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Acts of the Apostles

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In the accepted order of the books of the New Testament the fifth book is called The Acts of the Apostles (praxeis Apostolon). Some have thought that the title of the book was affixed by the author himself. This is the opinion of Cornely in his "Introduction to the Books of the New Testament" (second edition, page 315). It seems far more probable, however, that the name was subsequently attached to the book just as the headings of the several Gospels were affixed to them. In fact, the name, Acts of the Apostles, does not precisely convey the idea of the contents of the book; and such a title would scarcely be given to the work by the author himself.

Content

The book does not contain the Acts of all the Apostles, neither does it contain all the acts of any Apostle. It opens with a brief notice of the forty days succeeding the Resurrection of Christ during which He appeared to the Apostles, "speaking the things concerning the Kingdom of God". The promise of the Holy Ghost and the Ascension of Christ are then briefly recorded. St. Peter advises that a successor be chosen in the place of Judas Iscariot, and Matthias is chosen by lot. On Pentecost the Holy Ghost descends on the Apostles, and confers on them the gift of tongues. To the wondering witnesses St. Peter explains the great miracle, proving that it is the power of Jesus Christ that is operating. By that great discourse many were converted to the religion of Christ and were baptized, "and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls". This was the beginning of the Judeo-Christian Church. "And the Lord added to them day by day those that were being saved." Peter and John heal a man, lame from his mother's womb, at the door of the Temple which is called Beautiful. The people are filled with wonder and amazement at the miracle and run together unto Peter and John in the portico that was called Solomon's. Peter again preaches Jesus Christ, asserting that by faith in the name of Jesus the lame man had been made strong. "And many of them that heard the word believed", and the number of the men came to be about five thousand. But now "the priests, and the prefect of the Temple and the Sadducees came upon them, being sorely troubled because they taught the people, and proclaimed in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in prison unto the morrow." On the morrow Peter and John are summoned before rulers, elders, and scribes, among whom were present Annas, the High-Priest, Caiphas, and as many as were of the kindred of the High-Priest. And when they had set Peter and John in the midst they inquired: "By what power, or in want name have ye done this?" Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, answering gave utterance to one of the most sublime professions of the Christian faith ever made by man: "Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, in this name doth this man stand here before you whole. He [Jesus] is the stone which was set at naught by you the builders, which was made the head of the corner [Isaiah 28:16; Matthew 21:42]. And in no other is there salvation: For neither is there any other name under Heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved." The members of the council were brought face to face with the most positive evidence of the truth of the Christian religion. They command the two Apostles to go aside out of the council, and then they confer among themselves, saying "What shall we do with these men? For that indeed a notable miracle hath been wrought through them, is manifest to all that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it". Here is one of the splendid instances of that great cumulus of evidence upon which the certitude of the Christian Faith rests. A bitterly hostile council of the chief Jews of Jerusalem is obliged to declare that a notable miracle had been wrought, which it cannot deny, and which is manifest to all that dwell in Jerusalem.

With dreadful malice the council attempts to restrain the great movement of Christianity. They threaten the Apostles, and charge them not to speak at all or teach in the name of Jesus; Peter and John contemn the threat, calling upon the council to judge whether it be right to hearken unto the council rather than unto God. The members of the council could not inflict punishment upon the two Apostles, on account of the people, who glorified God on account of the great miracle. Peter and John, being freed from custody, return to the other Apostles. They all give glory to God and pray for boldness to speak the word of God. After the prayer the place shakes, and they are filled with the Holy Ghost.

The fervour of the Christians at that epoch was very great. They were of one heart and soul; they had all things in common. As many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them and delivered the price to the Apostles, and this money was distributed as anyone had need. But a certain Ananias, with Saphira his wife, sold a possession and kept back part of the price, the wife being accessory to the deed. St. Peter is inspired by the Holy Ghost to know the deception, and rebukes Ananias for the lie to the Holy Ghost. At the rebuke the man falls dead. Saphira, coming up afterwards, and knowing nothing of the death of her husband, is interrogated by St. Peter regarding the transaction. She also keeps back a part of the price, and lyingly asserts that the full price has been brought to the Apostles. St. Peter rebukes her, and she also falls dead at his words. The multitude saw in the death of Ananias and Saphira God's punishment, and great fear came upon all. This miracle of God's punishment of sin also confirmed the faith of those that believed and drew disciples to them. At this stage of the life of the Church miracles were necessary to attest the truth of her teaching, and the power of miracles was abundantly bestowed upon the Apostles. These miracles are not reviewed in detail in Acts, but it is stated: "And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people" (Acts 5:12). Multitudes both of men and women were added to the Christian community. The people of Jerusalem carried out the sick and laid them on beds and couches in the streets that the shadow of St. Peter might fall on them. They brought the sick from the cities round about Jerusalem, and every one was healed.

