Encyclopedia > Acts

  Article Content

Acts of the Apostles

Redirected from Acts

ACTS OF THE APOSTLES. This book of the Bible, which now stands fifth in the New Testament, was read at first as the companion and sequel of the Gospel of Luke. Its separation was due to growing consciousness of the Gospels as a unit of sacred records, to which Acts stood as a sort of appendix. Historically it is of unique interest and value: there is no other book like it within the New Testament or outside it. The so-called Apocryphal Acts of certain apostles, while witnessing to the impression produced by our Acts as a type of edifying literature, only emphasize this fact. It is the one really primitive Church history, primitive in spirit as in substance; apart from it a connected picture of the Apostolic Age would be impossible. With it, the Pauline Epistles are of priceless historical value; without it, they would remain bafflingly fragmentary and incomplete, often even misleading.

The author styles it a "treatise" (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.

As regards its authorship, it is traditionally ascribed to Luke, the "beloved physician" (comp. 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 16:11, and then disappears till Paul's return to Philippi two years afterwards, when he and Paul left that place together (20:6), and the two seem henceforth to have been constant companions to the end. He was certainly with Paul at Rome (28; Col. 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 Tim. was written during Paul's second imprisonment at Rome, Luke was with him then as his faithful companion to the last (2 Tim. 4:11).

Table of contents

Plan and Aim

All agree that the Acts of the Apostles is the work of an author of no mean skill, and that he has exercised careful selection in the use of his materials, in keeping with a definite purpose and plan. It is of moment, then, to discover from his emphasis, whether by iteration or by fulness of scale, what objects he had in mind in writing. Here it is not needful to go farther back than FC Baur and the Tübingen school, with its theory of sharp antitheses between Judaic and Gentile Christianity, of which they took the original apostles and Paul respectively as typical. Gradually their statement of this position underwent serious modifications, as it became realized that neither Jewish nor Gentile Christianity was a uniform genus, but included several species, and that the apostolic leaders from the first stood for mutual understanding and unity.

Hence the Tübingen school did its chief work in putting the needful question, not in returning the correct answer. Their answer could not be correct, because, as Ritschl showed (in his Altkath. Kirche, 2nd ed., 1857 ), their premises were inadequate. Still the attitude created by the Tübingen theory largely persists as a biassing element in much that is written about Acts. On the whole, however, there is a disposition to look at the book more objectively and to follow up the hints as to its aim given by the author in his opening verses.

Thus (1) his second narrative is the natural sequel to his first. As the earlier one set forth in orderly sequence (kathexes) the providential stages by which Jesus was led, "in the power of the Spirit," to begin the establishment of the consummated Kingdom of God, so the later work aims at setting forth on similar principles its extension by means of His chosen representatives or apostles. This involves emphasis on the identity of the power, Divine and not merely human, expressed in the great series of facts from first to last.

Thus (2) the Holy Spirit appears as directing and energizing throughout the whole struggle with the powers of evil to be overcome in either ministry, of Master or disciples.

But (3) the continuity is more than similarity of activity resting on the same Divine energy. 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 (i. 2, 4 f. 8, ii. I ff., cf. Luke xxiv. 49) the fact of such spiritual solidarity, whereby their activity means His continued action in the world. And (4) the scope of this action is nothing less than humanity (ii. 5 ff.), especially within the Roman empire. It was foreordained that Messiah's witnesses should be borne by Divine power through all obstacles and to ever-widening circles, until they reached and occupied Rome itself for the God of Israel--now manifest (as foretold by Israel's own prophets) as the one God of the one race of mankind. (5) Finally, as we gather from the parallel account in Luke xxiv.46-48, the divinely appointed method of victory is through suffering (Acts xiv. 22).

This explains the large space devoted to the tribulations of the witnesses, and their constancy amid them, after the type of their Lord Himself. It forms one side of the virtual apologia for the absence of that earthly prosperity in which the pagan mind was apt to see the token of Divine approval.

