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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER V. THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES AND THE ACKNOWLEDGED EPISTLES.

Companion To The Bible by E. P. Barrows

CHAPTER V. THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES AND THE ACKNOWLEDGED EPISTLES.

1. The genuineness, uncorrupt preservation, and credibility of the gospel narratives having been shown to rest on a firm foundation, the principal part of our work is accomplished, so far as the New Testament is concerned. We are prepared beforehand to expect some record of the labors of the apostles, like that contained in the Acts of the Apostles; and also discussions and instructions relating to the doctrines and duties of Christianity, such as we find in the apostolic epistles. Our Saviour established his church only in its fundamental principles and ordinances. The work of publishing his gospel and organizing churches among Jews and Gentiles he committed to his apostles. Before his crucifixion he taught them that the Holy Ghost could not come (that is, in his special and full influences as the administrator of the new covenant) till after his departure to the Father: |It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart I will send him unto you.| John 16:7. |When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me. And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.| John 15:26, 27. Now we have, in the Acts of the Apostles, first an account of the fulfilment by the Saviour of his promise that he would send the Holy Ghost; then a record how the apostles, thus qualified, obeyed the Saviour's command to preach the gospel to Jews and Gentiles -- a record not, indeed, complete, but sufficient to show the manner and spirit in which the work was performed. Some truths, moreover, of the highest importance the Saviour gave only in outline, because the time for their full revelation had not yet come. John 16:12, 13. Such were especially the doctrine of his atoning sacrifice on Calvary with the connected doctrine of justification by faith; and the divine purpose to abolish the Mosaic economy, and with it the distinction between Jews and Gentiles. We have, partly in the Acts and partly in the epistles, an account of the unfolding of these great truths by the apostles under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and of the commotions and contentions that naturally accompanied this work. The practical application of the gospel to the manifold relations of life, domestic, social, and civil, with the solution of various difficult questions arising therefrom, was another work necessarily devolved on the apostles, and performed by them with divine wisdom for the instruction of all coming ages. The book of Acts and the epistles ascribed to the apostles being such a natural sequel to the Redeemer's work, as recorded by the four evangelists, a briefer statement of the evidence for their genuineness and authenticity will be sufficient.

I. The Acts of the Apostles. 2. According to Chrysostom, First Homily on Acts, this book was not so abundantly read by the early Christians as the gospels. The explanation of this comparative neglect is found in the fact that it is occupied with the doings of the apostles, not of the Lord himself. Passing by some uncertain allusions to the work in the writings of the apostolic fathers, the first explicit quotation from it is contained in the letter heretofore noticed, chap.2:4, from the churches of Vienne and Lyons in Gaul, written about A.D.177, in which they say: |Moreover they prayed, after the example of Stephen the perfect martyr, for those who inflicted upon them cruel torments, 'Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.'| Irenaeus, in the last part of the second century, Tertullian in the last part of the same century and the beginning of the third, Clement of Alexandria about the end of the second century and onwards -- all these bear explicit testimony to the book of Acts, ascribing it to Luke as its author; and from their day onward the notices of the work are abundant. We may add the concurrent testimony of the Muratorian canon and the Syriac version, called the Peshito, which belong to the last quarter of the second century, and the still earlier testimony of the Old Latin version. In a word, the book is placed by Eusebius among those that were universally acknowledged by the churches.

The rejection of the book by certain heretical sects, as the Ebionites, Marcionites, Manichaeans, etc., is of no weight, as their objections rested not on historical, but on doctrinal grounds. As to the statement of Photius that |some call Clement of Rome the author, some Barnabas, and some Luke the evangelist,| it is to be remarked that he is giving not his own judgment, for he expressly ascribes it to Luke, but the arbitrary opinions of certain persons; and these are contradicted by the obvious fact that the third gospel, which proceeded from the same hand as the Acts of the Apostles, was never ascribed to any other person than Luke.

3. The internal testimony to Luke's authorship is decisive. The writer himself, in dedicating it to the same Theophilus, expressly identifies himself with the author of the third gospel: |The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach.| Acts 1:1. Then there is a remarkable agreement in style and diction between the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, as any one may learn who peruses them both together in the original Greek. Davidson, Introduction to the New Testament, vol.2, p.8, has collected forty-seven examples of |terms that occur in both, but nowhere else in the New Testament.| Luke, moreover, as the travelling companion of Paul, had all needed facilities for composing such a work. With regard to the latter portion of the book, this is denied by none. His use of the first person plural, |we endeavored,| |the Lord had called us,| |we came,| etc. -- which first appears, chap.16:10, and continues, with certain interruptions, through the remainder of the book -- admits of but one natural and reasonable explanation, namely, that when he thus joins himself with the apostle he was actually in his company. As it respects the first part of the book, we notice that he visited Caesarea with Paul's company, and |tarried there many days,| chap.21:8-10; afterwards he went up with him to Jerusalem, chap.21:15. We find him again with Paul at Caesarea when he sets out for Rome. Chap.27:1. Now at such centres as Jerusalem and Caesarea he must have had abundant opportunities to learn all the facts recorded in the present book which could not be gathered from Paul's own lips.