The most powerful sect among the Jews at this epoch were the Sadducees. They were especially opposed to the Christian religion on account of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. The cardinal truth of the Apostles' teaching was: Life Everlasting through Jesus, Who was crucified for our sins, and Who is risen from the dead. The High-Priest Annas favored the Sadducees, and his son Ananus. who afterwards became High-Priest, was a Sadducee (Josephus, Antiq., XX, viii). These fierce sectaries made with Annas and Caiphas common cause against the Apostles of Christ, and cast them again into prison. The Acts leaves us in no doubt as to the motive that inspired the High-Priest and the sectaries: "They were filled with jealousy". The religious leaders of the Old Law saw their influence with the people waning before the power which worked in the Apostles of Christ. An angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought the Apostles out, and bade them go and preach in the Temple. The council of the Jews, not finding Peter and John in the prison, and learning of their miraculous deliverance, are much perplexed. On information that they are teaching in the Temple, they send and take them, but without violence, fearing the people. It is evident throughout that the common people are disposed to follow the Apostles; the opposition comes from the priests and the classes, most of the latter being Sadducees. The council accuses the Apostles that, contrary to its former injunction not to teach in Christ's name, they had filled Jerusalem with Christ's teaching. Peter's defence is that they must obey God rather than men. He then boldly reiterates the doctrine of the Redemption and of the Resurrection. The council is minded to kill the Apostles. At this point Gamaliel, a Pharisee, a doctor of the Jewish law, held in honour of all the people, arises in the council in defence of the Apostles. He cites precedents to prove that, if the New Teaching be of men, it will be overthrown; and if it be of God, it will be impossible to overthrow it. Gamaliel's counsel prevails, and the council calls the Apostles, beats them, and lets them go, charging them not to speak in the name of Jesus. But the Apostles departed, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the Name. And every day, in the Temple and privately they ceased not to teach and to preach Jesus the Christ.

A murmuring having arisen of the Grecian Jews, that their widows were neglected in the daily ministration, the Apostles, deeming it unworthy that they should forsake the word of God and serve tables, appoint seven deacons to minister. Chief among the deacons was Stephen, a man full of the Holy Spirit. He wrought great signs and wonders among the people. The anti-Christian Jews endeavour to resist him, but are not able to withstand the wisdom and the spirit by which he speaks. They suborn witnesses to testify that he has spoken against Moses and the Temple. Stephen is seized and brought into the council. False witnesses testify that they have heard Stephen say that "this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered to us". All who sat in the council saw Stephen's face, as it had been the face of an angel. He makes a defence, in which he reviews the chief events in the first covenant, and its relation to the New Law. They rush upon Stephen, drag him out of the city, and stone him to death. And he kneels down and prays: "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge", and dies. Beginning with the martyrdom of Stephen, a great persecution arose against the Church at Jerusalem; all were scattered abroad throughout Judea and Samaria, except the Apostles. The leader of the persecution was Saul, afterwards to become the great St. Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles. The deacon Philip first preaches in Samaria with great fruit. Like all the preachers of the first days of the Church, Philip confirms his preaching by great miracles. Peter and John go up to Samaria and confirm the converts whom Philip had made. Philip, commanded by an angel, goes down the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, and on the way converts and baptizes the eunuch of Candace Queen of Ethiopia. Philip is thence transported by Divine power to Azotus and preaches to all the coast cities until be comes to Cæsarea.

Saul, breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, sets out for Damascus to apprehend any Christians whom he may find there. As he draws near to Damascus, the Lord Jesus speaks to him out of the heavens and converts him. St. Paul is baptized by Ananias at Damascus, and straightway for some days abides there, preaching in the synagogues that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He withdraws into Arabia; again returns to Damascus; and after three years be goes up to Jerusalem. At Jerusalem Paul is at first distrusted by the disciples of Jesus; but after Barnabas narrates to them Paul's marvellous conversion, they receive Paul, and he preaches boldly in the name of Jesus, disputing especially against the Grecian Jews. They plot to kill him; but the Christians bring Paul down to Cæsarea, and send him forth to Tarsus, his native city.

