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The chronological difficulty has probably weighed with many, as it has with Lightfoot (Ed. Gal. p. 124), in rejecting the identification which we advocate of the visit in Acts XI with that in Gal. II 1-10. It is therefore necessary to glance briefly at the chronology of the early chapters of Acts, in order to show that there is no real difficulty for those who (like Lightfoot) date the Crucifixion in A.D. 30. Our identification, if proved, would make it certain that the Death of Christ cannot be dated so late as 33.

Luke’s historical method required him in the opening of his Second Book to give a full account of the first condition of the Church in Jerusalem, and then to concentrate attention on the critical steps and persons by whom the Universal Church was moulded to the form it had in his time.

In I, after a short preamble, connecting the narrative with the preceding book, he describes how the number of the Apostles was filled up. The organisation of the Church was always a subject of keen interest to Luke; he “evidently had the impression that the guidance of affairs rested with the Apostles in Jerusalem” (p. 53); and the appointment of this important official was in his estimation a matter of great moment. Peter took the lead; two were selected by common agreement and vote; and out of these the lot showed which was preferred by the Divine will.

In II 1-42 the events of Pentecost (May 26, A.D. 30), and the effect produced on the character of the converts, are described; and the general state and conduct of this primitive Church is summed up in II 43-47.

The second part of II 47, “the Lord added to them day by day those that were being saved,” is one of those phrases in which Luke often hits off a long, steady, uniform process. It is to be taken as a general description of subsequent progress in Jerusalem, during the course of which occurred the events next related.

The space devoted by Luke to Pentecost shows that he considered the events of that day to be of the highest importance. On that day the Divine grace was given to the Apostles, qualifying them (p. 45) for the work which they were now required to perform since their Master had left them. Luke shows true historical insight in fixing the reader’s attention on Pentecost. For the permanence of a movement of this kind, much depends on the successors of the first leader; and the issue is determined in the period following the leader’s removal. Has the leader shown that electrical creative power that remoulds men and communicates his own spirit to his disciples, or will the movement be found leaderless and spiritless, when the originator is taken away? While the leader is with his disciples, they have little or no opportunity of showing independence and originality and capacity for command. When he is re moved from them, the first effect must be discouragement and a sense of emptiness, proportionate to the influence exerted by the leader. Then comes the real test, which determines the vitality and permanence of the movement. Has the spirit of the founder descended on his followers? With Luke, and with all the great leaders of the first century, that was the test of every new man and every new congregation: had the Spirit been granted to them?

In the second month after their leader was taken away, on the day of Pentecost, the test was fulfilled in the primitive Church; and the capacity of his disciples to carry on his work was shown. They became conscious of the power that had been given them, and their new power was recognised by the multitude in their words and in their looks. The same impression of a transformed and recreated nature was made on the elders and scribes, when they examined Peter and John (IV 13 f., see § 2).

By virtue of that Divine grace, “many wonders and signs were done by the Apostles,” v. 43, during the following time. But it is vital to Luke’s method not to rest contented with. that general statement, but to give one special, clear example of the power communicated to the Apostles and to the Church of which they were the leaders. It would be waste of time to regret that he passes over so much that we should like to know, and devotes so much space to a marvel that is to us a difficulty: our present aim is to understand the purpose of what he does say, not to long after what he omits.

The example is given in III; the subsequent events of the same day are narrated IV 1-4; and the following day is described IV 5-31, when Peter and John, in whom the proof of Divine grace had been shown forth. were examined before a meeting of “the rulers and eiders and scribes”. These are represented as realising now for the first time, v. 13, the change that had come over Peter and John, who from “unlearned and ignorant men” had been transformed into bold and eloquent preachers. Evidently. the historian conceives that this transformation, wrought at Pentecost, was now beginning to be generally felt; and therefore he is still (as we have said) describing the immediate issue of Pentecost. Thereafter comes a second general statement of the state and character of the primitive Church, startlingly similar to II 43-47.

Thus the whole passage II 43-IV 35 hangs very closely together, and describes the Church in the period immediately succeeding May 26, A.D. 30. Two episodes of this period, exemplifying the conduct of the true and the false convert, are described IV 36-V 11; and then comes a third general description of the state of the Church in this period V 12-16, followed by a statement of the attempt made by the Jewish leaders to coerce the Apostles into silence V 17-41.

