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Acts 1

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Verse 1


Authorship —Ancient tradition and the internal evidence agree in assigning Ac to Luke the Physician, the author of the Third Gospel. (1) External Evidence. The Muratorian Canon ( c 170) makes this attribution, and adds that St Luke was present at events he relates. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., III, 14, 1, is equally clear, quotes from Ac as Scripture, and emphasizes its trustworthiness. The 2nd cent. ancient Latin and other Prologues of the Gospels, after mentioning St Luke as author of the Third Gospel, add that he also wrote Ac. In the 3rd cent., Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, V, 12, and Origen, C. Celsum, Bk. VI, 11, are both explicit. Tertullian defends the book against Marcion and others, and in De Jejunio 10, names St Luke as its author. Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. III, 4, confirms these early witnesses from Rome, Asia Minor and Gaul, Egypt and Africa. Even earlier still, Ac is cited by Clement of Rome, cf. Ep.2, and Acts 20:35, and Ep.59 and 26:18, by Ignatius, Magn., V, 1, and Smyrn., III, 3, and by Polycarp, Phil. 1 and 2. The sole exception to the witness of antiquity is a homily falsely attributed to St John Chrysostom, Hom. II in Ascensionem, PG 52, 780, which declares that the authorship of Ac is variously assigned to Clement of Rome, Barnabas and Luke. The Homilist seems to have confused Ac with Heb, which ancient writers give to Clement or Barnabas. (2) Internal Evidence. Luke is nowhere mentioned, but Ac purports to be a continuation of the Third Gospel. In 1:1 there is a reference to the First Book, which described the ’things which Jesus began to do and to teach’. That book had been written so that Theophilus might understand the instruction he had ’already received, in all its certainty’, Luke 1:4. Its author now writes for him this second book to describe the spread of the Faith after the death of Jesus. Style, grammar and the words used confirm that the two books are from the same pen.

More cogent still, the second part of Ac, describing tile jurneys of St Paul, contains a travel journal by one of his companions, written in the first person. E. Norden , Agnostos Theos ( 1913) 318, has shown from Cicero and from reports of magistrates to the Senate, that it was usual in ancient times to incorporate eyewitness accounts or diaries, in the first person, when a writer could vouch personally for what he related. Just such a document, in the first person plural, the ’We Sections is found in 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16. The Travel Journal is interrupted, and the first person ceases to be used, whenever its author is no longer present. If we work out from Ac and the Epistles who were St Paul’s companions during the periods covered by the ’We Sections’, St Luke is the only one who was always present, and moreover, unlike the rest, he is never present when the ordinary third person is used. The vivid diary of the eyewitness must clearly be his work.

The way in which St Luke inserts his journal in the narrative implies’.that he is the author of the whole of Ac, and this is fully borne out by vocabulary, grammar and style. These have been examined minutely, both in the Travel Journal, in the rest of Acts, and in the Gospel, cf. Jacquier, LX, Hawkins, Horae Synopticae ( 1909) 174, Harnack, Luke the Physician ( 1907) 26. Even in the account of the sea voyages and the shipwreck, where a number of nautical terms are used which are not found elsewhere, the style and vocabulary remain that of the rest of Ac and the Gospel. St Luke was a man of letters, he knew the value of sources, and wished it to be known when he had been an eyewitness of the facts he related.

The characteristic traits of the Third Gospel can nearly all be paralleled in Ac; cf. Introd. to St Luke. The hand of Luke the Physician, Colossians 1:14, can be seen in the technical accounts of the healing of the lame man, 3:7, of Publius, 28:8, and elsewhere. St Luke’s tenderness shows itself, e.g. 20:37; 21:13, and his emphasis on the part played by women, e.g. Tabitha, Lydia. There is the same love of the poor, and of those not attached to riches, the same universalism, cf.§ 817e, and the same insistence on prayer, cf.§ 820f.

Date of the Book —Although there is no tradition, since the time of St Jerome at least the conclusion has been drawn from Ac itself that it was written during or at the end of St Paul’s first captivity, in a.d. 63 or 64. There is never a hint of the fall of Jerusalem, and yet that event so affected the relations of Christians and Jews, and the controversy within the Church concerning the Mosaic Law, that it could hardly have failed to leave some trace. A little earlier, in 64 a.d., the Persecution of Nero began, yet in Ac there is no suggestion of trouble brewing. On the contrary, the empire is shown as friendly, and when the narrative closes, St Paul is found in the capital of the Roman world, preaching freely, and with converts in Caesar’s household. cf.§ 843a. There is never an allusion to

St Paul’s martyrdom, though his sufferings are foretold. His own prediction that he would not return to Ephesus, 20:35, is given, although it proved false in the event, as St Luke could hardly have failed to note, if he had been writing after St Paul had returned to Asia. Ac ends suddenly, without our being told how the trial which had brought St Paul to Rome, ended. The obvious deduction from this has always been that St Luke concluded his narrative because he had no more to say. Perhaps St Paul was still a prisoner. More probably he had just been released, because his Jewish accusers had failed to appear. St Luke tells us that he remained a prisoner for ’two whole years’, and to his readers this seems to have conveyed that he had fulfilled the statutory period during which an accused must wait for his accusers to appear; cf.* H. J. Cadbury in Beginnings, 5, 326 ff. Thus St Luke would be telling us how and why St Paul was released, but he does not insist on it, because the result of the trial was negative, and did not add to the vindication he had already received from the imperial authorities. It has been argued that the sudden ending was due to St. Luke’s intention of composing a third volume, and that when he called the Gospel his ’first’ volume, Acts 1:1 and not ’former’ he implied as much. However p?? + ?t?? is often used of the first of two in 1st cent. Greek, e.g. Luke 2:2, and an historian does not break of this narrative like a serial novelist, if he can avoid it. It might be added that the ’primitive’ tone of the earlier chapters, and St Luke’s unfamiliarity with the Epistles of St Paul also help to rule out a late date for Ac. We may safely conclude that it was written in Rome, before the great fire of July 64, which let loose the Neronian Persecution, and which was perhaps the immediate cause of the hurried ending of the book, cf.§ 843i.

