This book of the New Testament, like the gospel according to Luke, bears a preface addressed to a certain Theophilus. The preface declares that the gospel was only the first part of the total work (1); what now lies before us is the second part. The author gave no title to this sequel, and its earliest readers were somewhat puzzled to know what to call it. It fitted into no existing literary category. If it was like anything, it was like those popular biographies of famous men which were usually called, "Acts of so-and-so ". Consequently, since the second century, this work has been known as ACTS OF THE APOSTLES. The title is not altogether accurate. Only two apostles, Peter and Paul, are prominent in the story, and in the first half of the book neither of them is the centre of interest. The real protagonist is the church; and a better guide to the contents of the book may be found in the NEB sub-headings, of which the first is The beginnings of the church.
Greek historians not only wrote a preface to their work as a whole; they often introduced successive books of it by a brief resume of what had gone before. The preface to Acts is evidently an example of this convention, and serves to the the two parts of the work together. In fact, that the author of Luke's gospel and of Acts is the same would be clear from the style even if it were not implied by the prefaces.
The end of Luke's gospel had already pointed forward to a subsequent volume. The disciples were instructed to remain in Jerusalem until they were 'armed with the power from above' (Luke 24.49), and the first two chapters of Acts are devoted to describing how this came to pass. But however much Luke may have conceived his two-volume work as a single whole, the fact remained that in the first part he had written a "gospel", that is to say, a book of the same form as the "Gospel according to Mark", of which he had been making use himself. As such, his gospel was bound to be read and used as an independent work, apart from its continuation; and Luke therefore must have felt the need to give it an ending which would not merely point forward to the sequel, but would also stand on its own as a fitting conclusion to his account of the earthly life of Jesus. This he did by recording Jesus' final moments with his disciples: 'he blessed them with uplifted hands; and in the act of blessing he parted from them' (Luke 24.50). For the purposes of the gospel narrative, this brief and solemn description was all I hat was necessary. But for the purposes of the subsequent history of The beginnings of the church, it needed some amplification; and this may be the reason why Luke, alter correctly referring back to the point reached at the end of his gospel (he was taken up to heaven) (2), here goes on to narrate the same episode again, adding a number of new points and indeed setting the whole scene in a new light.
He showed himself to these men after his death, and gave ample proof that he was alive (3). This is the first amplification. The task of the apostles was to bear witness to the resurrection; and lest it should be thought that their testimony was based only on one or two subjective experiences, Luke emphasizes that those appearances of Jesus which he narrated at the end of his gospel were no more than a sample of what took place. The witness of the apostles was based on ample proof. Secondly, the 'power from above' which, at the end of the gospel, Jesus promised to the disciples, is now defined more sharply. The 'power' would be the Holy Spirit, which they were shortly to receive in an experience analogous to baptism, so fulfilling the prophecy of John the Baptist, ' I baptize you with water ... he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire' (Luke 3.16).
All this represented an incursion of the supernatural into the experience of the disciples such that they (and Christians after them) were bound to ask, was this now that final and climactic stage in history to which Jewish religious faith had so long looked forward? The disciples are made to ask this question in its crudest form, 'Is this the time when you are to establish once again the sovereignty of Israel?' (6)—as if all that Jesus had taught about the kingdom of God could be equated with a mere political change such as the liberation of Palestine from the Roman occupying forces. Jesus' answer appears to ignore this blatant simplification. First, it emphasizes the impossibility of calculating the date of such an event (the same saying occurs in Mark 13.32, but is omitted by Luke in the corresponding passage of his gospel); it then promises two signs which will show that nevertheless a new and critical age is beginning: the activity of the Holy Spirit and the worldwide mission of the Church.
He was lifted up (9). At a certain point the appearances of the risen Jesus came to an end, and the church believed him to be now seated in glory at the right hand of God. The clear impression given by the end of Luke's gospel is that this took place on the same day as Jesus was first seen to have risen from the dead. But here it is stated that there was a period of forty days (3) (a conventional round number signifying a substantial period) during which Jesus continued to appear to his disciples, and this is corroborated, not only by the last two chapters of John's gospel (which seem to presuppose something more than a week during which the appearances took place) but also by the earliest record of these appearances which we possess (1 Corinthians 15.5), which lists more appearances than could possibly have been witnessed in a single day. It seems that there were in fact two affirmations which the church felt enabled to make after the resurrection of Jesus. First, Jesus was raised bodily from the dead, not to continue his former existence on earth, but in order to assume his destined place at the right hand of God. His resurrection involved his vindication in glory, and his place was henceforward "in heaven". If one were to think of it in terms of space and direction, his "rising from the dead" implied an "ascension into heaven", and most Christian writers in the first decades of Christianity looked upon both as two parts of a single event that was completed on the first Easter Day. But secondly, it was an indisputable fact that, during a certain number of days after that Easter Day, Jesus had appeared to his disciples, both to strengthen their faith and to give them instruction. How was this possible, if he had already "ascended into heaven"? The New Testament writers offer no solution to this question; they simply present the two facts side by side. In any case their philosophy made it impossible to conceive of any intermediate state between resurrection from the dead and a glorious existence in heaven. Jesus had been resurrected with his body. That body was not now present on earth (at least in any ordinary sense), it must therefore have "ascended". Precisely how Jesus was still able to appear on earth to his disciples was a philosophical question which, it seems, they neither asked nor answered.
Nevertheless, one question did demand an answer: Jesus' appearances lasted only for a limited time. At a certain moment they came to an end. Which was the last, and how was it known that there would thenceforward be no more of the same kind? This is the question to which Luke's unpretentious account of what the church came to call "The Ascension" offers an answer. The reporting is very sober. There are none of the spectacular phenomena which accompanied the taking up into heaven of certain Old Testament figures, both in the Bible (2 Kings 2.11) and in subsequent Jewish legend. All the emphasis is on the simple fact of a supernatural parting; and the function of the angels (two men in white (10), as in the resurrection narrative, Luke 24.4) is to make clear its finality. Jesus would not "appear again". His next "coming" would be that which he had so often prophesied himself in the words of ancient prophecies about the Son of Man. It would be as manifest and as unmistakable as this parting in a cloud. There would be no need to stand looking up into the sky. It would be visible to all, and would be accompanied by the end of the world.
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called Olivet (12). In Luke 24.50 the parting takes place at Bethany, which lay on the far side of the Mount of Olives from Jerusalem. But there is no real discrepancy here: Luke seems to have thought of Bethany as lying on the Mount of Olives (which he calls Olivet), and the disciples' way from the hill was also the way from Bethany. A Sabbath day's journey was a technical Jewish term for the distance which it was permitted to travel on the Sabbath—about half a mile. Here, the phrase is simply a piece of local colour.
Jesus has departed; and from this point the centre of the story becomes the church in Jerusalem. The basic composition of this church is revealed in two brief scenes. First, in a room upstairs (13), are the leaders: the original Twelve (now eleven), a group of women, and Jesus' brothers (13). All these are familiar from Luke's gospel, and constitute the essential nucleus of Jesus' followers. Secondly, out of doors, there is the assembled brotherhood, about one hundred and twenty in all (15). Nothing in Luke's gospel has prepared us for such a brotherhood. Jesus' last hours with the Twelve, his solitary trial and death, and the gradual recovery of faith by those who saw evidence of his resurrection, hardly suggest the existence in Jerusalem of a community of believers of this size. Nevertheless, we know (from 1 Corinthians 15.6) that the risen Christ appeared to a much larger group than Jesus' closest disciples, and in any case such a group was necessary in order to provide the "congregation" of the church which Luke is presenting at the outset of his narrative. The figure of 120 is probably no accident. In Jewish local government, 120 persons constituted the smallest group permitted to have its own council; and the number was a multiple of the inner group of Twelve. Thus Luke presents a picture—perhaps more schematic than strictly historical—of the structure of the earliest Christian church; and such is the importance which he attaches to it that he gives again (though he has already given it once in his gospel, 6.13-16) the names of the original disciples, and then goes on to describe the way in which the place left by Judas Iscariot was filled up.
The way this episode is reported is totally unlike anything in the gospel, but is characteristic of the author's method in Acts. Peter stood up before the assembled brotherhood ... and said (15). This is a formal speech, the first in Luke's work, but now to be followed by many others. Since the time of Thucydides, Greek historians had taken it for granted that they should work speeches into their narratives. Thucydides himself may have had access to records of speeches that were actually made; where he did not, he freely composed the kind of speech which he believed would have been made in the circumstances. Later historians often adopted this convention uncritically, and made up speeches as they went along to put into the mouths of leaders at appropriate moments: it was a recognized technique for enlivening the narrative and for bringing out the deeper issues underlying historical events. It was not normally expected that these speeches should be based on any surviving record or recollection of what was actually said.
Luke has already shown (by his preface) that he was ready to make use of the conventions of Greek history-writing, and it would not be surprising if he deliberately inserted speeches into his work for the same reason. Moreover, this point in his work was the natural one for such speeches to begin. Previously (almost from the beginning of the gospel) the main speaker had always been Jesus, and Jesus' discourses had consisted of sayings that were reverently preserved in the memory of Christians. The evangelist had no liberty to compose what Jesus might have said; he could only select and edit what people remembered that Jesus did say. But from now on the speakers were the leaders of the church, and it is unlikely that their utterances were preserved with anything like the same fidelity. It is possible, of course, that Luke had access to some records or recollections of their speeches; and he may often have been in a good position to know what points a Christian leader made, or was likely to have made, in his own defence against the Jewish or Roman authorities, or what kind of preaching the earliest preachers adopted when challenged to give an account of their faith. Nevertheless, we must always allow for the possibility that, on any given occasion, Luke had no information to guide him and, following the convention of contemporary historians, simply composed the kind of speech which he believed the speaker would have made.
This first speech of Peter's is a case in point. The Hebrew text of Psalm 109.8 runs, "May another seize his goods". But in the Greek version of the Septuagint the same verse runs, "Let another take over his charge" (20). Peter is unlikely to have known this version, or to have used it when making a speech (presumably in Aramaic) in Jerusalem. Only Luke (or some Greek-speaking Christians before him who knew the text in its Greek form) could have seen in it a prophetic instruction to fill the place of the traitor Judas. To this extent, it is clear that Peter did not deliver this speech exactly as we now read it in Acts: the application of Psalm 109 to Judas could have been made only by Christians who read the Old Testament in Greek. On the other hand, there is no reason to doubt that this is the kind of speech which Peter might have made. The treatment of Scripture is entirely characteristic of a Palestinian Jew. It was generally believed that, apart from "the Law" (that is, the Pentateuch, or Five Books of Moses), which had been delivered directly to Moses by God, the remaining books that had been received into the Old Testament were dictated to their writers by the Holy Spirit. The psalms, for example, were given by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of David (16). Some of these writings, it was recognized, applied only to the original circumstances in which they were wiitten. But the prophets, and many of the psalms, were still open to interpretation. The events they prophesied had not yet occurred, and since it was axiomatic that every prophecy in Scripture was bound to come true, it was one of the preoccupations of those who studied Scripture to discern in the present, or to forecast in the future, events which could be shown to he the definitive fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies. Luke has already narrated in his gospel (chapter 24) how the risen Jesus gave instruction on this to his disciples, and we have here an example of the technique being put to use. Psalm 69 was one of the "righteous sufferer" psalms, and contained several verses which appeared to be start-lingly exact prophecies of the execution of Jesus. If so, then the sufferer's enemies in that psalm could be identified as the enemies of Jesus, and the fate which it prophesied for them could be confidently expected to come to pass. The first of Jesus' enemies to perish was the disciple who betrayed him, Judas; and the circumstances of his death were such that it seemed an exact fulfilment of that verse in the psalm which ran, "Let his homestead fall desolate; let there be none to inhabit it" (20) (Psalm 69.25).
This Judas, be it noted (18). This parenthesis recording the manner of Judas' death appears to be a note added by Luke for the benefit of his readers, rather than by Peter for the benefit of his hearers (for Peter would presumably have said, "your own language", not their own language (19)), and the NEB has punctuated it accordingly. It should be compared with the similar note, Matthew 27.3-10. Both accounts give the name 'Blood Acre', but each explains the origin of this name differently. In Matthew, Judas 'hanged himself'; in Acts, he has a more gruesome death, which Luke may have borrowed from other literary accounts of the deaths of notable villains —compare especially Wisdom 4.19; 2 Maccabees 9.5-9.
Two names were put forward (23). Both men had common Jewish names; one of them, like many educated Jews, bore a Roman added name, Justus. It is implied in verse 21 that both had been disciples of Jesus: it may just be chance that there is no mention of them in the gospels. The result of the incident was that the group of Twelve was reconstituted, and the church began its life with a clear organization. Or so, at least, Luke presents the matter. The letters of Paul, written some decades earlier, offer a less tidy picture.
While the day of Pentecost was running its course (1). Pentecost means "the fiftieth day", and was the usual Greek name for the Jewish harvest festival which took place seven weeks after Passover. The festival itself, which involved the presentation of harvest produce at the Temple and a day of general festivity, has no obvious bearing on Luke's narrative, but serves simply to date it by the Jewish calendar. Jesus' crucifixion was at Passover; the church's mission began at the next festival, seven weeks later.
