Bart Ehrman: The “We” Passages in the Book of Acts are Apologetic Fabrications

Image result for image of paul and silas in prison
Where was Luke?


One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you[d] a way of salvation.” 18 She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. 20 When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21 and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23 After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

–Acts 16

Excerpts from Bart Ehrman, on his blog:

In this thread I have been discussing whether Luke, the gentile physician, the traveling companion of Paul, wrote the Third Gospel and the book of Acts. The first point I’ve made, over a couple of posts, is that the idea that Paul *had* a gentile physician as a traveling companion is dubious. That notion is derived from the mention of Luke in the book of Colossians, but Paul almost certainly did not *write* Colossians. Paul does mention a companion named Luke in the book of Philemon, but he does not say anything at all about him (not, for example, that he was a gentile or that he was a physician).

Still, one could argue – and many have! – that whatever his name, it was a companion of Paul who wrote the books of Luke and Acts. The main argument in favor of that thesis – with which I heartily disagree – is the presence of the “we-passages” in Acts, that I mentioned previously. My view is that these passages do NOT demonstrate that the author was Paul’s traveling companion. But it’s a complex issue, and to get to the bottom of it takes a lot of demonstration.

…By far the most surprising aspect of the we-passages, however, apart from their existence at all, is their frequently noted abrupt beginnings and endings.  It is their sudden and unexplained disappearance that is most unsettling.  When did the author leave the company and for what reason?  These and other related problems can be seen in the first of the passages, 16:10-17.   How is it that “we” included Paul in 16:10 and 11, but then are differentiated from Paul in 16:17?  That may make sense if an author had wanted to start easing out of the use of the first person plural as a narrative ploy, but it is hard to understand if the narrative is a historically accurate description of a real life situation by an author who was there.  Moreover, if “we” were with Paul when he rebuked the spirit of the possessed girl, how is it that only Paul and Silas were seized, not “we”?  Did the eyewitness leave the company in 16:18 suddenly and for no expressed reason?  If so, why is he still in Philippi much later in 20:6?

So too in the next passages in question, in chapters 20 and 21.  Why is the narrative provided in the first person when traveling to Miletus (20:15) but then shifts to the third person once there?  Was the author not present for the prayer in v. 36?  Why did they not bring “us” to the ship in 20:38 if he sailed with Paul in the next verse?   And in the next chapter, why does the author accompany Paul to Jerusalem in 21:18 and then disappear without an explanation or a trace in 21:19?

I will be arguing in what follows that the best explanation for these abrupt beginnings and endings is that the first-person pronoun was used selectively to place the author in the company of Paul, thereby authenticating his account.




End of post.

30 thoughts on “Bart Ehrman: The “We” Passages in the Book of Acts are Apologetic Fabrications

      1. To deny Jesus’ existence is a pretty difficult hurdle to get past for a lot of people. His “life” is simply too embedded within the pages of a very old book that (too many) people think is God-breathed.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. And millions of books on commentary and themes of Jesus. Currently in the US alone there are 750,000 catalogued, new titles every year. Too bad the Greeks didn’t have amazon and self publishing. Much more entertaining to have Hermès in your pamphlets.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. Rational, intelligent people of no religious persuasions Nan—even some level-headed religious moderates!—call that ‘truth by orthodoxy‘. 😉 The vast majority of modern Followers (sheep, cattle, lazy Believers, etc) don’t really care which way the crowd is moving or thinking. “Don’t rock the boat”… dontcha know! 😛


  1. They’re not “fabrications.” Ehrman is wrong and I told him so again on Twitter earlier today.

    A.N. Sherwin-White covered this nearly 60 years ago, and convincingly.

    The “we” passages are based on a Greco-Roman historical-romance literary convention of the 1st and 2nd centuries CE. By this literary convention, the narrative automatically shifted to first-person plural whenever the protagonist started a ship voyage.

    And, while I single Ehrman out because that’s what Gary is writing on, most NT critical scholars appear totally unaware of Sherwin-White’s work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I seriously doubt he has been over-looked by the consensus of critical scholars. It is much more likely that his work is considered speculative and simply ignored as a fringe position.

      Beware any time someone claims that there is this one expert out there who is sooo brilliant—but all the other experts are ignoring him for some strange reason (“they have a bias against him”). This is the realm of conspiracy theorists. If your expert had good evidence for his position, his position would be taken seriously.

      There is no mass conspiracy against the truth, despite what Christian fundamentalists want us to believe.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. First, I’m neither a fundamentalist nor a conspiracy theorist.

        Second, between “siloing” within academia and “turf jealousy,” no, it’s not only quite possible, but quite true, that many academics can, will, and do overlook someone outside their silo. Given that Sherwin-White is a classicist, not a biblical scholar, I have no doubt the overlooking is real and that this is a fair part of why.

        Second, part two. I have read in Greek through the various “we” sections and the transitions immediately before and after, and looked at the critical editions to note, as Sherwin-White does, where parts of the “western” manuscript tradition goes awry on this issue.