At this epoch Acts describes the Church in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee as "at peace, being builded up, and walking in the fear of the Lord, and by the strength of the Holy Ghost it was multiplied". Peter now goes throughout all parts comforting the faithful. At Lydda he heals the palsied Æneas; and at Joppa he raises the pious widow Tabitha (Greek, Dorcas) from the dead. These miracles still more confirm the faith in Jesus Christ. At Joppa Peter has the great vision of the sheet let down from Heaven containing all manner of animals, of which he, being in a trance, is commanded to kill and eat. Peter refuses, on the ground that he cannot eat that which is common and unclean. Whereupon it is made known to him from God, that God has cleansed what was before to the Jew unclean. This great vision, revealed three times, was the manifestation of the will of Heaven that the ritual law of the Jews should cease; and that henceforth salvation should be offered without distinction to Jew and Gentile. The meaning of the vision is unfolded to Peter, when he is commanded by an angel to go to Cæsarea, to the Gentile centurion Cornelius, whose messengers were even then come to fetch him. He goes, and hears from Cornelius also the centurion's own vision. He preaches to him and to all assembled; the Holy Ghost descends upon them, and Peter commands that they be baptized. Returning to Jerusalem, the Jews contend with Peter that he has gone in to men uncircumcised, and eaten with them. He expounds to them his vision at Joppa, and also the vision of Cornelius, wherein the latter was commanded by an angel to send and fetch Peter from Joppa, that he might receive from Peter the Gospel. The Jews acquiesce, glorifying God, and declaring that "unto the Gentiles also hath God granted repentance unto life". Those who had been scattered abroad from Jerusalem at the time of Stephen's martyrdom had travailed as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch preaching Christ; but they preached to none save the Jews. The calling of the Gentiles was not yet understood by them. But now some converts from Cyprus and Cyrene come up to Antioch, and preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. A great number believe, and turn to the Lord. The report of the work at Antioch comes to the ears of the Church in Jerusalem; and they send Barnabas, "a good man full of the Holy Ghost and of faith", to them. He takes Paul from Tarsus, and they both dwell at Antioch a whole year, and teach many people. The disciples of Christ are called Christians first at Antioch.

The rest of Acts narrates the persecution of the Christians by Herod Agrippa; the mission of Paul and Barnabas from Antioch by the Holy Ghost, to preach to the Gentile nations; the labours of Paul and Barnabas in Cyprus and in Asia Minor, their return to Antioch; the dissension at Antioch concerning circumcision; the journey of Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, the decision of the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem, the separation of Paul from Barnabas, in whose stead he takes Silas, or Silvanus; Paul's visit to his Asiatic Churches, his foundation of the Church at Philippi; Paul's sufferings for Jesus Christ; Paul's visit to Athens, his foundation of the churches of Corinth and of Ephesus; Paul's return to Jerusalem, his persecution by the Jews; Paul's imprisonment at Cæsarea; Paul's appeal to Cæsar, his voyage to Rome; the shipwreck; Paul's arrival at Rome, and the manner of his life there. We see therefore that a more proper title of this book would be "The Beginnings of the Christian Religion". It is an artistic whole, the fullest history which we possess of the manner in which the Church developed.

The origin of the Church

In Acts we see the fulfilment of Christ's promises. In Acts 1:8, Jesus had declared that the Apostles should receive power when the Holy Ghost should come upon them, and should be His witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth. In John 14:12, Jesus had declared: "He that believeth in me, the works that I do, he also shall do, and greater works than these shall he do. Because I go to the Father". In these passages is found the key-note of the origin of the Church. The Church developed according to the plan conceived by Christ. There is, assuredly, in the narration evidence of the working out of a great plan; for the reason that the writer records the working out of the great design of Christ, conceived in infinite wisdom, and executed by omnipotent power. There is throughout a well-defined, systematic order of narration, an exactness and fullness of detail. After the calling of the first twelve Apostles, there is no event in the history of the Church so important as Paul's conversion and commission to teach in Christ's name. Up to Paul's conversion, the inspired historian of the Acts has given us a condensed statement of the growth of the Church among the Jews. Peter and John are prominent in the work. But the great message is now to issue forth from the confines of Judaism; all flesh is to see the salvation of God; and St. Paul is to be the great instrument in preaching Christ to the Gentiles. In the development of the Christian Church Paul wrought more than all the other Apostles; and therefore in Acts St. Paul stands forth, the prominent agent of God in the conversion of the world. His appointment as the Apostle of the Gentiles does not prevent him from preaching to the Jews, but his richest fruits are gathered from the Gentiles. He fills proconsular Asia, Macedonia, Greece, and Rome with the Gospel of Christ; and the greater part of Acts is devoted exclusively to recording his work.

Division of book

In the Acts there are no divisions of the narration contemplated by the author. It is open to us to divide the work as we deem fit. The nature of the history therein recorded easily suggests a greater division of Acts into two parts:

Object

The Acts of the Apostles must not be believed to be an isolated writing, but rather an integral part in a well-ordered series. Acts presupposes its readers to know the Gospels; it continues the Gospel narrative. The Four Evangelists close with the account of the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ. St. Mark is the only one who essays to give any of the subsequent history, and he condenses his account into one brief sentence: "And they went forth and preached everywhere: the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed" (Mark 16:20). Now the Acts of the Apostles takes up the narrative here and records succinctly the mighty events which were wrought by the Holy Ghost through chosen human agents. It is a condensed record of the fulfilment of the promises of Jesus Christ. The Evangelists record Christ's promises which He made to the disciples, regarding the establishment of the Church and its mission (Matthew 16:15-20); the gift of the Holy Ghost (Luke 24:49; John 14:16, 17); the calling of the gentiles (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:46, 47). Acts records the fulfilment. The history begins at Jerusalem and ends at Rome. With divine simplicity Acts shows us the growth of the religion of Christ among the nations. The distinction between Jew and Gentile is abolished by the revelation to St. Peter; Paul is called to devote himself specially to the Gentile ministry, the Holy Ghost works signs in confirmation of the doctrines of Christ; men suffer and die, but the Church grows; and thus the whole world sees the Salvation of God. Nowhere in Holy Writ is the action of the Holy Ghost in the Church so forcibly set forth as in the Acts. He fills the Apostles with knowledge and power on Pentecost; they speak as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak; the Holy Ghost bids Philip the deacon go to the eunuch of Candace; the same Spirit catches up Philip, after the baptism of the eunuch, and brings him to Azotus; the Holy Ghost tells Peter to go to Cornelius; when Peter preaches to Cornelius and his family the Holy Ghost falls on them all; the Holy Ghost directly commands that Paul and Barnabas be set apart for the Gentile ministry; the Holy Ghost forbids Paul and Silas to preach in Asia; constantly, by the laying on of the Apostles' hands, the Holy Ghost comes upon the faithful; Paul is directed by the Holy Ghost in everything; the Holy Ghost foretells to him that bonds and afflictions await him in every city; when Agabus prophesies Paul's martyrdom, he says: "Thus saith the Holy Ghost: 'So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles'". Acts declares that on the Gentiles the grace of the Holy Ghost is poured out; in the splendid description of St. Stephen's martyrdom he is declared full of the Holy Ghost; when Peter makes his defense before rulers, elders, and scribes, he is filled with the Holy Ghost; often it is declared that the Apostles are filled with the Holy Ghost; Philip is chosen as a deacon because be is full of faith and the Holy Ghost; when Ananias is sent to Paul at Damascus he declares that he is sent that Paul may receive his sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost; Jesus Christ is declared to be anointed with the Holy Ghost; Barnabas is declared to be full of the Holy Ghost; the men of Samaria receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands of Peter and John. This history shows the real nature of the Christian religion; its members are baptized in the Holy Ghost, and are upheld by His power. The source in the Church of infallible truth in teaching, of grace, and of the power that resists the gates of Hell is the Holy Ghost. By the power of the Spirit the Apostles established the Church in the great centres of the world: Jerusalem, Antioch Cyprus, Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Philippi, Thessalonica, Beræa, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome. From these centres the message went to the surrounding lands. We see in the Acts the realization of Christ's promises just before his Ascension: "But ye shall receive power when the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth". In the New Testament Acts forms a necessary connecting-link between the Gospels and the Epistles of St. Paul. It gives the necessary information concerning the conversion of St. Paul and his apostolate, and also concerning the formation of the great Churches to which St. Paul wrote his Epistles.

Authenticity

The authenticity of the Acts of the Apostles is proved by intrinsic evidence; it is attested by the concordant voice of tradition. The unity of style of Acts and its artistic completeness compel us to receive the book as the work of one author. Such an effect could never arise from the piecing together bits of writings of different authors. The writer writes as an eyewitness and compaction of Paul. The passages Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1; 28:16 are called the We passages. In these the writer uniformly employs the first person plural, closely identifying himself with St. Paul. This excludes the theory that Acts is the work of a redactor. As Renan has well said, such use of the pronoun is incompatible with any theory of redaction. We know from many proofs that Luke was the companion and fellow-labourer of Paul. Writing to the Colossians, in his salutation Paul associates with himself, "Luke, the beloved physician" (4:14). In 2 Timothy 4:11 Paul declares: "Only Luke is with me". To Philemon (24) Paul calls Luke his fellow-worker. Now in this article, we may suppose the Lucan authorship of the third Gospel as proved. The writer of Acts in his opening sentence implicitly declares himself to be the author of the third Gospel. He addresses his work to Theophilus, the addressee of the third Gospel; he mentions his former work and in substance makes known his intention of continuing the history which, in his former treatise, he had brought up to the day when the Lord Jesus was received up. There is an identity of style between Acts and the third Gospel. An examination of the original Greek texts of the third Gospel and of the Acts reveals that there is in them a remarkable identity of manner of thinking and of writing. There is in both the same tender regard for the Gentiles, the same respect for the Roman Empire, the same treatment of the Jewish rites, the same broad conception that the Gospel is for all men. In forms of expression the third Gospel and the Acts reveal an identity of authorship. Many of the expressions usual in both works occur but rarely in the rest of the New Testament; other expressions are found nowhere else save in the third Gospel and in the Acts. If one will compare the following expressions in the Greek, he will be persuaded that both works are of the same author:

The last-cited parallel expression, to prosopon tes ges, is employed only in the third Gospel and in Acts. The evidence of the Lucan authorship of Acts is cumulative. The intrinsic evidence is corroborated by the testimonies of many witnesses. It must be granted that in the Apostolic Fathers we find but faint allusions to the Acts of the Apostles. The Fathers of that age wrote but little; and the injury of time has robbed us of much of what was written. The Gospels were more prominent in the teachings of that day and they consequently have a more abundant witness. The canon of Muratori contains the canon of Scriptures of the Church of Rome in the second century. Of Acts it declares: "But the Acts of all the Apostles are written in one book, which for the excellent Theophilus Luke wrote, because he was an eyewitness of all". In "The Doctrine of Addai", which contains the ancient tradition of the Church of Edessa, the Acts of the Apostles are declared to be a part of the Holy Scripture (Doctrine of Addai, ed. Phillips, 1876, 46). The twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth chapters of St. Irenæus's third book "Against Heresies" are based upon the Acts of the Apostles. Irenæus convincingly defends the Lucan authorship of the third Gospel and Acts, declaring: "But that this Luke was inseparable from Paul, and was his fellow-labourer in the Gospel, he himself clearly evinces, not as a matter of boasting, but as bound to do so, by the truth itself. . . And all the remaining facts of his courses with Paul, he recounts. . . As Luke was present at all these occurrences, he carefully noted them down in writing, so that he cannot be convicted of falsehood or boastfulness, etc." Irenæus unites in himself the witness of the Christian Church of the East and the West of the second century. He continues unchanged the teaching of the Apostolic Fathers. In his treatise "On Fasting" Tertullian accepts Acts as Holy Scripture, and calls them the "Commentary of Luke". In his treatise On Prescription against Heretics 22, Tertullian is strong in asserting the canonicity of Acts: "And assuredly, God fulfilled his promise, since it is proved in the Acts of the Apostles that the Holy Ghost did come down. Now they who reject that Scripture can neither belong to the Holy Ghost, seeing that they cannot acknowledge that the Holy Ghost has been sent as yet to the disciples, nor can they presume to be a church themselves, who positively have no means of proving when, and with what infant-nursings this body was established." Again, in chapter xxiii of the same treatise, he issues a challenge to those who reject Acts: "I may say here to those who reject the Acts of the Apostles: It is first necessary that you show us who this Paul was; both what he was before he became an Apostle, and how he became an Apostle" etc. Clement of Alexandria is a clear witness. In Stromata V.11, he declares: "Most instructively, therefore, says Paul in the Acts of the Apostles: 'The God that made the world, and all things in it, being the Lord of Heaven and of earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands'" etc. (Acts 17:24, 25). Again, in chapter 12, he states: "As Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, relates that Paul said: 'Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things, ye are greatly superstitious'". In Hom., xiii, on Genesis, ii, Origen asserts the Lucan authorship of Acts as a truth that all the world accepted. Eusebius (Church History III.25) places Acts among ta homologoumena, the books of which no one has doubted. The authenticity of Acts is so well proved that even the sceptical Renan was forced to declare: "A thing beyond all doubt is that the Acts have the same author as the third Gospel, and are a continuation of the same. One finds no necessity to prove this fact, which has never seriously been denied. The prefaces of the two writings, the dedication of both the one and the other to Theophilus, the perfect resemblance of ideas and manner of expression furnish a convincing demonstration of the fact" (Les Apôtres, Introd., p. x). Again he says: "The third Gospel and the Acts form a well-ordered work, written with reflection and even with art, written by the same hand, and with a definite plan. The two works taken together form a whole, having the same style, presenting the same characteristic expressions, and citing the Scripture in the same manner" (ibid., p. xi).