They were all filled with the Holy Spirit (4). This was the 'power from above' (Luke 24.49) which they had been told to wait for, the fulfilment of the promise that they would receive the Holy Spirit at a certain moment of time in an experience analogous to baptism (1.4-5). John the Baptist had foretold that Jesus would 'baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire' (Luke 3.16). This was now fulfilled in an experience of tongues like flames of fire (3). The experience marked the moment when the Spirit was first given to the church.
But how could you tell when someone was "filled with the Spirit"? In the experience of Paul and of the later church, the Spirit was responsible for many of the moral and spiritual qualities of Christians, and was therefore a secret and slowly maturing power such that you could not always tell at a glance whether a person possessed it. But it was also responsible for some of the more spectacular gifts with which Christians found themselves endowed. One of these was prophecy (for it was the Holy Spirit which had inspired the prophets of the Old Testament); another was a phenomenon which in Greek was called simply "tongues", and for which the NEB equivalent is usually 'ecstatic utterance' or 'tongues of ecstasy'. We cannot always be sure whether this phenomenon was a succession of unintelligible sounds or an actual utterance in a foreign language unknown to the speaker. Paul's references to it usually suggest the former, whereas Luke's narrative here presupposes the latter, even though it sounded to some just like drunken speech (verse 13). In any case, both were clearly regarded as forms of a miraculous phenomenon called "tongues". It was the combination of this gift with the gift of prophecy (telling the great things God has done (11)) which suddenly overwhelmed the apostles and marked the decisive moment at which the Spirit was received by the church.
So, at any rate, Luke saw the matter. He is the only writer in the New Testament to mention this episode; but that is not in itself a reason to doubt that such a thing happened not many weeks after the resurrection. But was Luke right in thinking that it marked the point at which the Spirit was for the first time given to the followers of Jesus? The author of the fourth gospel would not have agreed. According to him, the Spirit was given on the same day as the resurrection took place (John 20.22). It may be that in fact the first generation of Christians were not greatly interested in the exact moment at which the Spirit was given: it was sufficient for them to know that, after Jesus' resurrection, the Spirit was there, and was passed on through baptism to all who subsequently became Christians. But Luke, by fastening upon this particular manifestation of the Spirit (which may well have been the first of its kind), was able to use it as a kind of precise date for the beginning of the work of the church, a church which had by this time been reconstituted in its ideal form of a council of twelve apostles and a 'brotherhood' of 120 men.
He was also able to present it as significant in another way. Among the people who thronged Jerusalem at the festival season were men whose homes or whose place of upbringing lay in countries on all sides of Palestine, from North Africa to Asia Minor, from the Tigris to the Tiber. All these people were of Jewish origin (unless they were proselytes, that is, converts to the Jewish faith), but by living scattered in different countries they had learnt in use the local languages and dialects. It must not be imagined that they therefore could not have understood each other when they met in Jerusalem, for Greek had become an international language that was spoken throughout
the countries of the eastern Mediterranean. The miracle was not that the language barrier was momentarily overcome and the curse of Babel removed (for this had been practically accomplished by the Greek cultural revolution started in these countries by Alexander the Great), but that this new message, though still addressed to Jews, seemed already to be clothing itself in the languages spoken in remote parts of the world, and therefore to be destined for world-wide proclamation.
But Peter ... addressed them (14). Again a set speech, but much longer and more elaborate than the first. Its purpose is to explain the meaning of the extraordinary phenomenon which had just been witnessed, and it does so by bringing to bear upon it certain passages of the Old Testament. The first passage is from the prophet Joel, 2.28-32. "God says, 'This will happen in the last days' " (16). God says is an addition by the NEB translators, to make clear (what would have been taken for granted by Peter's listeners) that the phrase I will in the prophecy indicates the declared purpose of God. 'This will happen in the last days' is also an addition, but this time made by Luke or by whatever source he was using. In the original Hebrew text and in all other versions of it known to us, the prophecy is about a quite indefinite time ("after this"). 'In the last days' is only a slight verbal change, but it greatly alters the meaning, and makes the prophecy much more specific. Everyone knew what the last days meant: it was the climactic period immediately before the end, a time both of miraculous happenings and of severe tribulations, of hope and promise for the elect and of foreboding for the rest of mankind. If the scene which had just been witnessed could be shown to be the fulfilment of Joel's prophecy, then it would follow (from the way in which the quotation is introduced) that the period of the last days had already begun—or rather (since Luke seems anxious to make all this easier to grasp for a non-Jewish reader) that the new epoch which began with the birth of the church was the way in which the esoteric and visionary formulations of Jewish seers were to be given meaning on the plane of history.
The Old Testament nowhere foretold the kind of linguistic miracle which Luke has just described. But the phenomenon had been more than this. In various languages, the apostles had suddenly, with one accord, begun ' telling the great things God has done'. That is to say, they had been seized with the gift of prophecy; and prophecy, for Luke as for most Jewish thinkers, was the characteristic manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Seen in this light, what had just taken place was of a kind to which the Old Testament prophets had certainly looked forward, and the passage of Joel provided a perfect commentary on the apostles' experience. As if to underline its message, a refrain is added by Luke which is not in the original: 'and they shall prophesy' (18).
The 'last days', then, had begun, announced by a signal manifestation of the gift of prophecy. What had happened to bring this about? Was this simply the moment which God had mysteriously chosen to inaugurate the new epoch? Or was there something in the immediate past which, if rightly interpreted, could be seen to have been leading up to this moment? The answer was, Yes: Jesus of Nazareth (22). Peter's hearers could hardly pretend they had not heard of him: he had been a man singled out by God and made known to them through miracles, portents and signs (23). But far from recognizing him as the instrument of God, they had used heathen men to crucify and kill him (a neat summary of the complicated division of responsibility that is implied in Luke's own account of the trial and crucifixion). And that, they might have thought, was the end of the matter. But God raised him to life again (24). The principal evidence for this daring proposition was the testimony of the apostles ('as we can all bear witness' (32)). But it also gained greatly in credibility when it could be shown to be 'according to the scriptures'. This is the cue for the second text, Psalm 16.8-11 (25-28).
To modern eyes there is no mystery about this psalm. It is the song of one who has been providentially delivered from death, and who gives thanks to the God who "does not abandon his soul to death". But the Jews were accustomed to seeing more in their scriptures than this. The psalms were regarded as prophecy—the phrase "I foresaw" (25), which is not in the original Hebrew, is a typical alteration produced by this way of looking at Scripture. Moreover, these psalms were unquestioningly ascribed to David. Now the indisputable fact of David's death made it impossible to think that he was in this case prophesying about himself. Therefore it was entirely legitimate to find in his words a prediction of some future "setting free from the pangs of death". Such a miraculous event would hardly have happened to an ordinary person. But David knew (from the prophecy of Nathan, 2 Samuel 7) that his line would not die out (however much it appeared to in the subsequent history of Jerusalem), and that it would still come to pass that, in a new order created by God, one of his own direct descendants should sit on his throne (30). This descendant of David could only be the Messiah. Evidently (hen, when David appeared to predict a resurrection, he spoke with fore-knowledge of the resurrection of the Messiah (31). The fact of the resurrection of Jesus did not rest only on the evidence of the apostles: it too, like the outpouring of the Spirit which had just occurred, had been foretold in Scripture.
Peter could thus point to two events in the last few weeks which had been dramatic fulfilments of Old Testament prophecies. But what had these two events to do with each other? Was there a real connection between the resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Spirit? The answer was two-fold. First, it was by Jesus himself that the gift of the Spirit—the 'power from above'—was promised (Luke makes this clear both at the end of his Gospel and at the beginning of Acts). Secondly, Jesus' status after the resurrection was again prophesied in Psalm 110.1 (that is to say, in an oracle which David clearly did not utter about himself, and which therefore pointed to a Person of the future). Jesus was now at God's right hand. Anything, therefore, which came from God (as the disciples' miraculous gift of prophecy did) now came also from Jesus. These events were all part of the same story, and witnessed to the same truth. It only remained for those who had seen them to draw the correct conclusion: 'Let all Israel then accept as certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah' (36).
'Friends, what are we to do?' (37) The Jewish public had been confronted with two uncomfortable propositions. First, a small group of Galileans had been the privileged subjects, under their very eyes, of an experience which could plausibly be interpreted as the beginning of a new age; secondly, it followed that the Jewish people as a whole, far from being entitled (as they expected) to enter upon the joys of this new age, had actually forfeited their right to do so by securing the condemnation and execution of Jesus. But Peter's answer (which perhaps also shows traces of Luke's mature reflection upon the deeper implications of this question) was encouraging. On the first point, the prophecy of Joel made it quite clear that the new dispensation would affect a far wider circle than this first group of Christians: 'the promise is to you, and to your children, and all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God may call' (39) (a sentence compounded of Biblical phrases, and drawing also upon the continuation of the text from Joel already quoted). In other words, it was open to the whole Jewish people (and others: the sentence seems to allow already for the future mission to the Gentiles) to receive the same blessing. Secondly, even the complicity of the Jewish people in Jesus' crucifixion was not an insurmountable barrier. For Christian baptism—which is here mentioned for the first time as the rite of initiation into the church—conveyed forgiveness of sins (38) (as John's baptism had), and was also the means of receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit (which was not the case with John's baptism, but was something new and distinctive). Christianity, in short, was destined to be a universal religion—though one must not read back a modern and liberal universalism into this passage. It was never envisaged that the whole world would become Christian; only that men of every nationality would have the chance of joining the new community of the elect and so of saving themselves 'from this crooked age' (40) (another biblical phrase: Deuteronomy 32.5).
The response was massive; and in a single day the Christian brotherhood was transformed from a fairly small group of friends into a community to be numbered by thousands. How was this crowd of new members to express its common allegiance? Luke answers by giving a sketch of its common life (2).Two points may be noticed. The phrase, breaking bread (46), is repeated, and suggests a technical expression for the Lord's Supper; and the community of goods (about which Luke has more to say later) is an answer to questions very deliberately raised in Luke's gospel with regard to Jesus' teaching on wealth and poverty.
So far the narrative has let the young church appear as a sensational but perfectly legitimate fulfilment of the faith of the Jewish people. The ' last days' foretold by the prophets had begun; the promised outpouring of the Spirit was an undeniable fact; and the way was open for the Jewish people as a whole, despite their complicity in the execution of Jesus, to repent, to join the new community of believers through baptism, and themselves to receive the Spirit. Indeed, the Christians felt themselves to be so perfectly expressing the true Jewish faith that they kept up their daily attendance at the temple (46). But there was more to it than this. Membership of this new community involved holding certain beliefs about Jesus, who was not just an important figure of the immediate past, but whose "name" was still powerful among them. Specifically Christian (as opposed to Jewish) doctrines began to appear; and it was these which produced conflict between the Christians and the Jewish authorities. The first instance of this arose out of a miraculous case of healing.
One day at three in the afternoon, the hour of prayer (1). This was the
time of the afternoon sacrifice of a lamb at the altar before the temple, and was observed as one of the two "hours" of public prayer. Jews, wherever they might happen to be, would break off their occupations to pray; and those who could do so went to the colonnaded courts of the temple for the purpose. We have just been told (2.46) that the Christian brotherhood did this regularly, and it was as a matter of course that Peter and John were on their way up to the temple. Beggars naturally took up their positions at 1 lie gates where most people entered. There were eight gates at different points of the wall of the temple enclosure, and two more at the entrances of the two inner courts which only Jews were permitted to enter. None of these is called 'Beautiful Gate' in any of the descriptions we possess of the temple. A late tradition gives the honour to the one gate (part of which still exists) on the east side of the temple enclosure;
However, the speech by Peter, which offers a commentary on the miracle, was given in Solomon's Portico (11), which stretched the whole length of the temple area on the east side. The crowd had become aware that a miracle had just taken place; and their natural reaction was to assume that it was an act of God in reward for the exceptional godliness of some individual. Peter explained that there was now a new power in heaven—but not such as to infringe in any way the unique sovereignty of the God of the Jewish faith. God was still 'the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers' (13); but he had now brought to fulfilment the Old Testament prophecy (Isaiah 52.12) that his servant would be given the highest honour. This servant (with all the destiny of rejection and vicarious suffering which is spelled out in chapter 53 of Isaiah, a chapter quoted at greater length in Acts 8) was none other than Jesus, whom the people of Jerusalem knew mainly as one who had been condemned as a criminal in Pilate's court, but whom the apostles proclaimed to have been raised from the dead. If (as followed from the apostles' experience) this Jesus had been given by God the highest honour, it followed that he now had 'the name above all names' (as Paul puts it, Philippians 2.9). Now the sudden cure of the cripple would have been commonly understood as an exorcism—the casting out of a spirit which had kept the sufferer physically captive by paralysis or atrophy of the limbs. The recognized technique of the exorcist consisted in invoking the name (and so the power) of a being more powerful than the evil spirit. Jesus now had the most powerful name in the universe (after that of God himself, which it was blasphemous to pronounce), and it was by invoking this that Peter had performed the cure: 'In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk' (6). Not that this Name could be used mechanically: such a miracle (so at least Luke understood it) demanded faith (16)—either the faith of the subject of the cure, or (as the rather involved Greek sentence could also mean) the faith of the exorcist who invoked the Name.
