The Seminar on Acts of the Apostles sat for ten years until 2011, examining the Acts of the Apostles. What were its main findings and how were they arrived at?
The Acts Seminar was one of several seminars set up by The Westar Institute as "large-scale, collaborative research projects" on various topics in early Christian history. Fellows attending and voting at the Seminars are academics in theology, Bible studies and cognate fields. The voting system was based on traditional scholarly practice, whereby each member of the Seminar assigned a colour to his or her response to a question after full discussion, as described by the institute's Wikipedia page:
- RED: This information is virtually certain; it is supported by a preponderance of the evidence and is accepted as historical.
- PINK: This information is not certain but is probably reliable; it fits well with evidence that is verifiable and so is regarded as borderline historical.
- GRAY: This information is possible but unreliable; it is not a clear fabrication but lacks supporting evidence and so is regarded as dubious.
- BLACK: This information is improbable; it does not fit verifiable evidence or seems to be a fabrication and is regarded as nonhistorical.
As described by the Seminar summary report, the goal was to go through the canonical Acts of the Apostles from beginning to end and evaluate it for historical accuracy. The Seminar announced that its principal findings were:
- The use of Acts as a source for history has long needed critical reassessment.
- Acts was written in the early decades of the second century.
- The author of Acts used the letters of Paul as sources.
- Except for the letters of Paul, no other historically reliable source can be identified for Acts.
- Acts can no longer be considered an independent source for the life and mission of Paul.
- Contrary to Acts 1-7, Jerusalem was not the birthplace of Christianity.
- Acts constructs its story on the model of epic and related literature.
- The author of Acts created names for characters as storytelling devices.
- Acts constructs its story to fit ideological goals.
- Acts is a primary historical source for second century Christianity.
"The Seminar has not found a core historical story of Christian beginnings in Acts", which is "not to say that Acts is totally unhistorical but to observe that it is less helpful in the historical reconstruction of Christian beginnings than previously assumed."
The full report of the Seminar is published as Acts and Christian Beginnings: The Acts Seminar Report (Polebridge Press, 2013), edited by Dennis E. Smith, Joseph B. Tyson.