Another side is the recurring exhibition of the fact that these witnesses were persecuted only by those whose action should create no bias against the persecuted. Their foes were chiefly Jews, whose opposition was due partly to a stiff-necked disinclination to bow to the wider reading of their own religion --to which the Holy Spirit had from of old been pointing (cf. the prominence given to this idea in Stephen's long speech)--and partly to jealousy of those who, by preaching the wider Messianic Evangel, were winning over the Gentiles, and particularly proselytes, in such great numbers.

Such, then, seem to be the author's main motifs. They make up an account fairly adequate to the manifoldness of the book; yet they may be summed up in three ideas, together constituting the moral which this history of the expansion of Christianity aims at bringing home to its readers. These are the universality of the Gospel, the jealousy of national Judaism, and the Divine initiative manifest in the gradual stages by which men of Jewish birth were led to recognize the Divine will in the setting aside of national restrictions, alien to the universal destiny of the Church. The practical moral is the Divine character of the Christian religion, as evinced by the manner of its extension in the empire, no less than by its original embodiment in the Founder's life and death. Thus both parts of the author's work alike tend to produce assured conviction of Christianity as of Divine origin (Luke i. 1, 4; Acts i. 1 f.).

This view has the merit of giving the book a practical religious aim--a sine qua non to any theory of an early Christian writing. though meant for men of pagan birth in the first instance, it is to them as inquirers or even converts, such as "Theophilus," that the argument is addressed. In spite of all difficulties, this religion is worthy of personal belief, even though it mean opposition and suffering. Among the features of the occasion which suggested the need of such an appeal was doubtless the existence of persecution by the Roman authorites, perhaps largely at the instigation of local Judaism. To meet this special perplexity, 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. 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. The Acts of the Apostles is in fact an Apology for the Church as distinct from Judaism, the breach with which is accordingly traced with great fulness and care.

From this standpoint Acts no longer seems to end abruptly. Whether as exhibiting the Divine leading and aid, or as recording the impartial and even kindly attitude of the Roman State towards the Christians, the writer has reached a climax. "He wished," as Harnack well remarks, "to point out the might of the Holy Spirit in the apostles, Christ's witnesses; and to show how this might carried the Gospel from Jerusalem to Rome and gained for it entrance into the pagan world, whilst the Jews in growing degree incurred rejection. In keeping with this, verses 26-28 of chapter xxviii. are the solemn closing verses of the work. But verses 30, 31 are an appended observation."

Yet the writer is, in fact, ending up most fitly on one of his keynotes, in that he leaves Paul preaching in Rome itself, "unmolested." "Paulus Romae, apex Evangelii."

The full force of this is missed by those who, while rejecting the idea that the author had in reserve enough Pauline history to furnish another work, yet hold that Paul was freed from the imprisonment amid which Acts leaves him (see PAUL). But for those, on the other hand, who see in the writer's own words in xx. 38, uncontradicted by anything in the sequel, a broad hint that Paul never saw his Ephesian friends again, the natural view is open that the sequel to the two years' preaching was too well known to call for explicit record. Nor would such silence touching Paul's speedy martyrdom be disingenuous, any more than on the theory that martyrdom overtook him several years later. The writer views Paul's death (like the horrors of Nero's Vatican Gardens in 64) as a mere exception to the rule of Roman policy heretofore illustrated. Not even by the Roman authorities were some of Nero's acts regarded as precedents.


