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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Acts

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4
Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8
Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12
Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16
Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20
Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24
Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28

Book Overview - Acts

by Philip Schaff

INTRODUCTION TO THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES.

The purpose with which the Book was written.

The ‘Acts’ of the Apostles occupies a peculiar position among the books of the New Testament. It takes up the story of the early days of the faith of Jesus of Nazareth, where the Gospels leave off; but the story taken up by the ‘Acts’ is necessarily a very different one from the simple gospel narrative. The first dwelt on the work of the sinless Son of God. The second tells how His loving but often faulty servants carried on the begun work of their Master. But at once the question meets us, Why have we not the general sketch which the title of the book would lead us to expect of the acts of all the apostles instead of simply the acts of two—and one of the two a former enemy of the ‘twelve apostles’ of the Lamb?

Why do the names of the Eleven meet us only one? Collectively they are certainly mentioned some twenty or more times. But, with the exception of St. Peter, the individual work of any one of them, save of St. John, is never recorded; and the acts of the beloved apostle are only mentioned in three out of the twenty-eight chapters of the book, and in these said passages with scant detail.

Now the Holy Spirit must have had some definite purpose to effect, when He guided the writer of these Acts to make what at first sight seems a stray selection out of the more memorable events which followed the Passion and Resurrection of the Son of God for the guidance and comfort of the mighty Church of the future.

What now was, as far as we can see, the Divine purport of the Blessed Spirit who inspired Luke to write this sequel to the gospel story? Bishop Wordsworth (Introduction to the Acts) very beautifully writes how ‘St. Luke has written one work, consisting of two parts; the former his Gospel, the latter the Acts of the Apostles. The connection of these two parts is marked by the commencement of the latter with a reference to the former, and by the inscription of both to one person. The latter opens thus’ The former treatise, “i.e. his Gospel,” I made, The O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, until the day in which He was taken up.’

Let us remark, also, that in his latter treatise, the Acts, he resumes the subject at the point where, in the former, the Gospel, he had left it—namely, with a description of Christ’s Ascension into heaven. Therefore it appears from the Acts, that in his former work, the Gospel, St. Luke had professed to give an account only of what Jesus began to do and to teach while He was in person upon earth. But now, in his second treatise, the Acts of the Apostles, he has a higher and ampler subject before him. In this book, the sequel of his Gospel, the blessed Evangelist, being inspired by the Holy Ghost, comes forward and unfolds, as it were, the doors of heaven, and cereals to the world what the same Jesus, having ascended into heaven, and being exalted to the right hand of God, and there sitting in glory, continues ‘to do and to teach,’ not any longer within the narrow confines of Palestine, or during the few years of an earthly ministry, but from His royal throne in His imperial city, the heavenly Jerusalem; and what, there sitting in glory, He does and teaches ‘in all Judea and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth, by the instrumentality of apostles and apostolic men and apostolic churches, in all ages of the world; and what He will ever continue to do and to teach from heaven, by the power of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven after His Ascension, even till He comes again in glory to judge both the quick and dead.’

This view of the purpose and design of our book is a true one, and thoroughly commends itself to the earnest and devout reader of Scripture; still it seems that it does not by itself fully answer the question proposed above. Other scholars have sought to find the answer in the assertions that our book contains the story of the progress of ‘the faith’ from Jerusalem to Rome; that it traces the various stages of the Church’s expansion during the first anxious thirty years of its existence. Others, again, refusing to see in the Divine history any traces of a definite plan and purpose, assert that the ‘Acts’ is simply a collection of memoirs of such interesting circumstances connected with the first days of Christianity as happened to come under the observation of the writer and his friends.

We reject this third view of the book before us as unworthy and improbable. The second view, which represents it as the story of the solemn progress of the faith from Jerusalem to Rome, we accept as partly true. The first, which regards the Acts as the sequel to the Gospels, as the account of what Jesus continues to do and teach from His glory throne in heaven, we accept unhesitatingly as a devout and true conception of the spirit of the book. But we still feel that neither of these two latter descriptions sufficiently answers the question with which we began this section of our work.

We believe that the greater portion of the ‘Acts’ was arranged and compiled in its present form by Luke acting under the guidance and influence of Paul during his long imprisonment at Cæsarea, which lasted, we know, two years. This long solemn pause in the busy restless career of the great apostle was expressly foretold, and that not once or twice, by the Holy Ghost [see Acts 20:23; Acts 21:4; Acts 21:11],—the same Holy Spirit who foretold the apostle’s captivity; and while foretelling, it gave courage to the gallant heart of Paul, for the Lord’s sake, to put himself in the way of his enemies. The same Holy Spirit, during this solemn pause in the great life, brooded over the apostle’s prison roof, and put into the prisoner’s mind what he should tell to coming ages of the first beginnings of the religion of Jesus.

