the Second Week of Lent
Click to donate today!
The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
by Editor - Joseph Exell
§ 1. OBJECT AND PLAN OF THE BOOK
THE most ancient title of the book, as given in the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Bezae — Πραìξεις ἀποστοìλων; and properly rendered, both in the Authorized and the Revised Versions, "The Acts of the Apostles" — though probably not given to it by the author, sufficiently exposes its general object, viz. give a faithful and authentic record of the doings of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, after he had ascended into heaven, leaving them as his responsible agents to carry on the building of his Church on earth. is obvious that, if the authoritative Christian documents had ended with the Gospels, we should have been left without any sufficient guidance in regard to a multitude of important questions of the utmost moment to the Church in all ages. We should have had, indeed, the record of the life and death, the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus; but as to how the holy Catholic Church, of which he was the Divine Founder, was to be compacted together, how the Lord Jesus would carry on from heaven the work which he had begun on earth, what should be the functions of the Holy Ghost, how the cry of God was to be ruled, how the evangelization of the world was to be carried on from age to age, — we should have known almost nothings. This second "treatise," therefore, which in St. Luke's design was a following up of his own Gospel, but in the design of the Holy Ghost was the sequel of the four Gospels, was a most necessary supplement to the histories of the life of Christ.
But beyond this general object, a closer inspection of the book reveals a more particular purpose, in which the mind of the author and the purpose of the Holy Ghost seem to coincide.
The true way to judge of the purpose of any book is to see what the book actually tells us, as it is to be presumed that the execution corresponds with the design. Now, "The Acts of the Apostles" gives us the history of the apostles, generally, to a very limited extent. After the first chapters, which relate with such power the founding of the Church at Jerusalem, it tells us very little of the work of further evangelization among the Jews; it tells us very little of the history of the mother Church of Jerusalem. After the first chapter, the only apostles named at all are Peter, James, John, and James the Less. And of their work, after those first chapters, we learn only so much as bears upon the admission of Gentiles into the Church of Christ. Peter and John go to Samaria to confirm the converts made there. Peter is sent from Joppa to the house of Cornelius the centurion, to preach the gospel to the Gentiles; and afterwards declares to the assembled Church the mission which he had received, which led to the assent of the brethren in Judaea, expressed in the words, "Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18). The apostles and elders come together to consider the question of the circumcision of Gentile converts, and Peter and James take a prominent part in the discussion and in the decision of the question. The preaching of the gospel by Philip to the Samaritans and to the Ethiopian eunuch, and the conversion of a great number of Greeks at Antioch, are other incidents recorded in the early part of the book, which bear directly upon the admission of the Gentiles into the Church of Christ. And when it is remembered how very brief these early chapters are, and what an extremely small portion of the actions of Peter and James the Less, compared with their whole apostolic work, these incidents must have made up, it already becomes manifest that the history of Gentile Christianity was the main object which St. Luke had in view. But the history of the conversion of the Gentiles to the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, and their admission into the Church as fellow-heirs with Israel, and of the same body, and partakers of God's promise in Christ, through the preaching of the great apostle of the Gentiles, is avowedly the subject of the last sixteen chapters of the book. From Antioch the capital of the East, to Rome the capital of the West, the writer traces in these chapters the wonderful history of Gentile Christianity through about twenty years of the eventful life of St. Paul, during the last eleven or twelve of which he was himself his companion. Here, then, we have a confirmation of what even the first part of the Acts disclosed as to the writer's purpose; and we are able to frame a theory consistent in itself and with the known facts as to the object of the book. Assuming the authorship of St. Luke and his Gentile birth (see below, § 2), we have an author to whom the progress of Gentile Christianity would be a matter of supreme interest.
This interest, no doubt, attached him, when an opportunity presented itself, to the mission of the apostle to the Gentiles. Being a man of education and of cultivated mind, the idea of recording what he had seen of St. Paul's work would naturally occur to him; and this again would connect itself
with his general interest in the progress of the gospel among the nations of the earth; while, having already written a history of the life and death of Jesus, in which his special interest in the Gentiles is very apparent (Luke 2:32; Luke 13:29; Luke 14:23; Luke 15:11; Luke 20:16), he would, as a matter of course, connect his new work with the former one.
