The reign of Augustus, as is well known, is enveloped in the deepest obscurity. While we are unusually well informed about the immediately preceding period of Roman history, and for part of the reign of his successor, Tiberius, we possess the elaborate and accurate, though in some respects strongly prejudiced account of Tacitus, the facts of Augustus's reign have to be pieced together from scanty, incomplete and disjointed authorities.
Moreover, obscure events in a remote corner of the Roman world can never even in the best attested periods be expected to come within the purview of Roman history. Such events are preserved to us only by some accidental reference or some local authority; and it is unreasonable to cast doubt on the local authority, either because he relates what is not related by the Roman historians, or because he regards things from a different point of view, and sees them in different perspective, and applies to them a very different scale of importance.
The real value of these accidentally preserved local authorities is that they do not give the Roman point of view, but enable us to contemplate part of the Roman world, as it was seen by non-Roman eyes. What would we not give for a review of Caesar's Gallic campaigns by a leading Gaulish Druid or chief, or for a criticism of Agricola by the chief bard of Boadicea or of Galgacus? Tacitus, indeed, has expressed the views of Galgacus, but we feel that it is Tacitus, not the British chief, that speaks.
We should, undoubtedly, find in the words of the Gaul or the Briton a very different view from the official justification and. Apologia for his career published by Caesar, or the panegyric composed by Tacitus. We should certainly have considerable difficulty in reconciling the opposing authorities, and in striking a balance between the discrepant judgments and statements as to facts. But it would be sheer unreason to set aside as mere invention every assertion of the Gallic or British authority, which could not be established on Roman authority. Reasonable and sound criticism will apply the same standard to Luke's history. It will not demand that he, a Greek of the wider Greek world, as distinguished from the narrower country of Greece proper, should look at everything through Roman spectacles, and express everything precisely as a Roman would do. It will rate his value all the higher, because he has not done that -- because he shows us how Roman things were looked at by one who was not a Roman. It will be prepared to find differences of expression and description, even when the Greek and the Roman are looking at the same historical fact. To estimate Luke fairly, it will ask what was his attitude towards the Roman world. In answer to this question, one might say much; but even a brief chapter may be of some use.
On the whole, Luke's view has in essentials a strong Paulinistic character. He was disposed towards the Imperial government and political institutions very much as Paul was, and as the wider Greek world in general was. He accepted unreservedly the existing facts of society and organization. But there was a difference between them.
Paul, as a Roman himself, spoke from the Roman point of view. Though he was a citizen of Tarsus and from that point of view a member of the Greek world, his Roman citizenship overrode his Greek citizenship, and he had beyond all doubt been educated from infancy to understand his position as a Roman. His point of view is clearly and emphatically Roman. Those who talk of Paul as a mere Jew are blinding themselves to his real position and to the character of the Graeco-Roman world in his time.
But Luke's point of view was not the same. Luke is throughout his work a Greek, never a Roman; and his statements must be estimated accordingly. Before criticizing, we must make sure that we understand rightly; and we shall never understand rightly, unless we begin by sympathizing with the writer and the tone of his work.
Luke then speaks of things Roman as they appeared to a Greek. The Greeks never could quite understand Roman matters; even the mysteries of the Roman system of personal names were as puzzling to almost all Greeks as they are to a modern school boy or college student. Hence, for example, in the remarkable scene at Paphos (Acts 13:9), it is difficult to feel any confidence whether or not Paul disclosed himself to Sergius Paullus in his Roman character. If he did so, it is clear that his Roman name ought to be given. Strictly taken, Luke's language at this point implies that Paul showed himself only as a Greek traveler and philosopher to the Roman proconsul; and, on the whole, this seems perhaps most probable. But that must be gathered from the career of Paul as a whole; and it would not be safe to infer it from the fact that Luke gives the alternative name in its Greeks not in its Roman form. Paul did not, perhaps, develop his idea of Christianity for the Roman empire quite so early.
