Click here to get started today!
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges.
General Editor: J. J. S. PEROWNE, D.D.,
Bishop of Worcester.
With Maps, Introduction and Notes.
J. Rawson Lumby, D.D.,
norrisian professor of divinity.
edited for the syndics of the university press.
At the University Press.
[ All Rights reserved. ]
PREFACE BY THE GENERAL EDITOR
The General Editor of The Cambridge Bible for Schools thinks it right to say that he does not hold himself responsible either for the interpretation of particular passages which the Editors of the several Books have adopted, or for any opinion on points of doctrine that they may have expressed. In the New Testament more especially questions arise of the deepest theological import, on which the ablest and most conscientious interpreters have differed and always will differ. His aim has been in all such cases to leave each Contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment, only taking care that mere controversy should as far as possible be avoided. He has contented himself chiefly with a careful revision of the notes, with pointing out omissions, with suggesting occasionally a reconsideration of some question, or a fuller treatment of difficult passages, and the like.
Beyond this he has not attempted to interfere, feeling it better that each Commentary should have its own individual character, and being convinced that freshness and variety of treatment are more than a compensation for any lack of uniformity in the Series.
i. Design of the Author
ii. The Title
iii. The Author
iv. Date of the work
v. The Sources of the Narrative
vi. On some alleged difficulties in the character of the Narrative in the Acts
St Paul’s First Missionary Journey
St Paul’s Second Missionary Journey
St Paul’s Third Missionary Journey
* * * The Text adopted in this Edition is that of Dr Scrivener’s Cambridge Paragraph Bible . A few variations from the ordinary Text, chiefly in the spelling of certain words, and in the use of italics, will be noticed. For the principles adopted by Dr Scrivener as regards the printing of the Text see his Introduction to the Paragraph Bible , published by the Cambridge University Press.
i. design of the author
The writer of the Acts of the Apostles sets forth, in his introductory sentences, that the book is meant to be a continuation of a “former treatise.” It is addressed to a certain “Theophilus,” and since, among the other books of the New Testament, the third Gospel is written to a person of the same name, it is natural to take these compositions to be the work of the same author, and the unvarying tradition of antiquity has ascribed both works to St Luke. Leaving however, for the present, the consideration of this tradition, and turning to the contents of the book, we find that the author describes his earlier work as a “treatise of all that Jesus began both to do and teach until the day in which He was taken up” (Acts 1:1 , Acts 1:2 ). This description accords exactly with the character and contents of St Luke’s Gospel, and, moreover, the opening sentences of the Acts are an expansion and explanation of the closing sentences of that Gospel. They define more completely the “promise of the Father” there mentioned, they tell us how long the risen Jesus remained with His disciples, they describe the character of His communications during the forty days, and they make clear to us, what otherwise would have been difficult to understand, viz. how it came to pass that the disciples, when their Master had been taken from them, “returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:52 ). When we read in the Acts of the two men in white apparel who testified to the desolate gazers that the departed Jesus was to come again as He had been seen to go into heaven, we can comprehend that they would recall His words (John 14:28 ), “I go away and come again unto you. If ye loved me ye would rejoice because I said, I go unto the Father,” and that they would be strengthened to act upon them.
Thus, from the way in which this second account of the Ascension supplements and explains the former brief notice in the Gospel, it seems natural to accept the Acts as a narrative written with the purpose of continuing the history of the Christian Church after Christ’s ascension, in the same manner in which the history of Christ’s own deeds had been set forth in the Gospel. Now the writer declares that his object in the first work had been to explain what “Jesus began to do and teach.” He had not, any more than the other Evangelists, aimed at giving a complete life of Jesus, but only an explanation of those principles of His teaching, and those great acts in His life, on which the foundations of the new society were to be laid. If then the second book be meant to carry on the history in the same spirit in which it had been commenced, we shall expect to find in it no more than what the disciples began to do and teach when Jesus was gone away from them. And such unity of purpose, and consequently of treatment, is all the more to be looked for because both books are written to the same person.
That the Acts of the Apostles is a work of this character, a history of beginnings only, will be apparent from a very brief examination of its contents. We are told by the writer that Christ, before His ascension, marked out the course which should be taken in the publication of the Gospel. “Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judæa, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.” Taking these words for his theme the author directs his labour to shew in what manner the teaching of the Apostles was begun in each of these appointed fields of labour, and he does no more. He mentions the eleven Apostles by name at the outset, to imply thereby that each one took his due share in the work of evangelization, though it will not come within the historian’s purpose to describe that share. And with like brevity he relates how the Apostolic band was completed by the election of Matthias into the place of Judas. This done, he turns to his proper theme, which is what Jesus began to do through the Spirit after His ascension. He tells us how the disciples, filled with the Holy Ghost, preached in Jerusalem until it was declared by the lips of their adversaries (Acts 5:28 ) that the city was filled with their doctrine. After this commencement we hear but little of the work done in Jerusalem. The author’s next step is to relate how from the Holy City the mission of the disciples was extended into Judæa and Samaria. To make this intelligible he found it needful to describe with some detail the events which led to the death of Stephen, and before that to point out the position which the first martyr held in the new society. And as the defence which Stephen made before the Jewish rulers forms what may be called the Apology to the Jews for the universalism of Christianity, we have the argument of that speech given at some length. The time had arrived when the Gospel was to be published to others than Jews, and we can see from the charges laid against Stephen that this further spread of their labours had been dwelt upon in the addresses of the Christian teachers. Blasphemous words spoken against the Temple and the Law would be but a vague accusation were it not explained by the defence which was made in reply to it. From this defence we can see that the provocation which had roused the Jews against Stephen was the doctrine that God was the God not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles, and that His worship was no longer to be restricted to any particular locality as heretofore. To prove to his hearers that this was shewn in their own history and taught by their own prophets, Stephen points out that it was not in the Holy Land, to which they attached such sanctity, that God first appeared to Abraham, but in Mesopotamia; that God was with him also in Haran, and that when He had brought “the father of the faithful” into Canaan, He gave no permanent possession therein either to him or to his descendants for many generations. Yet though the people of Israel were for a long time strangers in Egypt God was with them there. He blessed them so that they multiplied exceedingly, and manifested His constant care of them in their slavery until at last He sent them a deliverer in Moses. This prophet God had trained first in Pharaoh’s court and then in the land of Midian, and had manifested His presence to him in a special manner in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, and all these tokens of God’s care for His people had been shewn without any preference on the part of Jehovah for one place above another.