'And now, my friends, I know quite well that you acted in ignorance' (17). Had their rejection and condemnation of Jesus been carried out in full knowledge of Jesus' real nature, then clearly their action would have brought decisive judgement on themselves. But (and this seems to pick up a saying attributed to Jesus in some manuscripts of Luke 23.34) they acted in ignorance. Moreover, there was a higher destiny at work. 'This is how God fulfilled what he had foretold in the utterances of all the prophets: that his Messiah should suffer' (18). Where in fact does one find such prophecies in the Old Testament? It is hard enough to find any explicit references to a future Messiah at all, and there is certainly none which suggests that this Messiah was to suffer. Moreover, little as we know for certain about Jewish religious expectations in the time of Jesus, we do know that il would have been unusual to envisage a suffering Messiah—and the men who nursed Messianic expectations certainly knew their Bibles. That the Messiah should suffer was not written in so many words anywhere in the Old Testament. It was an inference first drawn by Christians. What they appear to have done (under the guidance of the risen Jesus, according to the last chapter of Luke's gospel) is to have seen, in the many passages of the Old Testament where a righteous and godly man suffers, a reference to the suffering of Jesus. And since Jesus, they now believed, was the Messiah, it could be said that all the prophets had foretold that the Messiah should suffer.
Jesus' death, then, had been foretold. It was destined to happen, and those who allowed it to happen were the unwitting agents of the purposes of God. They had done wrong, but the wrong was not irremediable. But now, with the outpouring of the Spirit upon the church, the 'last days' had begun, the end was not far off. To Jewish thinkers in the past, it had often seemed as though the promised consummation of history was a long time in coming. God had promised a new and glorious age for his people: what was preventing it from dawning? One answer was beginning to be suggested at this period: the end could not come until there was sufficient righteousness on earth. Only a national repentance would hasten it. And this seems to provide the clue to Peter's speech. Stung by the enormity of their error in obtaining Jesus' crucifixion, the Jewish people might now at last repent and so bring nearer the time of universal restoration (21) (a somewhat philosophical-sounding term for the new age expected by the Jews). The new age would be inaugurated by that same Messiah, Jesus, whom God had already appointed (20), and who now occupied the place of honour in heaven. This time, however, there would be no second chance. Another prophecy which Jesus had fulfilled was an oracle of Moses (Deuteronomy 18.15), "The Lord God will raise up a prophet for you from among yourselves as he raised me" (22). A second Moses was another figure who (on the basis of (his passage) was fitted by some thinkers into their picture of the time preceding the end. But a stern warning was attached to this figure (Deuteronomy 18.19), made still sterner when combined with a verse from Leviticus (23.29): "anyone who refuses to listen to that prophet must be extirpated from Israel" (23). All these events, along with their critical significance for the |ewish people, could be found predicted in Scripture (given the true interpretation of the relevant passages). 'So said all the prophets, from Samuel onwards' (24).
"And in your offspring all the families on earth shall find blessing" (25). This promise to Abraham (Genesis 22.18) was a keystone of the self-understanding of the Jewish race: one day the blessing they enjoyed would be so manifest that the rest of the world would acknowledge it and benefit from it. More perceptive spirits, like John the Baptist, had seen that mere membership of the Jewish nation was not enough to guarantee this blessing: there must be repentance as well. The matter had now been brought to a head. They must repent at once, before it was too late—and there is already a hint in Peter's words that otherwise the promise might pass to others, it had
only been made to the Jews first (26). It was to be for Paul to turn the same text of Genesis on its head and prove from it that all along the real inheritors of the promise were the Gentiles (Galatians 3).
The temple area, in part of which this scene took place, was under the administration of the reigning High Priest, assisted by a number of senior officials such as the Controller of the Temple (1), all of whom belonged to the Jerusalem aristocracy of chief priests. This aristocracy consisted for the most part of Sadducees, who differed from the more learned party of the Pharisees on, among other things, the question of the resurrection from the dead. They denied any resurrection—this is stated in the New Testament and is one of the few facts known about them. As such, they were bound to be opposed to the new faith, which vigorously proclaimed the resurrection from the dead—the resurrection of Jesus. Luke's narrative, quite plausibly, makes them the first adversaries of the church. Whatever exactly had been happening in Solomon's Portico, it would not have been difficult for them to have Peter and John arrested on the pretext that they were causing a disturbance within the jurisdiction of the High Priest.
However, the court to which these prisoners would be brought next morning consisted not only of the Jewish rulers and elders (5) who, along with the chief priests, could be expected to be Sadducees, but also of doctors of the law (6), who were usually Pharisees. Luke insists that the high-priestly family were there in force, and actually names four of them (Caiaphas, not Annas his father-in-law, was actually High Priest at the time, but Annas was doubtless still influential and still bore the title High Priest; we know little about Jonathan, who was Caiaphas' immediate successor, and nothing about Alexander). But the original complaint of the Sadducees was replaced, in court, by a much more serious enquiry. 'By what power,' they asked,' or by what name have such men as you done this?' (7) A cure had taken place in the sacred precincts of the temple, and the man who had worked the cure had been heard invoking a name. To have pronounced the name of a pagan deity in such a place would have been a serious offence. The evidence certainly justified an examination by the court.
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, answered (8). The apostles had received 'power from above', the Holy Spirit; but this meant, not that they were constantly in an ecstatic or inspired state, but rather (at least as it appears in Acts) that the new power was available to them at moments of need. In his gospel (12.11-12) Luke records a saying of Jesus promising the help of the Holy Spirit to all Christians who would have to defend themselves in court; and here is the first example of it. Peter's answer adds little to what has already been said in earlier speeches. The 'name' was not that of any pagan deity (for Peter, at the end of the speech, showed that he understood the seriousness of this charge: as a good Jew he recognized that 'there is no other name under heaven' (12)). It was that of Jesus Christ of Nazareth (10). This Jesus was no new and foreign element in the faith of a Jew. Both his resurrection (which the apostles had witnessed) and his crucifixion (in which the Sanhedrin had been instrumental) were foretold in Scripture; and to bring home to the court that even their own rejection of Jesus was foreordained, Peter makes use of another text that was much used in the church —'the stone rejected by the builders ... has become the keystone' (11) (Psalm 118.22).
This speech showed boldness (13), but also an ability to interpret Scripture which was surprising in untrained laymen, until it was realized that, as former companions of Jesus, they would have received instruction from their master. The court was in some difficulty over the case. The defendants had said nothing to incriminate themselves, and they could not proceed further without witnesses; and although the miracle was now common knowledge in Jerusalem (16), the crowd was in no mood to give evidence against the apostles; indeed the people were all giving glory to God for what had happened (21). They had no alternative but to let the prisoners off with a caution. This would at least provide stronger grounds for proceeding against them next time, which was a matter of some importance in view of the prisoners' defiant question—the classic question of conscience since the time of Socrates—'Is it right in God's eyes for us to obey you rather than God?' (19)
'Sovereign Lord' (24). The prayer is hardly one which could have been uttered spontaneously by the congregation as one man. On the other hand, ii does not follow that Luke composed it all: it may well contain phrases of prayers which Luke had heard used in the Christian church. From the earliest period of Greek literature down to the collects in the Book of Common Prayer, formal prayers have tended to fall into a certain pattern, first, the deity is invoked by his name or title, then certain of the deity's at tributes are recalled, and only then is the actual petition reached. This is exactly the pattern here. In addition, much of the language is drawn from a prayer in the Old Testament (Isaiah 37.16-20), which Luke has adapted to his purpose. The weight of the prayer lies in the quotation from Psalm 2.1-2, which is shown to have been exactly fulfilled in the events of the Passion. In the time of the Kings of Judah, the reigning king was called the Anointed One (the Messiah), and was regarded as the chosen representative of God's people on earth. To make cause against him was therefore, in a sense, to set up in opposition against the Lord himself (26). In later times, when there was no longer a king in Jerusalem, (he psalm was read as a prophecy about the coming Messiah. Jesus, Christians believed, was that Messiah; and the other references in the psalm could all be filled out from the gospel story. The kings of the earth (26) were represented by Herod (who appears only in Luke's narrative of the trial: was it Luke's interest in this psalm which made him include this episode?), the rulers by Pontius Pilate; and the psalm, which proclaimed the futility of this opposition, had been strikingly fulfilled in a general sense by the resurrection of Jesus.
It was a natural belief of pagan religions (and the idea is found occasionally in the Bible), that when a deity hears the prayer of his worshippers he expresses his approval by a clap of thunder or an earthquake. Luke was writing for readers used to this convention. Whether or not the earthquake actually happened, there can be no doubt about Luke's meaning (31): God had answered the Christians' prayer.
The whole body of believers was united in heart and soul (32). The picture of the first Christian community, already sketched in 2.44-47, is now presented in greater detail. Two features of it are singled out: the great power which attended the witness of the apostles (which is abundantly illustrated in the episodes which follow), and the unanimity of the whole community which found expression in the fact that everything was held in common (32). This sharing of all worldly possessions is never referred to in the New Testament, apart from this passage and 2.44-5 above, and it is certain that it never became a permanent or widespread institution in the church. Paul's letters, for instance, with their frequent exhortations to give generously, presuppose that members of the church were still in possession of their own property. In his gospel, Luke gives special prominence to sayings of Jesus which seem to lay upon his followers a total renunciation of material wealth, and it is tempting to see here Luke's answer to the question how such an injunction could ever have been carried out in practice. If so, it is proper to ask whether such a radical experiment in communal living ever took place, or whether Luke, in this respect as in others, may not be painting a somewhat idealized picture of the first days of the church. On the other hand, it is unlikely that this first Christian community would have allowed its poorer members to become destitute or to go hungry. The Jewish nation as a whole had a very strong social conscience about poverty, and generosity towards the poor was highly esteemed. It was to be expected that the Christians would take this duty even more seriously; and moreover, the old prophecy in Deuteronomy 15.4, "There will be no needy person among you", which had never yet been fulfilled in the history of the nation, was very naturally taken to apply to the "last days" which had begun with the history of the church. We know from Paul's letters that within a Jew years the community in Jerusalem became the most impoverished part of the church, and its difficulties may well have begun in the aftermath of a radical effort to make good the poverty of some of iis members.
Two anecdotes illustrate the principle. The first introduces a figure who subsequently plays a prominent part in the story. Joseph (36) was a very common name, and it was inevitable that he should have been known by some other name as well; but why Luke says that the apostles surnamed him Barnabas, and that this meant 'Son of Exhortation', we cannot tell. Barnabas was a Semitic name of pagan origin which was becoming not uncommon among the Jews; but so far as we know it did not mean anything like ' Son of Exhortation'.
But there was another man (1). The second anecdote tells, as it were, the other side of the story, and is to our taste exceedingly shocking. We are at a loss to understand how it could have been right or admirable for Peter, a disciple of Jesus, to have used his new power to carry out summary execution on a defaulter, particularly since this was in flat contradiction to the procedure recommended in Matthew 18.15-17. It is true that the story shows signs of having gained in the telling. Even though burial normally took place shortly after death, it is hardly conceivable that a man could have been buried without his wife being told, and the repetition of the miracle when Sapphira made her appearance strikes us as frankly implausible even if we grant the possibility of Ananias' sudden death. We are tempted to suspect (he hand of the story-teller, anxious to heighten the effect of his tale. But even if the original episode was less startling and less shocking, we still have to ask why Luke thought it proper to recount it in its present form.
No fully satisfactory explanation has ever been advanced. Nevertheless, there are certain factors which would have been taken for granted by many of Luke's readers, and would have made their reaction to the story somewhat different from ours. In the first place, we know of two other examples of similar experiments in communal living at about the same period. One was the community at Qumran which produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. Here, anyone who dissembled the value of the property he contributed was punished with temporary exclusion from the community. The other was an experiment in communal farming which (according to Diodorus Siculus, a Greek historian who wrote only a generation before Luke) was carried out in a village in Spain. Here, the punishment for keeping anything back for private use was death. Evidently, this kind of dishonesty was generally regarded as a serious sin. In the second place, even though the cue for the story was the sharing of possessions, the point which it illustrated was the 'great power' (4.33) of the apostles, due to the possession of the Holy Spirit. Peter was able lo represent Ananias' deception as a lie 'to the Holy Spirit' (3),
and this made it a weighty matter. From the Old Testament on, the attitude required of men by God was "faith", that is, a readiness to accept wholeheartedly the demands and the promises of God. The opposite attitude was called "putting God to the test": it consisted of questioning whether God really intended a certain demand, or whether he would really fulfil a certain promise. This kind of challenge to God was expressly forbidden in the Law (Deuteronomy 6.16), and Peter was drawing attention to the seriousness of this offence when he said, 'Why did you both conspire to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test?' (9) The punishment brought about through Peter was proportionate to the gravity of the sin. And in the third place, it is possible that Luke approached the story as it were from the other end. The gift of Christ to his church was a gift of new life, and we know that in early years it was a source of bewilderment to Christians when they found that some of their number had died. The explanation which first gained acceptance was that these people must have committed some serious sin since they joined the church, and that their death was an inevitable punishment. In this connection, Paul suggested that the sin most likely to have caused such deaths was that of not discerning the Body of Christ in the sacrament of the Lord's supper (1 Corinthians 11.29-30). But Luke has recorded a saying of Jesus to the effect that 'for him who slanders the Holy Spirit there will be no forgiveness' (Luke 12.10). It is possible that the story of Ananias and Sapphira began its life as an attempt to explain why two members of the early church died suddenly within a few days of joining the community.
