Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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ACTS - Introduction

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Acts - Introduction

Supplemental Commentary:

ACTS OF THE APOSTLES

Introduction

Nature and Purpose.  This book is an account of the earliest days of the Church, covering about thirty-five years from the Ascension to the close of St. Paul's first Roman imprisonment in 63 A.D.  Without aiming at a complete record of the events, St. Luke follows the plan outlined in 1, 8: you shall be witnesses for me in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and even to the very ends of the earth.  His chief interest is in beginnings, in the spread of the gospel into new territory rather than in the fortunes of churches once they have been established.  After a description of the foundation of churches in various parts of Palestine and at Antioch in Syria he traces the development throughout the Roman Empire almost exclusively in the labors of St. Paul.  For this reason his book is properly called, as in the Greek text, "Acts of Apostles," not "The Acts of the Apostles," as though it tried to cover at least the principal features in the careers of all the Apostles.  Perhaps at first the title was simply "Acts," and the distinguishing term "of Apostles" was added later when apocryphal "Acts of Peter" and the like were being circulated.  The prominent part played by the Holy Spirit in these narratives has led to the description of the book as the Gospel of the Holy Spirit.

Since St. Luke gives a good deal of attention to St. Paul's previous relations with the Roman authorities in the provinces, he may have had as a secondary purpose the vindication of the Apostle at the time of his trial in Rome by showing that he had always been judged innocent whenever the Jews brought him to trial before Roman officials.

Date and Place of Composition.  The Acts was written about 63 A.D. and probably at Rome.  The last verses say that St. Paul preached in Rome for two years while still under arrest.  St. Luke had accompanied him on his eventful voyage from Palestine to Rome, since in chapters 27 and 28 he uses the pronoun "we," and he was still with him when the Apostle was looking forward confidently to being soon acquitted by the Roman court (Philem. 22-24).  Since the history is carried no further, it is only reasonable to conclude that the book was written at the close of the two years of imprisonment, but before St. Paul's release.  According to the decision of the Biblical Commission we hold that St. Luke finished the Acts at the end of St. Paul's first imprisonment at Rome.

The manner in which St. Luke speaks of St. Paul's contacts with the Roman authorities not only in the provinces but also at Rome shows that he still expects official Rome to take a tolerant attitude toward the Christian religion.  If he had been writing after the outbreak of the persecution of the Church, started by Nero in A.D. 64, he might not have had this hopeful outlook.

Canonicity.  The following testimonies prove that the Acts forms a part of the inspired word of God.

Eusebius, writing between the years 311 and 325, places the Acts among the books received by all as inspired.  Since as historian he had carefully investigated the teachings of his predecessors, his testimony shows that the tradition in the Church regarding the inspiration of the Acts flows untroubled from apostolic times.  Tertullian, who died about 240-250, blames the heretic Marcion for rejecting the Acts; hence the book must have been received in the Church at that time.  Epiphanius says that the Ebionites, after rejecting the Acts, edited another book of Acts, and that Theodotus, the disciple of Valentinus, used the Acts to support his heresy.  These heretics were of the second century.  The apocryphal "Testimony of Benjamin," written in the second century, asserts that the words and actions of Paul are contained in the sacred books.

Allusions to the Acts or quotations from it are found in Clement of Rome (1 Cor. 2; cf. Acts 20, 35); Ignatius Martyr (Smyr. 3 and Magn. 5, 1); Polycarp (Phil. 1, 2 and 2); Justin (Tryph. 36); and the heretics of the second century.  The Letter of the Churches of Lyons and Vienne, written about the year 177 to the churches of Asia and Phrygia on the martyrs of Gaul, says, "They prayed for those who tortured them, saying like Stephen, that perfect witness, "Lord, do not lay this sin against them.'" (Eusebius, H.E. V, 2: cf. Acts 7, 60).

Genuineness.  The Acts was written by St. Luke, the author of the Third Gospel.  Cf. the decision of the Biblical Commission, June 12, 1913, Denz. 2166 ff.

External historical evidence.  Irenaeus (c. 140-202) proves from the Acts that Luke was the companion of St. Paul.  The Muratorian Fragment (c. 170) says, "The Acts of all the Apostles were written in one book; Luke included for the excellent Theophilus all the events which had happened in his presence."  Tertullian (150/160-240/250) defends the Acts against heretics and often cites it as Luke's.  Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215) writes, "Luke in the Acts of the Apostles relates that Paul said, 'Men of Athens, I see that in every respect you are extremely religions.'" (Strom V, 12; cf. Acts 17, 22).  Origen (185-244) says, "Luke who wrote the Gospel and the Acts."

Internal evidence.  Compare Luke 1, 1-4 with Acts 1, 1.2.  The opening sentence of the Acts refers to the Third Gospel as "the former book" and describes it as an account of all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day of His ascension.  The address is to Theophilus for whom the Gospel also was written.  The style and diction in the Third Gospel and the Acts are the same.  The Greek is less colored by Aramaic than in the other Synoptics; there is the same easy use of official, military, and medical terms, and the same careful consideration for the Gentiles.

