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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature

Acts of the Apostles

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This is the title of one of the canonical books of the New Testament, the fifth in order in the common arrangement, and the last of those properly of an historical character. Commencing with a reference to an account given in a former work of the sayings and doings of Jesus Christ before his ascension, its author proceeds to conduct us to an acquaintance with the circumstances attending that event, the conduct of the disciples on their return from witnessing it, the outpouring on them of the Holy Spirit according to Christ's promise to them before his crucifixion, and the amazing success which, as a consequence of this, attended the first announcement by them of the doctrine concerning Jesus as the promised Messiah and the Savior of the World. After giving the history of the mother-church at Jerusalem up to the period when the violent persecution of its members by the rulers of the Jews had broken up their society and scattered them, with the exception of the apostles, throughout the whole of the surrounding region; and after introducing to the notice of the reader the case of a remarkable conversion of one of the most zealous persecutors of the church, who afterwards became one of its most devoted and successful advocates, the narrative takes a wider scope and opens to our view the gradual expansion of the church by the free admission within its pale of persons directly converted from heathenism and who had not passed through the preliminary stage of Judaism. The first step towards this more liberal and cosmopolitan order of things having been effected by Peter, to whom the honor of laying the foundation of the Christian church, both within and without the confines of Judaism, seems, in accordance with our Lord's declaration concerning him (Matthew 16:18), to have been reserved, Paul, the recent convert and the destined apostle of the Gentiles, is brought forward as the main actor on the scene. On his course of missionary activity, his successes and his sufferings, the chief interest of the narrative is thenceforward concentrated, until, having followed him to Rome, whither he had been sent as a prisoner to abide his trial, on his own appeal, at the bar of the emperor himself, the book abruptly closes, leaving us to gather further information concerning him and the fortunes of the church from other sources.

Respecting the authorship of this book there can be no ground for doubt or hesitation. It is, unquestionably, the production of the same writer by whom the third of the four Gospels was composed, as is evident from the introductory sentences of both (comp. Luke 1:1-4, with Acts 1:1). That this writer was Luke has not in either case been called in question, and is uniformly asserted by tradition. From the book itself, also, it appears that the author accompanied Paul to Rome when he went to that city as a prisoner (Acts 28). Now, we know from two epistles written by Paul at that time, that Luke was with him at Rome (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11), which favors the supposition that he was the writer of the narrative of the apostle's journey to that city. It was rejected by certain heretics in the primitive times, such as the Marcionites, the Severians, and the Manicheans, or we should rather say, it was cast aside by them because it did not favor their peculiar views. A complaint made by Chrysostom would lead us to infer that in his day, though received as genuine, the Acts was generally omitted from the number of books publicly read in the churches, and had consequently become little known among the people attending those churches.

Many critics are inclined to regard the Gospel by Luke and the Acts of the Apostles as having formed originally only one work, consisting of two parts. But this opinion is at variance with Luke's own description of the relation of these two writings to each other (being called by him, the one the former and the other the latter treatise); and also with the fact that the two works have invariably, and from the earliest times, appeared with distinct titles.

Of the greater part of the events recorded in the Acts the writer himself appears to have been witness. He is for the first time introduced into the narrative in Acts 16:11, where he speaks of accompanying Paul to Philippi. He then disappears from the narrative until Paul's return to Philippi more than two years afterwards, when it is stated that they left that place in company (Acts 20:6); from which it may be justly inferred that Luke spent the interval in that town. From this time to the close of the period embraced by his narrative he appears as the companion of the apostle. For the materials, therefore, of all he has recorded from Acts 16:11, to Acts 28:31, he may be regarded as having drawn upon his own recollection or on that of the apostle. To the latter source, also, may be confidently traced all he has recorded concerning the earlier events of the apostle's career; and as respects the circumstances recorded in the first twelve chapters of the Acts, and which relate chiefly to the church at Jerusalem and the labors of the apostle Peter, we may readily suppose that they were so much the matter of general notoriety among the Christians with whom Luke associated, that he needed no assistance from any other merely human source in recording them.