St Luke’s Sources —A doctor, from Syrian Antioch, who joined St Paul on his Second Journey, and returned to Jerusalem with him’ at the end of his Third, remaining for years his constant companion, St Luke was able to obtain the most direct information, cf.§ 744b. A doctor was a man of importance, familiar with the great, and practising a liberal art. Such a one knew how to collect the materials for a history, and in the case in hand, how to combine his own notes and memories, with the documents he had copied, into an artistic whole. Indeed St Luke in the introduction to his Gospel, 1:2, explains how carefully he collected his information from eyewitnesses, and his treatment of St Mark reveals how faithfully he used his sources.

For the sources of Ac 13-28 there is no need to look beyond St Paul himself, his companions, and St Luke’s own observation. Written documents were also used. e.g. the Travel Journal, a copy of the Apostolic Decree, the letter of Claudius Lysias, etc. As to chh 1-12, the vividness of so many of the accounts suggests strongly that they are the work of eyewitnesses, whom it was so easy for St Luke to consult, whether at Antioch, or during the two years a.d. 58-60, of St Paul’s captivity at Caesarea, the home of Philip the Evangelist, 21:8. At Antioch and Jerusalem he must have met the chief figures, and he betrays the interest that ’old disciples’ have for him, 13:1; 21:16. At Rome he certainly met St. Mark, Colossians 4:10 and 14; Philem 24. It has even been argued that in these chapters St Luke was following a Marcan source, as he had for his Gospel, cf. RB 29 ( 1920) 555, and 30 (1921) 86. The strongly Semitic colouring of these early chapters has also suggested their dependence on an Aramaic original; but this is difficult to prove; nor should it be forgotten that the first community at Jerusalem was bilingual, and that at the election of the seven Deacons the Greekspeaking Christians were in a considerable majority. Owing to the faithful way in which St Luke copied out his sources, and (since he was writing a history) arranged them in more or less chronological order, it is still possible to dissect them. This has been done very convincingly by L. Cerfaux, La Composition de la première partie du Livre des Actes, ETL, 13 ( 1936), 667-91.

Thus the narrative from the Ascension till the end of the day of Pentecost must come from the Twelve, and 2:41 to the end of ch 5, where the horizon is limited to the Temple and Jerusalem from the Jewish Christians of the Holy City. The account of the Deacons and St Stephen in 6 and 7 gives the story of some of the Hellenist Christians, and reveals their more universalist point of view. Then follow Acts of Philip, 8, the Conversion of Saul, and Acts of Peter the Missionary, 9:31-11:18, all perhaps preserved at Caesarea. From Antioch comes the account of the beginnings of the church in that city. Careful study has revealed the fullness of St Luke’s documentation, and the faithfulness with which he reproduced it.

Historical Value —What has been said as to the authorship, date and sources of Ac proves, putting aside Inspiration, how reliable it is. The extraordinary accuracy of St Luke has also been demonstrated by the recent discoveries of archaeology. The story of the ’conversion’ of Sir William Ramsay, who had been brought up to regard Ac as a 2nd cent. forgery is well known, and the archaeological evidence can be found in his books. ’Every incident described in the Acts is just what might be expected in ancient surroundings. The officials with whom Paul and his companions were brought into contact are those who would be there. Every person is found just where he ought to be: proconsuls in senatorial provinces, Asiarchs in Ephesus, strategoi in Philippi, politarchs in Thessalonica, magicians and soothsayers everywhere. . . . The magistrates take action against them in a strictly managed Roman colony like Pisidian Antioch or Philippi, where legality and order reigned: riotous crowds try to take the law into their own hands in the less strictly governed Hellenistic cities like Iconium and Ephesus and Thessalonica’, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the NT ( 1915) 96. cf. also * E. J. Bick nell in A New Commentary, 1928, ’On all sorts of little points connected with the names both of persons and places the author has used a most careful discrimination. . . . Nowhere can he be convicted of a mistake. On many points on which he used to be supposed to be in error he has now been proved to be correct’. cf. too, Jacquier, ccxxv; DAFC, ’ Epigraphie’, 1428, and * S. L. Caiger, Archaeology and the NT, 1939.

There are eighteen speeches in Ac, which occupy about one-fifth of the book. It has often been suggested that these are literary inventions, and that St Luke was following the recognized practice of Greek historians, in thus enlivening his history. However Polybius at least took a stricter view, and there is every reason to suppose that St Luke shared it. We know how careful he was over our Lord’s discourses in his Gospel, in accordance with the promise of his prologue, LK, 1:4 and the evidential aim of his ’second book’ made the same fidelity no less necessary there also. It is a gratuitous supposition that accuracy in detail and fidelity to sources stopped short at the speeches. Those that we have are, of course, only summaries. Shorthand notes would have been taken at the time, or the substance of a speech written down from memory. The speeches themselves bear strong marks of their authenticity. Thus those of St Peter contain both words and ideas found in 1 Pet, and not found elsewhere in Lk. The Descent into Hell is found in NT only in 2:24 and 1 Peter 3:19. Gamaliel speaks like the liberal Rabbi he was. St Stephen’s speech is full of Aramaisms, follows the Jewish method of argumentation, and is far less respectful to Jewish religion than St Luke ordinarily shows himself, On parallels between St James’ speech and his Epistle see J. Chaine, Epître de St Jacques, lxxxiii. The resemblances between St Paul’s speeches in Ac, and his Epistles are particularly striking. Numerous Pauline expressions can be pointed to, OT texts are cited in the same way, and there are many doctrinal points of contact. Justification by faith and the impotence of the Law are insisted on, in the ’programme speech’ to the Jews of Pisidian Antioch. cf. F. Prat, op. cit. I (1945) 54 ff., and Jacquier, cclxvii.