The "we-sections," (16, 10-17; 20, 5 -- 21, 18; 27, 1 -- 28, 16) show that the writer was with St. Paul on some of his journeys.  Of the Apostle's various companions only St. Luke could have been with him on all the occasions referred to.  St. Mark is excluded because he was not on the second journey (15, 36-41; 16, 10).  Timothy was at Troas when the author was with St. Paul at Philippi (20, 4-6).  Neither Titus nor Silas was with St. Paul toward the close of his first Roman imprisonment (Col. 4, 10-14; Philem. 23.24; Acts 28, 16).

The Acts as History.  St. Luke is our best source of information for the first days of the Church.  Scattered notices in the Epistles tell us much about the different Christian communities, but the only orderly presentation of the early history of the Church must be sought in the Acts.  Inspiration guarantees the absolute reliability of the narrative; independently of inspiration, the high historical character of the Acts is established on the same standards of judgment that are applied to other books claiming to be historical.

The author's serious purpose to write history, not fiction, is clear from the whole tenor of the Acts, and in the opening verses of his Gospel St. Luke expressly declares that his purpose is to prove the verity of the instruction received by Theophilus by a narrative of things which had taken place.  He could not build such a demonstration on fiction.  This evidently holds good for the Acts also.

His sources of information were abundant and trustworthy.  He could draw on his own personal experience for many of the events of St. Paul's apostolate; for the other facts he could consult St. Paul, with whom he was closely associated for many years, and other Apostles and disciples whom he met at intervals.

His narrative touches secular history at many points: Claudius, the Roman Emperor, Herod Agrippa, the First and Second in Judea, Sergius Paulus, proconsul of Cyprus, Gallio, proconsul of Achaia, Felix and Festus, procurators of Judea, Drusilla, Bernice, the numerous departments of the Roman Empire with their various laws and customs.  All these play their part in his record, and in every case they are presented with perfect fidelity to what is known of them from profane sources.  Though it seems he did not have at hand copies of St. Paul's Epistles, he never contradicts them, but often sheds new light upon them.  Avoiding a dry chronicle, St. Luke groups his material without obscuring for a careful reader the chronological sequence of events, while throughout he maintains a high standard of dramatic power and literary excellence.

It is not to be supposed that, in recording the speeches made by the actors in his history, St. Luke hands down the exact words spoken on the occasion.  He had to translate some of them from Aramaic, and for most of them his purpose was merely to give a summary of the main ideas expressed.  This in no way detracts from the historical accuracy of the speeches, but it explains how the record of them is at times colored by St. Luke's own style.
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OUTLINE

Prelude 1, 1-26

I. The Church in Palestine and Syria 2, 1 -- 12, 25
1. Growth of the Church in Jerusalem 2, 1 -- 8, 3

2. The Church in Judea and Samaria 8, 4 -- 9, 43

3. Spread of the Church to the Gentiles 10, 1 -- 11, 30

4. Conclusion: Persecution of the Church by Herod Agrippa 12, 1-25
II. The Church in Asia Minor and Europe: The Missionary Journeys of St. Paul 13, 1 -- 28, 31
1. First Missionary Journey 13, 1 -- 15, 35

2. Second Missionary Journey 15, 36 -- 18, 22

3. Third Missionary Journey 18, 23 -- 21, 16

4. Imprisonment in Palestine 21, 17 -- 26, 32

5. Imprisonment in Rome 27, 1 -- 28, 31


Confraternity Bible:

ACTS OF THE APOSTLES

Introduction

This book was written about 63 A.D. by St. Luke, the author of the third Gospel.  It ends with the statement that St. Paul preached in Rome for two years while still under arrest.  St. Luke had been with him on the voyage from Palestine to Rome, since the account of this voyage is given in the first person plural, and he was still with him, as is clear from the Epistle to Philemon, when the Apostle was confident of soon being released.  From this final statement it appears that the book dates from the close of the two years' imprisonment (63 A.D.), but before St. Paul's acquittal.

Beginning with our Lord's farewell instructions to the Apostles just before His Ascension, it first narrates the chief events in the history of the infant Church up to about the year 42, when St. Peter definitely departed from Palestine.  A feature of the latter part of this period was the new policy of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles.  From this point the Acts traces the spread of the Church, principally through the missionary journeys of St. Paul, and closes with a short account of his labors in Rome.  In this way it covers a period of about thirty-five years from the Ascension to the second year of St. Paul's imprisonment.  Keeping to the main course of events as showing the growth of the Church, it is silent about the internal development of the churches after their establishment; many of these internal details are recorded in the Epistles of St. Paul, but without in any way contradicting the general facts given by St. Luke.

The Acts is a necessary and beautiful supplement to the history of the Gospels, describing with great accuracy and literary charm the fulfillment of our Lord's promise to send the Holy Spirit to sanctify and guide His Church, and so it has aptly been called the Gospel of the Holy Spirit.