Acts Of The Apostles
From Bible Encyclopedia
The Acts of the Apostles (Greek Πράξεις Ἀποστόλων, Praxeis Apostolōn) is a book of the Bible, the fifth in the New Testament. It is commonly referred to as simply Acts. The traditional view is that it was written by the Macedonian Christian physician and historian Luke the Evangelist, the companion of Paul of Tarsus, in the first century.
Acts describes many of the journeys and actions taken by the apostles. The book of Acts contains many descriptions of miraculous events (which were given as signs from God to validate the apostles' teachings), which were performed by the Holy Spirit through the apostles. These included miraculous healings, casting out evil spirits, and the raising of the dead. The narrative also contains historical descriptions of everyday life in the Roman Empire and in ancient Jerusalem.
The title now given to the fifth and last of the historical books of the New Testament. The author styles it a “treatise” (Acts 1:1). It was early called “The Acts,” “The Gospel of the Holy Ghost,” and “The Gospel of the Resurrection.” It contains properly no account of any of the apostles except Peter and Paul. John is noticed only three times; and all that is recorded of James, the son of Zebedee, is his execution by Herod. It is properly therefore not the history of the “Acts of the Apostles,” a title which was given to the book at a later date, but of “Acts of Apostles,” or more correctly, of “Some Acts of Certain Apostles.”
As regards its authorship, it was certainly the work of Luke, the “beloved physician” (compare Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1). This is the uniform tradition of antiquity, although the writer nowhere makes mention of himself by name. The style and idiom of the Gospel of Luke and of the Acts, and the usage of words and phrases common to both, strengthen this opinion. The writer first appears in the narrative in Acts 16:11, and then disappears till Paul's return to Philippi two years afterwards, when he and Paul left that place together (Acts 20:6), and the two seem henceforth to have been constant companions to the end. He was certainly with Paul at Rome (Acts 28; Colossians 4:14). Thus he wrote a great portion of that history from personal observation. For what lay beyond his own experience he had the instruction of Paul. If, as is very probable, 2 Timothy was written during Paul's second imprisonment at Rome, Luke was with him then as his faithful companion to the last (2 Timothy 4:11). Of his subsequent history we have no certain information.
The design of Luke's Gospel was to give an exhibition of the character and work of Christ as seen in his history till he was taken up from his disciples into heaven; and of the Acts, as its sequel, to give an illustration of the power and working of the gospel when preached among all nations, “beginning at Jerusalem.” The opening sentences of the Acts are just an expansion and an explanation of the closing words of the Gospel. In this book we have just a continuation of the history of the church after Christ's ascension. Luke here carries on the history in the same spirit in which he had commenced it. It is only a book of beginnings, a history of the founding of churches, the initial steps in the formation of the Christian society in the different places visited by the apostles. It records a cycle of “representative events.”
All through the narrative we see the ever-present, all-controlling power of the ever-living Saviour. He worketh all and in all in spreading abroad his truth among men by his Spirit and through the instrumentality of his apostles.
The time of the writing of this history may be gathered from the fact that the narrative extends down to the close of the second year of Paul's first imprisonment at Rome. It could not therefore have been written earlier than A.D. 61 or 62, nor later than about the end of A.D. 63. Paul was probably put to death during his second imprisonment, about A.D. 64, or, as some think, 66.
The place where the book was written was probably Rome, to which Luke accompanied Paul.
The key to the contents of the book is in Acts 1:8, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” After referring to what had been recorded in a “former treatise” of the sayings and doings of Jesus Christ before his ascension, the author proceeds to give an account of the circumstances connected with that event, and then records the leading facts with reference to the spread and triumphs of Christianity over the world during a period of about thirty years. The record begins with Pentecost (A.D. 33) and ends with Paul's first imprisonment (A.D. 63 or 64). The whole contents of the book may be divided into these three parts:
(1) Chapters. 1-12, describing the first twelve years of the Christian church. This section has been entitled “From Jerusalem to Antioch.” It contains the history of the planting and extension of the church among the Jews by the ministry of Peter.
(2) Chapters. 13-21, Paul's missionary journeys, giving the history of the extension and planting of the church among the Gentiles.
(3) Chapters. 21-28, Paul at Rome, and the events which led to this. Chaps. 13-28 have been entitled “From Antioch to Rome.”
In this book it is worthy of note that no mention is made of the writing by Paul of any of his epistles. This may be accounted for by the fact that the writer confined himself to a history of the planting of the church, and not to that of its training or edification. The relation, however, between this history and the epistles of Paul is of such a kind, i.e., brings to light so many undesigned coincidences, as to prove the genuineness and authenticity of both, as is so ably shown by Paley in his Horce Paulince. “No ancient work affords so many tests of veracity; for no other has such numerous points of contact in all directions with contemporary history, politics, and topography, whether Jewish, or Greek, or Roman.” Lightfoot.
It is possible, indeed probable, that the book originally had no title. The manuscripts give the title in several forms. Aleph (in the inscription) has merely “Acts” (Praxeis). So Tischendorf, while Origen, Didymus, Eusebius quote from “The Acts.” But BD Aleph (in subscription) have “Acts of Apostles” or “The Acts of the Apostles” (Praxeis Apostolon). So Westcott and Hort, Nestle (compare Athanasius and Euthalius). Only slightly different is the title in 31, 61, and many other cursives (Praxeis tōn Apostolōn, “Acts of the Apostles”). So Griesbach, Scholz. Several fathers (Clement of Alex, Origen, Dionysius of Alex, Cyril of Jerusalem, Chrysostom) quote it as “The Acts of the Apostles” (Hai Praxeis tōn Apostolōn). Finally A2 EGH give it in the form “Acts of the Holy Apostles” (Praxeīs tōn Hagiōn Apostolōn). The Memphitic version has “The Acts of the Holy Apostles.” Clearly, then, there was no single title that commanded general acceptance.
Of the many problems with Acts, perhaps the most complex is that of its text. As with the other books of the New Testament, Acts exists in several text types; however, unlike with the other books, the difference between the Alexandrian text-type and the Western text-type is very great; the size of the Western text of Acts (as represented by the Codex Bezae) is 10% larger than the Alexandrian (as represented by the Codex Sinaiticus). Although this issue was first observed in the 17th century, explanations for this difference remain little more than conjectures. An explanation that reduces the Western text to the product of generations of scribes must explain the Western text's additions and omissions which have the same stylistic characteristics as the Alexandrian text, or deny that such similarities exist, and must explain the existence of Western text readings in Acts which have early attestation from Latin authors like Tertullian, Cyprian and Augustine of Hippo.
The earliest theory, first espoused by Leclerc in 1684, but restated by Blass in 1895 and others since, explains the Western text as a first draft by the author, while the Alexandrian was a more polished version he subsequently published. The French scholars Boismard and Lamouille, in their extensive study of the text of Acts, have embraced this theory.
In 1914, A.C. Clark espousing the principle lectio longior potior (which is the opposite of the normal principle used in textual criticism) has argued that the shorter text was a modification of the original text. The opposite direction, that the Western text of Acts was expanded, was first proposed by G. Salmon in 1897 and recently revised by E. Delebecque, who believes the expansion of the text was performed by Luke at Ephesus after Paul's death.
Despite this ongoing debate, the majority of biblical scholars believes the text of Acts as witnessed in the Alexandrian tradition is the closest to the original, although accepting various isolated readings from the Western text families at different points. This was the conclusion of the text of Acts as printed by Brooke Foss Westcott (B.F. Westcott) and Fenton John Anthony Hort (F.J.A. Hort), as well as the most recent edition of Nestle and Aland's authoritative Novum Testamentum Graece (1993).
(1) The chief documents. These are the Primary Uncials (Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Vaticanus, Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, Codex Bezae), Codex Laudianus (E) which is a bilingual Uncial confined to Acts, later Uncials like Codex Modena, Codex Regius, Codex the Priestly Code (P), the Cursives, the Vulgate, the Peshitta and the Harclean Syriac and quotations from the Fathers. We miss the Curetonian and Syriac Sinaiticus, and have only fragmentary testimony from the Old Latin.
(2) The modern editions of Acts present the types of text (Textus Receptus; the Revised Version (British and American); the critical text like that of Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in Greek or Nestle or Weiss or von Soden). These three types do not correspond with the four classes of text (Syrian, Western, Alexandrian, Neutral) outlined by Hort in his Introduction to the New Testament in Greek (1882). These four classes are broadly represented in the documents which give us Acts. But no modern editor of the Greek New Testament has given us the Western or the Alexandrian type of text, though Bornemann, as will presently be shown, argues for the originality of the Western type in Acts. But the Textus Receptus of the New Testament (Stephanus' 3rd edition in 1550) was the basis of the King James Version of 1611. This edition of the Greek New Testament made use of a very few manuscripts, and all of them late, except Codex Bezae, which was considered too eccentric to follow. Practically, then, the King James Version represents the Syriac type of text which may have been edited in Antioch in the 4th century. Various minor errors may have crept in since that date, but substantially the Syriac recension is the text of the King James Version today. Where this text stands alone, it is held by nearly all modern scholars to be in error, though Dean Burgon fought hard for the originality of the Syriac text (The Revision Revised, 1882). The text of Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in Greek is practically that of Codex Vaticanus, which is held to be the Neutral type of text. Nestle, von Soden, Weiss do not differ greatly from the text of Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in Greek, though von Soden and Weiss attack the problem on independent lines. The text of the Revised Version (British and American) is in a sense a compromise between that of the King James Version and the critical text, though coming pretty close to the critical text. Compare Whitney, The Reviser's Greek Text, 1892. For a present-day appreciation of this battle of the texts see J. Rendel Harris, Side Lights on the New Testament, 1908. For a detailed comparison between the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) Acts see Rackham, The Acts of the Apostles, xxii.
(3) In Acts the Western type of text has its chief significance. It is the meet of the late Friedrich Blass, the famous classicist of Germany, to have shown that in Luke's writings (Gospel and Acts) the Western class (especially D) has its most marked characteristics. This fact is entirely independent of theory advanced by Blass which will be cussed directly. The chief modern revolt against theories of Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in Greek is the new interest felt in the value of the Western type of text. In particular Codex Bezae has come to the front in the Book of Acts. The feeble support that Codex Bezae has in its peculiar readings in Acts (due to absence of Curetonian Syriac and of the Old Latin) makes it difficult always to estimate the value of this document. But certainly these readings deserve careful consideration, and some of them may be correct, whatever view one holds of the Codex Bezae text. The chief variations are, as is usual with the Western text, additions and paraphrases. Some of the prejudice against Codex Bezae has disappeared as a result of modern discussion.
(4) Bornemann in 1848 argued that Codex Bezae in Acts represented the original text. But he has had very few followers.
(5) J. Rendel Harris (1891) sought to show that Codex Bezae (itself a bilingual MS) had been Latinized. He argued that already in 150 ad a bilingual manuscript existed. But this theory has not won a strong following.
(6) Chase (1893) sought to show that the peculiarities were due to translation from the Syriac
(7) Blass in 1895 created a sensation by arguing in his Commentary on Acts (Acta Apostolorum, 24ff) that Luke had issued two editions of the Acts, as he later urged about the Gospel of Luke (Philology of the Gospels, 1898). In 1896 Blass published this Roman form of the text of Acts (Acta Apostolorum, secundum Formam quae videtur Romanam). Blass calls this first, rough, unabridged copy of Acts b and considers that it was issued at Rome. The later edition, abridged and revised, he calls alpha. Curiously enough, in Acts 11:28, Codex Bezae has “when we had gathered together,” making Luke present at Antioch. The idea of two editions is not wholly original with Blass. Leclerc, a Dutch philologist, had suggested the notion as early as the beginning of the 18th century. Bishop Lightfoot had also mentioned it (On a Fresh Revision of the New Testament, 29). But Blass worked the matter out and challenged the world of scholarship with his array of arguments. He has not carried his point with all, though he has won a respectable following. Zahn (Einl, II, 338ff, 1899) had already been working toward the same view (348). He accepts in the main Blass' theory, as do Belser, Nestle, Salmon, Zöckler. Blass acknowledges his debt to Corssen (Der cyprianische Text der Acta Apostolorum, 1892), but Corssen considers the a text as the earlier and the b text as a later revision.
