The Introduction to Adolf Harnack’s 1909 “The Acts of the Apostles” ends with a sharp rebuke. Critics who were eager to dismiss a document in its entirety over any perceived discrepancy were not left uninformed of Harnack’s opinion of their views. Today, the introduction reminds us that “Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus” (false in one thing, false in everything) is a logical fallacy of long term popularity.
From the Introduction, as translated by J.R. Wilinson, M.A.
The account which we have here given of the character of the Acts of the Apostles and of its author Saint Luke does not yet enjoy universal acceptance; rather it is entirely, or almost entirely, rejected by numerous critics.
“With them the book passes as a comparatively late patchwork compilation, in which the part taken by the editor is insignificant, yet in all cases detrimental; the ” we “-[first person] sections are not the property of the author, but an extract from a source, or even a literary fiction; historical errors are as numerous as gaps and ill-disguised joinings; the portrait of Saint Paul is drawn with bias, or in ignorance; the description given in the first chapters is scarcely anywhere other than pure fancy — Peter is Pauline, Paul is Petrine ; but who can number the objections that have been raised against this book!
“If they were only objections that one could take hold of!
“But after no small number of these has been finally refuted, one has to deal not so much with definite objections, as with an attitude of general mistrust in the book, with airy conceits and lofty contempt ; most of all, however, with the fruits of that vicious method wherein great masses of theory are hung upon the spider’s thread of a single observation, wherein a writer of the New Testament is allowed no weakness, no possibility of ignorance, wherein instances of such failing are used as powder to blow the whole book into the air.
“In the first volume of this series, entitled “Luke the Physician” (Crown Theological Library, 1907), I have therefore tried in the first place to prove the identity of the author of the “we” sections with Saint Luke, and at the same time to refute some of these objections and critical vagarities — not by means of the more or less subjective apologetic of the harmonist, but by assiduous attention to, and exhibition of, facts and observations that confirm one another.
“In the following pages I continue these investigations in order to arrive at a more assured judgment as to how far the book is homogeneous, as to its sources and its degree of trustworthiness, and by this means to prove afresh the identity of the author of the “we” sections with the author of the whole work.
“In an age wherein critical hypotheses, once upon a time not unfruitful, have hardened themselves into dogmas, and when if an attempt is made to defend a book against prejudice, misunderstanding, and misrepresentation, scornful remarks are made about “special pleading,” it is not superfluous to declare that the method which is here employed is influenced by no prepossession of any kind.
“It is of course disgraceful that the circumstances of criticism at the present day make such a declaration necessary.