The mention of Moses leads the speaker into a brief digression, in which he compares the rebellious behaviour of the Israelites towards their deliverer, with the hostile disposition of the Jews towards Jesus. But he soon resumes the thread of his argument, and points out that the Tabernacle, and with it the visible sign of God’s presence among His chosen people, was moving from place to place for forty years in the wilderness, and that when the people came into Canaan there was no thought of a fixed abode for the Tabernacle until the days of David: that then God did not at once permit the building of the Temple which that king designed to raise, and when Solomon was allowed to build God’s house, yet, as Stephen reminds his hearers, the voice of their prophets still testified that the Most High did not dwell in temples made with hands, but sat in heaven, while earth was as His footstool, and that He was the Maker and Preserver not of one race, but of all men. This language, enforcing, from a review of their own history and prophecies, the position which Stephen had taken up in the defence of the new doctrine, and rather going beyond, than defending himself against, the accusation of his opponents, roused their indignation, and, apparently perceiving this, the speaker concludes his defence not with a peroration, but with a solemn rebuke, in which he says that, with all their zeal for the Law they have not kept the true spirit of that heaven-sent deposit of which they had been made the guardians. Provoked still more by such a declaration the crowd breaks out into a furious rage, and by stoning Stephen and persecuting all who adhered to his cause, endeavours to stop the spread of the Christian doctrines, but these persecutions become the cause of a still wider propagation of the new teaching and effect the very object to which the Jews were so strongly opposed.
This is the longest speech contained in the Acts, and the great prominence given to it by the author seems to harmonize with what we judge to be his general design. For this address was the first defence of the wider extension of the preaching of the disciples, and on such initiatory stages of the movement it is after the author’s manner to dwell.
He next proceeds with the history of the propagation of Christ’s doctrine in Judæa and Samaria, and as if to indicate at once that the message was now to be spread to the farthest corners of the earth, Philip’s mission to the Ethiopian eunuch is mentioned that we may be informed concerning the first fruits of the faith in Africa; but the story is carried no farther, nor have we any after-record concerning Philip, except the notice (21:8) which seems to imply that he made his home for the future in Cæsarea, where the population would be mainly Gentiles.
Saul’s conversion and Peter’s visit to Cornelius may be called companion pictures meant to display the two lines of activity by which the conversion of the Gentiles was to be brought about. The one mission, initiated by St Peter, was to those among the heathen who, like the centurion of Cæsarea, had been already led to some partial knowledge of God, through the study of the Jewish Scriptures. On the other hand the great Apostle of the Gentiles was sent forth to his allotted work among those who were to be turned (Acts 14:15 ) “from their vanities to serve the living God which made heaven and earth and all things therein.”
As soon as Peter’s share in the beginning of this mission is concluded, and he has twice testified concerning it (11:4 17, 15:7 11) that his action had been prompted by a Divine revelation, and that the propriety of what he had done was confirmed by the witness of the Holy Spirit, our historian dismisses him, the most energetic of the original twelve, from his narrative, because the other beginnings of Gospel-preaching among the heathen can be better explained by following the career of St Paul, the chief pioneer of the Christian faith as it spread to the ends of the earth. Still through the whole of what is related concerning the labours of that Apostle, we learn only of the founding of Churches and societies, and of the initial steps of the Christian work in the places which he visited. We are indeed told that St Paul proposed, some time after the completion of their first missionary journey (15:36), that he and Barnabas should go and visit those cities in which they had already preached the word of the Lord. But that proposal came to naught, and the Apostle with Silas then visited only Lystra and Derbe, and that apparently for the sole purpose of taking Timothy as a companion in his further labours. After this visit, the account of which is summed up in three verses, the whole of the second journey was made over new ground. Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens and Corinth were visited, and probably in all these places, and in others unnamed, the beginnings of a Christian society were established. We know that it was so in three of these cities. In returning by sea to Jerusalem the Apostle touched at Ephesus, but remained there so short a time that his real work in that metropolis can hardly be dated from this visit. We are only told that he entered into the Synagogue and reasoned with the Jews (18:19), no mention being made of what was his special work, the mission to the Gentiles. But on his third journey, as though he had foreseen how “great a door and effectual” was opened to him in Ephesus, he chose that city as the first scene of his settled labours, and continued there for the greater part of three years, and became in that time, we cannot doubt, the founder of the Asiatic Churches of the Apocalypse. From thence he passed over to Macedonia, but though this journey is noticed there is no word told us concerning the Churches which had been founded there by St Paul and his companions on the previous visit, nor concerning his labours in Greece whither he afterwards went. Nay even though he made a special halt on his homeward voyage at Philippi, where was a congregation which above all others was a deep joy to the Apostle, we have not a detail recorded of the condition in which he found the brethren whom he so much loved. Very little had been said concerning the results of the former stay at Troas (16:8 11) to indicate whether any Christian brotherhood had been established there; and it may be that the missionaries were forbidden of the Spirit at that time to preach in Troas as in the rest of Asia. For this reason, it seems, the historian dwells more at length (20:6 12) on the residence of St Paul in that city during his third journey, in such wise as to make clear to us that here too the work of Christ was now begun . After that, during the whole course of the voyage, with the exception of the invitation of the Ephesian elders to Miletus and the solemn parting address given to them there, in which we hear repeated echoes of the language of St Paul’s Epistles, there is no mention of any stay at places where the work of Evangelization had already commenced. And when Jerusalem is reached the imprisonment speedily follows, and the writer afterwards records merely those stages in the Apostle’s history which led up to his visit to Rome. He might have told us much of the two years passed in Cæsarea, during which St Paul’s friends were not forbidden “to minister or to come unto him.” He might have told us much of those two other years of the Roman imprisonment, of which he knew the termination. But this entered not into his plan of writing. So he has made no attempt to write a history of St Paul, any more than of St Peter. As soon as we have heard that the message of the Gospel was published first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles in the empire-city of the world in that age, the author pauses from his labour. He had completed the task which he undertook: he had described what Jesus, through His messengers, began to do and teach, after His ascension into heaven, for in reaching Rome the message of the Gospel has potentially come “to the uttermost parts of the earth.”
