1. THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
The aim of our work is to treat its subject as a department of history and of literature. Christianity was not merely a religion, but also, a system of life and action; and its introduction by Paul amid the society of the Roman Empire produced changes of momentous consequence, which the historian must study. What does the student of Roman history find in the subject of our investigation? How would an observant, educated, and unprejudiced citizen of the Roman Empire have regarded that new social force, that new philosophical system, if he had studied it with the eyes and the temper of a nineteenth century investigator?
As a preliminary the historian of Rome must make up his mind about the trustworthiness of the authorities. Those which we shall use are: (1) a work of history commonly entitled the Acts of the Apostles (the title does not originate from the author), (2) certain Epistles purporting to be written by Paul. Of the latter we make only slight and incidental use; and probably even those who dispute their authenticity would admit that the facts we use are trustworthy, as being the settled belief of the Church at a very early period. It is, therefore, unnecessary to touch on the authenticity of the Epistles; but the question as to the date, the composition, and the author of the Acts must be discussed. If the main position of this book is admitted, it will furnish a secure basis for the Epistles to rest on.
Works that profess to be historical are of various kinds and trustworthy in varying degrees. (1) There is the historical romance, which in a framework of history interweaves an invented tale. Some of the Apocryphal tales of the Apostles are of this class, springing apparently from a desire to provide Christian substitutes for the popular romances of the period. (2) There is the legend, in which popular fancy, working for generations, has surrounded a real person and real events with such a mass of extraneous matter that the historical kernel is hardly discernible. Certain of the Apocryphal tales of the Apostles may belong to this class, and many of the Acts of martyrs and saints certainly do. (3) There is the history of the second or third rate, in which the writer, either using good authorities carelessly and without judgment, or not possessing sufficiently detailed and correct authorities, gives a narrative of past events which is to a certain degree trustworthy, but contains errors in facts and in the grouping and proportions, and tinges the narrative of the past with the colour of his own time. In using works of this class the modern student has to exercise his historical tact, comparing the narrative with any other evidence that can be obtained from any source, and judging whether the action attributed to individuals is compatible with the possibilities of human nature. (4) There is, finally, the historical work of the highest order, in which a writer commands excellent means of knowledge either through personal acquaintance or through access to original authorities. and brings to the treatment of his subject genius, literary skill, and sympathetic historical insight into human character and the movement of events. Such an author seizes the critical events, concentrates the reader's attention on them by giving them fuller treatment, touches more lightly and briefly on the less important events, omits entirely a mass of unimportant details, and makes his work an artistic and idealised picture of the progressive tendency of the period.
Great historians are the rarest of writers. By general consent the typical example of the highest class of historians is Thucydides, and it is doubtful whether any other writer would be by general consent ranked along with him. But all historians, from Thucydides downwards, must be subjected to free criticism. The fire which consumes the second-rate historian only leaves the real master brighter and stronger and more evidently supreme. The keenest criticism will do him the best service in the long run. But the critic in his turn requires high qualities; he must be able to distinguish the true from the false; he must be candid and unbiased and open-minded. There are many critics who have at great length stated their preference of the false before the true; and it may safely be said that there is no class of literary productions in our century in which there is such an enormous preponderance of error and bad judgment as in that of historical criticism. To some of our critics Herodotus is the Father of History, to others he is an inaccurate reproducer of uneducated gossip: one writer at portentous length shows up the weakness of Thucydides, another can see no fault in him.
But, while recognising the risk, and the probable condemnation that awaits the rash attempt, I will venture to add one to the number of the critics, by stating in the following chapters reasons for placing the author of Acts among the historians of the first rank.
The first and the essential quality of the great historian is truth. What he says must be trustworthy. Now historical truth implies not merely truth in each detail, but also truth in the general effect, and that kind of truth cannot be attained without selection, grouping, and idealisation.