4. For the credibility of this book we have, in general, the same arguments which apply to the gospel narratives, especially to the gospel of Luke. Its author is evidently a sincere and earnest man, who goes straight forward with his narrative; and where he does not write as an eye-witness, he had, as we have seen, abundant means of ascertaining the truth concerning the facts which he records. His narrative is, moreover, corroborated in a very special way, as will be shown hereafter -- No.8, below -- by its many undesigned coincidences with the events alluded to in the epistle of Paul. To admit the credibility of the gospel of Luke and to deny that of this work would be altogether inconsistent. In truth, there is no ground for doubting the credibility of the Acts of the Apostles other than that which lies in the assumption that no record of miraculous events can be credible, and this is no ground at all.

To some modern writers the narrative of the gift of tongues on the day of Pentecost has seemed to present an insuperable difficulty. Undoubtedly it is above our comprehension how a man should suddenly become possessed of the ability to speak in a language before unknown to him; but why should we doubt God's power to bestow such a gift? Can any one suppose for a moment that when our Saviour met with a person deaf and dumb from birth, he had, for the first time, a case beyond his healing power? The gospel narrative plainly indicates the contrary. Mark 7:32-37, upon which passage see Meyer and Alford.

The account of the sudden death of Ananias and Sapphira, chap.5:1-11, is not contrary to the spirit of the gospel. They died by the immediate act of God. His wisdom judged such an example of severity to be necessary in the beginning of the gospel, as a solemn warning against hypocrisy and falsehood in his service. Though the gospel is a system of mercy, it takes, as all admit, a severe attitude towards those who reject it; why not, then, towards those who make a hypocritical profession of it? As Nadab and Abihu were consumed by fire from heaven at the beginning of the Mosaic economy, so the death of Ananias and his wife came early in the dispensation of the Holy Ghost, as a testimony to all future ages of Christ's abhorrence of hypocrisy, and consequently of the doom which hypocrites will receive from him at the last day. Matt.7:21-23.

The fact that Luke has omitted some events in the history of Paul, as, for example, his journey into Arabia, which occurred during the three years that intervened between his conversion and his first visit to Jerusalem, Acts 9:22-26 compared with Gal.1:15-18, is no argument against the credibility of his narrative. Difficulties that arise simply from a writer's brevity must not be allowed to set aside satisfactory evidence of his competency and truthfulness. The historical difficulties connected with Stephen's address do not concern Luke's credibility as a historian, and the discussion of them belongs to the commentator.

5. The book of Acts closes with a notice that |Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.| As it adds no notice of the issue of his imprisonment, or of what afterwards befell him, we naturally infer that the book was written at Rome about this time, that is, about A.D.63.

II. The Acknowledged Epistles, 6. It is well known that doubts existed, to a greater or less extent, in the primitive churches before the fourth century, respecting the apostolic origin and authority of certain books which now constitute a part of the New Testament canon. Hence the distinction made by Eusebius between the acknowledged books, (homologoumena) that is, those that were universally received from the first, and the disputed books, (antilegomena,) books respecting which some entertained doubts. The acknowledged books are, the four gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the thirteen epistles of Paul which bear his name at the beginning, the first epistle of Peter, and the first epistle of John; twenty in all. The disputed books are, the epistle to the Hebrews, the epistle of James, the second epistle of Peter, the second and third epistles of John, the epistle of Jude, and the book of Revelation; seven in all. The gospels and the Acts have been already considered, and the disputed books are reserved for the following chapter. Some remarks will here be made on the fifteen acknowledged epistles.

7. The epistles of Paul may be conveniently distributed into two groups, of which the second or smaller contains the three pastoral epistles, and the former or larger, the remaining ten. Of the apostolic origin of the larger group little needs to be said. They bear throughout the impress of genuineness and authenticity. No doubts were ever entertained concerning them in the ancient churches. There is, indeed, some ground for suspecting that a few ancient copies of the epistle to the Ephesians omitted the words at Ephesus -- more literally in Ephesus -- chap.1:1. But the genuineness of these words is sustained by an overwhelming weight of evidence, and that Paul was the author of the epistle was never once doubted by the ancient churches. The arguments of some modern writers against its apostolic origin have no real weight, as will be shown hereafter in the introduction to the epistle.