But assuming that his object was to write the history of Gentile Christianity, it is obvious that the history of the first preaching of the gospel at Jerusalem was necessary, both to connect his second work with the first, and also because in point of fact the mission to the Gentiles sprang from the mother Church at Jerusalem. The existence and establishment of the Jewish Church was the root from which the Gentile Churches grew; and the Gentile Churches had a common interest with the Jewish in those first great events — the election of an apostle in the place of Judas, the descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, the preaching of Peter and John, the appoint-meat of deacons, and the martyrdom of Stephen, at which last event the great figure of St. Paul first came upon the stage.
So that, in assuming St. Luke's purpose in writing the Acts to be to give the history of Gentile Christianity, we are supported both by the actual features of the book before us, and by the probability that his own position as a Gentile Christian, as the companion of St. Paul, and as the friend of Theophilus, would give birth to such a design.
It is no less apparent how the hand of Divine providence and inspiration moved him to this choice. St. Luke could not possibly know of himself that the Church of the circumcision would come to an end within a few years of the time at which he was writing, but that the Church of the uncircumcision would go on growing and spreading and increasing through more than eighteen centuries. But God did know it. And therefore it came to pass that this record of evangelical work in heathen countries has been preserved to us, while the work of the apostle of the circumcision and of his brethren has been suffered to fade from remembrance.
§ 2. AUTHOR OF THE BOOK.
We have, in the preceding section, assumed St. Luke to be the author of the Acts of the Apostles; but we must now justify the assumption, though the fact that there is no reasonable doubt about the matter, and that there is a general consent of modern critics on the point, will make it unnecessary to enter into any lengthened disquisition.
The identity of authorship of the Gospel of St. Luke and the Acts of the Apostles is manifest from the dedication of both to Theophilus (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1), and from the reference by the writer of Acts 1:1 to the Gospel written by him. The details in Acts 1:1-9 agree closely with Luke 24:28-51; and there is a striking resemblance of style, phrases, the use of particular words, arrangement of matter, and turn of thought in the two books, which is generally recognized by critics of all schools, and which supports the unanimous testimony of the early Church, that they are both the work of one author. And this resemblance has been lately brought out with remarkable force in one particular, viz. the frequent use of medical terms, both in the Gospel and in the Acts — terms, which in very many instances are found nowhere else in the New Testament (Hobart's 'Medical Language of St. Luke:'Longmans).
If, then, the Gospel was the work of St. Luke, the Acts of the Apostles was so likewise. That the Gospel was the work of St. Luke is the unanimous testimony of antiquity; and the internal evidence agrees with all that we know of St. Luke that he was not of the circumcision (Colossians 4:10-14); that he was a physician (Colossians 4:14), and consequently a man of liberal education. Indeed, even modern hypercriticism generally admits St. Luke's authorship. It may be added that the internal evidence of the Acts of the Apostles is also strongly in favor of it. His companionship of St. Paul, who styles him "the beloved physician" (Colossians 4:14); his presence with St. Paul at Rome (2 Timothy 4:17), compared with the fact that the writer of the Acts sailed with St. Paul from Caesarea to Italy (Acts 27:1) and arrived at Rome (Acts 28:16), and the utter failure of the attempts to identify the author with Timothy (see especially Acts 20:4, Acts 20:5) or Silas, or any other of St. Paul's companions; are of themselves strong if not decisive testimonies in favor of Luke's authorship. Taken in conjunction with the other arguments, they leave the question, as Renan says, "beyond doubt." (See below, § 6.)
§ 3. DATE OF COMPOSITION.
Here, again, the inquiry presents no difficulty. The obvious prima facie inference from the abrupt termination of the narrative with the notice of St. Paul's two years' abode at Rome is undoubtedly the true one. St. Luke composed his history at Rome, with the help of St. Paul, and completed it early in the year A.D. 63. He may, no doubt, have prepared notes and memoranda and abstracts of speeches which he heard delivered, for several years before, while he was St. Paul's companion. But the composition of the book is clue to the comparative leisure of himself and his great master during the two years' imprisonment at Rome. It could not, of course, have been completed earlier, because the narrative comes clown without a break, in one continuous flow, to the time of the imprisonment. It could not possibly have been written later, because the termination of the book marks as plainly as is possible that the writer was writing at the very standpoint to which he had brought down his narrative. We may affirm, without any fear of being wrong, that St. Paul's trial before Nero, and his acquittal and his journey into Spain (if, indeed, he went to Spain) and his second trial and martyrdom, had not taken place when St. Luke finished his history, because it is utterly inconceivable that, if they had, he should not have mentioned them. But it is highly probable that incidents connected with St. Paul's first trial, and consequent immediate departure from Rome, put a stop at the moment to all literary work, and that, it St. Luke designed continuing his history, his purpose was frustrated by circumstances of which we have no certain knowledge. It may have been his employment in missionary work; it may have been other hindrances; it may have been his death; for we have really no knowledge whatever of St. Luke's life subsequent to the close of the Acts of the Apostles, except the mention of him as being still with St. Paul at the time of the writing of his Second Epistle to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:11). If this Epistle were written from Rome during St. Paul's second imprisonment, this would bring down our knowledge of St. Luke two years later than the close of the Acts. But it is easy to conceive that even in this case many causes may have hindered his continuing his history.
