An Introduction to the New Testament

By Adolf Jülicher


Chapter 2 - Section 32


§ 32. The Acts of the Apostles

[Cf. H. A. W. Meyer, vol. iii. (ed. 8, by H. H. Wendt, 1899), and Holtzmannʼs Hand-Commentar, vol. i. (on the Synoptics and Acts, ed. 2, 1892). The most recent revision, by Franz Overbeck in 1870, of W. M. L. de Wetteʼs ʽCommentarʼ is a work of enduring value. Consult also E. Zeller: ʽDie Apostelgeschichte nach ihrem Inhalt und Ursprung kritisch untersuchtʼ (1854), which is the most notable statement of the Tübingen point of view; E. Lekebusch: ʽDie Composition und Entstehung der Apostelgeschichteʼ (1854), moderate Apologetics; F. Spitta: ʽDie Apostelgeschichte, ihre Quellen und deren geschichtlichen Wertʼ (1891); J. Weiss: ʽÜber die Absicht und den literarischen Charakter der Apostelgeschichteʼ (1897), and P. W. Schmiedelʼs article entitled ʽThe Acts of the Apostlesʼ in the ʽEncyclopedia Biblica,ʼ vol. i. pp. 37-57 (1899). For other works see below, par. 6.]

1. After an introduction linking this work with the Gospel of Luke,1 the first chapter describes how before his Ascension Jesus committed the continuation of his work on earth to the Eleven,2¯ and how these chose a certain Matthias by lot to fill the twelfth place in their ranks in the room of Judas, who had died a horrible death.3 On the day of Pentecost the promise made by Jesus4 is fulfilled; the Holy Ghost is bestowed upon the disciples, and the miracle of their speaking with tongues is explained by Peter before the astonished multitudes of pilgrims who come streaming to the Feast from all parts of the earth; three thousand souls are won over to the Gospel, and the believers proceed to live together in an ideal community of goods.5 In chapters iii—v. we have further proofs of the miraculous power of the new Spirit: a lame man is healed; Peter and John are imprisoned and then set free; Ananias and Sapphira are punished for the deceit they had practised in delivering up their property, the Apostles who had been taken prisoners by the Sadducees are released by an angel; and, after Peterʼs defence in the Sanhedrin, Gamaliel advises a cautious and temporising treatment of his followers. The next two chapters6 tell how seven ministers to the poor were chosen for the community in Jerusalem, and how one of them, Stephen, after rising in a brilliant speech from the position of one accused of blaspheming the Law to that of an accuser of the Jews who disgraced the Law, was stoned to death. But the dispersal of the Christians which follows upon this event brings nothing but good to their cause, for the Gospel now penetrates to Samaria, and reaches a eunuch from distant Ethiopia, while an episode tells of the sorcerer Simon, who wished to buy the gift of conferring the Holy Ghost from the Apostles.7 Next follows a description of the conversion of the persecutor Saul,8 after which we hear how Peter journeyed to and fro, now as a miracle-worker in Lydda and Joppa, now as a baptiser of believing Gentiles in the house of the centurion Cornelius at Caesarea, where, prepared beforehand by visions, he is convinced by actual observation that God did not deny the Holy Ghost even to the uncircumcised.9 Next follows a description of the spread of Christianity as far as Antioch, where the name of ʽChristianʼ first appears.10 Even the hatred of King Herod Agrippa cannot harm the primitive community, for though James is executed, Peter is miraculously released from prison.11 Chaps. xiii. and xiv. tell of the missionary journey of Barnabas and Saul—now re-named Paul—by way of Cyprus to Asia Minor and northwards as far as Iconium, Lystra and Derbe; then follows an account of the Apostolic Council of  Jerusalem12 at which it is decided that Gentile converts-should indeed be required, in consideration of the weekly readings from the books of Moses in all synagogues, to abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled and from fornication, but should be absolved from all further bondage to the Law (this. the so-called Apostolic Decree). Paul and Barnabas now separate for fresh missionary journeys, the former going overland through Cilicia, Lystra and Iconium to Galatia, Troas and Macedonia.13 The proceedings at Philippi, where Paul and his companions are scourged and condemned to close imprisonment, but are delivered on the very next day by a miraculous interposition of Providence, and even escorted out of the town with all honour by the magistrates, are next described in detail,14 and in chap. xvii. we are told how they travelled on, westwards and southwards, by way of Thessalonica, Berea and Athens—-where Paul makes his speech on the Areopagus—to Corinth.15 Returned to Antioch, Paul starts on a fresh expedition and chooses Asia as his field of operations, but after three yearsʼ work there he is expelled from Ephesus, never to return, by the tumult raised against him by the silversmith Demetrius. Then follows16 an account, very minute in parts, of his journey through Macedonia down to Greece and back, and then along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean to Caesarea, after which we hear how he arrived in Jerusalem, then of the rising stirred up against him by the Jews, of his transportation to Caesarea, where he is kept in prison for two years until Festus succeeds to the procuratorship, and of the various speeches he makes in his defence.17 The last two chapters tell of his removal to Rome and of his discussions with the heads of the Jewish community there, and the document ends with the statement that he was suffered to preach the Gospel there for two whole years, ʽnone forbidding him.ʼ

We must not expect to find any subtly considered scheme in this book, which merely narrates certain events in the order of their succession, but it is nevertheless possible to distinguish two parts, the first consisting of chaps. i—xii., in which Peter stands at the centre of affairs and is, as it were, the leader of the forward movement, and the second of chapters xiii—xxviii., in which this rōle is transferred to Paul. In other words, the first contains the history of the primitive community and of the Palestinian mission; the second, that of the spreading of the Gospel among the Gentiles to the very ends of the earth, from Antioch to Rome. But in the central portion, between chapters vill. and xv., these two divisions frequently overlap; the account of the Council of Jerusalem, for instance, in xv., belongs by right to the first part, and that of the conversion of Paul,18 together with viii. 8 and xi. 25, more correctly to the second; it can, however, have been no part of the writerʼs purpose to impose this dualism upon his readersʼ consciousness.

