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It is a fact of considerable significance that when the gospel made its first impact upon the world, it created a literature of the highest genius, which became a classic. It is still a best-seller. The great literary lights of the day were men like Seneca and Pliny the Elder; but the creative immortal literature was produced among the despised and persecuted Christians. Jesus lives for all time in this literature, as Socrates lives in the pages of Plato and Xenophon, so far as the reading public is concerned. Indeed, Plato and Xenophon are left far behind.
The first stages in the presentation of the gospel were oral; that is to say it was popular and dramatic. It was in immediate personal contact with the interested public. The first masters of this evangelical mode of communication were the apostles, prophets and teachers, who are mentioned in that order in 1 Corinthians, in a catalogue of 'graces' or special gifts which were bestowed by the Holy Spirit. Paul is not thinking here of ministerial orders in the ecclesiastical organization; he is thinking of inspired utterance.
The apostles were the primary gospel-bearers and spirit-bearers. The first on the list were the Twelve who had been named and authorized in Galilee; but their ranks were extended from time to time, and if we may judge from the cases of Matthias and Paul it was done on the authority of a sign from heaven, coupled with recognition by the existing apostles; for the solemn casting of lots in the case of Matthias seems to have been a request for the intervention of heaven. Barnabas and Silas may also have been called apostles in this sense of the word; and some would add |274 Andronicus and Junias. These apostles were envoys of the Messiah personally; it would seem that they had 'seen the Lord'.
The word was used on a lower level of envoys sent out by church authority, the apostles from men or through a man, mentioned by Paul in Galatians; like the Jewish 'apostles' who invaded his Corinthian church or the representatives appointed by his Greek and Asian churches. The former carried with them letters of commendation, and collected more as they went their rounds. Apollos was given one by the Ephesian brethren when he went to visit Corinth. A model of such a letter is preserved in the epistle of the Jerusalem Council of Acts xv: 'We send unto you Judas and Silas, and them to tell you1 the same things orally.The letters were the credentials of the men; the men were the official exponents of the contents of the letters.
We may place in a different class the accredited colleagues of the primary apostles, such men as Mark or Timothy, who may be called for convenience 'apostolic men' (a phrase coined by Tertullian), to whom the apostles delegated some of their own authority in the missionary field; a picture which is necessarily derived from a view of the situation in which the Pauline churches are in the foreground.
The prophets appear fairly clearly in the documents. They were men and women who possessed unusual gifts of vision and poetic utterance; they spoke as God moved them. Sometimes, like Hermas, they resided principally in one centre; sometimes, like Agabus, they made extensive journeys; sometimes, it would appear, especially in Syria and Palestine, they travelled from church to church living on the bounty of the faithful. Asia Minor may have received its share of these. A study of the Didache and of Matthew suggests that there was a prophetic quality about the original apostolate, so that the prophets could be thought of as conforming in some degree to the apostolic character; the attention in both documents seems to shift very readily from the apostle to the prophet; commandments which were designed for apostles were also binding upon prophets; whoever received a prophet in the name of a prophet would receive a suitable reward.
About the teachers we know less. They were no doubt the equivalent
of the Jewish rabbi, the tanna, who repeated and expounded the words
of the wise; and we may conjecture that they used their special gifts in
transmitting the sayings of Jesus, or the catechisms which have left |275 their traces in the epistles, or the 'testimonies' which were gathered from the Old Testament; or apparently more speculative matter from less reliable sources. Some of them were undoubtedly local elders. If their work was mainly personal and oral it would help to explain why it has left few obvious traces in the New Testament literature. No doubt the prophets expressed themselves orally, too, and even more freely; but they were sometimes commanded to write down their visions. Hermas wrote down his catechism material as well, but it was at the express command of his angel.
The didactic and prophetic gifts might be found in any one, and were not confined to the male sex. In the Epistle of Titus the elder women were told to instruct the younger. In the Acts we read of Priscilla instructing Apollos, and the daughters of Philip prophesying. Paul himself does not object to women praying or prophesying in the Spirit. In fact he contemplates all Christians prophesying.
Such, then, were the sources from which a Christian literature might be expected to appear; and when it comes it has the character of a substitute for the living voice.