Respecting the apostolic authorship of the three pastoral epistles, two to Timothy and one to Titus, there was never any doubt in the ancient churches. They are supported by the testimony of the Peshito-Syriac version, of the Muratorian canon, also, (as appears from Jerome's letter to Marcella and the quotations of the church fathers before him,) of the Old Latin version; of Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and a multitude of later writers. There are also some allusions to these epistles in the apostolic fathers, which seem to be decisive.

Such are the following: |Let us therefore approach to him in holiness of soul, lifting up to him holy and unpolluted hands.| Clement of Rome, First Epistle to the Corinthians, chap.29. |But the beginning of all mischief is the love of money. Knowing, therefore, that we brought nothing into the world neither have power to carry any thing out, let us arm ourselves with the armor of righteousness.| Polycarp, Epistle to the Philippians, chap.4. The student may see other supposed allusions in Kirchhofer, Quellensammlung; Lardner, 2:39; Davidson's Introduction, 3, p.101 seq.; Alford's New Testament, Introduction to the Pastoral Epistles, etc.

Respecting the date of the pastoral epistles very different opinions are held. The whole discussion turns on the question whether they were written before or after Paul's imprisonment at Rome, which is recorded in the last chapter of the Acts of the Apostles; and this again is connected with the further question whether he underwent a second imprisonment at Rome, concerning which learned men are not agreed. The full discussion of this matter belongs to the introduction to the pastoral epistles. It may be simply remarked, however, that the internal arguments in favor of a late date are very strong, and that its assumption accounts for the development of such a state of things at Ephesus as appears in the two pastoral epistles to Timothy -- a state very different from that which existed when the epistle to the Ephesians was written, between A.D.60 and 64, and which makes it necessary to separate the first epistle to Timothy from that to the Ephesians by a considerable interval of time.

The theme of the pastoral epistles is peculiar. It is the affectionate counsel of an aged apostle to two young preachers and rulers in the church respecting the duties of their office. From the peculiarity of the subject-matter naturally arises, to some extent, a peculiarity in the diction of these epistles; yet the style and costume is throughout that of the apostle Paul.

8. The testimony of the ancient church to the first epistle of Peter and the first of John is very ample. Besides that of the Peshito-Syriac version, and of the church fathers Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria, they have in addition that of Papias and the apostolic father Polycarp. The first epistle of John is also included in the Muratorian canon. It scarcely needs, however, any external testimony. The identity of its author with that of the fourth gospel is so manifest from its whole tone and style, that it has been always conceded that if one of these writings came from the pen of the apostle John, the other did also.

The testimony of Papias to these two epistles, though indirect, is conclusive. Eusebius says, Hist. Eccl.3.39, |The same Papias has employed testimonies from the first epistle of John, and in like manner of Peter.| Polycarp says, Epistle to the Philippians, ch.7, |For every one who confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is anti-Christ,| with evident reference to 1 John 4:3. Eusebius says also, Hist. Eccl.4.14, that in the same epistle to the Philippians Polycarp |has employed certain testimonies from the first epistle of Peter;| and when we examine the epistle we find several certain references to it, among which are the following: |In whom, though ye see him not, ye believe; and believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory.| Chap.1 compared with 1 Pet.1:8. |Believing in him who raised up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, and gave him glory, and a seat at his right hand.| Chap.2 compared with 1 Pet.1:21.

9. The relation of the gospel history to the writings now under consideration -- the book of Acts and the apostolic epistles -- is of the most intimate and weighty character. The truth of the earlier narratives contained in the gospels implies the truth of these later works; for, as already remarked, they are the natural sequel of the events there recorded. On the other hand, the truth of these later writings implies the truth of the gospel history; for in that history they find their full explanation, and without it they are, and must ever remain, inexplicable. All the parts of the New Testament constitute one inseparable whole, and they all shed light upon each other. Like a chain of fortresses in war, they mutually command each other. Unless the whole can be overthrown, no one part can be successfully assailed. But to overthrow the whole is beyond the power of man; for God has guarded it on every side by impregnable bulwarks of evidence.

10. A special argument for the truth of the Scripture history of the apostle Paul may be drawn from the numerous undesigned coincidences between the events recorded in the book of Acts and those referred to in the epistles. This work has been accomplished with great ability and skill by Paley in his Horae Paulinae, to which the reader is referred. The argument is very conclusive; for when we consider the |particularity of St. Paul's epistles, the perpetual recurrence of names of persons and places, the frequent allusions to the incidents of his private life, and the circumstances of his condition and history, and the connection and parallelism of these with the same circumstances in the Acts of the Apostles, so as to enable us, for the most part, to confront them one with another,| we must be satisfied that the truth of the history can alone explain such a multitude of coincidences, many of them of a minute character, and all of them manifestly undesigned.

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