2. By the dedication to Theophilus19 and the express reference to a former work dealing with Jesus, as well as by the assumption of Jerusalem as the place of the Ascension (which agrees ill with the accounts in Mark, Matthew and John), the Book of Acts gives us to understand that it is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke. Moreover, we have no cause to consider the indications of the prologue to be a mere fabrication, for in language, taste, religious views (e.g. the exaltation of poverty and the high value set on fasting) and descriptive colour the two books agree almost more closely than we could have any right to expect, considering their very different subjects and the abundant use by both of very different materials. Their similarity in bulk would also seem to have been part of the intention of the writer. J. H. Scholtenʼs theory (put forward in 1873) that though the writer of Acts, like the writer of Luke, belonged to the Pauline school, yet the two cannot have been identical, because the former is favourably inclined towards Jewish Christianity, while the latter is opposed to it, rests on an insufficient foundation; nor are certain more recent hypotheses, according to which the Acts passed through the hands of a later reviser, who is to be clearly distinguished from the author (here the author both of Acts and Luke), deserving of any higher consideration. Slight contradictions in terms are not sufficient to justify us in bestowing three authors upon the Acts—a Judaist, an anti-Judaist and a neutral—for the Gospel can also display similar incongruities. It is true that the question as to whether this one writer had intended from the beginning to follow up his Gospel by a second book must remain unanswered. The prologue of Luke does not indicate it clearly and appears to belong solely to the Gospel, while the ending is complete in itself and needs no supplement. And since the picture of the Ascension is certainly far more highly coloured in the 1st chapter of Acts than in Luke xxiv., the conclusion may be permitted that the two books were not written at one sitting; and the Acts are also made into an independent work by the catalogue of the Apostles, which is here inserted20 regardless of its duplicate in Luke.21

3. The Book of Acts was probably written a few years later than Luke, i.e. somewhere between the years 100 and 105. It is true that it contains no direct references to events of the Post-Apostolic period, in consequence of which some have ventured to date the book as early as the lifetime of Paul, of whose death we are not told. This is, however, rendered impossible by the fact that the latter is represented in chapter xx.22 as bidding farewell for ever to the elders of the church at Ephesus, while the execution of Paul is left unmentioned at the end for other reasons than that of its not having taken place at the time those verses were written.23 The decisive argument is that the book stands no nearer to the events related in it than does the Gospel to its own subject: in both the story is told from written authorities; the full observation of the eye-witness makes itself felt partially, wherever these authorities permit; but side by side with it, and not always in the earlier chapters only, we come upon the nebulous conceptions of a later generation. The idealisation here made of the Apostolic Age is not the work of an enthusiastic, uncritical contemporary; it is far too systematic for that, and the knowledge which the writer still possesses of that age is significantly meagre. If the Acts were written by a friend of Paul during Paulʼs actual lifetime, the writer would incur the sharpest criticism, for he must in that case have written the history of his own times not only in a partisan and arbitrary spirit, but actually with the grossest carelessness; he must have passed over important events in silence concerning which a single question would have brought him information. In reality the impression he gives throughout is rather that of the industrious collector, hampered by insufficient material, but desiring to tell his story impartially. And a motive for the composition of such an Apostolic history in the years 63 or 64, when Peter, Paul and John were still alive and expected to see the return of Jesus with bodily eyes, is only discoverable by those whose lack of judgment is as complete as that of the party which desires to find room for the first sketch of a Gospel in the very lifetime of Jesus.

On the contrary, the plan of the Acts as well as the manner of its execution point to a time when the first Christian generation had already died away. The writer knows only of organised communities: as Jerusalem has its Presbyters,24 so in Pisidia Paul and Barnabas are obliged to choose Presbyters for every community25; the Apostles consecrate the ministering deacons chosen by the community by a laying on of hands26 —a sacrament which forms so important a condition of the reception of the Holy Ghost, even in the case of baptised Christians,27 that after his conversion Paul is compensated for its absence by a special mission entrusted by Christ in a vision to the disciple Ananias.28 A similar equivalent, though under a different form, is granted to the centurion Cornelius.29 But it is more especially in chapter xv. that the Apostles appear as the true leaders of the Church, not only empowered but bound to provide it with laws. Unconsciously, in fact, the picture of the Apostles given in the Acts reminds us of that of the Pastoral Epistles. Under all these circumstances it is impossible that the author should have been Luke the companion of Paul, as the tradition would have it; gaps in his knowledge which meant nothing in the case of the Gospel are here irreconcilable with the idea that the book is from the hand of an Apostleʼs disciple, even granted that he might have lived long enough to write his book at the very end of the first century. But are we to assume that none but greybeards with failing memories were proper authors for the books of the New Testament? On the other hand, we cannot place the Acts later than the beginning of the second century, because no traces of Gnostic seducers as yet appear within the writerʼs horizon, or at any rate give him any uneasiness, and still less is the state of nervousness to be observed in it into which the Church must have fallen in consequence of a long continued period of persecution. It is true that this is no proof that the writer beheld all the communities around him enjoying undisturbed tranquillity; on the contrary, they needed encouragement, and this an account of the Acts of the Apostles was peculiarly well fitted to give. Such a situation agrees admirably with the time of unrest ushered in by the persecution of Domitian. We will not introduce into our discussion on the date of the book the much-debated question as to whether our author was acquainted with Josephus, and especially as to whether he had read the latterʼs ʽJewish Warʼ and ʽArcheologiaʼ or not; Acts v. 36 fol. certainly bears a strong resemblance to XX.v.1 fol. of the ʽArcheologia,ʼ and if ʽLukeʼ had reasons for hoping that he would find something useful for his own purposes in the books of Josephus, he would certainly have procured them without delay and have retained some fragments of them in his memory. At any rate, ʽLukeʼ certainly did not serve as Josephusʼs authority. He was at most a Christian contemporary of the historian. Nor is there any evidence of the existence of the Acts before the second century, and the first traces of it are very uncertain, so that with the above assignment we have taken into account all indications which can help us to form an opinion of its date.