ii. the title
It will be clear from what has been already said of its contents that the title, by which the book is known to us, can hardly have been given to it by its author. The work is certainly not “The Acts of the Apostles.” It contains no detailed account of the work of any of the Apostles except Peter and Paul. John is mentioned on three occasions, but he appears rather as the companion of Peter than as the doer of any special act by himself. Of James the son of Zebedee we have no notice except of his execution by Herod, while much more space is devoted to Stephen and Philip, who were not Apostles, than to him; and the same remark applies to the notices of Timothy and Silas. We may conclude then that the title, as we now have it, was a later addition. The author (Acts 1:1 ) calls the Gospel “a treatise” ( λόγος ), a term the most general that could be used; and if that work were styled by him “the first treatise,” the Acts would most naturally receive the name of “the second treatise.” Or it may be that the form of title given in the Cod. Sinaiticus was its first appellation. There the book is called simply “Acts,” and for a while that designation may have been sufficient to distinguish it from other books. But it was not long before treatises came into circulation concerning the doings of individual Apostles and Bishops, and these were known by such titles as “The Acts of Peter and Paul,” “The Acts of Timothy,” “The Acts of Paul and Thecla,” &c. It would become necessary, as such literature increased and was circulated, to enlarge the title of this original volume of “Acts,” and from such exigency we find in various MSS. different titles given to it, such as “Acts of the Apostles,” “Acting of Apostles,” “Acts of all the Apostles,” “Acts of the Holy Apostles,” with still longer additions in MSS. of later date.
iii. the author
All the traditions of the early Church ascribe the authorship of the Acts to the writer of the third Gospel, and Eusebius ( Hist. Eccl. ii. 11) says, “Luke, by race a native of Antioch and by profession a physician, having associated mainly with Paul and having companied with the rest of the Apostles less closely, has left us examples of that healing of souls which he acquired from them in two inspired books, the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.” Eusebius lived about 325 a.d. Before his time Tertullian, a.d. 200, speaks ( De jejuniis , 10) of the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles and of Peter going up to the housetop to pray, as facts mentioned in the commentary of Luke. Also ( De baptismo , 10) he says, “We find in the Acts of the Apostles that they who had received the baptism of John had not received the Holy Ghost, of which indeed they had not even heard.” Similar quotations could be drawn from Clement of Alexandria, a little anterior to Tertullian, and also from Irenæus, who wrote about a.d. 190. The earliest clear quotation from the Acts is contained in a letter preserved in Eusebius ( H. E. v. 2) sent by the Churches in the south of Gaul to the Christians of Asia and Phrygia and written a.d. 177, concerning the persecutions of the Church in Gaul. Alluding to some who had been martyred there, the writers say, “They prayed for those who arranged their torments as did Stephen, that perfect martyr, ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.’ ” In still earlier writings there may be allusions to the Acts, but they are not sufficiently distinct to warrant their insertion as quotations. But in the scarcity of writings at this early period we need not be surprised if a century elapsed after the writing of the book before we can discover traces of its general circulation. It was probably completed, as we shall see, between a.d. 60 70, and if in a hundred years from that time the Christians of Europe can quote from it as a book well known to their brethren in Asia we may feel quite sure that it had been in circulation, and generally known among Christians, for a large portion of the intervening century. Modern critics have doubted the existence of the Acts at the date when this letter of the Churches of Vienne and Lyons was written, and have argued thus: “The tradition of St Stephen’s martyrdom, and the memory of his noble sayings, may well have remained in the Church, or have been recorded in writings then current, from one of which indeed eminent critics conjecture that the author of Acts derived his materials 1 1 Supernatural Religion , iii. 25. .” As if it were easier to admit on conjecture the existence of writings for which no particle of evidence is forthcoming, than to allow, in agreement with most ancient tradition, that “the Acts” was composed at the date to which, on the face of his work, the writer lays claim.
In his book the author makes no mention of himself by name, though in the latter part of his narrative he very frequently employs the pronoun “we,” intimating there by that he was present at the events which in that portion of his work he is describing. The passages in which this pronoun is found (16:10 17; 20:5 38; 21:1 18; 27; 28) deserve special notice. The author of the Acts, by his allusion in the opening words to his “former treatise,” leads us to the belief that in this second work he is about again to use material which he gathered from those who had been eyewitnesses and ministers in the scenes which he describes. Much of this material he has clearly cast into such a shape as fitted his purpose, and much which was no doubt at hand for him he did not use because of the special aim which in his treatise he had in view. It is very difficult to believe that an author who has in other parts systematically shaped other men’s communications, many of which would naturally be made to him in the first person, into a strictly historical narrative, should in four places of his work have forgotten to do this, and have left standing the “we” of those persons from whom he received his information. It seems much more natural to infer that the passages in question are really the contributions of the writer himself and that, on the occasions to which they refer, he was himself a companion of St Paul. For whoever the writer may have been he was neither neglectful nor ignorant of the rules of literary composition, as may be seen by the opening words both of the Gospel and the Acts.
But it has been alleged that anyone who had been the companion of St Paul at those times, to which reference is made by the passages we are considering, would have had much more and greater things to tell us than the writer of the Acts has here set down. This would be quite true if the author had set out with the intention of writing a life of St Paul. But, as has been observed before, this is exactly what he did not do. His book is a description of the beginnings of Christianity. And with this in mind we can see that the matters on which he dwells are exactly those which we should expect him to notice. In the first passage (16:10 17) he describes the events which were connected with the planting of the first Christian Church in Europe at Philippi, and though the word “we” only occurs in the verses cited above, it would be ridiculous to suppose that he, who wrote those words implying a personal share in what was done, was not a witness of all that took place while Paul and Silas remained in Philippi. A like remark applies to the second passage (20:5 38). Here too the word “we” is not found after verse 15 where we read “we came to Miletus.” But surely having been with St Paul up to this point, we have no reason to think that the writer was absent at the time of that earnest address which the Apostle gave to the Ephesian elders whom he summoned to Miletus to meet him; an address which is exactly in the style that we should, from his Epistles, expect St Paul to have used, and which we may therefore judge the writer of the Acts to have heard from the Apostle’s lips, and in substance to have faithfully reported.
The next passage (21:1 18) brings the voyagers to Jerusalem, and there the writer represents himself as one who went with St Paul to meet James and the Christian elders when the Apostle was about to give an account of his ministry among the Gentiles. But though after that the story falls again, as a history should, into the third person, have we any right to conclude from this that the writer who had come so far with his friend, left him after he had reached the Holy City? Surely it is more natural to suppose that he remained near at hand, and that we have in his further narrative the results of his personal observation and enquiry, especially as when the pronoun “we” again appears in the document it is (27:1) to say “it was determined that we should sail into Italy.” The writer who had been the companion of St Paul to Jerusalem is at his side when he is to be sent to Rome. The events intervening had been such that there was no place for the historian to speak in his own person, but the moment when he is allowed again to become St Paul’s companion in travel, the personal feature reappears, and the writer continues to be eyewitness of all that was done till Rome was reached, and perhaps even till the Apostle was set free, for he notes carefully the length of time that the imprisonment lasted.