There was one saying of the greatest of the old Hebrew prophets on the subject of the expected Messiah which we love to believe was ever before the noble Paul when, in the prison room at Cæsarea, he thought out with the Divine Spirit’s help the book of the Acts. ‘It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth’ (Isaiah 49:6). In the solitude of the Cæsarean prison the great Gentile apostle had ample leisure to reflect upon the work of his past life. Twenty eventful years had passed since the Lord appeared to him on the Damascus road; twenty years of incessant toil and struggling to carry out the will of that glorified Lord as it had been gradually revealed to him. Nor was the retrospect in any way a sad one to the imprisoned apostle. If the work had been excessive, and the sufferings intense, and the failures many and grievous, the fruit of the work and the outcome of the suffering was great, even beyond the most enthusiastic hopes. The fairest portion of that rich and populous province we know as Asia Minor, now possessed numerous congregations of Christians—the result of his preaching and of his pupils’ exertions. His work had penetrated into Europe, and the existence of many a devoted Christian Church in Greece bore witness to his successful toil. There seemed good hope that all the isles of the Gentiles, through the instrumentality of his work and teaching, would in the end become sharers in the glorious Gospel of Christ.

But the solitary prisoner—his powers of thought miraculously strengthened by the presence of the Holy Spirit, in whose strength he wrote and prayed, and preached and taught—looked on to a time, evidently not far distant, when his voice would be hushed in death. He was aware he possessed sleepless enemies among the Jews, even among the Jewish Christians. Wherever Paul went, these relentless foes dogged his footsteps, and often succeeded in marring though not in spoiling his noble work. What if in coming days these false patriots, these Jews jealous of the countless dwellers in the isles of the Gentiles being put on a level as regards salvation with their own favoured race, the chosen children of promise;—what if in coming days, when he had passed to his well-won rest, these bitter foes to his free noble Gospel—offered to Jew and Gentile, bond and free, alike—should be able to persuade men and women that Paul was an innovator, a teacher of new things, that his doctrine was not what the Master taught in the beginning, that the twelve apostles of the Lamb had never agreed to his (Paul’s) view of Gentile freedom and Gentile equality?

Then, aided by the Spirit of the Lord,—the Spirit whom the dying Master had promised should guide His own into all truth [John 16:13],—Paul wrote the inspired record which told how the ground stories of the Christian faith were laid; how the holy Twelve chose the seven deacons; how one of those seven, Stephen, with strange marvellous power, preached the same broad all-embracing Gospel which had since won the hearts of so many dwellers in far distant Gentile lands; and then in the midst of his history he inserted at great length the leading arguments once used by the eloquent deacon Stephen before his violent death outside the city walls, burning words doubtless preserved with severest care in the Jerusalem Church. Coming generations would be able to see that the arguments of the deacon Stephen, when arraigned before the Sanhedrim, taught the same grand truths of Gentile freedom which he, Paul, had given to the many churches he had founded. His view, then, of Christian liberty—as entirely independent of Judaism—was no novel one, but was held and taught in the Jerusalem Church in those early days when he, Paul, was still one of the bitterest of the Pharisee persecutors of the followers of, and believers in, the risen Jesus of Nazareth. As he proceeded with his history, he related how Peter the Shepherd and the Rock subsequently welcomed the hated Gentile into the bosom of the Church of the Nazarene, in the person of the Roman soldier Cornelius; how James, the Lord’s brother according to the flesh,—James, the rigid and ascetic Jewish Christian whom also his (Paul’s) enemies delighted to revere and honour,—had given to him, the Gentile apostle, the right hand of fellowship, and to his foreign congregations in many distant lands a charter of freedom, liberating them for ever from the yoke of Jewish ritual and time-honoured religious observances.

It should never be said in coming days that Paul was an innovator, or his teaching unsanctioned and unloved by the twelve apostles of the Lamb. In life he knew he had been one with them, in death he would not suffer the tongue or pen of a relentless and mistaken enemy to separate him from men who had loved him, he knew, with a great love, from men who had given the solemn seal of their high sanction to all his works and days.

Thus the first twelve chapters of the ‘Acts’ were Paul’s justification of his life and teaching. The second part of the book, with the story of his work and his success, told how those foreign peoples that had so long sat in darkness and in the shadow of death gladly received the good news of the universal Saviour Jesus Christ

Thus in that dim future, down whose solemn vista the prisoner Paul gazed in the solitude of his Cæsarean prison, the writer of the book saw yet unborn generations in varied lands, and of many races, asking the question whether, after all, the free unfettered Christianity offered to all nations alike—whether the perfect equality of Jew and Gentile—whether the setting aside for ever of the ceremonial laws, and the ordinances and ritual of Moses—was the deliberate teaching of the men who had been with the Lord Jesus during his earthly ministry, or was merely the wild baseless dream of Paul the converted Pharisee of Tarsus; and to the ever-recurring question the story of the Acts would be the answer. Between the twelve first called apostles and the seven deacons, between the church of Jerusalem and the missionary churches of Paul, no differences of opinion existed—a harmony unbroken reigned in the undivided councils of the Church of the first age of Christianity. This is the message the plain unvarnished story of the ‘Acts’ tells out to all the churches.