The difficulty of reconciling the accounts given in Gal and Ac of the controversy over the Mosaic Law has been. brought forward against the historicity of St Luke. The two versions can be sufficiently harmonized, once the difference is realized between St Paul writing in the heat of conflict, to preserve the liberty of his converts, and St Luke, the sober historian, who reduces the controversy to its proper proportions, and is anxious to bring out the fundamental unity of the Church. Indeed one more confirmation of the accuracy of St. Luke can be derived from the Epistles of St Paul. St Luke certainly did not use them among his sources, and, as the ’We Sections’ prove, he was absent when they were written, or, in the case of the Captivity Epistles, they did not come within the framework of Ac. Many events referred to in the Epistles find no place in Ac, yet the correspondence between them is considerable, and all the more valuable for being indirect and accidental: e.g. the great apostolate at Ephesus, Acts 19:10 and 1 Corinthians 16:9 st Paul’s intention of going to Rome 19:10 and Romans 15:23, the accounts of the evangelization of Thessalonica or Corinth, the collection for the poor at Jerusalem. Ac and the Epistles supplement each other, and once their differing viewpoints are recognized, can be harmonized without difficulty.

Purpose and Theme —The analysis of Ac reveals that it is not a complete history of the first years of the Church. We are told nothing of the founding of the Church in Rome, nor of the later history of St Peter. This was partly perhaps because St Luke writes only what he can vouch for, but many episodes that he knew about are similarly omitted, e.g. much of the history of St Paul, and the later history of the churches he founded, and the development of the organization of the Church. Gospel and Ac form a whole. Both are written to strengthen and enlighten faith. After the history of the visible Christ comes the history of Christ working invisibly through his instruments. The Apostles are to ’preach unto all nations, beginning at Jerusalem’, and to be the witnesses of Jesus, Luke 24:47-48. For this purpose they will ’receive the power of: the Holy Ghost coming upon’ them, and will ’be witnesses unto’ Jesus ’in Jerusalem and in all Judaea and Samaria, and even to the uttermost parts of the earth’, Acts 1:8. The theme of Acts is the fulfilment of this last command of Our Lord. The book is written to demonstrate the wonderful expansion of Christianity through the world, begun and carried on by the power of the Holy Spirit. We see the Church gradually breaking through the Judaism in which it was born. and spreading to the Greek and Roman world. This universal preaching involves a tragic struggle with the narrow spirit of Jewish religion. Owing to the force and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, the work of Jesus is accomplished. After the Acts of Jesus in the Gospel come the Acts of the Holy Spirit. Hence the aim of St Luke is not to give a systematic history of the Church, but to describe the Holy Spirit at work founding it, and enabling it to break in upon the pagan world, although it was rejected by the Jews.

Doctrinal Content —Being a historical work, by one who had no great interest in theology, it might be expected that little doctrine could be found in Ac. But the Christian Faith is essentially a piece of history, that of God’s intervention in the affairs of mankind; and Ac is the only history we possess of the Coming of the Holy Spirit, and his guidance of the Church during the first momentous thirty years. The four Gospels describe the Incarnation and work of Jesus Christ, and this is the fifth Gospel, that of the Holy Spirit, a unique gospel, and so especially precious.

The doctrine to be found in chh 13-28 is most naturally studied in the context of the theology of St Paul. Hence in what follows attention will be concentrated chiefly on the first twelve chapters, and the insight they afford into the faith and teaching of the Church in Palestine, between a.d. 30 and 45. Indeed a full study would require a subdivision of these twelve chapters, and the separate consideration of the teaching to be found, and the advance made in the sources as outlined above, § 815d. Only thus can be seen, for instance, the step forward taken by St Stephen and the deacons, or the progress made when the pagans were preached to at Antioch. But see on 6:1, 8 and 11:19-26. One further distinction must be made in considering the doctrine of Ac, namely, that between the apologetic discourses of the Apostles: destined for those outside, and the fuller teaching to be gleaned from the lives and prayers of the Christians themselves. Jews and Gentiles had to be led on step by step, and told only the mysteries they could grasp. This helps to explain the archaic character of the earlier discourses, and more proof of the accuracy with which St Luke reproduced his sources. The narrative of the life of the first disciples is most valuable in that it brings out incidentally the primitive Christian teaching and faith. Here we find the divinity of our Lord continually affirmed implicitly, and eventually explicitly, and the activity of the Holy Spirit making his own Person known. We see too, the Church, in which alone the Spirit is given, united in love, under the authority of St Peter and the Apostles, its members living a ’new life’ of joyful union with God, whose Holy Spirit they have received.

God the Father —The revelation of the Blessed Trinity in the NT was made by showing gradually, and through actions more often than through words, that two other Persons besides the heavenly Father, are the One God of Israel. Hence the concept of the Father in Ac, is that of the true God already to be found in the OT. He is the Creator, everywhere present, 4:24, 14:14, 17:24-28. He reads all hearts, 15:8, and governs all things by his Providence, 1:7, 2:23. Further, he raised Jesus from the tomb, 2:24, he promised the Holy Spirit, 1:4, and from him Jesus received the’ Promise, 2:33, which was poured out at Pentecost, Through the Holy Spirit the Father works in the Church.

Jesus Christ —In the apologetic preaching, the Apostles generally speak in a veiled way of the divinity of our Lord. They begin by showing that he is the Messias. This is the triumphant conclusion of St Peter’s discourse at Pentecost, that Jesus is ’both Lord and Christ’, i.e.Messias 2:16-36. His Messianic character is proved from prophecy, miracles, and especially the Resurrection. In the next section, 2:40-5:42, our Lord is referred to by Messianic titles found here only in the NT. He is pa? + ?? Te?? + ?, 3:13 (see comm.) the Suffering Servant. But the title has also the sense of ’Son’ of God, and that seems to be its meaning when it is used within the new community, 4:30. St Paul preached without any reserve that Jesus is the Son of God, 9:20; 13:33. Another Messianic title used in this section only, and presumably discarded as veiled teaching became unnecessary, is the ’Just One’, 3:14. At all events, the greatness of the Messias. is revealed by his powers. He sends the Holy Spirit, he forgives sins, he is the author of life, 3:15, he is the one saviour of all men, whose name is powerful like that of Yahweh, 4:10 ff., he is to be obeyed like God, 4:19, he sits on the right hand of God, and is the judge of all men.

