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Evan Roberts Quote : Christian Books : CHAPTER VII THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES

The Books Of The New Testament by Leighton Pullan


[Sidenote: The Author.]

The Christian Church has never attributed the Book of Acts to any other writer than St. Luke. The external proofs of the primitive date of the book are important, and point to the apostolic age as the date of its composition. St. Clement of Rome, about A.D.95, in referring to Ps. lxxxviii.20, quotes it in words which are almost certainly based on Acts xiii.22. There are two apparent quotations from Acts in the letters of St. Ignatius and one in the letter of St. Polycarp. It is also quoted in the works of Justin Martyr, Tatian, and Athenagoras, and in the letter of the Churches of Vienne and Lyons written in A.D.177. It was evidently read throughout the 2nd century, and it is definitely assigned to St. Luke by Irenaeus, the Muratorian Fragment, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria.

In opposition to this tradition, a persistent effort has been made to prove that the book belongs to the early part of the and century. There are certain passages in which the writer uses the first person plural, implying that he was personally present on the occasions described. The sections of the book in which that peculiarity is found are ordinarily called the |we sections,| and it has been asserted that though the |we sections| are primitive they have been worked into the narrative of a later writer. Furthermore it is asserted that {103} the book was deliberately intended to be a fictitious account of the primitive Church, and that its special purpose was to balance the story of St. Peter with that of St. Paul in such a manner as to completely disguise the fundamental antagonism of the two apostles.

The force of this argument has been weakened by the general admission of non-Christian writers that the differences of opinion between the two apostles were grossly exaggerated by the critics of fifty years ago. It is therefore granted that there was less necessity for the forgery than there was said to be by the critics in question. It is also very obvious that we cannot fairly charge a historian with dishonesty because he wishes to balance one great character with another. No one would assert that a modern writer was a partisan or a liar because he devoted in the same book twenty appreciative pages to the Evangelical Revival and twenty appreciative pages to the Oxford Movement. In spite of this fact, the trustworthy character of the book is still vigorously assailed. It is said that no statement in the book deserves ready belief except the |we sections,| that those sections were written by an unknown companion of St. Paul, and impudently |appropriated| by a Christian who wrote between A.D.105 and A.D.130.

This argument about the |we sections| can be completely overthrown by a consideration of the linguistic evidence of Acts. If language implies anything, the peculiarities of Acts imply that the author of the |we sections,| who was a companion of St. Paul, was the author of the whole book. And they also show that the author of the whole book was the person who wrote the third Gospel. There are many words and phrases found only in the |we sections| and in the rest of Acts. There is, too, a large number of words and phrases in the |we sections| which are rarely used in those books of the New Testament which are not attributed to St. Luke, and occur frequently in the rest of Acts and in St. Luke's Gospel. If {104} we compare Acts with St. Luke's Gospel, we find that Acts contains 108 out of 140 which are characteristic of this Gospel, whereas it contains only about a half of those which are characteristic of Matt. and Mark. There are 58 Greek words which are found in both Acts and Luke and nowhere else in the New Testament. Among the terms which serve as connecting links between St. Luke's Gospel and Acts, including the |we sections,| occur various medical phrases. It is becoming more and more widely recognized that these phrases imply that the writer was a physician, such as we know St. Luke to have been (Col. iv.14). It is all the more remarkable that many of the words peculiar to Acts are found in St. Luke's contemporary, the physician Dioscorides.

It is true that the sections taken from Mark show numerous |Lucan| characteristics as they appear in our third Gospel, but these characteristics are due to the third evangelist, and not to St. Mark. So, it can be urged, the |Lucan| characteristics in the |we sections| are due not to the author, but to an expert editor of a later time. In reply, we can answer that the cases are not strictly parallel. For if the |we sections| are not by the writer of Acts, he must have almost entirely rewritten them, and, at the same time, have been guilty of a gross fraud, which he stupidly dropped in passages where it could have been effectively used.