Objections against the authenticity

Nevertheless this well-proved truth has been contradicted. Baur, Schwanbeck, De Wette, Davidson, Mayerhoff, Schleiermacher, Bleek, Krenkel, and others have opposed the authenticity of the Acts. An objection is drawn from the discrepancy between Acts 9:19-28 and Galatians 1:17-19. In Galatians 1:17-18, St. Paul declares that, immediately after his conversion, he went away into Arabia, and again returned to Damascus. "Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas." In Acts no mention is made of St. Paul's journey into Arabia; and the journey to Jerusalem is placed immediately after the notice of Paul's preaching in the synagogues. Hilgenfeld, Wendt, Weizäcker, Weiss, and others allege here a contradiction between the writer of the Acts and St. Paul. Their charge is vain: There is here verified what is the usual fact when two inspired writers narrate synchronistic events. No writer of either Testament had in mind to write a complete history. Out of the great mass of words and deeds they grouped together those things which they deemed best for their scope. They always concur on the great lines of the doctrines and the main facts; they differ in that one omits certain things which another relates. The writers of the New Testament wrote with the conviction that the world had already received the message by oral communication. Not all could have a manuscript of the written word, but all heard the voice of those who preached Christ. The intense activity of the first teachers of the New Law made it a living reality in every land. The few writings which were produced were considered as supplementary to the greater economy of preaching. Hence we find notable omissions in all the writers of the New Testament; and every writer has some things proper to himself. In the present instance the writer of Acts has omitted St. Paul's journey into Arabia and sojourn there. The evidence of the omission is in the text itself. In Acts 9:19, the writer speaks of St. Paul's sojourn in Damascus as covering a period of "certain days". This is the indefinite description of a relatively short space of time. In Acts 9:23, he connects the next event narrated with the foregoing by declaring that it came to pass "after many days were fulfilled". It is evident that some series of events must have had place between the "certain days" of the nineteenth verse, and the "many days" of the twenty-third verse; these events are Paul's journey into Arabia, his sojourn there, and his return to Damascus. Another objection is urged from 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2, compared with Acts 17:14-15 and 18:5. In Acts 17:14-15, Paul leaves Timothy and Silas at Beræa, with a commandment to come to him at Athens. In Acts 18:5, Timothy and Silas come out of Macedonia to Paul at Corinth. But in 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2, Timothy is sent by Paul out of Athens to Thessalonica, and no mention is made of Silas. We must appeal to the principle that when a writer omits one or more members in a series of events he does not thereby contradict another writer who may narrate the thing omitted. Timothy and Silas came down from Beræa to Paul at Athens. In his zeal for the Macedonian churches, Paul sent Timothy back from Athens to Thessalonica, and Silas to some other part of Macedonia. When they return out of Macedonia they come to Paul at Corinth. Acts has omitted their coming to Athens and their return to Macedonia. In Acts many things are condensed into a narrow compass. Thus, to the Galatian ministry of Paul, which must have lasted a considerable time, Acts devotes the one sentence: "They passed through the region of Phrygia and Galatia" (Acts 16:6). The fourth journey of Paul to Jerusalem in described in one verse (Acts 18:22). The objection is urged that, from Acts 16:12, it is evident that the author of the Acts was with Paul in the foundation of the Church at Philippi. Therefore, they say that, since Luke was at Rome with Paul when he wrote thence to the Philippians, had Luke been the author of Acts, Paul would have associated Luke with himself in his salutation to the Philippians in the letter which he wrote them. On the contrary, we find in it no mention of Luke; but Timothy is associated with Paul in the salutation. This is a mere negative argument, and of no avail. The apostolic men of that day neither sought nor gave vain personal recognition in their work. St. Paul wrote to the Romans without ever mentioning St. Peter. There was no struggle for place or fame among those men. It may hare been that, though Luke was with St. Paul at Philippi, Timothy was the better known to that Church. Again, at the moment of St. Paul's writing Luke may have been absent from Paul.

The rationalists allege that there is an error in the discourse of Gamaliel (Acts 5:36). Gamaliel refers to the insurrection of Theodas as a thing that had happened before the days of the Apostles, whereas Josephus (Antiq., XX, v, 1) places the rebellion of Theodas under Fadus, fourteen years after the date of the speech of Gamaliel. Here, as elsewhere, the adversaries of Holy Scripture presuppose every writer who disagrees with the Holy Scripture to be right. Every one who has examined Josephus must be struck by his carelessness and inaccuracy. He wrote mainly from memory, and often contradicts himself. In the present instance some suppose that he has confused the insurrection of Theodas with that of a certain Mathias, of whom he speaks in Antiq., XVII, vi, 4. Theodas is a contraction of Theodoros, and is identical in signification with the Hebrew name Mathias, both names signifying, "Gift of God". This is the opinion of Corluy in Vigouroux, "Dictionnaire de la Bible". Against Corluy's opinion it may rightly be objected that Gamaliel clearly intimates that the author of the insurrection of which he speaks was not actuated by holy motives. He speaks of him as a seditious man, who misled his followers, "giving himself out to be somebody". But Josephus describes Mathias as a most eloquent interpreter of the Jewish law, a man beloved by the people, whose lectures those who were studious of virtue frequented. Moreover, he incited the young men to pull down the golden eagle which the impious Herod had erected in the Temple of God. Certainly such an act was pleasing to God, not the act of an impostor. The argument of Gamaliel is based on the fact that Theodas claimed to be something which he was not. The character of Theodas as given by Josephus, XX, v, 1, accords with the implied character of the Theodas of Acts. Were it not for the discrepancy of dates, the two testimonies would be in perfect accord. It seems far more probable, therefore, that both writers speak of the same man, and that Josephus has erroneously placed his epoch about thirty years too late. Of course it is possible that there may have been two Theodases of similar character: one of the days of Herod the Great, whom Josephus does not name, but who is mentioned by Gamaliel; and one in the days of Cuspius Fadus the procurator of Judea, whose insurrection Josephus records. There must have been many of such character in the days of Herod the Great, for Josephus, speaking of that epoch, declares that "at this time there were ten thousand other disorders in Judæa which were like tumults" (Antiq., XVII, x, 4).

