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THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES - Chapter 1 - Verse 1

 

Introduction to THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES

There is no evidence that the title, "The Acts of The Apostles," affixed to this book, was given by Divine authority, or by the writer himself. It is a title, however, which, with a little variation, has been given to it by the Christian church at all times. The term "Acts" is not used, as it is sometimes with us, to denote decrees or laws, but it denotes the doings of the apostles. It is a record of what the apostles did in founding and establishing the Christian church. It is worthy of remark, however, that it contains a record of the doings of Peter and Paul. Peter was commissioned to open the doors of the Christian church to both Jews and Gentiles, See Barnes "Mt 16:18,19"; and Paul was chosen to bear the gospel especially to the pagan world. As these two apostles were the most prominent and distinguished in founding and organizing the Christian church, it was deemed proper that a special and permanent record should be made of their labours. At the same time, occasional notices are given of the other apostles; but of their labours elsewhere than in Judea, and of their death, except that of James, Ac 12:2, the sacred writers have given no information.

All antiquity is unanimous in ascribing this book to Luke as its author. It is repeatedly mentioned and quoted by the early Christian writers, and without a dissenting voice is mentioned as the work of Luke. The same thing is clear from the book itself. It professes to have been written by the same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke, Ac 1:1; was addressed to the same person, (comp. Ac 1:1 with Lu 1:3; and bears manifest marks of being from the same pen. It is designed evidently as a continuation of his Gospel, as in this book he has taken up the history at the very time where he left it in the Gospel, Ac 1:1,2.

Where, or at what time, this book was written is not certainly known. As the history, however, is continued to the second year of the residence of Paul at Rome, Ac 28:30, it was evidently written about as late as the year 62; and as it makes not mention of the further dealings with Paul, or of any other event of history, it seems clear that it was not written much after that time. It has been common, therefore, to fix the date of the book at about A. D. 63. it is also probable that it was written at Rome. In Ac 28:16, Luke mentions his arrival at Rome with Paul. As he does not mention his departure from this city, it is to be presumed that it was written there. Some have supposed that it was written at Alexandria in Egypt, but of that there is no sufficient evidence.

The canonical authority of this book rests on the same foundation as that of the Gospel by the same author. Its authenticity has not been called in question at any time in the church.

This book has commonly been regarded as a history of the Christian church, and of course the first ecclesiastical history that was written. But it cannot have been designed as a general history of the church. Many important transactions have been omitted. It gives no account of the church at Jerusalem after the conversion of Paul; it omits his journey into Arabia, Ga 1:17; gives no account of the propagation of the gospel in Egypt, or in Babylon, 1 Pe 5:13; of the foundation of the church at Rome; of many of Paul's voyages and shipwrecks, 2 Co 11:25; and omits to record the labours of most of the apostles, and confines the narrative chiefly to the transactions of Peter and Paul.

The design and importance of this history may be learned from the following particulars:

1. It contains a record of the promised descent and operations of the Holy Spirit. The Lord Jesus promised that, after he had departed to heaven, he would send the Holy Ghost to carry forward the great work of redemption, Joh 14:16,17; 15:26; 16:7-14.

The apostles were directed to tarry in Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high, Lu 24:49. the four Gospels contained a record of the life, instruction, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. But it is clear that he contemplated that the most signal triumphs of the gospel should take place after his ascension to heaven, and under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The descent of the Spirit, and his influence on the souls of men, was a most important part of the work of redemption. Without an authentic, and inspired record of that, the account of the operations of God the Father, Son, and Spirit, in the work of redemption, would not have been complete. The purposes of the Father in regard to that plan were made known clearly in the Old Testament; the record of what the Son did in accomplishing it, was contained in the Gospels; and some book was needful that should contain a record of the doings of the Holy Spirit. As the Gospels, therefore, may be regarded as a record of the work of Christ to save men, so may the Acts of the Apostles be considered the record of the doings of the Holy Spirit in the same great work. Without that, the way in which the Spirit operates to renew and save would have been very imperfectly known.

2. This book is an inspired account of the character of true revivals of religion. It records the first revivals that occurred in the Christian church. The scene on the day of Pentecost was one of the most remarkable displays of Divine power and mercy that the world has ever known. It was the commencement of a series of stupendous movements in the world to recover men. It was the true mode of a revival of religion, and a perpetual demonstration that such scenes as have characterized our own age and nation especially, are strictly in accordance with the Spirit of the New Testament. The entire book of the Acts of the Apostles records the effect of the gospel when it comes fairly in contact with the minds of men. The gospel was addressed to every class. It met the Jew and the Gentile, the bond and the free, the learned and the ignorant, the rich and the poor; and showed its power everywhere in subduing the mind to itself. It was proper that some record should be preserved of the displays of that power; and that record we have in this book. And it was especially proper that there should be given, by an inspired man, an account of the descent of the Holy Spirit, a record of a true revival of religion. It was certain that the gospel would produce excitement. The human mind, as all experience shows, is prone to enthusiasm and fanaticism; and men might be disposed to pervert the gospel to scenes of wildfire, disorder, and tumult. That the gospel would produce excitement, was well known to its Author. It was well, therefore, that there should be some record to which the church might always appeal as an infallible account of the proper effects of the gospel; some inspired standard to which might be brought all excitements on the subject of religion. If they are in accordance with the first triumphs of the gospel, they are genuine; if not, they are false.