They used to meet by common consent in Solomon's Portico (12). These words give a visual picture. Any substantial Greco-Roman city possessed one or more porticos—the Greek word is stoa—which consisted of a long building open on one side, the roof supported by rows of columns. These buildings were the natural centre of informal life in the city; they afforded shelter from sun and rain, and were convenient for doing business, conducting discussions, and holding small meetings. Jerusalem too possessed its stoas, particularly in the temple area, where there was certainly supervision by the temple police, but where nevertheless they provided a natural meeting place for many different kinds of people. In Greece, it was common to see a small crowd in a stoa gathered round a philosopher—indeed the Stoic school of philosophy got its name from its custom of meeting in a certain stoa in Athens. A Greek reader will have been able to visualize at once the meetings of the first Christian community in Solomon's Portico.
But the church was more than a group of disciples listening to its master. The apostles had miraculous powers (and a sensational attribute of Peter healing even by his shadow—adds a slightly legendary touch to the description of massive instances of healing). The group could not be entered lightly (witness the story of Ananias and Sapphira), yet numbers of men and women were added to their ranks (14). These three points all follow from the episodes already narrated. In this brief paragraph they are combined a little awkwardly, and the awkwardness may be evidence that more than one strand of tradition was available to the writer, which he then had to reduce to a single narrative.
Then the High Priest and his colleagues (17). The action continues to unfold within the temple area of Jerusalem. This area was under the ultimate control of the High Priest. It was administered by another officer of high-priestly family, the Controller (24), through a company of police (22) who were Levites. The 'Sanhedrin' (21), which Luke here explains as the full senate of the Israelite nation (a solemn and slightly archaic-sounding phrase in the Greek), was primarily a law-court, with competence to decide on all cases which came under Jewish law, especially matters affecting religion. Its meeting place was in, or at least very close to, the temple area; and the prison was doubtless near by. As on the previous occasion (4.1-3), there was no difficulty in finding a pretext to have the apostles arrested in this area— the only obstacle was public opinion (verse 26)—and Luke once again attributes this action to the jealousy of the Sadducean party (17), who could be presumed to object to any new movement which seemed to give support to the Pharisees' doctrine of resurrection of the dead. Luke, indeed, seems to have assumed that the Pharisees, the Sadducees' opponents, were at this time fairly favourably disposed to the church, and he underlines this by reporting that the man who was responsible on this occasion for saving the apostles from a sentence of death was one of the most famous of all Pharisaic lawyers, Gamaliel (34).
But an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors during the night (19). A supernatural rescue of this kind is described in detail in chapter 12, and Luke does not spoil the effect by anticipating it here. It was sufficient to mention briefly the divine assistance the apostles received and the almost comical embarrassment they caused their captors next morning. The narrative returns to sober prose when it comes to the serious matter of the trial. Neither the personal jealousy of the Sadducees (17) nor the miraculous events of the night are referred to again. The issue is now one of law and wise government.
The legal charge has two points. First, the apostles have disregarded the judicial warning they have received, and are continuing to teach in that name (28) which they have been expressly forbidden to pronounce; and secondly, I hey have been putting it about that the Jews themselves (and presumably therefore the supreme Jewish court) have been responsible for that man's death (a vivid touch: the judges deliberately avoid pronouncing the name of Jesus which they have forbidden others to mention). We should now call such charges "contempt of court", and certainly some such offence as this existed in the Jewish legal code. But Luke may have been less concerned to make the charge sound technically convincing than to give Peter the cue for another direct appeal to the Jewish nation, this time through its leaders. His reply to the charge of disregarding the court's orders is an epigrammatic echo of the defence he made before (4.19): 'We must obey God rather than men'. He then goes on to admit and elaborate the other charge. The Jesus whose "name" was in question was a person whom the God of the Jews had raised up.It was no good their saying that, since crucifixion was a Roman penalty, Jesus' death was no responsibility of theirs. Scripture allowed for the corpse of a criminal being hung on a gibbet (Deuteronomy 21.22); and if the manner of Jesus' execution was (in a sense) allowed for in Jewish law, the Jewish leaders could not argue that it was no concern of theirs. But this Jesus had now been exalted to be leader and saviour (31), and (the point with which almost all Peter's speeches have ended) the words he uttered at the time of his execution were still valid: 'Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing' (Luke 23.34, in some manuscripts only). If they denied this, they would have to deny not only the word of the actual witnesses to all this (34), but the manifest power possessed by believers which proceeded from the Holy Spirit given by God (32).
But the Jews, as a nation, refused this offer of repentance and forgiveness of sins (31)—this is one of the themes which runs right through Acts; and the reaction of their leaders expressed this with unmistakable finality: this touched them on the raw and they wanted to put them to death (33). Moderation was advised by the distinguished Pharisee Gamaliel. Two somewhat similar pretenders had made their appearance in recent history, and had been effectively dealt with by the Roman occupying forces. The Sanhedrin could safely follow the same policy with regard to Jesus, who had perished in the same way as the others, and whose following would doubtless soon also be scattered (37). The idea of the speech is plausible, and Gamaliel may well have recommended a policy along these lines. Judas the Galilean was well known: he had been the leader of the famous rebellion which had followed the hated census of Quirinius in A.D. 6-7. Theudas (36) was equally well known—by the time Luke was writing; but in this case the rebellion took place some thirty years after Gamaliel is represented as making this speech. Luke was fond of linking his narrative to memorable events of contemporary history; but he had not the means which a modern historian possesses of checking all his dates.
They sent for the apostles and had them flogged (40). This was in itself a severe penalty (on occasion it resulted in death); but the apostles rejoiced. To suffer indignity for the sake of the Name (41) was to be a frequent experience in the future. These first apostles were the prototypes of many later generations of Christian leaders.
Up to this point, the history of the church has been presented according to a very simple pattern. We have the picture of a single, homogeneous community, sharing all its resources in a spirit of enthusiastic charity, and meeting regularly under the leadership of the twelve divinely commissioned apostles. But the next events allow us to see that it was not really quite so simple. Those who made up the first Christian congregation in Jerusalem belonged to a number of different social and cultural groups, and the existence of these differences was to prove a significant factor in the process by which "the church moved outwards", first to Jewish or mainly Jewish centres outside Jerusalem, and finally to the great cities of the Roman empire.
Those who spoke Greek and those who spoke the language of the Jews (1). This is the first indication that the church was far from homogeneous. Literally (as the NEB footnote explains) the two parties are called by Luke "the Hellenists" and "the Hebrews". It is likely that the most obvious difference between them was a difference of language. Although Greek was the official language of the Roman government in Palestine, and although most educated Jews were probably able to speak and understand it, the native language of the Jewish people at this period was Aramaic. But Jewish families who had lived for any length of time abroad had lost the habit of speaking either Aramaic or the sacred language of Hebrew, and had adopted Greek as their first language. When such people returned to Jerusalem they continued to speak Greek, not only in secular life, but also in prayer and worship: they used a Greek translation of the scriptures and attended a synagogue where the service was in Greek. Thus, even though these two groups probably knew enough of each other's language to be able to communicate, I here existed in Jerusalem (and doubtless in other cities in Palestine) a clear linguistic division between the Jews who spoke Greek and the Jews who spoke the local dialect of Aramaic. In fact, however, the division probably went deeper than this. With the Greek language went a culture and a habit of thought very different from that of the Old Testament; and the Jews of the Dispersion, though they remained loyally and self-consciously Jewish, inevitably came to understand their ancestral faith in terms somewhat illiferent from those still used by their kinsmen in Palestine. In particular, they can hardly have escaped the influence of the sophisticated Greek philosophical approach to religion (which regarded the images and sacrifices of pagan religions as primitive and irrelevant), and they may well have found the continual slaughter of animals which took place before the temple at Jerusalem, and the emphasis on ritual and ceremonial matters which was characteristic of Palestinian Judaism, difficult to reconcile with the much more ethical and philosophical faith in which they had been brought up. How much of this cultural and religious cleavage between the two groups was in Luke's mind when he called them "Hellenists" and "Hebrews" we cannot say. But the cleavage was undoubtedly there; and once Christians began to be recruited from both groups it was inevitable that the church would begin to show different lines of development.
However, the first signs of discord arose (according to Luke) out of a purely practical matter. The Christian community, like any Jewish community, had a strong social conscience about those of its members who were widows (1) and therefore most likely to be destitute,and had organized a daily distribution. Complaints were made that the Greek-speaking widows were not receiving their share, and the proposal of the Twelve was that the distribution should now be administered more systematically, thereby incidentally lightening the burden upon themselves. Seven men were appointed, and duly commissioned at a ceremony the form of which was clearly inspired by a well-known scene in the Old Testament (Numbers 11): Moses, overwhelmed by the number of cases being brought to him, commissioned seventy elders to assist him, who then received "a portion of his spirit".
Luke does not tell us how this arrangement was intended to heal the dispute, nor whether it was successful. The seven men were all presumably Jews (except one, who is singled out as a former convert to Judaism (5)) and all bore Greek names; but Greek names were so common even among Palestinian Jews that we cannot tell which party they belonged to. In any case, the narrative can hardly be regarded as giving an accurate picture of the situation. By Luke's own time, there existed in at least some parts of the church an order of "deacons" such as is described here; and possibly Luke read back into this episode (as the later church certainly did) the moment when this order was instituted. But in what follows, Luke has to admit that two of these new "deacons", Stephen and Philip, by no means limited their activities to "waiting at table", but were as active in preaching and as remarkably endued with miraculous powers as the Twelve themselves (8.26-40; 21.8). Seven, like twelve, was a usual number for the inner council of any Jewish community. We can hardly be wrong if we see in these Seven the leaders of the growing Greek-speaking section of the church, corresponding to the Twelve who presided over the others. Certainly this Greek-speaking group remained sufficiently distinct and sufficiently important to become the victim, independently of the apostles (and presumably the Aramaic-speakers), of the first serious wave of persecution which hit the church.
(Luke mentions by the way that very many of the priests adhered to the Faith (7). He seems to have been particularly well informed about priests: see above on Luke 1.5-10.)
Some members of the Synagogue called the Synagogue of Freed-men (9). The scene of action now shifts from the crowd of native Jewish Christians gathered in the temple to the more cosmopolitan society of Greek-speaking Jews elsewhere in Jerusalem. After the conquest of Palestine by Pompey in 63 B.C., many Jewish captives were taken to Rome and sold as slaves. Subsequently they, or their children, mostly regained their freedom, either by purchase, or as a reward for faithful service. They then became known by the technical Latin name (which Luke transliterates into Greek) of libertini, Freedmen, and those who returned to Palestine seem both to have kept the name and to have formed a distinct community with its own synagogue. Traces of a synagogue which may well have been theirs have been found in Jerusalem, and the building could easily have become a centre for Jews from other parts of the world as well.
To the modern reader, Stephen's long speech (7.1-53) is exceedingly puzzling. Instead of presenting any kind of defence, it appears to consist almost entirely of a sketch of the history of Israel, drawn in the main from the Old Testament and breaking off unexpectedly when it reaches the time of Solomon. Only a final imprecation directed at the court serves to remind us who has been speaking all this time and what the occasion is. The rest reads like a piece of academic history. But to anyone familiar with Jewish literature and Jewish oratory, the impression given by it might have been quite different. The main facts of their national history were repeated over and over again by the Jews. Two of the psalms which they used in their worship (105, 106) contain little else, and there are three other similar résumés in the prose books of the Old Testament (Joshua 24, Nehemiah 9, Judith 5). But not all these résumés have the same purpose. Compare Psalm 105 with Psalm 106. The story told in both is much the same; but whereas, in the first, all the emphasis is on the greatness of the favours shown by God to his people, in the second it is on the wilful obstinacy of that people in response to these favours, and to the patience of God who still did not repudiate the promises he had made to them. All depended upon the use which was made of the historical facts, and upon the emphasis placed upon the different phases of the story. When a speaker began to make his own resume of Jewish history, his hearers would have been quick to notice small points of detail indicating the lesson the speaker wished to draw from it.
In fact, a Jewish audience would have found Stephen's presentation startling. From Abraham to Joseph the story is told quite conventionally; but with the appearance of Moses, who occupies almost the whole of the rest of the speech, a new tone begins to be heard. In the Old Testament, and in Jewish piety generally, Moses was the supreme law-giver through whom the people had received from God the inestimable benefit of the Law by which they lived. But here the point made again and again about Moses is that he and his message were consistently rejected by the Jewish nation. 'He thought his fellow-countrymen would understand that God was offering them deliverance through him, but they did not under-stand.' (25) 'This Moses, whom they had rejected ... was commissioned as ruler and liberator by God himself.' (35) 'But our forefathers would not accept his leadership.' (39) These sentences occur nowhere in the biblical narrative, and indeed they could not, for they represent a view of Moses as the rejected emissary of God which is totally strange to the Old Testament. If this was really Moses' destiny, it was a destiny very similar to that of Jesus; and the prophecy in Deuteronomy (18.15), "God will raise up a prophet for you from among yourselves as he raised me" (37), which was quoted earlier in a speech of Peter, becomes more clearly than ever a prophecy about Jesus.