That at least two accounts by two different authorities underlie Luke’s narrative, and have been worked up by him with little change, seems clear. It is, of course, obvious that he was entirely dependent for this period of his history on the authority of other persons; and we see in the Third Gospel how much he was influenced by the very language of his authorities, and how little change he made on their words.6767Thus the particle μὲν οὐν, so common in Acts, occurs only once in the Third Gospel, in a passage peculiar to Luke III 18. In XXII 56 he added the little touch ἀτενίσασα to the narrative as used by Matthew and Mark, see p. 39.


Acts I-V. It is obvious that the trustworthiness of this part of Acts stands on quite a different footing from that of the Pauline narrative, which we have hitherto discussed. The author had means of knowing the later events with perfect accuracy (so far as perfection can be attained in history); but the means which helped him there fail in I-V, and the scene and surroundings were to him strange and remote (p. 19 f.). He was here dependent entirely on others, and it was more difficult for him to control and make himself master of the evolution of events. We discern the same guiding hand and mind, the same clear historical insight seizing the great and critical steps, in the early chapters, as in the later; but the description of the primitive Church wants precision in the outline and colour in the details. It seems clear that the authorities on which Luke depended were not equally good; and here second-rate incidents are admitted along with first-rate in a way that has done his reputation serious injury in the estimation of those who begin to study Acts from this, its necessarily weakest part. One or two examples will bring out our meaning. First we take an incident related also by Matthew.

Matthew XXVII 5-8 Acts I 18-19.

There can be no hesitation in accepting the vivid and detailed description which Matthew gives of this incident. But, if so, the account given in Acts cannot be accepted as having any claim to trustworthiness in any point of discrepancy. The character of this account is marked, and its origin obvious. It is a growth of popular fancy and tradition, which preserved the main facts, viz., the connection between the name, Field of Blood, and the price paid to the betrayer. But it is characteristic of popular tradition, while it preserves some central fact, to overlay it with fanciful accretions, which often conceal completely the historical kernel. In this case, we have the tale arrested at an early point in its growth, when its elements are still separable. The name Field of Blood had to be explained suitably to the remembered fact that it was bought with the betrayer’s reward; but its meaning was mistaken. Popular fancy always craves for justice; it connected the name with the betrayer’s punishment, took the Blood, which formed one element of the name, as the betrayer’s blood, and evolved a myth which united fact and retributory justice in a moral apologue.

It is a remarkable thing that popular tradition should so soon distort a tale so simple and so impressive. But oriental tradition never clings to fact with anything like the same tenacity as Greek tradition; and we know how much even the latter distorts and covers over the facts that it preserves. The oriental mind has little or nothing of the proper historical tone. It remembers facts, not for their own value, but for the lesson they can convey. It substitutes the moral apologue for history in the strict sense of the term, craving for the former, and possessing little regard for the latter. It acts with great rapidity, transforming the memory of the past within the lapse of a few years; and probably those who know the East best will find least difficulty in believing that the stow which Luke here gives might have been told him, when the Field of Blood was pointed out to him at Jerusalem in 57 A.D.

But in this rapid transformation of fact in Eastern popular tradition lies the best safeguard of the historical student against it. He rarely needs to doubt, as he often must in Greece, whether any narrative is history or mere popular tradition. Greek tradition often has such a natural appearance that it is hard to say where fact ends and fancy begins. But oriental tradition is so free in its creation, so unfettered by any thought of suitability in the accessories, that it is marked off from history by a broad and deep gap. By history we mean narrative rounded on documents that are nearly contemporary with the actual facts, or on the accounts of eye-witnesses, not implying that “history” must be absolutely true. To give a true account even of a single incident that one has actually participated in is not within the power of all, for it needs education, skill in selection, and an eye to distinguish the relative importance of different points. To give a true account of a long series of incidents is, of course, much more difficult. No history is absolutely true; all give accounts that are more or less distorted pictures of fact. But the conception of history as an attempt to represent facts in correct perspective, even when it is poorly and feebly carried out, is a great and sacred possession, which we owe to the Greeks; and is a generically different thing from popular tradition, which aims either at the moral apologue, or the glow of an individual or a family, and regards faithfulness to actual facts as quite a secondary thing.

