The Evangelist Luke: A Bibliography on the “We” in Acts
There are a few bibliographies about the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts available online. Several of these sources include discussion of the “we” in Acts. I would like to add some more sources not included in the bibliographies above and I will continue to expand this bibliography as I come across other English sources on the “we” in Acts:
- Campbell, William Sanger. The ‘We’ Passages in the Acts of the Apostles: The Narrator as Narrative Character. SBL 14. Atlanta: SBL, 2007.
- Campbell, William Sanger. “The Narrator as ‘He,’ ‘Me,’ and ‘We’: Grammatical Person in Ancient Histories and in the Acts of the Apostles.” Journal of Biblical Literature 129.2 (2010): 387-407.
- Campbell, Douglas A. Paul: An Apostle’s Journey. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018.
- Ehrman, Bart D. Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
- Jewett, Robert. A Chronology of Paul’s Life. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979.
- Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. 4 Volumes. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015.
- Pervo, Richard I. Acts. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2009.
- Porter, Stanley. “The ‘We’ Passages.” In The Book of Acts in its Greco-Roman Setting. D.W.J. Gill and C.H. Gemph, ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994) 545-574.
- Rothschild, Clare K. Luke-Acts and the Rhetoric of History: An Investigation of Early Christian Historiography. WUNT 2.175. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004.
- Robbins, Vernon. “By Land and By Sea: The We-Passages and Ancient Sea Voyages.” In Perspectives on Luke-Acts. C. H. Talbert, ed. Perspectives in Religious Studies, Special Studies Series, No. 5. Macon, Ga: Mercer Univ. Press and Edinburgh: T.& T. Clark, 1978: 215-242.
- Schmidt, Darryl. “Syntactical Style in the ‘We’-Sections of Acts: How Lukan is it?” SBLSB 28 (1989): 300-308.
- Sterling, Gregory E. Historiography and Self-Definition: Josephos, Luke-Acts and Apologetic Historiography. NovTSup 64. Leiden: Brill, 1992.
- Strelan, Rick. Luke the Priest: the Authority of the Author of the Third Gospel. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008.
- Vielhauer, P. “On the ‘Paulinism’ of Acts.” In L.E. Keck and J. L. Martyn, eds., Studies in Luke-Acts (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), 33-50.
The Evangelist Luke: An Introduction to the Theories on the “We” in Acts
In my reading of the scholarly literature, there are four major theories that attempt to account for the “we” passages in the book of Acts, but let me know if there are other options that I have not considered.
- The instances where the “we” appears in the latter half of Acts signal that the author was an eyewitness and firsthand participant in the events that were narrated. The arguments in favour of Lukan authorship, as noted by Irenaeus, are that 2 Timothy 4:11 claims that only Luke remained with Paul when he was imprisoned in Rome and Luke is not named in the book of Acts in keeping with the anonymity of the book. However, it is also possible that the book was written by another co-worker of Paul.
- The presence of the “we” in Acts was a residue on the author’s use of an earlier source or a travel diary from one of Paul’s co-workers. Since the “we” sections seems consistent with the literary style of the rest of the narrative, it may seem surprising that the author would not just change the first-person in the source to the third-person when editing it, but perhaps the author retained the “we” to signal the use of an eyewitness source. There is debate about the extent to which this hypothetical source can be reconstructed.
- The inclusion of the “we” in Acts reflects some sort of dramatic literary device. Vernon Robbins has put forward the argument that the first-person plural was conventional in narratives of ancient sea voyages here. Alternatively, the narrator becomes a character in the story through the use of “we” or the “we” puts the reader in the middle of the dramatic action.
- The book of Acts uses the “we” to advance a “pseudonymous” or a fictional claim that it was written by an eyewitness of Paul’s missionary activities and thus provides verisimilitude for the events that were recorded.
The Evangelist Luke: Every Verse where the “We” Appears in Acts
Usually, the book of Acts is narrated in the third-person (i.e. he, she, it, his, him, its, they, their) by an omniscient narrator who knows the motivations of all of the different characters. However, at select points in the narrative, we find the use of the first-person plural pronoun (we, us, our). Here are all of the verses where the narrator switches from the third-person to the first-person:
- Acts 16:10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17
- Acts 20:5, 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15
- Acts 21:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18
- Acts 27:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 15, 16, 18, 20, 27, 29, 37
- Acts 28:1, 2, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16
The Evangelist Luke: The Book of Acts as the Sequel to Luke’s Gospel
In order to understand why scholars turn to the use of the first-person pronoun “we” in the Acts of the Apostles to determine the authorship of the Gospel of Luke, you have to realize that the former is the sequel to the latter. For instance, compare the prologues to both books:
“Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” (Luke 1:1-4 NRSV)
“In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.” (Acts 1:1-2 NRSV)
In addition to these prologues, there are solid grammatical, stylistic, and theological reasons to argue for the common authorship of these two New Testament books. I am not sure that there are any biblical scholars who deny this, though I am willing to be corrected on the matter (note: I have added one book below that does challenge the common authorship). There is some debate about whether the evangelist intentionally planned to write a two-volume work from the beginning or whether some time had passed before the evangelist got around to writing a sequel for the Gospel of Luke. There is also some debate over whether or not the author of the canonical texts of Luke and Acts had revised an earlier proto-Luke. This latter debate is tied in with the debate over the identification of Marcion’s Gospel and whether it represents either a later edited version of the canonical Gospel of Luke, or an alternate or even earlier version of Luke’s text, since Marcion was frequently charged with corrupted the text of Luke (e.g., Tertullian, Against Marcion). But this is a discussion for another day. The point here is that whoever wrote the canonical book of Acts also wrote the canonical Gospel of Luke.
Sources on the Unity of Luke-Acts
Bird, Michael F. “The Unity of Luke-Acts in Recent Discussion.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 29.4 (2007): 425-447.
Gregory, Andrew F. and Rowe, C. Kavin, editors. Rethinking the Unity and Reception of Luke and Acts. Columbia, SC: The University of South Carolina Press, 2010.
Parsons, Mikeal. “Reading Acts as a Sequel to the Fourfold Gospel.” Christian Reflection (2015): 19-26.
Parsons, Mikeal and Pervo, Richard. Rethinking the Unity of Luke and Acts (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993.
Tannehill, Robert C. The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation. Vol. l: The Gospel According to Luke. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986.
Verheyden, Josef. “The Unity of Luke-Acts.” HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 55.4 (1999): 964-979.
Sources on the Relationship of Canonical Luke-Acts and Marcion’s Gospel
BeDuhn, Jason. The First New Testament: Marcion’s Scriptural Canon. Oregon: Polebridge, 2013.
Hays, C. M. “Marcion vs. Luke: A Response to the Plädoyer of Matthias Klinghardt.” Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 99 (2008): 213-232.
Hoffman, R. Joseph. Marcion: On the Restitution of Christianity: An Essay on the Development of Radical Paulinist Theology in the Second Century. Chicago: Scholars Press, 1984.
Klinghardt, Matthias. “Markion vs. Lukas: Plädoyer für die Wiederaufnahme eines alten Falles” New Testament Studies 52 (2006): 484-513.
Klinghardt, Matthias. “The Marcionite Gospel and the Synoptic Problem: A New Suggestion”, Novum Testamentum 50 (2008): 1-27.
Lieu, Judith. “Marcion and the Synoptic Problem” in New Studies in the Synoptic Problem. Edited by P. Foster, A. Gregory, J. S. Kloppenborg, J. Verheyden. BETL 279; Leuven: Peeters, 2011, 731-51.
Lieu, Judith. Marcion and the Making of a Heretic: God and Scripture in the Second Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015)
Knox, John. Marcion and the New Testament. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942.
Moll, Sebastian. The Arch-Heretic Marcion. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010.
Roth, Dieter T. The Text of Marcion’s Gospel. Leiden: Brill, 2015.
Vincent, Markus. Christ’s Resurrection in Early Christianity and the Making of the New Testament. Farnham: Ashgate, 2011.
Vincent, Markus. Marcion and the Dating of the Synoptic Gospels. Studia Patristica Supplement 2, Louven: Peters, 2014.
Von Harnack, Adolf. Marcion: The Gospel of the Alien God. Durham: Labyrinth, 1989.
Challenging the Common Authorship of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts
Walters, Patricia. The Assumed Authorial Unity of Luke and Acts: A Reassessment of the Evidence. SNTSMS 145. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
The Evangelist Luke: Irenaeus’s Explanation of the “We” in Acts
Why does the first-person pronoun “we” appear in select instances in the latter half of the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles. Here is the explanation of Irenaeus, the late second-century bishop of Lyon, in his famous treatise On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-called Knowledge or Against Heresies 3.14.1:
“But that this Luke was inseparable from Paul, and his fellow-labourer in the Gospel, he himself clearly evinces, not as a matter of boasting, but as bound to do so by the truth itself. For he says that when Barnabas, and John who was called Mark, had parted company from Paul, and sailed to Cyprus,we came to Troasand when Paul had beheld in a dream a man of Macedonia, saying,Come into Macedonia, Paul, and help us,immediately,he says,we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, understanding that the Lord had called us to preach the Gospel unto them. Therefore, sailing from Troas, we directed our ship’s course towards Samothracia.And then he carefully indicates all the rest of their journey as far as Philippi, and how they delivered their first address:for, sitting down,he says,we spoke unto the women who had assembled andcertain believed, even a great many. And again does he say,But we sailed from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came to Troas, where we abode seven days.And all the remaining [details] of his course with Paul he recounts, indicating with all diligence both places, and cities, and number of days, until they went up to Jerusalem; and what befell Paul there, how he was sent to Rome in bonds; the name of the centurion who took him in charge and the signs of the ships, and how they made shipwreck and the island upon which they escaped, and how they received kindness there, Paul healing the chief man of that island; and how they sailed from thence to Puteoli, and from that arrived at Rome and for what period they sojourned at Rome. As Luke was present at all these occurrences, he carefully noted them down in writing, so that he cannot be convicted of falsehood or boastfulness, because all these [particulars] proved both that he was senior to all those who now teach otherwise, and that he was not ignorant of the truth. That he was not merely a follower, but also a fellow-labourer of the apostles, but especially of Paul, Paul has himself declared also in the Epistles, saying:Demas has forsaken me, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Fromthis he shows that he was always attached to and inseparable from him. And again he says, in the Epistle to the Colossians:Luke, the beloved physician, greets you.But surely if Luke, who always preached in company with Paul, and is called by himthe beloved,and with him performed the work of an evangelist, and was entrusted to hand down to us a Gospel, learned nothing different from him (Paul), as has been pointed out from his words, how can these men, who were never attached to Paul, boast that they have learned hidden and unspeakable mysteries?” 
 Translated by Alexander Roberts and William Rambaut. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103.htm>. I have removed the insertions of the biblical references.
The Evangelist Luke: The Ancient Traditions about Luke
These are the New Testament references to Luke in the NRSV translation:
“Epaphras, my fellow prisoner, in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.” (Philemon 1:23-24)
“Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas greet you.” (Colossians 4:14) [note that Luke is not included among the circumcised co-workers of Paul in Colossians 4:10-11]
“Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:11) [note that Paul is described as completed deserted by his co-workers while he was imprisoned in Rome with the exception of Timothy]
We also have a much fuller biography, or more probably hagiography, about Saint Luke in the so-called Anti-Marcionite and Monarchian prologues. Check out Ben C. Smith’s reproduction of the Latin prologues (though the Anti-Marcionite prologue to Luke has a Greek original) at his website Text Excavation. What is interesting is that the prologues describe Luke as a Syrian, more specifically an Antiochene, who lived a celibate life for 84 or 74 years before he died in either Thebes or Bithynia.
The Evangelist Luke: A New Series
I am interested in the authorial traditions about the four Gospels. I have published on the church traditions about Mark, the interpreter of Peter, and John, the beloved disciple who was buried in Ephesus; I am currently working on the traditions about Matthew the toll-collector. This leaves the evangelist Luke, the physician and co-worker of Paul. A significance piece of evidence in favour of Lukan authorship of both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts is the presence of the first-person pronoun “we” in select verses in the latter work. Did the author travel around with Paul for the scenes where the “we” appears? My plan is to look at the evidence for and against the Lukan authorship of the third canonical Gospel in more detail.
My Article for Novum Testamentum on John 18:15-16
The latest edition of Novum Testamentum has been published and it features the article I co-wrote with Robert J. Myles at Murdoch University. The article is “On the Implausibility of Identifying the Disciple in John 18:15-16 as a Galilean Fisherman” Novum Testamentum 61.4 (2019): 367-385. Here is the abstract:
John 18:15-16 mentions an unknown disciple of Jesus who “was known to the high priest” giving him access to the events in Caiaphas’s courtyard. A minority of scholars maintain the identity of this disciple is consistent with John, the son of Zebedee, whom they also maintain was the author of the Fourth Gospel. To support this position, the commonplace fiction of Galilean fishermen belonging to an aspiring “middle-class” is asserted. This article reviews the arguments and suggests that a more robust representation of class stratification in the ancient world demonstrates the implausibility of such a scenario.
For other resources that are available online about the Galilean fishing economy, regardless of whether they agree or disagree with our perspective, check out the following links:
- Batten, Alicia J. “Fishing Economy in the Sea of Galilee.” Bible Odyssey
- Hanson, K. C. “The Galilean Fishing Economy and the Jesus Tradition.” Biblical Theology Bulletin 27 (1997): 99-111.
- Garza-DiazB, Andrea. “The Archaeological Excavations at Magdala.” Ancient History Encyclopedia.
- Hakola, Raimo. “The Production and Trade of Fish as Source of Economic Growth in the First Century CE Galilee : Galilean Economy Reexamined.” Novum Testamentum 59.2 (2017): 111-130.
- Kloppenborg, John S. “Jesus, Fishermen and Tax Collectors: Papyrology and the Construction of the Ancient Economy of Roman Palestine.” Ephemerides theologicae lovanienses 94.4 (2018): 571-599.
- Myles, Robert J. “Fishing for Entrepreneurs in the Sea of Galilee? Unmasking Neoliberal Ideology in Biblical Interpretation.” Bible & Interpretation. See also the pre-publication version of our article on his academia.edu page.
- Zapata-Meza, Marcela. “The Fishy Secret to Ancient Magdala’s Economic Growth.” Bible History Daily.
- See also Ben Witherington III’s interviews with Richard Bauckham on his edited volume Magdala of Galilee: A Jewish City in the Hellenistic and Roman Period here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.