It should be added that the fact of the Gospel of St. Luke having been written before the Acts (Acts 1:1) presents no difficulty in the way of the above date for the composition of the Acts, as St. Paul's two years of enforced leisure at Caesarea while St. Luke was with him afforded as convenient and appropriate a time for the composition of the Gospel with St. Paul's help, as the two years at Rome did for the composition of the Acts. Meyer's reason ('Introd. to Acts') for placing the composition of the Gospel and consequently of the Acts much later, viz. because the destruction of Jerusalem is referred to in our Lord's prophetic discourse in Luke 21:20, is not worthy of the consideration of a Christian. If the reason is a sound one, the Gospel ceases to be of any value, since the writer of it fabricated falsehoods.
§ 4. SOURCES.
The inquiry into the sources from which St. Luke derived his knowledge of the facts which he relates is one the fitness of which St. Luke himself assures us of when he is at pains to satisfy us of the sufficiency of his own sources of information in respect to the narrative contained in his Gospel (Luke 1:1-4; comp. too Acts 1:21; Acts 10:39-42). It is, then, most satisfactory to know that in St. Luke we have not only an author in whom the historical instinct was most strong and clear, and in whom a calm judicial spirit and a lucid perception of truth were conspicuous qualities, but one who had also had unrivalled opportunities of knowing the certainty of those things which form the subject of his history. The intimate friend and constant companion of St. Paul, sharing his missionary labors, bound to him by ties of mutual affection, and, especially, passing two several periods of two years with him in tile quiet and leisure of his confinement as a state prisoner, — he must have known all that St. Paul knew on that subject of absorbing interest to them both, the progress of the gospel of Christ. Of at least twelve years of St. Paul's life he was himself a close observer. Of the time that preceded his own acquaintance with him he could learn all the particulars from the apostle's own lips. The characters and actions of all the great pillars of the Church were familiar to him, partly from personal intercourse and partly from the copious information, which he would receive from Paul and other contemporaries. Peter, John, James, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Titus, Apollos, Aquila, Priscilla, and many others were all known by him, either personally or through those who were intimately acquainted with them. And as his history was composed while he was with St. Paul at Rome, he had the means at hand of verifying every statement and receiving correction on every doubtful point. It is impossible to conceive any one better qualified by position than St. Luke was to be the first Church historian. And his simple, clear, and often graphic and copious, narrative exactly corresponds with such situation.
As regards the earlier chapters and the episode from Acts 9:32 to Acts 12:20, in which St. Peter occupies so prominent a place, and in which his speeches and actions are so fully described, we cannot say certainly from what source St. Luke derived his knowledge. Many things suggest the thought that he may have learnt them from St. Peter himself; or possibly that there may have been extant some one or more narratives by an eye-witness, whose materials St. Luke incorporated in his own work. These, however, are matters of uncertain conjecture, though the internal evidence of full and accurate information is unmistakable. But from the moment that Paul appears upon the stage, we cannot doubt that he was the chief source of St. Luke's information as regards all those transactions which occurred before he joined him or at such times as he was separated from him. His own observation supplied the rest, with the help of the friends above enumerated.
It is interesting to remember, further, that St. Luke must have seen many of the secular personages whom he introduces in his narrative; possibly Herod Agrippa, and presumably his son King Agrippa, Felix, Porcius Festus, Ananias the high priest, Publius, and others. At Rome it is likely that he would see Nero and some of the principal persons of his court.