The episode of Ananias and Sapphira V 1 f. excites reasonable suspicion. That Ananias should be carried forth and buried unknown to his family, unmourned by his kindred and friends, is not merely contrary to right conduct, but violates the deepest feelings of oriental life. That a man should be properly lamented and wept for by his family is and has always been a sacred right, which even crime does not forfeit. But the desire to bring into strong relief the unselfishness of the primitive Church has worked itself out in a moral apologue, which has found here an entrance alongside of real history.

Again in II 5-11 another popular tale seems to obtrude itself. In these verses the power of speaking with tongues, which is clearly described by Paul as a species of prophesying (I Cor. XII 10 f., XIV 1 f.), is taken in the sense of speaking in many languages. Here again we observe the distorting influence of popular fancy. Yet alongside of these suspicious stories we find passages which show strongly the characteristic method of Luke; and the entire plan of the narrative, concentrating attention on the successive critical steps, is thoroughly Lukan. We take one example of a Lukan passage.

The incident in IV 13 f. is especially characteristic of Luke’s style; and it has been widely misunderstood. Zeller, Holtzmann, Meyer-Wendt and others, understand these verses to mean that the members of the Sanhedrim became aware only during the trial that Peter and John had been disciples of Jesus: which, as they justly point out, is most unnatural and unsuitable. But the force of the passage seems to be very different: the Jewish leaders perceived the bold and fluent speech of Peter and John, and yet they observed from their dress and style of utterance that they were not trained scholars; and they marvelled (for there was then probably an even more marked distinction than at the present day between the speech and thought of a fisherman or shepherd and of an educated person); and they further took cognisance of the fact that they were disciples of Jesus; and they gazed on the man that had been cured standing along with his preservers. These were the facts of the case: all were undeniable; and all were vividly brought before them. What conclusion could be drawn from them? The historian’s point is that there was only one possible inference; and, as the Jewish leaders were unwilling to draw that inference, they perforce kept silence, not having wherewithal to dispute the obvious conclusion.

Here, as usual, the historian does not himself draw the inference; but merely states the main facts, and leaves them to tell their own tale. But in no passage does he state the facts in more dramatic form. The conclusion lies close at hand, rig., that these illiterate fishermen had acquired the art and power of effective oratory through their having been the disciples of Jesus, and through the Divine grace and power communicated to them.

We notice also that John’s speech has not previously been mentioned, yet now it is assumed that he had spoken. This is characteristic of the writer’s style, as we have seen it in the second part of the work. It is evident that Peter’s single speech did not exhaust the proceedings at the trial; but Luke assumes that the reader conceives the general situation and the style of procedure in such trials; and he quotes the most telling utterance, and leaves the rest to the reader’s imagination.

We are struck with the marked difference of Acts I-V, not merely from the later chapters, but also from Luke’s First Book, the Gospel. In composing his Book I, he had formal works of a historical kind to use for his authorities (Luke I 1); and he followed them very closely, not giving scope to his own method of narration or of grouping. But these formal works seem all to have ended either with the death or the ascension of the Saviour; and the most obscure and difficult period for a historian writing about 80–85 A.D. was the time that immediately succeeded the death of Jesus. Luke was dependent here on informal narratives, and on oral tradition; and, if we be right in our view that he did not live to put the last touches to his work, we may fairly suppose that the most difficult period was left the least perfect part of the whole. But we must content ourselves here with this slight indication of a view that would require much minute argument to state properly. There is a marked resemblance between I-V and XIX. In both, episodes that savour of popular fancy stand side by side with Lukan work of the best kind.


The first distinct step in development from the primitive condition of the Church, when it was a mere small and almost unorganised community, was due to the pressure of poverty. In Jerusalem very poor Jews were numerous, and many of them had become Christian. Hence from the beginning the Church had to contend against a chronic state of want among its adherents. Probably we are apt to find a more communistic sense than Luke intended in II 44, IV 32; for II 4, IV 35 indicate judicious charity, and even the action of Barnabas in IV 37 looks more like charity than communism:6868The story of Ananias points more to communism. Yet even here Peter’s speech regards the act of a purely voluntary one, though V 2 seems to represent it a duty. he and others sold their possessions and gave the money in trust to the Apostles for the good of the Church. In later years, as the Church spread, the pressure of need in Jerusalem acted as a bond to unite the scattered congregations in active ministration (pp. 49 f., 288); and at the beginning it stimulated the primitive Church to originate a better organisation.