3. It may be further remarked, that this book shows that revivals religion are to be expected in the church. If they existed in the best and purest days of Christianity, they are to be expected now. If by means of revivals the Holy Spirit chose at first to bless the preaching of the truth, the same thing is to be expected still. If in this way the gospel was at first spread among the nations, then we are to infer that this will be the mode in which it will finally spread and triumph in the world.

4. The Acts of the Apostles contains a record of the organization of the Christian church. That church was founded simply by the preaching of the truth, and chiefly by a simple statement of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The "Acts of the Apostles" contains the highest models of preaching, and the purest specimens of that simple, direct, and pungent manner of addressing men, which may be expected to be attended with the influences of the Holy Spirit. It contains some of the most tender, powerful, and eloquent appeals to be found in any language. If a man wishes to learn how to preach well, he can probably acquire it nowhere else so readily as by giving himself to the prayerful and profound study of the specimens contained in this book. At the same time, we have here a view of the character of the true church of Christ. The simplicity of this church must strike every reader of "the Acts." Religion is represented as a work of the heart; the pure and proper effect of truth on the mind. It is free from pomp and splendour, and from costly and magnificent ceremonies. There is no apparatus to impress the senses, no splendour to dazzle, no external rite or parade adapted to draw the affections from the pure and spiritual worship of God. How unlike to the pomp and parade of pagan worship! How unlike the vain and pompous ceremonies which have since, alas! crept into no small part of the Christian church!

5. In this book we have many striking and impressive illustrations of what the gospel is fitted to produce, to make men self-denying and benevolent. The apostles engaged in the great enterprise of converting the world. To secure that, they cheerfully forsook all. Paul became a convert to the Christian faith; and cheerfully for that gave up all his hopes of preferment and honour, and welcomed toil and privation in foreign lands. The early converts had all things in common, Ac 2:44 those "which used curious arts," and were gaining property by a course of iniquity, forsook their schemes of ill-gotten gain; and burned their books publicly, Ac 19:19; Ananias and Sapphira were punished for attempting to impose of the apostles by hypocritical professed self- denials, Ac 5:1-10; and throughout the book there occur constant instances of sacrifices and toil to spread the gospel around the globe. Indeed, these great truths had manifestly seized upon the early Christians: that the gospel was to be preached to all nations; and that whatever stood in the way of that was to be sacrificed; whatever toils and dangers were necessary, were to be borne; and even death itself was cheerfully to be met, it would promote the spread of true religion. This was then genuine Christianity; this is still the spirit of the gospel of Christ.

6. This book throws important light on the Epistles. It is a connecting link between the Gospels and the other parts of the New Testament. Instances of this will be noticed in the Notes. One of the most clear and satisfactory evidences of the genuineness of the books of the New Testament is to be found in the undesigned coincidences between the Acts and the Epistles. This argument was first clearly stated and illustrated by Dr. Paley. His little work illustrating it, the Hora Paulinae, is one of the most unanswerable proofs which have yet been furnished of the truth of the Christian religion.

7. This book contains unanswerable evidence of the truth of the Christian religion. It is a record of the early triumphs of Christianity. Within the space of thirty years after the death of Christ, the gospel had been carried to all parts of the civilized, and to no small portion of the uncivilized world. Its progress and its triumphs were not concealed. Its great transactions were not "done in a corner." It had been preached in the most splendid, powerful, and corrupt cities; churches were already founded in Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, and at Rome. The gospel had spread in Arabia, Asia Minor, Greece, Macedon, Italy, and Africa. It had assailed the most mighty existing institutions; it had made its way over the most formidable barriers; it had encountered the most deadly and malignant opposition; it had travelled to the capital, and had secured such a hold, even in the imperial city, as to make it certain that it would finally overturn the established religion, and seat itself on the ruins of paganism. Within thirty years it had settled the point that it would overturn every bloody altar; close every pagan temple; and that "banners of the faith would soon stream from the palaces of the Caesars." All this would be accomplished by the instrumentality of the Jews—of fishermen—of Nazarenes. The had neither wealth, armies, nor allies. With the exception of Paul, there were men without learning. They were taught only by the Holy Ghost; armed only with the power of God; victorious only because he was their Captain; and the world acknowledged the presence of the messengers of the Highest, and the power of the Christian religion. Its success never has been, and never can be, accounted for by any other supposition than that God attended it. And if the Christian religion be not true, the change wrought by the twelve apostles is the most inexplicable, mysterious, and wonderful event that has ever been witnessed in this world. Their success to the end of time will stand as an argument of the truth of the scheme, that shall confound the infidel, and sustain the Christian with the assured belief that this is a religion which has proceeded from the almighty and infinitely benevolent God.