External evidence, which is relatively early and widespread (e.g. Muratorian Canon, Irenaeus, Tertullian,Clement and Origen), all points to Luke, the companion and fellow-worker of Paul (Philem. 24), who probably accompanied him as physician also (Col. iv. 14). It must be noted too that evidence for his authorship of the third Gospel counts also for Acts. This carries us back at least to the second quarter of the 2nd century (Justin, Dial. 103, and most probably Marcion), when Loukan no doubt stood at the head of the Gospel, especially where it was used side by side with the others. We have every reason to trust the Church's tradition at this time, particularly as Luke was not prominent enough as an associate of Paul to suggest the theory as a guess. Nor does Eusebius, who knew the ante-Nicene literature intimately, seem to know of any other view ever having been held. If, then, the traditional Lucan authorship is to be doubted, it must be on internal evidence only. The form of the book, however, in all respects favours Luke, who was of non-Jewish birth (see Col. iv. 12-14 compared with 10 f.), and as a physician presumably a man of culture. The medical cast of much of its language, which is often of a highly technical nature, points strongly the same way; while the early tradition that Luke was born in the Syrian Antioch admirably suits the fulness with which the origin of the Antiochene Church and its place in the further extension of the Gospel are described (see LUKE). Again, the attitude of Acts towards the Roman Empire is just what would be expected from a close comrade of Paul (cf. Sir W. M. Ramsay, St Paul the Traveller and Roman Citizen, 1895), but was hardly likely to be shared by one of the next generation, reared in an atmosphere of resentment, first at Nero's conduct and then at the persecuting policy of the Flavian Caesars (see REVELATION). Finally, the book itself seems to claim to be written by a companion of Paul. In chap. xvi. 10 the writer, without any previous warning, passes from the third person to the first. Paul had reached Troas. There he saw a vision inviting him to go to Macedonia. "But when he saw the vision, straightway we sought to go forth into Macedonia." Thenceforth "we" re-emerges at certain points in the narrative until Rome is reached. Irenaeus (iii. 14. 1) quotes these passages as proof that Luke, the author, was a companion of the apostle. The minute character of the narrative, the accurate description of the various journeyings, the unimportance of some of the details, especially some of the incidents of the shipwreck, are strong reasons for believing that the narrative is that of an eyewitness. If so, we can scarcely help coming to the conclusion that this eye-witness was the author of the work; for the style of this eye-witness is exactly the style of the writer who composed the previous portions (see Harnack, op. cit., reinforcing the argument as already worked out by B. Weiss, 1893, and especially by Sir J. C. Hawkins in Horae Synopticae, 1899, pp. 143-147). Most scholars admit that the "we" narrative is that of a personal companion of Paul, who was probably none other than Luke, in view of his traditional authorship of Acts. But many suppose that the tradition arose from confused remembrance of the use by a later author of Luke's "we" document or travel-diary. This supposition would compel us to believe either that the skilful writer of Acts was so careless as to incorporate a document without altering its form, or that "we" is introduced intentionally. In the latter case we must suppose either that the writer was an eye-witness, or that he wished to be thought an eye-witness. E. Zeller, a follower of Baur, adopted this latter alternative, and P. W. Schmiedel adheres to it. Indeed it is hard to see how it can be avoided on the theory that the author of Acts used a travel-document by another hand (see below, Sources). On the whole, then, the most tenable theory is that the writer of the "we" sections was also the author of Acts; and that he was Luke, Paul's companion during most of his later ministry, and also his "counterpart," "as a Hellene, who yet had personal sympathy with Jewish primitive Christianity."