It is probable that various oral forms were committed to writing in the first generation, words of Jesus, sequences of stories, prophecies, and so forth; but only one literary form emerges into prominence, and that is the Epistle. It was Paul apparently who first realized its possibilities. To hear a Pauline Epistle read aloud in the ecclesia by one of his young men must have been like hearing him talking; the presence of Timothy or Titus with an Epistle in his hand was a substitute for his own presence, and word-of-mouth utterance. Indeed, he visualizes the congregation so vividly as he writes, and puts so much personality into the words, that he feels that he is genuinely present with them. ' I am absent in body, but I am present in spirit, and I give my judgement as being present.'
The Pauline Epistles bear little resemblance to ordinary secular correspondence, or even to formal theology. They have a 'pneumatic' or sacramental quality. They are the effective spiritual means by which he intervenes with power, as an apostle of the Messiah, in a church crisis which requires action to be taken. His relation to his converts is |276 one of spiritual paternity; he writes to them as his little children whom he has brought to birth in the gospel;he sends them brothers in the gospel who bring them his message personally; he brims over with love and pride, or mourns over their folly. He writes exactly as if he was there speaking, and that is what gives his epistles their literary power.
Once it was established in the church the Epistle became a literary model; the personal touch weakens as more ambitious efforts are produced. 1 Corinthians overruns the natural limitations of an Epistle and becomes in part a manual of church order. Romans is a theological manifesto, and so is Ephesians. Ephesians is written in a more formal manner. 1 Peter, the Pastorals (in part), James, and Jude, are other examples of the more formal, less personal type. For this reason a certain school of critics calls them 'deutero-pauline'. The form which Paul brought into prominence is imitated and used as a mode of communicating ideas and policies to an extended group of churches; or even to the church as a whole. Some scholars hold that these documents were the work of skilled writers who did not hesitate to commend their own views to the church by giving them what appeared to be an apostolic form.
We have not adopted this theory. The production of operative Epistles of an apostolic character went on into the period of Clement and Ignatius and Polycarp. It was a traditional element in the apostolic mission which brought the living voice to the ears of the distant community: 'I Paul the prisoner of the Lord'; 'Peter an apostle of Jesus Christ ... and a witness of the sufferings of the Messiah'; ' I John your brother and companion'; 'Ignatius who is also Theophorus'; 'Polycarp and the elders who are with him.' They form a continuous series. A number of persons were involved in the work. There were co-authors like Silas and Sosthenes and Timothy; literary assistants like Tertius and Burrhus; members of the staff who read them in church and expounded their meaning, like Titus and Phoebe and Crescens and Claudius Ephebus; copyists, secretaries, and doubtless translators.
The production of some of these epistles in a more formal style is amply accounted for by the co-operation of these auxiliary workers and the variety of needs which they were designed to serve. This view |277 of the matter is in line with the evidence as a whole and has the merit of accounting for the personal references which they contain, which otherwise can only be regarded as insincere touches, designed to convey an impression which was not true, and to suggest an authenticity which they did not possess: 'Marcus my boy salutes you'; 'I left Trophimus at Miletus sick'; 'Take a little wine for the sake of your digestion.' The theory that they are fictitious falls foul of such personal touches; it is gratuitous and unnecessary.
They went on being read in the churches. They were passed from church to church. They were collected into volumes. They were widely known at the end of the century. They were the models which were sedulously studied by Clement and Polycarp. They were the ordinances of the apostles, Ignatius said.
The second literary form which emerged from the spiritual ferment of the apostolic church was the gospel; and here too the literary form was at first the next-best substitute for the living voice. St Mark's Gospel, which we have assigned to a date prior to A.D. 70, retains the grammatical informalities and characteristics of conversational speech, and requires the tone of voice or gesture to animate it. The question may be asked whether it is literature in its own right, or whether it should be regarded simply as a script to be used by a lector who knew his business. To some extent, at any rate, it is oral material still.
The strong feature artistically of this Gospel is that it preserves the voice of a story-teller of genius; but the work of the story-teller is brought to us by the craft of a writer. He lacks the arts and graces of the Greek schools; his manner is Semitic; his vocabulary and style are rough and plebeian. Nevertheless his work is not a mere collection of anecdotes. It is a unified work of art, similar in construction to a modern film, with its succession of shots and sequences, and its devices which ensure 'continuity'. Indeed, the making of Mark's twenty-foot roll of papyrus involved techniques very like the techniques used in making a film. His motion-picture of the life of Jesus is a new literary form, which has been the basis of all subsequent lives of Jesus.