There is no evidence, either in the Gospel or in the Acts, that St. Luke ever saw our Lord. The assertion of Epiphanius and of Adamantius (pseudo-Origen), that he was one of the seventy, carries no weight with it. It is inconsistent with St. Luke's own statement (Luke 1:2), and with other traditions, which make him a native of Antioch and one of St. Paul's converts. This, however, by the way.
St. Luke's historical and geographical accuracy has been frequently observed as an evidence of his acquaintance with secular as well as sacred writings. He appears to have been well read in the Septuagint, including the apocryphal writings.
§ 5. PLACE IN THE CANON.
Eusebius places in the forefront of his list of books generally acknowledged as portions of Holy Scripture (ὁμολογουìμεναι θεῖαι γραφαιì), the four Gospels and "the Book of the Acts of the Apostles (ἡ τῶν πραìξεων τῶν ̓Αποστοìλων γραφηì);" and again he says, "Luke has left us a proof of his skill in spiritual healing in two inspired books — his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles" ('Hist. Eccl.,' 3:11, 25). It was probably from Acts 21:8, Acts 21:9, that Papias derived his knowledge of the daughters of Philip; and from Acts 1:23 that he knew of "Justus surnamed Barsabas," though he may, of course, have known of both from tradition (Eusebius, 'Hist. Eccl.,' 3:39). The passage in Clement's First Epistle — "What shall we say of David, so highly testified of? to whom God said, I have found a man after my own heart, David the son of Jesse" — if compared with Acts 13:22 (especially as regards the words in italics), will be seen to be certainly taken from it. The words τῷ μεμαπτυρμεìνῳ, compared with the μαρτρυρηìσας of Acts 13:22, and the τοÌν τοῦ ̓Ιεσσαί with the same phrase found in the Acts but not found in Psalm 79:20, are very strong evidences of Clement's acquaintance with the Acts. And this evidence is confirmed by another distinct verbal quotation from Acts 20:35: "Ye were all of you humble-minded, more willingly giving than receiving" (St. Clement, ch. 2. and 18. See also 1:34, ἡμεῖς ὁμονοιᾳ ἐπιÌ τοÌ αὐτοÌ συναχθεìντος, compared with Acts 2:1). There is a less certain reference to Acts 5:41 in Hermas ('Simil.,' 4. sect. 28); but Ignatius's saying in the Epistle to the Smyrneans (3.), that Christ, "after his resurrection, did eat and drink with them," is an evident quotation from Acts 10:41. So also his saying in the Epistle to the Magnesians (5.), "Every man must go to his own place," must be taken from Acts 1:25; and the phrase ἐπιÌ τοÌ αὐτοÌ, coupled as it is with μιαì προσευχηÌ μιìα δεìησις, and with the description of Church unity in the same Epistle (sect. 7.), must be taken from Acts 1:15; Acts 2:1, Acts 2:44; as also that of Polycarp, that the apostles "are gone to their own place (εἰς τοÌν ὀφειλοìμενον αὐτοῖς τοìπον)." There is also another verbal quotation in Polycarp (sect. 1.), ̓́Ον ἤγειρεν ὁ Θεὸς λύσας τὰς ὠδῖνας τοῦ Αδου, from Acts 2:24, where the substitution of ̓́Αδου for θαναìτου is probably caused by θαναìτου having immediately preceded. Dean Alford was of opinion that there are not "any references in Justin Martyr which, fairly considered, belong to this Book" ('Proleg.,' ch. 1. sect. 5.); but there is such a close similarity of thought and expression in the passage in Acts 7:20, Acts 7:22, ̓Εν ᾦ καιρῷ ἐγεννηìθη Μωσῆς... ἐκτεθεìντα δεÌ αὐτοÌν ἀνειλατο αὐτοÌν ἡ θυγαìτηρ Φαραοì καιÌ ἀνεθρεìψατο αὐτοÌν ἑαυτῇ εἰς ὑιìον καιÌ ἐπαιδευìθη... ἐν παìσῃ σοφιìᾳ Αἰγυπτιìων ἦν δεÌ δυνατοÌς ἐν λοìγοις καιÌ ἐν ἐìργοις αὐτοῦ and that in the treatise of Justin, 'Ad Graecos Cohortatio: Παρ οἶς οὐκ ἐτεìχθη Μωσῆς μοìνον ἀλλαÌ καιÌ παìσης τῶν Αἰγυπτιìων παιδευσεìως μετασχεῖν ἠξιωìθη διαÌ τοÌ ὑποÌ θυγατροÌς βασιλεìως εἰς παιδοÌς ὠκειωìσθαι χωìραν... ὡς ἱστοροῦσιν οἱ σοφωìτατοι τῶν ἱστοριογραìφων οἱ τοÌν βιìον αὐτοῦ καιÌ ταÌς πραìξεις... ἀναγραìψασθαι προελοìμενοι, as could hardly arise from two independent minds. The sequence of thought, the birth, the adoption, the education, the mighty works, are identical in both writers. The same may be said of the two other passages adduced by Larduer from Justin; one from the 'First Apology' compared with Acts 13:27, and the other from the 'Dialogue' compared with Acts 26:22, Acts 26:23. Here, again, this identity of thought and expression in both passages (τοῦτον ἀγνοηìσαντες compared with ἠγνοìησαν, and παθητοÌς ὁ ΧριστοÌς compared with παθητοÌς γενησοìμενος ὁ ΧριστοÌς) could not be accidental, and can only be accounted for by Justin being familiar with the Acts of the Apostles.