So far from the recognition of a plan in Acts being inimical to a quest after the materials used in its composition, one may say that it points the way thereto, while it keeps the literary analysis within scientific limits. The more one realizes the standpoint of the mind pervading the book as a whole, the more one feels that the speeches in the first part of Acts (e.g. that of Stephen) -- and indeed elsewhere, too -- are not "free compositions" of our 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 such as a Gentile Christian writing c. 80 A.D. simply could not have imagined. Thus we are forced to assume the use of a certain amount of early Judaeo-Christian material, akin to that implied also in the special parts of the Third Gospel. Paul Feine (Eine vorkanonische Ueberlieferung des Lukas, 1891) suggested that a single document explains this material in both works, as far as Acts xii. Others maintain that at any rate two sources underlie Acts i.-xii., or even i.-xv. In particular we can recognize a source embodying the traditions of the largely Hellenistic Church of Antioch, a secondary gloss from which may survive in the Bezan addition to xi. 27, "when we were assembled." Further, if our author was a careful inquirer (Luke i. 3), especially if he was in the habit of taking down in writing what he heard from different witnesses, this may explain some of the phenomena. Such a man as Luke would have rare faculties for collecting Palestinian materials, varying no doubt in accuracy, but all relatively primitive, whether in Antioch or in Caesarea, where he probably resided for some two years in contact with men like Philip the Evangelist (xxi. 8). There and elsewhere he might also learn a good deal from John Mark, Peter's friend (1 Pet. v. 13; Acts xii. 12). In any case the study of sources (Quellenkritik) is a comparatively new one, and the resources of analysis, linguistic in particular, are by no means exhausted. One important analogy exists for the way in which our author would handle any written sources he may have had by him, namely, the manner in which he uses Mark's Gospel narrative in compiling his own Gospel. Guided by this objective criterion, and safeguarded by growing insight into the author's plastic aim, we need not despair of reaching large agreement as to the nature of the sources lying behind the first half of Acts.

In the second or strictly Pauline half we are confronted by the so-called "we" passages. Of these two main theories are possible: (1) that which sees in them traces of an earlier document -- whether entries in a travel-diary, or a more or less consecutive narrative written later; and (2) that which would regard the "we" as due to the author's breaking instinctively into the first person plural at certain points where he felt himself specially identified with the history. On the former hypothesis, it is still in debate 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. cc. xiii.-xv., xxi. 19-xxvi.). On the latter, it may well be questioned whether the presence or absence of "we" be not due to psychological causes, rather than to the writer's mere presence or absence. That is, he may be writing sometimes as a member of Paul's mission at the critical stages of onward advance, sometimes rather as a witness absorbed in his hero's words and deeds (so "we" ceases between xx. 15 and xxi. 1). Naturally he would fall into the former attitude mostly when recording the definitive transition of Paul and his party from one sphere of work to another (xvi. 10 ff., xx. 5 ff., xxvii. 1 ff.). At such times the whole "mission" was as one man in its movements.

Historical Value

The question of authorship is largely bound up with that as to the quality of the contents as history. Acts is divided into two distinct parts. The first (i.-xii.) deals with the church in Jerusalem and Judaea, and with Peter as central figure -- at any rate in cc. i.-v. "Yet in cc. vi.-xii.," as Harnack observes, "the author pursues several lines at once. (1) He has still in view the history of the Jerusalem community and the original apostles (especially of Peter and his missionary labours); (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." 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 we have but few external means of testing this portion of the narrative (see below, Date). Some of it may well have suffered partial transformation in oral tradition belore reaching our author; e.g. the nature of the Tongues at Pentecost does not accord with what we know of the gift of "tongues" generally. The second part pursues the history of the apostle Paul; and here we can compare the statements made in the Acts 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. These are, 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 (see PAUL) do not really amount to more than can be explained by the different interests of Paul and our author respectively. But it is otherwise as regards the visits of Gal. ii. 1-10 and Acts xv. If they are meant to refer to the same occasion, as is usually assumed,4 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 Gal. ii. 9 f. and Acts xv. 20 f., are not at all the same. Nay more, if Gal. ii. 1-10=Acts xv., the historicity of the "Relief visit" of Acts xi. 30, xii. 25, seems definitely excluded by Paul's narrative of events before the visit of Gal. ii. 1 ff. Accordingly, Sir W. M. Ramsay and others argue that the latter visit itself coincided with the Relief visit, and even see in Gal. ii. 10 witness thereto.

But why, then, does not Paul refer to the public charitable object of his visit? It seems easier therefore to admit that the visit of Gal. ii. 1 ff. is one 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 Gal. ii. 10 (see further PAUL); and it will be shown below that such a conference of leaders in Gal. ii. 1 ff. leads up excellently both to the First Mission Journey and to Acts xv.

We pass next to the Paul of Acts. Paul insists 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(xv. 10 f., cf. 1). Not a word is said of any difference of opinion between Peter and Paul at Antioch (Gal. ii. 11 ff.). 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?