Jesus is also ’Lord’, Kyrios; see on 2:36. In the early discourses, this title implies that the Messias has the royal powers of God. Through learning the functions of the Messias, the Jews were led on to realize his Nature. In 10:36 he is the ’Lord of all men’, a much stronger phrase; cf.Philippians 2:11 and Apoc 19:16.

The attitude to our Lord within the Church gives, as has been said, a far clearer insight. There the title ’Lord’ has become a divine name. Kyrios, the LXX translation of Yahweh, is the Gk word chosen to describe the name and being of God, and it is now applied to Jesus, as indeed it was in the Gospel 4:33; 7:58-59; 9:1. He is the ’Lord who knows all hearts’, 1:24, like his Father. Many other phrases refer to Jesus by this divine name, and it is not always easy to decide whether he or his Father is meant. We may note especially ’faith in the Lord’, i.e.Jesus, 5:14; 11:17, and 14:22. Even more revealing are the relations between Jesus and his first followers. Just as God was invoked in the OT, so, and among Jews the fact has an extraordinary significance, Jesus is invoked now. Those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved, Joel 2:32, and Acts 2:21, and Christians are those who call on the name of Jesus, his saints, 9:13-4, 21. They pray to him, 1:24, and turn to him in the moment of trial like St Stephen, and he comes to their aid. They are one with him, 9:4, and in his name they are baptised. Indeed it is a privilege to suffer or die for this name. 5:41; 9:16; 20:24; 21:13. He appears himself from time to time, when guidance is needed, to Ananias, to Peter, to Paul. Paul especially, receives his mandate from Jesus, 26:16, and is encouraged in his missionary labours by such visions, 18:9; 23:11. Lastly, Jesus is with his followers through the Holy Spirit he has sent, the Spirit of Jesus, 16:7. On the very explicit 20:28, ’church of God which he has purchased with his own blood’, see comm. Even apart from these later texts, how little separates this faith in practice of the first disciples from the teaching of St Paul and St John! St Luke had no doubt that it was the same faith all through.

Salvation the Work of Jesus —There is no salvation in any other name, 4:12, cf. 3:16. Through this saviour men obtain remission of sins, 5:31. He is the cause of our salvation, 3:19, 26; 10:42-43; 15:11. Thus St Peter; and St Paul teaches the same, 13:38-39; 16:31. This salvation is connected with the death of Jesus. He is the ’Suffering Servant’, and his pains have redemotive value, 8:32-35; cf. 3:13, 18. The discourses of St Peter, St Stephen and St Paul develop the identical theme: the crime of the Jews.in killing the innocent Messias, and thus, as had been foretold, fulfilling the plan of God, for the salvation of the human race. Our Lord is the saviour of all men, Gentiles as well as Jews, ’whomsoever the Lord our God shall call’, 2:21 and 39, and he is to be preached to the uttermost parts of the earth, 1:8. This universalism is never in doubt, the only hesitation is over the extent to which Jewish observances are still necessary.

As to the earthly life of our Lord, Ac refers to nearly all the chief events. He comes from Nazareth, and is of the house of David, born of Mary. John the Baptist prepared the way for him, 13:24-25. Beginning in Galilee, he preached, and worked miracles, and appointed Apostles, 10:41-42. After his death and resurrection, his appearances are described, 1:3; 10:40-41; 13:31, and his Ascension. He sits on the right hand of God, and will come to judge the living and the dead, 3:20; 10:42; 17:31, all of whom, just and unjust, will rise again, 24:15, 25.

The Holy Spirit —To explain the miracle of Pentecost St Peter refers to the Spirit promised in Joel, the Spirit or Power of God, spoken of in the prophetic and sapiential books. Ac is concerned, more than any other book of the NT, with’ the activity of this Holy Spirit of God, called now ’the Spirit’ (9 times), now ’Holy Spirit’ (18 times), now ’the Holy Spirit’ (24 times), twice ’the Spirit of the Lord’, and once ’the Spirit of Jesus’. The divinity of the Spirit is not in question. Jewish tradition affirmed it. The Spirit of God is divine, as the spirit of man is human, and, as we now learn, to lie to the Holy Spirit is to lie to God, 5:3. The works attributed to the Spirit, inspiring prophets and sanctifying believers, are divine works. And so in Ac too, we find that God spoke by the mouth of the prophets, 3:18, 21, and the Holy Spirit also, 1:16; 4:25; 28:25. What has to be shown is that the first disciples saw here a Person distinct from the Father and Jesus.

The Holy Spirit manifests himself especially through his gifts and his activity, and it is through these that we are led to realize that he is a distinct Person. Our Lord promised the Apostles power, ’when the Holy Spirit shall come upon you’. He comes, and they speak ’according as the Holy Spirit gave them to speak’. He spoke through the ancient prophets, and he also speaks through the NT ones, 11:28; 21:11. Much more, it is he who continually guides the Church and the Apostles. He is a ’witness ’ along with them, 5:32. He gives instructions to Philip, 8:29, and to St Peter, 10:19, and the great decisions are made by him in conjunction with human persons, ’it hath seemed to the Holy Ghost and to us’, 15:28. The missionaries go out under his orders, 13:2-4. He guides them, 20:23, sometimes holds them back, 16:6-7, and appoints bishops, 20:28. He consoles, 9:31, works miracles, 10:46, 19:6. Sin against him is terribly punished. At every crisis he intervenes, 7:55; 11:28; 20:23. Finally, he is the object of a special teaching. Those who are ignorant of him, though they may know of the Father and Jesus, are not yet true disciples, 19:1-7. If as yet there are no prayers to the Holy Spirit, this is due to the way in which the economy of salvation was revealed to us.

