Dennis E. Smith, Chair

From The Fourth R
Volume 24-2
March-April 2011

The Acts Seminar has now come to the end of its decade-long period of research. Our charge was to do for the Acts of the Apostles what the Jesus Seminar did for the Jesus tradition, namely to go through the document with a fine-toothed comb and separate the historical from the non-historical. Because Acts has long been read as the default historical account of Christian beginnings, a great deal was at stake.

In the beginning the seminar tended to share the conventional views of Acts in current scholarship, but after a couple of years we began to rethink completely our methodology based on new research by seminar members, most notably that of Richard Pervo, Joseph Tyson, and William O. Walker. In contrast to the scholarly consensus that Acts was written ca. 80ce and the author knew nothing of Paul’s letters, we became convinced that Acts was written ca. 115 and used Paul’s letters as a source.

This perspective revolutionized our study of Acts as history. No longer could it be assumed that the author had resources contemporary with the time of Paul or that the author’s reliability was proven by how well his story coordinated with that of Paul. As a result, much of the content of Acts, including some of the church’s all-time favorite stories, was shown to lack historical credibility. On the other hand, Acts emerged as a significant historical resource for early second-century Christianity, a perspective that has now begun to generate a great deal of new scholarship.

The presentations of the Acts Seminar at the spring 2011 meeting in Salem will be our last. In session one (Apr 2nd, 1:30–3 pm) papers by Dennis MacDonald and Milton Moreland will explore further what Acts tells us about second- century Christianity. In session two (3:30–5 pm), L. Michael White will assess the work of the Acts Seminar.

The final report of our findings, tentatively entitled Acts and Christian Beginnings: The Acts Seminar Report, edited by Joseph B. Tyson and Dennis E. Smith, is now in preparation and will be published by Polebridge Press.

Publisher's Note, September 2013: Acts and Christian Beginnings: The Acts Seminar Report is now available from Polebridge Press.