4. The question of its purpose is, however, of still greater importance. We should do well, if we do not wish to follow a wrong course from the very outset in seeking for the motive which underlies the Acts (Tendenz), to keep its close connection with the Gospel clearly before our eyes. If they really stand to one another in the relation of Books I. and I. of a larger work, it is unlikely that Book I. will serve entirely different interests from Book I. Now, the writer of Luke did not write solely in order to satisfy the thirst of his contemporaries and of posterity for information as to a particular field of history; he wrote to satisfy his own faith, and to increase the convincing power of that faith, convinced himself that this could best be done by making as accurate and complete a description as possible of what had actually occurred. We did not observe any partisan purpose in the Gospel, either in the Pauline direction or in that of endeavouring to reconcile the Pauline and Jewish Christian factions; and this alone makes us somewhat suspicious of the party objects which the Acts are said to have served, no matter whether the book is regarded as a defence of Paul and of his Apostolic rights, or as the programme of the party of union,—a document whose object was to wipe out the memory of the differences between Peter and Paul. And when we find that this school of critics (Tendenz-Kritiker) can with equal ease regard Paul as approximated to Peter and Peter made to show Pauline characteristics, our impression is confirmed that the writer is wrongly credited with intentions where in reality all is explained by ignorance, by the incompleteness of his materials, and by his incapacity to carry himself back into the modes of thought even of a just-departed age. It is true that in the Acts the parallelism between Paul and Peter, the representative of Jewish Christianity, is very far-reaching alike in words, deeds and fortunes: both, for instance, are dreaded by evil spirits, both have to contend with sorcerers, both raise the dead, both are imprisoned and miraculously released, and in their missionary practice as well as in the substance of their preaching they are in complete accord. Even after xxi. 24 Paul walks ʽin obedience to the Law,ʼ while even before Paulʼs first mission to the Gentiles Peter had recognised in the case of the centurion Cornelius the right of the uncircumcised to the Gospel and to the possession of the Spirit, and had unhesitatingly drawn the logical consequences of such a view.

Some of these ʽparallelisms,ʼ however, are undoubtedly founded on fact, while those of the discourses and of the religious points of view represented in them are merely due to the fact that ʽLukeʼ himself composed the declarations or discourses in question and put his own thoughts into the mouths of both Apostles; Paul was not Judaised nor Peter Paulinised, but both Paul and Peter were ʽLucanised,ʼ i.e. Catholicised, and any further coincidences may be explained by the fact that the writer possessed but one scheme for the manifestation of Apostolic power, but one Apostolic ideal, in accordance with which he portrayed both Paul and Peter alike. The similarity in the lives of the two is also far from complete, nor is there the slightest reference to anything of the sort; the many sufferings of Paul enumerated in 2. Corinthians30—e.g. the ʽperils of riversʼ and ʽperils of robbersʼ and the three ʽbeatings with rodsʼ—are omitted by the Acts not because the writer could not discover any parallels to them in the lives of the members of the primitive community, but because in his time nothing was remembered as to these experiences. We should do the writer of Acts an injustice if, instead of recognising his simple pleasure in telling a story, we continually scented some hidden motive not only where he probably added something quite freely to the tradition, but even where he merely reproduced the tradition or where he omitted certain events of which we know from other sources. Certainly the writer meant to be more than a mere critical historian of the Church or its missions, more than the biographer of two Apostles. The title of his book, (αἱ) πράξεις (τῶν) ἀποστόλων (probably not from his hand), is indeed to some extent misleading, since it is but few Apostles of whom the writer has anything to tell but their names,31 but its meaning is right nevertheless: he wishes to bring before us the second period of the history of salvation and of the Gospel (as in the Gospel he had described the first and fundamental epoch), a period in which the Apostles, the fully authorised representatives of Jesus, stepped into the place of their acting and teaching master. Here, as in the Gospel, the result expected from the narrative is that the divine nature of the story should be self-attested; every unprejudiced reader was to say to himself that it was solely through the power of the Holy Ghost32 that the Apostles had been able to perform such marvels as he read of in those twenty-eight chapters. The most striking proof of this power in the writerʼs eyes was, of course, the extraordinary spread of the mission, and it is no mere chance that he breaks off at Paulʼs unhindered two yearsʼ preaching in Rome, because therein is fulfilled the programme of i. 8: that the Apostles should be the witnesses of Jesus ʽin Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.ʼ Nevertheless we must not label the Acts ʽA History of the Extension of the Gospel from Jerusalem to Rome,ʼ because the interest of the book is not confined merely to that extension, and because such a work would then have required the supplement of a third volume describing the history of the missions beyond the Euphrates, on the one hand, and beyond Rome on the other, whereas the writer himself clearly looked upon his bipartite work as finished (xxviii. 31). What he intended to write was a History of the Power of God in the Apostles. He looks upon the Apostles as representing a religious potency as necessary as Jesus himself, and therefore their ʽActsʼ deserved a place next to those of the Saviour. But it was only because of their peculiar power that they stood so high: anything in their lives which was not a manifestation of that power is not recorded; we are told nothing of their early history, nothing of their death, unless indeed, as in the case of James,33 a miraculous interposition of the divine power was connected with it. It is not because he knew nothing of it that the writer omits to describe the deaths of Peter and of Paul, but because he could not, as in the case of Christ, describe their subsequent resurrection, and because the delight felt by later generations in the details of martyrdom, as such, was to him unknown.