So far as one may judge from books, the opinion of scholars seems to have, on the whole, settled down to the conclusion that the author of Acts belongs either to the second or the third rate historians. Among those who assign him to the third rate we may rank all those who consider that the author clipped up older documents and patched together the fragments in a more or less intelligent way, making a certain number of errors in the process. Theories of this kind are quite compatible with assigning a high degree of trustworthiness to many statements in the book; but this trustworthiness belongs not to the author of the work, but to the older documents which he glued together. Such theories usually assign varying degrees of accuracy to the different older documents: all statements which suit the critic's own views on early Church history are taken from an original document of the highest character; those which he likes less belong to a less trustworthy document; and those which are absolutely inconsistent with his views are the work of the ignorant botcher who constructed the book. But this way of judging, common as it is, assumes the truth of the critic's own theory, and decides on the authenticity of ancient documents according to their agreement with that theory; and the strangest part of this medley of uncritical method is that other writers, who dispute the first critic's theory of early Church history, yet attach some value to his opinion upon the spuriousness of documents which he has condemned solely on the ground that they disagree with his theory.
The most important group among those who assign the author to the second rank of historians, consists of them that accept his facts as true, although his selection of what he should say and what he should omit seems to them strangely capricious. They recognise many of the signs of extraordinary accuracy in his statements; and these signs are so numerous that they feel bound to infer that the facts as a whole are stated with great accuracy by a personal friend of St. Paul. But when they compare the Acts with such documents as the Epistles of Paul, and when they study the history as a whole, they are strongly impressed with the inequalities of treatment, and the unexpected and puzzling gaps; events of great importance seem to be dismissed in a brief and unsatisfactory way; and, sometimes, when one of the actors (such as Paul) has left an account of an event described in Acts, they find difficulty in recognising the two accounts as descriptions of the same event. Bishop Lightfoot's comparison of Galatians 2:1-10 with Acts 15:1 may be quoted as a single specimen out of many: the elaborate process whereby he explains away the seeming discrepancies would alone be sufficient, if it were right, to prove that Acts was a second rate work of history. We never feel on firm historical ground, when discrepancies are cleverly explained away: we need agreements to stand upon. Witnesses in a law court may give discrepant accounts of the same event; but they are half-educated, confused, unable to rise to historical truth. But when a historian is compared with the reminiscences of an able and highly educated actor in the same scenes, and when the comparison consists chiefly in a laboured proof that the discrepancies do not amount to positive contradiction, the conclusion is very near, that, if the reminiscences are strictly honest, the historian's picture is not of the highest rank.
But there is a further difficulty. How does it come that a writer, who shows himself distinctly second rate in his historical perception of the comparative importance of events, is able to attain such remarkable accuracy in describing many of them? The power of accurate description implies in itself a power of reconstructing the past, which involves the most delicate selection and grouping of details according to their truth and reality, i.e., according to their comparative importance. Acts, as Lightfoot pictures it, is to me an inconceivable phenomenon; such a mixture of strength and weakness, of historical insight and historical incapacity, would be unique and incredible. If the choice for an intelligible theory of Acts lay between Lightfoot's view and that which is presented in different forms by Clemen, Spitta, and other scholars, I could only adopt the same point of view as these critics. Lightfoot, with all his genius, has here led English scholarship into a cul de sac; we can make no progress, unless we retrace our steps and try a new path. But my belief is that all the difficulties in which Lightfoot was involved spring from the attempt to identify the wrong events. In this attempt he naturally found discrepancies; but by a liberal allowance of gaps in the narrative of Acts, and the supposition of different points of view and of deficient information on Luke's part, it was possible to show why the eyewitness saw one set of incidents, while Acts described quite a different set.
The historian who is to give a brief history of a great period need not reproduce on a reduced uniform scale all the facts which he would mention in a long history, like a picture reduced by a photographic process. If a brief history is to be a work of true art, it must omit a great deal, and concentrate the reader's attention on a certain number of critical points in the development of events, elaborating these sufficiently to present them in life-like and clearly intelligible form. True historical genius lies in selecting the great crises, the great agents, and the great movements, in making these clear to the reader in their real nature, in passing over with the lightest and slightest touch numerous events and many persons, but always keeping clear before the reader the plan of composition.
The historian may dismiss years with a word, and devote considerable space to a single incident. In such a work, the omission of an event does not constitute a gap, but is merely a proof that the event had not sufficient importance to enter into the plan. A gap is some omission that offends our reason and our sense of harmony and propriety; and where something is omitted that bears on the author's plan, or where the plan as conceived by the author does not correspond to the march of events, but only to some fanciful and subjective view, there the work falls short of the level of history.