From this presentation of the story of the Book of Exodus, as a repeated national rejection of Moses and all that he stood for, radical consequences are drawn. The Israelites' worship of the golden bull-calf (41) (Exodus 32), which is made to appear in the biblical narrative as no more than a temporary aberration, here marks the climax of Israel's repudiation of Moses and the worship of the true God. As a result, God gave them over to the worship of the host of heaven (42). We know what this phrase meant to a Greek-speaking Jew: the cult of foreign idolatrous gods, combined with astrology. This, Stephen dares to say, was the character of all Jewish worship subsequent to their idolatry in the desert; and by way of support he quotes a passage (42-3) of Amos (5.25-7) which in its Hebrew form seemed to emphasize the purity of the worship offered by the desert generation, but which in the Greek Septuagint translation (quoted here)gave colour to the opposite view, that in fact the golden bull-calf was by no means an isolated instance, but that other heathen gods were worshipped as well. From that time onwards (this is Stephen's argument) no one could claim that Jewish worship had ever been according to the will of God.
What then of the temple in Jerusalem, the place where the traditions of Jewish worship were most jealously preserved according to the forms laid down in the first books of the Old Testament? This is the culminating point of Stephen's speech. The building of the temple itself by Solomon was merely another instance of the Jews' idolatry. It ought never to have been built! The provisional Tent of the Testimony (44) which had accompanied their forefathers in the desert was all that should ever have been required by way of a shrine; anything more was idolatrous. Some support for this could be found in 2 Samuel 7, where David is dissuaded by the prophet Nathan from undertaking the work himself; but the place to look for overt criticism of the temple was in the great Old Testament prophets. Stephen chose a passage (49-50) from Isaiah (66.1-2—a text we now know to have been written after Solomon's temple had been destroyed and before another had been built in its place). It came naturally to Jews to quote this passage when attacking the idolatrous temples of the heathen. But their own temple contained no image, no idol. It would hardly have occurred to them that Isaiah's words could be used to attack their own institutions. Yet this is exactly what Stephen did.
'Like fathers, like sons' (51). The subsequent history of Israel could be summed up in a sentence. It was simply a succession of similar rejections of the Word of God, provoked each time a prophet appeared among them. The point is made sharper by means of two traditional legends which had grown up recently. One was that (however little the scriptures said about it) all the prophets had been persecuted (see above on Matthew 23.29). The other was that, at Sinai, the Law was given to Moses by God's angels (53), a clear proof of its divine sanction.The Jews had consistently rejected its spokesmen, from Moses onwards; and now their betrayal and murder of the Righteous One (52) (a title for Jesus which very occasionally occurs in the New Testament and subsequent writings) was simply the last and decisive stage in the long history of a people that had consistently shown itself 'stubborn ... heathen ... at heart and deaf to the truth' (51).
It can be seen at once that this is a very different approach from that of Peter, whose speeches always end with a statement that God's pardon was still offered to the Jewish people. Here, by contrast, the Jews are totally condemned, not only for their treatment of Jesus, but for their stubbornness throughout their history. Did Luke deliberately compose speeches of such a very different tenor? Or did he possess some record of the kind of speech Stephen might have made, and incorporate it in his narrative despite its apparently inconsistent doctrine? We have seen that this approach to the temple and to Jewish institutions was something that was to be expected from Jews whose first language was Greek and who had been brought up with some Greek culture. Admittedly Stephen's speech went a great deal further than a Jew (particularly in Jerusalem) would normally have dared to go, so much so that the synagogue took alarm and reported him to the authorities. Nevertheless, the speech represents the kind of thinking which could well have been done by a Christian convert from this comparatively cosmopolitan milieu, and Luke may have heard examples of such preaching. Moreover, it contains a number of words and idioms which are unusual for Luke and suggest that he was drawing upon some source rather than composing freely as he went along. On the other hand, the argument of the speech fits happily into the grand design of Luke's history. First, in the preaching of Peter, pardon and salvation is offered to the Jews; when they refuse it, the gospel is taken to the Gentiles. Stephen's speech marks the turning-point: Peter's appeal gives place to Stephen's polemic. The result is the first persecution of the church and the extension of the mission field outside Jerusalem to Samaria and beyond.
It could still be said that, whether or not Luke composed the speech, it is singularly inappropriate to the moment. This was Stephen's opportunity to make his defence; instead, he made an attack on his accusers so stringent that they gave up all pretence of giving him a fair trial, and delivered him to summary justice. This is true; but it is not only the speech which shows that Luke was not taking the details of the trial too seriously. At the beginning, the Council is described as a court sitting in judgement (6.12,15); but after the speech, Stephen can see 'a rift in the sky' (56); the scene seems to have shifted into the open air, and moves rapidly to its climax when they set about stoning him (58). Luke apparently knew one of the technical details about stoning: the first stones were cast by the witnesses against the defendant— and these duly appear when Luke mentions that the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. Luke seems to have visualized Stephen on level ground, sinking down on his knees under a hail of stones (60). In this he was probably correct. It was only in the following century that the Jewish penalty of stoning began to take the form of throwing the victim down a cliff and then, if he was still alive, hurling large stones on top of him.
Whether or not Luke possessed any accurate information about the circumstances of Stephen's death, we can see the motive which led him to describe it as he did. The death of the first martyr to the faith must follow the same pattern as the death of Jesus; and so we find that Stephen was arraigned before the same court as Jesus, and on the same charges, and that at the moment of death he uttered the same prayers: 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit' (59) (Luke 23.46—except that the prayer is now addressed to Jesus himself), and 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them' (60) (Luke 23.34). The wording in each case is different; but these variations are very much in Luke's manner. Since Luke often seems to omit a detail from the gospel narrative if he intends to use it in Acts, it is all the more striking that he includes these prayers on both occasions. The echo is clearly intentional.
One more touch brings the two scenes into line. In Luke's account of Jesus' appearance before the Council, the only statement made by Jesus was, 'From now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of Almighty God'. In these words, Jesus proclaimed that he was about to be vindicated. It was Stephen's privilege to have a vision of this vindication. To describe it, he used almost the exact words of Jesus' prediction, including the title, Son of Man (56), which otherwise never occurs outside the gospels.
All except the apostles were scattered (1). This brief paragraph is highly impressionistic, and is the writer's way of getting the characters into their places for the next scenes. Stephen was given burial ((2) in a manner again perhaps deliberately reminiscent of the burial of Jesus); Saul, meanwhile, was harrying the church (3)—having apparently received startling promotion from being merely a young bystander at the stoning of Stephen (7.58) to being entrusted (presumably) with strong executive powers by the Sanhedrin. It was necessary for Luke to find a place to sketch his portrait as a persecutor of the church before narrating his conversion in the next chapter. And, most important for leading into the next episode, the violent persecution (1) which followed Stephen's death was the immediate cause of the spread of Christianity to places outside Jerusalem, some of the Christians having been scattered over the country districts of Judaea and Samaria. The apostles themselves, however, remained in Jerusalem—this is a presupposition of the next episode (verse 14). Luke allows for this by saying that all execpt the apostles were scattered, which is sufficient for his purpose here, but hardly gives a fair picture of what was happening in Jerusalem. (Juite apart from the improbability of the leaders being spared while the rank and file were persecuted, we find that in 9.31 and 11.1-2 there is still a church in Jerusalem. Luke has so stressed the unanimity of the church at this stage that he cannot easily allow for different groups within it; but it is fairly clear llmt the persecution must have been aimed particularly at the Greek-speaking element of the church which, as a result of Stephen's teaching, could be accused of open opposition to Jewish institutions, whereas the Palestinian element, under the leadership of the apostles, continued to meet in the temple and to follow Jewish customs, so that there was not yet any clear cause for a breach with the authorities.
Philip came down to a city in Samaria (5). Just as, to a New Testament writer, "Galilee" meant a primarily Jewish area of Palestine, despite several purely pagan towns that had grown up in it, so Samaria meant the region lived in by the Samaritans, even though its capital (called Samaria in the Old Testament) had been rebuilt by Herod the Great as a secular Hellenistic city, and was now called Sebaste, after the Greek form of the name of the Emperor Augustus. Therefore, wherever precisely Philip began his activity,
the crowds who listened eagerly (6) must be imagined as Samaritans, a race very close to the Jews in language and religion, but socially and politically opposed to them. They represent the first stage in the advance of Christianity from Jerusalem to Rome.
Philip began proclaiming the Messiah to them (5): he is specifically called 'the evangelist' later on (21.8)—that is, one who proclaimed 'the gospel'. But the side of his work which is emphasized here is his miracles (6), and these brought him into competition with a local magician named Simon (9). The story which Luke tells of Simon first joining the following of one whom he saw to be more powerful than himself, then trying to obtain, not only this power, but the means of transmitting it to others, and finally repenting of his dishonest ambitions, represents a clear contrast between the magic arts practised by not a few notable magicians in antiquity and the authentic activity of the Holy Spirit, transmitted by the apostles to the
is church. (This is the point of the intervention of Peter and John from Jerusalem (15): baptism at this time seems normally to have consisted of a single rite in the course of which converts were immersed in water in the name of the Lord Jesus (16), and then received the Holy Spirit (17) when the minister laid his hands on them. But it was important in Luke's presentation of church history that the Jerusalem apostles should be seen to have been responsible for any advance of the church into new territories, and so he suggests that on this occasion the rite as administered by Philip was incomplete, and that the presence of the apostles was necessary before the new converts could receive the Holy Spirit.)
But, just as Philip was more than a miracle worker, so there are at least hints in the narrative that Simon was more than a magician. The people were not merely carried away by his magic (11), they listened eagerly to him (6). He was himself a teacher, making great claims for himself. The title, "The Great Power" (10), is a little mysterious, but it suggests at least that Simon believed himself to be divine—and this takes us at once into a different kind of world from that of the Jewish Christian preachers and their monotheistic Samaritan converts. It was among pagans that one found people claiming to be divine. In any case, we know a little more about this Simon. By the middle of the second century he was widely regarded as the first great heretic of the Christian church, and as the originator of all those complicated combinations of mythology with a dualistic philosophy which are usually called Gnosticism. Doubtless much that was told about Simon a century later is legendary, and many of the doctrines attributed to him were first worked out well after his lifetime. But there is no reason to doubt that this was the same Simon as the one who appears in Luke's narrative; if so, he was a more formidable rival than a mere magician would have been, and alongside the simple contest of supernatural power described by Luke there must have been the makings of a far-reaching philosophical and religious dispute. However, in this narrative Peter is allowed to dispose of him with the kind of malediction a magician might have used himself, full of biblical phrases. 'You are doomed to taste the bitter fruit and wear the fetters of sin.' (23) In the original (translated literally in the NEB footnote) this is an almost meaningless formula compounded of phrases from Deuteronomy 29.18 and Isaiah 58.6.
Then the angel of the Lord said to Philip (26). It was perhaps natural for Luke to go straight on to this second story about Philip, even though it does not quite fit into his design; it appears to let Philip steal a march on the apostles in preaching the gospel outside Jerusalem. But the episode is nevertheless presented as being entirely in accord with the divine plan. It is set in motion by the angel of the Lord, and directed by the Spirit (29) (the two seem here to be almost equivalent as bearers of intimations from God); without this, Philip might hardly have thought of going 'south to the road that leads down from Jerusalem to Gaza'. Gaza, until its destruction in A.D. 66, was a flourishing city on the trade route to Egypt and lay on the edge of the desert. It had been rebuilt in the previous century not far from the site of the old city, which had been destroyed in 96 B.C. by the Maccabean army so thoroughly that it became almost a byword for a deserted place. For both these reasons, Gaza made one think of "desert", and this may be why Luke adds a note which, translated literally, runs, "This is desert". But it is impossible to be sure which word this phrase is meant to explain. It could be Gaza, which was in some sense "desert": but, as the story which follows is all about the road to Gaza, not Gaza itself, it seems more likely that Luke meant (as it is here translated), This is the desert road. The difficulty is that none of the possible routes from Jerusalem to Gaza goes through desert; at most there could have been stretches of the descent through the mountains which were comparatively "deserted"—-and this was perhaps all that was necessary to underline the miraculous nature of the encounter between Philip and the foreign traveller. In any case the scene can hardly have been in real desert, since the travellers soon came to some water (36).
The story is vividly told, and there is a strong biblical flavour in the language. The Ethiopian came (28), not from modern Ethiopia, but from the country to the north of it, lying roughly between Aswan and Khartoum, in the Sudan. This "Ethiopia" represented to the Greeks, and probably to Luke, one of the extreme limits of the world; but its people were well known, through trade and politics, and it is recorded that more than one of its rulers was a queen bearing the title Kandake. That the chief finance minister should have been a eunuch was to be expected in an oriental court. But why should such a person have been to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage? He can hardly have been a Jew; but Luke may have thought of him as one of those sympathetic Gentiles who accepted the main principles of the Jewish religion without actually being admitted into the Jewish community. If so, he was the first Gentile to be converted to Christianity, though the point is not stressed by Luke.
The Ethiopians spoke their own language, but presumably this high official also knew Greek, and was reading from a scroll of a Greek version of Isaiah. Everyone in antiquity read aloud (silent reading, without at least a movement of the lips, was very unusual), and Philip, walking beside the carriage, was able to hear what he was reading. The passage (32-3) was Isaiah 53.7-8. This whole chapter, a description of a certain "servant" of the Lord who was subjected to suffering he had not deserved, and whose manner of bearing it was said by the prophet to have been "for our sins", was seen by the early church as a clue to the meaning of Jesus' suffering and death. The eunuch's question, 'who is it that the prophet is speaking about here: himself or someone else?' (34) is one which has been debated by scholars ever since. But whereas the modern approach is to try to answer the question by analysing the thought of the prophet and determining what his words are likely to have meant at the time that he wrote them, a Jewish scholar of the first century A.D. (and indeed of many later centuries) would have proceeded quite differently. He would have assumed that it was no accident that these verses of Isaiah did not fully explain themselves: they were clearly intended to point forward to—or "to be fulfilled" in—some other great person, through whom God would continue to shape the destiny of the people of Israel. The problem was to find a person, in the past, the present or the future, whom these words exactly fitted. So far as we know, Jewish scholars had not yet arrived at a satisfactory answer. But the church was quick to seize on this passage. Jesus' suffering and death had fulfilled it in remarkable detail. It was, in short, an admirable place to " start from", in order to preach the good news of Jesus (35).