That the writer of the Acts does not mention St Paul’s Epistles is what we should expect. He was with St Paul, and not with any of those congregations to which the Epistles were addressed, while as we have said, the planting of the Church, and not the further edification thereof was what he set before him to be recorded in the Acts. Moreover we are not to look upon St Luke as with St Paul in the same capacity as Timothy, Silas, or Aristarchus. He was for the Apostle “the beloved physician”; a Christian brother it is true, but abiding with St Paul because of his physical needs rather than as a prominent sharer in his missionary labours.
The passages in question seem to give us one piece of definite information about their writer. They shew us that he accompanied St Paul from Troas as far as Philippi, and there they leave him. But they further shew that it was exactly in the same region that the Apostle, when returning to Asia for the last time, renewed the interrupted companionship, which from that time till St Paul’s arrival in Rome seems only to have been interrupted while he was under the charge of the Roman authorities. If we suppose, as the title given to him warrants us in doing, that Theophilus was some official, perhaps in Roman employ; that he lived (and his name is Greek) in the region of Macedonia; then the third Gospel may very well have been written for his use by St Luke while he remained in Macedonia, and the Acts subsequently when St Paul had been set free. In this way addressing one who would know how the writer came to Macedonia with St Paul, and went away again as that Apostle’s companion, the places in which the author has allowed “we” to stand in his narrative are exactly those in which the facts of the case would dictate its retention.
Nor is this personal portion of the writer’s narrative so unimportant as has been alleged by some critics. The founding of the Church at Philippi may be called the recorded birthday of European Christendom. And for the writer of the Acts it was not unimportant to tell us that a Christian Church was established at Troas, when he had said in an earlier place that on a former visit they were forbidden of the Spirit to preach the word in Asia. Who moreover can reckon the address at Miletus an unimportant document in early Church history? Does it not shew us how the prescient mind of the Apostle saw the signs of the times, the germs of those heretical opinions which he lived to find more fully developed, and against which he afterwards had to warn Timothy and Titus, against which too almost all the letters of the other Apostles are more or less directed? And how the ‘Apostle of the Gentiles’ was brought to Rome was a subject which could not but find full place in a history of the beginnings of the Gospel. For though the writer of the Acts fully acknowledges the existence of a Christian Church in Rome before St Paul’s arrival, it was a part of his purpose to shew us how that Church was for the first time strengthened by the personal guidance and direction of one of the Apostles.
The letters of St Paul bear their witness to St Luke’s presence with the Apostle when he was a prisoner in Rome; for in the Epistle to Philemon, written from Rome during this first imprisonment, the writer sends to Philemon the salutation of Luke (ver. 24) as one of his fellow-labourers, and in the Epistle to the Colossians (4:14) he is also mentioned as “Luke the beloved physician.” Indeed it seems very probable that St Luke afterwards continued to be the companion of St Paul, for in a later Epistle (2 Timothy 4:11 ) we find him saying, “Only Luke is with me.”
That “the beloved physician” was the writer both of the Gospel and of the Acts may perhaps also be inferred from the use which the author makes of technical medical terms in his description of diseases, as in the account of Simon’s wife’s mother (Luke 4:38 ), in the story of the woman with the issue of blood (8:43, 44) and in his narration of the agony of Christ (22:44). Also in the description of the cripple at the Temple gate (Acts 3:7 ), in the notice of the death of Herod Agrippa (12:23), and when he writes of the blindness of Elymas (13:11), and of the sickness of the father of Publius in Melita (28:8). A comparison of the Greek phraseology of the Gospel and of the Acts leads also to the conclusion that the two books are from the same hand. It should further be noticed that there are more than fifty words used in the Gospel and also in the Acts which are not found elsewhere in the New Testament.
This work, as well as the Gospel, being anonymous, attempts have been made to refer the authorship to some other person than St Luke, seeing that it is only assigned to him by tradition, and his name never appears in the story as do the names of other actors in the work. Some critics have suggested that Timothy was the author of those sections in which the plural pronoun “we” occurs, because in the letters addressed to the Corinthians, Thessalonians and Philippians, St Paul mentions Timothy with great affection as his fellow-preacher. It is argued that whoever wrote the narrative of the Acts must have been in very close relation to St Paul at the time when he visited Corinth and Thessalonica and Philippi, and that the name of such a man would not have been omitted, at all events, from the opening greetings of all these Epistles. But we can see from Acts 20:4-5 that there was an intimate companion of St Paul, who for some reason remained at his side when the others could leave him, and who there states expressly that he was with the Apostle when Timothy had gone away. And the suggestion of those who think that Luke the physician was taken with him by St Paul because of the bodily infirmities under which the Apostle laboured, and that it is in this capacity, rather than as a fellow-preacher, that St Luke was in such close attendance during the missionary journeys, is worthy of consideration. If this were so, Luke, though the writer of the diary, yet would not come so prominently before the Churches in the various cities which were visited, as those companions of St Paul who were fellow-missionaries, and this would explain why he is omitted in the greetings of the letters afterwards written by St Paul to the newly-founded congregations. Moreover, the physician would be the one person who would naturally remain in attendance, when the fellow-preachers had gone forth on their several ways.
Nor is there any better ground for supposing, as some have done, that Silas is the narrator who writes in the first person. We have only to look at Acts 15:22 , where, in the portion of the narrative which, according to this hypothesis, must have been written by Silas, he is spoken of as a “chief man among the brethren,” to see that Silas could not be the writer of such a notice concerning himself.
And the argument which would make Silas (i.e. Silvanus ), and Luke (i.e. Lucanus ), two names belonging to one and the same person, because the one is derived from silva = a. wood, and the other from lucus =a grove, and so their sense is cognate, does not merit much consideration. It is said in support of this view that Silas and Luke are never mentioned together. But it is plain from the story of the preaching and arrest of Paul and Silas at Philippi, that the writer who there speaks in the first person plural was a different person from Silas (cf. Acts 16:16-19 ). And with regard to the cognate signification of the two names it should be borne in mind that when such double appellations were given to the same person they were not derived from the same language. Cephas and Thomas are Aramaic, while Peter and Didymus are Greek. But Silvanus and Lucanus have both a Latin origin.