(8) Hilgenfeld (Acta Apostolorum, etc., 1899) accepts the notion of two edd, but denies identity of authorship.
(9) Schmiedel (Encyclopedia Biblica) vigorously and at much length attacks Blass' position, else “the conclusions reached in the foregoing sections would have to be withdrawn.” He draws his conclusions and then demolishes Blass! He does find weak spots in Blass' armor as others have done (B. Weiss, Der Codex D in der Apostelgeschichte, 1897; Page, Class. Rev., 1897; Harnack, The Acts of the Apostles, 1909, 45). See also Knowling, The Acts of the Apostles, 1900, 47, for a sharp indictment of Blass' theory as being too simple and lacking verification.
(10) Harnack (The Acts of the Apostles, 48) doubts if Luke himself formally published the book. He thinks that he probably did not give the book a final revision, and that friends issued two or more editions He considers that the so-called b recension has a “series of interpolations” and so is later than the a text.
(11) Ramsay (The Church in the Roman Empire, 150; St. Paul the Traveler, 27; The Expositor, 1895) considers the b text to be a 2nd-century revision by a copyist who has preserved some very valuable 2nd-century testimony to the text.
(12) Headlam (HDB) does not believe that the problem has as yet been scientifically attacked, but that the solution lies in the textual license of scribes of the Western type (compare Hort, Introduction, 122ff). But Headlam is still shy of “Western” readings. The fact is that the Western readings are sometimes correct as against the Neutral (compare Matthew 27:49). It is not necessary in Acts 11:20 to say that Hellenas is in Western authorities (AD, etc.) but is not a Western reading. It is at any rate too soon to say the final word about the text of Acts, though on the whole the a text still holds the field as against the btext. The Syriac text is, of course, later, and out of court.
III. Unity of the Book
It is not easy to discuss this question, apart from that of authorship. But they are not exactly the same. One may be convinced of the unity of the book and yet not credit it to Luke, or, indeed, to anyone in the 1st century. Of course, if Luke is admitted to be the author of the book, the whole matter is simplified. His hand is in it all whatever sources he used. If Luke is not the author, there may still have been a competent historian at work, or the book may be a mere compilation. The first step, therefore, is to attack the problem of unity. Holtzmann (Einl, 383) holds Luke to be the author of the “we” sections only. Schmiedel denies that the Acts is written by a companion of Paul, though it is by the same author as the Gospel bearing Luke's name. In 1845 Schleiermacher credited the “we” sections to Timothy, not to Luke. For a good sketch of theories of “sources,” see Knowling on Acts, 25ff. Van Manen (1890) resolved the book into two parts, Acta Petri and Acta Pauli, combined by a redactor. Sorof (1890) ascribes one source to Luke, one to Timothy. Spitta also has two sources (a Pauline-Lukan and a Jewish-Christian) worked over by a redactor. Clemen (1905) has four sources (History of the Hellenists, History of Peter, History of Paul, and a Journey of Paul), all worked over by a series of editors. Hilgenfeld (1895) has three sources (Acts of Peter, Acts of the Seven, Acts of Paul). Jungst (1895) has a Pauline source and a Petrine source J. Weiss (1893) admits sources, but claims that the book has unity and a definite aim. B. Weiss (1902) conceives an early source for the first part of the book. Harnack (The Acts of the Apostles, 1909, 41 f) has small patience with all this blind criticism: “With them the book passes as a comparatively late patchwork compilation, in which the part taken by the editor is insignificant yet in all cases detrimental; the 'we' sections are not the property of the author, but an extract from a source, or even a literary fiction.” He charges the critics with “airy conceit and lofty contempt.” Harnack has done a very great service in carefully sifting the matter in his Luke the Physician (1907). He gives detailed proof that the “we” sections are in the same style and by the same author as the rest of the book (26-120). Harnack does not claim originality in this line of argument: “It has been often stated and often proved that the 'we' sections in vocabulary, in syntax, and in style are most intimately bound up with the whole work, and that this work itself including the Gospel), in spite of all diversity in its parts, is distinguished by a grand unity of literary form” (Luke the Physician, 26). He refers to the “splendid demonstration of this unity” by Klostermann (Vindiciae Lucanae, 1866), to B. Weiss, who, in his commentary (1893, 2 Aufl, 1902) “has done the best work in demonstrating the literary unity of the whole work,” to “the admirable contributions” of Vogel (Zur Charakteristik des Lukas, etc., 2 Aufl, 1899) to the “yet more careful and minute investigations” of Hawkins (Horae Synopticae, 1899, 2nd edition, 1909), to the work of Hobart (The Medical Language of Luke, 1882), who “has proved only too much” (Luke the Physician, 175), but “the evidence is of overwhelming force” (198). Harnack only claims for himself that he has done the work in more detail and with more minute accuracy without claiming too much (27). But the conversion of Harnack to this view of Acts is extremely significant. It ought not to be necessary any more to refute the partition theories of the book, or to set forth in detail the proofs for the unity of the book. Perhaps the compilation theory of Acts is nowhere set forth more cogently than in McGiffert's The Apostolic Age (1897). See a powerful refutation of his argument by Ramsay in Pauline and Other Studies (1906, 302-21). “I think his clever argumentation is sophistical” (305). Harnack is fully aware that he has gone over to the rode of “Ramsay, Weiss and Zahn”: “The results at which I have arrived not only approach very nearly to, but are often coincident with, the results of their research” (The Acts of the Apostles, 302). He is afraid that if these scholars failed to get the ear of critics “there is little prospect of claiming the attention of critics and compelling them to reconsider their position.” But he has the advantage of coming to this conclusion from the other side. Moreover, if Harnack was won by the force of the facts, others may be. This brief sketch of Harnack's experience may take the place of detailed presentation of the arguments for the unity of the book. Harnack sets forth in great wealth of detail the characteristic idioms of the “we” sections side by side with parallels in other parts of Acts and the Gospel of Luke. The same man wrote the rest of Acts who wrote the “we” sections. This fact should now be acknowledged as proven. This does not mean that the writer, a personal witness in the “we” sections, had no sources for the other parts of Acts. This aspect of the matter will be considered a little later.
IV. The Author
Assuming the unity of the book, the argument runs as follows: The author was a companion of Paul. The “we” sections prove that (Acts 16:10-17; Acts 20:6-16; 21; 27; 28). These sections have the fullness of detail and vivid description natural to an eye-witness. This companion was with Paul in the second missionary journey at Troas and at Philippi, joined Paul's party again at Philippi on the return to Jerusalem during the third tour, and probably remained with Paul till he went to Rome. Some of Paul's companions came to him at Rome: others are so described in the book as to preclude authorship. Aristarchus, Aquila and Priscilla, Erastus, Gaius, Mark, Silas, Timothy, Trophimus, Tychicus and others more or less insignificant from the point of view of connection with Paul (like Crescens, Demas, Justus, Linus, Pudens, Sopater, etc.) are easily eliminated. Curiously enough Luke and Titus are not mentioned in Acts by name at all. They are distinct persons as is stated in 2 Timothy 4:10. Titus was with Paul in Jerusalem at the conference (Galatians 2:1) and was his special envoy to Corinth during the time of trouble there. (2 Corinthians 2:12; 2 Corinthians 12:18.) He was later with Paul in Crete (Titus 1:5). But the absence of mention of Titus in Acts may be due to the fact that he was a brother of Luke (compare 2 Corinthians 8:18; 2 Corinthians 12:18). So A. Souter in DCG, article “Luke.” If Luke is the author, it is easy to understand why his name does not appear. If Titus is his brother, the same explanation occurs. As between Luke and Titus the medical language of Acts argues for Luke. The writer was a physician. This fact Hobart (The Medical Language of St. Luke, 1882) has demonstrated. Compare Zahn, Einl, 2, 435ff; Harnack's Luke the Physician, 177ff. The arguments from the use of medical terms are not all of equal weight. But the style is colored at points by the language of a physician. The writer uses medical terms in a technical sense. This argument involves a minute comparison with the writings of physicians of the time. Thus in Acts 28:3 katháptō, according to Hobart (288), is used in the sense of poisonous matter invading the body, as in Dioscorides, Animal. Ven. Proem. So Galen, De Typis 4 (VII, 467), uses it “of fever fixing on parts of the body.” Compare Harnack, Luke the Physician, 177 f. Harnack agrees also that the terms of the diagnosis in Acts 28:8 “are medically exact and can be vouched for from medical literature” (ibid., 176 f). Hobart has overdone his argument and adduced many examples that are not pertinent, but a real residuum remains, according to Harnack. Then pímprasthai is a technical term for swelling. Let these serve as examples. The interest of the writer in matters of disease is also another indication, compare Luke 8:43. Now Luke was a companion of Paul during his later ministry and was a physician. (Colossians 4:14). Hence, he fulfils all the requirements of the case. The argument thus far is only probable, it is true; but there is to be added the undoubted fact that the same writer wrote both Gospel and Acts (Acts 1:1). The direct allusion to the Gospel is reinforced by identity of style and method in the two books. The external evidence is clear on the matter. Both Gospel and Acts are credited to Luke the physician. The Muratorian canon ascribes Acts to Luke. By the end of the 2nd century the authority of the Acts is as well established as that of the Gospel (Salmon, Introduction to the New Testament, 1885, 366). Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, all call Luke the author of the book. The argument is complete. It is still further strengthened by the fact that the point of view of the book is Pauline and by the absence of references to Paul's epistles. If one not Paul's companion had written Acts, he would certainly have made some use of them. Incidentally, also, this is an argument for the early date of the Acts. The proof that has won Harnack, the leader of the left in Germany, to the acknowledgment of the Lukan authorship of Acts ought to win all to this position.
There is substantial evidence to indicate that the author of Luke also wrote the Book of Acts. The most direct evidence comes from the prefaces of each book. Both prefaces are addressed to Theophilus, the author's patron (and perhaps a label for a Christian community as a whole as it can be read "Beloved by God"), and the preface of Acts explicitly references "my former book" about the life of Jesus.
Furthermore, there are linguistic and theological similarities between the two works, suggesting that they have a common author. With the agreement of nearly all scholars, Udo Schnelle writes, "the extensive linguistic and theological agreements and cross-references between the Gospel of Luke and the Acts indicate that both works derive from the same author" (The History and Theology of the New Testament Writings, p. 259).
The external evidence, such as it is, is in favor of authorship by Luke, a companion of Paul (Philemon 1:24 who was a physician (Colossians 4:14. The oldest manuscript with the start of the gospel, Papyrus Bodmer XIV/XV (around 200), is titled the euangelion kata Loukan, the Gospel according to Luke. Irenaeus (Haer. 3.1.1, 3.14.1), Tertullian (Marc. 4.2.2), Clement of Alexandria (Paed. 2.1.15 and Strom. 5.12.82), Origen, and the Muratorian Canon also ascribe the third Gospel to one called Luke. Neither Eusebius of Caesarea nor any other ancient writer mentions another tradition about authorship.
Some scholars also consider the internal evidence to favor authorship by Luke. Some scholars state that the prominence given to Antioch in Acts coheres with the tradition of Luke's birth in Antioch. It is also argued that the minute character of the narrative and accuracy of the journeyings suggest an eyewitness source. Chief among the features of Luke-Acts that have been thought to support the idea that the author knew Paul are the "we passages" found in 16:10-17, 20:5-15, 21:1-18, and 27:1-28:16. Some note that the "we" narration drops off at Philippi and then picks up in the second passage with "We sailed from Philippi," and conclude from this dovetailing of incidents that the author of Acts was among those left behind at Philippi who joined up with Paul to sail from there later. Other views of the "we passages" include that a first person travel diary was incorporated into Acts, that the first person narration is generic style for sea voyages (according to V. K. Robbins), and that the author was making a false affectation to being a companion of Paul.