'What is there to prevent my being baptized?' (36) The eunuch's question was regarded as a serious one as soon as the church began to develop its institutions: candidates had to show their knowledge and conviction of the faith before they could be baptized, and this is probably why some manuscripts insert a verse at this point to show that in fact the eunuch fulfilled these conditions (see the footnote in NEB). But this is not Luke's concern here. The point is the foreigner's readiness to accept the new faith, sealed by immediate baptism. We can infer roughly how this took place. The two men walked down to the bed of a wady where water was flowing, and Philip cupped his hand and poured water over the head of the eunuch, invoking the name of Jesus Christ. Philip then mysteriously disappeared, and began to preach in the towns of the coastal plain from Azotus in the south to Caesarea (40) in the north.
Meanwhile Saul was still breathing murderous threats (1). Saul ('also known as Paul', 13.9) becomes the leading figure in the second half of Acts, and it is necessary for Luke to prepare for this by working in the story of his conversion here. The story is recognizably the same as that to which Paul alludes himself in Galatians 1.16, but it is told here (and in two other places in Acts) in much more detail. At times it is not easy to reconcile this account with the facts which Paul mentions in Galatians, and one is forced to ask how far Luke had reliable sources to go by and how far he was simply filling in the details as best he could, given the bare facts that Paul was at first a persecutor of the church, was then suddenly converted, but only paid one brief visit to Jerusalem in the course of his first fourteen years of activity as a Christian preacher. On the one hand, Saul's experience (like the visions at the beginning of Luke's gospel) has a number of conventional features, and has clearly been written up fairly freely by Luke (for how else could an ancient writer set about recording experiences that are essentially incommunicable? We should probably now attempt the task in mystical or psychological language; but for Luke it was more natural to use the traditional apparatus of a dazzling light and a heavenly voice). On the other hand, there are details which are not only plausible in themselves, but are confirmed by independent evidence (such as the basket in which Saul was lowered from the walls of Damascus (25): Paul mentions this himself in 2 Corinthians 11.33). These details set a limit to the extent to which Luke's narrative can be regarded as legend or imagination; at the same time, they do not force us to regard the whole narrative as a strictly literal account of historical events.
Letters to the synagogues at Damascus (2). Damascus was the oldest of the cities of the Decapolis. It was now a rich Hellenistic city, but contained a large colony of Jews. We know that local synagogues had legal authority over the faith and observance of their members; but we have no other evidence that the High Priest in Jerusalem was in a position to procure the arrest of members of synagogues of the Dispersion in a city some 200 miles away from Jerusalem. However, Saul's journey to Damascus was a logical extension of his attempt in Jerusalem to eradicate Christianity (here intriguingly called the new way—literally, "the way": we do not know the source of this expression); and we learn incidentally (what we should hardly have guessed otherwise) that the Christian gospel had already made considerable progress outside Jerusalem. This makes it likely (though Luke says nothing about a lapse of time) that Paul's conversion took place at least a few years after the first preaching of the gospel in Jerusalem.
The light (3) and the voice (4) are conventional and plausible features of such an experience; but whereas the speaker is usually an angel, here, and throughout the episode, it is none other than Jesus himself, the Lord. And more than this: 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting' (5). It was implied in some of the sayings of Jesus, as well as in the more systematic thinking of Paul, that Jesus would in some sense be present in his followers and therefore in the church. Here, this is taken for granted. In persecuting the church, Saul had been persecuting the very Jesus who was now addressing him. But this Jesus, he now knew, was Lord. To our minds, the shock of this realization would have been sufficient to account for his temporary blindness and his refusal to eat or drink. But Luke's reason for mentioning these physical effects was probably quite different. Some kind of "sign" regularly followed a message from heaven (Zechariah was similarly struck dumb at the beginning of Luke's gospel), as if to confirm the authenticity of the experience. In Saul's case this was temporary blindness; and that he took no food or drink (6) should be understood as a penitential fast, indicating the reality of his change of heart. By the time Luke was writing, a comparable fast was probably undertaken by all Christian converts immediately before baptism.
There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias (10)—the second person in Acts bearing this not uncommon Jewish name (Hananiah). His vision—in reality something heard, not seen, but this was the case with many "visions" in the Old Testament—recalls that of the young Samuel (1 Samuel 3). 'Go at once to Straight Street, to the house of Judas'. These are precise directions. Damascus, like other Greco-Roman cities in the Middle East, was intersected by a straight street which ran from one side of the city to the other. It was a mile long, with avenues of Corinthian columns. Officially, it was probably named after some Emperor or public figure; but there is no reason to doubt that, for most people, it was simply 'Straight Street'.Judas was a very common name. If Luke had to invent the address, this would almost have been the obvious one to choose.
Ananias answered, 'Lord, I have often heard about this man' (13). This sounds like an objection, and if Ananias were the principal character in the story, it would probably be right to ask questions about such a hesitant reaction to the heavenly summons. But the central figure is still Saul, and Luke's purpose in this dialogue is to say a little more about him. First, the terror he inspired as a persecutor is once again emphasized. Secondly, 'This man is my chosen instrument' (15): the phrase has a biblical sound, and the definition of Saul's future task corresponds with the words he was later to use himself (Galatians 1.16).He was to preach, above all, before the nations (that is, to non-Jews): this was the new and decisive aspect of Paul's divine commission. Luke adds, 'and their kings'—a hint of Paul's appearances before pagans—as well as 'the people of Israel'—for his mission was never to be quite divorced from that of the other apostles among the Jewish people. And finally, there was much 'that he must go through' (16). The Greek word means "suffer". The church was now beginning to understand how it could be said that Christ had been 'bound to suffer' (Luke 24.26), and had already had a taste of the kind of suffering which would mark its members as faithful followers of their Lord. Paul, who up to now had assumed the task of inflicting suffering, was henceforward to undergo it no less than the others. This word "suffering" could mean actual death; and Paul had probably died as a martyr by the time Acts was written. But his own letters are sufficient evidence of the actual suffering he bore during his lifetime (see especially 2 Corinthians 11.21-7).
Ananias was sent to Saul to give him recovery, baptism, and the Holy Spirit. It seemed that scales fell from his eyes (18). The metaphor seems an odd one (and has no basis in ancient or modern medicine), but it occurs also in the story of the healing of Tobit's blindness (Tobit 11.11-13), and there are other hints in Luke's work that he drew on the book of Tobit for the details of miraculous events. Thus, once again, Luke may either have had access to a reliable source which supplied him with this detail; or else he may have used his literary knowledge to fill out the details of the facts which he could infer for himself. There are three such facts here: first, Paul certainly recovered his sight; secondly, he was certainly baptized (for all Christians were); thirdly, his subsequent preaching showed that he had received the Holy Spirit (which was in any case usually an inseparable part of baptism).
He stayed some time with the disciples in Damascus (20). It is at this point that the narrative begins to diverge from what Paul says himself in Galatians. There we learn that he 'went off at once to Arabia' (1.17). Luke appears to know nothing of this, nor of the fact that it was 'the commissioner of King Aretas' (who was the ruler of the Nabatean kingdom, the nearest part of Arabia to Damascus) who was responsible for the measures taken against Paul in Damascus (2 Corinthians 11.32). But this could be due simply to his lack of information. The discrepancies become more serious in the description of Paul's first visit to Jerusalem. This, Paul tells us, took place three years all or his conversion, by which time his story must certainly have been known in Jerusalem, and it can hardly have been necessary for Barnabas to explain matters to the apostles. Moreover, this visit was an entirely private
affair lasting only a fortnight, in the course of which Paul saw only two of the leaders of the church (Galatians 1.18-20). Luke may have known that Paul's stay was short, without knowing the reason. If so, it would have been a reasonable guess on his part that Paul, like Stephen, had come in contact with the Greek-speaking Jews (29), and that he too had quickly aroused so much opposition that he had to leave the city rapidly.
Meanwhile the church, throughout Judaea, Galilee, and Samaria, was left in peace (31). By means of these brief summaries, Luke allows us to glimpse the kind of progress the church was making apart from the episodes he actually records. He has told us nothing about any preaching in Galilee (though we can imagine that the recollection of Jesus' activity there made it an obvious place for a mission), but he has mentioned that Philip was working his way up the coastal plain of Judaea from Azotus to Caesarea (8.40), and it was presumably to visit these new congregations that Peter made a general tour (32), including Lydda (the modern Lod) some thirty miles northwest of Jerusalem, and Joppa, which lay on the coast at the end of the same road. These visits were remembered for two miracles performed by Peter, which gave a new impetus to the spread of the gospel in the area (Sharon (35) was the name of the coastal plain from Joppa to Caesarea). Both are told on the model of miracles that had been performed by Jesus. That of the cure of Aeneas (33-5) (a Greek name, but one that could easily have been taken by a Jew) recalls the cure of a paralytic in Luke 5.24; the following story (36-43) is more subtly constructed. Bringing a dead person back to life was the most impressive of all miracles. In the Old Testament, it had been accomplished once by Elijah (1 Kings 17.17-24) and once by Elisha (2 Kings 4.32-7), and echoes of these stories can be heard in Luke's narrative. In his gospel, Luke records two occasions when Jesus performed it (7.11-17; 8.51-6). The second of these occurs also in Mark; and in Mark's version (5.38-43) the actual Aramaic words are preserved which Jesus used, talitha cum. In Luke's version, only the translation is given, 'Get up, my child'; but we can hardly doubt that, when he came to write the story of Peter's miracle, the original words were in his mind; for, translated back into Aramaic, Peter's 'Get up, Tabitha' (40), would be tabitha cum—the same formula, but for one letter, that was used by Jesus. Yet there is no question of the miracle having happened simply through the recitation of a magic phrase. The reason for it (apart from Peter's exceptional power) was a moral one of the kind which very much appealed to Luke:
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius (1). Caesarea, named after the Emperor Caesar Augustus, was one of Herod the Great's most spectacular achievements. From a small seaside town he transformed it into the most important port on the coast of Palestine; and when the territory came under direct Roman rule in A.D. 6, the city was made the administrative capital of Judaea and the headquarters of the occupying army. It therefore marks an important stage in the progress of the gospel. From its beginnings in Jerusalem, The church moves outwards until it reaches the seat of Roman government in Caesarea—just as, in the second half of Acts, Paul advances the gospel from its beginnings in Palestine to the centre of the empire at Rome. Caesarea was politically the most important city that has yet appeared in the story.
Cornelius, a centurion in the Italian Cohort, as it was called. The regular legions of the Roman Army were stationed in Syria; in Judaea, the garrison consisted of auxiliary troops, who were organized in separate "cohorts" of about 500 men. It is known from an inscription that a cohort named Cohors II Italica was stationed in Syria later in the century. There is no reason to doubt Luke's word that it was on duty at Caesarea in Judaea somewhat earlier: the only time it cannot have been there is during the independent reign of Herod's grandson, Herod Agrippa II, A.D. 41-4. A centurion was roughly equivalent to a non-commissioned officer, nominally in charge of a hundred men. To hold this rank, a man had to be a Roman citizen, but to serve in the auxiliary forces he was not required to be of pure Roman nationality, and it is no surprise to find that this particular officer had relatives in Palestine (24). His name gives nothing away. Cornelius was a family name (Luke strangely does not give him any other: this is equivalent to calling the governor Pontius instead of Pilate); and as a family name, Cornelius was common both among Romans themselves and among former slaves who adopted it when they gained their freedom. In any case, Luke is not interested in Cornelius' precise nationality. What he emphasizes here is his close association with the Jews. Just as Jesus' first contact with a Gentile was with a centurion who was 'a friend of the Jewish nation' and who had presented a synagogue to Capernaum (Luke 7.5), so Peter's first contact was with a centurion who was a religious man and who gave generously to help the Jewish people (the parallel is surely intentional). We can be more precise: this man belonged to the group of gentile sympathizers who were allowed, if not encouraged, to attach themselves to Jewish synagogues so long as they observed certain basic Jewish institutions such as the Sabbath. These were the people to whom the Christians regularly turned after their message had been rejected by the Jews. Cornelius was the first of many such converts; but his conversion marked an altogether new departure in the policy of the Christian mission which had so far been directed entirely towards Jews. The episode demonstrates how this development was intended and validated by God.
Cornelius joined in the worship of God. In the Greek, the phrase has a slightly technical sound, and we can infer what it means: he regularly attended the synagogue, and had adopted some of the Jewish customs, particularly that of saying his prayers at the prescribed hours of the day. One of these hours was about three in the afternoon (3). (Cornelius says himself that he was saying the afternoon prayers when the vision took place.) The angel uses a striking Jewish idiom: 'Your prayers and acts of charity have gone up to heaven to speak for you before God' (4). It was a common notion of Jewish piety that the function of liturgical prayers and of good deeds was to spur God to gracious action by "reminding" him of the deserts of the individual and of the people. The events which follow are to be seen as immediate proof that a gracious action of God was under way. Luke has presented the centurion as (from the Jewish point of view) the most deserving kind of Gentile imaginable; and he even adds the detail that his household was of the same character: he had a military orderly who was a religious man (7).
