Report on the Acts Seminar

Dennis E. Smith, Chair

From The Fourth R
Volume 20-1
January-February 2007

The Acts Seminar has approached Acts from a number of perspectives—in terms of its sources, its date, its historical context, its genre, and its theological and rhetorical tendencies. In his paper for the October 2006 meeting, Joseph B. Tyson made a case for Acts as a myth of Christian origins, as a story written to present an idealized account of Christian beginnings, not a historical account. As myth, it should not be confused with history, and there- fore should no longer be read as a historical source for earliest Christianity as many scholars are still wont to do. The Fellows agreed with this argument and so voted red on ballot items 1 and 2.

Of course, as Tyson noted, mythological accounts can also contain some history; the problem is how to identify it. Here Tyson raised four caveats, all of which were affirmed by the votes of the fellows:

  1. Acts is a secondary source for the story it tells and should no longer be treated as if it is a primary source (see the red vote on item 3).
  2. Acts must be interpreted in terms of its historical context (see the red vote on item 4).
  3. Since the historical context of Acts is the early second century, Acts may be considered a primary historical source for that period of Christianity rather than for first-century Christianity (see the red vote on item 8).
  4. Historical data in Acts can only derive from ancient traditions that can be established as having been used by Acts and from which data can be extracted that can be clearly identified, established as reliable, and definable as historical (see the red vote on item 7 and the pink votes on items 5 and 6).

As the Acts Seminar continues its work, it will be guided by the perspective laid out by Tyson and confirmed by the Fellows.

Explanation of colors used in voting

  • R true
  • P probably true
  • G probably not true
  • B not true

Acts Fall 06 Ballot 6