The Blessed Trinity —In Ac we see the three Persons, but the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, in this historical work, is nowhere didactically set forth. It is none the less presupposed. In 1:4 the Holy Spirit is promised by the Father, and in 2:33 Jesus sends down this Promise, whom he has received from his Father. In 2:38-39, we see God calling men, who are then baptised in the name of Jesus, and receive the Holy Spirit. Then the Spirit of the Lord, 8:39, is also the Spirit of Jesus, 16:7; cf. J. S. J. Lebreton, Histoire du Dogme de la Trinité, 1 ( 19277) 342-78.

The Gift of the Spirit —The Holy Spirit is the principle of life, who animates the new community. His work of spreading the Gospel, and enabling the disciples to bear witness has already been described. Sometimes he works by the charismata, gifts of tongues, etc., or by strong inspirations enabling their recipients to benefit others. Thus we are told more than twenty times that the disciples or their hearers were filled with the Holy Spirit. This is true especially of the key figures, whose activity and witness are so important for others, Peter 4:8, Stephen, Barnabas, for the vital work at Antioch, where Paul must come, 11:24, and Paul himself, 13:4, 9.

Besides the transient work of the Holy Spirit, Ac speaks of his permanent presence, the Gift hidden in the hearts of the faithful, after Baptism, 2:38; 5:32. This Presence sometimes reveals itself externally, 6:3-15, for the Holy Spirit gradually transforms and makes holy those in whom he dwells. The new life of the Spirit begins to spread through the world, and thus Ac shows us the fulfilment of our Lord’s promises in Jn 14-16. St Luke’s favourite name for the disciples is those of the way’, those following the new way of life, 9:2. Of this new life Christ is the author, 3:15, the Apostles are to preach it boldly, 5:20, the Gentiles share it, 11:18; 13:48, and failure to preach it is to be the cause of death to others, 20:26. Common Life —St Luke loves to depict the fervour and holiness of the first disciples, and the joyful union and charity between them, all effects of the Gift of the Spirit, 2:42-47; 4:24-35; 13:52. The force of his description is weakened in translation. All persevere ’with one mind’ ’together’, even before Pentecost, when they were ’all together in one place’. Later they were ’in communion’, ’had all things in common’, ’continued daily with one accord’, and increased daily together. They prayed ’with one accord’, ’had but one heart and soul’, and ’all things were common unto them’. There were shadows, from the first, as Ac tells us, but the Apostles did their best to teach and reproduce the life they had led with Jesus. So their followers gave themselves up to the Spirit. They sold their possessions to buy the treasure of the Kingdom. The lived and prayed together, thus becoming the model of all in the future who would wish to lead a religious life. Mutual charity persevered. Tabitha, 9:36, is one example. The churches send alms to the poor at Jerusalem. St Paul’s speech to the Presbyters of Ephesus tells the same tale, as do his farewell on the beach at Tyre, 21:5, and the welcome he received from the Christians of Rome.

The Church —From the first, the new life is lived in a community, and one that is autonomous. The outpouring at Pentecost brings it to life, and within it alone is the Spirit given. It is called the Church in the earliest documents, 5:11, cf. L. Cerfaux, La Théologie de l’Eglise suivant St Paul, Paris 19482, esp. pp 87 and 144. Its leaders realize that they have a mission to the whole world, and that when necessary they must obey God rather than the highest authorities in Judaism, 5:29. The breach with the Synagogue becomes formal once Gentiles are admitted into the Church without circumcision. This proved that the Church could no longer be considered a Jewish sect. It was the new Israel, the new chosen people, 15:14. It was necessary to reaffirm the principle at the Council of Jerusalem, and there St Peter implied that the Jewish law no longer bound even Christian Jews. It was still generally observed by them, however, and only after the fall of Jerusalem was the breach with the Synagogue complete.

An Organized Society: the Apostles —Our Lord in the Gospel gave the Apostles their authority, and fixed their number, which, after the death of Judas, had to be made up. Ac shows them to be (1) Witnesses to the life and Resurrection of Jesus, which are the basis of the new faith, 2:32; 4:20; 5:30-32; 10:39; 13:31. (2) Teachers, for Christians must obey the teaching of Jesus, be ’disciples’, and have faith in him, if they are to enter the new society. They must accept the ’didache’, ’the doctrine of the Apostles’, 2:42; 10:36-43, ’the things that are of Jesus’, 18:25; 28:31, i.e. the Gospel, our Lord’s life and teaching. This the Apostles had received from their ’one Master’, and its content fuller than what the NT has preserved for us, is represented in part by the discourses in Mt. (3) Rulers guided by the Holy Spirit, who was promised to them in a special way. Hence, their momentous decisions are also those of the Holy Spirit, and men who lie to them, are said to be lying to him. Much more, the Gift of the Spirit depends on them, for God only gives the Holy Spirit to those ’that obey him’, 5:32, that are incorporated in the Church by baptism. The one exception is the Descent of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his household, even before they had been baptized. But here a direct divine intervention was necessary, to ensure the admission of Gentiles into the Church without conditions. Yet, in spite of their high Gift, they have to submit at once to authority, and be baptized, 10:44-48. Normally none can receive the Spirit of Christ, who have not entered the body of Christ. The Apostles, have their powers from the first. There is no development. They admit the first converts, men give them their property as to God, they can delegate their powers, and are able to pronounce the severest punishment on those who threaten the good name and discipline of the Church. Their prerogatives include the working of miracles, prophesying and the understanding of the Scriptures.