The Teaching of the ‘Acts.’

Doctrine,—The most remarkable feature in the teaching of the book is the prominence that is given in it to the work and offices of the Third Person of the ever-blessed Trinity—God the Holy Ghost. The history of the early days of the Christian Church, as told in these Acts, is, so to speak, a specimen of the way in which the Lord Jesus will continue to do and to teach from His royal throne in heaven, by the power of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven in accordance with His own solemn words to His own the night before the cross: ‘If I depart, I will send Him (the Comforter) unto you . . . when He is come, He will guide you into all truth’ (John 16:7-13).

In strict fulfillment of the promise, we find that the Lord after His resurrection had through the Holy Ghost given to His apostles commandments (chap. Acts 1:2). They were to be baptized by the Holy Ghost (chap. Acts 1:5); to receive power after that the Holy Ghost had come upon them (Acts 1:8). At Pentecost the presence and operation of the Holy Ghost is related at great length (chap. Acts 2:1-13, see also chap. Acts 4:31). The sin of Ananias and of his unhappy wife is characterized as a lie unto the Holy Ghost’ (chap. Acts 5:1-11). The seven deacons chosen to assist the twelve apostles are selected as men full of the Holy Ghost (chap. Acts 6:3); and Stephen, the most prominent of the seven, is especially mentioned as full of the Holy Ghost (chap. Acts 6:5). The great accusation levelled by the deacon Stephen, in his splendid apology for the new faith, at the proud chosen people was that they do always resist the Holy Ghost (chap. Acts 7:51). The elder apostles go down from Jerusalem to confirm those that had been baptized by the deacon Philip, in order that the baptized might receive the Holy Ghost (chap. Acts 8:15-17). Again we hear of the same Spirit directly speaking to Philip, ordering him to meet and to instruct a famous Gentile, an Ethiopian eunuch, the treasurer of Queen Candace (chap. Acts 8:29); and later we read how the same Spirit caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more (chap. Acts 8:39). The purpose of Ananias laying his hands on the blinded Saul, after the meeting with the Risen One on the Damascus road, was that Saul might be filled with the Holy Ghost (chap Acts 10:17).

The comfort of the Holy Ghost is mentioned (chap. Acts 9:31) as the blessed atmosphere in which the sorely harassed Church was living.

The gift of the Holy Ghost is poured out on Cornelius and his companions on the occasion of Peter’s solemn consent to the admission of the Gentiles to the Church of Christ (chap. Acts 10:44-47).

The Holy Ghost it is who separates Barnabas and Saul to the Gentile apostleship (chap. Acts 13:2), and the same Divine person guides the deliberations and inspires the edict of the first general council of the Church held at Jerusalem (chap. Acts 15:28). The Spirit of the Lord it is who orders the way and the footsteps of Peter (chap. Acts 10:19, Acts 11:12)—of Paul and his companions in their perilous missionary enterprises (chap. Acts 16:7); and the same Comforter and Guide speaks to Paul on many occasions (chap. Acts 20:23, Acts 21:11). These are only a few out of the many notices of the work and office of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity which we meet with so frequently in these inspired apostolic memoirs.

From the very brief summaries given us of the early apostolic addresses and sermons, we gather that the central doctrinal point of all their teaching of the first days was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of the body, and the final judgment, when all will have to answer for the things done in the body, was evidently dwelt upon again and again with intense earnestness. The offer of remission of sins, and the announcement of the cleansing power of the precious blood of Christ, were made by the first teachers of the doctrines of the Lord Jesus indifferently to all—to both sexes, Jew and Gentile, bond and free, young and old. The Gospel offered by the twelve apostles of the Lamb, by the few who were subsequently enrolled in that blessed apostolic company, by their companions and pupils, was free, hampered by no conditions, limited by no prejudice, confined by no ritual—all were invited to accept the Divine offer of reconciliation in the blood of Jesus. Men and women had but to repent, to believe in the Lord Jesus, and to struggle to live the beautiful unselfish life He loved, and taught, and lived.

But the memoirs of Peter and John, which Paul preserved to us in this holy book, taught another lesson to the Churches of the future—the lesson of conciliation—the duty of giving way, and the wisdom of yielding to others in matters comparatively indifferent. For instance, it must have been at no little sacrifice of personal and even of party feeling in the higher sense that James, the head of the Jerusalem Christians, who loved with an intense love the ritual and time-honoured ceremonial and religious observances of the rigid Jews, himself signed and induced his brother rulers of that community to give their full sanction to the charter of Gentile Christian liberty, which, while admitting the stranger and the alien to the full privileges of communion with the Church of Christ, freed them for ever from the burden of keeping the ceremonial law of the Jews, that law they prized above everything on earth (Acts 15:1-33).