The use of the Acts does not appear so early or so frequently as is true of the gospels and the Pauline epistles. The reason obvious. The epistles had a special field and the gospels appealed to all. Only gradually would Acts circulate. At first we find literary allusions without the name of book or author. But Holtzmann (Einl, 1892, 406) admits the use of Acts by Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Polycarp. The use of the Gospel according to Luke by Tatian and Marcion really revolves knowledge of the Acts. But in Irenaeus frequently (Adv. Haer., i. 23, 1, etc.) the Acts is credited to Luke and regarded as Scripture. The Canon of Muratori list it as Scripture. Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria attribute the book to Luke and treat it as Scripture. By the times of Eusebius the book is generally acknowledged as part of the canon. Certain of the heretical parties reject it (like the Ebionites, Marcionites, Manicheans). But by this time the Christians had come to lay stress on history (Gregory, Canon and Text of the New Testament, 1907, 184), and the place of Acts is now secure in the canon.
External evidence now points to the existence of Acts at least as early as the opening years of the 2nd century. As evidence for the Third Gospel holds equally for Acts, its existence in Marcion's day (120-140) is now assured. Further, the traces of it in Polycarp 6 and Ignatius 7 when taken together are highly probable; and it is even widely admitted that the resemblance of Acts 13:22 and First Clement 18:1, in features not found in Psalm 89:20 quoted by each, can hardly be accidental. That is, Acts was probably current in Antioch and Smyrna not later than circa 115, and perhaps in Rome as early as circa 96.
With this view internal evidence agrees. In spite of some advocacy of a date prior to 70, the bulk of critical opinion is decidedly against it. The prologue to Luke's Gospel itself implies the dying out of the generation of eyewitnesses as a class. A strong consensus supports a date about 80; some prefer 75 to 80; while a date between 70 and 75 seems no less possible. Of the reasons for a date in one of the earlier decades of the 2nd century, as argued by the Tübingen school and its heirs, several are now untenable. Among these are the supposed traces of 2nd-century Gnosticism and "hierarchical" ideas of organization; but especially the argument from the relation of the Roman state to the Christians, which Ramsay has reversed and turned into proof of an origin prior to Pliny's correspondence with Trajan on the subject. Another fact, now generally admitted, renders a 2nd century date yet more incredible; and that is the failure of a writer devoted to Paul's memory to make palpable use of his Epistles. Instead of this he writes in a fashion that seems to traverse certain things recorded in them. If, indeed, it were proved that Acts uses the later works of Josephus, we should have to place the book about 100. But this is far from being the case.
Three points of contact with Josephus in particular are cited.
- (1) The circumstances attending the death of Agrippa I in 44. Here Acts 12:21-23 is largely parallel to his Antiquities of the Jews 19.8.2; but the latter adds an omen of coming doom, while Acts alone gives a circumstantial account of the occasion of Herod's public appearance. Hence the parallel, when analyzed, tells against dependence on Josephus. So also with
- (2) the cause of the Egyptian pseudo-prophet in Acts 21:37f. and in Josephus (Jewish War 2.13.5; A.J. 20.8.6) for the numbers of his followers do not agree with either of Josephus's rather divergent accounts, while Acts alone calls them Sicarii. With these instances in mind, it is natural to regard
- (3) the curious resemblance as to the (non-historical) order in which Theudas and Judas of Galilee are referred to in both (Acts 5:36f.; A.J. 20.5.1) as accidental.
It is worth noting, however, that no ancient source actually mentions Acts by name prior to 177. If it was composed prior to then, no one spoke of it by that name, or at least no one whose writings have survived down to the present day.
1. Luke's Relations to Josephus
The acceptance of the Lukan authorship settles the question of some of the dates presented by critics. Schmiedel places the date of Acts between 105 and 130 ad (Encyclopedia Biblica). He assumes as proven that Luke made use of the writings of Josephus. It has never been possible to take with much seriousness the claim that the Acts shows acquaintance with Josephus. See Keim, Geschichte Jesu, III, 1872, 134, and Krenkel, Josephus und Lucas, 1894, for the arguments in favor of that position. The words quoted to prove it are in the main untechnical words of common use. The only serious matter is the mention of Theudas and Judas the Galilean in Acts 5:36 and Josephus (Ant., XX, v, 1 f). In Josephus the names occur some twenty lines apart and the resemblance is only slight indeed. The use of peíthō in connection with Theudas and apōstḗsai concerning Judas is all that requires notice. Surely, then, two common words for “persuade” and “revolt” are not enough to carry conviction of the writer's use of Josephus. The matter is more than offset by the differences in the two reports of the death of Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:19-23; Josephus, Ant, XVIII, vi, 7, XIX, viii, 2). The argument about Josephus may be definitely dismissed from the field. With that goes all the ground for a 2nd-century date. Other arguments have been adduced (see Holtzmann, Einl, 1892, 405) such as the use of Paul's epistles, acquaintance with Plutarch, Arrian and Pausanias, because of imitation in method of work (i.e. parallel lives of Peter and Paul, periods of history, etc.), correction of Gal in Acts (for instance, Galatians 1:17-24 and Acts 9:26-30; Galatians 2:1-10 and Acts 15:1-33). The parallel with Plutarch is fanciful, while the use of Panl's epistles is by no means clear, the absence of such use, indeed, being one of the characteristics of the book. The variation from Galatians is far better explained on the assumption that Luke had not seen the epistles.
2. 80 A.D. Is the Limit if the Book Is to Be Credited to Luke
The majority of modern critics who accept the Lukan authorship place it between 70 and 80 AD. So Harnack, Lechler, Meyer, Ramsay, Sanday, Zahn. This opinion rests mainly on the idea that the Gospel according to Luke was written after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. It is claimed that Luke 21:20 shows that this tragedy had already occurred, as compared with Mark 13:14 and Matthew 24:15. But the mention of armies is very general, to be sure. Attention is called also to the absence of the warning in Luke. Harnack (The Acts of the Apostles, 291 f) admits that the arguments in favor of the date 70 to 80 are by no means conclusive. He writes “to warn critics against a too hasty closing of the chronological question.” In his new book (Neue Untersuchungen zur Apostelgeschichte, etc., 1911, S. 81) Harnack definitely accepts the date before the destruction of Jerusalem. Lightfoot would give no date to Acts because of the uncertainty about the date of the Gospel.
3. Before 70 A.D.
This date is supported by Blass, Headlam, Maclean, Rackham, Salmon. Harhack, indeed, considers that “very weighty considerations” argue for the early date. He, as already stated, now takes his stand for the early date. It obviously the simplest way to understand Luke's close of the Acts to be due to the fact that Paul was still in prison. Harnack contends that the efforts to explain away this situation are not “quite satisfactory or very illuminating.” He does not mention Paul's death because he was still alive. The dramatic purpose to bring Paul to Rome is artificial. The supposition of a third book from the use of protō̇n in Acts 1:1 is quite gratuitous, since in the Koinē, not to say the earlier Greek, “first” was often used when only two were mentioned (compare “our first story” and “second story,” “first wife” and “second wife”). The whole tone of the book is that which one would naturally have before 64 AD. After the burning of Rome and the destruction of Jerusalem the attitude maintained in the book toward Romans and Jews would have been very difficult unless the date was a long times afterward Harnack wishes “to help a doubt to its lust dues.” That “doubt” of Harnack is destined to become the certainty of the future. (Since this sentence was written Harnack has settled his own doubt.) The book will, I think, be finally credited to the time 63 ad in Rome. The Gospel of Luke will then naturally belong to the period of Paul's imprisonment in Caesarea. The judgment of Moffatt (Historical New Testament, 1901, 416) that “it cannot be earlier” than 80 ad is completely upset by the powerful attack of Harnack on his own previous position. See also Moffatt's Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament (1911) and Koch's Die Abfassungszeit des lukanischen Geschichtswerkes (1911).
VII. Sources Used by Luke
If we now assume that Luke is the author of the Acts, the question remains as to the character of the sources used by him. One is at liberty to appeal to Luke 1:1-4 for the general method of the author. He used both oral and written sources. In the Acts the matter is somewhat simplified by the fact that Luke was the companion of Paul for a considerable part of the narrative (the “we” sections, Acts 16:11-17; Acts 20:5; Acts 21:18; 27 and 28). It is more than probable that Luke was with Paul also during his last stay in Jerusalem and during the imprisonment at Caesarea. There is no reason to think that Luke suddenly left Paul in Jerusalem and returned to Caesarea only when he started to Rome (Acts 27:1). The absence of “we” is natural here, since it is not a narrative of travel, but a sketch of Paul's arrest and series of defenses. The very abundance of material here, as in Acts 20 and 21, argues for the presence of Luke. But at any rate Luke has access to Paul himself for information concerning this period, as was true of the second, from Acts 13 to the end of the book. Luke was either present or he could have learned from Paul the facts used. He may have kept a travel diary, which was drawn upon when necessary. Luke could have taken notes of Paul's addresses in Jerusalem (Acts 22) and Caesarea (Acts 24 through 26). From these, with Paul's help, he probably composed the account of Paul's conversion (Acts 9:1-30). If, as I think is true, the book was written during Paul's first Roman imprisonment, Luke had the benefit of appeal to Paul at all points. But, if so, he was thoroughly independent in style and assimilated his materials like a true historian. Paul (and also Philip for part of it) was a witness to the events about Stephen in Acts 6:8 through 8:1 and a participant of the work in Antioch (Acts 11:19-30). Philip, the host of Paul's company (Acts 21:8) on the last journey to Jerusalem, was probably in Caesarea still during Paul's confinement there. He could have told Luke the events in Acts 6:1-7 and 8:4-40. In Caesarea also the story of Peter's work may have been derived, possibly even from Cornelius himself (9:32 through 11:18). Whether Luke ever went to Antioch or not we do not know (Codex Bezae has “we” in Acts 11:28), though he may have had access to the Antiochian traditions. But he did go to Jerusalem. However, the narrative in Acts 12 probably rests on the authority of John Mark (Acts 12:12, Acts 12:25), in whose mother's house the disciples were assembled. Luke was apparently thrown with Mark in Rome (Colossians 4:10), if not before. For Acts 1 through 5 the matter does not at first seem so clear, but these chapters are not necessarily discredited on that account. It is remarkable, as ancient historians made so little mention of their sources, that we can connect Luke in the Acts with so many probable fountains of evidence. Barnabas (Acts 4:36) was able to tell much about the origin of the work in Jerusalem. So could Mnason. Philip also was one of the seven (Acts 6:5; Acts 21:8). We do not know that Luke met Peter in Rome, though that is possible. But during the stay in Jerusalem and Caesarea (two years) Luke had abundant opportunity to learn the narrative of the great events told in Acts 1 through 5. He perhaps used both oral and written sources for this section. One cannot, of course, prove by linguistic or historical arguments the precise nature of Luke's sources in Acts. Only in broad outlines the probable materials may be sketched.
So far from the recognition of a plan in Acts being inimical to a quest after the materials used in its composition, some scholars say that it points the way thereto, while it keeps the literary analysis within scientific limits. These scholars claim that the standpoint of the mind pervading the book as a whole causes them to feel that the speeches in the first part of Acts (e.g., that of Stephen)—and indeed elsewhere, too—are not "free compositions" of the author, the mere outcome of dramatic idealization such as ancient historians like Thucydides or Polybius allowed themselves. The Christology, for instance, of the early Petrine speeches is considered by them to be such as a Gentile Christian writing circa 80 simply could not have imagined. Thus they are forced to assume the use of a certain amount of early Judaeo-Christian material, in the manner in which he supposedly used the Gospel of Mark and the Q source in compiling his own Gospel.