To this linguistic evidence of authenticity we can add archaeological evidence. The discoveries of the last thirty years have greatly confirmed the accuracy of the writer in points where a writer of the 2nd century would have betrayed his ignorance. In fact, we are able to compare his accuracy with the inaccuracy of the writing known as the Acts of Paul and Thecla, a 2nd century blend of sensationalism and piety based on a document of the 1st century. Now, in almost every point where we are able to test the knowledge possessed by the author of Acts with regard to the topography of Asia {105} Minor and the details of Roman government, it can be pronounced correct. This has been admirably shown by Prof. Ramsay's works on The Church in the Roman Empire and St. Paul. St. Luke knows that Cyprus was governed by a pro-consul, which had ceased to be the case early in the 2nd century; that the magistrates at Philippi were called strategoi, and were attended by lictors, while those at Thessalonica were called politarchai (xvii.6), a title which has been verified by inscriptions. He is aware that the governor of Malta was only called the head-man (xxviii.7). He knows that Derbe and Lystra, but not Iconium, were cities of Lycaonia, and that |great Artemis| was the cry used at Ephesus in invoking the patronal goddess of the city (xix.28). We must not assert that these and similar details absolutely prove that the writer was a companion of St. Paul; but we can say that he was peculiarly well acquainted with the life of that period. The account of St. Paul's voyage and shipwreck is equally accurate.

A very favourite argument against the genuineness of Acts is that Acts xv., in its account of St. Paul's third visit to Jerusalem, A.D.49, is inconsistent with Gal. ii. It is asserted that the author deliberately falsified the story in order to represent the older apostles as promoting the union of Gentile and Jewish Christians, some modern critics assuming that the apostles would never have done anything so Catholic. But there is no real discrepancy between the two accounts, if we are ready to believe that St. Luke gives the public and exterior view of the proceedings, while St. Paul, as is natural, describes the personal aspect of those proceedings. According to Acts xv.2, St. Paul and St. Barnabas were deputed to go to Jerusalem by the Church at Antioch; according to Gal. ii.2, St. Paul went there |by revelation.| The internal motive is surely compatible with the external. Again, both Acts xv. and Gal. ii. show that the momentous Council at Jerusalem included private and public meetings. The two accounts fit one another all the better in consequence of the fact that Acts {106} lays stress upon the public settlement (xv.7 f.) and Galatians upon a private conference (ii.2). Acts shows that there was much dispute, and Galatians shows that the dispute included opposition to St. Paul's methods. Acts shows that St. Paul greatly desired to be on good terms with the older apostles, Galatians shows that they gave him the right hand of fellowship. The historical situation, the occasion of dispute (viz. the attempt to impose circumcision on the Gentiles), the chief persons concerned and the feelings which they entertained, are the same in both books.

As to the fact that St. Paul in Galatians makes no mention of a second visit to Jerusalem about A.D.46, he ignores it because it was devoted to the specific business mentioned in Acts xi.30; xii.25. Nothing arose out of it affecting his relations with the first apostles or his own apostleship. A description of this visit was therefore quite beside the argument of Galatians. We cannot therefore say that its omission in Galatians proves that it was an invention of the author of Acts.

The fact that Acts does not depend upon St. Paul's writings and nevertheless shows many undesigned points of contact with them, leads us to a very important conclusion. This conclusion is that the writer of Acts was a companion of St. Paul. It is incredible that a later writer, who took an eager interest in St. Paul's adventures, should have made no use of St. Paul's letters. Those letters made a deep impression upon St. Paul's contemporaries (cf.2 Cor. x.10), and they were carefully treasured by all succeeding generations. We can only explain the relation between Acts and the Pauline Epistles by the theory that the author of Acts was sufficiently intimate with the apostle to be able to write his book without feeling the necessity of enriching it by references to those Epistles. The theory, then, fits with the theory which is suggested to us by the |we sections.| The only remaining question is whether this companion was, or was not, St. Luke. {107} He was evidently with St. Paul at Rome, and this makes it impossible to attribute the authorship of Acts to Titus, as there is no hint in the New Testament of Titus being there. Nor was the author Silas, for Silas was not with St. Paul on the third missionary journey, while the author of Acts was. Acts xx.5, 6 seems to prove that the book was not written by Timothy. No one seems so likely to have been the author as St. Luke. For the writer of Acts xxvii.1-xxviii.16 evidently accompanied St. Paul to Rome, and we learn from Col. iv.14 and Philem.24 that St. Luke was with the apostle during his first imprisonment in that city. We may therefore say that every line of evidence points to the truth of the ancient tradition that St. Luke wrote Acts.

The sources of information employed by St. Luke can sometimes be determined with a high degree of probability. Where he did not draw upon his own recollections he could often rely upon those of St. Paul. The apostle was, as we should expect, in the habit of narrating his own experiences (cf.2 Cor. i.8-10; xii.9; Gal. i.11-ii.14; Phil. iii.3-7; Rom. xv.16-32). Acts xxi.19; xiv.27; xv.3, 12, 26, show how St. Paul related his travels. Acts i.-v. probably incorporates an early Jewish Christian document, and contains features which unmistakably point to the truthfulness of the record. A good deal of information was probably obtained from John Mark: it was to the house of Mark's mother that St. Peter made his way after his escape from prison recorded in ch. xii. As St. Mark was with St. Luke and St. Paul at Rome, and acted as St. Peter's interpreter, St. Luke had the opportunity of learning from him many facts concerning St. Peter. St. Barnabas also perhaps furnished some details concerning the history of the early Church at Jerusalem. Some of the converts who fled from Judaea to Antioch (xi.19) were probably men who witnessed the wonders of the Day of Pentecost. And if St. Luke was a Christian of Antioch, as tradition says, he may have made inquiries of these converts.