The journey from Caesarea to Joppa was about thirty miles. Cornelius' servants may be imagined as having started the same afternoon and covered a certain distance by nightfall, leaving perhaps fifteen to twenty miles to be covered the next day between dawn and midday. About noon Peter went up on the roof to pray (9). This is local colour: the flat roof of a Palestine house, perhaps with an awning to give shade, offered cool and solitude in the middle of the day. On the other hand, Peter had no business to be hungry and expect a meal: the Jews ate in the early morning and again in the afternoon. But the Romans ate at midday—and Luke was writing for readers used to the houses of Greek and Roman society. It was important to introduce the vision as coming upon a man who was both hungry and at prayer. To Luke's readers, this could best be conveyed by a time about noon.
The background of the vision is Leviticus chapter 11. That chapter makes a distinction between animals that are "clean" and "unclean", and forbids the eating of pork and of the meat of many smaller birds and animals. These prohibitions were regarded as binding by all Jews; and Peter was reacting like any of his race when he said, 'I have never eaten anything profane or unclean' (15). That God should count any of these forbidden creatures clean would have seemed an impossible proposition (even though Jesus had said something which came near to it, Mark 7.15). It is not said that Peter attempted to take the vision literally—this would have implied an incredible reversal of lifelong sensibilities. But within a day he was to discover the application of the vision to a matter in which the words "clean" and "unclean" were certainly much used: the relationship of Jews and Gentiles.
The characters in the story continue to move under divine guidance: there is to be no question at the end of it of the decision having been Peter's own. Peter might well have had some misgiving about accepting the messengers' invitation (20), even though (as Luke emphasizes once again) their master was a man of exceptional piety. Strictly speaking, all social contact with Gentiles was forbidden; but in a city like Caesarea this extreme exclusiveness was impracticable, and in fact many Jews treated their non-Jewish neighbours with great civility. Nevertheless, there was always a certain reserve: to be too much at ease in gentile society was regarded as a dangerous compromise with pagan and idolatrous customs. Peter was doing no more than many of his more liberal and courteous contemporaries when he gave the messengers a night's lodging in his own house (23): this did not oblige him to eat with them or even to share a room with them. But it was a different matter when he actually went in to Cornelius' house (27) as Cornelius' guest. To be the honoured guest of a pagan meant being ready to accept a pagan's ways. Even if there is a touch of exaggeration in it, Peter's statement well expresses what would have been the normal reaction of a Jew in such a situation: 'a Jew is forbidden by his religion to visit or associate with a man of another race.' (28) But Peter had had a vision and was directed by 1 lie Spirit; he had divine authority for making this new departure in social relations.
Cornelius, for his part, was inspired by the same deference and humility towards a Jew as his prototype in the gospel who had tried to forestall Jesus with the words, 'it is not for me to have you under my roof' (Luke 7.6). He met Peter outside the house with deep reverence (25): no forwardness on his part was to blur the outlines of Peter's radical decision, a decision prompted entirely by the Spirit. So the scene was set as for a formal disputation: Cornelius with his relatives and close friends (24) on one side, Peter with some members of the congregation at Joppa (23) on the other.
'All that the Lord has ordered you to say' (33). We expect the speech that follows to be an appeal to the Gentiles present to repent and believe in Jesus Christ, along the lines of the speeches which Peter has already made to the Jews in Jerusalem; and in fact many of the same points are made as on previous occasions. But here the tone is strangely different. Instead of culminating in a direct appeal to his hearers, this speech of Peter's seems almost to be addressed to himself and to the Christians who have accompanied him: the important pronoun is not "you" but "us". Moreover, far from proclaiming the "good news" about Jesus, Peter almost apologizes for mentioning these familiar facts—'You know about Jesus of Nazareth' (38). In the Greek, the whole paragraph is put together in a way that is barely grammatical, and presents an appearance of unexpected roughness in the pages of a writer normally as polished as Luke. This may be evidence that Luke had before him some document in Aramaic which was difficult to translate into idiomatic Greek. But the passage also contains a large number of words and phrases characteristic of Luke's own writing, and possibly the explanation of its curious construction is to be looked for in a different direction. The nearest thing in Luke's writing to this almost ungrammatical heaping of clause upon clause (which is one of the peculiarities of this speech) is to be found in the songs of worship which he has put in the mouths of Zechariah, Mary and Simeon at the beginning of his gospel; and in the rest of the New Testament the closest parallel is in some passages of certain letters (such as the opening of Ephesians and Colossians) where the writer adopts the devotional language of liturgical prayer, and perhaps even incorporates phrases from prayers already used by the Christian church. This is the style of Peter's speech here. Whether or not some of the phrases are those that were actually used in the church by the time Luke was writing, the atmosphere of the speech is distinctly Christian and devotional. Peter is, as it were, thinking aloud, and the language he uses is that of the church recalling the great events of the gospel. The summary of Jesus' life is not the usual preacher's reference to his death, resurrection and exaltation, but comes nearer to being a resume of the gospel narratives that were composed for the instruction of Christians. Peter is meditating on the facts that were known to all Christians —but from a new angle. 'I now see how true it is that God has no favourites' (34). This was a maxim to which many liberal Jews in the Dispersion
might have subscribed. Outstanding examples of piety among the Gentiles would surely not go unrewarded, and to say as much as this it was only necessary for Peter to have been particularly impressed by the evident holiness of Cornelius. But even this would normally have been said with a certain reserve: some advantage surely still remained with the Jews. God sent his word to the Israelites (36): it was precisely their possession of the revealed word of God which gave the Jews their unique advantage. But there was now the further fact that he had given the good news of peace through Jesus Christ. And (this is the critical point reached in Peter's meditation) Jesus Christ is Lord of all, Lord not only of the Jews who believe in him, but of men of all races. As Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans (10.12) in words that are very close to these, 'there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord is Lord of all'. However local and Jewish the story might seem (and Luke once again, by calling it a gibbet (39), makes even the Roman instrument of the cross appear as something allowed for in the Old Testament), its significance, like the message of the greatest of the prophets, was universal, for everyone (43). This was the startling conclusion to which Peter was being led while he went over in his mind the familiar facts of the gospel story; and as if to confirm this conclusion, before even Peter had finished speaking there came upon all present a dramatic repetition of the experience of Pentecost. But this time, "all present" included Gentiles. They too were manifestly inside, not outside, the group of chosen people. The next step was a matter of course: 'Is anyone prepared to withhold ... baptism from these persons?' (47)
News came to the apostles and the members of the church in Judaea (1). Peter himself had been convinced; but he still had to carry the other leaders of the church with him. As always, it was the practical implications of this new development which caused most concern. Theoretically, most Jews were prepared to believe that their religion was ultimately destined for the Gentiles as well, and it need not have been a great shock to the apostles to hear that Gentiles ... had accepted the word of God; the gospel had merely accelerated a process which until now had lain hidden in the inscrutable purposes of God. But the practical implications of this new development were harder to accept. Were Jewish Christians now to reverse their lifelong altitudes and receive Gentiles as equals into the church and into their houses? Their question to Peter voiced their immediate scruples: 'You have been visiting men who are uncircumcised', they said, 'and silling at table with them!' (3) Peter's answer makes it clear that, far from having taken this questionable initiative himself, he was only obeying a divine summons, the objectivity of which was guaranteed by the parallel experience of Cornelius. One could no more doubt that the Holy Spirit had truly been given lo these Gentiles than one could doubt the reality of the apostles' experience on the day of Pentecost, Both were equally fulfilments of
the promise of a baptism with the Holy Spirit (16) that Jesus had given just before his ascension (1.5). Only one conclusion was possible: 'This means that God has granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles also' (18). How this worked out in practice is the subject of the rest of the book.
After Caesarea, Antioch—the third largest city in the Roman empire, the wealthy and cosmopolitan capital of the Province of Syria. Christianity had of course spread to other places outside Palestine by this time—Luke mentions Phoenicia (19) (the Levantine seaboard north of Caesarea) and Cyprus— but it was still a movement confined to the Jewish communities in those countries. The place where the breakthrough to the gentile world was to take place was Antioch. Luke mentions this after he has told the Cornelius story, and so gives the impression that the one followed from the other. So, from a theoretical point of view, it doubtless did; but Luke has to admit that it was not Peter, nor even one of the other Jerusalem apostles, who first began to speak to Gentiles as well, but some natives of Cyprus and Cyrene (20) (at least one of whom, Lucius, may be mentioned by name in 13.1). In fact, we know from Paul's letter to the Galatians (2.11-14) that when Peter visited Antioch he was not yet wholeheartedly committed to the principle of a gentile church.
Nevertheless, Luke's history is written on the assumption that all major advances were authorized by the Jerusalem church. Barnabas had already appeared (4.36) as an early member of that church; he was also certainly known to Luke as a close companion of Paul on the first missionary journey undertaken from Antioch (13.4). This made him the obvious link between the two branches of the church, and Luke even goes so far as to suggest that it was his authority (doubtless again representing the authority of the Jerusalem apostles) which brought to Antioch the most famous of the apostles to the Gentiles, Saul.
It was in Antioch that the disciples first got the name of Christians (26). This is of a piece with what Luke has told us about the church in Antioch. So long as all Christians were Jews, to the outside world they appeared simply as a Jewish sect, and there was no need to distinguish them by a particular name; and since all Jews believed in some sort of future Messiah or "Christ", the name "Christian" could never have arisen in Jewish circles as that of those particular Jews who worshipped Jesus (their name for them, in fact, was usually "Nazarenes"). But as soon as the new religion began to spread to non-Jews, some distinctive title for its adherents was necessary, not least for the convenience of the Roman administration, which had to decide how this minority was to be treated. The Jews were granted special privileges for their religion. Should the same be extended to this new sect, even though some of its members were not Jews? We have evidence of this question becoming acute at the end of the century, and it is likely that it was already an issue at Rome under Nero in the sixties. We do not know whether the government of Syria had already had to tackle the question in Antioch; but it can hardly be an accident that the name given there to the members of this new religion was not Greek but Latin: Christiani.
During this period some prophets came down from Jerusalem (27). The church had received the gift of the Holy Spirit. This gift was manifested in many ways; but ever since Old Testament times its principal manifestation was held to be in the form of prophecy. In theory, all Christians had this gift (2.17-18); but in practice, certain members of the congregation were found to be particularly gifted, and became known as prophets. This is by no means the only passage in which these prophets appear: 1 Corinthians 14 provides some detailed information about them, and there are many other scattered references to them in the New Testament. In part they were the successors of the Old Testament prophets: they had the gift of reading the signs of the times and of discerning, more clearly than their contemporaries, the hand of God in the present and the shape of things to come (the prediction of Agabus was clearly of this kind). But they also had a wider role: they were able to give inspired direction to the church in matters requiring practical decision, and to give an inspired lead to the prayers and praises of Christian worship. They frequently travelled from church to church, and (so long as their gift could be seen to be authentic) they were received as honoured and authoritative visitors.
It follows that we should probably be wrong to think of Agabus' prediction as merely a case of foreknowledge. The early church lived in earnest expectation of the end of the world and the manifest triumph of Christ. Jesus was remembered to have given some teaching on those historical events of the near future which should be regarded as presages of the end; and it was one of the functions of Christian prophets to relate the facts of contemporary history to this teaching of Jesus, and so to help the church to understand the period in which it was living. Now famines were expected to be one of the 'birthpangs of the new age' (Mark 13.8). Agabus may have heard that there were signs of a bad year's harvest and, seeing it in terms of one of the catastrophes of the time before the end, he may have confidently predicted I hat the bad harvest would grow into a severe and world-wide famine (28); alternatively he may have simply foretold the calamity before there was any observable evidence to go by. In either event, we can assume that he interpreted the famine as a sign of the times, and we can even hazard a guess at the reason why he was moved to make such a prophecy. In A.D. 40 the Emperor Caligula had threatened to erect a statue of himself in the Jewish temple. This was almost certainly seen by many Christians as the "abomination of desolation" (Mark 13.14), the decisive desecration which would herald the last days, and it may well have made the Christian prophets in Jerusalem alert to any other developments which belonged to the traditional picture of this catastrophic age. However this may be, the predicted famine in fact occurred (as Luke notes) in the reign of Claudius. A single world-wide famine is too simple a picture; but it is certainly true that there was serious food shortage in different parts of the empire during Claudius' reign (41-54), and that between A.D. 46 and 48 conditions were so serious in Jerusalem that a visiting queen from the east, Helena of Adiabene, is reported to have imported corn from Egypt and distributed it to the local inhabitants. The immediate effect of such shortages was to send up the price of food; and the church in Jerusalem, perhaps impoverished by its early experiment in communal living, was highly vulnerable.
