:46, 48; 17:23; 1 John 5:1
3 Freed or justified (Greek dikaioō) Cf. Luke 18:14 Rom 3:24, 26, 28, 30; 4:3; 5:1; Gal 4:16-17; 3:8, 24; Tit 3:7
4 Not justified by the law Rom 3:20, 28; Gal 2:16; 3:11; 5:4 Contrast, perhaps, James 2:21, 24-25
Keener, p. 343 (slightly edited)

TABLE 8

Can Acts 15 and Galatians 2 be harmonized? Keener reports the majority of commentators say the two accounts can be. He produces this timeline table which lays out the parallels:

ACTS 15, GALATIANS 2, AND JERUSALEM COUNCIL

Commonalities Acts 15:6-22 Gal. 2:1-10
1 Same Goals 15:5 2:4
2 Same Outcome 15:19-21, 28-29 2:5-6
3 Paul’s Mission Is Recognized 15:12 2:2
4 Leaders Agree Gentiles Are Not Required to Be Circumcised 15:19-20 2:7-9
5 Peter Was Involved 15:7-11 2:9
6 James Was Involved 15:13-21 2:9
Keener, p. 261, slightly edited

Further, as to the differences, Keener goes on to say, the issues brought up in Gal. 2:1-10 were not resolved before Acts 15:1-2. Luke and Paul have different and independent perspectives, so of course differences would emerge. When Acts 15 took place, troubles had not reached Galatia (15:23) (p. 361). Why does Paul omit the decree in his letter to the Galatians? He appeals to first principles more influential for the Galatians who were far from Jerusalem. The decree was about table fellowship (15:20, 28-29), rather than Paul’s emphasis on Gentiles joining God’s people (Gal. 3:6-14) (p. 362). It should be noted, however, that the harmonization of Acts 15 and Gal. 2 is still under discussion. But the majority favors the perspective seen in Keener’s table of parallels.

TABLE 9

The section in Acts and Paul’s epistles to the Thessalonians are short.

ACTS 17:1-9, THESSALONICA, AND PAUL’S SECOND MISSIONARY JOURNEY

Events Acts Epistles
1 Paul is humbled in Philippi 16:22-23 1 Thess 2:2
2 Successful but persecuted ministry 17:1-9 Phil 4:15-16; 1 Thess 1:1, 5-6
3 Paul goes to Athens 17:15-34 1 Thess 3:1
4 Paul goes to Achaia with his team 18:1-18, esp. v. 5 2 Cor 1:19; cf. 1 Thess 3:6
Keener, p. 424

TABLE 10

Unfortunately, Riesner does not cite the references, but the number of agreements are still numerous, for such a short section in Acts and a short epistle.

ACTS AND 1 THESSALONIANS

1 The route starting from Philippi
2 Persecution there
3 Silas and timothy are cofounders of church in Thessalonica
4 Connection with the synagogue there
5 Congregation composed largely of Gentile Christianity, to whom Paul proclaims gospel
6 The Messiahship of Jesus
7 Suffering of the Messiah
8 Resurrection of the Messiah
9 Those three points lead to politically motivated accusations against Christians
10 Persecution by Thessalonians
11 Jews also played a role in the accusations
12 Premature breaking off of Paul’s activity
13 Continued journey to Athens
14 Paul’s sojourn there alone
15 Perhaps the issuing of Claudius’s edict against Jews in Rome
Pieces of information appearing only in Acts but four are doubtless accurate for Thessalonica
16 Stations along Via Egnatia, leading to Thessalonica
17 Inscriptionally attested government of Politarchs
18 Correctly conceived legal situation of a free city
19 Special role occupied by Jason in newly founded church
20 The accusation is attested to be an empire-wide insurgency movement
21 Transgression against imperial decrees is historically possible
Riesner, pp. 366-67, edited.

TABLE 11

Paul was kicked out of Thessalonica (or Thessaloniki, to satisfy Greeks today!). But he still made an impact.