If, then, the sole purpose (Tendenz) which the history of the Apostles was meant to serve was that of teaching mankind to realise the triumphant advance of the cause of God through the Apostles, we have no right whatever to be surprised at finding certain considerable gaps in the report, for what was alien to that purpose would naturally be passed over in silence. The Acts would have said nothing, for instance, even if their writer had been fully acquainted with the events, as to the dispute between Peter and Paul at Antioch described in Galatians,34 or as to the terrible war which Paul had been obliged to wage against the ʽfalse brethrenʼ35 in Jerusalem, and afterwards in so many of his own communities. In the light in which this book desires the Apostolic Age to be regarded, the proceedings at the Council of Jerusalem must necessarily wear a somewhat different aspect from that which they receive in the Epistle to the Galatians.36 As the writer meant his readers to look upon the Apostolic Age, so he himself had looked upon it all his life. His primary object was, not to mediate between Paul, the founder of the free Gentile Christianity, and the rigidly Catholic Gentile Christianity of about 100; rather he had assumed in all simplicity that in questions of salvation all the Apostles had been quite clear and wholly at one among themselves, and that their faith differed in nothing from the faith by which he had himself received salvation in the Church of his time. For his public, he certainly did not aim at any one class: not only, that is, at a particular party in the Church whose antipathies against some other he wished to heal, even though he was glad to be able to point to the friendly co-operation between Paul and the community of Jerusalem, since the need of preaching unity was not wanting in his own time; not only, either, at unconverted Gentiles or Jews, before whom he, as a skilful advocate, sought to defend the Christian religion, as the legitimate heiress of the Old Testament revelation, against Jewish calumnies and Jewish ill-will towards apostates; nor, finally, at the officials of the Roman State alone, though he may have wished to convince them of the political harmlessness of the disciples of Jesus, as of men who had never provoked popular tumults, and one of whom, Paul, had by the verdict of the most competent authorities, the Roman Procurator Festus,37 as well as the Jewish King Herod Agrippa,38 committed no crime and deserved to be released. He addressed his book to none of these classes exclusively, for three fourths of what he wrote would have been worthless for each one of them. We certainly do not wish to deny the apologetic tendency of the book, but this is merely the indirect result of the practical tendency so clearly expressed in Luke i. 4. The man who attempts from the inside to write the history of a body constantly fighting for its existence and surrounded on all sides by hatred and calumny, necessarily becomes an Apologist, though he may not have had the intention of producing an Apologetic work. The writer of Acts presupposes so minute an interest on the part of his readers in the minor adventures of his heroes—e.g. in ch. xxviii—that it is impossible to look for those readers without the pale of the Church; his purpose was to add to his Gospel a second work of edification for the benefit of his fellow-believers. This practically accounts for all the preconceptions with which he entered on his task and all the points of view which influenced him in carrying it out; and we thereby understand the reasons which induced the writer to select what was suited to his purpose from materials which may occasionally have been more complete, and even, now consciously and now unconsciously, as in the Gospel, to remodel what he took. According to his own ideas, however, he had acted strictly as an historian throughout.

5. This brings us at once into the very centre of the argument as to the historical value of the Acts. Here our conclusions need not, as we know, be based solely upon internal criticism, or on probabilities; for as a check upon the first verses we possess the Gospels, and upon the second and larger half of the book the Pauline Epistles. This comparison, however, entirely confirms the results of an examination by internal evidence,—namely, that in this document we find the strangest mixture of materials of faultless excellence with others which are almost useless. Criticism has often exaggerated the amount of the latter, as the Apologetic school has that of the former. The accounts of the Ascension39ʼ and of the death of the traitor Judas40 are obviously mere coarser versions of what we find in Luke41 and Matthew,42 nor is the Pentecost story of the Acts tenable beside the authentic record of the speaking with tongues in 1. Corinthians43: for the Acts tell of a speaking in innumerable different languages, Paul only of an ecstatic stammering unintelligible to its hearers,44¯ and thus the former account must rest upon a gross misunderstanding—inconceivable in a contemporary of those who possessed the gift—of the term ʽspeaking with tongues.ʼ Nowhere in the New Testament do the purely legendary elements appear more conspicuously than in the narratives concerning the punishment of Ananias,45 the miracles of Peter in Lydda and Joppa,46 his deliverance from prison47 or the corresponding deliverance of Paul and Silas from the dungeon at Philippi.48 Nor, in view of Galatians ii., can the baptism of Cornelius possibly have taken place at the time assigned to it in the Acts,49 for at the considerably later Apostolic Council of Jerusalem Peter still confines himself exclusively to the idea of preaching to the Jews,50 and his subsequent ʽdissimulationʼ about eating with the Gentiles51¯ would have been utterly impossible if the revelations of Acts x. and xi. had already taken place. The Acts say nothing in ix. 19-25 of the fact that Paul was working in Arabia52 between his conversion and his expulsion from Damascus, and, moreover, the picture they give of his conversion is quite different from that which we receive from Paul himself in the Epistle to the Galatians.53 Even the parallel reports of it in the Acts themselves54 display remarkable differences when compared with ix. 8-5. The statement of Acts55 as to Paulʼs first visit to the primitive community is distinctly shown to be unhistorical by Galatians i. 18-20, nor would any space be left for the second visit in the face of Galatians i. 21-ii.1. The Apostolic Decree, too, cannot have been decided upon at the Apostolic Council of Acts xv., least of all over the head of Paul, as here described. Again, the Acts represent Paul as working alone at Athens and only meeting his friends Silas and Timothy, whom he had left behind at Berœa, again at Corinth,56 but this is in direct contradiction to the account given by Paul himself in 1. Thessalonians57¯ Finally, we are told in Acts that Paul always sought out the Synagogue first in his missionary journeys and did not feel justified in devoting himself to the Gentiles until his own compatriots had rejected the Crucified Messiah,—an inconceivable principle of action for Paul, who had so clearly recognised in Galatians58 that the task laid upon him by God was that of working among the Gentiles.59

On the other hand, large sections, especially in the second part,60 are distinguished by the greatest clearness and knowledge of their subject; nor need the outline of Paulʼs life after the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem, more particularly the order in which he visited his mission-stations, and, on the whole, the occasional time-indications, be mistrusted by the critic. And for the first part, too, we need not only point to certain quite unimpeachable statements like that of the execution of James,61 but especially to the fact that the writer confines himself remarkably closely to information concerning the life of Peter (and even in his case only as far as the year 52 or thereabouts), which is certainly the best proof that he knew practically nothing about the other Primitive Apostles, but also, on the other hand, that he did not seek to cover his ignorance by bold fabrications. We might in truth speak of the modest reserve of such a writer, when we compare his work with the romances which, in the guise of more complete Histories of the Apostles, afterwards became such popular and such dangerous reading.