I may fairly claim to have entered on this investigation without any prejudice in favour of the conclusion which I shall now attempt to justify to the reader. On the contrary, I began with a mind unfavourable to it, for the ingenuity and apparent completeness of the Tubingen theory had at one time quite convinced me. It did not lie then in my line of life to investigate the subject minutely; but more recently I found myself often brought in contact with the book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvellous truth. In fact, beginning with the fixed idea that the work was essentially a second-century composition, and never relying on its evidence as trustworthy for first-century conditions,. I gradually came to find it a useful ally in some obscure and difficult investigations. But there remained still one serious objection to accepting it as entirely a first-century work. According to the almost universally accepted view, this history led Paul along a path and through surroundings which seemed to me historically and topographically self-contradictory. It was not possible to bring Paul's work in Asia Minor into accordance with the facts of history on the supposition that an important part of that work was devoted to a district in the northern part of the peninsula, called Galatia. It may appear at first sight a mere topographical subtlety whether Paul travelled through North Galatia or through Lycaonia; but, when you consider that any details given of his journeys must be false to the one side just in proportion as they are true to the other, you will perceive that, if you try to apply the narrative to the wrong side of the country, it will not suit the scene, and if it does not suit, then it must appear to be written by a person ignorant of what he pretends to know. The case might be illustrated from our own experience. Suppose that an unknown person came to Auburn from New York, and you wished to find out whether he was an impostor or not. In our country we are exposed to frequent attempts at imposition, which can often be detected by a few questions; and you would probably ask him about his experiences on his journey from New York to Auburn. Now suppose you had been informed that he had come not along the direct road, but by a long detour through Boston, Montreal, and Toronto, and had thus arrived at Auburn; and suppose that you by questioning elicited from him various facts which suited only a route through Schenectady and Utica, you would condemn the man as an impostor, because he did not know the road which he pretended to have travelled. But suppose further that it was pointed out by some third party that this stranger had really travelled along the direct road, and that you had been misinformed when you supposed him to have come by the-round-about way, your opinion as to the stranger's truthfulness would be instantly affected. Precisely similar is the case of Acts as a record of travel; generations and centuries have been attempting to apply it to the wrong countries. I must speak on this point confidently and uncompromisingly, for the facts stand out so clear and bold and simple that to affect to hesitate or to profess any doubt as to one's judgment would be a betrayal of truth.
I know the difficulties of this attempt to understand rightly a book so difficult, so familiar, and so much misunderstood as Acts. It is probable that I have missed the right turn or not grasped the full meaning in some cases. I am well aware that I leave some difficulties unexplained, sometimes from inability, sometimes from mere omission. But I am sustained by the firm belief that I am on the right path, and by the hope that enough of difficulties have been cleared away to justify a dispassionate historical criticism in placing this great writer on the high pedestal that belongs to him.
2. DEVELOPMENT OF MODERN CRITICISM ON ACTS
With regard to the trustworthiness of Acts as a record of events, a change is perceptible in the tendency of recent criticism. Setting aside various exceptional cases, and also leaving out of sight the strictly "orthodox" view, which accepts Acts as truth without seeking to compare or to criticise (a view which in its simplicity and completeness needs neither defence nor examination), we may say that for a time the general drift of criticism was to conceive the book as a work composed in the second century with the intention of so representing (or rather misrepresenting) the facts as to suit the writer's opinion about the Church questions of his own time. All theories of this class imply that the atmosphere and surroundings of the work are of the second-century type; and such theories have to be rounded on a proof that the details are represented in an inaccurate way and coloured by second-century ideas. The efforts of that earlier school of critics were directed to give the required proof; and in the attempt they displayed a misapprehension of the real character of ancient life and Roman history which is often astonishing, and which has been decisively disproved in the progress of Roman historical investigation. All such theories belong to the pre-Mommsenian epoch of Roman history: they are now impossible for a rational and educated critic; and they hardly survive except in popular magazines and novels for the semi-religious order.
But while one is occasionally tempted to judge harshly the assumption of knowledge made by the older critics where knowledge was at the time difficult or impossible, it is only fair also to emphatically acknowledge the debt we owe them for practising in a fearless and independent spirit the right and much-needed task of investigating the nature and origin of the book.