With still less ground has it been suggested that Titus was the author of these personal sections and that some later writer incorporated them in his work. Titus was with St Paul in his missionary journeys, as we know from the second Epistle to the Corinthians, but to accept him as author of “the Acts” would be to prefer a theory of modern invention before the tradition which, though not capable of exact verification, has the voice of long antiquity in its favour. We are therefore inclined to give the weight which it deserves to the ancient opinion, and to accept the traditional view of the origin of both the Gospel and the Acts, rather than any of the modern suppositions, which are very difficult to be reconciled with the statements in the Acts and the Epistles, and which are the mere offspring of critical imaginations.
iv. date of the work
That the writer was one who lived amid the events with which he deals will be clear to any one who will consider how he connects his narrative with contemporary history, and that in no case can he be proved to have fallen into error. We find him speaking of Gamaliel (Acts 5:34 ) exactly as what we know from other sources about that doctor of the Law would lead us to expect a contemporary to speak. In the same place he deals with historical events in connection with Theudas and Judas, and it has been shewn in the notes that there is great probability that in all he says he is correct, for he speaks of the latter of these rebels with more exactness than is found in Josephus, while the former has probably been unnamed by that writer because the rebellion in which Theudas was concerned was comprised under the general description that he gives of the numerous outbreaks with which Judæa was at that time disturbed.
Again, the writer of the Acts brings Cæsarea before us exactly in the condition in which we know it to have been under Roman government in the period before the destruction of Jerusalem. He alludes (11:28) to the famine in the days of Claudius Cæsar, in language which only one who had personal knowledge of the event would have used. He gives a notice of Herod Agrippa which accords with Josephus in most minute details, and which shews that the writer of the description was most intimately acquainted with the circumstances which attended that monarch’s death. In his mention of Cyprus he makes it clear by the designation which he uses for the Roman governor of that island that he was conversant with all the circumstances of its government, which had but recently undergone a change, as is pointed out in the notes on St Paul’s visit to Cyprus. Of the same character is his very precise notice of the magisterial titles in Thessalonica and Malta. He employs in his narrative about these places no general expression, signifying “ruler” or “chief man,” but gives the special names of the officials there, using words far from common, and which modern investigations have proved to be of that precision which bespeaks a personal acquaintance with the condition of the districts to which the writer refers.
It is noteworthy too that he introduces at Ephesus the burning of the books of magic exactly at that place where, almost above any city in the whole of Asia, such acts were held in the greatest repute. So too the whole dialogue which he records when Paul was rescued by the chief captain in Jerusalem is full of incidental allusions to the tumults and disorders with which Judæa was afflicted at the time, allusions which would hardly have been made, and certainly not so naturally and without all comment, by a writer who put together the story of the Acts at a time long after the Apostles were dead. The mention of the large force told off to convey Paul to Cæsarea is just one of those notices which a later writer would never have invented. A bodyguard of four hundred and seventy men for the conveyance of a single prisoner would have seemed out of all proportion except to one who when he wrote knew that the whole land was infested with bands of outlaws, and that these desperadoes could be hired for any outrage at the shortest notice.
In the same way Felix, Festus and Agrippa are brought before us in exact harmony with what we learn of their history and characters from other sources, and with none of that description which a late writer would have been sure to introduce, while a contemporary would know it to be unnecessary. Even the speech of Tertullus before Felix, both by what it says and what it omits, in its words of flattery, is evidence that we are dealing with the writing of one who lived through the events of which he has given us the history.
But it is in the frequent notices of Jerusalem that the most cogent evidence is to be found for the date of the writer. That city was destroyed by the Romans a.d. 70, but in the whole of the Acts there is no single word to indicate that the author of this book knew anything of that event or even of the causes whose operation brought it about. The city is always mentioned as still in its grandeur; the Temple services and sacrifices continue to be observed; at the great feasts the crowds of strangers assemble as the Law enjoined, and among its population the Scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees act the same parts which they do in the Gospel histories; localities such as Solomon’s porch, and the field Akeldama, the tower of Antonia and its near neighbourhood to the Temple, are spoken of as though still existing and as well-marked spots; the synagogues erected in the city for the foreign Jews are mentioned, and the writer speaks of them as places which would be well known to his readers. Annas and Caiaphas and Ananias are to him no characters removed by long years of past history, but recent holders of office in the city which was still standing in all security. These features, so many and so various, of contemporary knowledge mark the Acts as a book which must have been written before the overthrow of Jerusalem, and as the narrative terminates about the year 63 a.d., we conclude that its composition must have been completed very soon after that date, and probably not later than a.d. 66. About the latter year St Paul was martyred at Rome, and had the writer of the Acts known of that event it is very difficult to imagine that he should have made no allusion to it in such passages as those in which the Apostle declares his expectation of death and his readiness to suffer in the cause of Christ.
But not only does the writer of the Acts move easily in his narrative as if amid contemporary history, and give notices of persons and places like one to whom actual experience in what he writes about makes his footing sure, but he has also left an undesigned testimony to the date at which he wrote in the character of his narrative. We know that before the end of the first century the Christian Church was troubled by the rise of much false doctrine. In the New Testament we have a few allusions to false teachers, as when it is said of Hymenæus and Alexander (1 Timothy 1:19 , 1 Timothy 1:20 ) that they “have made shipwreck concerning the faith,” and (2 Timothy 2:17 , 2 Timothy 2:18 ) of Hymenæus and Philetus, that they “have erred concerning the truth.” But from other sources we learn much more than from Holy Writ concerning these first heretical teachers. The earliest and most prominent among them were the Gnostics, who derived their name from the pretensions which they made to superior knowledge ( gnosis ). This knowledge, as they taught, distinguished the more elevated among mankind from the vulgar, for whom faith and traditional opinion were said to be sufficient. These teachers also perverted the Scriptures by great license in the use of allegorical explanation; they held that from God had emanated generations of spiritual beings, whom they named Æons , and who, from the description given of them, are seen to be impersonations of the Divine attributes. By the Gnostics matter was declared to be evil, but superior knowledge could enable men either by asceticism to become superior to it, or if they indulged in excesses, to do so without harm. These heretics also denied the resurrection of the body. One of their number, Cerinthus, taught that Christ was one of the Æons, and that he descended upon the man Jesus at His baptism, and gave Him the power of working miracles, but departed from Him before His crucifixion. There were many other forms assumed by their various heretical doctrines, but what has been said will be a sufficient notice of their character for us to see how free from all knowledge of such speculations was the writer of the Acts. He mentions the opposition of the Judaizing Christians, those of the Circumcision, and he records in many places the violent assaults made on the first missionaries by those sections of the heathen population who saw that the spread of Christianity would interfere with their sources of gain, but of Gnosticism in any of its phases he has never a word, though that kind of teaching was widely spread before the end of the first century. It is therefore to be believed that his history was composed before such heretical teaching had spread, or even made itself much known, or else we must suppose that the writer, though aware of the existence of all these errors, has yet been able to compile a narrative of the early years of the Church without giving us a hint of what had been developed within her at the time when he wrote. He has brought forward St Paul speaking at Miletus (20:29, 30), “I know that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them;” and yet on such a passage he has given no sign that the words of the Apostle had been exactly verified. To suppose that the writer could thus compose his book and never shew that he knew of the later course of the history of the Church, if he did know of it, is quite as difficult as to conceive that he was aware of the overthrow of the Holy City, and yet, though making mention of Jerusalem in almost every chapter, he has never let fall a word in which he intimates his knowledge that the city no longer existed. The only safe conclusion to which a consideration of these characteristics of the Acts can lead us is that the author wrote as he has done because, at the time when he was writing, Gnosticism had not been spread abroad, nor was Jerusalem destroyed.