Probably every reader acquainted with Thucydides and Livy will agree that the numerous speeches which ʽLukeʼ puts into the mouth of his heroes, the most elaborate of which he gives to Stephen,62 but others in like manner to Peter, and, on several very various occasions, to Paul, are in a greater or less degree his own free inventions. (Here, however, we must except the ʽphilologistʼ Blass, who goes so far as to refer the ἴσασιν of Acts xxvi. 4 to Paul himself [instead of the οἴδασιν generally used in the New Testament], on the ground that he wished to show so distinguished an auditor as King Herod Agrippa that he knew how to conjugate his Attic Greek correctly!) That these discourses (including the counsel of Gamaliel,63 the letter of the chief captain Lysias to the Procurator at Caesarea,64 the letter of the Apostles65 and the speeches of Festus to Agrippa at Paulʼs trial66) are the creations of the writer, is distinctly seen on examining the very first of them, in which Peter tells the brethren at Jerusalem in full detail a story of Judas which had long been known to them, but which the writer now wishes to impart to his readers. In it Peter, the Jew, is actually made to say to other Jews at Jerusalem, ʽAnd it became known to all the dwellers at Jerusalem, insomuch that in their language that field was called Akeldama, that is, The field of blood, while farther on67 the same Peter is made to say to his fellow-believers at Jerusalem, ʽThe Lord hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.ʼ In most of these discourses, such as that speech of Paulʼs on the Areopagus68 which is so much admired by Curtius, or in that of Stephen, there is much that might well have been said by the speaker in the situation described, and the discourses of Peter also have a more Judaistic or Old Testament ring than those of Paul, but this only proves that the writer possessed good taste and a certain amount of historical feeling, just as he represents Paul as speaking differently according to circumstances—as striking an entirely different note, for instance, in his farewell speech to the Ephesian Presbyters69 from that in his missionary address to the Athenians.70 The ʽauthenticity,ʼ in the modern sense, of these discourses is impossible, first, because the Paul reflected therein has no more in common with the Paul whose thoughts and expressions have become familiar to us through so many Epistles than any other believer might have had, while the Stephen they portray takes up, even before Paul has become a Christian, a position which is only conceivable as the hard-won result of Paulʼs lifelong labours; secondly, because the personality of the writer of Luke and the Acts, as well as his peculiarities of language, are most conspicuously seen in these discourses: thirdly, because it is impossible to understand how such skilfully composed orations could have been committed to posterity, since no one thought of making an immediate record of them, and at Athens no other Christian was even present, besides the speaker,—still less, of course, during the conversations between the captive Paul and Felix, Herod, or Festus; and, lastly, because until the contrary is proved, the same judgment must be pronounced upon the discourses in the Acts as upon all other discourses woven by ancient historiographers into their narratives (those sayings of Jesus plainly compiled by the Synoptics out of isolated sentences and fragments of speeches of course excepted), namely, that it was the object of the historian to make his principal personages express their own characters and that of their time in a rhetorical work of art.

On the other hand, a most satisfactory proportion of the actual events related in the Acts is derived from older sources. The most important of these, the We-document—so-called because it is written in the first person plural—must come directly from the hand of a travelling companion of Paulʼs, who from time to time recorded in the rich colours of actual experience, and most probably in the form of a diary, the events in which he himself had taken part. We find this ʽweʼ in the accounts of the journeys from Troas to Philippi,71 from Philippi to Miletus (for the last time),72 from Miletus to Jerusalem73 and from Caesarea to Rome,74 and since its statements are never open to the slightest objection, the idea of looking upon the ʽweʼ as a deliberately deceptive fiction of the writerʼs is one of unusual grotesqueness. On the other hand, the attempt to identify the writer of the Acts with the writer of the We-document is hardly less audacious, in spite of its venerable age; the terse, matter-of-fact tone of the ʽweʼ passages, as well as their familiarity with the actual course of events, forms an overwhelming contrast to the broad, reflective manner and the artificial constructions of the other portions; just as clearly, for instance, as the first half of chapter xxviii.75 proclaims itself the narrative of an eyewitness, so is the last half (the conversation of Paul with the heads of the Jewish community in Rome76) seen to be a fabrication, introduced by one who was completely foreign to the state of things in Rome at that time, in order to show that, in Rome as elsewhere and always, the Apostle did not turn to the Gentiles until his preaching had been roughly rejected by the Jews. The undeniable carelessness implied in taking over from a foreign source a ʽWeʼ which certainly did not signify the writer, is not greater than that ascribed to him by the opposite party, according to whose theories Luke, now drawing from his own fresh recollection and now making use of older memoranda, suddenly begins to address his readers in the first person, without either having introduced the ʽWeʼ or explained to whom it referred, and then as suddenly lets it drop again. If the writer of the Acts—and of Luke as well—was indeed the celebrated friend of Paul, he must have written much that was against his own better knowledge (e.g. chapter xv.); we shall appreciate him more highly if we finally renounce the search for his name.

The We-document must of course have originally contained more than the four sections mentioned above. It would not have maintained its existence from generation to generation if it had consisted merely of three or four pages of a travellerʼs journal. It must certainly have been a more or less connected whole, rich in information concerning Paul and his friends, and therefore profoundly welcome to every historian of the Apostolic Age. In some passages the writer of Acts simply incorporated it whole for convenienceʼ sake— not, we may suppose, in servile dependence on its letter, but rather with additions of all kinds, such as the reference in xxi. 8 to vi. 8 and 5. Elsewhere he made excerpts from it, using it as the groundwork for his own more highly coloured pictures. Perhaps he owes to it all the really valuable material for the history of Paul that he produces, especially if xi. 23 already belongs to it.77 If, as tradition says of the writer of Acts, the author of the earlier document was a Christian of Antioch, this would explain why in dealing with the history of Paul, the Acts do not appear to attain firm ground until his labours at Antioch come to be narrated. Unfortunately, it is impossible to decide the old controversy as to which of the companions of Paul was its author—the claims of Silas, Timothy, Titus and Luke have all been urged. Those who are impressed by the fact that the ʽWeʼ breaks off at xvi. 17 in Philippi, only to reappear in the same town a few years later,78 are perhaps justified in giving their imagination free play and assigning the preference to the physician Luke, who may then have practised in Philippi during the interval, Silas and Timothy having left Philippi along with Paul. But it is only if we regard the whole book as the work of the ʽWeʼ writer that the fact that Silas and Timothy are spoken of in the third person in xvii. 15, while Titus and Luke are never mentioned at all, _ becomes an argument against the authorship of either of the two former; a later writer making use of the We-document would have had no reason for suppressing the name of his authority, unless indeed he wished to be mistaken for him: but do we observe any traces of such a desire in the Acts? In my opinion, the continuous silence maintained by the writer of Acts concerning Luke is, if anything, unfavourable to the hypothesis of Lucan authorship; but, on the other hand, the persistent association of his name with the Gospel and the Acts seems to point towards the explanation that the Wedocument was his work. The recollection that it was precisely Luke among all Paulʼs friends who had taken valuable notes of their journeys might have subsisted as late as the second century; what more natural, then, than to ascribe the whole anonymous work, in which one of Paulʼs companions certainly did appear in parts as the speaker, to this same Luke? Small weight will be laid on the discovery that the Acts and even the Gospel in certain parts, but most of all the ʽWeʼ passages, are remarkably rich in medical terms, and thus betray the authorship of Luke the physician, when we recognise how insignificant are those terms: we might as well say that Paul was a gynecologist on the ground of 1. Thessalonians v. 3! But if we were right in deriving the name of Matthew as applied to the First Gospel from a document utilised therein, we shall be able with the same measure of probability to deduce the name of Luke as applied to the Third Gospel and the Acts from the most important single document made use of by the author of that double work.