PARALLELS BETWEEN 1 THESSALONIANS AND ACTS 17:1-9

1 Thessalonians Acts 17:1-9
1 Church knows Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy (1:1) Luke implies the presence of Silas and Timothy (17:14)
2 Converts turned from idols (1:9) Converts included Gentiles, though many were already God-fearers (17:4)
3 Paul preached eschatology (1:10; cf. 3:13; 4:13-5:11, especially 5:2, possibly including the kingdom (2:12; cf. 2 Thess 2:19) and a royal parousia (3:13; 4:15; 5:23)
4 Paul came to Thessalonica from Philippi, where he suffered shame (2:2) They left Philippi under duress (16:40) and traveling through two towns en route to Thessalonica (17:1)
5 Paul spoke boldly but faced opposition (2:1-2), perhaps accused of being an imposter (2:3-11) They encountered opposition (17:5-9), including false accusations of being political subversive (17:6-7)
6 They were like Judean churches which suffered persecution from Macedonians as Judean churches were persecuted by Judeans (2:14). This began while Paul was with them (2:13-14) The church had to suffer publicly (17:7, 9), though Paul situation was more severe (17:10)
7 Some Jews were hostile to Gentile mission (2:16) Paul faced Jewish opposition (17:5)
8 Satan thwarted their return (2:18); it was safe for Timothy to return, but not Paul (3:1-2) Politarchs decree against Paul made his return dangerous until they left office (17:8-10)
9 Unemployment was a major local problem (4:11-12; 2 Thess. 3:6-12) Unemployed men made a local problem (17:5)
Keener, p. 425

TABLE 12

This table covers most of Paul’s third missionary journey. We can use Acts and his epistles to build an accurate picture. In those two bodies of writings, the main events do not contradict, but mutually confirm.

ACTS 18-20 AND PAUL’S EPISTLES

Date Events Passages
1 Winter 51-52 Paul in Antioch Acts 18:22
2 Apollos in Ephesus Acts 18:23-25
3 Spring / Summer 52 Paul in Galatia and Phrygia Acts 18:22; 19:1; cf. 1 Cor 16:1
4 Apollos in Corinth Acts 18:27; 19:1; 1 Cor 3:6
5 Late Summer 52 Paul arrives in Ephesus Acts 19:1
6 Three-month ministry in synagogue Acts 19:8
7 Conversion [my term: infilling] of disciples of John the Baptist Acts 19:1-7
8 Teaching in hall of Tyrannus for two years Acts 19:9-10
9 Winter 52-53 Consolidation and growth of the church in Ephesus Acts 19:20
10 Mission to other cities in the province of Asia Acts 19:10
11 Spring 53 Epaphras establishes churches in Colossae, Hierapolis, Laodicea Col. 1:7; 4:12
12 Summer 53 Apollos from Corinth to Ephesus 1 Cor 16:12
13 Paul writes “Previous Letter” to Corinth 1 Cor 5:9
14 Spring 54 Chloe’s people from Corinth to Ephesus 1 Cor 1:11
15 Timothy from Ephesus to Corinth 1 Cor 4:17
16 Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus from Corinth to Ephesus with letter 1 Cor 16:17; 7:1
17 Paul writes 1 Corinthians, plans to stay in Ephesus 1 Cor 16:8

 

18 Until Pentecost (2 June), then goes to Macedonia and Corinth and Jerusalem 1 Cor 16:3, 5-6; Acts 19:21
19 Early Summer 54 Timothy returns from Corinth to Ephesus, Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia Acts 19:22
20 Summer 54 Paul’s second visit to Corinth, returns to Ephesus 2 Cor 13:2
21 Titus to Corinth with “Severe Letter” 2 Cor 2:4, 13
22 Riot in Ephesus caused by the guild of the silversmiths Acts 19:23-41
23 Paul suffers afflictions in the Province of Asia 2 Cor 1:8
24 Spring 55 Paul to Troas 2 Cor 2:12
25 Paul to Macedonia Acts 20:1; 2 Cor 2:13
Schnabel, pp. 793-93, edited

TABLE 13

This is mostly about Acts 18. Paul remained in Corinth for a long time.

PAUL’S MINISTRY IN CORINTH

People and Events Acts Epistles
1 Aquila and Priscilla are married ministry team 18:2, 26 Rom 16:3
2 The couple use their home for God’s work 18:3 Rom 16:5
3 They have connections with Rome and are known in Corinth 18:2 Rom. 16:3; 1 Cor 16:19
4 Paul supports himself by a trade in Corinth 18:3 1 Cor 4:12; 9:6
5 Conversion and baptism of Crispus 18:8 1 Cor 1:14
6 Participation of Timothy 18:5 1 Cor 4:17; 16:10-11; 2 Cor 1:19
7 Participation of Silas 18:5 2 Cor 1:19
8 Paul begins Corinthian mission before Silas and Timothy arrive 18:1-4 1 Thess 3:1, 6
9 Their arrival apparently supplied Paul’s financial needs 18:5 2 Cor 11:9; Phil. 4:15
10 Paul ministered briefly in Athens en route 17:15-34 1 Thess 3:1
11 Both sources might mention the same Sosthenes 18:17 1 Cor 1:1
12 Corinthian congregation probably included Jews [I insert: 18:45 says he preached in synagogue week after week] 1 Cor 1:22-24; 9:20; 10:32; 12:13; 2 Cor 11:22
13 Later, Apollos follows 18:24-28 1 Cor 1:12; 4:15;
14 Apollos belongs to same circle 18:26-27 1 Cor 16:12
15 Afterwards Paul visits Ephesus at length 18:19; 19:8-10 1 Cor 15:32
Keener, p. 450, edited

TABLE 14

We can build an accurate timeline from both Acts and the epistles. The data points do not contradict, but mutually confirm.