Luke, indeed, does not distinctly mark any further stage of development; but to Luke the great antithesis -- Gentile and Jew -- quite obliterated the lesser distinction between Roman citizen and Roman provincial, when the provincial was a Greek. What power lay in the Roman name, the thorough Greek never comprehended; and hence Luke has never disclosed to us the fact -- which is beyond all doubt -- that Paul had a Roman name. Had it been clearly present in the consciousness of all modern scholars that Paul must have been either Gaius Julius Paullus or something of that style, many things that have been said would have been better said, or left unsaid. Yet it is as certain as anything can be, that a Roman citizen necessarily had a Roman name, that Paul could not have revealed himself to the magistrates at Philippi or to Claudius Lysias, and that he could not have appealed to the emperor, except by virtue of his Roman name, which he must have stated openly.
Owing to the failure of a Greek to comprehend Roman names and their importance, we have no clear record about this important side of Paul's career. Luke sees him only in two aspects, as |Hebrew or Graeco Roman|: he never sees him as |Greek or Roman|.
As a preparation for the study of Luke's History, one ought to become familiar with the remains of the Greek used in the cities of the wider Greece, to understand as far as possible the ideas of the people among whom Luke grew up, and to appreciate the way in which they rendered or misrendered Roman things. We shall then begin to appreciate better Luke's meaning and his standard as a historian. It is true that he regularly uses the popular phraseology, and not the strictly and technically accurate terms for Roman things; but he is decidedly more accurate in essentials than the ordinary Greek, even the official Greek, of the Eastern cities. He never is guilty of the blunders that puzzle the epigraphist in Asian or Galatian inscriptions.
It has often been remarked that Luke wrote for a public ignorant of Palestine, its customs and its language, and familiar with the surroundings of Graeco-Roman life in the great cities of the empire. He explains to his readers Semitic names and terms; he describes the situation of Nazareth and Capernaum as cities of Galilee, of Arimathea as a city of the Jews, of the country of the Gadarenes as over against Galilee, and he even tells the distance of the Mount of Olives and of Emmaus from Jerusalem.
Now contrast with these explanations the allusions to the cities of the Greek and Italian lands. The fact that Syracuse and Puteoli and Rhegium are named without any geographical explanation might perhaps be explained from their fame and importance. Syracuse was one of the greatest Greek cities; Puteoli was the great harbor for passengers by the sea voyage to Rome from the East; and Rhegium was situated at a very striking point on the voyage. Similarly, while he explains the position of Philippi and Perga, Myra and Lystra, he assumes that the situation of Athens, of Corinth, and of Ephesus is familiar to his readers. He thinks that the coasts of the Aegean Sea need no explanation, or that the general character of the voyage sufficiently explains the position of Troas, Cos, Miletus, Caesarea and Ptolemais. The relation of Cenchreae to Corinth (Acts 18:18) is also taken as familiar. But the most striking case occurs as the travelers approach Rome. The author assumes that the Market of Appius and the Three Taverns are familiar points on the road, which Paul must traverse between Puteoli and Rome. Instead of telling their distance from Rome, he uses them as actual measures of distance to show how far the brethren came forth from Rome to welcome Paul.
Too much stress should not be laid on reasoning so slight as this. There is not enough of evidence to justify full confidence. But, so far as it goes, it suggests that Luke wrote for an audience which knew the environs of Rome and Corinth far more intimately than the country round Jerusalem and the Sea of Galilee. And, on the whole, it is on the great lines of communication leading from Syria and Asia to Rome that most knowledge is assumed.
Further, Luke sometimes adapts incidents to the comprehension of his readers by expressing them in terms which, though not a literal description of the original facts, approximate to the general sense and are more readily intelligible to the Western reader. An excellent example of this is found in Luke 5:17-20, as compared with Mark 2:1-4.