The absence of any allusions to the writings of St Paul in the Acts is a piece of the same kind of evidence for the early date of its composition. Many of the Pauline Epistles were no doubt written and in the possession of those Churches to which they were addressed before the composition of the Acts, but they had not yet been widely circulated, and so were probably unknown to St Luke. There are, however, some points in the history, which he has given us, that derive support from the Epistles. Thus the provision for widows, alluded to Acts 6:1 , was a new feature of social obligation introduced by Christianity. In the narrative of St Luke we are shewn that this was one of the earliest cares of the infant Church, and that it even took precedence of all that we now embrace under the name of public worship. Consonant with this part of the early Christian organization are the regulations given by St Paul to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:9 ) concerning provision for the widows in the Church over which he was to preside. Again the historian gives in several places the account of Saul’s conversion after he had been a persecutor of the Christians; in entire accord with this the Apostle speaks of himself (1 Timothy 1:13 ) as “a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious,” but as having “obtained mercy because he did it ignorantly in unbelief.” St Paul tells of his escape from Damascus (2 Corinthians 11:32 ) in language which agrees with what we read in the Acts (9:23 25). In like manner he makes mention (Galatians 1:18 ) of his visit to Jerusalem to see Peter and James exactly as St Luke mentions it in the history (Acts 9:28 ). We learn from the Acts (12:17) that James was president of the Church in Jerusalem, and with that agrees the testimony of St Paul (Galatians 2:9 ), while the persecutions which the Apostle underwent in Lystra, Antioch and Iconium, of which the historian speaks at some length (Acts 13:14 ), are mentioned by St Paul when he is writing to Timothy, a native of Lystra (2 Timothy 3:10 , 2 Timothy 3:11 ), as matters about which the latter had full knowledge. So too the letters of St Paul confirm the history in the Acts with reference to the sufferings endured by the Apostle in his mission to Macedonia. Speaking of these sufferings he reminds the Philippians (1:30) that their conflict is of the same kind as they had seen him endure. He alludes also (2:22) to their knowledge of the character of Timothy whom St Luke mentions as one of St Paul’s companions in that journey. And at an earlier period when writing to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:6 ) he makes mention of the great affliction under which they had received the word of the Gospel, and specially names (2:2) the shameful treatment to which he and his companions had been subjected at Philippi. Then the teaching recorded at Athens in which the Apostle points out how men from natural religion should be led to “seek the Lord if haply they may feel after Him and find Him” has its counterpart in what is said in the opening of the Epistle to the Romans. There too St Paul declares that the invisible things of God, even His eternal power and Godhead, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, so that men are without excuse. While the quotation from Aratus in that same speech on Mars’ Hill is exactly in the style of St Paul as may be seen from similar quotations made by him 1 Corinthians 15:33 and Titus 1:12 , while no other N. T. writer is found quoting from the works of heathen authors.
Again both history and letters shew us how St Paul laboured with his own hands for the support both of himself and those who were with him. St Luke mentions the working with Aquila and Priscilla at Corinth (18:3) and puts a reference to the like conduct at Ephesus into the Apostle’s mouth (20:34) when he is speaking to the elders at Miletus. The passages which confirm this narrative in the Epistles will be found in 1 Corinthians 4:12 ; 2 Corinthians 11:8-10 ; 1 Thessalonians 2:9 ; 2 Thessalonians 3:8 ; while from Romans 16:4 and 2 Timothy 4:19 we have evidence that these persons whom St Luke tells us were fellow-workers with the Apostle as tentmakers were really friends whom he valued highly as brethren in Christ.
On another point we have similar confirmation of one document by the others. We know from the Acts how St Paul encouraged the Gentiles to aid with their substance the poor Christians in Judæa, and he mentions (Acts 24:17 ) that it was to bring some of the alms collected in answer to his appeals that he had come to Jerusalem when he was attacked in the Temple. Writing to the Romans (15:25) the Apostle says “Now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints” and in the next verse mentions the ‘contributions’ of Macedonia and Achaia. We have also a proof (1 Corinthians 16:1 ) that such collections were directed to be made in the churches of Galatia as well as at Corinth, and the same subject is mentioned 2 Corinthians 8:1-4 .
In Acts 19:21 , the historian tells us of St Paul’s intention to visit Rome, and to the Christians there the Apostle writes (Romans 1:13 ) “I would not have you ignorant that oftentimes I have purposed to come unto you.” We know from the Acts very incidentally (27:2) that Aristarchus went with St Paul when he was carried prisoner to Rome. This is confirmed by the language which the Apostle uses in a letter written during that imprisonment (Colossians 4:10 ) where he speaks of Aristarchus as his fellow-prisoner, a term which might well be used figuratively by him to express the devotion of the friend who gave up his own liberty that he might minister to the venerable prisoner.
Such coincidences of testimony in works written independently of each other are of the highest value, and could only be found in writings produced by those who wrote from direct personal knowledge. So that we are in this way brought to the conclusion that the narrative of the Acts was composed before the time when the Epistles of St Paul had been brought into circulation. For there is in the history no notice of the letters, and yet the details betoken the same freshness, and closeness to the events of which they speak, as is seen in the confessedly contemporary allusions made by St Paul in his Epistles. There can, therefore, be no great difference in their date of composition between those Epistles of St Paul from which we have quoted and St Luke’s account in the Acts of the Apostles.