Between the times of Justin and Eusebius there is an abundance of direct quotations from the Acts. The first is in the Epistle of the Churches of Lyons and Vienna, given by Eusebius, 'Hist. Eccl.,' bk. 5. Ch. 2, where the martyrdom and prayer of Stephen are expressly referred to; and there are many also in Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Julius Africanus, Origen, and others, which may be found in Westcott's 'Hist. of the Canon,'and in Lardner's 'Credibility of the Gospel History.' The Book of the Acts is contained in the Muratorian Canon in the West, ascribed to about A.D. 170; and also in the Peshito Canon in the East, of about the same date; in the fifty-ninth canon of the Council of Laodicea, the list in which, however, is considered spurious; in the thirty-ninth canon of the Council of Carthage; in the seventy-sixth of the Apostolical Canons; in the list of Cyril of Jerusalem, of Epiphanius of Cyprus, of Athanasius, of Jerome, and thenceforth in the Canon as received by the whole Eastern and Western Churches.
It is curious to acid that though, as we have seen from the testimony of Eusebius, the Acts of the Apostles was reckoned among the uncontested books of Holy Scripture, it was a book scarcely known at Constantinople in the days of Chrysostom. The passage with which he opens his homilies on the Acts has been often quoted: "To many persons this book is so little known, both it and its author, that they are not even aware that there is such a book in existence." And what seems yet more strange, even at Antioch (St. Luke's reported birthplace), Chrysostom tells us it was "strange:" "Strange, and not strange. Not strange, for it belongs to the order of Holy Scripture; and yet strange, because peradventure your ears are not accustomed to such a subject. Certainly there are many to whom this book is not even known" ('Hem. in Princip. Act.,' preached at Antioch).
On the other hand, St. Augustine speaks of the book as "well known from being very frequently read in the Church." The Book of the Acts was, by long-established custom (in the time of Chrysostom), read in the Churches (as e.g. at Antioch and in Africa) from Easter to Pentecost.
§ 6. MODERN CRITICISM.
An Introduction to the Acts would hardly be complete without a brief reference to the views of modern criticism. It is observable, then, that a certain number of critics, who seem to think that the main function of criticism is to disregard all external evidence, and all internal evidence also which chances to agree with the external, deny the authenticity of the book. With a strange kind of ὖστερον προìτερον logic, instead of inferring the truth of the narrative from, the overwhelming evidence that it is the narrative of an eye-witness and a contemporary, they conclude that it is not the narrative of a contemporary because it contains statements which they are indisposed to admit as true. The account of the ascension of our Lord and of the day of Pentecost in Acts 3., of the miracles of Peter and John in the following chapters, and of other supernatural events occurring throughout the book, are by the light of nature incredible; and therefore the book that contains them cannot be, what the Acts of the Apostles claims to be, and what all the evidence proves it to be, the work of a companion of St. Paul. It must be the work of a later age, say the second century, when a legendary history had cropped up, and the mists of time already obscured the clear reality of events.