The unknown writer of the Acts, however, would not have confined himself here any more than in the Gospel to one authority—in this case the We-document. It is true that he omitted to make any systematic use of the Epistles of Paul; such a possibility probably never occurred to him. But it is unquestionable that he drew part of the information given in the earlier half concerning the primitive community from other sources. He was not the man to invent the names of the seven ministers to the poor79 and of the two candidates for the Apostleship, Barsabbas and Matthias,80¯ or the positive items of fact concerning Joseph, surnamed Barnabas81; such things invariably point to the existence of earlier written authorities. Imperfect mastery of the available materials would also be the best explanation for certain numerous faults of composition, such as the remarkable duplicate afforded by iv. 32 fol. and v. 12-16 beside ii. 42-47, in which the same general description of the state of things in the community of Jerusalem had already been given. I think it unlikely, too, if only from what we know of his usual practice throughout the Gospel, that he should simply have spun the miracle stories of chapters ii—xii. out of his own imagination; they are not mere reproductions of Gospel material, and the names of places and persons which they contain seem to favour the assumption that a kernel of truth, overgrown with legendary exaggerations, is to be found in them. Their circulation by word of mouth for a considerable time would easily account for this process, but in my opinion it is scarcely possible that our author was the first in every case to commit these fragments of tradition to writing. The one-sidedness, or rather incompleteness, of his story in chapters i—xii. is more favourable to the theory that he was dependent on inadequate written authorities, than to that of his having made a bad selection from a stream of oral tradition still steadily flowing in full creative force.

It is accordingly very natural that many attempts have been made by scientific theologians to unravel the original documents employed in the Acts in as complete a form as possible. But no satisfactory results have yet been attained. Spittaʼs hypothesis is original and at first sight seductive: an attempt to point out the traces of two parallel histories of the Apostles from xxiv. 44 of Luke down to the last verse of the Acts, so that the writer of Acts would in reality have had no more to do than to add and piece together different portions of these narratives. The weak side of this theory seems to be that everything good and authentic is heaped together into the one authority (A), and everything incredible and unimportant into the other (B). Moreover, much is assigned to B which to all appearances is the peculiar property of the author of the present book of Acts. The assumption that the first half of the Acts is based on several written predecessors finds greater favour even with strictly conservative critics: ʽActsʼ of Philip, Peter, Stephen and Barnabas have all been mentioned, and even the ʽΚήρυγμαʼ of Peter has been added to the list, while Blass is willing to allow that Hebrew or Aramaic documents were made use of by Luke in these first twelve chapters. As a natural reaction against the subjectivism of such theory-mongering, others, among whom is H. Wendt, prefer to extend the one well-authenticated authority in the second part to greater and greater dimensions, until at last it contains materials for almost every portion of the Acts. Not only is it made to form the basis of chapter xiii., to contain the great speeches of Paul at Athens, at Miletus and before Agrippa, but it is even said that the story of Stephen, connected with xiii. 1 through viii. 1, 4 and xi. 19 fol. and 27 fol., was taken from it; while as introduction to this, again, certain passages out of chapters ii.—v. are required, describing the ideal state of things in the early days of the primitive community. Wendt himself is distinguished by a cautious reserve in the matter of reconstruction, but he surely cannot be on the right track in viewing the We-document as he does. He contends that it consisted not only of the writerʼs memoirs concerning his own actual experiences, but was in nuce a history of Paul and of the Mission to the Gentiles. But if it embraced so many points of view and inserted such long—and of course fictitious—speeches of the Apostle, it becomes an alter ego of our own Acts, and I see no further reason for refusing to ascribe the whole book to the writer of the We-document. The more closely we assimilate the supposed original document (or documents) to the present Acts of the Apostles, in bulk, composition and purpose, the more thoroughly do we undermine the foundations of the true critical position: the book can only be understood, from an historical point of view, as anew phenomenon in Christian literature; it loses all meaning if it had a number of precursors, possibly out of different camps. The unknown writer certainly utilised earlier documents—as many of them as he could by any means lay hold of—and very probably one in which Jerusalemic material preponderated as well as the journal originating in the Pauline circle. But he subordinated these materials to his own language and ideas with far greater freedom than in the Gospel—except where it suited him to be a copyist pure and simple; he shows himself indeed more than a mere editor of the Acts; had he been nothing more, his work in that capacity would have been so brilliant and so skilful that it would be impossible to believe him satisfied with such a part.

We will refrain, therefore, from pursuing a shadow, and will let the reconstruction of the sources of the Acts alone until we light upon some parallel work of the earliest times which will enable us to apply synoptic criticism in this case also. We should rather congratulate ourselves that the author of Acts followed any older documents at all in telling the story of the first thirty years of the Church. Above all, we must not forget that what we now possess is his own work, not that of his authorities; he adopted the material which he found already existing in oral or written tradition, but moulded it according to his own ideas of edification and truth. His ideas, however, were identical with those of the average Christianity of his time, except that in him they were ennobled by higher culture and a more loving study of the sacred story; in the Acts, therefore, we may say that the Gentile Church of the beginning of the second century codified the best of what she knew concerning the first period of her history. We cannot over-estimate the value of a book to which, perhaps, we do not exactly owe our comprehension of the Apostolic Age, but to which we are very largely indebted for our ability to use the oldest documents, the Epistles of Paul, towards such a comprehension. From the esthetic point of view the Acts also deserve high praise; they have the same _ true-hearted warmth, the same smooth, agreeable, conversational tone and the same tactful abstinence from crude effects as the Gospel: they are, in fact, the ideal of an ecclesiastical history.