And when he entered again into Capernaum after some days, it was noised that he was in the house. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, no, not even about the door · and he spake the word unto them. And they come, bringing unto him a man sick of the palsy, borne of four. And when they could not come nigh unto him for the crowd, they uncovered the roof where he was and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed whereon the sick of the palsy lay.
And it came to pass on one of those days, that he was teaching; and there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, men bring on a bed a man that was palsied' and they sought to bring him in, and to lay him before him. And not finding by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went up to the house-top, and let him down through the tiles with his couch into the midst before Jesus.
Here it is obvious that Mark gives the incident in the more exact way. The house was a humble erection, with a flat roof of earth or other material, which was easily destroyed and as easily replaced. The bearers took advantage of this; mounting on the roof, they broke it up, and let down the couch through the hole which they thus made.
A modern writer might have explained all this to his readers. But Luke, although he interprets a single Semitic word occasionally, would not spare time and space enough for a more elaborate description of details, which were, in his estimation, unimportant. His readers were familiar with a different kind of house, covered with tiles, and having a hole (impluvium) in the roof of the principal chamber (atrium), where the company would be assembled. To turn aside from his proper subject and describe differences of architecture would have distracted attention from the really important facts. As has been often pointed out, Luke never describes such features, but leaves his readers to imagine for themselves from their own knowledge the surroundings amid which his story was enacted.
Accordingly, he preserves all the essential features -- the dense crowd preventing access to the Master by the proper approach the taking of the bed with the sick man in it up on the roof the letting down of the bed through the roof before the Savior's eyes. But he does not tell that the bearers broke a hole through the roof. A tiled roof, such as his readers were accustomed to, is strong; a hole cannot easily be made through it; and when it is broken, it is a long and expensive operation to repair it. It would seem unnatural that a hole should be violently made in such a roof; and Luke leaves his readers to apply their own knowledge, and to understand that the bearers let the man on his couch down through (the opening in) the tiles.
Matthew, again, regards all these details about the manner of bringing the man as unimportant, and omits them. Corresponding to Mark 2:2-4 and Luke 5:18, 19, he has only these words, 9:2:| And behold they brought him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed|. It was only the words and acts of the Master that he considered worthy of space. Luke and Mark and Matthew all say that Jesus, |seeing their faith,| told the man that his sins were forgiven. He saw that the man had the same |faith able to receive cure and salvation| as the lame man at Lystra, Acts 14. But Luke and Mark explain how the special circumstances made evident the faith of the bearers and the man, while Matthew leaves the reader to gather from Jesus' words, that he saw some special evidence of faith in the case before him, Matthew relates the story as one long familiar; and it would not be thoroughly intelligible to us without the proof of eager faith which Luke and Mark relate. The latter stand on an earlier stage than Matthew.
We notice that Luke's account here is not suited to a Greek house, but only to a Roman house. The Greek house was of totally different construction from the Roman; and, if Luke had been writing primarily for a public resident in the great Greek cities of the Aegean lands, he would probably have either related the incident in its original Palestinian form, or imparted to it a turn that would suit the style of house usual in those cities. It happens, fortunately, that we can illustrate and prove this point by a series of analogous cases.
The Roman comic dramatists, Plautus and Terence, adapted Greek plays to the Roman stage, modifying the plot and incidents in some respects to suit the tastes and the knowledge of a Roman audience. When some incident in the Greek play turned on a peculiarity in the structure of a Greek house, the Roman playwright often modified the facts, so as to suit the style of house that was familiar to his audience. Thus, a Greek dramatist wrote a play called |The Braggart,| in which the relation between two lovers is discovered by a slave resident in the neighboring house. In adapting this play, Plautus describes this discovery in the form that the slave, pursuing an ape which had escaped from his master's house, clambered over the roof of the atrium of his neighbor's house, and in this way was able to look through the hole in the roof or impluvium into the atrium, and saw the lovers sitting side by side.
