Keith Hunt - Church History #29 - Page Twenty-nine   Restitution of All Things

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History of the Church #29

The ACTS of the Apostles


30-100 AD

From "History of the Christian Church " by Philip Schaff


The book of Acts, though placed by the ancient ecclesiastical
division not in the "Gospel," but in the "Apostle," is a direct
continuation of the third Gospel, by the same author, and
addressed to the same Theophilus, probably a Christian convert of
distinguished social position. In the former he reports what he
heard and read, in the latter what he heard and saw. The one
records the life and work of Christ, the other the work of the
Holy Spirit, who is recognized at every step. The word Spirit, or
Holy Spirit, occurs more frequently in the Acts than in any other
book of the New Testament. It might properly be called "the
Gospel of the Holy Spirit."

The universal testimony of the ancient church traces the two
books to the same author. This is confirmed by internal evidence
of identity of style, continuity of narrative, and corre-
spondence of plan. About fifty words not found elsewhere in the
New Testament are common to both books.


The Acts is a cheerful and encouraging book, like the third
Gospel; it is full of missionary zeal and hope; it records
progress after progress, conquest after conquest, and turns even
persecution and martyrdom into an occasion of joy and
thanksgiving. It is the first church history. It begins in
Jerusalem and ends in Rome. An additional chapter would probably
have recorded the terrible persecution of Nero and the heroic
martyrdom of Paul and Peter. But this would have made the book a
tragedy; instead of that it ends as cheerfully and triumphantly
as it begins.

It represents the origin and progress of Christianity from the
capital of Judaism to the capital of heathenism. It is a history
of the planting of the church among the Jews by Peter, and among
the Gentiles by Paul. Its theme is expressed in the promise of
the risen Christ to his disciples (1 8): "Ye shall receive power,
when the Holy Spirit is come upon you (ch.2) and ye shall be my
witnesses both in Jerusalem (chs.3-7), and in all Judea and
Samaria (chs.8-12), and unto the uttermost part of the earth "
(chs.13-28). The Gospel of Luke, which is the Pauline Gospel,
laid the foundation by showing how salvation, coming from the
Jews and opposed by the Jews, was intended for all men,
Samaritans and Gentiles. The Acts exhibits the progress of the
church from and among the Jews to the Gentiles by the ministry of
Peter, then of Stephen, then of Philip in Samaria, then of Peter
again in the conversion of Cornelius, and at last by the labors
of Paul and his companions.

The Acts begins with the ascension of Christ, or his accession to
his throne, and the founding of his kingdom by the outpouring of
the Holy Spirit; it closes with the joyful preaching of the
Apostle of the Gentiles in the capital of the then known world.
The objective representation of the progress of the church is the
chief aim of the work, and the subjective and biographical
features are altogether subordinate. Before Peter, the hero of
the first or Jewish-Christian division, and Paul, the hero of the
second or Gentile-Christian part, the other apostles retire and
are only once named, except John, the elder James, Stephen, and
James, the brother of the Lord. Even the lives of the
pillar-apostles appear in the history only so far as they are
connected with the missionary work. In this view the long-
received title of the book, added by some other hand than the
author's, is not altogether correct, though in keeping with
ancient usage (as in the apocryphal literature, which includes 
"Acts of Pilate", "Acts of Peter and Paul," "Acts of Philip,"
etc.). More than three-fifths of it are devoted to Paul, and
especially to his later labors and journeys, in which the author
could speak from personal knowledge. The book is simply a
selection of biographical memoirs of Peter and Paul connected
with the planting of Christianity or the beginnings of the church
(Origines Ecclesiae).


Luke, the faithful pupil and companion of Paul, was eminently
fitted to produce the history of the primitive church. For the
first part he had the aid not only of oral tradition, but also of
Palestinian documents, as he had in preparing his Gospel. Hence
the Hebrew coloring in the earlier chapters of Acts; while
afterward he writes as pure Greek, as in the classical prologue
of his Gospel. Mast of the events in the second part came under
his personal observation. Hence he often speaks in the plural
number, modestly including himself. The "we" sections begin ch.
16:10, when Paul started from Troas to Macedonia (A.D.51); they
break off when he leaves Philippi for Corinth (17:1); they are
resumed (20:5,6) when he visits Macedonia again seven years later
(58), and then continue to the close of the narrative (A.D.
63). Luke probably remained several years at Philippi, engaged in
missionary labors, until Paul's return. He was in the company of
Paul, including the interruptions, at least twelve years. He was
again with Paul in his last captivity, shortly before his
martyrdom, his most faithful and devoted companion (2 Tim. 4:


Luke probably began the book of Acts or a preliminary diary
during his missionary journeys with Paul in Greece, especially in
Philippi, where he seems to have tarried several years; he
continued it in Caesarea, where he had the best opportunity to
gather reliable information of the earlier history, from
Jerusalem, and such living witnesses as Cornelius and his
friends, from Philip and his daughters, who resided in Caesarea;
and he finished it soon after Paul's first imprisonment in Rome,
before the terrible persecution in the summer of 64, which he
could hardly have left unnoticed.

We look in vain for any allusion to this persecution and the
martyrdom of Paul or Peter, or to any of their Epistles, or to
the destruction of Jerusalem, or to the later organization of the
church, or the superiority of the bishop over the presbyter
(Comp. 20:17,28), or the Gnostic heresies, except by way of
prophetic warning (20:30). This silence in a historical work
like this seems inexplicable on the assumption that the book was
written after A.D.70, or even after 64. But if we place the
composition before the martyrdom of Paul, then the last verse is
after all an appropriate conclusion of a missionary history of
Christianity from Jerusalem to Rome. For the bold and free
testimony of the Apostle of the Gentiles in the very heart of the
civilized world was the sign and pledge of victory.


The Acts is the connecting link between the Gospels and Epistles.
It presupposes and confirms the leading events in the life of
Christ, on which the church is built. The fact of the
resurrection, whereof the apostles were witnesses, sends a thrill
of joy and an air of victory through the whole book. God raised
Jesus from the dead and mightily proclaimed him to be the
Messiah, the prince of life and a Saviour in Israel; this is the
burden of the sermons of Peter, who shortly before had denied his
Master. He boldly bears witness to it before the people, in his
pentecostal sermon, before the Sanhedrin, and before Cornelius.  
Paul likewise, in his addresses at Antioch in Pisidia, at
Thessalonica, on the Areopagus before the Athenian philosophers,
and at Caesarea before Festus and Agrippa, emphasizes the
resurrection without which his own conversion never could have
taken place.


The Acts gives us the external history of the apostolic church;
the Epistles present the internal life of the same. Both mutually
supplement and confirm each other by a series of coinci dences in
all essential points. These coincidences are all the more
conclusive as they are undesigned and accompanied by slight
discrepancies in minor details. Archdeacon Paley made them the
subject of a discussion in his Horae Paulinae, which will retain
its place among classical monographs alongside of James Smith's
Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul. Arguments such as are furnished
in these two books are sufficient to silence most of the critical
objections against the credibility of Acts for readers of sound
common sense and unbiased judgment. There is not the slightest
trace that Luke had read any of the thirteen Epistles of Paul,
nor that Paul had read a line of Acts. The writings were
contemporaneous and independent, yet animated by the same spirit.
Luke omits, it is true, Paul's journey to Arabia, his collision
with Peter at Antioch, and many of his trials and persecutions;
but he did not aim at a full biography. The following are a few
examples of these conspicuously undesigned coincidences in the
chronological order:


Comp. Acts chs. 9;22 and 26; three accounts which differ only in
minor details.
Gal. 1:15-17;  1 Cor.15:8; 1 Tim. 1:13-16.


Acts 9:23-25. The Jews took counsel together to kill him . . .
but his disciples took him by night, and let him down through the
wall, lowering him in a basket.
2 Cor.11:32,33. In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king
guarded the city of the Damascenes, in order to take me; and
through a window was I let clown in a basket by the wall, and
escaped his hands.


9:26,27. And when he was come to Jerusalem . . . Barnabas took
him, and brought him to the apostles.
15:2. They appointed that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of
them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders [to
the apostolic conference to settle the question about

Gal.1:18. Then after three years [counting from his conversion] I
went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and tarried with him
fifteen days.
Gal.2:1. Then after the space of fourteen years I went up again
to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus also with me. And I went
up by revelation. [This inner motive does, of course, not exclude
the church appointment mentioned by Luke.]


17:16 Now while Paul waited for them [Bilas and Timothy] at
1 These.8:1. We thought it good to be left behind at Athens
alone; and sent Timothy, etc. Comp. ver.7.