The difficulties in which the Church was placed, which would have killed a weakly life, only stimulated its vigour and its creative energy. This creative vitality is to the historian the most interesting side of the early Church; it was free from dead conservatism; it combined the most perfect reverence for its earliest form with the most perfect freedom to adapt that form to new exigencies; it did not stifle growth on the plea that it must remain exactly as it was. It was growing so rapidly that it burst through its earliest forms, before they could acquire any binding force, or fix themselves in the prejudices of its members. This free untrammeled expansion was the law of its life, and the Divine reality of its being. In later times, on the contrary, many of its adherents have maintained that its Divine life lies in its preserving unchanged from the beginning the form that was prescribed for it. Thus the view taken in Acts is that the Church’s Divine character lies in the free unceasing growth of its form and institutions; but the common view of later times has been that its Divine character lies in the permanence and unchangeability of its form from the beginning onwards.

At first Luke represents the superintendence and distribution of these charities as undertaken solely by the Apostles, who soon found that “it was not meet that they should forsake preaching and perform the ministration at tables” (VI 2). Moreover, in the pressure of claims and accumulation of duties, complaint was made that the widows among the Hellenist Jews were neglected in favour of the native Hebrews. It was therefore arranged that a new class of officers should be instituted,—for whom no name is here given, but who were the origin out of which the “Deacons” of the developed Church arose.

It is a remarkable fact that the Elders are not mentioned here; and this is one of the points which show Luke’s want of proper authorities about the primitive Church. When we come to a period, where his information was good, we find the Elders prominent, and specially in practical business matters (pp. 52, 166, 171); and there can be no doubt that this characteristic Jewish institution existed as a matter of course in the primitive Church. The superintendence of relief measures was recognised as peculiarly their province (XI 30). It seems clear that in the memory of tradition the Apostles had survived alone as being the far more prominent figures, while the first Elders had been almost forgotten.

The new officers are here termed simply “Seven Men in charge of this duty” (i.e., septem viri mensis ordinandis). It would be easy to find Jewish analogies that would explain the original idea; but it would not be easy to find any Jewish analogy to explain the vitality and adaptability of the institution. We must turn to Roman organising methods to find anything that will explain the importance and lasting effect of this step. Roman ideas were in the air; and the vigorous life of the Church was shown in its power of seizing and adapting to its own purposes all that was strong and serviceable in the world. It suited itself to its surroundings, and used the existing political facts and ideas, “learning from the surrounding world everything that was valuable in it” (p. 149).

The Seven who were appointed bear purely Greek names; and one was not a Jew, but a proselyte of Antioch. There can, therefore, be no doubt that a distinct step towards the Universalised Church was here made; it was already recognised that the Church was wider than the pure Jewish race; and the non-Jewish element was raised to official rank. Nikolaos was a proselyte of the higher and completer type (p. 43); and his case was therefore quite different in character from that of Cornelius (p. 42 f.), who was only God-fearing. In the conferring of office on Nikolaos a distinct step was made; but it was quite in accordance with the principle of the extreme Judaistic party in the Church (p. 157). The case of Cornelius was a second and more serious step.

The consequences of this first step in advance were soon apparent. The wider sympathies and wider outlook of Hellenistic Jews quickened the life of the young community; and Stephen, especially, was conspicuous for the boldness with which he advocated the faith and opposed the narrowness of Judaism, saying, as his accusers alleged, “that this Jesus or Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered unto us “. Even though this is a perversion of Stephen’s meaning, yet the form implies that Stephen had advanced beyond the previous position of the Apostles as regards their relation to Judaism.