As Lorenz has observed, this could not have been the form which the incident had in the original Greek play. The Greek house had no atrium with its impluvium, nor anything corresponding to it. The ordinary house in the Greek cities contained an open court or aula, to which access was gained by a passage leading from the front door. This court was surrounded, sometimes simply by the house walls, sometimes by a narrow stoa or portico, resting on the house walls and supported inside by columns. The covered chambers of the house opened off the back of this court, and the part of the mansion which contained these chambers was usually of one or, at most, two stories and covered by a flat roof. As the houses in these Greek cities were usually built close together, divided from one another by the house wall (which was common to both), it was easy to look from the flat roof (or from the windows of the upper story) of one house into the court of the next; and thus the slave in the Greek play saw the lovers in the aula of the neighboring house. In this same way Thekla at Iconium sat at a window in the house of her mother Theokleia, and heard Paul preaching in the court of the house of Onesiphorus, her neighbor. See note 2 at the end of this chapter.
Luke uses even the Roman form of expression. The regular term for |the roof| (regarded from the outside) was in Latin |the tiles|; but in Greek the collective singular form |the tiling| was used. Luke speaks after the Roman fashion, and says that they let the sick man down |through the tiles| (dia ton keramon). by which he implies the roof of Roman style. In a similar way, Terence in the Phormio, 707, speaks of a snake as having |fallen from the tiles (i.e., the roof) through the impluvium,| expressing the same meaning in a fuller way.
In a review in the Theologische Litteraturzeitung, 1897, p.534, Dr. Johannes Weiss says: |When Mark writes they uncovered the roof, and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed, ' but Luke on the other hand says they let him down through the tiles, ' the former thinks of the Palestinian style of building, while the latter thinks of the roof of the Graeco-Roman house|. This expresses practically the same view which has been advocated in the preceding pages, but the word Graeco-Roman seems to require modification. Luke writes with a view to the Roman house alone; and his language would not suit the Greek style of house.
Luke must have adapted his expression to suit either a circle of readers, or more probably the single reader, Theophilus, for whose instruction he composed his History; and, in giving to his narrative the form seen in 5:20, he evidently felt that Theophilus was used to the Roman and not the Greek house architecture. Taking this in conjunction with the use made of the Market of Appius and the Three Taverns, we find a distinct probability that Theophilus was a citizen of Rome.
Moreover, Theophilus is addressed by an epithet, which, under the empire, was peculiarly appropriated to Romans of high rank, and which became during the second century a technical title indicating equestrian (as distinguished from senatorial) rank. Examples are numerous in the Imperial Greek inscriptions; and those who have made themselves familiar with the usages of Roman and provincial life under the empire, will recognize the high probability that Luke uses this adjective in 1:4, as in every other place (Acts 23:26, 24:3 and 26:25) to indicate the official (probably equestrian) rank of the person to whom he applies it.
Luke, then, was adapting the form of his narrative either to a single Roman or to a Roman circle of readers. The frequency and emphasis with which he mentions matters that are specifically Roman must impress every reader.
In regard to Roman officials of high rank, the favorable judgment which they always pass on Christ and on his followers is so marked a feature of Luke's work, that it must have been prominent before his mind.
Luke mentions formally the charge which the Jews vainly made, that Jesus had been guilty of disloyalty and treason against the Roman emperor, 23:2. John mentions it very informally (John 18:30). Matthew and Mark are silent about the nature of the charge. Luke records the thrice repeated judgment of Pilate acquitting Jesus of all fault before the Roman law; John mentions the acquittal once in similar terms; Matthew represents Pilate as disclaiming all responsibility for his death, but not as formally pronouncing him innocent of all fault.