18:3. And because he [Aquila] was of the same trade, he abode
with them, and they wrought; for by their trade they were tent
makers. Comp. 20:34.
I These.2:9. Ye remember, brethren, our labor and travail:
working night and day, that we might not burden any of you. Comp.
1 Cor.4:11,12.


18:1; 20:2. 1 Cor. 2:1; 4:19; 16:5.


18:27,28. 1 Cor.1:12; 3:6.


16:3; 18:18:; 21:23-26.  1 Cor.9:20.

18:8. 1 Cor.1:14-17.


18:23. 1 Cor.16:1.


20:6; 24:17. Rom.15:25,26.


19:21. Rom.1:13; 15:23.


28:16-20. Eph.6:19,20.


The Acts brings Christianity in contact with the surrounding
world and makes many allusions to various places, secular persons
and events, though only incidentally and as far as its object
required it. These allusions are--with a single exception, that
of Theudas - in full harmony with the history of the age as known
from Josephus and heathen writers, and establish Luke's claim to
be considered a well-informed, honest, and credible historian.
Bishop Lightfoot asserts that no ancient work affords so many
tests of veracity, because no other has such numerous points of
contact in all directions with contemporary history, politics,
and typography, whether Jewish or Greek or Roman. The description
of persons introduced in the Acts, such as Gamaliel, Herod,
Agrippa I., Bernice, Felix, Festus, Gallio, agrees as far as it
goes entirely with what we know from contemporary sources. The
allusions to countries, cities, islands, in Syria, Asia Minor,
Greece, and Italy are with out exception correct and reveal an
experienced traveller. We mention the chief points, some of which
are crucial tests.

1. The rebellion of Theudas, 5:36, alluded to in the speech of
Gamaliel, which was delivered about A.D.33. Here is, apparently,
a conflict with Josephus, who places this event in the reign of
Claudius, and under the procuratorship of Cuspius Fadus, A.D.44,
ten or twelve years after Gamaliel's speech. But he mentions no
less than three insurrections which took place shortly after the
death of Herod the Great, one under the lead of Judas (who may
have been Theudas or Thaddaeus, the two names being
interchangeable, comp. Matt.10:3; Luke 6:16), and he adds that
besides these there were many highway robbers and murderers who
pretended to the name of king. At all events, we should hesitate
to charge Luke with an anachro nism. He was as well informed as
Josephus, and more credible. This is the only case of a conflict
between the two, except the case of the census in Luke 2:2, and
here the discovery of a double governorship of Quirinius has
brought the chronological difficulty within the reach of

2. The rebellion of Judas of Galilee, mentioned in the same
speech, 5:37, as having occurred in the days of the enrolment
(the census of Quirinius), is confirmed by Josephus. The in-
surrection of this Judas was the most vigorous attempt to throw
off the Roman yoke before the great war.

3. Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians, 8:27. Strabo mentions a
queen of Meroe in Ethiopia, under that name, which was probably,
like Pharaoh, a dynastic title.

4. The famine under Claudius 11:28. This reign (A.D.41-54) was
disturbed by frequent famines, one of which, according to
Josephus, severely affected Judaea and Syria, and caused great
distress in Jerusalem, under the procuratorship of Cuspius Fadus,

5. The death of King Herod Agrippa I. (grandson of Herod the
Great), 12:20-23. Josephus says nothing about the preceding
persecution of the church, but reports in substantial agreement
with Luke that the king died of a loathsome disease in the
seventh year of his reign (A.D.44), five days after he had
received, at the theatre of Caesarea, divine honors, being
hailed, in heathen fashion, as a god by his courtiers.

6. The proconsular (as distinct from the propraetorian) status of
Cyprus, under Sergins Paulus, 13:7 (Greek). Here Luke was for a
long time considered inaccurate, even by Grotius, but has been
strikingly confirmed by modern research. When Augustus assumed
the supreme power (B.C.27), he divided the government of the
provinces with the Senate, and called the ruler of the
imperatorial provinces, which needed direct military control
under the emperor as commander of the legions, propraetor (Greek)
or legate (Greek), the ruler of a senatorial province, proconsul
(Greek). Formerly these terms had signified that the holder of
the office had previously been praetor (Greek) or consul (Greek);
now they signified the administrative heads of the provinces. But
this subdivision underwent frequent changes, so that only a
well-informed person could tell the distinction at any time.     
Cyprus was in the original distribution (B.C.27) assigned to the
emperor, but since B.C.22, and at the time of Paul's visit under
Claudius, it was a senatorial province; and hence Sergius Paulus
is rightly called proconsul. Coins have been found from the reign
of Claudius which con firm this statement. Yea, the very name of
(Sergius) Paulus has been discovered by General di Cesnola at
Soli (which, next to Salamis, was the most important city of the
island), in a mutilated inscription, which reads: "in the
proconsulship of Paulus." Under Hadrian the island was governed
by a proprietor; under Severus, again by a proconsul.