C.C. Torrey expressed these suspicions in his thesis (The Composition and the Dates of Acts, 1916) that an Aramaic source underlay the text of Acts 1-15, arguing from
- (1) the preoccupation of this section on the church at Jerusalem, and on the church's Judaic background, and
- (2) a Semitic coloring of the language, which he argued was "distinctly translation-Greek" with a number of peculiarities in the language that he claimed were "Semiticisms".
While the recovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has provided us with an irrefutable sample of the language of Judea in the 1st century, severely undermining Torrey's linguistic arguments, study of the content has led to a consensus that the author drew from a set of sources associated with Peter that originated in Jerusalem, and a set of sources associated with Paul that, at least in part, originated in Antioch.
In the second half which focuses almost exclusively on Paul's activities, we are confronted by the so-called "we" passages. Their explanation has led to several theories:
- (1) they are traces of an earlier document—whether entries in a travel diary or a more or less consecutive narrative written later;
- (2) the use of "we" was due to the author's lapsing unconsciously into the first person plural at certain points where he felt specially identified with the history; or
- (3) this use of "we" was a feature of an ancient convention when talking about sea travel (a thesis proposed by V.K. Robbins in 1975 and embraced by such scholars as Helmut Koester). The first hypothesis raises the issue whether the "we" document does or does not lie behind more of the narrative than is definitely indicated by the formula in question (e.g., 13–15, 21:19–16). The second likewise leads to the question whether the presence or absence of "we" may be due to the writer's absorption in his narrative causes, rather than to the writer's mere presence or absence. However, this alternation from third person to first person plural may be due to emphasis, as Martin Hengel explains:
- "We" therefore appears in travel accounts because Luke simply wanted to indicate that he was there. However, his personal experiences are uninteresting. Paul remains the sole focal point.
- (Acts and the History of Earliest Christianity Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983)
Robbins's suggestion has been treated with a certain amount of skepticism based on the examples he has produced for this genre; his examples are drawn from ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian literature, and even his Greek examples are fraught with problems that include the fact many of the examples come from narratives told in the first person. Joseph A. Fitzmyer notes in his commentary to the Anchor Bible translation of Acts, "this 'conventional' literary device is more alleged than demonstrated."
In both parts of Luke-Acts, scholars suggest that the author collected materials from oral tradition, if not directly from different witnesses, possibly supplemented by the first person knowledge of the author in Acts. In this case, the author would have had the opportunity to collect materials, varying no doubt in accuracy, but all relatively primitive, whether in Antioch or in Caesarea Palaestina, where he may have resided for some two years in contact with men like Philip the Evangelist (21:8). There and elsewhere he might also have learned a good deal from John Mark, Peter's friend (1 Peter 5:13; Acts 12:12).
VIII. The Speeches in Acts
This matter is important enough to receive separate treatment. Are the numerous speeches reported in Acts free compositions of Luke made to order à la Thucydides? Are they verbatim reports from notes taken at the times and literally copied into the narrative? Are they substantial reports incorporated with more or less freedom with marks of Luke's own style? In the abstract either of these methods was possible. The example of Thucydides, Xenophon, Livy and Josephus shows that ancient historians did not scruple to invent speeches of which no report was available. There are not wanting those who accuse Luke of this very thing in Acts. The matter can only be settled by an appeal to the facts so far as they can be determined. It cannot be denied that to a certain extent the hand of Luke is apparent in the addresses reported by him in Acts. But this fact must not be pressed too far. It is not true that the addresses are all alike in style. It is possible to distinguish very clearly the speeches of Peter from those of Paul. Not merely is this true, but we are able to compare the addresses of both Paul and Peter with their epistles. It is not probable that Luke had seen these epistles, as will presently be shown. It is crediting remarkable literary skill to Luke to suppose that he made up “Petrine” speeches and “Pauline” speeches with such success that they harmonize beautifully with the teachings and general style of each of these apostles. The address of Stephen differs also sharply from those of Peter and Paul, though we are not able to compare this report with any original work by Stephen himself. Another thing is true also, particularly of Paul's sermons. They are wonderfully stated to time, place and audience. They all have a distract Pauline flavor, and yet a difference in local color that corresponds, to some extent, with the variations in the style of Paul's epistles. Professor Percy Gardner (The Speeches of Paul in Acts, in Cambridge Biblical Essays, 1909) recognizes these differences, but seeks to explain them on the ground of varying accuracy in the sources used by Luke, counting the speech at Miletus as the most historic of all. But he admits the use of sources by Luke for these addresses. The theory of pure invention by Luke is quite discredited by appeal to the facts. On the other hand, in view of the apparent presence of Luke's style to some extent in the speeches, it can hardly be claimed that he has made verbatim reports. Besides, the report of the addresses of Jesus in Luke's Gospel (as in the other gospels) shows the same freedom in giving the substance exact reproduction of the words that is found in Acts. Again, it seems clear that some, if not all, the reports in Acts are condensed, mere outlines in the case of some of Peter's addresses. The ancients knew how to make shorthand reports of such addresses. The oral tradition was probably active in preserving the early speeches of Peter and even of Stephen, though Paul himself heard Stephen. The speeches of Paul all show the marks of an eyewitness (Bethge, Die paulinischen Reden, etc., 174). For the speeches of Peter, Luke may have had documents, or he may have taken down the current oral tradition while he was in Jerusalem and Caesarea. Peter probably spoke in Greek on the day of Pentecost. His other addresses may have been in Aramaic or in Greek. But the oral tradition would certainly carry them in Greek, if also in Aramaic. Luke heard Paul speak at Miletus (Acts 20) and may have taken notes at the time. So also he almost certainly heard Paul's address on the steps of the Tower of Antonia (Acts 22) and that before Agrippa (Acts 26). There is no reason to think that he was absent when Paul made his defenses before Felix and Festus (Acts 24 through 25) He was present on the ship when Paul spoke (Acts 27), and in Rome when he addressed the Jews (Acts 28) Luke was not on hand when Paul delivered his sermon at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13), or at Lystra (Acts 14), or at Athens (Acts 17) But these discourses differ so greatly in theme and treatment, and are so essentially Pauline that it is natural to think that Paul himself gave Luke the notes which he used. The sermon at Antioch in Pisidia is probably given as a sample of Paul's missionary discourses. It contains the heart of Paul's gospel as it appears in his epistles. He accentuates the death and resurrection of Jesus, remission of sins through Christ, justification by faith. It is sometimes objected that at Athens the address shows a breadth of view and sympathy unknown to Paul, and that there is a curious Attic tone to the Greek style. The sermon does go as far as Paul can (compare 1 Corinthians 9:22) toward the standpoint of the Greeks (but compare Col and Eph). However, Paul does not sacrifice his principle of grace in Christ. He called the Athenians to repentance, preached the judgment for sin and announced the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man here taught did not mean that God yanked at sin and could save all men without repentance and forgiveness of sin. Chase (The Credibility of Acts) gives a collection of Paul's missionary addresses. The historical reality and value of the speeches in Acts may be said to be vindicated by modern scholarship. For a sympathetic and scholarly discussion of all of Paul's addresses see Jones, St. Paul the Orator (1910). The short speech of Tertullus (Acts 24) was made in public, as was the public statement of Festus in Acts 26. The letter of Claudias Lysias to Felix in Acts 23 was a public document. How Luke got hold of the conversation about Paul between Festus and Agrippa in Acts 26 is more difficult to conjecture.
The speeches in Acts deserve special notice, because they constitute about 20% of the entire book. Given the nature of the times, lack of recording devices, and space limitations, many ancient historians did not reproduce verbatim reports of speeches. Condensing and using one's own style was often unavoidable. Nevertheless, there were different practices when it came to the level of creativity or adherence individual historians practiced.
On one end of the scale were those who seemingly invented speeches, such as the Sicilian historian Timaeus (356-260 BC). Others, such as Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Tacitus, fell somewhere in between, reporting actual speeches but likely with significant liberty. The ideal for ancient historians, however, seems to have been to try as much as possible to report the sense of what was actually said, rather than simply placing one's own speech in a figure's mouth.
Perhaps the best example of this ideal was voiced by Polybius, who ridiculed Timaeus for his invention of speeches. Historians, Polybius wrote, were "to instruct and convince for all time serious students by the truth of the facts and the speeches he narrates" (Hist. 2.56.10-12). Another ancient historian, Thucydides, admits to having taken some liberty while narrating speeches, but only when he did not have access to any sources. When he had sources, he used them. In his own words, Thucydides wrote speeches "of course adhering as closely as possible to the general sense of what was actually said" (History of the Peloponnesian War, 1.22.1). Accordingly, as stated by C.W. Fornara, "[t]he principle was established that speeches were to be recorded accurately, though in the words of the historian, and always with the reservation that the historian could 'clarify'" (The Nature of History in Ancient Greece and Rome, p. 145).
On what end of the scale did the author of Acts fall? There is little doubt that the speeches of Acts are summaries or condensations largely in the style and vocabulary of its author. However, there are indications that the author of Acts relied on source material for his speeches, and did not treat them as mere vehicles for expressing his own theology. The author's apparent use of speech material in the Gospel of Luke, obtained from the Gospel of Mark and the hypothetical Q document or the Gospel of Matthew, suggests that he relied on other sources for his narrative and was relatively faithful in using them. Additionally, many scholars have viewed Acts' presentation of Stephen's speech, Peter's speeches in Jerusalem and, most obviously, Paul's speech in Miletus as relying on source material or of expressing views not typical of Acts' author. Additionally, there is no evidence that any speech in Acts is the free composition of its author, without either written or oral basis. Accordingly, in general, the author of Acts seems to be among the conscientious ancient historians, touching the essentials of historical accuracy, even as now understood.
IX. Relation of Acts to the Epistles
There is no real evidence that Luke made use of any of Paul's epistles. He was with Paul in Rome when Col was written (Luke 4:14), and may, indeed, have been Paul's amanuensis for this epistle (and for Eph and Philem). Some similarities to Luke's style have been pointed out. But Acts closes without any narrative of the events in Rome during the years there, so that these epistles exerted no influence on the composition of the book. As to the two preceding groups of Paul's epistles (1 and 2 Thess, 1 and 2 Cor, Gal, Romans) there is no proof that Luke saw any of them. The Epistle to the Romans was probably accessible to into while in Rome, but he does not seem to have used it. Luke evidently preferred to appeal to Paul directly for information rather than to his epistles. This is all simple enough if he wrote the book or made his data while Paul was alive. But if Acts was written very late, it would be strange for the author not to have made use of some of Paul's epistles. The book has, therefore, the great advantage of covering some of the same ground as that discussed in the earlier epistles, but from a thoroughly independent stand-point. The gaps in our knowledge from the one source are often supplied incidentally, but most satisfactorily, from the other. The coincidences between Acts and Paul's epistles have been well traced by Paley in his Horae Paulinae, still a book of much value. Knowling, in his Witness of the Epistles (1892), has made a more recent study of the same problem. But for the apparent conflict between Galatians 2:1-10 and Acts 15 the matter might be dropped at this point. It is argued by some that Acts, written long after Gal, brushes to one side the account of the Jerusalem conference given by Paul. It is held that Paul is correct in his personal record, and that Acts is therefore unhistorical Others save the credit of Acts by arguing that Paul is referring to an earlier private conference some years before the public discussion recorded in Acts 15. This is, of course, possible in itself, but it is by no means required by the variations between the two reports. The contention of Lightfoot has never been really overturned, that in Galatians 2:1-10 Paul gives the personal side of the conference, not a full report of the general meeting. What Paul is doing is to show the Galatians how he is on a par with the Jerusalem apostles, and how his authority and independence were acknowledged by them. This aspect of the matter came out in the private conference. Paul is not in Galatians 2:1-10 setting forth his victory over the Judaizers in behalf of Gentile freedom. But in Acts 15 it is precisely this struggle for Gentile freedom that is under discussion. Paul's relations with the Jerusalem apostles is not the point at all, though it in plain in Acts that they agree. In Galatians also Paul's victory for Gentile freedom comes out. Indeed, in Acts 15 it is twice mentioned that the apostles and elders were gathered together (Acts 15:4, Acts 15:6), and twice we are told that Paul and Barnabas addressed them (Acts 15:4, Acts 15:12). It is therefore natural to suppose that this private conference narrated by Paul in Galatians came in between Galatians 2:5 and Galatians 2:6. Luke may not, indeed, have seen the Epistle to the Galatians, and may not have heard from Paul the story of the private conference, though he knew of the two public meetings. If he did know of the private meeting, he thought it not pertinent to his narration. There is, of course, no contradiction between Paul's going up by revelation and by the appointment of the church in Antioch. In Galatians 2:1 we have the second (Galatians 1:18) visit to Jerusalem after his conversion mentioned by Paul, while that in Acts 15 is the third in Acts (Acts 9:28; Acts 11:29; Acts 15:2). But there was no particular reason for Paul to mention the visit in Acts 11:30, which did not concern his relation to the apostles in Jerusalem. Indeed, only the “elders” are mentioned on this occasion. The same independence between Acts and Galatians occurs in Galatians 1:17-24, and Acts 9:26-30. In Acts there is no allusion to the visit to Arabia, just as there is no mention of the private conference in Acts 15. So also in Acts 15:35-39 there is no mention of the sharp disagreement between Paul and Peter at Antioch recorded in Galatians 2:11. Paul mentions it merely to prove his own authority and independence as an apostle. Luke had no occasion to record the incident, if he was acquainted with the matter. These instances illustrate well how, when the Acts and the epistles vary, they really supplement each other.