From Philip the evangelist, St. Luke may have learnt the history of events with which Philip was concerned, as he stayed with him at Caesarea (xxi.8-12), and he also knew Mnason, who was one of the |original| disciples of Pentecost (xxi.16). Finally, we notice that St. Luke had intercourse with St. James, the Bishop of Jerusalem, himself (xxi.18).

[Sidenote: Date.]

We have seen above (p.68) that St. Luke's Gospel was probably written soon after A.D.70. As Acts i.1 shows that Acts was written later than the Gospel, and as there is just enough difference in style between the two books to encourage the idea that Acts was not written immediately after the Gospel, we may reasonably place Acts between A.D.75 and 80.

One obvious objection to placing the date of Acts so late is the fact that the writer does not record the death of St. Paul. This is certainly startling, for the martyrdom of the great apostle would have formed an impressive conclusion to the book. But there are several reasons which may be appropriately suggested to account for the omission. Possibly the author intended to write a third |treatise,| in which the story of the martyrdom of his two great heroes, St. Peter and St. Paul, would be recounted; possibly Acts, which ends very abruptly, was never completed by the author. It is also possible that, after showing that the Roman civil power had generally been tolerant towards Christianity, he did not wish to endanger the circulation of his book by giving an account of Nero's brutal persecution of the Christians. If the book had contained any such history, the possession of it would have been regarded as no small offence by the civil authorities. Several years later, when the Church was probably much stronger, St. John, in writing the Revelation, disguised his description of Nero in symbolical language. In any case, St. Luke may have wished both to show Theophilus that Christianity was compatible with loyalty to the government, {109} and that the government had for a long time been tolerant towards Christianity.

[Sidenote: Character and Contents.]

The general plan of the book may easily be seen by a glance at the Analysis printed below. We may describe it by saying that the ruling ideas are the progress and the continuity of the Church. That is to say, St. Luke shows how the Church, the divinely organized society which promotes the kingdom of God, lives and develops through various stages and crises. It spreads from one upper room in Jerusalem to Rome, the world's mightiest city. From the election of Matthias, the new apostle, until the decision reached by the Council at Jerusalem twenty years afterwards, and recorded in ch. xv., we behold a slow but sure progress. The secret of this progress is dependence upon the risen Christ. We cannot conceive how the apostles could ever have come out of the perplexity and dismay caused by the death of their Lord, and laboured with such enthusiasm, unless they were certain that the Lord was indeed risen. Without the resurrection, the Church would have collapsed at once. Knowing that it could not be possibly disproved, the apostles appeal to it as their reason for advancing out of Judaism. Two points with regard to the doctrine implied in chs. i.-xv. deserve special attention.

(1) The doctrine of Christ's Person. The doctrine is of the simplest kind, but the facts asserted by the apostles imply that He is divine. He is the Messiah, anointed by God, and the Holy One, and He is in a special sense the Holy Servant or Child of God (iii.14; iv.27). He is seated at the right hand of God (v.31), He is Prince and Saviour. He fulfils divine functions. It is He who has poured out the Holy Spirit (ii.33). He is the object of man's faith, and His name or revealed personality is declared to have just restored a lame man to soundness (iii.16); signs and wonders are expected to be done through Him (iv.30). There is |salvation| in none other (iv.12), and He is to be |the Judge of quick and dead| {110} (x.42). St. Stephen in dying prays to Him. He is perpetually called Lord, and the fact that the same name is applied to Jehovah in the Septuagint makes it impossible to suppose that Christ is not regarded as possessed of divine attributes.

(2) The doctrine of the salvation of the world. Rationalist critics have asserted that the first apostles had no idea that the gospel was meant for the world, and that they limited its light to the children of Abraham. The unfairness of this assertion is shown by the consistent manner in which the same doctrine of the salvation of all men is interwoven in different parts of Acts, including the early chapters, which are generally acknowledged to be derived from an early Jewish Christian source. The doctrine is that salvation is offered to the Jews first (iii.26), but |all that are afar off| may share in it (ii.39; iii.25). This is exactly the doctrine expressed by St. Paul in Rom. i.16. And the conversion of Gentiles of different classes, as recorded in Acts, testifies that the apostles acted up to the doctrine. They did not doubt that the Gentiles had a right to the gospel. The point which did agitate them was, how much of the Jewish ceremonial ought the Gentiles to be required to observe. When the Gentile converts became numerous the question became acute, being sharpened by the demand of certain Jewish Christians that all converts should be circumcised.

St. Peter and St. James set their faces against this demand, and it was determined on their advice that the Gentiles should only be required to abstain from |meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication| (xv.29). The rule was primarily meant for Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. It prohibits complicity in idolatry, and in the immorality with which Syrian idolatry had been historically associated. And it prohibits the eating of blood and things strangled, a practice which might cause friction in the presence of Jewish communities. Nothing is said about circumcision or the sabbath. It is impossible to reconcile Acts xv. with the {111} theory that the original apostles were merely Jewish Unitarians who detested St. Paul. And the Rationalists who have propagated this theory gain no help either from Galatians or from Acts xxi. For St. Paul, in writing to the Galatians, asserts the two central facts which we find in Acts xv., viz. (i.) that his policy of an open gospel was opposed by a party which appealed to the original apostles, (ii.) that the original apostles gave him the hand of fellowship and repudiated the Judaizers. In Acts xxi.24 we find St. Paul himself performing a Jewish ceremonial act at the request of St. James. The request was made in order to counteract the falsehood that he had been trying to make the Hebrew converts desert the old Jewish customs. It cannot be interpreted as a proof of the supposed blind Judaism of St. James. For St. Paul voluntarily performed a similar act at Cenchreae, and we have no ground for believing that he always claimed for himself that entire freedom from Jewish usages which he always claimed for his Gentile converts. His own words contradict such a notion emphatically (1 Cor. ix.20).

The truth is that it is only by doing violence to all the evidence which we possess, that anything can be done to support either the theory of Baur and his school that the apostles of the Church were divided with regard to the Law, or the more recent theory of Harnack and others that they were divided with regard to the Person of Christ. All the apostles believed that the gospel was for all men on equal terms, and that Christ was the divine Lord of all.

In addition to these points, it is necessary to say a few words about the ministry of the Church which is described in Acts. It is asserted by such writers as Martineau, Sabatier, and Schmiedel, that the state of the Church and the ministry in Acts betrays the fact that the author did not write in the apostolic age. It is said that |hierarchical ideas| or |hierarchical pretensions| can be detected in such passages as i.17, 20; viii.14-17; xv.28; xx.28, and that such ideas {112} could not have been entertained by the apostles. It is not possible to give a full discussion of such a theory in this book. We must be content with noting that, in order to give it any appearance of validity, it is necessary to reject every part of the New Testament which does not happen to agree with it. Schmiedel, who places Acts between A.D.110 and 130, says that |Acts xx.18-35 has many ideas in common with those of the Pastoral Epistles,| but that |the author has not yet reached the stage in the development of Church government which characterizes the First Epistle to Timothy.| He says this simply because that Epistle, which he regards as a late forgery, shows a form of Church government practically identical with Episcopacy, while he thinks that Acts xx. shows a form of government intermediate between the genuine apostolic form and Episcopacy. To this we may make two answers; (a) that the Church government in Acts and 1 Timothy is practically the same, the work of the apostle being in r Timothy partly delegated to an apostolic vicar; (b) as there is excellent evidence for regarding 1 Timothy as a genuine writing of St. Paul, it gives us an additional cause for believing that the description of Church government in Acts is not fictitious.


The outline of the book is laid down in the words of our Lord quoted in i.8, |Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.|



From A.D.29 to ? 34,

The Church at Jerusalem: i.-viii.1. -- Introduction; the commission to the apostles, the Ascension, choice of Matthias in place of Judas (i.). Outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter's speech, the unity of the Church (ii.). Cure of a lame man, Peter's speech on the occasion (iii.). Peter and John imprisoned and before the Council, their dismissal and return to the Church, community of goods in the Church (iv.). Ananias and Sapphira, miracles of healing, especially by Peter, second imprisonment of Peter and John, Peter's speech, Gamaliel's advice to refrain from persecution (v.). Appointment of the seven deacons, Stephen's ministry and arrest (vi.). Stephen's defence, in which he shows that the Jews have always opposed the chief servants of God and that true worship is independent of the Jewish temple, Stephen's martyrdom (vii.-viii.1).


From A.D. ? 34 to 46.

Christianity spreads through Judaea and Samaria and to the Gentiles, St. Paul's conversion: viii.-xii. -- Church scattered by persecution, Philip in Samaria, Simon Magus, Peter and John at Samaria, Philip baptizes an Ethiopian proselyte to Judaism (viii.). Conversion of Paul, his baptism, he is introduced to the apostles, Peter at Joppa and Lydda, raising of Tabitha by Peter (ix.). Peter and Cornelius, Peter's trance, he eats with and has baptized Gentiles who had previously believed in God but were uncircumcised (x.). He explains his conduct and the Church approves (xi.1-18).

Christianity spreads to Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, where it is preached to pagan Greeks (xi.19-30). Herod's {114} persecution, murder of James, Peter's third imprisonment and escape, death of Herod in A.D.44, Paul returns from his second visit to Jerusalem (xii.).


From A.D.47 to 49.

St. Paul's First Missionary Journey: xiii.1-xv.35. -- Barnabas and Paul receive the laying on of hands at Antioch, journey through Cyprus, Elymas the sorcerer blinded, visit to Antioch in Pisidia, Paul's speech in the synagogue, he turns to the Gentiles (xiii.). Paul preaches at Iconium, cures lame man at Lystra, is stoned, returns to Antioch (xiv.). Persecution of the Christians by Jews.

The Jerusalem Church Council decides that Gentiles need not be circumcised (xv.1-35).


From A.D.49 to 52.

St. Paul's Second Missionary Journey: xv.36-xviii.22. -- Paul with Silas visits the Churches founded during the first journey, Timothy circumcised (xv.36-xvi.5). Paul crosses to Europe, imprisoned at Philippi, conversion of the jailor (xvi.). At Thessalonica and Beroea, at Athens, Paul's speech at the Areopagus (xvii.). At Corinth, brought before Gallic the Roman proconsul, travels by Ephesus and Caesarea to Jerusalem and Antioch (xviii.1-22). Persecution by Jews, or by Gentiles whose pockets are affected (xvi.19).


From A.D.52 to 56.

St. Paul's Third Missionary Journey: xviii.23-xxi.16. -- Paul revisits Galatia and Phrygia; Apollos, a converted {115} Jew, defends Christianity at Corinth (xviii.23-28). Paul stays at Ephesus, great riot (xix.). Roman officials tolerant to Christianity, craftsmen whose pockets are affected show violence. Journey to Macedonia and Greece, Paul at Troas, Eutychus' fall and cure, journey to Miletus where Paul meets the presbyters of Ephesus (xx.). Voyage to Tyre and Caesarea (xxi.1-16).


From A.D.56 to 61.

St. Paul arrested at Jerusalem, imprisoned at Caesarea, voyage to Rome: xxi.17-xxviii.31. -- Paul visits James and the presbyters, the Jews try to kill him, he is rescued and taken to the castle (xxi.17-40). His speech to the Jews, is removed by the chief captain (xxii.). His speech before the Jewish Council, is taken to Caesarea (xxiii.). Appears before the procurator Felix (xxiv.). Appears before the procurator Festus, appeals to the emperor, speaks before Agrippa (xxv., xxvi.). Roman officials still tolerant, but obliged to interfere. The voyage and shipwreck (xxvii.). Paul at Melita (xxviii.1-10). He journeys to Rome and expounds the gospel at Rome, where the Jews had not previously heard anything against him. He preaches the kingdom of God for two years (xxviii.11-31).

Similar Characteristics of St. Luke's Gospel and Acts. -- Among such are the continued interest in Samaritans (Acts i.8; viii.5-25) John the Baptist (Acts i.22; x.37; xiii.24; xviii.25; xix.3), women (Acts i.14; ix.36; xii.12; xvii.4), the poor (Acts ii.45; iii.3; iv.32; ix.39, etc.). In both books Christ is specially called |Lord,| and is the great Prophet (Luke vii.16, 39; xxiv.19-27; cf. Acts iii.22; vii.37), also the suffering |Servant| (Luke xxiv.36, 45; cf. Acts iii.13, 18; iv.27; viii.32). Notice, too, in both books the long reports of prayers and speeches.

The |we sections| contain 97 verses. They are xvi.10-17, xx.5-15; xxi.1-18, xxvii.1-xxviii.16.

See Rev. Sir John C. Hawkins, Bart., M.A., Horae Synopticae.

See Lightfoot, Commentary on Galatians.

The reader is referred to Dr. Gore, The Church and the Ministry, p.234 f. (fourth edition).

Encyclopaedia Biblica, vol. i. p.49.


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