PAUL’S TRAVELS IN ACTS 18-25 AND HIS EPISTLES

Paul’s Letters Acts
1 Paul taught the “Galatians” about the collection (1 Cor 16:1) Paul strengthened “the disciples” throughout Galatia and Phrygia (18:23)
2 Paul’s ministry in Ephesus (1 Cor 16:8) Paul’s ministry in Ephesus (19:1-20)
3 Many events while Paul is in Ephesus (1 Cor 1:11; 7:1; 16:8, 17; probably Paul’s second visit to Corinth in 2 Cor 2:3; 12:14; 13:2) including both fruit and hostility (1 Cor 15:31032; 16:8-9; 2 Cor 1:8-9) Paul’s stay in Ephesus lasted over two years (19:8, 10; 20:31), spreading the gospel (19:10-20) and experiencing opposition (20:19; Cf. 19:23-20:1)
4 Apollos is a strong preacher in Corinth and associated with Paul in Ephesus (1 Cor 16:12) Apollos is associated with Ephesus and preached also in Corinth (18:24-28)
5 Paul plans to visit:

a.. Macedonia (1 Cor 16:5)

b.. Then Achaia (1 Cor 16:5-6; cf. 4:18-21)

c. Judea (Rom 15:25; 2 Cor 1:16)

d.. And finally Rome (Rom 1:11-13; 15:23-25; cf. 2 Cor 10:16)

Paul plans to visit:

a.. Macedonia

b.. Achaia

c.. Judea

d.. Rome

In that sequence (19:21)

6 While in Ephesus (1 Cor 16:8 Paul sends Timothy ahead of himself (1 Cor 4:17; 16:10); Timothy is later with Paul in Corinth (Rom 16:21) While in Ephesus, Paul sends Timothy and a companion into Macedonia (19:21); Timothy is next mentioned leaving Corinth (or just possibly Macedonia) with Paul (20:3-4)
7 Paul visits Macedonia (2 Cor 2:13; 7:5-7; cf. 1 Cor 16:5) Paul visits Macedonia (20:1-2)
8 Despite his delay (2 Cor 1:16-17; 2:1), he plans to visit Corinth (2 Cor 13:1), with traveling companions from other cities (2 Cor 9:4) Paul visits Achaia (20:2-3) and soon afterwards travels with companion from various cities (20:4)
9 Paul finished his collection in Macedonia and Achaia (Rom. 15:26) and writes Romans from Corinth (16:1) Paul in Achaia for three months (20:2-3)
10 After leaving Macedonia and Achaia (Rom 15:26), Paul presumably carried through his plan to visit Jerusalem (Rom 15:25) Paul in Jerusalem (21:17)
11 Jerusalem might prove dangerous (Rom 15:31); on the majority of view, Paul’s next letters (e.g. Philippians) are from Roman captivity Paul is arrested in Jerusalem and detained by Rome’s agents (22:24-23:30)
12 Paul apparently ends up in Rome, though not necessarily by the means he had planned (Phil 4:22; cf. Rom 15:23-24) Paul uses his Roman citizenship to get his case transferred to Rome (25:10-12)
Keener: “Although Luke summarizes and often focuses independently on different events, where his itineraries overlap with Paul’s, they agree” (p. 494).

“Luke, who all but skips the collection (24:17), has little reason to emphasize a trip to Macedonia and Achaia (20:1-2), the focal point of which was the collection (Rom 15:26; 1 Cor 16:1-5; cf. 2 Cor 9-9). Luke surveys a span of several months in two verses (20:2-3)” (p. 495). Keener, pp. 494-95 (table, slightly edited)

TABLE 15

Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders is remarkable. Here is my own table of the parallels between his discourse and his epistles.