The critical point in chronology is to determine the date or Stephen’s accusation and martyrdom. Luke gives us no clear evidence as to the length of the two periods that he describes, viz., (1) between Pentecost and the election of the Seven, (2) between the election and the death of Stephen. The latest date which our view leaves open is A.D. 33, for Paul’s conversion followed shortly after Stephen’s death, and in the fourteenth year after his conversion he visited Jerusalem for the second time, probably in 46 (though 45 is not absolutely excluded, pp. 51, 68). Can we suppose that the necessity for the admission of the Hellenistic Jews to official rank was felt already in A.D. 32, and that Stephen’s brief career ended in 33? The space of two years has seemed sufficient to many scholars; some have been content with one. The difficulties which the primitive Church had to meet by appointing the Seven faced it from the first; and that step was probably forced on it very soon. The wider spirit shown in the selection of the Seven was likely to cause an early collision with Jewish jealousy; and the party which had cut off Jesus was not likely to suffer His followers to increase so rapidly without an effort to stop the movement. Now the persecution that caused and followed Stephen’s death was the first attempt at coercion; the actions described in IV 5 f. and V 17 f. were mere warnings and threats, which naturally resulted soon in active measures. We cannot easily believe that repressive measures were delayed more than two or three years at the utmost; we should rather have expected them even sooner. It is therefore quite fair to date Stephen’s death about two and a half or three years after the great Pentecost.


After the death of Stephen, the history widens, and several threads appear in it. The foundation of a series of Churches over Judea and Samaria is first described; and the author’s attention is directed chiefly on three steps in the progress towards the Universalised Church, the foundation of an extra-Judean Church in the city of Samaria, and the admission of an Ethiopian6969He was evidently a proselyte (VIII 27), like Nikolaos. and of a Roman centurion as Christians. These steps are connected with the names of Philip and Peter. The institution of a series of Churches in Palestine, a process which must have occupied a long time, is briefly but clearly indicated in VIII 40, IX 31-35, 42f; but Luke’s personal interest in the expansion of a still purely Judaic Church was not great. Yet the episodes of Æneas and Dorcas, IX 33-42, show that, though the details seemed to Luke not required for his purpose, the spread of the Church over Palestine was conceived by him as an important step in history. These episodes are introduced, because they proved that the Divine power worked in the process whereby the Church of Jerusalem expanded into the Church of all Palestine. In the utter absence of statement as to Luke’s authority for the two episodes, they cannot be placed by the historian on a higher level than general belief. It is remarkable that we have no knowledge whether Luke ever met Peter. The want of any reference to Peter in XXI 18 must, in our view, be taken as a proof that he was not in Jerusalem at the time.

In the midst of the narrative describing this expansion is interposed an account of Saul’s life during the three years 33–5;7070We shall speak of 33 as the date of Stephen’s death and Paul’s conversion, acknowledging, however, that perhaps 32 is the proper year. and this arrangement is obviously intended to bring out the long period over which that process of expansion was spread. According to our theory it continued from A.D. 33 until it was checked to some extent by the development of the Pauline idea and the jealousy roused thereby among almost all Jews except the great and leading minds, which were able to rise more or less completely above it. Then came the supreme catastrophe of the great war, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the suppression of “the Nation” of the Jews.

The expansion of the Church beyond Palestine is first alluded to in XI 19, where the dispersion of missionaries over Phœnice, Cyprus, and Syria is mentioned (Ch. III, § 1). It is remarkable that Luke never alludes to the development of the Church towards the south or east. Yet the dispersion that followed Stephen’s death must have radiated in all directions; and II 7-11, and VIII 27 f., lead naturally to some general spread of the new teaching in all directions. It is obvious that Luke has not made it his object to write the history of the whole expansion of the Church; but selected the facts that bore on a narrower theme, viz., the steps by which the Church of Jerusalem grew into the Church of the Empire, and the position of the Church in the Empire. Egypt, Ethiopia, and the East and South are therefore excluded from his narrative.


The introduction of Paul is connected with the death of Stephen: he was then a young man, and probably was entering for the first time on public life. At this point the subjective touch in VIII 1, “Saul was consenting unto his death,” is a clear indication that Luke’s authority was Paul himself. The phrase is a confession of inward feeling, not a historian’s account of action; and the words are Paul’s own (XXII 20). A dramatic touch like this is, on our theory, deliberately calculated. Luke intends to set before his readers the scene at Cæsareia, where Philip narrated the story of Stephen and of his own early work, and Paul interposed the agonised confession of VIII 1 The narrative from VI 9 to VIII 39 probably reproduces Philip’s words very closely; while Luke has inserted touches, as VII 58, VIII 1, and adapted the whole to his plan.7171The enumeration of synagogues in VI 9, which does not agree with Luke’s manner, was perhaps noted down verbatim (Expositor, July 1895, p. 35).