        Third, while Ehrman does have a number of good things to say? I’m not as enamored as you may be. He often has not so good things to say, or as in “The Triumph of Christianity,” which was pretty crappy, not much to say, period.

        Fourth, per your response to Becky, perhaps you’re operating under a false dichotomy. Maybe she thinks an actual companion of Paul wrote Acts.

        I don’t.

        But not for the reasons you or Bart think.


      2. Ehrman is now rather well-known for his lack of consulting the work of other scholars, even those working in the same university. Either he is ignorant of their works which shows incompetence on his part, or he knows their views and purposely totally ignores them as they contradict his. I suspect the latter.


          1. In his writing on his view that Jesus was not buried after being crucified, he seems to have ignored the works of a number of experts, even Jodi Magness, one of the world’s leading archaeologists and experts on Jewish burial in the time of Jesus, who teaches at the same university as Ehrman – the University of North Carolina.

            Perhaps he didnt like what she had to say on the subject: “Today many scholars believe that since crucifixion was a sadistic and humiliating form of corporal punishment reserved by the Romans for the lower classes (including slaves), Jesus “died a criminal’s death on the tree of shame.” John Dominic Crossan [and now Bart Ehrman], for example, argues that Jesus would not have been buried at all, but would have been eaten by dogs. In my opinion, the notion that Jesus was unburied or buried in disgrace is based on a misunderstanding of the archaeological evidence and of Jewish law….I believe that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ burial are largely consistent with the archeological evidence…the Gospel accounts describing Jesus’ removal from the cross and burial are consistent with archaeological evidence and with Jewish law”.


            1. I’ve read Magness. She never claims that there is evidence for Jesus’ burial in Arimathea’s tomb, but only that the Gospel description of the burial of Jesus is consistent with Jewish law and custom.


        1. I take Ehrman as a “popularizer” as much as anything and said so half a dozen years ago. To the degree one or the other of your two thoughts is right (could be third or more options) I think it’s the latter, too. If you’re a popularizer, with media interview access, etc.,. you don’t want others’ names out there.


  2. I don’t think there is a mass conspiracy. What I think is that often all the scholars don’t agree because “evidence,” can be interpreted and explained differently. I mean isn’t there a spectrum of scholarship out there from conservative to moderate to liberal and shades in between?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When scholarly opinion is divided, I suggest that non-scholars withhold judgement on an issue. When all scholars agree on an issue (except for a small minority with an agenda), I suggest that we accept the consensus position of the majority.

      The fact that even the majority of Roman Catholic scholars, who have no bias against the supernatural or the bodily resurrection of Jesus, doubt that Luke or any traveling companion of Paul wrote the Book of Acts (and the Gospel of Luke) is a significant indication that the evidence against Luke’s authorship is very strong.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Gary, I just think the field of NT scholarship is not a very exact science like physics or math. There seems to me a real element of subjectivity involved. And, I do feel that scholars of similar schools of thought can be impacted by each other, like a mimetic effect. I think we should look at all reasonable points of view and then make up our own mind.


    1. If the experts are divided, I would agree with your approach. But if there is a lop-sided majority (and the small minority all belong to one branch of Christianity), I suggest the prudent thing to do is accept the consensus majority position.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Gary, I just think the field of NT scholarship is not a very exact science like physics or math.

      How can it be? We are dealing with what is ostensibly historical fiction.

      There seems to me a real element of subjectivity involved.

      With Christians and Christian scholars it is more bias than anything else.

      How can a genuine scholar consider there is any subjectivity to a tale such as Noah and the Flood?
      It didn’t happen.Period.
      What type of ”scholar” would consider there is any veracity to this tale?


          1. Well, at least you are both lovable and endearing skeptics.

            Seriously, guys, can anyone find at least one positive word to say about Christian faith. Throw me at least one bone here. 🙂 I’m feeling rather outnumbered.


              1. Ark, do you know that Islam is actually the world’s fastest-growing religious group? There is concern that western Europe, in particular, may in subsequent decades lose it’s very cultural identity.

                Maybe more concern needs to be directed to things such as the reach of the house of Saud or the Iranian mullahs rather than toward even moderate/progressive Christianity which strongly affirms the rule of law and most importantly the separation of church and state.

                God have mercy.


                1. Yes, atheism doesn’t look so bad after all, now does it?
                  Secular states won’t allow a theocracy, of that you can bet your bottom dollar.
                  Perhaps it is a good time to really think about the god, Yahweh, that you worship?
                  Embrace the Dark Side /atheism), Becky.
                  Most of us don’t eat (christian) babies. I certainly don’t, and I’m pretty sure Gary doesn’t.


                2. If we go back in time 400-500 years, Christianity was doing all the horrible things that fundamentalist Islam is doing today (burning people alive, beheadings, etc.). All delusions are bad. All delusions should be debunked and abandoned because they cause sane, intelligent people to do things that typically only the insane would do.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s