 

THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES

 

Chapter 1

Verse 1. The former treatise. The former book. The Gospel by Luke is here evidently intended. Greek, "the former logos," meaning a discourse, or a narrative.

O Theophilus. See Barnes "Lu 1:3".

As this book was written to the same individual as the former, it was evidently written with the same design—to furnish an authentic and full narrative of events concerning which there would be many imperfect and exaggerated accounts given. See Lu 1:1-4. As these events pertained to the descent of the Spirit, to the spread of the gospel, to the organization of the church by inspired authority, to the kind of preaching by which the church was collected and organized; and as those events were a full proof of the truth and power of the Christian religion, and would be a model for ministers and the church in all future times, it was of great importance that a fair and full narrative of them should be preserved. Luke was the companion of Paul in his travels, and was an eye-witness of no small part of the transactions recorded in this book. See Ac 16:10,17; 20:1-6,27,28.

As an eye-witness, he was well qualified to make a record of the leading events of the primitive church. And as he was the companion of Paul, he had every opportunity of obtaining information about the great events of the gospel of Christ.

Of all. That is, of the principal, or most important parts of the life and doctrines of Christ. It cannot mean that he recorded all that Jesus did, as he has omitted many things that have been preserved by the other evangelists. The word all is frequently thus used to denote the most important or material facts. See Ac 13:10; 1 Ti 1:16; Jas 1:2; Mt 2:3; 3:5; Ac 2:5; Ro 11:26; Col 1:6.

In each of these places the word here translated "all" occurs in the original, and means many, a large part, the principal portion. It has the same use in all languages. "This word often signifies, indefinitely, a large portion or number, or a great part." Webster.

That Jesus. The Syriac version adds, "Jesus our Messiah."—This version was probably made in the second century.

Began both to do, etc. This is a Hebrew form of expression, meaning the same thing as that Jesus did and taught. See Ge 9:20, "Noah began to be an husbandman," i.e. was an husbandman. Ge 12:3, in the Septuagint: "Which God began to create and make;" in the Hebrew, "which God created and made." Mr 6:7, "Began to send them forth by two and two," i.e. sent them forth. See also Mr 10:32; 14:65, "And some began to spit on him;" in the parallel place in Mt 26:67, "they did spit in his face."

To do. This refers to his miracles and his acts of benevolence, including all that he did for man's salvation. It probably includes, therefore, his sufferings, death, and resurrection, as a part of what he has done to save men.

To teach. His doctrines. He had given an account of what the Lord Jesus did, so he was now about to give a narrative of what his apostles did in the same cause, that thus the world might be in possession of an inspired record respecting the redemption and establishment of the Christian church. The history of these events is one of the greatest blessings that God has conferred on mankind; and one of the highest privileges which men can enjoy is that which has been conferred so abundantly on this age in the possession and extension of the word of God.

No men could be imposed upon and made to believe that they really saw, talked with, and ate with, a friend whom they had known so long and familiarity, unless it was real.

(3.) There were enough of them to avoid the possibility of deception. Though it might be pretended that one man could be imposed on, yet it could not be that an imposition could be practised for forty days on eleven, who were all at first incredulous.

(4.) He was with them sufficient time to give evidence. It might be pretended, if they had seen him but once, that they were deceived. But they saw him often, and for the space of more than a month,

(5.) They saw him in various places and times where there could be no deception. If they had pretended that they saw him rise, or saw him at twilight in the morning when he rose, it might have been said that they were deluded by some remarkable appearance. Or it might have been said that, expecting, to see him rise, their hopes and agitations would have deceived them, and they would easily have fancied that they saw him. But it is not pretended by the sacred writers that they saw him rise. An impostor would have affirmed this, and would not have omitted it.

But the sacred writers affirmed that they saw him after he was risen; when they were free from agitation; when they could judge coolly: in Jerusalem; in their company when at worship; when journeying to Emmaus; when in Galilee; when he went with them to Mount Olivet; and when he ascended to heaven.

(6.) He appeared to them as he had always done; as a friend, companion, and benefactor; he ate with them; wrought a miracle before them; was engaged in the same work as he was before he suffered; renewed the same promise of the Holy Spirit; and gave them his Commands respecting the work which he had died to establish and promote. In all these circumstances it was impossible that they should be deceived.

Being seen of them forty days. There are no less than THIRTEEN different appearances of Jesus to his disciples recorded. For an account of them, see the Note at the end of the Gospel of Matthew.

Speaking to them, etc. He was not only seen by them, but he continued the same topics of discourse as before his sufferings; thus showing that he was the same person that had suffered, and that his heart was still intent on the same great work. Our Saviour's heart was filled with the same design in his life and death, and when he rose; thus showing us that we should aim at the same great work in all the circumstances of our being. Afflictions, persecutions, and death never turned him from this great plan; nor should they be allowed to divert our minds from the great work of redemption.

The things pertaining to the kingdom of God. For an explanation of this phrase, the kingdom of God, See Barnes "Mt 3:2".

The meaning is, Jesus gave them instructions about the organization, spread, and edification of his church.

{a} "the former treatise" Lu 1:1-4

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