It is urged that the three accounts of the conversion of St. Paul (Acts 9:7; 22:9; 26:14) do not agree. In Acts 9:7, the author declares that "the men that journeyed with Paul stood speechless, hearing the voice, but beholding no man". In Acts 22:9, Paul declares: "And they that were with me beheld indeed the light; but they heard not the voice of Him that spake to me". In 26:14, Paul declares that they all fell to the earth, which seems to contradict the first statement, that they "stood speechless". This is purely a question of circumstantial detail, of very minor moment. There are many solutions of this difficulty. Supported by many precedents, we may hold that in the several narrations of the same event inspiration does not compel an absolute agreement in mere extrinsic details which in nowise affects the substance of the narration. In all the Bible, where the same event is several times narrated by the same writer, or narrated by several writers, there is some slight divergency, as it is natural there should be with those who spoke and wrote from memory. Divine inspiration covers the substance of the narration. For those who insist that divine inspiration extends also to these minor details there are valid solutions. Pape and others give to the eistekeisan the sense of an emphatic einai, and thus it could be rendered: "The men that journeyed with him became speechless", thus agreeing with 26:14. Moreover, the three accounts can be placed in agreement by supposing that the several accounts contemplate the event at different moments of its course. All saw a great light; all heard a sound from Heaven. They fell on their faces in fear; and then, arising, stood still and speechless, while Paul conversed with Jesus, whose articulate voice he alone heard. In Acts 9:7, the marginal reading of the Revised Edition of Oxford should be accepted: "hearing the sound". The Greek is akoyontes tes phones. When the writer speaks of the articulate voice of Christ, which Paul alone heard, he employs the phrase outer phrase, ekousan phonen. Thus the same term, phone, by a different grammatical construction, may signify the inarticulate sound of the voice which all heard and the articulate voice which Paul alone heard.

It is urged that Acts 16:6 and 18:23 represent Paul as merely passing through Galatia, whereas the Epistle to the Galatians gives evidence of Paul's longer sojourn in Galatia. Cornely and others answer this difficulty by supposing that St. Paul employs the term Galatia in the administrative sense, as a province, which comprised Galatia proper, Lycaonia, Pisidia, Isauria, and a great part of Phrygia; whereas St. Luke employs the term to denote Galatia proper. But we are not limited to this explanation; St. Luke in Acts often severely condenses his narrative. He devotes but one verse (xviii, 22) to Paul's fourth journey to Jerusalem; he condenses his narrative of St. Paul's two years of imprisonment at Cæsarea into a few lines. Thus he may also have judged good for his scope to pass over in one sentence Paul's Galatian ministry.

Date of composition

As regards the date of the Book of Acts, we may at most assign a probable date for the completion of the book. It is recognized by all that Acts ends abruptly. The author devotes but two verses to the two years which Paul spent at Rome. These two years were in a certain sense uneventful. Paul dwelt peaceably at Rome, and preached the kingdom of God to all who went in unto him. It seems probable that during this peaceful epoch St. Luke composed the Book of Acts and terminated it abruptly at the end of the two years, as some unrecorded vicissitude carried him out into other events. The date of the completion of Acts is therefore dependent on the date of St. Paul's Roman captivity. Writers are quite concordant in placing the date of Paul's coming to Rome in the year 62; hence the year 64 is the most probable date for the Acts.

Texts of the Acts

In the Græco-Latin codices D and E of Acts, we find a text widely differing from that of the other codices, and from the received text. By Sanday and Headlam (Romans, p. xxi) this is called the delta text; by Blass (Acta Apostolorum, p. 24) it is called the beta text. The famous Latin Codex now at Stockholm, from its size called the Codex Gigas, also in the main represents this text. Dr. Bornemann (Acta Apost.) endeavoured to prove that the aforesaid text was Luke's original, but his theory has not been received. Dr. Blass (Acta Apost., p. vii) endeavours to prove that Luke wrote first a rough draft of Acts, and that this is preserved in D and E. Luke revised this rough draft, and sent it to Theophilus; and this revised copy he supposes to be the original of our received text. Belser, Nestle, Zoeckler, and others have adopted his theory. The theory is, however, rejected by the greater number. It seems far more probable that D and E contain a recension, wherein the copyists have added, paraphrased, and changed things in the text, according to that tendency which prevailed up to the second half of the second century of the Christian era.