7. The proconsular status of Achaia under Gallio, Ch.18:12 
(Greek). Achaia, which included the whole of Greece lying south
of Macedonia, was originally a senatorial province, then an
imperatorial province under Tiberius, and again a senatorial
province under Claudius. In the year 53-54, when Paul was at
Corinth, M. Annaeus Novatus Gallio, the brother of the
philosopher L. Annaeus Seneca, was proconsul of Achaia, and
popularly esteemed for his mild temper as "dulcis Gallio."

8. Paul and Barnabas mistaken for Zeus and Hermes in Lycaonia,
14:11. According to the myth described by Ovid, the gods Jupiter
and Mercury (Zeus and Hermes) had appeared to the Lycaonians in
the likeness of men, and been received by Baucis and Philemon, to
whom they left tokens of that favor. The place where they had
dwelt was visited by devout pilgrims and adorned with votive
offerings. How natural, therefore, was it for these idolaters,
astonished by the miracle, to mistake the eloquent Paul for
Hermes, and Barnabas who may have been of a more imposing figure,
for Zeus.

9. The colonial dignity of the city of Philippi, in Macedonia, 
16:12 ("a Roman colony," Greek; comp. ver 21, "being Romans").
Augustus had sent a colony to the famous battlefield where Brutus
and the Republic expired, and conferred on the place new
importance and the privileges of Italian or Roman citizenship
(jus Italicum).

10. "Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira," 16:14.
Thyatira (now Akhissar), in the valley of Lycus in Asia Minor,
was famous for its dying works, especially for purple or crimson.

11. The "politarchs" of Thessalonica, 17:6,8. This was a very
rare title for magistrates, and might easily be confounded with
the more usual designation "poliarchs." But Luke's accuracy has
been confirmed by an inscription still legible on an archway in
Thessalonica, giving the names of seven "politarchs" who governed
before the visit of Paul.

12. The description of Athens, the Areopagus, the schools of
philosophy, the idle curiosity and inquisitiveness of the
Athenians (mentioned also by Demosthenes), the altar of an un-
known God, and the quotation from Aratus or Cleanthes, in ch.17,
are fully borne out by classical authorities.

13. The account of Ephesus in the nineteenth chapter has been
verified as minutely accurate by the remarkable discoveries of
John T. Wood, made between 1863 and 1874, with the aid of the
English Government. The excessive worship of Diana, "the great
goddess of Artemis," the temple-warden, the theatre (capable of
holding twenty-five thousand people) often used for public
assemblies, the distinct officers of the city, the Roman
proconsul (Greek), the recorder or "town-clerk" (Greek), and the
Asiarchs (Greek) or presidents of the games and the religious
ceremonials, have all reappeared in ruins and on inscriptions,
which may now be studied in the British Museum. "With these facts
in view," says Lightfoot, "we are justified in saying that
ancient literature has preserved no picture of the Ephesus of
imperial times - the Ephesus which has been unearthed by the
sagacity and perseverance of Mr. Wood - comparable for its
life-like truthfulness to the narrative of St. Paul's sojourn
there in the Acts.

14. The voyage and shipwreck of Paul in ch.27. This chapter
contains more information about ancient navigation than any work
of Greek or Roman literature, and betrays the minute accuracy of
an intelligent eye-witness, who, though not a professional
seaman, was very familiar with nautical terms from close
observation. He uses no less than sixteen technical terms, some
of them rare, to describe the motion and management of a ship,
and all of them most appropriately; and he is strictly correct in
the description of the localities at Crete, Salmone, Fair Havens,
Cauda, Lasea and Phoenix (two small places recently identified),
and Melita (Malta), as well as the motions and effects of the
tempestuous northeast wind called Euraquilo (A. V. Euroclydon) in
the Mediterranean. All this has been thoroughly tested by an
expert seaman and scholar, James Smith, of Scotland, who has
published the results of his examination in the classical
monograph already mentioned. Monumental and scientific evidence
outweighs critical conjectures, and is an irresistible
vindication of the historical accuracy and credibility of Luke.


