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CHAPTER XVII.

COMPOSITION AND DATE OF ACTS.

1. HYPOTHESIS OF “THE TRAVEL DOCUMENT”.

We have seen that Luke represents himself as having been an eye-witness of some of the incidents which he describes; and we have inferred, from the pointed way in which he does this, that he was not an eye-witness of the rest. In the parts where he had no personal knowledge his trustworthiness depends on his authority in each case. In a former work I have tried to show that there lies behind the narrative of Paul’s journeys a document originating “from a person acquainted with the actual circumstances,” and therefore “composed under St. Paul’s own influence”. I was careful “to express his influence in the most general terms, and to avoid any theorising about the way in which it was exercised”; and I purposely left the question untouched whether the “Travel-Document” was composed by the author of Acts or by a different person; for my object then was to show that the document was a trustworthy record of facts, to avoid constructing a system, to investigate each fact independently on its own evidence, and to give no opening to the criticism that I was twisting the evidence at any point in order to suit an idea derived from elsewhere.

In the present work the reasons on which the supposition of a “Travel-Document” was rounded are much strengthened; and we must now put the question in a more precise form. What is the relation between the “Travel-Document” and the completed text of Acts? To this the answer must be that the “Travel Document” was Luke’s own written notes (supplemented by memory, and the education of further experience and reading and research). His diary, where he was an eye-witness, and his notes of conversation with Paul, and doubtless others also, were worked into the book of Acts suitably to the carefully arranged plan on which it is constructed. We have found traces of deep and strong emotion which must be understood as Paul’s own feeling: the technical term for making a missionary progress through a district7474Itinerating is the modern equivalent, I am told. is used only by Paul (I Cor. XVI 5) and by Luke in describing Paul’s work;7575 XIII 6, XIV 24, XV 3, 41, XVI 6, XVIII 23, XIX 1, 21, XX 2. while in describing the precisely similar work of other missionaries, he uses a different and a more usual Greek construction.7676 VIII 4, 40, XI 19, IX 32, Luke IX 6. This line of investigation might be carried much further so as to show that Luke everywhere follows with minute care the best authority accessible to him; and in Acts especially Paul and Philip. As we have seen, Ch. XVI, § 2, the period in which he found greatest difficulty was that which intervened between the conclusion of his formal historical authorities for the life of the Saviour, and the beginning of the careful narratives which he had noted down from Paul and Philip about their own personal experiences.

One episode, which bears all the marks of vivid personal witness, comes under neither of these categories, viz., the story of Peter’s imprisonment and escape, XII. Here some other authority was used; and the narrative suggests distinctly that the authority was not Peter himself, but one of those in the house of Mary. John Mark, who is pointedly mentioned as being in Jerusalem, XII 25, and who was afterwards with Luke and Paul in Rome, was almost certainly (v. 12) the ultimate authority here.

Luke added to these authorities an obvious acquaintance with Paul’s own letters. He rarely states anything that is recorded in them; he assumes them as known; and he makes it one of his objects to set them in a clearer light.

The whole of his materials he used with the true historical sense for the comparative importance of events and for the critical steps in a great movement, and also with a wide and careful study of the general history of the contemporary world (i.e., the Roman Empire). The research which Luke applied in the execution of his work is shown with especial clearness in the chronological calculations which he introduced in Book I (similar to those which he would probably have added in Book II, see p. 23). These calculations deserve fresh study with a view to estimate the work which the author has compressed into them. The accuracy of one of them (viz., the statement about Philip in Luke III 1) I have defended elsewhere, and, as I believe, on grounds which would carry conviction to every one, were it not that they are inconsistent with the dominant North-Galatian theory. Again the census (Luke II 1) under Quirinius is pointedly called the first, implying that it was the first of a series of census. A census is known to have been made in Syria by Quirinius in his second government, about 6 A.D., which suggests that they were perhaps decennial. We have no other evidence as to a census in 5–4 B.C.; but when we consider how purely accidental is the evidence7777An inscription found in Venice is the sole authority. As the stone was lost, the inscription was pronounced a forgery, apparently for no reason except that it mentioned Quirinius’s census. Even Mommsen refused to admit it as genuine, until, fortunately, part of the stone was rediscovered. for the second census, the want of evidence for the first seems to constitute no argument against the trustworthiness of Luke’s statement. It is certain that the dependent kingdoms paid tribute to Rome exactly as if they had been part of the Empire; and it is in perfect accord with the methodical character of Augustus’s administration that he should order such census to be made regularly throughout “the whole world”. Incidentally we observe in this phrase that Luke’s view is absolutely confined to the Roman Empire, which to him is “the world”. Luke investigated the history of this series of census.

2. DATE OF THE COMPOSITION OF ACTS.

The elaborate series of synchronisms by which Luke dates the coming of John the Baptist are especially remarkable; and it is to them we turn for evidence as to the date of composition. On our view the Crucifixion took place at the Passover of A.D. 30, the fourth Passover in the public career of Jesus. Now John was six months older than Jesus; and his career began in his thirtieth year, a little before the coming of Jesus. Thus we reach the conclusion that the synchronisms of Luke III 1, 2, are calculated for the summer (say July) of A.D. 26; and he calls this year the fifteenth of the reign of Tiberius, implying that he reckoned his reign to begin A.D. 12, when Tiberius was associated by Augustus in the Empire. But such a method of reckoning the reign of Tiberius was unknown. According to Roman reckoning, Tiberius, in July A.D. 26, was either in his twelfth year (reckoning from the death of his predecessor) or in his twenty-eighth year (reckoning his tenure of the tribunician power). No other way of reckoning his reign was ever employed by Romans. How then could Luke speak of his fifteenth year? There can hardly be any other reason than that the calculation was made under an Emperor whose years were reckoned from his association as colleague; so that Luke, being familiar with that method, applied it to the case of Tiberius. Now that was the case with Titus. His reign began from his association with his father on 1st July A.D. 71.