The Biblical Commission

The Biblical Commission, 12 June, 1913, published the following answers to various questions about the Acts: The author of the Acts of the Apostles is Luke the Evangelist, as is clear from Tradition, internal evidence in the Acts themselves and in their relation to the third Gospel (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-2). The unity of their authorship can be proved critically by their language, style and plan of narrative, and by their unity of scope and doctrine. The occasional substitution of the first person plural for the third person so far from impairing, only establishes more strongly their unity of composition and authenticity. The relations of Luke with the chief founders of the Church in Palestine, and with Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles; his industry and diligence as an eyewitness and in examining witnesses; the remarkable agreement of the Acts of the Apostles with the Epistles of Paul and with the more genuine historical records, all go to show that Luke had at his command most trustworthy sources, and that he used them in such a manner as to make his work historically authoritative. This authority is not diminished by the difficulties alleged against the supernatural facts he records, by his manner of condensing statements, by apparent disagreements with profane or Biblical history, or by apparent inconsistencies with his own or with other scriptural writings.


Sources

BEELEEN, Commentarius in Acta Apostolorum (2d ed., Louvain); BELSER, Studien zur Apostelgeschichte, in Theol. Quartalschrift (1895), 50-96, Lukas und Josephus, ibid. (1896),1-78; Die Selbstvertheidigung des H. Paulus im Galaterbriefe in Biblishe Studien (Freiburg, 1896), 1 - 3; Beiträge zur Erklärung der Apostelgeschichte auf Grund der Lesarten des Codex D und seiner Genossen, ibid.. (1897); BLASS, Die zweifache Textüberlieferung in der Apostelgeschichte, in Theologische Studien und Kritiken (1894), 86-119; Acta Apostolorum, sive Lucæ ad Teophilum liber alter (Göttingen, 1895); De duplici forma Actorum Lucæ in Hermathena, (1895), 121-143; Ueber die verschiedenen Textesformen in den Schriften des Lukas, in Neue kirchl. Zeit. (1895), 712-725; Acta Apostolorum secundum formam qua videtur Romana (Leipzig, 1896); Neue Texteszeugen für die Apostelgeschichte, in Theol. Stud. u. Krit. (1896), 436 - 471; Zu Codex D, in der Apostelgeschichte, ibid. (1898), 539 - 542; Zu den zwei Texten der Apostelgeschichte, ibid. (1900), 5-28; Priscilla und Aquila, ibid. (1901), 124 - 126; BORNEMANN, Acta Apostolorum ad Codicis Cantabrigiensis fidem (Grossenhain, 1848); CONYBEARE, On the Western Text of the Acts, in Am. J. Phil. (1896), 135-172; Papias and the Acts of the Apostles, in Class. Rev. (1895), 258; COPPIETERS, De Hist. Text. Act. Apost. (Louvain, 1902); CORNELY, Introductio in Utriusque Test. Libros Sacros (Paris, 1895); ID., Introductio Specialis in Singulos Novi Testamenti Libros (Paris, 1897); CORSSEN, Der Cyprianische Text der Acta Apostolorum (Berlin, 1892); Cross, Note on Acts in (1900), 19-25; GAGNÆUS, Scholia in Actus Apost. (Paris, 1552); HARNACK, Das Aposteidecret und die Blass'sche Hypothese (Berlin, 1899), 150-176; Ueber den ursprünglichen Text Act. Apost. xi, 27-28 (Berlin, 1899), 316 - 327; HEADLAM, Acts of the Apostles, in Dict. Bibl. (Edinburgh, 1898); HILGENFELD, Die Apostelgeschichte nach ihren Quellenschriften untersucht, in Zeitschrift für wissenschaftl. Theol. (1895 and 1896); Der Eingang der Apostelgeschichte, ibid. (1898), 619-625; KNABENBAUER, Commentarius in Actus Apostolorum (Paris, 1899); LUCAS, Textual Criticism and the Acts of the Apostles, in Dub. Rev. (1894), 30-53; RAMSAY, Professor Blass on the two Editions of Acts (1895), 129-142, 212-225; Are there two Lucan texts of Acts? in The Expositor (1897), 460 - 471; St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen. (London, 1900); Some recent Editions of the Acts of the Apostles, in The Expositor (1900, Nov.), 321-335; SABATIER, L'auteur du livre des Actes des Apôtres, a-t-il connu et utilisé dans son récit le Epitres de St. Paul?, in Bioliothèque de l'Ecole des Hautes Etudes (Paris, 1889), I, 202-229; SOROF, Die Entstehung der Apostelgeschichte (Berlin, 1890); SPITTA, Die Apostelgeschichte, ihre Quellen und deren geschichtlichen Wert (Halle, 1891). Acta Apostolicae Sedis (26 June, 1913); Rome (5 July, 1913).

About this page

APA citation. Breen, A.E. (1907). Acts of the Apostles. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01117a.htm

MLA citation. Breen, A.E. "Acts of the Apostles." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01117a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Vernon Bremberg. Dedicated to the Cloistered Dominican Nuns of the Monastery of the Infant Jesus, Lufkin, Texas.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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