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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
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 27 Chapter 28

Book Overview - Acts

by William Nicoll

Preface

{From first volume of Acts}

THIS volume contains an exposition of the Acts of the Apostles down to, but not including, the conversion of St. Paul and the baptism of Cornelius. There is a natural division at that point. Prior to these events, the inspired narrative is engaged with what the late Bishop Lightfoot of Durham called great "representative facts," prophetical or typical of the future developments of the Church, whether among Jews or Gentiles;(1) while the subsequent course of the history deals almost entirely with missionary work among the heathen and the labours of St. Paul.(2)

We are dependent for the story of these earliest days of the Church's life upon the Acts of the Apostles. I have endeavoured, however, to illustrate the narrative by copious references to ancient documents, some of which may appear of dubious value and authority, such as the Acts of the Saints and the writings of the mediaeval Greek hagiologist, Simeon Metaphrastes, who lived in the tenth century.(3) The latter writer has been hitherto regarded as more famous for his imagination than for his historical accuracy. This age of ours is a noted one, however, for clearing characters previously regarded as very doubtful, and Simeon Metaphrastes has come in for his own share of this process of rehabilitation. The distinguished writer just referred to, has proved that Metaphrastes embodied in his works valuable early records, dating back to the second century, which in critical hands can shed much light upon primitive Christian history.(4) In fact, students of Holy Scripture and of early Christianity are learning every day to look more and more to ancient Greek, Syriac, and Armenian writers, and to the libraries of the Eastern Churches, for fresh light on these important subjects. It is only natural we should do so. Writers like Simeon Metaphrastes and Photius, the student Patriarch of Constantinople, lived a thousand years nearer the apostolic times than we do. They flourished in an age of the highest civilization, when precious literary works, in hundreds and thousands, which are no longer known amongst us, lay all around them and at their command. These men and their friends gathered them up and extracted them, and common sense alone teaches that a critical study of their writings will reveal to us somewhat of the treasures they possessed. The libraries of the East again form a great field for investigation. During the last fifty years we have paid some little attention to them, which has been amply rewarded. The recovery of the complete works of Hippolytus and of Clement of Rome, the discovery of the Teaching of the Apostles and of the Diatessaron of Tatian, are only specimens of what we may yet hope to exhume from the dust of ages.

The testimony, too, borne by these finds has been of the greatest importance. The Diatessaron alone has formed the most triumphant reply to the argument against the Gospels, specially against St. John's Gospel, formulated some years ago by the author of Supernatural Religion. And the process of discovery is still going on. I have said something in the notes to the final lecture of the present volume concerning the latest discovery of this kind which throws some light upon the composition of the Acts. I refer to the lost Apology of Aristides, which has just been brought to light. Let me very briefly tell its story and show its bearing on the age and date of the Acts. Eusebius, the historian of the fourth century, mentions in his Chronicle, under the year 124, the two earliest apologies written in defence of Christianity ; one by Quadratus, a hearer of the Apostles, the other by Aristides, a philosopher of Athens. Now this year 124 was about twenty years after St. John's death. These apologies have hitherto been best known by this historian's notice, though Eusebius says they were widely circulated in his time. The Apology or defence of Aristides has often been sought for. In the seventeenth century it was said to have been extant in a monastery near Athens,(5) but no Western had ever seen it in a complete shape in modern times. Two years ago, however. Professor J. Rendel Harris, M.A., of Cambridge and of Haverford College, Pennsylvania, discovered it in a Syriac version in the library of the convent of St. Catharine on Mount Sinai, whence he has published it with an English translation in a new series of Texts and Studies in Biblical and Patristic Literature, the first number of which has appeared at Cambridge within the last few weeks.(6)

I need not go farther into the story of the recovery of this document, which raises high our expectations of others still more interesting. The Apology of Quadratus would be even more important, as it bore direct testimony to the miracles of our Lord. The brief extract from it which Eusebius gives in his History, book iv., chap. 3, proves how precious would be the complete work. "The deeds of our Saviour, says Quadratus, were always before you, for they were true ; those that were healed, those that were raised from the dead, who were seen, not only when healed and when raised, but were always present. They remained for a long time, not only whilst the Saviour was sojourning with us, but likewise when He had been removed. So that some of them have also survived to our own times."