There is, nevertheless, no essential contradiction here, 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 in relation to the Gentiles belongs

to the early Palestinian conditions, 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 xv.). Paul, on his side, clearly implies that Peter felt with him that the Law could not justify (Gal. ii. 15 ff.), and argues that it could not now be made obligatory in principle (cf. "a yoke," Acts xv. 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 Cor. ix. 19 ff.). There is no reason to doubt that Peter largely agreed with him, since he acted in this spirit in Gal. ii. 11 f., until coerced by Jerusalem sentiment to draw back for expediency's sake. This incident it simply did not fall within the scope of Acts (see below) to narrate, since it had no abiding effect on the Church's extension. As to Paul's submission of the issue in Acts xv. to the Jerusalem conference, Acts does not imply that Paul would have accepted a decision in favour of the Judaizers, though he saw the value of getting a decision for his own policy in the quarter to which they were most likely to defer. If the view that he already had an understanding with the "Pillar" Apostles, as recorded in Gal. ii. 1-10 (see further PAUL), be correct, it gives the best of reasons why he was ready to enter the later public Conference of Acts xv. Paul's own "free" attitude to the Law, when on Gentile soil, is just what is implied by the hostile rumours as to his conduct in Acts xxi. 21, which he would be glad to disprove as at least exaggerated (ib. 24 and 26). What is clear is that such lack of formal accord as here exists between Acts and the Epistles, tells against its author's dependence on the latter, and so favours his having been a comrade of Paul himself.


The speeches in Acts deserve special notice. Did its author follow the plan adopted by all historians of his age, or is he an exception? Ancient historians (like many of modern times) used the liberty of working up in their own language the speeches recorded by them. They did not dream of verbal fidelity; even when they had more exact reports before them, they preferred to mould a speaker's thoughts to their own methods of presentation. Besides this, some did not hesitate to give to the characters of their history speeches which were never uttered. The method of direct speech, so useful in producing a vivid idea of what is supposed to have passed through the mind of the speaker, was used to give force to the narrative. Now how far has the author of Acts followed the practice of his contemporaries? Some of his speeches are evidently but summaries of thoughts which occurred to individuals or multitudes. Others claim to be reports of speeches really delivered. But all these speeches have to a large extent the same style, the style also of the narrative. They have been passed though one editorial mind, and some mutual assimilation in phraseology and idea may well have resulted. They are, moreover, all of them, the merest abstracts. The speech of Paul at Athens, as given by Luke, would not occupy more than a minute or two in delivery. But these circumstances, while inconsistent with verbal accuracy, do not destroy authenticity; and in most of the speeches (e.g. xiv. 15-17 ) there is a varied appropriateness as well as an allusiveness, pointing to good information (see under Sources). There is no evidence that any speech in Acts is the free composition of its author, without either written or oral basis; and in general he seems more conscientious than most ancient historians touching the essentials of historical accuracy, even as now understood.


Objections to the trustworthiness of Acts on the ground of its miracles require to be stated more discriminately than has sometimes been the case. Particularly is this so as regards the question of authorship. As Harnack observes (Lukas der Arzt, p. 24), the "miraculous" or supernormal element is hardly, if at all, less marked in the "we" sections, which are substantially the witness of a companion of Paul (and where efforts to dissect out the miracles are fruitless), than in the rest of the work. The [[scientific method]], then, is to consider each "miracle" on its own merits, according as we find reason to suppose that it has reached our author more or less directly. But the record of miracle as such cannot prejudice the question of authorship. Even the form in which the gift of Tongues at Pentecost is conceived does not tell against a companion of Paul, since it may have stood in his source, and the first outpouring of the Messianic Spirit may soon have come to be thought of as unique in some respects, parallel in fact to the Rabbinic tradition as to the inauguration of the Old Covenant at Sinai (cf. Philo, De decem oraculis, 9, 11, and the Midrash on Ps. lxviii. 11).