In addition to this general reason for assigning the work to the second century, a further one is found in an hypothesis based upon the imagination of the inventor of it (F. C. Baur), viz. that the purpose of the writer of the Acts was to afford an historical basis for the reunion of two discordant sections of the Church, viz. the followers of St. Peter and the followers of St. Paul. The different doctrines preached by the two apostles having issued in a strong antagonism between their respective followers, some unknown author of the second century wrote this book in order to reconcile them, by showing an agreement between their two leaders. The writer, by the use of the word "we" (so at least say some of the critics), assumed the character of a companion of St. Paul, in order to give greater weight to his history; or, as others say, incorporated a bit of contemporary writing in his book without being at the pains to alter the "we." The great ability and learning and ingenuity with which F. C. Baur supported his hypothesis attracted great attention, and some adhesion to it in Germany. But common sense and the laws of evidence seem to be resuming their legitimate power. We have seen above how Renan, certainly one of the ablest of the freethinking school, expresses his unhesitating belief that Luke is the author of the Acts.
Another theory (Mayerhoff, etc.) makes Timothy the author of the Acts of the Apostles; and yet another (that of Schleiermacher, De Wette, and Bleek) makes Timothy and not Luke to have been the companion of Paul who speaks in the first person (we), and Luke to have inserted these portions without alteration from Timothy's journal (see Alford's 'Prolegem.'). Both these wanton and gratuitous conjectures are contradicted by the plain words of Acts 20:4, Acts 20:5, where the companions of Paul, of whom Timothy was one, are distinctly slated to have gone before, while the writer remained with Paul (see above, § 2).
Another theory (Schwanbeck, etc.) makes Silas the author of the book, or section of the book; and yet another at the same time identifies Silas with Luke, supposing the names Silas — Silvanus, and Lukas, derived from lucus, a grove, to be mere variations of the same name, like Cephas and Peter, or Thomas and Didymus. But, besides that this is quite unsupported by external evidence, it is inconsistent with Acts 15:22, Acts 15:34, Acts 15:40; Acts 16:0.; Acts 17:0.; Acts 18:0. (passim); where the "we" ought to have been introduced if the writer was one of the actors. It is most unlikely too that Silas should have described himself as being one of the "chief men among the brethren" (Acts 15:22). It may be added that the failure of all other hypotheses is an additional argument in favor of the authorship of St. Luke.
The grounds of the adverse criticisms of De Wette, F. C. Baur, Sehwegler, Zeller, Kostlin, Helgenfeld, and others, are thus summed up by Meyer: Alleged contradictions with the Pauline Epistles (Acts 9:19, Acts 9:23, Acts 9:25; Acts 11:30 compared with Galatians 1:17-19 and 2:1; Acts 17:16, et sqq.; 18:22, et seq.; 28:30, et seq.); inadequate accounts (Acts 16:6; Acts 18:22, et seq.; 28:30, 31); omission of facts (1 Corinthians 15:32; 2 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Corinthians 11:25; Romans 15:19; Romans 16:3, Romans 16:4); the partially unhistoric character of the first portion of the book; un-Pauline miracles, speeches, and actions.
Meyer adds, "According to Schwanbeck, the redacteur of the book has used the four following documents: —
(1) a biography of Peter;
(2) a rhetorical work on the death of Stephen;
(3) a biography of Barnabas;
(4) a memoir of Silas.
The effect of these mutually destructive criticisms, the distinct failure in each case to get over the difficulties which-oppose themselves to the conclusion attempted to be established, and the thoroughly arbitrary and will-kurlich nature of the objections made to St. Luke's authorship, and of the assumptions on which opposing hypotheses are grounded, — all this leaves the conclusions to which we came in sections 1 and 2 immovably confirmed.
§ 7. LITERATURE OF THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES.
To those who desire to study seriously this charming and invaluable history, it may be useful to indicate a few books which will assist them to do so. Paley's 'Horae Paulinae' still holds its ground as an original argument, ingeniously worked out, and capable of constant extension, by which the Epistles of St. Paul and the Acts of the Apostles are shown to confirm each other, and are made to shed light each upon the other in a way to disarm suspicion of collusion, and to stamp both with an unmistakable stamp of truth. The great work of Conybeare and Howson ('Life and Epistles of St. Paul '); the contemporary work of Mr. Lewin, bearing the same title; Canon Farrar's 'Life and Work of St. Paul;' Renan's 'Les Apotres,' and his 'St. Paul ;'give in different ways all that can be desired in the way of historical and geographical illustration to bring out into full light the work, the character, the times, of the apostle, and to display the veracity, the accuracy, and the simplicity, of his biographer. For direct commentaries, it may be sufficient to name those of St. Chrysostom, of Dr. John Lightfoot, of Kuinoel (in Latin), of Meyer (translated from the German), of Olshausen and Lange (also translated into English), of Bishop Wordsworth and Dean Alford, of Dean Plumptre (in the 'New Testament Commentary for English Readers,' edited by the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol), of Bishop Jacobson (in the 'Speaker's Commentary'), of Canon Cook; to which, of course, very many more might be added.