Peter, the ardent, impetuous, loving Jew, from his early training and subsequent position in the Jerusalem Church must have indeed suffered much, must have agonized and prayed many a weary night before he could have brought himself to accept the mission sent to bless and welcome the hated Samaritans into the bosom of his Master’s Church (Acts 8:14-17), or to receive the Gentile soldier Cornelius, the soldier of the hated Rome, and his companions into the number of the faithful.

Paul gave up much, and did great violence, no doubt, to his own dearest wishes, when he submitted to the gentle pressure and the loving advice of James, and took on himself publicly one of those burdensome Jewish vows he longed so earnestly to dissociate from true, vital religion. The examples recorded in the ‘Acts’ press, indeed, home to men with weighty power, that it is the will of the Holy Ghost that God’s true, loyal servants should yield to others, should give way to others at the cost of the bitterest personal loss, when such yielding and giving way involved no sacrifice of principle, and promised to strengthen the Master’s holy cause.

Another splendid virtue—alas! rare in the long annals of church history—is written in fair characters on many a page of these Divine memoirs of the first days—unselfishness, self-effacement.

The great leaders in the Church of the first fifty years which followed the resurrection of Jesus Christ, seemed to vie with one another in their readiness to yield the foremost and most distinguished places in the community to new and more brilliant men. To give instances: Peter and John, James and the Twelve, put the learned and eloquent, the brave and devoted deacon Stephen at once forward; they allowed, no doubt invited him to take the foremost place among the leaders and teachers of the followers of the Crucified. And even the deacon Philip, at a very early date, seems to have filled a more prominent place in church history than the Twelve. The same great and noble men later cheerfully and readily acquiesced in the pre-eminence of Paul, and possibly even of Barnabas, in the work of laying the early stories of the faith.

In these inspired memoirs of the first thirty years of the existence of the Church of Christ, the gradually developing organization of the society of believers is carefully and repeatedly noted. The original number of the little company of apostles had been rudely broken in upon by the defection and terrible death of the traitor. The first care of the Jerusalem community was to fill up the gap in the number of the sacred Twelve by the election of Matthias, a Jew who had been a companion of the apostles during the whole of the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus. As the work multiplies, the seven deacons are chosen from the body of believers, and formally consecrated as officers of the Church.

In the ninth chapter, we find a mention of another band of ecclesiastical organization in the Holy Land—one quite new in the religious history of the world. At Joppa an association of widow women evidently existed, women belonging to the new sect of believers in Jesus, a portion of whose lives was devoted to carrying out with great exactness the counsel and will of the Lord Jesus. This is evidently only a specimen, so to speak, of other similar church organizations among the female converts to the new religion that existed in the very early days of the faith in Palestine.

In the thirteenth chapter, we have mention of a more elaborated organization than any which has as yet met us, viz. in the capital of Syria-Antioch. Here prophets and teachers are alluded to as meeting together for the purpose of public prayer and counsel,—as publicly choosing and solemnly ordaining for the highest order in the Church two additional apostles.

In the fourteenth chapter, we find the newly-appointed apostles, Paul and Barnabas, ordaining elders in every church. (These already existed in the Jerusalem congregations, see chap. Acts 11:30.)

In the fifteenth chapter, an indication meets us that the Church’s arrangements for internal government had greatly developed. An important council of the Church, consisting of apostles and elders (presbyters), meet together in Jerusalem, the national capital of early Christianity, and discuss grave questions respecting ritual and practice in the Church.

These, after their deliberation, report to the congregations, and a formal decree, running in the name of the president of the council, James the Lord’s brother, the apostles and presbyters, and the whole Church of Jerusalem, is sent out to all the scattered and now numerous foreign Gentile churches, to Syria, to the provinces of Asia Minor, and most probably to Rome and Italy.

Appointed and definite days and hours for Divine worship appear to have been fixed by the Church at a very early date. These were, we know, modified and altered in later times to suit the Church’s needs. At first daily (chap. Acts 2:46) they meet to break bread: no doubt the solemn breaking of bread is here referred to in memory of the Lord’s last charge. Daily, too, they at first had some more public meeting for prayer and teaching (chap. Acts 5:42); but as the numbers of ‘believers multiplied,’ the occupation and business duties of the majority preventing any such constant regular attendance, apparently the first day of the week was set aside, by common consent, for meeting together for the solemn breaking of bread in memory of their Master’s sacrifice, and prayer, and exhortation, and teaching (see chap. Acts 20:7).

It is, perhaps, hardly needful to mention that the above memoranda respecting the most prominent features of early Christian doctrine,—respecting the spirit of conciliation which dwelt in the early Church, the noble readiness to forget self so noticeable in the first leaders of the new faith, in men like John, and Peter, and James, and Paul,—respecting the rapidly-developed system of Church organization, and of definitely-fixed Church services, are derived exclusively from the book of the ‘Acts.’

Were the Epistles referred to, a vast mass of interesting information could at once be adduced in illustration of each of these points. The writer of this section, however, judged it better simply to confine himself to the information supplied by the ‘Acts’ on these subjects.

Respecting the Authorship of the Book.