Warned by the failure of the older theories, many recent critics take the line that Acts consists of various first century scraps put together in the book as we have it by a second-century Redactor. The obvious signs of vivid accuracy in many of the details oblige these critics to assume that the Redactor incorporated the older scraps with no change except such as results from different surroundings and occasional wrong collocation. Some hold that the Redactor made considerable additions in order to make a proper setting for the older scraps. Others reduce the Redactor's action to a minimum; Spitta is the most remarkable example of this class. In the latter form the Redaction Theory is the diametrical opposite of the old tendency theories; the latter supposed that the second century author coloured the whole narrative and put his own views into every paragraph, while, according to Spitta, the Redactor added nothing of consequence to his first century materials except some blunders of arrangement. The older theories were rounded on the proof of a uniformity of later style and purpose throughout the book; the later theories depend on the proof of differences of style between the different parts. The old critics were impressed by the literary skill of the author, while the later critics can see no literary power or activity in him. Any argument in favour of the one class of theories tells against the other; and, if we. admit (as I think we must admit), that each view is rounded on a correct but one-sided perception of certain qualities in this remarkable book, we may fairly say that each disproves the other.
Certain theorists, and especially Clemen in his extraordinarily ingenious and bold work Chronologie der Paulinischen Briefe, see clearly that such a bald scissors-and-paste theory as Spitta's is quite inadequate to explain the many-sided character of this history. Dr. Clemen supposes that three older documents, a history of the Hellenistic Jews, a history of Peter, and a history of Paul, were worked into one work by a Judaist Redactor, who inserted many little touches and even passages of considerable length to give a tone favourable to the Judaising type of Christianity; and that this completed book was again worked over by an anti-Judaist Redactor II, who inserted other parts to give a tone unfavourable to the Judaising type of Christianity, but left the Judaistic insertions. Finally, a Redactor III of neutral tone incorporated a new document (6:1-6), and gave the whole its present form by a number of small touches.
When a theory becomes so complicated as Clemen's, the humble scholar who has been trained only in philological and historical method finds himself unable to keep pace, and toils in vain behind this daring flight. We shall not at present stop to argue from examples in ancient and modern literature, that a dissection of this elaborate kind cannot be carried out. Style is seen in the whole rather than in single sentences, still less in parts of sentences; and a partition between six authors, clause by clause, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, of a work that seemed even to bold and revolutionary critics like Zeller and Baur in Germany and Renan in France to be a model of unity and individuality in style, is simply impossible. Moreover, the plan of this study is not to argue against other theories, but to set forth a plain and simple interpretation of the text, and appeal to the recognised principle of criticism that, where a simple theory of origin can be shown to hold together properly, complicated theories must give way to it.
One feature in Dr. Clemen's theory shows true insight. No simple theory of gluing together can exhaust the varied character of the Acts: a very complex system of junctures is needed to explain its many-sidedness. But Dr. Clemen has not gone far enough. There is only one kind of cause that is sufficiently complex to match the many-sided aspects of the book, and that cause is the many-sided character of a thoughtful and highly educated man.
Dr. Clemen seems to assume that every instance where Paul adopts an attitude of conciliation towards the Jews is added by a Judaistic Redactor, and every step in his growing estrangement from them is due to an anti-Judaistic Redactor. He does not, I venture to think, allow due scope to the possibility that an historian might record both classes of incidents in the interests of truth. It is admitted that a dislocation occurred in the early Church, and that the contention between the Judaising and the Universalising (to adopt a convenient designation) parties was keen for a time. It is natural that the estrangement should be gradual; and the historian sets before us a gradual process. He shows us Paul acting on the principle that the Jews had the first claim (13:46), and always attempting to conciliate them; but he also shows us that Paul did not struggle against the facts, but turned his back on the Jews when they rejected him (as their whole history proves, even without the evidence of Acts, that they were sure to do).It is hard to find a sufficient foundation for Dr. Clemen's theory without the preliminary assumption that an early Christian must necessarily be incapable of taking a broad and unbiased view of history as: a whole. Grant that assumption, and his theory is built up with marvellous skill, patience and ingenuity.