The Gospel of Mark was not the only attempt to provide a script of the familiar material. We have the definite statement of Luke that many
|278 had taken this in hand, so much so that the excellent Theophilus, to whom he dedicated his own volumes, was perplexed, and even had a sense of insecurity which needed to be allayed. Luke includes Mark among the many efforts of which he speaks, and he incorporates the greater part of it into his own Gospel.
Many a learned eighteenth-century book bears on its first page a dedication to some noble or royal personage, which was composed on the classical model. The dedication which Luke wrote for his own Gospel can be set out in the same form.
To the Most Excellent THEOPHILUS
Since so many Authors have assay'd to set in order a Narrative of the Events which have been Fulfilled in our midst, as they were delivered unto us by such as were Eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word from the Beginning; I did determine, Your Excellency, to write it down for you myself, in due Order, seeing that I have follow'd all things with the utmost care from the first; so that you might be well Assured with regard to the matters in which you have already been instructed.
The eighteenth-century writer would have concluded with some such phrase as 'Your Excellency's Humble and Obdt Servant the Author', and then subscribed his name; but this was not the ancient custom. Luke does not append his name.
While he does not name himself, his dedication makes it clear that he was known personally in the circle for which he wrote, and that the reliability of his work was guaranteed by his own researches and by his personal association with apostolic persons. His famous 'we passages' would show exactly where he had enjoyed this personal association. There are many scholars who hold that this judgement is incorrect; they think that the author of Luke and Acts was a later writer, who made use of Luke's journals and reports and left in the word 'we' out of carelessness or indifference, or to retain the realistic feeling it conveys. To many others, it would seem that this procedure is out of harmony with the unified and competent character of the books, and with the personal claims in the dedication. The man who writes |279 the word 'I' in the dedication also writes the word 'we' in the passages in question: it is a relation which cannot be ignored.
The production of these volumes was not an ecclesiastical enterprise. We have the regular relations between the author and the patron which governed the production of books in the ancient world. The patron found the funds, and the author rewarded him by inserting his name in the dedication. If our reconstruction is not seriously astray, the author had a large amount of material on which he had been working for some years; but other writers had reached the stage of publication before him. He needed time and leisure to put his own work into satisfactory literary form. It was no small service to posterity to make possible the production of Luke and Acts.
Theophilus was a Roman official of similar rank to Felix, since Luke makes use of the title 'Most Excellent' in both cases. He represents a new class of Christian, which may be described as a reading public. He was anxious to have a written narrative which would give solid support to the form of the tradition which he had received in the normal way in the church.
We have already seen that the whole character of the Acts makes it difficult to place the date of writing too long after the Roman imprisonment of Paul with which it ends. It adheres closely to the situation of the Pauline churches in the sixties. It seems to have been known to the author of John,who composed his Gospel in Asia probably at the end of the century. It is certain that it was not known to the author of Matthew, who composed his Gospel in Syria no later than John. Its place, therefore, must be in Asia Minor or westward, not in the east; and it must have come into circulation well before the end of the century. This terminal date is confirmed by another weighty consideration. The author of the Acts makes no use of the Epistles of Paul, which seems to show that they had not yet gone into circulation in their collected form as literature. Nothing encourages us to place his work so late as the nineties, as some scholars do. A date in the seventies seems to satisfy all the indications.
|280 There is a church tradition which makes Luke a native of Antioch, but the internal evidence of the Acts does not suggest any close association with that city during the period of history which he covers, though he regards Antioch as the mother-city of the Gentile mission, and uses an Antiochene source.
Some manuscripts of the New Testament provide little prologues to the various books, and some scholars regard these prologues as second-century work. What is called the anti-Marcionite prologue to Luke's Gospel describes him as a Syrian of Antioch, a physician by profession, a disciple of apostles, and later on a companion of Paul. He had no wife or children, and died in Boeotia at the age of eighty-four. He wrote his Gospel in Achaia, to which province Boeotia belongs. There is nothing in the least improbable about any of this, and some scholars take it seriously.
A further consideration supports Greece (or Asia) as the place of writing. The immediate background in Acts is very similar to what we find in the Pastorals. It closes about 61 or 62, with bright fresh narratives which concern the same persons and the same places and the same sort of activities as the personal allusions in the Pastorals. It is to this historical situation that both of these literary productions adhere; they minister to the same demand for information in literary form about the labours of Paul and his colleagues, in the churches of Greece and Asia, prior to about 60 and 65. The preservation of numerous local names and other details seems to be a sign of a close connexion with those communities at that time.