6. The philologist Blass believes himself to have set the entire criticism of the Acts upon a new foundation. The fact that its text has come down to us in two very different recensions was indeed not unknown before his day, but not enough was made of it. Besides the text given in most of the Greek manuscripts and used as the foundation-stone of the Acts in all critical editions of the New Testament, there exists another, represented by the Greco-Latin Codex D,82 by a Syriac and an Egyptian translation83 and by a series of Old-Latin quotations. This text could not have arisen out of mere false readings, copyistsʼ errors and other accidental corruptions, but when compared with the accepted text presents an appearance of individuality and in many places even of greater antiquity. As early as 1848 F. A. Bornemann pointed out the superiority of this Western text over the Eastern (for convenienceʼ sake we may call them β and α respectively) and looked upon a as the work of Alexandrian Revisers. Blass84 also recognises two different recensions, but since these are remarkably alike in style, he ascribes both β and α to the same writer—that is, to the author of Acts—and considers that in β we have his sketch or first draught, while α represents the terser, clearer and more carefully written fair copy. In 1895 Blass published a ʽPhilological Editionʼ of the Acts of the Apostles, equipped with introduction, critical apparatus, running commentary and exhaustive indices, but based only on the α text; this was, however, followed in 1896 by a similar edition of β: ʽActa Apostolorum secundum formam quae videtur romanam.ʼ The flights of literary and historical fancy with which Blass adorned his hypothesis in the complacent prefaces to these editions—his picture of the eagerness of the humble Luke to present his opus to the distinguished Asiatic Theophilus in as polished a Greek as possible, and of the pressure of the Roman Christians to be allowed to use at least the sketch, since a second example of this fair copy was not so easily obtainable—all this threatened to divert attention from the main fact, that of the existence of two recensions of the text, which it is the lasting merit of Blass to have pointed out. Both merit and danger were increased, however, when Blass affirmed85 that the same state of things also existed in the case of the Gospel of Luke. He was not disconcerted by the fact that here the Western text, or β, is the more concise and displays signs of greater care in the removal of difficulties of form and matter; here, too, he considers that α and β stand to one another in the relation of sketch to fair copy, except that this time β represents the latter. Blass has a neat historical explanation of this fact: his view is that when Luke came to Rome with the captive Paul, he brought with him his Gospel—which he had written and published in Palestine between the years 54 and 56—and presented his Roman brethren with a copy of it—not, however, without polishing the text, and, more especially, adding certain things to it which he had preferred to suppress in Palestine and Syria out of consideration for the Jews. Then in Rome he proceeded to write his second great work, the Acts, between 57 and 59; of this—as was only fair!—the Romans kept the first draught, while Luke prepared an improved edition for Theophilus and the Christians of the Hast.

Of course, no one is justified in assigning the Acts or Luke to a date some twenty to forty years earlier, simply because a second recension of their texts is brought to light; the considerations brought forward above in support of their later date retain their full value notwithstanding both Blass and Savonarola. We have in any case admitted that one reporter was an eyewitness, and not even Blassʼs hypothesis can take us any further. The only questions open to discussion are those as to whether both recensions of both books are really from the hand of the same author, and, if so, which is the earlier version in each case. The enthusiastic approval with which Blass was greeted in the case of the Acts was naturally not repeated in that of the Gospel; men like Zahn and Vogel, who are inclined to accept the view that Luke himself produced two editions of the Acts, find it impossible to admit that the author of the Gospel made a revised version of the latter work, but consider that the insertion of numerous glosses is sufficient explanation. Hilgenfeld, again, in his ʽActa Apostolorum graece et latine secundum antiquissimos testesʼ (1899), while giving the preference with almost greater obstinacy than Blass to the β text, does not regard α as a second and improved version from the hand of the same author, but returns on that question to the point of view of Bornemann. On the other hand, the priority of α even in the case of the Acts has been energetically affirmed by Corssen, Ramsay, B. Weiss in his ʽDer Codex D in der Apostelgeschichteʼ (1897) and Adolf Harnack in his brilliant investigations86 into the original text of the Apostolic Decree (Acts xv. 28 fol.), of Acts xi. 27 fol. and of Acts xviii. 1-27. Many others consider that the original text of Acts is to be found neither in α nor β, but lies between or behind them, so that we should be obliged to ascertain the true reading separately in each case of doubt by a careful selection from both the existing versions, neither of which has come down to us intact. The ideas of A. Pott87—who, however, again tries to combine questions of literary with those of textual criticism—are particularly ingenious; he considers that the valuable variants supplied by β were taken from the We-document, the true Acta Pauli. This, he believes, continued to exist for a time even after it had been incorporated in parts into our Acts; a few copies of α were corrected by the light of it, at first in the form of marginal notes, and these again gave rise to the earliest versions of β. And in effect there are certain insertions in β, such as that of Myra as a stopping-place after Patara,88 or the words ʽwe stayed in Trogiliaʼ between the departure from Samos and the arrival at Miletus,89 or the detail mentioned in verse xxviii. 16, ʽthe centurion delivered the prisoners to the stratopedarch,ʼ which sound as though they were based on good authority. But Pottʼs hypothesis is wrecked once for all by the fact that these peculiarities of β extend over the whole of the book, not even omitting the discourses: thus in iii. 3 we have in β ʽand he cast his eyes upwards and sawʼ as against the ʽwho, seeingʼ etc. of α; in v. 35 the words ʽand he spake to the rulers and them that sat byʼ instead of the mere ʽand he said unto themʼ of α; in xii. 10 the additional words ʽand went down the seven stepsʼ beside the ʽand passed on through one streetʼ of α, and finally in xxiii. 29 the sentence ʽWhen I found that this man was accused about nought but certain matters of the law of Moses and about one Jesus, but had done nothing worthy of death, I released him with difficulty by force,ʼ in the letter of Lysias, instead of the shorter version of α, ʽwhom I found to be accused about questions of their law, but to have nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or of bonds.ʼ If the extra matter in β were derived from the We-document, the latter must have been as long as the Acts themselves (see par. 5), and, moreover, how are we to explain the omissions from α which are also to be observed in β90? Besides this, however, Harnack has proved beyond dispute that β is a later recension of α dating from the years between 100 and 140; when Gamaliel prophesies in β: ʽye will not be able to overthrow them, neither ye nor emperors nor tyrants,ʼ while in a the italicised words are absent,91 it is clear that the writer is there drawing upon his experiences in the period of State persecution. So too, when he converts the Apostolic Decree from a compromise in matters of ceremonial into a code of morals—omitting the prohibition of ʽthings strangled, turning the clause enjoining abstention from blood into a commandment to do no murder, and supplying a new fourth clause in the sentence ʽWhatsoever ye would not that men should do unto you, do not ye unto othersʼ—then we may know that we have the words of a man of the second century at earliest before us. But, on the other hand, we may not descend any later because by the year 200 we find his text already dominant in the West.

A few of the peculiar readings of β certainly deserve to be given the preference over the universally accepted versions of α, but the great majority of them are the work of an emendator of the Acts, who again had his own imitators, for the very readings of β are not all from the same hand. This manʼs chief desire was to attain a certain ideal of clear consistency in the narrative by inserting colourless connecting links between the sentences, but also to force a stronger impression upon his readers by adding certain amplificatory, broadening, sometimes even vulgarising, touches of detail, while occasionally he even altered from the mere joy of altering, the mere necessity of doing something. Passages like xix. 14 are characteristic of his manner; here the β text has: ʽAnd among these the sons of a certain ruler named Sceva wished to do these things, men who were reputed to be exorcists of such persons. And when they were entered in unto the man with the evil spirit they began to utter the Name and said, We command thee by Jesus, whom Paul preacheth, to go out of him.ʼ This is four times as long as the version of a, but where does it betray the slightest independent information over and above that of α?

Finally, since the Codex D and all the manuscripts based upon it possess a text which differs with remarkable frequency from the oldest Greek versions, even in the case of the Gospels—and not only that of Luke—and since it must be admitted that in this instance also its tendency is to give an artificially natural appearance to the text, by simplifying and smoothing it down in accordance with later taste, it cannot be of any use to us in deciding questions of Introduction in the case of the narrative books of the New Testament. Apart from the few good readings which, in spite of its corruptions, it has preserved, the one thing it teaches us beyond any doubt is that at the time this recension was made the sacred texts were not yet regarded with any very great respect; any scribe who could express them in better, clearer, more concise or more emphatic language did so without hesitation. The sayings of Jesus remained comparatively immune from attack, but less compunction was already shown towards the discourses of the Apostles in the Acts, while the parts which suffered most from such arbitrary treatment were those proceeding from the Evangelist himself, the narrative framework. But it is not to be wondered at that the reviser sometimes made use of the very language and ways of putting things of the writer whom he was victimising; the author of Luke treated his authorities in the same way, perhaps with full intention.

The hypotheses of Blass are indeed of no importance for the history of the origin of the Lucan writings, but shed much light upon that of their subsequent propagation, nor is Blass without some merit as a commentator; while as an historian he may be particularly proud of having shattered our confidence in the ʽtraditionʼ on a few important points —unwittingly, it may be, but still most thoroughly.



1) i, 1-3.

2) i. 4-14.

3) i. 15-26.

4) i. 8.

5) Ch, ii.

6) vi. and vii.

7) Ch. viii.

8) ix. 1-30.

9) ix. 31-xi. 18.

10) xi. 19-26.

11) xii. 1-25.

12) xv. 1-33.

13) xv. 35-xvi. 11.

14) xvi. 12-40.

15) Chs. xviii. and xix.

16) xx. 1-xxi. 14.

17) xxi. 15.-xxvi. 32.

18) ix. 1-30.

19) See Luke i. 3.

20) i, 13.

21) vi, 14-16.

22)  . 4-38, and cf. xxi. 4, 11-14.

23) See pp. 43, 44.

24) xi. 30.

25) xiv. 23.

26) vi. 6.

27) viii. 17 fol.

28) ix. 10-18.

29) x. 44-46.

30) xi. 23 fol.

31) i. 13.

32) i. 8.

33) xii. 1 etc.

34) ii. 11 etc.

35) ii. 4.

36) Ch. ii.

37) xxv. 25.

38) xxvi. 32.

39) i. 9 etc.

40) i. 78.

41) xxiv. 51.

42) xxvii. 3 fol.

43) xii.—xiv.

44) 1 Cor. xiv. 2.

45) Ch. v.

46) Ch, ix.

47) Ch. xii.

48) xvi.| 25-39.

49) See Ch. x.

50) Gal. ii. 7 and 8.

51) Gal. ii. 11 etc.

52) Gal. i. 17.

53) i. 15 fol.

54) xxii. 5-16, xxvi, 12-14,

55) ix. 26 etc.

56) xvii. 14 fol. and xviii. 5.

57) iii. 1 fol.

58) ii. 8 fol.

59) See above, pp. 36, 37.

60) E.g., the voyage of Paul from Caesarea to Puteoli and his arrival in Rome, xxvii. 1-xxviii. 16.

61) xii. 2.

62) vii. 2-53,

63) v. 35-39.

64) xxiii. 26-30.

65) xv. 23-25.

66) xxv. 14-27

67) xii. 11.

68) xvii, 22-31.

69) xx. 18 etc.

70) xvii. 22 etc.

71) xvi. 10-17.

72) xx. 5-15.

73) xxi. 1-18,

74) xxvii. l-xxviii. 16.

75) Vv, 1-16.

76) Vv. 17-28.

77) See below, par. 6. 

78) xx. 5 fol.

79) vi. 5.

80) i, 23.

81) iv. 36 fol.

82) See § 52, par. 2.

83) See § 53, par. 3c.

84) First in Theologische Studien und Kritiken for 1894, pp. 86-119.

85) See his edition of Luke ʽsecundum formam quae videtur romanam,ʼ published in 1897.

86) Sitzungsberichte der königl. preuss. Akademie der Wissenschaft, 1899, pp. 150 fol. and 316 fol., and 1900, pp. 2 fol.

87) Der Abendländische Text der Apostelgesch. und die Wir-Quelle (1900).

88) Verse xxi. 1.

89) xx. 15.

90) E.g., xxvii. 11 and large parts of verses 12 and 13 as well as of ix. 12.

91) v. 39.