3. WORKING HYPOTHESIS OF THE INVESTIGATION
Our hypothesis is that Acts was written by a great historian, a writer who set himself to record the facts as they occurred, a strong partisan, indeed, but raised above partiality by his perfect confidence that he had only to describe the facts as they occurred, in order to make the truth of Christianity and the honour of Paul apparent. To a Gentile Christian, as the author of Acts was, the refusal of the Jews to listen to Paul, and their natural hatred of him as untrue to their pride of birth, must appear due to pure malignity; and the growing estrangement must seem to him the fault of the Jews alone. It is not my object to assume or to prove that there was no prejudice in the mind of Luke, no fault on the part of Paul; but only to examine whether the facts stated are trustworthy, and leave them to speak for themselves (as. the author does). I shall argue that the book was composed by a personal friend and disciple of Paul, and if this be once established there will be no hesitation in accepting the primitive tradition that Luke was the author.
We must face the facts boldly. If Luke wrote Acts, his narrative must agree in a striking and convincing way with Paul's: they must confirm, explain and complete one another. This is not a case of two commonplace, imperfectly educated, and not very observant witnesses who give divergent accounts of certain incidents which they saw without paying much attention to them. We have here two men of high education,one writing a formal history, the other speaking under every obligation of honour and conscience to be careful in his words: the subjects they speak of were of the most overpowering interest to both: their points of view must be very similar, for they were personal friends, and one was the teacher of the other, and naturally had moulded to some extent his mind during long companionship. If ever there was a case in which striking agreement was demanded by historical criticism between two classes of documents, it is between the writings of Paul and of Luke.
There is one subject in particular in which criticism demands absolute agreement. The difference of position and object between the two writers, one composing a formal history, the other writing letters or making speeches, may justifiably be invoked to account for some difference in the selection of details. But in regard to the influence of the Divine will on human affairs they ought to agree. Both firmly believed that God often guided the conduct of His Church by clear and open revelation of His will; and we should be slow to believe that one of them attributed to human volition what the other believed to be ordered by direct manifestation of God. We shall try to prove that there is a remarkable agreement between them in regard to the actions which they attribute to direct revelation.
Further, we cannot admit readily that peculiarities of Luke's narrative are to be accounted for by want of information: in his case this explanation really amounts to an accusation of culpable neglect of a historian's first duty, for full information was within Luke's reach, if he had taken the trouble to seek it. We shall find no need of this supposition. Finally, it is hard to believe that Paul's letters were unknown to Luke; he was in Paul's company when some of them were written; he must have known about the rest, and could readily learn their contents in the intimate intercommunication that bound together the early Churches. We shall try to show that Luke had in mind the idea of explaining and elucidating the letters.
In maintaining our hypothesis it is not necessary either to show that the author made no mistake, or to solve every difficulty. From them that start with a different view more may be demanded; but here we are making a historical and literary investigation. The greatest historians of other periods are not above error; and we may admit the possibility that a first-century historian has made errors. We shall not make much use of this proviso; but still the conditions of the investigation must be clearly laid down.
Again, in almost every ancient writer of any value there remain unsolved problems by the score. Where would our philological scholars be, if every question were satisfactorily disposed of? The plan and the date of Horace's longest work, The Art of Poetry, are unsolved and apparently insoluble; every theory involves serious difficulties; yes that does not make its authenticity doubtful. That there remain some difficulties not explained satisfactorily in Acts does not disprove its first-century origin.
Further, it is necessary to study every historian's method, and not to judge him according to whether or not he uses our methods. For example, Thucydides makes a practice of putting into the mouths of his characters speeches which they never delivered; no modern historian would do this: the speeches of Thucydides, however, are the greatest and most instructive part of his history. They might be truly called unhistorical; but the critic who summed up their character in that epithet would only show his incapacity for historical criticism. Similarly the critic must study Luke's method, and not judge him according to whether he writes exactly as the critic considers a history ought to be written.