Finally as to such historical difficulties in Acts as still perplex the student of the Apostolic age, one must remember the possibilities of mistake intervening between the facts and the accounts reaching its author, at second or even third hand. Yet it must be strongly emphasized, that recent historical research at the hands of experts in classical antiquity has tended steadily to verify such parts of the narrative as it can test, especially those connected with Paul's missions in the Roman Empire. That is no new result; but it has come to light in greater degree of recent years, notably through Sir W. M. Ramsay's researches. The proofs of trustworthiness extend also to the theological sphere. What was said above of the Christology of the Petrine speeches applies to the whole conception of Messianic salvation, the eschatology, the idea of Jesus as equipped by the Holy Spirit for His Messianic work, found in these speeches, as also to titles like "Jesus the Nazarene" and "the Righteous One" both in and beyond the Petrine speeches. These and other cases in which we are led to discern very primitive witness behind Acts, do not indeed give to such witness the value of shorthand notes or even of abstracts based thereon. But they do support the theory that our author meant to give an unvarnished account of such words and deeds as had come to his knowledge. The perspective of the whole is no doubt his own; and as his witnesses probably furnished but few hints for a continuous narrative, this perspective, especially in things chronological, may sometimes be faulty. Yet when one remembers that by 70-80 A.D. it must have been a matter of small interest by what tentative stages the Messianic salvation first extended to the Gentiles, it is surely surprising that Acts enters into such detail on the subject, and is not content with a summary account of the matter such as the mere logic of the subject would naturally suggest. In any case, the very difference of the perspective of Acts and of Galatians, in recording the same epochs in Paul's history, argues such an independence in the former as is compatible only with an early date.

Quellenkritik, then, 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 Tubingen 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 Mommsen, Ramsay, Blass and Harnack, trained amid other methods and traditions than those which had brought the constructive study of Acts almost to a deadlock.


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 xiii. 22, and 1 Cicm. xviii. 1, in features not found in the Psalm (lxxxix. 20) quoted by each, can hardly be accidental. That is, Acts was probably current in Antioch and Smyrna not later than c. A.D. 115, and perhaps in Rome as early as c. A.D. 96.

With this view internal evidence agrees. In spite of some advocacy of a date prior to A.D. 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 eye-witnesses as a class. A strong consensus of opinion supports a date about A.D. 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 Tubingen 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 A.D. 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 Herod Agrippa I. in A.D. 44. Here Acts xii. 21-23 is largely parallel to Jos. Antt. xix. 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 analysed, tells against dependence on Josephus. So also with (2) the cause of the Egyptian pseudo-prophet in Acts xxi. 37, f., Jos. Jewish War, ii. 13. 5, Antt. xx. 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 as accidental, the more so that again there is difference as to numbers. Further, to make out a case for dependence at all, one must assume the mistaken order (as it may be) in Gamaliel's speech as due to gross carelessness in the author of Acts--an hypothesis unlikely in itself. Such a mistake was far more likely to arise in oral transmission of the speech, before it reached Luke at all.


The place of composition is still an open question. For some time Rome and Antioch have been in favour; and Blass combined both views in his theory of two editions (see below, Text). But internal evidence points strongly to the Roman province of Asia, particularly the neighbourhood of Ephesus. Note the confident local allusion in xix. 9 to "the school of Tyrannus" -- not "a certain Tyrannus," as in the inferior text--and in xix. 33 to "Alexander"; also the very minute topography in xx. 13-15. At any rate affairs in that region, including the future of the church of Ephesus (xx. 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. on xix. 9, xx. 15), probably the earliest of those referred to below. How fully in correspondeoce 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. Rev. ii. 9, iii. 9, and see Sir W. M. Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches, ch. xii.).