The slight variations in the three accounts of Paul’s conversion do not seem to be of any consequence. Luke did not seek to modify Paul’s speeches in order to produce verbal conformity with the account which seemed to him to represent the facts fairly; but the spirit and tone and the essential facts are the same, IX 3-18, XXII 6-16, XXVI 12-18.

Two difficulties, however, deserve notice in the account of Paul’s conduct during the first years after his conversion. In the first place, why does Luke say nothing about Paul’s journey into Arabia? But we have no authority for believing that the journey was of such importance as to require a place in this history, for Luke does not enumerate all the influences that moulded Paul’s development. Paul’s reference to the incident (Gal. I 17) is clear and complete in itself, if it was not a serious journey, but a small episode in his private life. “When it pleased God to call me to the work of my life, so far was I from needing counsel or instruction from Jerusalem, that I retired into Arabia, and came back again to Damascus.” Damascus was at the time subject to the King of Arabia Petræa; and the natural interpretation is that a person describing incidents of his experience in Damascus means by Arabia the adjacent country on the east. Had this excursion been an important step in the development of Paul’s thought (as Lightfoot inclines to think, when he sees in it a sojourn on Mount Sinai after the style of Moses), Luke might be expected to mention it and show how much underlies Paul’s words; but, as he does not mention it, the fair inference is that there was no more in it than Paul says explicitly.

Moreover, Luke divides Paul’s stay in Damascus into two periods, a few days residence with the disciples IX 19, and a long period of preaching 20-23. The quiet residence in the country for a time, recovering from the serious and prostrating effect of his conversion (for a man’s life is not suddenly reversed without serious claim on his physical power), is the dividing fact between the two periods. The division is certainly very awkwardly and insufficiently indicated; but Luke everywhere shows similar weakness in indicating the temporal relations of events.

In the second place, the accounts of Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem, in the third year after his conversion, are obscure. In Gal. I 18 f. Paul says he went up to see Peter (evidently regarding him as the leading spirit in the development of the Church), and saw no other Apostle, except James the Lord’s brother. But in Acts IX 28 f. “he was with the Apostles going in and going out at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spake and disputed against the Grecian Jews; but they went about to kill him.” In weighing this account we must bear in mind Luke’s intention: he conceived the Apostles as the permanent governing body in Jerusalem (p. 53), and they dwarfed in his estimation any other administrative body in the primitive Church (p. 374). Here, therefore, he speaks loosely of “the Apostles,” meaning the governing body of the Church, without implying that they were all present in Jerusalem. It was one of his objects to insist on the agreement between Paul and the leaders of the Church; and he distinctly had, and communicates, the impression that the opposition of the extreme Judaistic party to Paul was factious, and was condemned by the leaders. It therefore seemed important to him to emphasise the harmony between Paul and the Jewish leaders at this first visit; and, though most of the Apostles were absent, yet the two real leaders were present. We certainly should not naturally infer from Luke’s words that the visit lasted only fifteen days; but there is no real difficulty in supposing that Paul’s life was at this time in danger from the first. He had deserted his former friends, and they would feel towards him the hatred that always pursues a deserter.

On the other hand, XXVI 20 is distinctly in contradiction with all other authorities; but, as Dr. Blass points out, the Greek is solecistic, and his altered reading, “in every land to both Jews and Gentiles,” seems to me to carry conviction with it.7272πᾶσάν τε τὴν χώραν τῆς Ἰουδαίας is not Lukan, and hardly Greek, read εἰς πᾶσαν χώραν Ἰουδαίοις τε.

The difficulty with regard to the interval between Paul’s first and second visit to Jerusalem (which we consider to have been only eleven years, whereas many take it as fourteen, Gal. II 1) disappears when we take the Greek in its real sense. Paul says to the Galatians, “Then, in the third year,7373“After three years” misrepresents the meaning. I went up to Jerusalem... then, when the fourteenth year was ending “. The two reckonings go together, and are estimated from the same starting-point.

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