With regard to the design of the evangelist in writing this book, a prevalent popular opinion is, that Luke, having in his Gospel given a history of the life of Christ, intended to follow that up by giving in the Acts a narrative of the establishment and early progress of his religion in the world. That this, however, could not have been his design is obvious from the very partial and limited view which his narrative gives of the state of things in the church generally during the period through which it extends. As little can we regard this book as designed to record the official history of the apostles Peter and Paul, for we find many particulars concerning both these apostles mentioned incidentally elsewhere, of which Luke takes no notice (comp. 2 Corinthians 11; Galatians 1:17; Galatians 2:11; 1 Peter 5:13). Some are of opinion that no particular design should be ascribed to the evangelist in composing this book beyond that of furnishing his friend Theophilus with a pleasing and instructive narrative of such events as had come under his own notice; but such a view savors too much of the lax opinions which these writers unhappily entertained regarding the sacred writers, to be adopted by those who regard all the sacred books as designed for the permanent instruction and benefit of the church universal. Much more deserving of attention is the opinion that 'the general design of the author of this book was, by means of his narratives, to set forth the co-operation of God in the diffusion of Christianity, and along with that, to prove, by remarkable facts, the dignity of the apostles and the perfectly equal right of the Gentiles with the Jews to a participation in the blessings of that religion.' Perhaps we should come still closer to the truth if we were to say that the design of Luke in writing the Acts was to supply, by select and suitable instances, an illustration of the power and working of that religion which Jesus had died to establish. In his Gospel he had presented to his readers an exhibition of Christianity as embodied in the person, character, and works of its great founder; and having followed him in his narration until he was taken up out of the sight of his disciples into heaven, this second work was written to show how his religion operated when committed to the hands of those by whom it was to be announced 'to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem' (Luke 24:47).

Respecting the time when this book was composed it is impossible to speak with certainty. As the history is continued up to the close of the second year of Paul's imprisonment at Rome, it could not have been written before A.D. 63; it was probably, however, composed very soon after, so that we shall not err far if we assign the interval between the year 63 and the year 65 as the period of its completion. Still greater uncertainty hangs over the place where Luke composed it, but as he accompanied Paul to Rome, perhaps it was at that city and under the auspices of the apostle that it was prepared.

The style of Luke in the Acts is, like his style in his Gospel, much purer than that of most other books in the New Testament. The Hebraisms which occasionally occur are almost exclusively to be found in the speeches of others which he has reported. His mode of narrating events is clear, dignified, and lively; and, as Michaelis observes, 'he has well supported the character of each person whom he has introduced as delivering a public harangue, and has very faithfully and happily preserved the manner of speaking which was peculiar to each of his orators.'

While, as Lardner and others have very satisfactorily shown, the credibility of the events recorded by Luke is fully authenticated both by internal and external evidence, very great obscurity attaches to the chronology of these events. Our space will not permit us to enter at large into this point, we shall therefore content ourselves with merely presenting, in a tabular form, the dates affixed to the leading events by those writers whose authority is most deserving of consideration in such an inquiry.

 

Usher

Pearson

Michaelis

Hug

Haenlein

Greswell

Ager

The Ascension of Christ

33

33

33

31

33

30

31

Stoning of Stephen

34

34

36

37

37

Conversion of Paul

35

35

37?

35

36-38

37

38

Paul's first journey to Jerusalem (Acts 9:26)

38

38

38

39

41

41

James's Martyrdom, etc.

44

44

44

44

44

43

43

Paul's second journey to Jerusalem (Acts 11:30)

44

44

44

44

44

43

44

Paul's first missionary tour

45-46

44-47

44

44

44

Paul's third journey to Jerusalem (Acts 15)

53

49

52

49?

48

48

Paul arrives at Corinth

54

52

54?

53

54

50

52

Paul's fourth journey to Jerusalem

56

54

55

54

52

54

Paul's abode at Ephesus

56-59

54-57

56-58

53-55

55-59

Paul's fifth journey to Jerusalem (Acts 21:17)

59

58

60

59

60

56

58

Paul arrives in Rome

63

61

63

62

63

59

61

 

 

 

 


Copyright Statement
Public Domain.

Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Acts of the Apostles'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/kbe/a/acts-of-the-apostles.html.

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