The work of Luke is very different from the other books which have been accepted for inclusion in the New Testament. It is fortunate that this Greek physician, with his literary training and his gift for easy narrative prose, should have intervened at this point. He was a keen observer of men and manners, and provides us with a survey of the origins of Christianity which also gives us our best picture of the old Roman empire, its political life, social conditions, modes of travel, and so forth. He is a forerunner of the modern journalist or reporter. He likes a story with a human interest. Even today the average reader finds his Gospel the easiest of the four to read; and the Acts is a good travel-|281 book, apart from the 'speeches', which require special study for their appreciation.
Luke models his style on the Septuagint and on previous Hellenistic works in the Jewish tradition. He shows a marked tenderness for the old-fashioned piety and devotion of the people among whom Jesus was born, though he strongly emphasizes the guilt of the Jerusalem authorities and regards the destruction of the city as a judgement upon them. He is on the side of the poor against a wealthy and tyrannical aristocracy, of which he had seen something in Judaea. He has an eye for the human values. There is an element in his writing which may almost be described as sentiment and humour. He gives us a picture of Jesus in his normal social life. He takes us to the dinner-parties of the Pharisees, and into the home of Martha and Mary. He gives us the story of the woman who was a sinner, and was forgiven because she loved much. It is not at all what the conventional rabbi would approve. He preserves the less formal parables of the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, the unjust steward, and the Pharisee and the publican, which depend for their effect on sympathetic delineation of character. His historical figures are equally clearly visualized; and there is a host of them.
It is natural that such a writer does not care to resurrect the painful scenes which necessarily occurred in the course of violent controversy. Paul is his hero undoubtedly; but the place of priority is given to Peter, whom he does not appear to have known so well personally. He depends upon his Jerusalem and Caesarean sources for Peter. Throughout the Gospel, and well into Acts, Peter, with the Twelve, occupies the central position. It is Peter who first breaks through the Jewish restrictions and advises the council at Jerusalem to liberate the Gentiles from the yoke of the Law. Paul hardly appears as a controversialist or as a master of speculative thought. It is said that he argued; but he is never delineated in argument. He is guided by visions and premonitions as we would expect; but he is not depicted as a thinker and mystic. He is always the man of action. His speeches seldom remind us of the kind of prose he wrote in his epistles. At Little Antioch he proclaims the Jerusalem kerugma, though he ends on a ' Pauline' note. At Athens he makes use of Stoic commonplaces, but ends on an 'eschatological' note. At Miletus he grieves over the strange doctrines which he sees arising in the Ephesian church, but no account of the strange doctrines |282 is given. He defends the sect of the Nazareans before governors and kings. He is always the pioneer evangelist and, on occasion, the Roman citizen; on the other hand, he is the pupil of Gamaliel, and still invokes the Pharisee name. Something of the many-sided quality of the man comes to light.
Luke loved the wonder-stories which abounded in the Palestinian church and were highly appreciated in the Gentile mission. He took them over, and re-told them in his Hellenistic style. The supernatural, as he saw it, was not a foreign or alien thing; it permeated human life and expressed itself through the devoted personalities who were his heroes. The angel or Spirit was a friendly and familiar influence from heaven which guided the apostle or evangelist in all his work. He tells the tales in all simplicity as objective occurrences.
He gives the stories of the wonderful birth of John the Baptist, the Virgin Birth of Jesus, the Resurrection appearances in Jerusalem, and the Ascension on the Mount of Olives. Different minds will evaluate them in different ways. Matthew has a narrative of the Virgin Birth which also comes from a Jewish-Christian source, but it is of independent origin; even the genealogies of Joseph are not the same. Here is one conclusive reason, among others, for believing that neither evangelist had seen the work of the other. It has often been pointed out that Matthew tells everything from the point of view of Joseph, whereas Luke tells it from the point of view of the Virgin Mary and the women. His narrative contains the beautiful pictures of the Annunciation at Nazareth and the shepherds at Bethlehem. He preserves certain hymns or psalms which have passed into Christian liturgy, such as the Hail Mary,the Magnificat, the Benedictus, and the Nunc Dimittis; for he is at his best as an artist and poet.
What a contrast there is with the last chapters of Acts, which refer to so many familiar names and places; the house of Lydia at Philippi; the house of Jason at Thessalonica; Dionysius the Areopagite at Athens and Stephanas at Corinth; and so forth. Then the reading circle which met in the house of Theophilus would hear the word 'we' which intimated to them that the author was giving his own experiences by sea and land, which had been shared by others who were still living and |283 possibly present. His sea voyages are specially characteristic: 'Loosing from Troas, we came with a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day to Neapolis, and from thence to Philippi', ... 'And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto Troas in five days ', ... 'And we being exceedingly tossed with the tempest, the next day they lightened the ship, and the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship.'
The narrative thus came to its close among scenes and personalities of which everybody had some knowledge.
Rather more than a hundred years ago, this broad inclusive harmonious picture of the apostolic church was called in question by the leading radical scholars of the day, and it was dismissed as a romantic invention of the second century. It was asserted that no such harmony existed. There was a Gentile party led by Paul, and a Jewish party led by Peter, and these two never made peace. The passage of time has antiquated this theory; the Acts of the Apostles has passed successfully through the fires of criticism, and very few scholars would assign it to the second century today. It is admitted on all hands that the gospel of Paul was rooted in Jewish religious life and thought, and that the policy of Peter towards the Gentiles was a liberal one; they were never the leaders of irreconcilable factions. Nevertheless, the old controversy has left its marks on the theological speculations of today, and appears in a modified form in the reconstructions of history which are attempted in the radical schools.
One reason for this is that the old radical criticism was not devoid of foundation. The state of the church was not so calm and happy as the narrative of the Acts might lead us to suppose. The epistles of Paul suggest otherwise and Acts itself shows knowledge of more than one crisis. We are told of many ' ten-thousands' of Jewish Christians who were violently opposed to Paul. Were there also narrow-minded Gentile Christians who claimed to be followers of Paul, and were strongly opposed to Peter and to everything Jewish? Such schools of thought do appear in the second century, and it is possible that they had their predecessors in the first; and if this suggestion is correct, their appearance would constitute an additional reason why Luke would lay so |284 much stress on the solidarity of the apostolate and the Jewish origins of the apostolic mission.
The turning point of the Acts is the Jerusalem conference of A.D. 49 or 50 and its Epistle to the Gentile brethren of Syria and Cilicia which dispensed them from obedience to the Law of Moses, but laid upon them the obligation of refraining from eating food which had been offered to idols, and from 'fornication' and from 'blood'. The importance attached to it in the Acts shows that it must have been regarded as a basic historical document of the apostolic tradition in the circles for which the Acts was written. This is all the more important because Paul himself, in his Epistles, never refers to it; indeed, the bold statement in the Pastorals that Christians may eat of any food provided that a 'thanksgiving' has been said over it seems to contradict the requirements of the Jerusalem formula. In 1 Corinthians he sees no harm in eating food which has been offered to an idol, though he will abstain if the point is raised; to that extent, and for the sake of the 'weaker brethren', he will come into line.
It looks as if the Jerusalem Epistle had spread more widely, and become a rather more important document in the twenty-five years, more or less, which have passed since the council was held. This council had taken place in the bosom of the old Jerusalem church, which was now a thing of the past; its leading figures had become martyrs and saints in glory; but Luke is able, on the basis of information which was still available, to construct an acceptable account of what was done there, subjoining the text of the Epistle, which commended ' Barnabas and Saul' in glowing terms. He can bring in the weighty authority of James himself as well as Peter. But the fully historical character of his narrative is still assailed by the radical school, who think that the pious imagination has been at work upon it. If there was really a formal council which laid down such a decree for the Gentiles (in Syria and Cilicia at any rate), why is it that no sign of such a thing appears in the Epistles of Paul? There seems to be a difference of emphasis here which calls for some explanation.
There is a second place in Acts where the Pauline controversy comes to the surface. It is the noble charge which Paul delivers to the Ephe-sian elders at Miletus; and it is part of the report of an eye-witness. It is decidedly in the grand Pauline manner. It envisages the danger to the church from 'great wolves' who will bring in strange doctrines; and it |285 predicts that some of his own elders will become the founders of perverse schools of thought. This forecast that Paul's own elders or bishops would develop into heresy may have had a distinct bearing upon the situation when Luke wrote. The Acts may be in part an antidote to novel theologies which had appeared among the followers of Paul and had given Theophilus and others a feeling of insecurity; and this may be one good reason why it preserves speeches of an apostolic character which are rooted and grounded in such old-fashioned Jewish material as the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms; and why Palestinian models of church order and procedure are so fully supplied.