We thus get a clue, though in itself an uncertain one, to suggest the date when Luke was at work. His chronological calculations were probably inserted as the finishing touches of Book I (p. 23), while Titus was reigning as sole Emperor, 79–81 A.D.; and the composition of that book belongs to the years immediately preceding, while the composition of Book II belongs to the years immediately following. This argument, taken by itself, would be insufficient; but it is confirmed by the impression which the book as a whole makes. Acts could not have been written so late as Trajan, when long persecution had altered the tone and feeling of the Church towards the State. It is the work of a man whose mind has been moulded in a more peaceful time. and who has not passed through a time like the reign of Domitian (p. 22). On the other hand, its tone is not that of assured conviction about the relation to the State, such as we observe in Paul’s Epistles. It is the tone of one who seeks to prove a position that is doubtful and assailed, but still of one who believes that it may be proved. As we have seen, there runs through the entire work a purpose which could hardly have been conceived before the State had begun to persecute on political grounds. So long as Christians were proceeded against merely on the ground of crimes, which the accuser sought to prove by evidence (as was the case with Paul, p. 360), there was no necessity to establish that Christianity was legal. Defence then consisted in disproving the specific crimes charged against the individual Christian; but, after the Flavian policy had declared Christianity illegal and proscribed the Name, the first necessity for defence was to claim legal right.

3. THEOPHILUS.

It has an important bearing on Luke’s attitude towards the Roman State that his work is addressed to a Roman officer,7878The epithet κράτιστος is technical and distinctive, and not a mere usitata appellatio hominum dignitate prœstantium as even Blass takes it, on Acts XXIII 26. Luke uses it strictly here and in XXIV 3, XXVI 25, implying equestrian rank. Some Greeks were not so accurate as Luke. who had become a Christian. We may safely say that in the first century a Roman official would hardly bear the name Theophilus; and therefore it must be a name given to him at baptism, and used or known only among the Christians. The fact that his public name is avoided, and only the baptismal name used, favours the supposition (though not absolutely demanding it) that it was dangerous for a Roman of rank to be recognised as a Christian. In the narrative of Acts there is not the slightest trace of private or baptismal names. These seem to have been adopted under the pressure of necessity and from the desire for concealment. Thus the very dedication of the work points to a developed state of the relations between Church and State, and carries us down to the time of Domitian.

4. THE FAMILY OF LUKE.

We have made it an object to collect the scanty traces of Luke’s personality that remain in Acts; and we may therefore conclude our task by referring to the tradition about his birthplace. The later tradition, as it appears in Jerome, Euthalius, etc., declares that Luke was an Antiochian,7979Αντιοχεὺς γὰρ οὐτος ὑπάρχων τὸ γένος, Euthalius in Migne, Patr. Gr. vol. 85, p 85, p. 633. Lucas medicus Antiochensis Jerome, Vir. Ill. but it is practically certain that the authority for all the later statements is Eusebius. Eusebius, however, does not say that Luke was an Antiochian; he merely speaks of him as “being according to birth of those from Antioch”.8080Λουκας δὲ τό μὲν γένος ὠν των ἀπ Αντιοχείας, Hist. Eccles. III 4. This curious and awkward expression is obviously chosen in order to avoid the statement that Luke was an Antiochian; and it amounts to an assertion that Luke was not an Antiochian, but belonged to a family that had a connection with Antioch. Eusebius therefore had access to a more detailed and distinct tradition, which he reproduces in this brief form. The older tradition must have told that Luke had a family connection with Antioch; and Eusebius carefully restricts himself to that statement; but the tradition probably set forth the exact connection, and it is perhaps allowable to conclude our study with a conjecture.

Antioch, as a Seleucid foundation, had almost certainly a Macedonian element in its population. It is now well established that the military strength of the Seleucid colonies lay usually in a contingent of Macedonians; and a considerable number of Seleucid cities style themselves Macedones on coins or inscriptions. It is quite probable that intercourse and connection may have been maintained between the Macedonian element in Antioch and their original home; and migrations to and fro are likely to have occurred between Macedonia and Antioch in the constant and easy intercourse of the centuries following the foundation. Thus it may very well have happened that Luke was a relative of one of the early Antiochian Christians; and this relationship was perhaps the authority for Eusebius’s carefully guarded statement. Further, it is possible that this relationship gives the explanation of the omission of Titus from Acts, an omission which every one finds it so difficult8181We cannot agree with Lightfoot, who solves the difficulty by denying that Titus was important enough to deserve mention in Acts (Biblical Essays, p. 281). to understand. Perhaps Titus was the relative of Luke; and Eusebius found this statement in an old tradition, attached to II Cor. VIII 18, XII 18, where Titus and Luke (the latter not named by Paul, but identified by an early tradition) are associated as envoys to Corinth. Luke, as we may suppose, thought it right to omit his relative’s name, as he did his own name, from his history. There is not sufficient evidence to justify an opinion; but this conjecture brings together an enigmatic expression in Eusebius and a serious difficulty in Acts, and finds in each a satisfactory solution of the other.


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