Luke's style is compressed to the highest degree; and he expects a great deal from the reader. He does not attempt to sketch the surroundings and set the whole scene like a picture before the reader; he states the bare facts that seem to him important, and leaves the reader to imagine the situation. But there are many cases in which, to catch his meaning properly, you must imagine yourself standing with Paul on the deck of the ship, or before the Roman official; and unless you reproduce the scene in imagination, you miss the sense. Hence, though his style is simple and clear, yet it often becomes obscure from its brevity; and the meaning is lost, because the reader has an incomplete, or a positively false idea of the situation. It is always hard to recreate the remote past; knowledge, imagination, and, above all, sympathy and love are all needed. But Asia Minor, in which the scene is often laid, was not merely little known, but positively wrongly known.
I know of no person except Bishop Lightfoot who has seriously attempted to test or revise or improve the traditional statements (often, the traditional blunders) about Asian antiquities as bearing on Acts ; but the materials were not at his disposal for doing this successfully. But it is bad method to found theories of its composition on wrong interpretations of its meaning: the stock misconceptions should first be cleared away, and the book studied in relation to the localities and the antiquities.
Luke was deficient in the sense for time; and hence his chronology is bad. It would be quite impossible from Acts alone to get a true idea of the lapse of time. That is the fault of his age; Tacitus, writing the biography of Agricola (about 98 A.D.), makes no chronological statement until in the last paragraph he gives a series of statistics. Luke had studied the sequence of events carefully, and observes it in his arrangement minutely, but he often has to carry forward one thread of his narrative, and then goes back in time to take up another thread; and these transitions are sometimes rather harsh. Yet, in respect of chronology, he was, perhaps, less careless than would appear.
His plan leads him to concentrate attention on the critical steps. Hence he often passes lightly over a long period of gradual development marked by no striking incident; and from his bad chronological sense he gives no measure of the lapse of time implied in a sentence, a clause, or even a word. He dismisses ten years in a breath and devotes a chapter to a single incident. His character as an historian, therefore, depends on his selection of topics. Does he show the true historian's power of seizing the great facts, and marking clearly the stages in the development of his subject? Now, what impresses me is the sense of proportion in Acts, and the skill with which a complex and difficult subject is grouped to bring out the historical development from the primitive Church (chapters 1–4) through the successive steps associated with four great names, Stephen, Philip, Peter, Paul. Where the author passes rapidly over a period or a journey, we shall find reason to believe that it was marked by no striking feature and no new foundation. The axiom from which we start must be that which is assumed in all literary investigations; preference is to be given to the interpretation which restores order, lucidity, and sanity to the work. All that we ask in this place is the admission of that axiom, and a patient hearing, and especially that the reader, before condemning our first steps as not in harmony with other incidents, will wait to see how we can interpret those incidents.
The dominant interpretation rests avowedly on the principle that Acts is full of gaps, and that "nothing is more striking than the want of proportion." Those unfortunate words of Bishop Lightfoot are worked out by some of his successors with that "illogical consistency" which often leads the weaker disciples of a great teacher to choose his errors for loving imitation and emphasis. With such a theory no historical absurdity is too gross to be imputed to Luke. But our hypothesis is that Luke's silence about an incident or person should always be investigated as a piece of evidence, on the principle that he had some reason for his silence; and in the course of this study we shall in several cases find that omission is a distinct element in the effect of his narrative.
There is a contrast between the early chapters of Acts and the later. In the later chapters there are few sentences that do not afford some test of their accuracy by mentioning external facts of life, history, and antiquities. But the earlier chapters contain comparatively few such details; the subject in them is handled in a vaguer way, with a less vigorous and nervous grasp; the facts are rarely given in their local and historical surroundings, and sometimes seem to float in air rather than to stand on solid ground.
This fundamental difference in handling must be acknowledged; but it can be fairly attributed to difference of information and of local knowledge. The writer shows himself in his later narrative to be a stranger to the Levant and familiar with the Aegean; he could not stand with the same confidence on the soil of Syria and Palestine, as on that of Asia Minor or Greece. Moreover, he was dealing with an earlier period; and he had not the advantage of formal historical narratives, such as he mentions for the period described in his First Book (the Gospel). Luke was dependent on various informants in the earlier chapters of Acts (among them Paul and Philip); and he put together their information, in many cases reproducing it almost verbatim. Sometimes the form of his record gives a clue to the circumstances in which he learned it. That line of investigation is liable to become subjective and fanciful; but modern historical investigation always tries to get behind the actual record and to investigate the ultimate sources of statements.
—St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen