The Speeches in Acts: Are They Authentic?

by Jonathan McLatchie

Paul in ActsMuch of the book of Acts — about 50% — is comprised of speeches, discourses and letters. Among them, a total of eight speeches are given by Peter; a total of nine speeches delivered by Paul; there is Stephen’s famous address before the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:2-53); a brief address at the Jerusalem Council by James (Acts 15:13-21); the advice given to Paul by James and the Jerusalem elders (Acts 21:20-25); in addition to the letter to the Gentile churches from the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:23-29) and the letter to Governor Felix from Claudius Lysias (Acts 23:27-30).

An interesting question that we can investigate pertains to whether these speeches and other addresses are historically authentic, or whether they instead represent the invention of Luke, the author of Acts. It is this question with which this essay is concerned.

We have indication that Luke himself accompanied Paul for a significant portion of his trip. This is implied by Luke’s use of the pronoun “we”, beginning in Acts 16. This means that Luke was present during Paul’s speech in Athens (Acts 17), his address to the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20), his speech in Jerusalem (Acts 22), and his defence before Felix, Festus and Agrippa (Acts 24-25). Since Luke was a close companion of Paul, it is entirely plausible that Paul gave Luke the wording of his other sermons. He may have even given Luke information pertaining to Stephen’s address to the Sanhedrin, at which Paul was present (Acts 7:58). Luke likely received material from Peter regarding his speeches. James may also have provided material regarding the Jerusalem Council.

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Now, it is clear that these speeches are presented by Luke only in summary form (see Acts 2:40). But the question that concerns us here is whether these speeches are truthfully represented by Luke or whether he falsely attributes those words to the speakers. For the sake of brevity, this article will focus on the speeches of Stephen, Peter and Paul.

Stephen’s speech, given in Acts 7:2-53, makes extensive allusion to the Old Testament Scriptures, drawing out the history of the Jews from Abrahamic times to the time of Solomon’s temple. In all, the book of Acts quotes the Old Testament a total of 40 times. 15 of those quotations appear in Stephen’s speech. This repeated quotation of the Old Testament does not resemble Luke’s literary style, but instead suggests that its origin lies with a theologian of Stephen’s calibre. Moreover, there are at least 23 words that are never to be found in the book of Acts (or for that matter throughout the rest of the New Testament) apart from Stephen’s speech. Stephen’s particular way of talking about the temple and Moses is also not found anywhere except in this speech of Stephen. Further, the words affliction and promise take on a special significance in this particular discourse that does not reflect the way in which these words are used throughout the rest of Acts…

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