Much additional information bearing upon the Acts may also be gathered from commentaries on St. Paul's Epistles, among which may be mentioned those of Bishop Ellicott and those of Bishop Lightfoot. And, again, such smaller works as Dean Howson's 'Bohlen Lectures,' Smith of Jordanhill on 'The Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul,' Hobart's 'Medical Language of St. Luke,' elucidate particular portions or particular aspects of the book. Those who desire to know all that can be said by hostile criticism against the credibility or authenticity of the Acts, and the truthfulness and trustworthiness of the author, may search the writings of Baur, Schrader, Schwegler, Credner, Overbeck, Zeller, and many others.
§ 8. CHRONOLOGY.
"The chronology of the Acts is involved in great difficulties," says Canon Cook; and the different conclusions which men of equal learning and capacity have arrived at is a sufficient evidence of these difficulties. There are, however, two or three fixed points which restrain the intermediate divergences within comparatively narrow limits, and several other coincidences of persons and things which fix the time of the narrative within the compass of three or four years at most. But, on the other hand, we have no certainty as to the year in which our history begins.
The exact date of the Crucifixion, in spite of the careful statement of Luke 3:1, Luke 3:2, is uncertain to the extent of four or five years. Some place the Feast of Pentecost mentioned in Acts 2:0 in the year A.D. 28; some A.D. 30; and some again A.D. 33. And this is necessarily a cause of uncertainty as to the date of subsequent events, till we come to A.D. 44. In that year Herod Agrippa died, soon after the death of James (Acts 12:0.), and in the same year we know that Saul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem with the alms of the Antiochian Church for the relief of the poor Jews suffering from the famine (Acts 11:30; Acts 12:25).
Those who think that this visit of St. Paul is the one alluded to in Galatians 2:1, naturally reckon back fourteen years from A.D. 44, and so get A.D. 30 as the year of St. Paul's conversion; and throw back the Pentecost of Acts 2:0 to the earliest possible date, viz. A.D. 28. But those who think the visit to Jerusalem spoken of in Galatians 2:1 is that which is related in Acts 15:0, are not so hampered. Allowing five or six, or even seven years for St. Paul's ministry at Antioch afar his return from Jerusalem, for his first missionary journey, and his long abode at Antioch after his return (Acts 14:28), they place the visit to Jerusalem in A.D. 49, 50, 51, or 52, and so get from the year A.D. 35 to A.D. 38 for the visit of Galatians 1:18, Galatians 1:19; and from A.D. 32 to A.D. 35 as the year of Saul's conversion; thus leaving three or four years for the events recorded in the first sir or seven chapters of the Acts, even if the year A.D. 30 or 31 is adopted for the Pentecost which followed the Ascension. There is, however, yet another doubt as to the reckoning of the fourteen years. It is not at all clear whether they are to be counted from the conversion mentioned in Galatians 1:15, Galatians 1:16, or from the visit to Peter which took place three years after the conversion; in other words, whether we are to reckon fourteen years or seventeen backwards from A.D. 44 to find the date of St. Paul's conversion. Nor, again, is there absolute certainty that the visit to Jerusalem of Acts 15:0 and that of Galatians 2:1 are one and the same. Lewin, for instance, identifies the visit just glanced at in Acts 18:22 with that of Galatians 2:1 (vol. 1:302). Others, as we have seen, identify with it the visit recorded in Acts 11:30 and 12:25. So that there is uncertainty on every side.
The next date on which we may, though with less certainty, rely is that of St. Paul's first visit to Corinth (Acts 18:0.), which followed closely on the expulsion of the Jews from Rome by Claudius. This latter event took place (almost certainly) in A.D. 52, and, therefore, St. Paul's arrival at Corinth happened either in the same year or A.D. 53.