Very early Christian writers are unanimous in ascribing the authorship of the Acts of the Apostles,’ in the form in Which we now possess this book, to St. Luke, the compiler of the Third Gospel, the intimate friend and long the companion of St. Paul. The opening words of the ‘Acts’ are addressed to apparently the same person, Theophilus,’ alluded to in the first verses of the Gospel bearing the name of and universally ascribed to Luke. These opening words, too, refer to an earlier written record containing the relation of the first days of the new faith. The ‘Acts,’ then, seems to be a second part of a previous history. This supposition fits in exactly with the universally current tradition respecting its writer.

Irena us, who was Bishop of the Christian Church of Lyons in Gaul A.D. 178, and who in his youth was a friend of those who had conversed with the apostles, writes as follows:—‘And that Luke was inseparable from Paul and his fellow-worker in the Gospel, he himself shows, not indeed boasting of it, but impelled by truth itself; for, says he, when Barnabas and John, who was called Mark, separated from Paul, and they had sailed to Cyprus, we came to Troas; and when Paul had seen in a dream a man of Macedonia saying, Come over into Macedonia and help us, Paul; immediately, says he, we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us to preach the Gospel to them. Therefore loosing from Troas, we came in a straight course to Samothracia. And then he carefully relates all the rest of their course till they arrived at Philippi, and here they spoke their first discourse. And we sat down, says he, and spake to the women who resorted thither, and who believed, and how many. And again, he says, And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came to Troas, where we abode seven days, and all the other things he relates in order while he was with Paul’ (Adv. Hares, lib. iii. c. xiv. 1).

That curious fragment on the canon discovered by Muratori in the Ambrosian Library at Milan, and supposed to have been written not later than A.D. 170, also plainly ascribes the ‘Acts’ to Luke in the following words:—‘The acts of all the apostles are written in one book. Luke relates the events of which he was an eye-witness to Theophilus.’ Clement of Alexandria, A.D. 190, writes to the same effect in his Stromata:—‘As Luke in the Acts of the Apostles records Paul to have said, Ye men of Athens, in all things I perceive that you are too superstitious’ (Stomata, lib. 5). Tertullian of Carthage, A.D. 200, distinctly also asserts that Luke was the writer of the ‘Acts’ (de jejunio, c. 10). The great scholar and thinker, Origen, A.D. 230, also, in a casual allusion, shows that he too firmly held the same opinion respecting the authorship of the book. ‘Some suppose’—Origen is speaking of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and stating that ‘some suppose it (the Epistle to the Hebrews) was written by Clement who was Bishop of Rome, and others that it was composed by Luke who wrote the Gospel and the Acts’ (Euseb. H. E. vi. 26). Again, Eusebius himself bears direct testimony to the universally received tradition that Luke was the author of this book. ‘Luke,’ he writes, ‘who was born at Antioch, and by calling a physician, being for the most part connected with Paul, and familiarly acquainted with the rest of the apostles, has left us two inspired books. . . . One of them is his Gospel. . . . The other is his Acts of the Apostles, which he composed, not from what he had heard from others, but from what he had seen himself’ (Euseb. H. E. iii. 4).Thus the voice of the early Church, from the days of the apostles down to the middle of the fourth century, from Lyons in Gaul (Irenæus), North Italy (the Canon of Muratori), Proconsular Africa (Tertullian), Alexandria, Egypt, and Syria (Clement and Origen), the whole Eastern Church of the fourth century (Eusebius), bears one testimony that the Acts of the Apostles was a work compiled by the well-known Luke, the companion and pupil of Paul.

On the authenticity of the ‘Acts.’

There has never existed in the Church any doubt as to the authenticity of the book of the ‘Acts.’ In all ages it has been received by all churches as the inspired Word of God. We will rapidly review the principal historical evidence. The first dear allusion to the ‘Acts’ is found in the Shepherd of Hermes, vis. iv. 2, A.D. 140-150. It is probably referred to by Hegesippus (see Westcott on Canon, chap. ii. p. 232), A.D. 150-160. The Canon of Moratoria, A.D. 170, speaks of it (see above in previous section for the quotation). It is contained in the Peschito (Syriac) Version. The Peschito Version of the Sacred Books was no doubt made, if not within, certain immediately after the apostolic age. The Old Latin (Vetus Latina) Version also has the Acts of the Apostles in its venerable canon; now the Old Latin was made, we know, before A.D. 170. The ‘Acts,’ then, long before the close of the second century,—that is, many years before the first century succeeding the apostolic age had closed,—was received as inspired, in the same sacred catalogue with the Four Gospels, by the churches of the East and West.

Proceeding onward in our inquiry. In the Epistle of the Churches of Lyons and Vienne to those of Asia and Phrygia, A.D. 177, we find a direct reference to the ‘Acts’ Irenæus, A.D. 178; Clement of Alexandria, A.D. 190; Tertullian, A.D. 200; Origen, A.D. 280 (see references in preceding section), distinctly quote from and refer to the book. And Eusebius, A.D. 325, in his famous catalogue of the writings of the New Testament ‘received generally’ by the Catholic Church in the beginning of the fourth century, writes of our book in the following definite terms:—‘It is natural that we should give a summary catalogue of the writings of the New Testament . . . First, then, we must place the holy Quaternion of the Gospels, which are followed by the account of the Acts of the Apostles.’