KEY TERMS, CONCEPTS AND PRACTICES IN PAUL’S SPEECH

IN ACTS 20:17-38 AND HIS EPISTLES

Acts 20:17-38 Epistles
1 Serve as slave (19) Serve as slaves (Rom. 12:11; 14:18; 16:18; Col. 3:24; 1 Thess. 1:9; 1 Tim. 6:2)
2 Repentance (21) Repentance (Rom. 2:4; 2 Tim. 2:25; 2 Cor. 12:21)
3 Faith in Jesus (21) Faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:22, 26; Gal. 2:16, 20; 3:26; Eph. 1:15; Phil. 3:9; Col. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:13; Phm. 5)
4 Ministry received from Lord Jesus (24) Ministry from God (Rom. 11:13; 2 Cor. 4:1; 5:18; 1 Tim. 1:12)
5 Grace of God (24, 32) Grace (Rom. 4:16; 5:21; 2 Cor. 4:15; 9:14 Gal. 2:21; 3:18 and so on)
6 Gospel (24) Gospel (Rom. 1:1, 9, 16; 15:16, 19; 2 Cor. 2:12; 9:13; Eph. 1:13; and so on)
7 Kingdom of God (25) Kingdom (Rom. 14:17; 1 Cor. 4:20; 6:9-10; 15:24, 50; Eph. 2:2; 5:5; Col. 1:12, 13; 4:11; 1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 1:5; 2 Tim. 4:1, 18
8 Counsel of God (27) Counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11)
9 Overseers appointed (28) Overseers (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:7)
10 Obtained (purchased, redeemed) church (28) Purchased, redemption of people (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23; Gal. 3:13; 4:5 (the verb differs by the idea is the same); Eph. 1:14
11 Church is ekklēsia (28) Church is ekklēsia (Rom. 16:1, 4, 5, 16, 23; Eph. 1:22; 3:10, 21 (and so on)
12 Blood sacrifice of God / Christ (28) Blood sacrifice of Christ (Rom. 3:25; 5:9; Eph. 1:7; 2:13; Col. 1:20)
13 Warning (31) Warning (Rom. 15:14; 1 Cor. 4:14; Col. 1:28, 3:16, 1 Thess. 5:12, 14; 2 Thess. 3:15; Tit. 1:11.)
14 Build up, edify (32) Build up, edify (Rom. 14:19; 15:2, 20; 1 Cor. 3:9; 8:1, 10; 10:23; 14:3, 4, 5, 17; 2 Cor. 5:1; Gal. 2:18; 1 Thess. 5:11)
15 Inheritance (32) Inheritance, inherit (Rom. 4:13, 14; 8:17; Gal. 3:18, 29; 4:1, 7; Eph. 1:14, 18; 5:5; Col. 3:24; Tit. 3:7)
16 Sanctify (32) Sanctify (Rom. 15:6; 1 Cor. 1:2; 1:30; 6:11; 7:14; Eph. 5:26; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Tim. 4:5; 2 Tim. 2:21)
17 He did not covet gold or silver or clothing He did not use ministry as a mask for greed (1 Thess 2:5 1 Tim 3:3, 8; Titus 1:7, 11).
18 Worked with his own hands (34) Work with his / your hands (1 Cor. 4:12; 9:12; 2 Cor 11:7; 12:13; Eph. 4:28; 1 Thess. 2:9; 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:7-8)
19 Remember the weak and poor (35) Help the week and poor: (Rom. 15:1; 1 Thess. 5:14; Eph. 4:28; Gal. 6:2)
Paul delivered this speech in a pastoral setting, not as legal defense nor a polemical speech in an unconverted and sometimes hostile environment. Luke heard it, and it sounds like Paul in his epistles, so Luke was accurate.

TOTAL NUMBER OF UNITS

222

BONUS TABLES

TABLE 1

This table shows the similarities between Matthew and Acts, on the topic of Judas and his betrayal:

JUDAS’S BETRAYAL IN MATTHEW AND ACTS

Matthew 27:5-8 Acts 1:18-19
1 Judas as the betrayer Judas as the betrayer
2 Judas’s wages were used (by others) to buy a field (27:6-7) Judas acquired a field as the “wage” of his injustice (1:18)
3 Judas died in an awful manner (27:5) Judas died in an awful manner (1:18)
4 (Apparently the story remained widespread; (27:8) Judas’s sorry end became widely known (1:19)
5 The occasion prompted naming the field “Field of Blood” (27:8) This occasion prompted naming the field “Field of Blood (1:19)
6 The land became an impure burial plot (27:7) The land became desolate, no longer suited for habitation (1:20)
Keener, p. 118

We don’t need to obsess over the tiny differences such that our faith snaps in two because it is so brittle. We know the gist or essence of the story, as seen in the table. Let’s celebrate the similarities.