In Luke's Second Book this feature is still more marked. The Imperial officers stand between Paul and the Jews to save him from them. The Proconsul of Cyprus was almost converted to Christianity. The Proconsul of Achaia dismissed the Jews' case against him as groundless before the law. Festus, the Procurator of Palestine, found in Paul nothing worthy of death -- he had difficulty in discovering any definite charge against him, which he could report in sending him up to the supreme court of the empire. Even Felix, another Procurator, one of the worst of Roman officials, was affected by Paul's teaching, and to some extent protected him, and did not condemn him, though to please the Jews he left him in prison.
Among inferior Roman officials, Claudius Lysias, Julius, Cornelius, even the jailer in the colony of Philippi, were friendly to the Christians, or actually joined them. In the few cases in which the magistrates of a Roman colony took action against Paul, their action is shown to have been in error (as at Philippi), or is passed over in silence and the blame is laid on the jealousy and hatred of the Jews (as at Pisidian Antioch and Lystra). The praetors of Philippi scourged Paul, but they apologized, and confessed they had been in the wrong. The magistrates of the Greek cities, like Iconium, Thessalonica and Athens, were far more severe against Paul than those of Roman colonies.
Even the publicans, those hated instruments of a taxation after the Jewish and Romanising style, are far more kindly treated by Luke than by Matthew or Mark. Compare, for example, the |publicans and sinners| in the house of Levi or Matthew. Both Mark and Matthew designate the company by this name; but Luke calls them |publicans and others,| and confines the more opprobrious phrase to the mouth of the scribes (Matthew 9:10; Mark 2:15; Luke 5:29, cp.7:34). Luke alone sets the publican and the Pharisee over against one another as good and bad types, 18:10. It is true that several sayings of Christ in favor of publicans are given also by Matthew and Mark; they were too characteristic to be omitted; but Luke has more of them.
It is not unconnected with this character in his work that Luke records with special interest the acts and words of Christ implying that the Gospel was as open to the Gentiles as to the Jews. Similar examples are found in all the Gospels, because no one who gave a fair account of the teaching of Christ could omit them; but in Luke they are more numerous and more emphatic.
It has been, however, pointed out, as a proof that such examples cannot be relied on, that Luke omits entirely the story of the Savior's visit to Phoenicia, including the case of the Syrophoenician woman whose great faith was commended. But in that story occurs the saying, |I was not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel,| Matthew 15:24; and in view of such sayings as Luke -- and Luke alone -- records in 4:25-27 (see Luke 24:47 paralleled by Matthew 28:19, and Mark 16:15), the historian might doubt whether the incident was not likely to give a mistaken impression of the Savior's mission. As to the passing in silence over a visit to Phoenicia, it is pointed out below, that Luke deliberately refrains from describing the journeys and movements of Christ.
It is, therefore, plain on the face of Luke's History, that he has taken pains to connect his narrative with the general history of the empire, and that he has noted with special care the relations between the new religion and the Roman state or its officials. Elsewhere I have tried to show that Luke thought of his work, from one point of view, as |an appeal to the truth of history against the immoral and ruinous policy of the reigning emperor; a temperate and solemn record by one who had played a great part in them of the real facts regarding the formation of the Church, its steady and unswerving loyalty in the past, its firm resolve to accept the existing Imperial government, its friendly reception by many Romans, and its triumphant vindication in the first great trial at Rome. The book was the work of one who had been trained by Paul to look forward to Christianity becoming the religion of the empire and of the world, who regarded Christianity as destined not to destroy but to recreate the empire.
In such circumstances it is obvious that the historian was bound to be specially careful that his references to matters of Roman history, and especially his first reference -- the subject of this study -- were accurate. But the accusation which we have to meet is that it grossly misrepresented the character of Roman procedure, and was inaccurate in fact. If the accusation is right, any Roman citizen who possessed even a small knowledge of the facts of administration must have seen the gross inaccuracy at a glance. How, then, does it happen that, while the circumstances of the birth of Christ were closely scrutinized by the opponents of Christianity and subjected to much misrepresentation and many charges of falsification, no one in Roman times seems ever to have discovered the inaccuracies which many modern inquirers imagine to themselves?