Certain of the early heretics called the book in question, and declined to receive it as Holy Scripture. But their scruples were based solely on doctrines, not on any critical grounds. Thus the Ebionites rejected the ‘Acts’ because it commanded that the Gentiles should be received into the bosom of the Church of Christ without submitting to the rite of circumcision. The Marcionites refused to acknowledge it on account of its teaching of conciliation in the matters of dispute between the representative Jews and Gentile converts. The Manichaans disliked it and repudiated it, owing to the history it contained of the descent of the Holy Ghost. But such opposition only served to root it more fixedly in the affection of the Catholic Church. Besides being contained in the two most venerable of the versions, this book is found in not a few of the most ancient Uncial MSS. (For list of those which contain the ‘Acts,’ see the table below.)

Language of the ‘Acts.’

Throughout the book there is a substantial similarity of style and diction,—a similarity so great as to warrant the assumption that the whole proceeds from one hand (see Davidson’s remarks in his General Introduction to the New Testament, vol. ii., ‘Authorship and Sources of the Acts’). There is, however, a perceptible difference between the first and second divisions of the book, which indicates that the writer possessed different materials for these divisions, upon which he based his composition (see below on the materials used by St. Luke for the Acts).

The first half of the Acts is more Hebraistic in thought and colouring than the latter half, which is written in purer and better Greek. The reason of this is obvious: in the first portion of the book, Luke was dependent almost entirely on foreign sources; the second portion was for the most part the testimony of an eye-witness, supplemented by the assistance of his master Paul. Many of the same peculiarities in words and expressions are observable in the Acts and the Gospel of St. Luke. The following, amongst others, have been specially noted by Professor Hackett in his Commentary. In the Third Gospel, verbs compounded with prepositions are more numerous than in the other evangelists. They are found in the same proportion in the Acts. Matthew has σύν three times, Mark five times, John three times; while Luke employs it in his Gospel twenty-four times and in the Acts fifty-one times. πορεύεσθαι is found in the Third Gospel forty-nine times, and in the Acts thirty-eight times; but is rarely found in other parts of the New Testament.

Credner in his Introduction to the New Testament has enumerated not fewer than sixty-five distinct idioms, which he considers as peculiar to Luke’s diction, as compared with that of the other New Testament writers, and nearly all these he points out as occurring both in his Gospel and in the Acts.

Text of the ‘Acts.’

In the text of the Acts, there is a greater variety of reading than in any other book of the New Testament, except the Apocalypse; but notwithstanding this abundance of various readings, the text is substantially pure. Few differences of reading of great importance are found in this book, and no interpolations of any length or consequence—with the exception of Acts 8:37, Acts 9:5-6, from συλερόν to αύτόν; Acts 24:6-8, from ϰαὶ ϰατα to ἐπι σέ—are found in the ordinary received text. It must, however, be remembered that the text of D and E, and their cognates in the MSS., is in not a few places varied by many and striking interpolations and variations.

Dean Alford, with considerable ingenuity, accounts for the great variety of readings, many of them unimportant, by suggesting that the scribe of the ‘Acts’ was frequently tempted to introduce corrections and alterations in the text before him, with the idea of explaining backward references to the Gospel history, and of anticipating statements and expressions occurring in the Epistles.

It has also been suggested that the scribe of the ‘Acts,’ in passages where ecclesiastical order or usage was in question, has not unfrequently been moved to insert or to omit with a view of suiting the habits and views of the Church in later times.

When the Acts of the Apostleswere probably written.

There seems but little doubt that the ‘Acts’ were complete and put forth probably in the form in which we now possess them, about the termination of the two years’ imprisonment at Rome described in the last two verses of chap. 28. The writer speaks of this period of the Apostle Paul’s life with the detail of an eye-witness; but he says nothing about his liberation from his Roman prison; nor does he give the faintest hint that the captivity in question was terminated by a martyr’s death. In another section of the Prolegomena—‘Sources of the Acts’—it is shown as highly probable that the materials upon which the first part of the book was based were collected by Luke, the friend and companion of Paul during the two years’ imprisonment of the latter in Palestine, in the Roman city of Cæsarea. We, therefore, with some certainty conclude that the book was composed and written in great part at Cæsarea, and finally completed and moulded into its present form at Rome during the captivity related in Acts 28, about the year of our Lord 62-63.

The Sources of the ‘Acts of the Apostles.’

It is on the whole generally believed that the ‘Acts,’ in the form in which we now possess the book, is the work of one mind. The similarity of style, the recurrence throughout the work of the same words and phrases, and above all, the spirit of forbearance, conciliation, the readiness to sink all feeling of self on the part of the great leader of the faith of the first days, which characterize the whole history, tell us the varied memoirs were selected by one mind, and the mass of material were welded into an harmonious whole by one hand.

As has been already observed, the book falls into two great divisions. The first comprises the history of the acts of the church of Jerusalem from the day of the Master’s ascension. This is completed in the first twelve chapters. The story of the Church’s first Foreign Missions, under the guidance and for the most part under the personal superintendence of the Apostle Paul. This is complete in the last sixteen chapters. The first division—the history of the Jerusalem church and its work (chaps. 1-12.)—is distinguished by its Hebraistic character. The second—the memoirs of the Foreign Missions—is freer from Hebraisms, and is written in purer and better Greek. The sources whence Paul and Luke derived their information respecting the laying of the early stories of the faith by the Jerusalem Church were no doubt various. We have already, in an earlier section, suggested Cæsarea—where the Apostle Paul was detained in captivity some two years—as the place where most probably the materials of the great history were gathered together and moulded into the form of a consecutive narrative.

Now, Cæsarea, a city of Palestine, and only three days’ easy journey from Jerusalem, offered singular facilities to Paul, to whose prison outside friends, we are aware (see chap. Acts 24:23), had free access, and to his fixed and faithful companion, Luke, for gathering just the information and details they would need for the compilation of such a history as that contained in the first division of the ‘Acts’ (chaps, 1-12.). If not apostles, doubtless apostolic men all that time were resident in Jerusalem. It is almost certain that at this period James ‘the Lord’s brother resided permanently in the Holy City, with men and women who had seen and heard the Lord during His Palestinian ministry. With them Luke would have had frequent intercourse; he would meet them often, and would be able to interrogate them of the past. Records treasured up in the Jerusalem Church, such as memoirs of the Ascension, of the first memorable Pentecost; reports, more or less exhaustive, of the first great sermon spoken in defense of the new faith by famous leaders, such as Peter and Stephen, no doubt existed in the Jerusalem community,—these would be seen and copied by the friend of Paul, and would by him be brought to the apostle’s room in the Roman prison of Cæsarea.

At Cæsarea, too, we have good reason for believing, dwelt, during the imprisonment of Paul, the deacon Philip, who, in the years succeeding the martyrdom of his famous colleague Stephen, played so great a part in the spread of the faith of Jesus of Nazareth in the Holy Land.

This Philip, we .can imagine, helped in no small degree Paul and Luke in their history of the beginnings of the faith.

In Cæsarea probably still dwelt the centurion Cornelius, the principal personage of the tenth and eleventh chapters, which specially relate the acts of Peter, and the part that foremost of the holy Twelve took in the admission of the outside Gentile world into the pale of the Church.

The sources whence the second division of our book was derived—the history of the Church’s Foreign Missions—are easily discovered. Paul himself was the chief personage, and he had been present at by far the greater number of the events recorded in chaps, 12 to 26. Of the circumstances of the few transactions in which the Gentile apostle was not himself an actor, such men as Apollos or Aquila, no doubt, either at Cæsarea, or previously at Corinth and Ephesus, had supplied the necessary details. The ‘Acts’ were no doubt completed and finally revised during the Roman imprisonment, details of which we possess in the twenty-eighth chapter of our work. The twenty-seventh chapter is evidently the account of an eye-witness of the apostle’s journey as a state prisoner from Cæsarea to Rome.

On St. Luke.

We have but little information concerning Luke given to us in the New Testament. From the statement respecting him in Colossians 4:11-14, where Paul distinguishes him from ‘that of the circumcision,’ we infer that the writer of the ‘Acts’ was a Gentile by birth.

Three times he is alluded to by Paul in his epistles. In the Colossian letter he is spoken of as ‘Luke the beloved physician’ (Colossians 4:14); in the little letter to Philemon, Luke is mentioned with the other fellow-labourers as sending greetings (Philemon 1:24); and in the Second Epistle to Timothy there is a well-known touching verse which, after telling of the friends who had deserted the forlorn and condemned apostle, writes of him thus, ‘Only Luke is with me’ (2 Timothy 4:11).

In the ‘Acts’ the writer (Luke) apparently joins the apostle at Troas (Acts 16:10), A.D. 51-52. At Philippi, on the same missionary journey, Luke remains behind, and rejoins the apostle, after some seven years, again at Philippi, when Paul was on his way to Jerusalem, A.D. 58-59 (Acts 20:5), and remained with his master and friend until the close of the period included in the story of the ‘Acts.’ Probably shortly after the events related in the last chapter of the Acts, Paul was liberated, and, once more free, set out on that distant journey which a well-supported tradition tells us extended as far as Spain. During this last period of the brave old man’s activity, Luke was possibly with him. He was certainly his companion in his last imprisonment at Rome. (See above, 2 Timothy 4:11.) A tradition, contained in Epiphanies (fourth century), relates how Luke preached in Italy, Gaul, Dalmatia, and Macedonia; and mentions how he united the double profession of a preacher and physician, that he lived to a great age, and in the end suffered martyrdom in Elaea in the Peloponnesus. Another tradition mentions that, by the order of the Emperor Constantine, his remains were brought to Constantinople, and interred there in the Church of the Apostles.

The principal MSS. which (besides other parts of the New Testament) contain the Acts of the Apostles.

Date

Where Now

Cent V.

London British Museum

A, Codex Alexandrinus. Presented by Cyrillus Lucaris, Patriarch of Constantinople.

IV.

Rome Vatican Library

B, Codex Vaticanus. This is esteemed the most valuable text of the New Testament Scriptures in the world.

IV.

St. Petersburg

א, Codex Sinaiticus. Discovered by Dr. Tischendorf in the Convent of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai in 1859.

These three MSS contain the Acts entire.

VI.

Cambridge University Library

D, Bezae. Presented by the Reformer Beca to the University of Cambridge in 1581. Defective from chapter Acts 8:29 to Acts 21:18, from chapter Acts 22:10 to Acts 22:20, from chapter Acts 22:29 to the end of the book.

VI.

Oxford Bodleian

E, The Codex Laudianus. This MS. Is so called because it was presented by Archbishop Laud to the University of Oxford. It is supposed to have been written toward the close of the sixth century. It is highly praised both by Michaelis and Tischendorf. There is a defect from chapter Acts 26:29 to chapter Acts 28:26.

IX.

Rome Library of Augustian Monks.

G, The Codex Bibliothecae Anglicae. This MS. Receives its name because it is preserved in the Anglican Library of the Augustinian Monks at Rome. It commences at Acts 8:10, and is complete to the end.

IX.

Modena Public Library.

H, The Codex Mutinensis. It begins with Acts 5:28 and is defective in the following places: —From Acts 9:39 to Acts 10:19, from Acts 13:36 to Acts 14:3; the portion from Acts 27:4 to the end has been supplied in uncial letters by a later hand, about the eleventh century.

The above references to the defects in D E G H are taken from Dr. Gloag’s Introduction to the Acts (section 6).

Chronological Table showing approximately the dates of some of the principal events related in the book of the Acts of the Apostles.’

To fix with any certainty the dates of the events recorded in our book is simply impossible. Every date has been discussed many times, and varied results have been arrived at. On the whole, the general chronology set down in the accompanying table is accepted, although, of course, there is much difference of opinion as to the precise years in which each event happened. We cannot even fix with precision the exact years of the birth and crucifixion of our Lord.

The dates in the earlier chapters of the Acts are of necessity more indefinite than those of the later portion, as the sources of the events recorded, as seen above, were various, and exact dates do not seem to have been considered of importance.

However, from the results arrived at, the reader, with these reservations, will be able to form a good general idea of the divisions of the period covered by our apostolic memoirs.

A.D.

Roman Emperor

High Priest

33

34

35

36

Tiberius

Caiaphas

Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ; Pentecost; effusion of the Holy Spirit, Acts 1, 2; the events related in Acts 2:42 to Acts 6:8.

(Roughly between A.D. 33-37; some, however, believe the Resurrection and Ascension took place as early as A.D. 30.

37

38

39

40

Caligula

Jonathan Theophilus

Conversion of St. Paul, Acts 9:1-19

A.D. 38, 39, 40. These years we believe Saul spent mostly in comparative retirement in Arabia and Damascus (Galatians 1:15-18).

41

42

43

44

Claudius

Simon Mathias.

Elionaeus.

The acts of St. Peter, releated in Acts 9:32 to Acts 11:30, A.D. 41-43.

Martyrdom of James the brother of John, Acts 12:2; death of Herod Agripa at Caesarea, Acts 12:23.

45

46

47

48

49

50

51

Joseph

Ananias

St. Paul’s first missionary journey, Acts 13, 14, A.D. 45, 47.

Some give A.D. 50 as the date of the Council of Jerusalem.

Council of Jerusalem, Acts 25:2-27; second missionary journey of St. Paul begun.

52

53

Nero

A.D. 52-53. Progress of second missionary journey of St. Paul, Acts 25-28; St. Paul at Corinth.

54

55

56

St. Paul’s residence at Ephesus, lasting nearly three years, A.D. 54-56, Acts 19.

57

58

St. Paul again at Corinth.

St. Paul goes to Jerusalem, is there arrested and imprisoned by the Roman authorities, Acts 20:4 to Acts 23:33.

59

60

61

Ishmael.

Joseph Cabi.

St. Paul’s imprisonment at Caesarea; his defence before Felix, Festus, and Agrippa, Acts 23:33 to Acts 26:15.

62

63

Ananias.

Imprisonment at Rome, Acts 28:15 to the end of Acts, A.D. 61-63 (?).

64

65

66

67

68

After St. Paul’s presumed liberation, we believe from A.D. 63-64 to 67, was a period of renewed activity for the apostle. He was again arrested, and tried and condemned, and executed at Rome about A.D. 67-68

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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