A consideration of these various features of the Acts, that the writer makes mention of contemporary secular history as one who was living among the events of which he speaks; that in his work we find no indication that he knew of the fall of Jerusalem; that he displays no acquaintance with the heretical tenets which were rife before the end of the first century; that he makes no reference to any of St Paul’s Epistles, though writing as one fully conversant with the missionary travels of that Apostle, forces us to the conclusion that the work was written at some time between a.d. 63 and a.d. 70, and most probably about midway between these dates.
v. the sources of the narrative
In the preface to the Gospel of St Luke the writer states definitely that the information which he is about to record for Theophilus was derived from those “which from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word.” And as he himself was certainly not a disciple of Christ from the first, it was necessary that in the earlier treatise he should consult others, and it may have been needful to do so for the greater portion of what he has there written. But in the later book the sources of his information are not necessarily of exactly the same kind as for the Gospel. So that the preface of the Gospel need not be taken as having reference to the Acts likewise; and it is manifest from the passages in which the author in the Acts speaks in the first person plural that he meant to imply that he was himself an eye-witness of the events which he is there describing. What has been said in the notes on 3:8 about the graphic character of the language there used, and of its similarity in style to the Gospel of St Mark, the vivid narratives of which have much in common with the acknowledged language of St Peter, it seems not improbable that the account of the events at and after the Ascension and of the spread of the Gospel in Jerusalem (Acts 1 5) may have been drawn directly or indirectly from that Apostle’s information. We may also ascribe to the same source all those portions of the narrative in which St Peter plays a conspicuous part, and of which the language is markedly of one character. Such portions would include 9:32 11:18 and also 12:1 19, much of which could have come in the first instance from no other lips than those of Peter himself. From some member of the Hellenistic party, of whom St Luke would meet many during his travels with St Paul, (just as we know (21:8) that he dwelt with Philip the Evangelist many days at Cæsarea,) our author probably drew the whole of that portion of his narrative which relates to the appointment of the deacons and the accusation, defence, and death of Stephen (6 7), as well as those notices of the after movements of the Hellenistic missionaries (8:1 40, 11:19 30, 12:25) which are found at intervals in the history.
The narrative of Saul’s conversion (9:1 30) must have been told by himself, and after 13:1 the remainder of the book deals exclusively with the labours of that Apostle, and as the writer had abundant opportunities while journeying with St Paul of hearing all the history of his life before he became his companion, we cannot suppose that he has recorded anything of St Paul’s doings except what was derived from the information of that Apostle or his fellow-labourers.
There remain the two historic notices (1) of the rest experienced by the Churches of Judæa and Galilee and Samaria (9:31) and (2) of the death of Herod Agrippa (12:20 23); but of these, if, as we have endeavoured to shew, he were living amidst the events of which he writes, the author would be aware from his personal knowledge; and the natural manner in which both these incidents are introduced indicates how well the writer knew that for his Christian readers as well as for himself a slight hint would recall the bypast trials of Christ’s Church.
vi. on some alleged difficulties in the character of the narrative in the acts
It has been said in recent criticism on the Acts that the book represents the Gospel as intended not for Jews only but for all mankind, in a manner at variance with the teaching of the Gospels. Those who put forward this objection would assign the teaching of the universality of the Gospel message to St Paul alone and would set it down as his development of what was meant at first to be only a modification of Judaism.
That in the Acts the preaching of the Gospel is represented as for all nations is certainly true. St Peter says (2:39) “The promise is unto you and to your children and to all that are afar off , even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” The accusation laid against Stephen (6:14) was that he had said “Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered us” and his whole defence shews that he had preached that not the Jews nor Jerusalem were any longer to be God’s special care, but all men were now to be embraced in His covenant, while the whole of St Paul’s labours are directed to make of Jews and Gentiles one worldwide Church of Christ. But the student of the Gospels need surely find no stumblingblock here. For if we take that which is on all hands accepted as the most Jewish of the Gospels, that of St Matthew, we can see that the universalism of the Acts is therein foreshadowed from the first, and spoken of definitely before the close. To God’s ancient people His offers of mercy were made first, and in accordance with this is the conduct of all the preaching of the Acts, but Gentiles are no longer excluded when once Christ has been born. To lay the foundations of the Christian Church firmly in the short space of the ministerial life of its Founder it was needful that the labours both of Himself and His disciples should be confined within a limited range, and directed to a people prepared by the Old Testament revelation and among whom some were likely to be ready to hear the words of the Gospel message. But while the infant Jesus is in His cradle we see wise men from the East brought to be His earliest worshippers. The voice of His herald proclaims that not the natural seed of Abraham shall of necessity be heirs of the promises, but that God is able of the very stones (and if so, much more from among the rest of mankind) to raise up children unto Abraham. When the ministry of Christ is begun and He takes up His abode in the border land of the Gentiles, we are reminded that it had been made known of old that “the people which sat in darkness were to see great light, and that light is sprung up for them that sat in the region and shadow of death.” Then what can be more universal than the benedictions with which the Sermon on the Mount begins? The poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the pure, the merciful, these are not restricted to the Jewish race, and on these it is that Jesus utters His first blessings. How often too does He shew that the customs of the Jews were to be done away, the ceremonial law, the fastings and the sabbaths to be disregarded, while the moral law was to be widened and deepened so that all men should learn that they were neighbours one of another? How often does He select the Samaritans to illustrate His teaching, and place them before us as those with whom He was well pleased, while He points out (Matthew 8:10 ) that in the Roman centurion there was faith manifested beyond what He had found in Israel? It is true that when Jesus first sent out the twelve (Matthew 10:5 ) He said unto them “Go not into the way of the Gentiles” but this was in the same spirit in which all the teaching of Christianity had its commencement among the Jews. Yet the Lord who gave the injunction that this should be so, knew that those to whom the message was first sent would largely refuse to hear. For He adds to his commission the warning that His ministers are going as ‘sheep among wolves,’ and foretells that they should be persecuted from one city to another (Matthew 10:16-23 ), and goes on to say that His message is to be published far and wide, yea even proclaimed, as it were, from the housetops. When He speaks afterwards (Matthew 12:18-21 ) of His own work in the language of Isaiah He quotes “He shall shew judgment to the Gentiles … and in His name shall the Gentiles trust” and before the close of that same address He adds those words which proclaim that not only the ties of race but even those of family and kindred are to be disregarded in comparison with the unity of all men in Him “Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother and sister and mother.”
Think too how he figures the kingdom of God. It is a tree (Matthew 13:32 ) in whose branches the birds of the air from all quarters shall come and find a home: it is a net cast into the wide sea of the world and gathers (13:47) of every kind of fish; while the field in which God’s seed is to be sown is not Judæa nor Palestine nor any limited region, but in His own gracious exposition (13:38) “The field is the world.” He makes known (Matthew 18:11 ) that His mission is not to save one race only but to seek and save that which is lost, and says to the professedly, but only outwardly, religious among His own people (21:31) “The publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you,” and adds the solemn warning afterwards (21:43) “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.”