For an account of the differences and their harmonization, go to Acts 1

Acts 1

And scroll down to vv. 16-20. There are no insurmountable obstacles.

TABLE 2

Here is a table explaining Paul’s conversion, his five visits to Jerusalem, and his death in Rome, collating the best of scholarship.

YEARS OF PAUL’S CONVERSION, VISITS TO JERUSALEM,

SECOND MISSIONARY JOURNEY, AND DEATH

Arr

1988

Hub

1989

Beck

1989

Bru

1990

Kist

1990

Dass

1991

Saf

1991

Bas

1991

Lég

1991

Car

1992

1 Conv 33 34 32 22 35 32/33 36 34 34 34/35
2 J I 36 37 34/35 35 37 35 38 37 37 37
3 J II 44/45 46 46 40/41 45/47
4 J III 49 51 48/49 49 49 48/49 49 51 52 48/49
5 M II 49/52 46/51 49/51 49/52 49/52 49/51 49/51 52 49/51
6 J IV 52 52 52 52
7 J V 58 57 57/58 57 57 55 58 55 58 57
8 Death 62 62 65 67/68 60 67/68 65/67 64/65
Key:

Conv = Conversion

J I = First Jerusalem Visit;

J II = Second Jerusalem Visit

J III = Third Jerusalem Visit

M II = Second Missionary Journey

J IV = Fourth Jerusalem Visit

J V = Fifth Jerusalem Visit

F. L. Arrington’s Commentary on Acts;

M. A. Hubaut’s book on Paul;

J. Becker’s book on Paul;

Bruce’s Commentary on Acts;

S. J. Kistemaker’s commentary on Acts;

E. Dassmann’s history of early Christianity;

H. D. Saffrey’s book on Paul;

M. F. Baselz’s book on Paul;

S. Légasse’s book on Paul;

D. A. Carson, D. Moo, and L. Morris’s Introduction to the New Testament.

Source: Riesner, p. 27

SUMMARY

Yes, there are differences, not noted here in this post. In my translation and commentary on Acts, I have come to nickname Luke the “Omitter” or “Condenser.” He omits many small data points because, apparently, he wants the reader to fill in the gaps. Example: in Paul’s (and Barnabas’s) first missionary journey, Luke does not record one water baptism. He assumes, evidently, his reader would know that water baptisms took place because this was standard practice. Also, where is Titus in Acts, while he appears in Paul’s epistles and Paul even wrote to him in an epistle named after him?

However, these differences or omissions do not add up to contradictions. How can the absence of a data point contradict an actual data point? How can silence contradict speech?

To wrap up, let’s allow two prominent historians of the classical world (ancient Greece and Rome) to offer their verdict on Luke’s reliability and standing among ancient historians.

Rainer Riesner (p. 326) quotes from two prominent German historians, who were not always friendly towards the NT and its production.

Theodor Mommsen was considered the greatest classical scholar of the nineteenth century. He writes:

“The numerous small features—features not really necessary for the actual course of action, and yet which fit so well there—are internal witnesses of his [Luke’s] reliability.”

Next, the late great classical historian and NT scholar F. F. Bruce, in his commentary on Acts (1990, p. 27), calls Eduard Meyer the “greatest” twentieth-century historian of the classical world. Meyer acknowledges that in classical histories, contemporaneous eyewitnesses were rare. He contrasts this rarity with early Christianity:

For Christianity, however, we have … the completely inestimable advantage—one hardly otherwise available in the case of great spiritual movements—of having access to a portrayal of the beginning stages of its development directly from the pen of one of its coparticipants. That alone ensures for the author an eminent place among the significant historians of world history.

Bruce goes on to say (p. 32) that other historians sometimes rely on the Book of Acts for some data points because it is the only source of information for the Greek East during this time in the Roman empire.

In short, the Book of Acts can be compared with other writings at the time, particularly Paul’s epistles, and they very closely and very often agree and are mutually confirmative. Luke was a reliable historian.

RELATED

The Historical Reliability of the Book of Acts

SOURCES

Bruce, F. F. Acts. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1988. (I also use his earlier work Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Commentary, Eerdmans, 1951, 1952, 1990, 3rd ed.).

Keener, Craig, S. Acts. New Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge UP, 2020.

Riesner, Rainer. Paul’s Early Period: Chronology, Mission Strategy, Theology. Trans. Douglas Stott, Eerdmans, 1998.

Schnabel, Eckhard, J. Acts. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2012.

 

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