The Primacy of St Peter —If in the Apostles we can see the beginnings of an authoritative hierarchy, even more in St Peter can we trace the first lineaments of the Papacy. St Luke knew that our Lord had made him the leader, cf.Luke 22:31-32, and the chief witness, Luke 24:34, cf.1 Corinthians 15:5, and shows Him to us, performing his functions at once after the Ascension. He arranges for the election of St Matthias. He is the spokesman at Pentecost and afterwards, the chief teacher. He works the first miracle, and remains the principal thaumaturge, 5:15; cf. 9:38. He wields the authority in the case of Ananias and Sapphira. In the early persecutions by the Sanhedrin, he is the ringleader, and he is the one Herod must arrest. When he is in prison, the special prayer of the Church shows the esteem in which he is held, 12:5, 12, 14. During the first period, the church at Jerusalem was the whole church of God, and possessed the essential elements of its organization, Apostles, and St Peter at the head. As new districts are evangelized, St Peter is seen to be responsible for them also. After the Gospel has been preached in Samaria, St Peter and St John are delegated to link up the new converts with the mother church, 8:14. ’The word "delegation" must not deceive us, any more than the demeanour, democratic in the old sense of the word, of the primitive ’community. Authority does not abdicate because it is willing to listen to the Church, and Peter, the delegate of the Church of Jerusalem and of the Apostolic Body—they are one and the same thing —remains the head. There are shades of meaning there which we western people misconstrue. But also, and above all, the same Spirit that gave Peter the first place, and made him the head, inspired the Church and the Twelve to put back into his hands the responsibility for decisions. Whether it is a question of his own initiative, or whether he gets himself delegated, Peter always enjoys full powers’, Cerfaux, La Communauté Apostolique ( 1943) 71. The Church is extended to Samaria. St Peter’s responsibilities increase, and he makes a pastoral visitation of the Church in Judaea and Samaria, 9:31-32.

The most momentous decision made in apostolic times was that of admitting Gentiles to share in the new Messianic blessings, without having to observe circumcision and the Mosaic Law. This made clear the independence of the new religion. It was St Peter alone, specially enlightened, who made this decision, and it was of great importance for St Luke’s story, to show from whom it had emanated. With the growth of the large Gentile church at Antioch, a further development is seen. The Church at Jerusalem, with its love for the temple and the law, becomes archaic. But St Peter has left for Antioch and then Rome. ’As the ship enters the sea of the Gentiles, Peter is at the helm’, L. Cerfaux, ibid. However, the growth of the Gentile churches leads to an attempt to undo St Peter’s decision in the Cornelius case. Later on at the Council of Jerusalem, he reaffirms it, and St James himself explains how God chose him out specially to receive the first Gentiles. St Peter appears above the debate, with the matter already settled in his mind, and his authoritative utterance on the main point at issue is accepted. All are led by the Spirit, St Paul the defender of liberty, St James of the Law, and St Peter, the true shepherd, reconciling them. On 15:19 see comm. The quarrel at Antioch, since it had no lasting effects, St Luke omits out of respect, as we may safely guess, for the Prince of the Apostles, the visible sign of that unity in the Church which St Luke loved so well.

The Sacraments: Baptism —Our Lord’s teaching about faith, repentance and baptism is put into practice at once. All who wish to be saved must be baptised with water, 8:36; 10:47. Then their sins are remitted, 2:38, 22:16, they belong to the Church, and are able to receive the Spirit, 8:12; 9:18; 16:33. They become the followers of Jesus, united to him, and are said to be baptised ’in his name’, cf. comm. on 2:38. By the formula almost certainly used, they are consecrated to the Holy Trinity. Only after this mystery has been taught is baptism conferred, 19:1-7. Concerning the baptism of infants see note on 21:5-6. 820a

Confirmation —Closely associated with baptism, is the laying on of hands to give the Holy Spirit, the ’Baptism of the Spirit’, 1:5; 11:16. St Peter mentions the effects of the two rites in the same verse, ’be baptised for the remission of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost’, 2:38; and after Pentecost, and for long, in the Church, the two were normally administered together. However, in Ac we learn more about the separate sacrament of Confirmation than anywhere else in the NT. In the account of the Samaritans, 8:15-17, and of the disciples of John, 19:5-6, the laying on of hands comes as something distinct from baptism, and it can only be performed by those holding special

authority, Apostles. On the case of Ananias see comm. on 9:17. The Eunuch too, 8:38, seems only to have been baptised, and on the other hand, the Apostles, who had long since repented of their sins, received at Pentecost the Spirit who could not be given till our Lord was glorified, 2:33; cf.John 7:39. The gift was permanent, and, as at Pentecost and with the Samari. tans, was often accompanied by the granting of charismata. It seems especially to fit disciples to be witnesses of Jesus, and to enable them to preach with courage and confidence, cf. 4:33 and 5:32.

The Holy Eucharist —St Luke uses the term ’the Breaking of Bread’ for a rite which the disciples practised from the first. A comparison with Luke 22:19 and 1 Corinthians 10:16 shows that the reference is to the Holy Eucharist, and the action which symbolized the death of Christ, cf. comm. on 2:42 and 46. St Paul celebrates the Breaking of Bread, on the Sunday, at Troas, 20:7, 11, and perhaps too, on board ship, 27:35. There may also be a reference to the Holy Eucharist in 1:4.

Holy Order —The laying on of hands is used not only to give the Holy Spirit, but also to confer authority and spiritual powers, within the Church, in the case of the Seven Deacons, and Paul and Barnabas, 6:1-6; 13:3; cf. comm. in loc.

In 11:30 St Luke mentions ’presbyters’ in the church at Jerusalem. They collect alms for the poor, and so have a ministry similar to that of the deacons, but higher, as their title and their place immediately after the Apostles suggest. They are found joined with the Apostles at the Council of Jerusalem, 15:4; 16:4, and later, 21:18. They evidently form a sort of college, presided over by St James. St Paul also establishes presbyters in the communities he founds, 14:22. In his farewell to those at Ephesus, he calls them ’bishops’ and says they have been appointed by the Holy Spirit, to feed the church of God, to act as unselfish shepherds, and as teachers, 20:28-35. There are also ’prophets’ and ’doctors’, such as we find in St Paul’s epistles, possessing charismatic gifts. Their presence in the church at Antioch, shows the approval of the Holy Spirit, as it had done at Jerusalem, 11:27; 13:1. cf. also § 659.

Liturgy and Prayer —The Breaking of Bread is surrounded by prayer, the beginnings of the Mass, whilst the rites of ordination, 6:6; 13:2-3; 14:22, and confirmation, 8:15, are already part of a liturgy. For long too, the Apostles join in the temple liturgy, 2:46; 3:1, and so does St Paul, 21:26; 22:17, and in prayer in synagogues as well, 16:13-16. Although our Lord had announced the ruin of the temple, it was also the house of his Father. Only gradually was it realized that new wine could not be put into old bottles. The establishment of the church in such places as Antioch, meant that the splendour of the temple could not longer eclipse the Christian assembly for the Breaking of Bread, prayer and praise held in private houses. Even then much of the Jewish liturgy was taken over, and with it the custom of praying at the Third, Sixth and Ninth hour, and at the hour of the evening sacrifice.

As in his gospel, St Luke is constantly drawing attention to prayer. Our Lord had prayed before the Holy Spirit descended on him, Luke 3:21, and the disciples do the same before the Descent at Pentecost. Prayer and the inspiration of the Holy. Spirit go hand-in-hand, 4:31. Cornelius, ’always praying to God’, receives the grace of being the first-fruits of the Gentiles; and St Peter is praying when he has the vision which compels him to take his momentous step, 10:9. St Luke gives us the first recorded prayer of the community, that preceding the election of St Matthias, and one of thanksgiving after the release of St Peter and St John, 4:24-30. The Church prays ’without ceasing’ for St Peter imprisoned by Herod and is answered by his miraculous escape. St Peter and St Paul pray before working miracles, 9:40; 28:8. In the gaol of Philippi at midnight, after their scourging, St Paul and Silas praise God, ’and all they that were in prison heard them’, 16:25. St Paul exhorts the presbyters at Ephesus, in their care for others, not to neglect their own souls, and then he prays with them, 20:28, 36. as he does with the Christians of Tyre, 21:5. Common prayer is the sign of union. During the great storm, St Paul’s prayer saves all those on the ship, and for the welcome accorded to him by the Church at Rome St Paul gives thanks to God, 28:15.

Angels —In the Gospel of the Holy Spirit we are not allowed to forget the spirits that surround God’s throne. How often an ’angel of the Lord’ or ’of God ’ guides and protects. Two are present after the Ascension. Twice St Peter is rescued from prison by an angel. Philip is sent to the Ethiopian by one, and another sends Cornelius to St Peter. An angel assures St Paul that all on his ship will escape with their lives. When they appear it is in white apparel and shining, so that the face of St Stephen in the presence of the Sanhedrin looks as if it were the face of an angel. The Jewish doctrine about angels, denied only by the Sadducees, 23:8-9, continues in the Church. This is true as well of guardian angels, who appear in the OT, and who were thought to be able to take on the likeness and the voice of their charges. All this is confirmed in the reference to St Peter’s guardian angel, 12:15.

The Text —This has come down to us in two forms, (1) The ’Alexandrian’ Text, that of the great uncial MSS, B, Sin. A. (2) The ’Western’ Text, represented chiefly by D. This latter has many additions, often of vivid details, cf. note on 19:9. A number of these additions are found very early, attested even by the papyri. Hence the theory was put forward by F. Blass in 1895 that St Luke brought out two editions of his work, one in Rome, the ’Western’ Text, and a more concise revision for Theophilus. This theory has not won acceptance. A minute examination of each of the divergent passages seems to show that the great majority of the changes in the Western Text are made in the interests of clarity or piety. It is a corrected text. The classical example of this occurs in the Apostolic Decree, 15:20, 29; 21:25. The Western Text reduces he four prohibitions to three, ’to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, and from fornication’ and adds the golden rule. Thus prohibitions, chiefly concerned with ritual matters in particular circumstances, have become a moral code of universal application, forbidding, as some of these MSS have it, ’idolatry, homicide and fornication’. The most recent research seems to show that the ’Alexandrian’. text has also been corrected, but rather in the interests of accuracy, and the papyri on the whole favour it. It is a safe text, one to be followed for practical purposes, and on it Vg and DV are based, cf. Lagrange, Critique Textuelle, II. La Critique Rationnelle , Livre II, Les Actes des Apôtres, 387-463, for an exhaustive discussion; cf. also §§ 581-3.

Chronology —[The reader should take note that Fr Dessain’s system of chronology in Ac differs at certain points from the views taken elsewhere by other contributors. Chronological indications should therefore be checked against the Chart in § § 674-6, and also with other articles such as the commentaries on St Luke’s Gospel and on Galatians.—Gen. Ed.].

The Title —though probably not due to St Luke, is very early, being found in St Irenaeus and the Muratorian Canon. Its best attested form is ’Acts of Apostles (Sin, B and D), which well describes this history of some of the acts of some of the Apostles.

Verses 2-26

I-XII The Preaching of the Gospel in Palestine and Syria, St Peter (A.D. 30-44).

I 1-26 Introductory—1-5 The Prologue —1. St Luke begins by linking up Ac with his Gospel. In Luke 1:1 he had already ’presented his credentials, which make it unnecessary to repeat them. ’The first treatise’, i.e. the Gospel. The use of ’first’ rather than ’former’ does not, in the Greek, imply that St Luke planned a third volume; cf.§ 815b. The story, only sketched in the Gospel, of the events between the Resurrection and the Ascension, is now filled in, and the impression left by Luke 24:50 ff., that the one followed immediately on the other, is removed, cf. v 3. There is still no reference to the appearances in Galilee, but these did not concern St Luke’s theme, the spread of the Church from Jerusalem. For Theophilus see Luke 1:3.2. Jesus, guided by the Holy Spirit, gave the Apostles their last great commandments, especially that to preach to all nations. It was important to emphasize the part played by the Holy Spirit in this order. St Luke refers elsewhere to our Lord’s guidance by the Spirit, Luke 3:22; Luke 4:1, Luke 4:14, Luke 4:18.3. Ac begins and ends with the preaching of the Kingdom of God, cf. 28:23 and 31, and the Kingdom is always that on earth, the Church, even, as the context shows, in 14:21.