The arrival of Festus at Caesarea as Procurator of Judaea, again, is by nearly universal consent of modern chronologists, placed in A.D. 60, whence we gather, with certainty, the time of St. Paul's removal to Rome and of his two years' imprisonment as from A.D. 61 to A.D. 63.
Less exact indications of time may Be gathered from the presence, of Gamaliel in the Sanhedrim (Acts 5:34); from the mention of "Aretas the king" as being in possession of Damascus at the time of St. Paul's escape (2 Corinthians 11:32), which is thought to indicate the beginning of the reign of Caligula, A.D. 37; the famine in the reign of Claudius Caesar (Acts 11:28), who began to reign A.D 41; the proconsulate of Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7), who is quoted by Pliny about twenty years after St. Paul's visit to Cyprus; the proconsulate of Gallio (Acts 18:12), indicating the reign of Claudius, by whom Achaia was given back to the senate, and therefore governed by a proconsul; and lastly, the high priesthood of Ananias (Acts 23:2) and the procuratorship of Felix (Acts 23:24), pointing, by their coincidence, to about A.D. 58. These indications, though not sufficient for the construction of an exact chronology, yet clearly mark a time historical sequence of events occurring in their proper place and order, and capable of being arranged accurately if ever the events of secular history to which they are tied are reduced by further light to an exit chronology.
The only apparent anachronism in the Acts is the mention of Theudas in the speech of Gamaliel given in Acts 5:36. The reader is referred to the note on that passage, where it is attempted to show that the mistake is Josephus's, not St. Luke's.
It is not the purpose of this Introduction to give a scheme of exact chronology. The materials for it, and the difficulties of constructing such a scheme, have been pointed out. Those who desire to enter fully into this intricate subject, are referred to Lewin's 'Fasti Sacri,' or to the great works of Anger, Wieseler, and others; or, if they merely wish to know the principal views of chronologists, to the Synoptic Table in the appendix to the second volume of Farrar's 'Life and Works of St. Paul;'to Dean Alford's 'Prolegomena to the Acts;' to Bishop Wordsworth's Chronological Synopsis, appended to his Introduction to the Acts; to the Chronological Table with annotations at the end of vol. 2. of Conybeare and Howson's 'St. Paul;' and also to the able note at pp. 244-252 of vol. 1.; to the Chronological Summary in Meyer's Introduction; or to the Chronological Table at the end of Dean Plumptre's 'Commentary on the Acts.'
§ 9. PLAN OF THIS COMMENTARY.
The Revised Version of the New Testament has been taken as the text on which this Commentary is founded. Whenever the Revised Version differs from the Authorized Version of A.D. 1611, the words of the Authorized Version are appended for comparison. By this means every change made by the Revisers is brought to the notice of the reader, whose judgment is thus directed to the reason or expediency of the change. The writer has not thought it necessary in general to express any opinion on the changes made, but has done so occasionally in terms of agreement or disagreement, as the case may be. To discover and elucidate the exact meaning of the original; to illustrate the events narrated by all the helps he could get from other writers; to help the student to note the peculiarities of the diction of the inspired author, as clues to his education, his reading, his profession, his genuineness, his age, his fitness for his task; to mark the historical and geographical and general accuracy of the author as evidences of the time when he lived, and of his perfect trustworthiness as to all that he relates; and then, both in the Exposition and in the Homiletical remarks, to try and make the text so elucidated profitable for correction and instruction in righteousness; — has been the writer's aim, however imperfectly it has been attained. The labor it has cost him has been considerable, amidst constant interruptions and unnumbered hindrances, but it has been a sweet and pleasant labor, full of interest and reward and growing delight, as the blessed Book yielded up its treasures of wisdom and truth, and the mind and hand of God became more and more visible amidst the words and works of man.
In the notes R.V. denotes Revised Version; A.V. denotes Authorized Version; T.R. Textus Receptus, i.e. the Greek Text from which the Authorized Version was made; and R.T. Revised Text, i.e. the Greek Text from which the Revised Version was made. Whenever the R.V. differs from the A.V. in consequence of the R.T. differing from the T.R., this is shown by appending to the words of the Authorized Version quoted in the note the letters A.V. and T.R. In some few cases where the difference in the Greek Text makes no difference in the version, the variation in the R.T. is not noted. Mere differences of punctuation, or in the use of capitals or italics, or vice versa, in the R.V. as compared with the A.V., are not noted either.