The apparatus criticus of Acts has grown considerably of recent years; yet mainly in one direction, that of the so-called "Western text." This term, which our growing knowledge, especially of the Syriac and other Eastern versions, is rendering more and more unsatisfactory, stands for a text which used to be connected almost exclusively with the "eccentric" Codex Bezae, and is comparable to a Targum on an Old Testament book. But it is now recognized to have been very widespread, in both east and west, for some 200 years or more from as early as the middle of the 2nd century. The process, however, of sitting out the readings of all our present witnesses--(Aleph MSS.), versions, Fathers --has not yet gone far enough to yield any sure or final result as to the history of this text, so as to show what in its extant forms is primary, secondary, and so on. Beginnings have been made towards grouping our authorities; but the work must go on much further before a solid basis for the reconstruction of its primitive form can be said to exist. The attempts made at such a reconstruction, as by Blass (1895, 1897) and Hilgenfeld (1899), are quite arbitrary. The like must be said even of the contribution to the problem made by August Pott, though he has helped to define one condition of success -- the classification of the strata in "Western" texts -- and has taken some steps in the right direction, in connexion with the complex phenomena of one witness, the Harklean Syriac.

Assuming, however, that the original form of the "Western" text had been reached, the question of its historical value, i.e. its relation to the original text of Acts, would yet remain. On this point the highest claims have been made by Blass. Ever since 1894 he held that both the "Western" text of Acts (which he styles the b text) and its rival, the text of the great uncials (which he styles the a text), are due to the author's own hand. Further, that the former (Roman) is the more original of the two, being related to the latter (Antiochene) as fuller first draft to severely pruned copy. But even in its later form, that "b stands nearer the Grundschrift than a, but yet is, like a, a copy from it," the theory is really untenable. In sober contrast of Blass's sweeping theory stand the views of Sir W. M. Ramsay. Already in The Church in the Roman Empire (1893) he held that the Codex Bezae rested on a recension made in Asia Minor (somewhere between Ephesus and S. Galatia), not later than about the middle of the 2nd century. Though "some at least of the alterations in Codex Bezae arose through a gradual process, and not through the action of an individual reviser," the revision in question was the work of a single reviser, who in his changes and additions expressed the local interpretation put upon Acts in his own time. His aim, in suiting the text to the views of his day, was partly to make it more intelligible to the public, and partly to make it more complete. To this end he "added some touches where surviving tradition seemed to contain trustworthy additional particulars," such as the statement that Paul taught in the lecture-room of Tyrannus "from the fifth to the tenth hour." In his later work, on St Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen (1895), Ramsay's views gain both in precision and in breadth. The gain lies chiefly in seeing beyond the Bezan text to the "Western" text as a whole.

Generally speaking, then, the text of Acts as printed by Westcott and Hort, on the basis of the earliest MSS.

(alephB), seems as near the autograph as that of any other part of the New Testament; whereas the "Western" text, even in its earliest traceable forms, is secondary. This does not mean that it has no historical value of its own. It may well contain some true supplements to the original text, derived from local tradition or happy inference -- a few perhaps from a written source used by Luke. Certain of these may even date from the end of the 1st century, and the larger part of them are probably not later than the middle of the 2nd. But its value lies mainly in the light cast on ecclesiastical thought in certain quarters during the epoch in question. The nature of the readings themselves, and the distribution of the witness for them, alike point to a process involving several stages and several originating centres of diffusion. The classification of groups of "Western" witnesses has already begun. When completed, it will cast light, not only on the origin and growth of this type of text, but also on the exact value of the remaining witnesses to the original text of Acts -- and further on the early handling of New Testament writings generally. Acts, from its very scope, was least likely to be viewed as sacrosanct as regards its text. Indeed there are signs that its undogmatic nature caused it to be comparatively neglected at certain times and places, as, e.g., Chrysostom explicitly witnesses.

All Wikipedia text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

  Search Encyclopedia

Search over one million articles, find something about almost anything!
  Featured Article
Johann Karl Friedrich Rosenkranz

... at the university of Königsberg[?], where he remained till his death. In his last years he was quite blind. Throughout his long professorial career, and in all his ...

This page was created in 36.9 ms