4. ’Eating together’ is the translation of all ancient versions and commentators, including Chrysostom in five separate places. This is a rare sense of the Greek word, and the weak but more common sense of ’gathering’ is sometimes preferred. The meal in common was a further proof of the Resurrection, a sign of the union of Jesus and his Apostles, and may even have included the Eucharist. They were to await in the Holy City the Promise of the Father, as in Luke 24:49, the Holy Spirit, promised in the OT, and also by our Lord, John 14:16; John 16:7.

5. The distinction between the baptism of John and that of the Holy Spirit was made in Luke 3:16. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is called a ’baptism’, or cleansing, as in Joel 2:28 and Isaiah 44:3, but the sacrament of Baptism is not meant, This we may presume, with St Augustine and St Chrysostom, the Apostles had already received. Leaving aside the case of Cornelius, Christian baptism always preceded the baptism with the Spirit, as is clearly asserted in 2:38.

6-12 The Ascension —6. The Apostles, ’who had come together’, i.e. for the meal, or perhaps, ’who had come with him i.e. on the road to Bethany, asked. Their question shows that they still hoped for the immediate reign of the Messias, with themselves as his ministers, cf.Luke 19:11. They connected the outpouring of the Holy Spirit not merely with Messianic times, but with the Second Coming, and the Final Kingdom. They are reminded that this will only be set up when the whole world has been preached to, cf.Matthew 24:14. ’Lord’ is a divine title; cf. note on 2:36.

7. Only the Father knows the times, ’which he hath fixed by his own authority’, cf.Mark 13:32.

8. ’But you shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit shall come upon you’; ’power’ has no article, and is followed by a genitive absolute. Though the timing of God’s plan is not revealed, the Apostles will receive the strength their mission requires, and are told its extension. Unlike that in Matthew 10:5, it is to the whole world, as in Luke 24:47, cf.Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15. Ac will describe the first fulfilment of this programme, in the power of the Spirit.

9. The Ascension is described elsewhere only in Mark 16:19 and Luke 24:51; cf. Art. by P. Benoit in RB ( 1949) 161 ff. Christ seated on the right hand of God was realized to be so close still, through his Spirit, that the Ascension was not greatly emphasized. The cloud is the veil that hides God in the OT, and also at our Lord’s baptism and transfiguration.

10. The Apostles ’strained their eyes towards heaven’, KNT.

11. The angels bring the Apostles back to earth, and console them in their disappointment at our Lord’s answer as to the Second Coming. He will come again in the clouds, cf.Matthew 26:64. This was not a promise that the Apostles would witness the Second Coming, and when they began to die, none thought the promise vain.

12. This verse can be reconciled with Luke 24:50 if we suppose that out Lord led the Apostles along the road to Bethany, as far as Mount Olivet. Six furlongs was a Sabbath walk, the distance of the first slopes from Jerusalem.

13-14 The Apostles wait In Jerusalem —13. The Upper Room was more than probably the Cenacle, and the scene of the Descent of the Holy Spirit. This, the first Christian Church, seems to have been the house of St Mark’s mother, cf. 12:12, and F. Prat, Jésus-Christ, II, 521. On the apostolic list see Luke 6:15.

14. This is the last mention of our Lady, and she is with the infant church. St Luke, as so often, emphasizes the part played by women, and prayer the bond of union, cf. 2:42; 20:36, etc.

15-26 The choosing of an Apostle —St Luke was greatly interested in the filling up of the apostolic college, since the only other addition was St Paul. Apostles are those marked out personally by Christ, cf.Galatians 1:1, and P. Batiffol, Eglise Naissante, 52. St Luke always uses the word in this technical sense in Ac, except 14:4 and 13, where Barnabas is included; and with St Paul who seems to have spread the use of it, he prefers it to the ’disciples’ of the Gospels.

15. St Peter is the leader in this important matter, the powers conferred in the Gospels already active.

16. St Peter’s faith as to the inspiration of Scripture is here revealed.

18-19. These verses seem to be St Luke’s own account. They interrupt the speech of St Peter, who would hardly have described the event so realistically, nor referred to the language of the inhabitants of Jerusalem as ’their tongue’. St Irenaeus omits them, Adv. Haer., III, xii, 1. Presumably the rope broke, or the branch to which it was tied, and Judas fell forward, cf.Matthew 27:5-8. There the name of the field is derived from its price, that of the blood of our Lord. St Luke seems to derive it from the blood of Judas. Perhaps both etymologies were current.

20. Psalms 68:26 referred to the enemies of David, the type of the Messias. ’His office let another take’, Psalms 108:8, formed part of David’s curse of Doeg, the prototype of Judas. 21-22. An apostle is a witness, cf.§ 819c and 1:8; 10:37-43; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Corinthians 15:7-8.23. Nothing certain is known of Joseph or Matthias. 24. The first recorded prayer of the community is addressed to Jesus, for ’Lord’ must refer to him, as in

21. He had chosen the Twelve, and must complete the number. He ’knew what was in man’, John 2:25.25. ’His own place’, the place he had chosen for himself. The Aramaic phrase of which this seems to be a translation is simply a euphemism for ’he died’.

26. Christ must choose the new Apostle, especially as his Spirit had not yet come, to give St Peter full authority. Recourse was had to lots, in the OT, and for filling the temple offices. There is no mention of imposing hands on Matthias.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Acts 1". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/acts-1.html. 1951.
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