In the Apology of Quadratus we should obtain a picture of the popular theology of the Church during that dark period which elapsed between the days of Clement of Rome and Ignatius, and those of Justin Martyr. The Apology of Aristides which has been found reveals something indeed in the same direction, but is more occupied with an attack upon paganism than in a statement of the Christian faith. Here, however, consists its bearing on the Acts of the Apostles, not directly, but by way of contrast. Let me explain what I mean. In lecture xvii., when treating of the story of Simon Magus, I have shown how the simple narrative of the Acts concerning that man became elaborated in the second century till it formed at last a regular romance; whence I conclude that if the Acts had been written in the second century the story of Simon Magus would not be the simple matter we read in St. Luke's narrative. Now our argument for the date of the Acts derived from the Apology of Aristides is of much the same kind. This document shows us what the tone and substance of second century addresses to the pagans were. It is the earliest of a series of apologies extending over the whole of that century. The Apology of Aristides, the numerous writings of Justin Martyr, specially the Oratio and the Cohortatio ad Grcecos attributed to him, the Oration of Tatian addressed to the Greeks, the Apologeticus and the treatise Ad Nationes of Tertullian, the Epistle to Diognetus, the writings of Athenagoras, all deal with the same topics, the theories and absurdities of Greek philosophy, the immoral character of the pagan deities, and the purity of Christian doctrine and practice.(7) If the Acts of the Apostles had been composed in the second century, the address of St. Paul to the Athenians would have been very different from what it is, and must necessarily have partaken of those characteristics which we find common to all the numerous treatises addressed to the heathen world of that date. If the Acts were written in the second century, why does not the writer put arguments into St. Paul's mouth like those which were current among the Christian apologists of that time? The philosophical argument of Aristides, which is followed by Justin Martyr(8) and the later apologists, when contrasted with the simplicity of St. Paul, is a conclusive proof of the early date of the composition of the Acts.(9) But this is not the only argument of this kind which modern research furnishes. Aristides shows us what the character of Christian controversy with the pagans was in the generation succeeding the Apostles. We can draw the same conclusion when we examine Christian controversy as carried on against the Jews of the same period.

We have a number of treatises directed against the Jews by Christian writers of the second century: the Dialogue of Justin Martyr with Trypho the Jew, of Jason and Papiscus, and the treatise of Tertullian directed Ad Judaeos. When compared with one another we find that the staple arguments of these writings are much the same.(10) They were evidently framed upon the model of St. Stephen's address at Jerusalem, of St. Paul at Antioch in Pisidia, and of the Epistle to the Galatians. They deal with the transitory and temporary character of the Jewish law, they enter very largely into the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, and they notice Jewish objections. The second century works are, however, elaborate treatises, dealing with a great controversy in a manner which experience had showed to be far the most effective and telling. The Jewish controversy in the Acts, whether in the mouth of St. Peter, St. Stephen, or St. Paul, is treated in a much simpler way. The speakers think, speak, write, like men who are making their first essays in controversy, and have no experience of others to guide them. Had the Acts been written in the second century, the writer must have composed the addresses to the Jews as well as those to the Gentiles after the model of the age when he was writing. The more carefully, however, we examine and contrast these two controversies, as conducted in the Acts and in the writings of the second century respectively, the more thoroughly shall we be convinced of the apostolic date of St. Luke's narrative, of its genuine character, and of its historic worth.

I have written this book from my own standpoint as a decided Churchman, but I hope that I have said nothing which can really hurt the feelings of any one who thinks otherwise, or which may tend to widen those . differences between Christians which are such a terrible hindrance to the cause of true religion and its progress in the world.