In other words, it is possible to find points at which Acts seems to reflect conditions as they may have existed after the death of Paul. Some scholars have thought that it has an air of retrospect which suits a period after the fall of Jerusalem, better than the years 59-62 when its action closes. It looks back, with some regret perhaps, to the prewar period when Jerusalem, in spite of the malign forces which it harboured, still existed as a centre and rallying-point for all Christians; and the great triumvirate of Peter, James and Paul could give guidance and direction to the thought and practice of the church as a whole. Now, however, the church of God, dispersed throughout the earth and deprived of its three canonized leaders, must direct its course in its several jurisdictions as best it can. An apostolic literature will assist it in this task.
It has been suggested, too, that it looks in much the same way on a period when Christianity had not yet been outlawed by the state, and depicts it as a form of Judaism in order to win reconsideration of the case from the Roman government, since Judaism was a religio licita. For the same reason it gives detailed information about Paul's various encounters with the civil power; but the later the date of Acts is placed, the less convincing this line of reconstruction becomes; for the Pauline instances can have had very little relevance to the legal situation after the middle sixties. It would be necessary to refer to later and more important cases.
This analysis of the possible orientation of the Acts suggests that there was a literary movement in the second generation in the west which aimed at strengthening the authority of the church tradition by an |286 appeal to the primary apostolic mission of the first generation, and especially to the names of the martyr apostles. This hypothesis enables the scholar to relate the Acts as well as the Pastorals to the needs of the church in this period of transition, and thus explain why the book was written and preserved. Indeed, he can go further. He can relate Ephesians and 1 Peter to the same needs at the same period, by a bold use of the hypothesis of pseudonymity.
The theory of a literary movement or a literary interest of this sort in the church of the west at this time is not just a piece of guess-work. We are obliged to place the collection and circulation of the Pauline Epistles at this point too. Doubtless the work of copying and distribution began soon after they were composed; in the case of I Corinthians, Romans and Ephesians it may have begun at once. Each church would have its collection of Epistles before long. New churches like Smyrna would demand copies; and we happen to know that Smyrna possessed a very full collection. Other churches no doubt were equally well provided.
There is no need to suppose that some one centre undertook the work of copying, collecting and distributing. There may have been more than one collection; for the evidence of the second century is by no means uniform on the matter. All we can say is that considerable progress had been made by the end of the first century; and that such Epistles had an authoritative position in the church before the time of Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp. On the other hand, the author of the Acts made no use of them, so that a relative chronology can be made out; Acts was written before the period when these epistolary collections were current in the churches.
The Muratorian Fragment, at the end of the second century, remarks that the Revelation of John was addressed to seven churches, and that the Epistles of Paul which were accepted in the catholic church were also addressed to seven churches; and some scholars have suggested that there was an early sevenfold Pauline corpus which established a literary form which was followed by John and Ignatius. This attractive theory is rather fragile, however. No one can prove that a corpus of Pauline Epistles to seven churches was established so early; it seems that his Epistle to Philemon usually accompanied his Epistles to the churches; the messages to the seven churches in the Revelation are not Epistles; and finally Ignatius addressed six churches and one individual bishop.
|287 It seems more likely that collections of Epistles came into existence in various churches in accordance with their needs. Furthermore, there may have been mixed collections which included I Peter, and Hebrews too when it came along; possibly Clement had a mixed collection of this sort. The inclusion of Hebrews in a mixed collection would explain how it came to be attributed to Paul in Alexandria and the east. On the other hand, James and Jude may have had a rather different history.
This is the background against which the more radical school places the composition of a 'pseudonymous' apostolic literature. The successors of Peter composed an Epistle in his name on the regular Pauline model, to supply an apostolic message to the churches of Asia Minor in time of persecution. The successors of Paul composed the manifesto which is now known as Ephesians in order to supply a theology for the apostolic world-church. Both of them regard the church as an extension of the old Israel, and thus reflect the special interest of the period. The Pastorals, in the opinion of this school, also belong to the same class of literature.
In this way the successors of the apostles managed to provide themselves with an authoritative apostolic literature which helped to tide them over the period of transition.
So soon as a book was launched on its way in the ancient world, the factor of textual variation would come into play. Each new copy was written out by hand, and it is impossible to make such a copy without errors and omissions, usually of a trifling character. No two manuscripts, therefore, ever agree. Every manuscript contains its 'variant readings', and these are transmitted to succeeding copies, so that 'families' of manuscripts come into existence. As there was no central authority in the church which could control this process of free variation, there was nothing to prevent the development of various types of text, each of which had its peculiar character. On the other hand, local church authorities could maintain some sort of control over the type of texts used in a given area, and so tend to standardize 'families' of manuscripts. The science which studies the existing variations with a view to establishing the pedigree of the different 'families' and so recovering the original text, is called textual criticism.
|288 Luke-Acts was subjected to more variation than the other books of the New Testament, perhaps because it was not a church text in the first place. It could be altered with greater freedom. It is not merely a question of accidental variation, or of occasional correction by a well-meaning scribe, or of a little addition or alteration; it is a question of a process of revision and re-writing not very long after its composition; and in the case of Acts it has been done very thoroughly. The reviser recast many sentences, made the motivation clearer, and introduced new details. His work is secondary, and in most cases, inferior, but sometimes he makes interesting additions. He gives the Ethiopian a short creed to repeat at his baptism: 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.' When Peter is delivered from prison, he goes out through the gates and 'down the seven steps'. When Paul preaches in the schoolroom of Tyrannus, he does so ' from the fifth hour to the tenth'. In the Epistle of the Jerusalem council, the reviser retains what appears to be the true text,' to abstain from things offered to idols, and from fornication and from blood'; but he adds a few words: 'And what you do not wish to be done to you, not to do to another ... the Holy Spirit supporting you.'
It is impossible to resist the impression that this reviser knew what he was doing. He wished to clarify certain passages where the sequence of events was not perfectly clear or where he was not satisfied that the facts were adequately presented. It looks occasionally as if he had good local information. He may have known the sources that Luke used, or it may be that he had heard or read the stories in some other form. His work bears witness to a lively interest in the history and suggests that the facts were still fresh in some minds, quite apart from the literary form which Luke had given them. We think of the other literary efforts to which Luke alluded in his dedication, and also of the sources which he employed.
The revised texts of Acts is found in a family of manuscripts and other authorities which are called collectively the 'Western Text', or Western Family. The Western Text of the New Testament was current in the Roman church in the middle of the second century, but scholars do not think it originated there. It is probable that it has a different origin, and the name 'Western' is probably misleading.
No addition could possibly find its way into all the manuscripts, once the process of distribution had begun. They could not be called back for correction or alteration. This may be illustrated from the textual history of Mark. This Gospel was a church book and was not subjected to the same kind of textual rewriting as Luke-Acts. The' Western Text' of Mark is entirely free from the large-scale revision and rewriting which we have found in the' Western Text' of Luke. There are a number of peculiar readings but many of them seem to preserve the original text. The Western Text of Mark is deserving of respect.
The only large change which occurred in the text of this Gospel was the provision of a supplementary lection at the end, for the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. The true text breaks off abruptly with the message of the angel to the women at the sepulchre in xvi. 1-8. The remaining verses, 9-20, are not found in the oldest surviving manuscripts, though they were in copies of Mark, of the Western family, which were known to Irenaeus in the second century. They gradually passed into the various official bibles, including the English Authorized Version, which was translated from late Greek manuscripts.
The additional verses appear to formulate the common oral tradition as to the resurrection appearances, the commission given by Jesus to the apostles, and his ascension into heaven, thus closing the narrative of the gospel. It incorporates features from Luke, but there is no proof of dependence upon Matthew or John. It may be assigned, therefore, quite possibly, to the point which we have now reached in our history: to a place in Greece or Asia Minor and to a time rather later than the publication of Luke-Acts; and this suggestion maybe supported by a note in an Armenian manuscript, which attributes it to 'Ariston the Elder'; which looks very like the mysterious ' Aristion' who flourished in Asia Minor as a companion of John before the end of the century.
It must have been added by high ecclesiastical authority but it did not find its way into all manuscripts. The earliest and best evidence establishes in the most decisive way that it was not part of the original text. It is interesting that in Rome the gospel for Easter Day should be taken from Mark, and that it should still stop one verse short of the original ending.
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