X. Chronology of Acts
Here we confront one of the most perplexing questions in New Testament criticism. In general, ancient writers were not so careful as modern writers are to give precise dates for historical events. Indeed, it was not easy to do so in view of the absence of a uniform method of reckoning times. Luke does, however, relate his narrative to outward events at various points. In his Gospel he had linked the birth of Jesus with the names of Augustus as emperor and of Quirinius as governor of Syria (Luke 2:1), and the entrance of John the Baptist upon his ministry with the names of the chief Roman and Jewish rulers of the time (Luke 3:1) So also in the Acts he does not leave us without various notes of times. He does not, indeed, give the date of the Ascension or of the Crucifixion, though he places the Ascension forty days after the Resurrection (Acts 1:3), and the great Day of Pentecost would then come ten days later, “not many days hence” (Acts 1:5) But the other events in the opening chapters of Acts have no clear chronological arrangement. The career of Stephen is merely located “in these days” (Acts 6:1). The beginning of the general persecution under Saul is located on the very day of Stephen's death (Acts 8:1), but the year is not even hinted at. The conversion of Saul comes probably in its chronological order in Acts 9, but the year again is not given. We have no hint as to the age of Saul at his conversion. So again the relation of Peter's work in Caesarea (10) to the preaching to the Greeks in Antioch (11) is not made clear, though probably in this order. It is only when we come to Acts 12 that we reach an event whose date is reasonably certain. This is the death of Herod Agrippa I in 44 AD. But even so, Luke does not correlate the life of Paul with that incident. Ramsay (St. Paul the Traveler, 49) places the persecution and death of James in 44, and the visit of Barnabas and Saul to Jerusalem in 46. About 44, then, we may consider that Saul came to Antioch from Tarsus. The “fourteen years” in Galatians 2:1 as already shown probably point to the visit in Acts 15 some years later. But Saul had been in Tarsus some years and had spent some three years in Arabia and Damascus after his conversion (Galatians 1:18). Beyond this it is not possible to go. We do not know the age of Saul in 44 AD or the year of his conversion. He was probably born not far from 1 ad. But if we locate Paul at Antioch with Barnabas in 44 AD, we can make some headway. Here Paul spent a year (Acts 11:26). The visit to Jerusalem in Acts 11, the first missionary tour in 13 and 14, the conference at Jerusalem in 15, the second missionary tour in 16 through 18, the third missionary tour and return to Jerusalem in 18 through 21, the arrest in Jerusalem and two years in Caesarea in 21 through 26, all come between 44 ad and the recall of Felix and the coming of Festus. It used to be taken for granted that Festus came in 60 ad. Wieseler figured it out so from Josephus and was followed by Lightfoot. But Eusebius, in his “Chronicle,” placed that event in the second year of Nero. That would be 56, unless Eusebius has a special way of counting those years Mr. C. H Turner (art. “Chronology” in HDB) finds that Eusebius counts an emperor's regnal year from the September following. If so, the date could be moved forward to 57 (compare Rackham on Acts, lxvi). But Ramsay (chapter xiv, “Pauline Chronology,” in Pauline and Other Studies) cuts the Gordian knot by showing an error in Eusebius due to his disregarding an interregnum with the reign of Mugs Ramsay here follows Erbes (Todestage Pauli und Petri in this discovery and is able to fix upon 59 as the date of the coming of Festus. Probably 59 will have to answer as a compromise date. Between 44 ad and 59 AD, therefore, we place the bulk of Paul's active missionary work. Luke has divided this period into minor divisions with relative dates. Thus a year and six months are mentioned at Corinth (Acts 18:11), besides “yet many days” (Acts 18:18). In Ephesus we find mention of “Three months” (Acts 19:8) and “two years” (Acts 19:10), the whole story summed up as “Three years” (Acts 20:31) Then we have the “two years” of delay in Caesarea (Acts 24:27). We thus have about seven of these fifteen years itemized. Much of the remaining eight was spent in the journeys described by Luke. We are told also the times of year when the voyage to Rome was under way (Acts 27:9), the length of the voyage (Acts 27:27), the duration of the stay in Melita (Acts 28:11), and the times spent in Rome at the close of the book, “two whole years” (Acts 28:30). Thus it is possible to fix upon a relative schedule of dates, though not an absolute one. Harnack (The Acts of the Apostles, chapter i, “Chronological Data”) has worked out a very careful scheme for the whole of Acts. Knowling has a good critical resume of the present state of our knowledge of the chronology of Acts in his Commentary, 38ff, compare also Clemen, Die Chronologie der paulinischen Briefe (1893). It is clear, then, that a rational scheme for events of Paul's career so far as recorded in the Acts can be found. If 57 AD, for instance, should be taken as the year of Festus coming rather than 59 or 60 ad, the other dates back to 44 ad would, of course, be affected on a sliding scale. Back of 44 ad the dates are largely conjectural.
XI. Historical Worth of Acts
It was once fashionable to discredit Acts as a book of no real value as history. The Tübingen school regarded Acts as “a late controversial romance, the only historical value of which was to throw light on the thought of the period which produced it” (Chase, The Credibility of Acts, 9). There are not wanting a few writers who still regard Acts as a late eirēnicon between the Peter and Paul parties, or as a party pamphlet in the interest of Paul. Somewhat fanciful parallels are found between Luke's treatment of both Peter and Paul “According to Holtzmann, the strongest argument for the critical position is the correspondence between the acts of Peter and the other apostles on the one rode and those of Paul on the other” (Headlam in HDB). But this matter seems rather far fetched. Peter is the leading figure in the early chapters, as Paul is in the latter half of the book, but the correspondences are not remarkably striking. There exists in some minds a prejudice against the book on the ground of the miracles recorded as genuine events by Luke. But Paul himself claimed to have wrought miracles (2 Corinthians 12:12). It is not scientific to rule a book out beforehand because it narrates miracles (Blass, Acta Apostolorum, 8). Ramsay (St. Paul the Traveler, 8) tells his experience in regard to the trustworthiness of Acts: “I began with a mind unfavorable to it, for the ingenuity and apparent completeness of the Tübingen theory had at one time quite convinced me.” It was by actual verification of Acts in points where it could be tested by inscriptions, Paul's epistles, or current non-Christian writers, that “it was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth.” He concludes by “placing this great writer on the high pedestal that belongs to him” (10). McGiffert (The Apostolic Age) had been compelled by the geographical and historical evidence to abandon in part the older criticism. He also admitted that the Acts “is more trustworthy than previous critics allowed” (Ramsay, Luke the Physician, 5). Schmiedel (Encyclopedia Biblica) still argues that the writer of Acts is inaccurate because he was not in possession of full information. But on the whole Acts has had a triumphant vindication in modern criticism. Jülicher (Einl, 355) admits “a genuine core overgrown with legendary accretions” (Chase, Credibility, 9). The moral honesty of Luke, his fidelity to truth (Rackham on Acts, 46), is clearly shown in both his Gospel and the Acts. This, after all, is the chief trait in the true historian (Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveler, 4). Luke writes as a man of serious purpose and is the one New Testament writer who mentions his careful use of his materials (Luke 1:1-4). His attitude and spent are those of the historian. He reveals artistic skill, it is true, but not to the discredit of his record. He does not give a bare chronicle, but he writes a real history, an interpretation of the events recorded. He had adequate resources in the way of materials and endowment and has made conscientious and skillful use of his opportunity. It is not necessary here to give in detail all the points in which Luke has been vindicated (see Knowling on Acts, Ramsay's books and Harnack's Luke and Acts). The most obvious are the following: The use of “proconsul” instead of “propraetor” in Acts 13:7 is a striking instance. Curiously enough Cyprus was not a senatorial province very long. An inscription has been found in Cyprus “in the proconsulship of Paulus.” The 'first men' of Antioch in Pisidia is like the (Acts 13:50) “First Ten,” a title which “was only given (as here) to a board of magistrates in Greek cities of the East” (MacLean in one-vol HDB). The “priest of Jupiter” at Lystra (Acts 14:13) is in accord with the known facts of the worship there. So we have Perga in Pamphylia (Acts 13:13), Antioch in Pisidia Acts 13:14), Lystra and Derbe in Lycaonia (Acts 14:6), but not Iconium (Acts 14:1). In Philippi Luke notes that the magistrates are called strategoí or praetors (Acts 16:20), and are accompanied by lictors or rhabdoú̄choi (Acts 16:35). In Thessalonica the rulers are “politarchs” (Acts 17:6), a title found nowhere else, but now discovered on an inscription of Thessalonica. He rightly speaks of the Court of the Areopagus at Athens (Acts 17:19) and the proconsul in Achaia (Acts 18:12). Though Athens was a free city, the Court of the Areopagus at the times were the real rulers. Achaia was sometimes associated with Macedonia, though at this time it was a separate senatorial province. In Ephesus Luke knows of the “Asiarchs” (Acts 19:31), “the presidents of the 'Common Council' of the province in cities where there was a temple of Rome and the Emperor; they superintended the worship of the Emperor” (Maclean). Note also the fact that Ephesus is “temple-keeper of the great Diana” (Acts 19:35). Then observe the town clerk (Acts 19:35), and the assembly (Acts 19:39). Note also the title of Felix, “governor” or procurator (Acts 24:1), Agrippa the king (Acts 25:13), Julius the centurion and the Augustan band (Acts 27:1). Acts 27 is a marvel of interest and accuracy for all who wish to know details of ancient seafaring. The matter has been worked over in a masterful way by James Smith, Voyage and Shipwreck of Paul. The title “First Man of the Island” (Acts 28:7) is now found on a coin of Melita. These are by no means all the matters of interest, but they will suffice. In most of the items given above Luke's veracity was once challenged, but now he has been triumphantly vindicated. The force of this vindication is best appreciated when one recalls the incidental nature of the items mentioned. They come from widely scattered districts and are just the points where in strange regions it is so easy to make slips. If space allowed, the matter could be set forth in more detail and with more justice to Luke's worth as a historian. It is true that in the earlier portions of the Acts we are not able to find so many geographical and historical corroborations. But the nature of the material did not call for the mention of so many places and persons. In the latter part Luke does not hesitate to record miraculous events also. His character as a historian is firmly established by the passages where outside contact has been found. We cannot refuse him a good name in the rest of the book, though the value of the sources used certainly cuts a figure. It has been urged that Luke breaks down as a historian in the double mention of Quirinius in Luke 2:2 and Acts 5:37. But Ramsay (Was Christ Born at Bethlehem?) has shown how the new knowledge of the census system of Augustus derived from the Egypt papyri is about to clear up this difficulty. Luke's general accuracy at least calls for suspense of judgment, and in the matter of Theudas and Judas the Galilean (Acts 5) Luke as compared with Josephus outclasses his rival. Harnack (The Acts of the Apostles, 203-29) gives in his usual painstaking way a number of examples of “inaccuracy and discrepancy” But the great bulk of them are merely examples of independence in narration (compare Acts 9 with 22 and 26, where we have three reports of Paul's conversion). Harnack did not, indeed, once place as high a value on Luke as a historian as he now does. It is all the more significant, therefore, to read the following in Harnack's The Acts of the Apostles (298 f): “The book has now been restored to the position of credit which is its rightful due. It is not only, taken as a whole, a genuinely historical work, but even in the majority of its details it is trustworthy.... Judged from almost every possible standpoint of historical criticism it is a solid, respectable, and in many respects an extraordinary work.” That is, in my opinion, an understatement of the facts (see Ramsay), but it is a remarkable conclusion concerning the trustworthiness of Luke when one considers the distance that Harnack has come. At any rate the prejudice against Luke is rapidly disappearing. The judgment of the future is forecast by Ramsay, who ranks Luke as a historian of the first order.
The question of authorship is largely bound up with that as to the historicity of the contents. Acts is divided into two distinct parts. The first (chs. 1–12) deals with the church in Jerusalem and Judaea, and with Peter as central figure—at any rate in the first five chapters. "Yet in cc. vi.-xii.," as Harnack observes,
the author pursues several lines at once.No doubt gaps abound in these seven chapters. "But the inquiry as to whether what is narrated does not even in these parts still contain the main facts, and is not substantially trustworthy, is not yet concluded." The difficulty is that there are few external means of testing this portion of the narrative. Some of it may have suffered partial transformation in oral tradition before reaching our author; for example, the nature of Speaking the Tongues at Pentecost does not accord with what is known of the gift of "tongues" generally. The second part pursues the history of the apostle Paul, and here the statements made in the Acts may be compared with the Epistles. The result is a general harmony, without any trace of direct use of these letters; and there are many minute coincidences. But attention has been drawn to two remarkable exceptions: the account given by Paul of his visits to Jerusalem in Galatians as compared with Acts; and the character and mission of the apostle Paul, as they appear in his letters and in Acts. In regard to the first point, the differences as to Paul's movements until he returns to his native province of Syria-Cilicia do not really amount to more than can be explained by the different interests of Paul and the author, respectively. But it is otherwise as regards the visits of Galatians 2:1-10 and Acts 15. If they are meant to refer to the same occasion, as is usually assumed, it is hard to see why Paul should omit reference to the public occasion of the visit, as also to the public vindication of his policy. But in fact the issues of the two visits, as given in Galatians 2:9f. and Acts 15:20f., are not at all the same. Nay more, if Galatians 2:1-10 = Acts 15, the historicity of the "Relief visit" of Acts 11:30, 12:25 seems definitely excluded by Paul's narrative of events before the visit of Galatians 2:1ff. Accordingly, Sir W. M. Ramsay and others argue that the latter visit itself coincided with the Relief visit, and even see in Galatians 2:10 witness thereto. But why does not Paul refer to the public charitable object of his visit? It seems easier to assume that the visit of Galatians 2:1ff. is altogether unrecorded in Acts, owing to its private nature as preparing the way for public developments—with which Acts is mainly concerned. In that case, it would fall shortly before the Relief visit, to which there may be tacit explanatory allusion, in Galatians 2:10; and it will be shown below that such a conference of leaders in Galatians 2:1ff. leads up excellently both to the First Mission Journey and to Acts 15. As for Paul as depicted in Acts, Paul claims that he was appointed the apostle to the Gentiles, as Peter was to the Circumcision; and that circumcision and the observance of the Jewish law were of no importance to the Christian as such. His words on these points in all his letters are strong and decided. But in Acts, it is Peter who first opens up the way for the Gentiles. It is Peter who uses the strongest language in regard to the intolerable burden of the Law as a means of salvation (15:10f., cf. 1). Not a word is said of any difference of opinion between Peter and Paul at Antioch (Galatians 2:11ff.). The brethren in Antioch send Paul and Barnabas up to Jerusalem to ask the opinion of the apostles and elders: they state their case, and carry back the decision to Antioch. Throughout the whole of Acts, Paul never stands forth as the unbending champion of the Gentiles. He seems continually anxious to reconcile the Jewish Christians to himself by personally observing the law of Moses. He circumcises the semi-Jew, Timothy; and he performs his vows in the temple. He is particularly careful in his speeches to show how deep is his respect for the law of Moses. In all this, the letters of Paul are very different from Acts. In Galatians, he claims perfect freedom in principle, for himself as for the Gentiles, from the obligatory observance of the law; and neither in it nor in Corinthians does he take any notice of a decision to which the apostles had come in their meeting at Jerusalem. The narrative of Acts, too, itself implies something other than what it sets in relief; for why should the Jews hate Paul so much, if he was not in some sense disloyal to their Law? This is not necessarily a contradiction; only such a difference of emphasis as belongs to the standpoints and aims of the two writers amid their respective historical conditions. Peter's function toward the Gentiles belongs to early conditions present in Judaea, before Paul's distinctive mission had taken shape. Once Paul's apostolate—a personal one, parallel with the more collective apostolate of "the Twelve"—has proved itself by tokens of Divine approval, Peter and his colleagues frankly recognize the distinction of the two missions, and are anxious only to arrange that the two shall not fall apart by religiously and morally incompatible usages (Acts 15). Paul, on his side, clearly implies that Peter felt with him that the Law could not justify (Galatians 2:15ff.), and argues that it could not now be made obligatory in principle (cf. "a yoke," Acts 15:10); yet for Jews it might continue for the time (pending the Parousia) to be seemly and expedient, especially for the sake of non-believing Judaism. To this he conformed his own conduct as a Jew, so far as his Gentile apostolate was not involved (1 Corinthians 9:19ff.). There is no reason to doubt that Peter largely agreed with him, since he acted in this spirit in Galatians 2:11f., until coerced by Jerusalem sentiment to draw back for expediency's sake. This incident simply did not fall within the scope of Acts to narrate, since it had no abiding effect on the Church's extension. As to Paul's submission of the issue in Acts 15 to the Jerusalem conference, Acts does not imply that Paul would have accepted a decision in favor of the Judaizers, though he saw the value of getting a decision for his own policy in the quarter where they were most likely to defer. If the view that he already had an understanding with the "Pillar" Apostles, as recorded in Galatians 2:1-10, be correct, it gives the best of reasons why he was ready to enter the later public Conference of Acts 15. Paul's own "free" attitude to the Law, when on Gentile soil, is just what is implied by the hostile rumors as to his conduct in Acts 21:21, which he would be glad to disprove as at least exaggerated (vv. 24 and 26). (Questions and evidence of historicity are presented in Colin J. Hemer, "The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History", Eisenbrauns, 1990)
- (1) He has still in view the history of the Jerusalem community and the original apostles (especially of Peter and his missionary labors);
- (2) he inserts in vi. 1 ff. a history of the Hellenistic Christians in Jerusalem and of the Seven Men, which from the first tends towards the Gentile Mission and the founding of the Antiochene community;
- (3) he pursues the activity of Philip in Samaria and on the coast...;
- (4) lastly, he relates the history of Paul up to his entrance on the service of the young Antiochene church. In the small space of seven chapters he pursues all these lines and tries also to connect them together, at the same time preparing and sketching the great transition of the Gospel from Judaism to the Greek world. As historian, he has here set himself the greatest task.
XII. Purpose of the Book
A great deal of discussion has been given to Luke's aim in the Acts. Baur's theory was that this book was written to give a conciliatory view of the conflict between Peter and Paul, and that a minute parallelism exists in the Acts between these two heroes. This tendency theory once held the critical field, but it does not take into view all the facts, and fails to explain the book as a whole. Peter and Paul are the heroes of the book as they undoubtedly were the two chief personalities in apostolic history (compare Wendt, Apostelgeschichte, 17). There is some parallelism between the careers of the two men (compare the worship offered Peter at Caesarea in Acts 10:25, and that to Paul in Acts 14:11; see also the punishment of Ananias and Sapphira and that of Elymas). But Knowling (Acts, 16) well replies that curiously no use is made of the death of both Peter and Paul in Rome, possibly at the same time. If the Acts was written late, this matter would be open to the knowledge of the writer. There is in truth no real effort on Luke's part to paint Paul like Peter or Peter like Paul. The few similarities in incident are merely natural historical parallels. Others have seen in the Acts a strong purpose to conciliate Gentile (pagan) opinion in the fact that the Roman governors and military officers are so uniformly presented as favorable to Paul, while the Jews are represented as the real aggressors against Christianity (compare Josephus' attitude toward Rome). Here again the fact is beyond dispute. But the other explanation is the more natural, namely, that Luke brings out this aspect of the matter because it was the truth. Compare B. Weiss, Einl, 569. Luke does have an eye on the world relations of Christianity and rightly reflects Paul's ambition to win the Roman Empire to Christ (see Rom 15), but that is not to say that he has given the book a political bias or colored it so as to deprive it of its historical worth. It is probably true (compare Knowling, Acts, 15; J. Weiss, Ueber die Absicht und den literarischen Charakter der Apostelgeschichte) that Luke felt, as did Paul, that Judaism realized its world destiny in Christianity, that Christianity was the true Judaism, the spiritual and real Israel. If Luke wrote Acts in Rome, while Paul's case was still before Nero, it is easy to understand the somewhat long and minute account of the arrest and trials of Paul in Jerusalem, Caesarea and Rome. The point would be that the legal aspect of Christianity before Roman laws was involved. Hitherto Christianity had found shelter as a sect of Judaism, and so was passed by Gallio in Corinth as a religio licita. If Paul was condemned as a Christian, the whole aspect of the matter would be altered. Christianity would at once become religio illicita. The last word in the Acts comments on the fact that Paul, though still a prisoner, was permitted to preach unhindered. The importance of this point is clearly seen as one pushes on to the Neronian persecution in 64. After that date Christianity stood apart from Judaism in the eye of Rome. I have already stated my belief that Luke closed the Acts when he did and as he did because the events with Paul had only gone thus far. Numerous scholars hold that Luke had in mind a third book (Acts 1:1), a possible though by no means necessary inference from “first treatise.” It was a climax to carry the narrative on to Rome with Paul, but it is rather straining the point to find all this in Acts 1:8. Rome was not “the nethermost part of the earth,” Spain more nearly being that. Nor did Paul take the gospel to Rome. Besides, to make the arrival of Paul in Rome the goal in the mind of Christ is too narrowing a purpose. The purpose to go to Rome did dominate Paul's mind for several years (Acts 19:21), but Paul cuts no figure in the early part of the book. And Paul wished to push on from Rome to Spain (Romans 15:24). It is probably true that Luke means to announce his purpose in Acts 1:1-8. One needs to keep in mind also Luke 1:1-4. There are various ways of writing history. Luke chooses the biographical method in Acts. Thus he conceives that he can best set forth the tremendous task of interpreting the first thirty years of the apostolic history. It is around persons (compare Harnack, The Acts of the Apostles, 117), two great figures (Peter and Paul), that the narrative is focused. Peter is most prominent in Acts 1 through 12, Paul in Acts 13:1 through 28. Still Paul's conversion is told in Acts 9 and Peter reappears in Acts 15. But these great personages do not stand alone. John the Apostle is certainly with Peter in the opening chapters. The other apostles are mentioned also by name (Acts 1:13) and a number of times in the first twelve chapters (and in Acts 15). But after Acts 15 they drop out of the narrative, for Luke follows the fortunes of Paul. The other chief secondary figures in Acts are Stephen, Philip, Barnabas, James, Apollos, all Hellenists save James (Harnack, 120). The minor characters are numerous (John, Mark, Silas, Timothy, Aquila and Priscilla, Aristarchus, etc.). In most cases Luke gives a distinct picture of these incidental personages. In particular he brings out sharply such men as Gallio, Claudius, Lysias, Felix, Festus, Herod, Agrippa I and II, Julius. Luke's conception of the apostolic history is that it is the work of Jesus still carried on by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:1). Christ chose the apostles, commanded them to wait for power from on high, filled them with the Holy Spirit and then sent them on the mission of world conquest. In the Acts Luke records the waiting, the coming of the Holy Spirit, the planting of a powerful church in Jerusalem and the expansion of the gospel to Samaria and all over the Roman Empire. He addresses the book to Theophilus as his patron, a Gentile Christian plainly, as he had done with his gospel. The book is designed for the enlightenment of Christians generally concerning the historic origins of Christianity. It is in truth the first church history. It is in reality the Acts of the Holy Spirit as wrought through these men. It is an inspiring narration. Luke had no doubt whatever of the future of a gospel with such a history and with such heroes of faith as Peter and Paul.
Plan and purpose
It is widely agreed that Acts is the work of a skilled author, and that he has exercised care in keeping with a definite purpose and plan.
- His second narrative is the natural sequel to his first. The Gospel of Luke set forth in orderly sequence the stages by which Jesus was led, "in the power of the Spirit," to begin the establishment of the consummated Kingdom of God. In the same way, Acts aims at showing how the apostles were led in sequential stages by the Holy Spirit. This involves emphasis on the identity of the divine (not merely human) power expressed in the accounts. Whereas the Gospel of Luke begins in Galilee and narrates the journey of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, Acts begins in Jerusalem and narrates the journey to Rome. Both books use the spread of the Gospel to the Gentiles as an over-arching theme.
- The Holy Spirit appears as directing and energizing throughout the apostles' whole struggle with the powers of evil to be overcome; however, it also shows how human effort must be brought forth to overcome evil. The working of the energy in the disciples is conditioned by the continued life and volition of their Master at His Father's right hand in heaven. The Holy Spirit, "the Spirit of Jesus", is the living link between Master and disciples. Hence the pains taken to exhibit (1:2, 4f., 8, 2:1ff.; cf. Luke 24:49) the fact of such spiritual solidarity, whereby their activity means His continued action in the world.
- The scope of this action is nothing less than humanity (2:5ff.), especially within the Roman Empire. It was commanded that Messiah's witnesses should go, through divine power, to all the world to spread the Gospel (see Acts 1:8 and also Matthew 28:19-20). The book of Acts was written partially to show how this was accomplished in the early years of the church.
- Finally, as we gather from the parallel account in Luke 24:46-48, the book was designed to show the divinely appointed method for victory through suffering (Acts 14:22). This explains the large space devoted in Acts to the witnesses' tribulations, and their persistence despite tribulation, thus imitating the example of their Lord. Acts emphasizes their witness despite the absence of earthly prosperity, which to the pagan mind was a token of Divine approval.
These, then, seem to be the author's main points: the Gospel is universal; divine initiative led men of Jewish birth to gradually recognize the divine will in the tearing down of national boundaries; and that although difficulty will befall those who attempt to spread the gospel, they shall overcome through the power of the Holy Spirit.
This view has the merit of giving the book a practical religious aim. Though meant for men of pagan birth, it is as inquirers or even converts, such as "Theophilus", that the argument (that in spite of all difficulties, this religion is worthy of personal belief) is addressed. Among the reasons why such an appeal was needed were doubtlessly the existence of persecution by the Roman authorities, often at the instigation of local Judaism. The author holds up the picture of early days, when the great protagonist of the Gospel constantly enjoyed protection at the hands of Roman justice, as a sort of banner of hope. It is implied that the present distress is but a passing phase, resting on some misunderstanding; meantime, the example of apostolic constancy should yield strong reassurance.
1. The Connection Between the Work of the Apostles and That of Jesus (Acts 1:1-11)
2. The Equipment of the Early Disciples for Their Task (Acts 1:12 Through 2:47)
- (a) The disciples obeying Christ's parting command (Acts 1:12 -44)
- (b) The place of Judas filled (Acts 1:15-26)
- (c) Miraculous manifestations of the presence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-13)
- (d) Peter's interpretation of the situation (Acts 2:14-36)
- (e) The immediate effect of the sermon (Acts 2:37-41)
- (f) The new spirit in the Christian community (Acts 2:42-47)
3. The Development of the Work in Jerusalem (Acts 3:1 Through 8:1a)
- (a) An incident in the work of Peter and John with Peter's apologetic (Acts 3)
- (b) Opposition of the Sadducees aroused by the preaching of the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 4:1-31)
- (c) An internal difficulty, the problem of poverty (Acts 4:32 through 5:11)
- (d) Great progress of the cause in the city (Acts 5:12-16)
- (e) Renewed hostility of the Sadducees and Gamaliel's retort to the Pharisees (Acts 5:17-42)
- (f) A crisis in church life and the choice of the seven Hellenists (Acts 6:1-7)
- (g) Stephen's spiritual interpretation of Christianity stirs the antagonism of the Pharisees and leads to his violent death (Acts 6:8 through 8:1a)
4. The Compulsory Extension of the Gospel to Judea, Samaria and the Neighboring Regions (Acts 8:1b-40)
- (a) The great persecution, with Saul as leader (Acts 8:1-4)
- (b) Philip's work as a notable example of the work of the scattered disciples (Acts 8:5-40)
5. The Conversion of Saul Changes the Whole Situation for Christianity (Acts 9:1-31)
- (a) Saul's mission to Damascus (Acts 9:1-3)
- (b) Saul stopped in his hostile course and turns Christian himself (Acts 9:4-18)
- (c) Saul becomes a powerful exponent of the gospel in Damascus and Jerusalem (Acts 9:19-30)
- (d) The church has peace (Acts 9:31)
6. The Door Opened to the Gentiles, Both Roman and Greek (Acts 9:32 Through 11:30)
- (a) Peter's activity in this time of peace (Acts 9:32-43)
- (b) The appeal from Cornelius in Caesarea and Peter's response (Acts 10)
- (c) Peter's arraignment before the Pharisaic element in the church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:1-18)
- (d) Greeks in Antioch are converted and Barnabas brings Saul to this work (Acts 11:19-26)
- (e) The Greek Christians send relief to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30)
7. Persecution from the Civil Government (Acts 12)
- (a) Herod Agrippa I kills James and imprisons Peter (Acts 12:1-19)
- (b) Herod pays the penalty for his crimes (Acts 12:20-23)
- (c) Christianity prospers (Acts 12:24)
8. The Gentile Propaganda from Antioch Under the Leadership of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 13 Through 14)
- (a) The specific call of the Holy Spirit to this work (Acts 13:1-3)
- (b) The province of Cyprus and the leadership of Paul (Acts 13:4-12)
- (c) The province of Pamphylia and the desertion of John Mark (Acts 13:13)
- (d) The province of Galatia (Pisidia and Lycaonia) and the stronghold of the gospel upon the native population (Acts 13:14 through 14:24)
- (e) The return and report to Antioch (Acts 14:25-28)
9. The Gentile Campaign Challenged by the Judaizers (Acts 15:1-35)
- (a) They meet Paul and Barnabas at Antioch who decide to appeal to Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-3)
- (b) The first public meeting in Jerusalem (Acts 15:4)
- (c) The second and more extended discussion with the decision of the conference (Acts 15:6-29)
- (d) The joyful reception (in Antioch) of the victory of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:30-35)
10. The Second Great Campaign Extending to Europe (Acts 15:36 Through 18:22)
- (a) The breach between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark (Acts 15:36-39)
- (b) From Antioch to Troas with the Macedonian Cry (Acts 15:40 through 16:10)
- (c) In Philippi in Macedonia the gospel gains a foothold in Europe, but meets opposition (Acts 16:11-40)
- (d) Paul is driven also from Thessalonica and Berea (compare Philippi), cities of Macedonia also (Acts 17:1-15)
- (e) Paul's experience in Athens (Acts 17:16-34)
- (f) In Corinth Paul spends nearly two years and the cause of Christ wins legal recognition from the Roman governor (Acts 18:1-17)
- (g) The return to Antioch by way of Ephesus, Caesarea and probably Jerusalem (Acts 18:18-22)
11. The Third Great Tour, with Ephesus as Headquarters (Acts 18:23 Through 20:3)
- (a) Paul in Galatia and Phrygia again (Acts 18:23)
- (b) Apollos in Ephesus before Paul comes (Acts 18:24-28)
- (c) Paul's three years in Ephesus (Acts 19:1 through 20:1a)
- (d) The brief visit to Corinth because of the troubles there (Acts 20:1-3)
12. Paul Turns to Jerusalem Again with Plans for Rome (Acts 20:4 Through 21:16)
- (a) His companions (Acts 20:4)
- (b) Rejoined by Luke at Philippi (Acts 20:5)
- (c) The story of Troas (Acts 20:7-12)
- (d) Coasting along Asia (Acts 20:13-16)
- (e) with the Ephesian elders at Miletus (Acts 20:17-38)
- (f) From Miletus to Tyre (Acts 21:1-6)
- (g) From Tyre to Caesarea (Acts 21:7-14)
- (h) From Caesarea to Jerusalem (Acts 21:15)
13. The Outcome in Jerusalem (Acts 21:15 Through 23:30)
- (a) Paul's reception by the brethren (Acts 21:15-17)
- (b) Their proposal of a plan by Which Paul could undo the work of the Judaizers concerning him in Jerusalem (Acts 21:18-26)
- (c) The uproar in the temple courts raised by the Jews from Asia as Paul Was carrying out the plan to disarm the Judaizers (Acts 21:27-30)
- (d) Paul's rescue by the Roman captain and Paul's defense to the Jewish mob (Acts 21:31 through 22:23)
- (e) Examination of the chief captain (Acts 22:24-29)
- (f) Brought before the Sanhedrin (Acts 22:30 through 23:10)
- (g) Cheered by the Lord Jesus (Acts 23:11)
- (h) Paul's escape from the plot of Jewish conspirators (Acts 23:12-30)
14. Paul A Prisoner in Caesarea (Acts 23:31-26:32)
- (a) The flight to Caesarea and presentation to Felix (Acts 23:31-35)
- (b) Paul's appearance before Felix (Acts 24)
- (c) Paul before Festus (Acts 25:1-12)
- (d) Paul, as a matter of curiosity and courtesy, brought before Herod Agrippa II (Acts 25:13 through 26:32)
15. Paul Going to Rome (Acts 27:1 Through 28:15)
- (a) From Caesarea to Myra (Acts 27:1-5)
- (b) From Myra to Fair Havens (Acts 27:6-8)
- (c) From Fair Havens to Malta (Acts 27:9 through 28:10)
- (d) From Malta to Rome (Acts 28:11-15)
16. Paul in Rome At Last (Acts 28:16-31)
- (a) His quarters (Acts 28:16)
- (b) His first interview with the Jews (Acts 28:17-22)
- (c) His second interview with the Jews (Acts 28:23-28)
- (d) Two years afterward still a prisoner, but with freedom to preach the gospel (Acts 28:30)
The structure of the book of Luke is closely tied with the structure of Acts. Both books are most easily tied to the geography of the book. Luke begins with a global perspective, dating the birth of Jesus to the reign of the Roman emperors in Luke 2:1 and 3:1. From there we see Jesus' ministry move from Galilee (chapters 4–9), through Samaria and Judea (chs. 10-19), to Jerusalem where he is crucified, raised and ascended into heaven (chs. 19-24).
The book of Acts follows just the opposite motion, taking the scene from Jerusalem (chs. 1-5), to Judea and Samaria (chs. 6-9), then traveling through Syria, Asia Minor, and Europe towards Rome (chs. 9-28). This chiastic structure emphasizes the centrality of the resurrection and ascension to Luke's message, while emphasizing the universal nature of the gospel.
This geographic structure is foreshadowed in Acts 1:8, where Jesus says "You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem (chs. 1–5), and in all Judea and Samaria (chs. 6-9), and even to the remotest part of the earth (chs. 10-28)." The first two sections (chs. 1-9) represent the witness of the apostles to the Jews, while the last section (chs. 10-28) represent the witness of the apostles to the Gentiles.
The book of Acts can also be broken down by the major characters of the book. While the complete title of the book is the Acts of the Apostles, really the book focuses on only two of the apostles: Peter (chs. 1-12) and Paul (chs. 13-28).
Within this structure, the sub-points of the book are marked by a series of summary statements, or what one commentary calls a "progress report". Just before the geography of the scene shifts to a new location, Luke summarizes how the gospel has impacted that location. The standard for these progress reports is in 2:46-47, where Luke describes the impact of the gospel on the new church in Jerusalem. The remaining progress reports are located:
- Acts 6:7 Impact of the gospel in Jerusalem.
- Acts 9:31 Impact of the gospel in Judea and Samaria.
- Acts 12:24 Impact of the gospel in Syria.
- Acts 16:5 Impact of the gospel in Asia Minor.
- Acts 19:20 Impact of the gospel in Europe.
- Acts 28:31 Impact of the gospel on Rome.
This structure can be also seen as a series of concentric circles, where the gospel begins in the center, Jerusalem, and is expanding ever outward to Judea & Samaria, Syria, Asia Minor, Europe, and eventually to Rome.
Acts focuses on the work of the Holy Spirit among believers after Jesus' resurrection and ascension to heaven. Jesus promised his apostles:
- Baptism with the Holy Spirit (1:5; cf Mark 1:8, Matthew 3:11, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, John 4:2, John 20:22) and
- Power from the Holy Spirit to be witnesses to the farthest part of the earth (1:8, cf Luke 24:47-49, Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15).
The promised baptism of the Holy Spirit arrives for the Jewish-Christian church on the Day of Pentecost, and is revealed as such to Peter during the conversion of the gentile Cornelius (11:15-16). Arrival of the Holy Spirit begins the process of witnessing, which results in the growth and spread of the Church despite (and because of) official persecution. The power provided by the Holy Spirit for witnessing at Pentecost was the ability to speak in every language known to the then Judeo-Roman world (2:8-11).
Acts narrates the inclusion of the gentile Greeks, Romans and other pagans of the Near East into the Church (and explains how this became possible), and focuses on the lives of the apostles, specifically Simon, called "Peter" of Galilee (who followed and lived with Jesus for probably three years) and Saul Paulus of Tarsus (who began as a Pharisee and a persecutor of the Church and was converted later on the Road to Damascus).
Generally speaking, the book is a historical account of the early years of the church. It focuses mainly on the activities of Peter and Paul. It records the history of the Jerusalem Church as led by James the Just from its inception with about 120 members (1:15) composed of Jews and Proselytes, to Peter baptizing Cornelius (10:44), who is traditionally considered the first Gentile convert, to the Council of Jerusalem (15), to James challenging Paul on the rumor that he aims to subvert the Law of Moses (21:18), to Paul's arrest in Jerusalem.
Internal evidence shows that it was the companion and sequel of the Gospel of Luke (for instance, they are both addressed to Theophilus, and it opens with the author mentioning his "former treatise".). Its separation from that gospel occurred prior to any surviving manuscript. Historically it is of unique interest and value, being the only actual account of the earliest history of the Christian church. Without it, a connected picture of the Apostolic Age would be impossible. With it, Paul's letters are of priceless historical value; without it, they would be incomplete or even misleading.
The place of composition is still an open question. For some time Rome and Antioch have been in favor, and Blass combined both views in his theory of two editions. But internal evidence points strongly to the Roman province of Asia, particularly the neighborhood of Ephesus. Note the confident local allusion in 19:9 to "the school of Tyrannus" and in 19:33 to "Alexander"; also the very minute topography in 20:13-15. At any rate affairs in that region, including the future of the church of Ephesus (20:28-30), are treated as though they would specially interest "Theophilus" and his circle; also an early tradition makes Luke die in the adjacent Bithynia. Finally it was in this region that there arose certain early glosses (e.g., 19:9, 20:15), probably the earliest of those referred to below. How fully in correspondence with such an environment the work would be, as apologia for the Church against the Synagogue's attempts to influence Roman policy to its harm, must be clear to all familiar with the strength of Judaism in Asia (cf. Revelation 2:9, Revelation 3:9; and see Sir W. M. Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches, ch. xii.).
The use of "we" at some points in the book suggests its author was an eyewitness to some of the events he describes.
Quellenkritik, a distinctive feature of recent research upon Acts, solves many difficulties in the way of treating it as an honest narrative by a companion of Paul. In addition, we may also count among recent gains a juster method of judging such a book. For among the results of the Tübingen criticism was what Dr. W. Sanday calls "an unreal and artificial standard, the standard of the 19th century rather than the 1st, of Germany rather than Palestine, of the lamp and the study rather than of active life." This has a bearing, for instance, on the differences between the three accounts of Paul's conversion in Acts. In the recovery of a more real standard, we owe much to men like Theodor Mommsen, Ramsay, Friedrich Blass and Harnack, trained amid other methods and traditions than those which had brought the constructive study of Acts almost to a deadlock.
Besides the works referred to above see Wendt's edition of Meyer's Kommentar (1899); Headlam in HDB; Knowling on Acts in Expositor's Greek Testament (1900); Knowling, Witness of the Epistles (1892), Testimony of Paul to Christ (1905); Moffatt, Historical New Testament (1901).
Here is a selected list of important works:
Bacon, Introduction to the New Testament (1900); Bennett and Adeney, Biblical Introduction (1899); Bleek, Einleitung in das New Testament (4 Aufl, 1900); S. Davidson, (3rd edition, 1894); C. R. Gregory, Canon and Text of the New Testament (1907), H. J. Holtzmann, Einleitung in das New Testament (3 Aufl, 1892), Jacquies, Histoire des livres du New Testament (1905-8); Jülicher, Introduction to the New Testament (translation, 1904); Peaks, Critical Introduction to the New Testament (1909); Reuss, Canon of the Holy Scriptures (translation, 1886); Salmon, Hist Introduction to the Study of the Books of the New Testament (7th edition, 1896), von Soden, The History of Early Christian Lit. (translation, 1906), B. Weiss, A Manual of Introduction to the New Testament (translation, 1889), Westcott, History of the Canon of the New Testament (1869), Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament (translation, 1909), Moffatt, Introduction to the Lit. of the New Testament (1911).
See general works on textual criticism of the New Testament (Gregory, Kenyon, Nestle, Tischendorf, Scrivener, von Soden, B. Weiss, Westcott, etc.). Of special treatises note Blass, Philology of the Gospels (1898). Acta Apostolorum (1895); Bornemann, Acta Apostolorum (1848); Chase, Old Syriac Element in the Text of Codex Bezae (1893), Corssen, Der cyprianische Text der Acta Apostolorum (1892); Klostermann, Probleme im Apostel Texts (1883), Klostermann, Vindiciae Lucanae (1866); Nestle, Philologia (1896); J. Rendel Harris, Study Codex Bezae (1891).
3. Apostolic History
For literature on the life of Paul see Robertson, Epochs in the Life of Paul (1909), 321-27, and article PAUL in this encyclopedia. Important general works are the following: Bartlet, The Apostolie Age (1899); Baumgarten, The Apostolic History (translation, 1854); Blunt, Studies in the Apostolic Age (1909); Burton, Records and Letters of the Apostolic Age (1895); Doellinger, The First Age of the Church (translation, 1867); Dobschütz, Christian Life in the Primitive Church (translation, 1904); Ewald, History of the Apostolic Times (translation, Vol VI in History of Israel); Farrar, Early Days of Christianity (1887); Fisher, The Beginnings of Christianity (1877); Gilbert, Christianity in the Apostolic Age (1908); Harnack, The Expansion of Christianity in the First three Centuries (translation, 1904-5); Hausrath, Neut. Zeitgeschichte (Bd. 2, 1872); Heinrici, Das Urchristentum (1902); Holtzmann, Neut. Zeitgeschichte (1895); Hort, Judaistic Christianity (1898); Organization of the Early Christian Churches (1895); Lechler, The Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Times (translation, 1886); Lightfoot, Dissertations on the Apostolic Age (1892); Lindsay, The Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries (1902); McGiffert, A History of Christianity in the Apostolic Age (1897); Neander, History of the Planting and Training of the Christian Church (1889); Pfleiderer, Christian Origins (1906), Pressonse, The Early Years of Christianity (1870); Purves, Christianity in the Apostolic Age (1901), Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire (1893); Ritschl, Die Entstehung der altkath. Kirche (1857); Ropes, The Apostolic Age in the Light of Modern Criticism (1906); Weizsäcker, The Apostolic Age of the Christian Church (translation, 1894-95); Pictures of the Apostolic Church (1910).
4. Special Treatises on the Acts
Belser, Beitrage zur Erklarung der Apostelgeschichte (1897); Benson, Addresses on the Acts of the Apostles (1901); Bethge, Die paulinischen Reden der Apostelgeschichte (1887); Blass, Acta Apostolorum secundum Formam quae videtur Romanam (1896); Chase, The Credibility of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles (1902); Clemen, Die Apostelgeschichte, im Lichte der neueren Forschungen (1905); Fiene, Eine vorkanonische Nebenlieferung des Lukas in Evangelium und Apostelgeschichte (1891); Harnack, Luke, the Physician (translation, 1907); The Acts of the Apostles (1909); Hilgenfeld, Acta Apostolorum Graece et Latine (1899); Jungst, Die Quellen der Apostelgeschichte (1895); Krenkel, Josephus und Lucas (1894); Luckok, Footprints of the Apostles as Traced by Luke in the Acts (1897); J. Lightfoot, Hebrew and Talmudical Exercitations on the Acts of the Apostles (1768); Paley, Horae Paulinae (Birks edition, 1850); Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveler (1896); Pauline and Other Studies (1906); Cities of Paul (1908), Luke the Physician, and Other Studies (1908); J. Smith, Voyage and Shipwreck of Paul (4th edition, 1880); Sorof, Die Entstehung der Apostelgeschichte (1890); Spitta, Die Apostelgeschichte, ihre Quellen und deren geschichtlicher Worth (1891); Stiffler, An Introduction to the Book of Acts (1892); Vogel, Zur Characteristik des Lukas nach Sprache und Stil (1897); J. Weiss, Ueber die Absicht und die literarischen Charakter der Apostelgeschichte (1897); Zeller, The Contents and Origin of the Acts of the Apostles (translation, 1875); Maurice Jones, Paul the Orator (1910).
There are the great standard works like Bede, Bengel, Calvin, Chrysostom, Grotius. The chief modern commentaries are the following: Alexander (1857), Alloral (6th edition, 1868), Bartlet (1901), Blass (Acta Apostolorum, 1895), Ewald (Apostelgeschichte, 1871), Felten (Apostelgeschichte, 1892), Hackett (1882), Holtzmann (Hand-Commentar, 3 Aufl, 1901), Knabenbauer (Actus Apostol, 1899), Knowling (Expositor's Greek Text, 1900), Luthardt and Zoeckler (Apostelgeschichte, 2nd edition, 1894), McGarvey (1892), Meyer (translation by Gloag and Dickson, 1885), Meyer-Wendt (Apostelgeschichte, 1888), Noesgen (Apostelgeschichte, 1882), Olshausen (1832), Page (1897), Rackham (1901), Rendall, (1897), Stokes (1892), B. Weiss (Apostelgeschichte, 1892, 2nd edition).