I have tried to use the Revised Version consistently throughout my expositions, but I fear that my attempt has been but vain. In my formal quotations I think I have succeeded. But then, in commenting upon Scripture, a writer constantly refers to and quotes passages without formal reference. Here is where I must have failed. The Authorized Version is so bound up with all our earliest thoughts and associations that its language unconsciously colours all our ideas and expressions. Any one who at present makes such an attempt as I have done will find illustrated in himself the phenomena which we behold in writings of the fifth and sixth centuries. St, Jerome published a Revised Version of the Latin translation of the Scripture about the year 400 a. d. For hundreds of years afterwards Latin writers are found using indiscriminately the old Latin and the new Latin translations. St. Patrick's Confession, for instance, was composed about the middle of the fifth century. Quotations from both versions of the New Testament are found in that document, affording a conclusive indication of its date; just as the mixture of the Revised and Authorized Versions will form a prominent feature in theological works composed towards the close of the nineteenth century.

I have to acknowledge the kind assistance of the Rev. H. W. Burgess, LL.D., who has patiently read all my proofs, and called my attention to many a solecism or mistake which might have otherwise disfigured my pages; and of Mr. W. Etienne Phelps, B.A., deputy keeper of Primate Marsh's Library, who has compiled the index.

GEORGE T. STOKES.

All Saints' Vicarage, Blackrock,

May 27th, 1891.

----------------------------

Preface

{From second volume of Acts}

THE following volume terminates my survey and exposition of the Acts of the Holy Apostles. I have fully explained in the body of this work the reasons which led me to discuss the latter portion of that book more briefly than its earlier chapters. I did this of set purpose. The latter chapters of Acts are occupied to a great extent with the work of St. Paul during a comparatively brief period, while the first twenty chapters cover a space of well-nigh thirty years. The riot in Jerusalem and a few speeches at Caesarea occupy the larger portion of the later narrative, and deal very largely with circumstances in St. Paul's life, his conversion and mission to the Gentiles, of which the earlier portion of this volume treats at large. Upon these topics I had nothing fresh to say, and was therefore necessarily obliged to refer my readers to pages previously written. I do not think, however, that I have omitted any topic or passage suitable to the purposes of the Expositor's Bible. Some may desiderate longer notices of German theories concerning the origin and character of the Acts. But, then, an expositor's Bible is not intended to deal at length with critical theories. Critical commentaries and works like Dr. Salmon's Introduction to the New Testament take such subjects into consideration and discuss them fully, omitting all mere exposition. My duty is exposition, and the supply or indication of material suitable for expository purposes. If I had gone into the endless theories supplied by German ingenuity to explain what seems to us the simplest and plainest matters of fact demanding no explanation whatsoever, I am afraid there would have been little space left for exposition, and my readers would have been excessively few. Those who are interested in such discussions, which are simply endless, and will last as long as man's fancy and imagination continue to flourish, will find ample satisfaction in the eighteenth chapter of Dr. Salmon's Introduction. Perhaps I had better notice one point urged by him, as an illustration of the critical methods of English common sense. German critics have tried to make out that the Acts were written in the second century in order to establish a parallel between St. Peter and St. Paul when men wished to reconcile and unite in one common body the Pauline and Petrine parties. This is the view set forth at length by Zeller in his work on the Acts, vol. ii., p. 278, translated and published in the series printed some years ago under the auspices of the Theological Translation Fund. Dr. Salmon's reply seems to me conclusive, as contained in the following passage, i.e., p. 336: "What I think proves conclusively that the making a parallel between Peter and Paul was not an idea present to the author's mind, is the absence of the natural climax of such a parallel-the story of the martyrdom of both the Apostles. Very early tradition makes both Peter and Paul close their lives by martyrdom at Rome-the place where Rationalist critics generally believe the Acts to have been written. The stories told in tolerably ancient times in that Church which venerated with equal honour the memory of either apostle, represented both as joined in harmonious resistance to the impostures of Simon Magus. And though I believe these stories to be more modern than the latest period to which any one has ventured to assign the Acts, yet what an opportunity did that part of the story which is certainly ancient-that both Apostles came to Rome and died there for the faith (Clem. Romans 5:1-21) offer to any one desirous of blotting out the memory of all differences between the preaching of Peter and Paul, and of setting both on equal pedestals of honour! Just as the names of Ridley and Latimer have been united in the memory of the Church of England, and no count has been taken of their previous doctrinal differences, in the recollection of their first testimony for their common faith, so have the names of Peter and Paul been constantly bound together by the fact that the martyrdom of both has been commemorated on the same day. And if the object of the author of the Acts had been what has been supposed, it is scarcely credible that he could have missed so obvious an opportunity of bringing his book to its most worthy conclusion, by telling how the two servants of Christ all previous differences, if there had been any, reconciled and forgotten-joined in witnessing a good confession before the tyrant emperor, and encouraged each other to steadfastness in endurance to the end."