But some critics have charged the Acts with an intentional
falsification of history in the interest of peace between the
Petrine and Pauline sections of the church. The work is said to
be a Catholic Irenicum, based probably on a narrative of Luke,
but not completed before the close of the first century, for the
purpose of harmonizing the Jewish and Gentile sections of the
church by conforming the two leading apostles, i.e., by raising
Peter to the Pauline and lowering Paul to the Petrine plane, and
thus making both subservient to a compromise between Judaizing
bigotry and Gentile freedom.

The chief arguments on which this hypothesis is based are the
suppression of the collision between Paul and Peter at Antioch,
and the friendly relation into which Paul is brought to James,
especially at the last interview. The fifteenth chapter of Acts
is supposed to be in irreconcilable conflict with the second
chapter of the Galatians. But a reaction has taken place in the
Tubingen school, and it is admitted now by some of the ablest
critics that the antagonism between Paulinism and Petrinism has
been greatly exaggerated by Baur, and that Acts is a far more
trustworthy account than he was willing to admit. The Epistle to
the Galatians itself is the best vindication of the Acts, for it
expressly speaks of a cordial agreement between Paul and the
Jewish pillar-apostles. As to the omission of the collision
between Peter and Paul at Antioch, it was merely a passing
incident, perhaps unknown to Luke, or omitted because it had no
bearing on the course of events recorded by him. On the other
hand, he mentions the  sharp contention " between Paul and
Barnabas, because it resulted in a division of the missionary
work, Paul and Silas going to Syria and Cilicia, Barnabas and
Mark sailing away to Cyprus (15:39-41). Of this Paul says
nothing, because it had no bearing on his argument with the
Galatians. Paul's conciliatory course toward James and the Jews,
as represented in the Acts, is confirmed by his own Epistles, in
which he says that he became a Jew to the Jews, as well as a
Gentile to the Gentiles, in order to gain them both, and
expresses his readiness to make the greatest possible sacrifice
for the salvation of his brethren after the flesh (1 Cor.9:20;
Rom. 9:3).


The book of Acts is, indeed, like every impartial history, an
Irenicum, but a truthful Irenicum, conceived in the very spirit
of the Conference at Jerusalem and the concordat concluded by the
leading apostles, according to Paul's own testimony in the
polemical Epistle to the Galatians. The principle of selection
required, of course, the omission of a large number of facts and
incidents. But the selection was made with fairness and justice
to all sides. The impartiality and truthfulness of Luke is very
manifest in his honest record of the imperfections of the
apostolic church. He does not conceal the hypocrisy and mean
selfishness of Ananias and Sapphira, which threatened to poison
Christianity in its cradle (5:1 sqq.); he informs us that the in-
stitution of the diaconate arose from a complaint of the Grecian
Jews against their Hebrew brethren for neglecting their widows in
the daily ministration (6:1 sqq.); he represents Paul and
Barnabas as "men of like passions" with other men (14:15), and
gives us some specimens of weak human nature in Mark when he
became discouraged by the hardship of missionary life and
returned to his mother in Jerusalem (13:13), and in Paul and
Barnabas when they fell out for a season on account of this very
Mark, who was a cousin of Barnabas (15:39); nor does he pass in
silence the outburst of Paul's violent temper when in righteous
indignation he called the high-priest a "whited wall" (23:3); and
he speaks of serious controversies and compromises even among the
apostles under the guidance of the Holy Spirit - all for our
humiliation and warning as well as comfort and encouragement.

Examine and compare the secular historians from Herodotus to
Macaulay, and the church historians from Eusebius to Neander, and
Luke need not fear a comparison. No history of thirty years has
ever been written so truthful and impartial, so important and
interesting, so healthy in tone and hopeful in spirit, so
aggressive and yet so genial, so cheering and inspiring, so
replete with lessons of wisdom and encouragement for work in
spreading the gospel of truth and peace, and yet withal so 
simple and modest, as the Acts of the Apostles. It is the best as
well as the first manual of church history.

To be continued

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