And as the end of His life drew near Jesus spake even more plainly. Thus He says (Matthew 24:14 ) “This Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations ,” and His final commission (28:19) bids His disciples do what St Luke tells us in the Acts they did: “Go ye therefore and teach all nations baptizing them … and teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”
When in one Gospel we find so many evidences of what the character of the Christian preaching was meant to be, we need not examine farther to see with how little ground it is asserted that in the Acts St Luke paints Christianity in different colours from anything that was known to the writers of the Gospels or set forth in the life and teaching of Jesus. As the angels proclaimed at the birth of the Lord, “the tidings of great joy” were to be “unto all people,” and the newborn King while “the glory of God’s people Israel” was also heralded from the first as to be “a light to lighten the Gentiles.”
Another objection to the narrative in the Acts is that the book marks no rupture with Judaism. To bring this objection into prominence much stress is laid by those who use it on the severity with which St Paul speaks of the Judaizers in some parts of his letters, notably in the Epistle to the Galatians. From the language there used it is argued that the Apostle had broken altogether with Judaism, and that the picture of his life and labours as we have received it in the Acts is untrustworthy. Now first of all it is extremely unlikely that the preachers of Christ’s Gospel, with His example before them, would sever themselves from their Jewish brethren until circumstances arose which forced them to do so. Our Lord had been a devout Jew while rebuking without measure what was deserving of rebuke in Pharisaic Judaism. And what we have set before us in the Acts, first in the doings of the twelve, and then in the story of St Paul is in natural sequence to the Gospel history. Peter and John going up to the temple at the hour of prayer is the link which binds one history to the other, and it is a link which would not lightly be broken, for who could be so powerfully appealed to by the first Evangelists as those who had the ancient scriptures already in their hands?
And in St Paul’s case a distinction should be made between Judaism and Judaizers. He knew that Judaism must pass away, yet how tenderly, lovingly he deals in his letters with the devout Jew. The Judaizers, who were of set purpose an obstacle and hindrance to the work of the Gospel, he cannot away with. They are the men who desire merely “to make a fair shew in the flesh,” who preach “another Gospel,” and therefore are to the Apostle anathema. But he could still see constantly in the Law the pædagogue which was to bring men to Christ; and how near his heart his own people were we can discern from that Moses-like language of his written to the Romans at the same time that he wrote in his severest strain to the misleading Judaizers among the Galatians. In what a truly tender light St Paul regarded all that was Jewish is seen from his words to the Romans (Romans 9:1-5 ) “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing witness with me in the Holy Ghost, that I have great sorrow and unceasing pain in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren’s sake, my kinsmen according to the flesh: who are Israelites; whose is the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God , and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom is Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever.” Now this very same feeling is shewn to us in the Acts. There to the Jews he becomes a Jew that he may gain them for the Gospel. He follows the advice of the brethren in Jerusalem and takes on him the Nazarite vow, and in his speech before the Council he shrinks not from saying “I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees,” exactly in accord with the spirit which dictates again his argument to the Romans (11:1) “Did God cast off His people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite.” And those whom God had not cast off we may rest sure St Paul had not cast off, nor made with them such a breach as is suggested by those who argue from some expressions in his Epistles that the behaviour described in the Acts is not such as St Paul would have shewn to the other disciples nor they to him.
Again it is said that in the Acts Peter is represented as Pauline in all he says and does and Paul’s conduct is pictured as in complete harmony with Peter’s. But to those who believe that these two were both Apostles of the same Jesus, both preachers of the same Evangel, both guided by the same Holy Spirit, there is nothing but what is natural in this. The historian brings both before us as labouring for the same work, the extension of the Gospel according to Christ’s command from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. He gives us only short abstracts of what either preacher said, and is it not to be supposed that there would be great similarity in the drift of their addresses? Their main theme must be the Resurrection as a proof of the Divinity and the Messiahship of Jesus. Their chief exhortation “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins.”
But this figment of a Pauline and a Petrine party never entered into the thoughts of either Luke or Paul or Peter. There were partizans of Paul and of Peter at Corinth, it is true, but we know how they were rebuked by Paul himself, who bade them remember that Christ was not divided. Nor is there any evidence worth the name that His Apostles were divided. Paul tells us how he rebuked Peter because he stood condemned by the inconsistency of his own actions. But it was the rebuke of a friend and not of an opponent, for in the same chapter he speaks of Peter as one who had been entrusted by the Spirit with the Gospel of the circumcision, and who had given to him and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, as labourers in a common cause though in different fields. But neither in the Acts nor in the Epistles have we any warrant for that opinion which is so prominent in the Clementine fictions of the second century. There, without being named, St Paul is alluded to by Peter “as the man who is mine enemy,” and under the guise of Simon Magus is attacked for reproving Peter at Antioch. These writings are a most worthless ground on which to base any argument at all. Their author, whoever he may have been, durst not mention St Paul by name, so doubtful is he of the acceptance which his work will meet with; and yet it is of these works that writers who deny the fidelity of the New Testament documents assert “there is scarcely a single writing which is of so great importance for the history of Christianity in its first stage.” It is out of these fictions that the Petrine and Pauline parties have been evolved. The writings of Justin Martyr, who knew the sentiments of Christians in the Holy Land at the beginning of the second century, have no trace of these parties, neither is there a trace to be found in what is left us of the writings of that Judæo-Christian Hegesippus. And if these men, who were in the position to know most about it, have no word of the matter, we can only conclude that the opposition so much dwelt on did not exist, but that, just as in the Acts we have it set before us, the preaching of Peter and Paul was in entire harmony. For them Christ was not divided, nor did their doctrine differ except so far as was made necessary by the condition of the audiences which they addressed. For a fuller discussion of this subject than is here possible, and for demonstration that there was no antagonism between Paul and the rest of the Apostles, the reader is referred to Dr Lightfoot’s Essay on “St Paul and the Three” in his Edition of the Epistle to the Galatians.
I have to thank several friends for their kind interest in the first part of the Acts and for some suggestions which, as far as was possible, have been embodied in the notes. But I desire specially to express my acknowledgement of the help which I have derived in matters of Jewish learning and antiquities from my friend Dr Schiller-Szinessy, to whose abundant stores of knowledge the enquirer seems always welcome.
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18