But though I have not dealt in any formal way with the critical theories urged concerning the Acts, I have taken every opportunity of pointing out the evidence for its early date and genuine character furnished by that particular line of historical exposition and illustration which I have adopted. It will be at once seen how much indebted I am in this department to the researches of modern scholars and travellers, especially to those of Professor Ramsay, whose long residence and extended travels in Asia Minor have given him special advantages over all other critics. I have made a diligent use of all his writings, so far as they had appeared up to the time of writing, and only regret that I was not able to use his paper on St. Paul's second journey, which appeared in the Expositor for October, after this work had been composed and printed. That article seems to me another admirable illustration of the critical methods used by our own home scholars as contrasted with those current abroad. Professor Ramsay does not set to work to spin criticisms out of his own imagination and elaborate theories out of his own inner consciousness even as a spider weaves its web; but he takes the Acts of the Apostles, compares it with the facts of Asia Minor, its scenery, roads, mountains, ruins, and then points out how exactly the text answers to the facts, showing that the author of it wrote at the time alleged and must have been an eyewitness of the Apostles' doings. While again by a similar comparison in the case of the apocryphal acts of St. Paul and Thecla he demonstrates how easily a forger fell into grievous mistakes. I do not think a better illustration can be found of the difference between sound historical criticism and criticism based on mere imagination than this article by Professor Ramsay.

In conclusion I ought to explain that I systematically quote the Fathers whenever I can out of the translations published by Messrs. T. & T. Clark, or in the Oxford Library of the Fathers. It would have been very easy for me to give this book a very learned look by adding the references in Greek or Latin, but I do not think I should have thus conduced much to its practical utility. The Fathers are now a collection of works much spoken of, but very little read, and the references in the original added to theological works are much more overlooked than consulted. It would conduce much to a sound knowledge of primitive antiquity were the works translated of all the Christian writers who flourished down to the triumph of Christianity. Authors who fill their pages with quotations in Latin and Greek which they do not translate forget one simple fact, that ten or twenty years in a country parish immersed in its endless details make the Latin and Greek of even good scholars somewhat rusty. And if so, what must be the case with those who are not good scholars, or not scholars at all, whether bad or good? I am often surprised noting how much more exacting from their readers modern scholars are in this direction than our forefathers of two hundred years ago. Let any one, for instance, take up the works composed in English by Hammond or Thorndike discussing the subject of Episcopacy, and it will be found that in every case when they use a Latin, Greek, or Hebrew quotation while they give the original they always add the translation. Finally I have to acknowledge, what every page will show, the great assistance I have derived from the Lives of St. Paul written by Archdeacon Farrar, Mr. Lewin, and Messrs. Conybeare & Howson, and to express a hope that this volume together with the previous one will be found helpful by some as they strive to form a better and truer conception of the manner in which the Church of the living God was founded and built up amongst men.

GEORGE T. STOKES.

All Saints' Vicarage, Blackrock,

Nov. 4th, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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