So the disciples agreed to make a contribution (29). A much more elaborate contribution from the principal gentile churches in Asia Minor and .Greece was subsequently organized by Paul in order to relieve the poverty of the Christians in Jerusalem and to express the solidarity of the new churches with their mother church. Luke does not say much about that great enterprise of Paul's, nor does Paul appear (in the fragment of autobiography which we possess in Galatians 2) to allow for a contribution organized at Antioch and delivered to Jerusalem in the way that is described here. Since Paul is making a careful statement about the journeys he undertook to Jerusalem, his word must be preferred to Luke's. It is not impossible to reconcile the two accounts (though it requires considerable ingenuity—see below on Galatians 2.1). Alternatively, it is reasonable to think that Luke may have had only scanty information about the reaction of the Antioch church to Agabus' prophecy, and have simply supposed that, if a contribution was made, it must have been taken to the elders (a new name for the Jerusalem leaders: see below on 15.6) by the two men most closely associated with the Jerusalem church, Barnabas and Saul. This supposition was certainly in keeping with the close solidarity between the churches which he has been at pains to emphasize all along.
It was about this time (1). Luke was now faced with the historian's problem of a tale of two cities: important things were happening at both Antioch and Jerusalem, and the two chronicles had to be dovetailed together. A modern historian would take the reader into his confidence with a phrase like "we must now go back a few years to see what had been happening at Jerusalem". But Luke's readers were less concerned than we are with exact synchronization. About this time was a sufficient indication, even if the events which follow took place a few years earlier than those which have just been recounted.
In fact, King Herod (the grandson of Herod the Great, usually called Herod Agrippa) was granted the rule of the whole of Palestine (in place of the Roman governor) in A.D. 41, and died in A.D. 44. This gives us three years in which to place the events recorded in this chapter; whereas the famine mentioned in the last chapter can hardly have been earlier than 47, and the prophecy of it earlier than, say, 45 or 46. It seems that on coming to the throne Herod did his best to please his new subjects by actively promoting the orthodox traditions of their religion; and this provides a possible reason —for Luke suggests none—why he should have attacked the growing sect of the Christians (who were doubtless becoming increasingly suspect to the Jewish authorities) and should have gained popular support for doing so. This action is apparently not recorded in order to draw attention to the first martyrdom of an actual disciple of Jesus (James, the brother of John (2)), so much as to provide the occasion for recounting a miraculous event in the life of Peter, and the horrible punishment received by Herod for his treatment of the church.
Both stories, whatever their basis in fact, are typical of the kind of divine protection which many new religions in antiquity claimed to receive when threatened by hostile powers; yet the second story can be confirmed, in all essential details, from the contemporary Jewish historian Josephus, and the first, though it contains elements that are conventional in such stories (such as the angel, the blaze of light, and the gate opening of its own accord (10)) is told with such a wealth of plausible detail that it must either contain genuine historical reminiscences or else be the work of an exceptionally good storyteller. It is dated (like other important events) by a Jewish festival, in this case that of Unleavened Bread ((3) which was almost synonymous with Passover—see above on Mark 14.1). The military guard, like a regular Roman guard, was divided into four squads (4), each of which was on duty for one of the four watches of the night. The arrangements in the prison are entirely plausible. And psychologically, Peter's trance-like escape, followed by the sudden realization that he was both alone and free, has the ring of truth. But the author's intention is not to make the episode seem more plausible by playing down its miraculous features, but on the contrary to emphasize that it was a deliverance so staggering as to be almost incredible. ' Phis intention governs the way he tells the rest of the story. The scene is the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark (12). This is the first appearance of Mark, who is soon to play a certain part in the story, and whom a later I radition came to regard as the author of the second gospel. Luke says nothing to introduce him here: he was presumably well known to his readers.The house was substantial: it had a room large enough to hold a large company ... at prayer, and a courtyard in the front separated from the street by an outer door. The maid (Rhoda (13) was a common name for a slave) was presumably just coming out of the house when she heard Peter's voice calling across the courtyard from outside in the street. If so, it is understandable that in her excitement, instead of crossing the courtyard and opening the door, she went straight back inside with the news. In this way Luke builds up to the climax. That Peter should have escaped seemed physically so impossible that his friends tried any other explanation first. The maid must be out of her mind. If not, the visitor must be his guardian angel (15)—for guardian angels were certainly believed in, and were imagined as a sort of heavenly counterpart to a human person, and so perhaps (should one appear on earth) an angel might be mistaken for the man it protected. It was only when they actually saw Peter for themselves that they were prepared to believe he could have escaped. This was the measure of the miracle which had taken place.
'Report this to James' (17). James, the brother of Jesus, was neither one of the original apostles nor one of Jesus' own disciples. Presumably he was converted after the resurrection. From now on, he is evidently the leader of the Jerusalem church. Luke says nothing of how he reached this position, nor of why Peter seems to have been displaced.
Luke then leads the narrative back to Herod. The sudden death of this king, at the height of his powers and in the midst of a successful reign, was a phenomenon which few ancient writers would have thought of attributing to chance. Both Luke and Josephus (our other source of information) agree that it was the result of Herod usurping the honour due to God (23); and Herod's fatal illness (eaten up with worms is a popular, not a medical, description) was typical of the gruesome kind of disease of which a tyrant was expected to die. But Luke seems also to have had some precise historical information which Josephus lacked. The cities of Tyre and Sidon lay on the coast to the north of Caesarea, in the province of Syria. They would have possessed sufficient autonomy to negotiate the passage of their food supplies; and there is no reason to doubt Luke's version of the episode.
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The missions recorded in this section were all based on Antioch; and a few sentences are devoted to giving some information about the church there. Barnabas and Saul had returned from Jerusalem, taking John Mark with them (12.25) .None of the Jerusalem apostles was resident there, but Luke gives us the names of certain prophets and teachers (13.1), that is to say, men whose particular gift of inspiration, or whose opportunity to acquire first-hand knowledge of the essentials of the new faith, had raised them to a position of authority in the church. Luke has already told us that some (like Barnabas) were natives of Cyprus, and some (like Lucius) of Cyrene—though they had come to Antioch from Jerusalem. Among the new names is Manaen, who had been at the court of Prince Herod. The phrase which Luke uses may even mean that Manaen had been brought up with Herod Antipas as a companion for the young prince at the court of Herod the Great.
But it was not these men who took the responsibility for the "breaking of barriers" which was undertaken from Antioch. Luke stresses the point: the initiative belonged entirely to the Holy Spirit. While they were keeping a fast (2). Fasting as a preparation for a religious experience was taken for granted in many religions, and particularly among the Jews. The Christians continued the practice, and indeed it is a recurring pattern, both in Luke's gospel and in Acts, that prayer and fasting preceded a communication of the Holy Spirit.
Seleucia was the port which served the city of Antioch. Cyprus (4), after 200 years under the Ptolemies of Egypt, was now a Roman province, administered by an official to whom Luke gives the correct Greek title corresponding to the Latin term proconsul, Governor (7). There were large communities of Jews on the island, and it seems that Saul first addressed himself to the Jewish synagogues (5). This was in Salamis, the largest town in Cyprus, which lay at the east end of the island. But the seat of the Roman government was at the other end, at Paphos (6), and it was there that the first distinguished convert was won from the gentile world. A notable miracle prepared the way for the conversion of no less a person than the Roman Governor.
Sergius Paulus (7) was a Roman civil servant: an earlier stage in his career is recorded in an inscription discovered in Rome. Luke calls him an intelligent man, using a Greek word which has to do not so much with native intelligence as with a capacity for sound judgement. In his retinue was a sorcerer, a Jew who posed as a prophet (6). Several people of this kind make their appearance in the course of Acts, and there is no reason to doubt that there were many people about who made their living by claiming powers of magic and second sight. Christianity soon found itself in a serious contest with all kinds of occultism; and this episode illustrates its superiority to them. Luke mentions the sorcerer's name in a puzzling way. Bar-Jesus (meaning "son of Yeshua") could well have been a name which Christians preferred not to use of anyone, let alone a sorcerer; and if he was also known by some sobriquet that meant "sorcerer", this would have been a more acceptable name to figure in the story. Unfortunately, the alternative name Luke offers, Elymas (8), is a mystery. The letters do not seem to stand for any Hebrew or Aramaic word meaning anything like "sorcerer", though they may disguise some form of a word meaning "to dream". The false prophets referred to in Jeremiah (23.25; 27.9) were "dreamers"; and "the Dreamer" could conceivably have been a nickname for the false prophet Bar-Jesus. Saul, also known as Paul (9), is a double name of a different kind. In his letters, the apostle always refers to himself as Paul; but up to this point in Acts he has been called Saul. Many Jews used a Roman name in addition to their own, and often chose one that sounded similar. Normally, we should assume that the Jew Saul called himself Paul outside Palestine. But Paul was a Roman citizen, that is to say, he must have possessed from birth the usual set of three Roman names, one of which was doubtless Paulus. In which case, Saul was an extra name, such as many Roman citizens adopted in the eastern part of the empire. It was perhaps the only name by which he was known in Jerusalem. But now that his work had taken him so far afield, Luke gives him his official name, Paul.
The scene between these three men (9-11) is quickly played out. Paul did not question or challenge Elymas' power: he simply showed his own to be stronger. With a string of biblical phrases (and more than a hint on his own part of a magician's curse) Paul confronted the sorcerer with a greater authority. When the Governor saw what had happened he became a believer (12). This is the climax of the story. But it was not just the miracle which persuaded this distinguished convert: he had been deeply impressed by what he learned about the Lord.
Leaving Paphos (13). The journey is summarily reported. Sailing north-west from Cyprus, the travellers landed on the coast of Asia Minor in the small and undistinguished Roman province of Pamphylia. Their destination lay a hundred miles inland. Pisidian Antioch was a Roman town (though originally founded, like the other more famous Antioch, by one of the successors of Alexander the Great) with a substantial Jewish community. Technically, it belonged to the province of Galatia, and it is possible that the "Galatians" to whom Paul wrote his letter belonged to this and neighbouring cities.At any rate Paul's visit to it is told in some detail: it sets the pattern for his work and preaching in other cities of Asia Minor.
On the Sabbath they went to synagogue (15). The procedure was is exactly as Luke describes it on the occasion of Jesus' appearance in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4.16-28). Except that the service was probably in Greek instead of Aramaic, the synagogue abroad followed the same order as the synagogue in Palestine, and it was entirely natural that a learned visitor (as we know Paul to have been) should have been invited to give an address after the readings from Scripture. Indeed, we can probably hazard a guess at the kind of address that was expected of him. The phrase, 'by way of exhortation' (15), has a technical sound. Some passage (we are not told which) had just been read from the prophets; and the full meaning of Old Testament prophecies was a subject of constant and earnest speculation. Were there any signs in contemporary history that God's promises to his people were about to be fulfilled? Were there any oracles in Scripture which could help the faithful to trace the hand of God in the world around them? Any answer to such questions as these would have been welcomed by way of exhortation.
Paul's speech (16-22), like that of Stephen, begins with a summary of Israelite history; but the treatment is quite different. Only the barest outline is given of the early period: all the emphasis is placed on the moment when David was made king: "I have found David son of Jesse to be a man after my own heart, who will carry out all my purposes" (22) (1 Samuel 13.14). The importance of this moment lay deep in the Jewish national and religious consciousness. God was believed to have made a clear promise to David that someone of his posterity (23) would reign for ever. This clearly had not happened on the historical plane: the Jewish monarchy had been defunct for centuries. It was therefore commonly accepted, with varying degrees of sophistication, that the promise would be fulfilled on a different plane by the appearance of a divinely appointed Person who would bring about a new era for his people. The Jews called this figure the Messiah, or Christ. For the benefit, perhaps, of a more cosmopolitan audience Paul here calls him by the less esoteric title, saviour. But the meaning is the same. God's promise to David was still valid; and the theme of Paul's exhortation was that the promise had now at last been fulfilled in the person of—Jesus.
This, of course, was paradoxical. Jesus was not merely unknown to the majority of Jews in the world: those who had come in contact with him had actually had him executed. Nevertheless, that entirely Jewish and evidently inspired figure, John the Baptist, had barely reached the end of his course (25), preparing for a successor far greater than himself, before the heralded person himself appeared—and that person was Jesus; and even the death on the gibbet could now be seen, not as a proof that Jesus was an ordinary criminal, but as the fulfilment of old prophecies that had long been misunderstood. The Jews of Jerusalem did not rccognize him (27). Even their condemnation of him was, by their own standards, an aberration: they failed to find grounds for the sentence of death (28). Therefore their conduct did not necessarily either discredit Jesus or disqualify the Jewish nation from being the destined recipient of God's promise. It could still be said, by Paul, a Jew in the company of Jews,that 'we are the people to whom the message of this salvation has been sent' (26).
'David died and was buried and his tomb is here to this very day.' So, in his first speech after Pentecost, Peter clinched the argument that the historical David himself could not have been the person in whom great prophecies of immortality and eternal dominion would be fulfilled (2.29). The same might have appeared to be true of Jesus: 'they took him down from the gibbet and laid him in a tomb' (29). But it was not so. 'God raised him from the dead' (30). And the proof of this was, first, the presence of witnesses (32) (among whom, strangely, Luke does not let Paul count himself: the familiar message is told very much as one of the original apostles might have told it), and secondly, the fulfilment of Scripture. The first text (33) cited is from Psalm 2. Since the opening verses of this psalm had been so clearly fulfilled by the manner of Jesus' trial and execution (see above, 4.25-6), another verse of it could now be invoked to prove that, far from being merely the condemned criminal which he appeared, Jesus was God's son. The second text, though clear enough in the original Hebrew, was mysterious in the Septuagint Greek version (quoted here): 'I will give you the blessings promised to David, holy and sure' (34) (Isaiah 55.3). What were these "blessings"? In the Greek, the phrase is even more obscure than it appears in this translation. It means "the holy things". What holy things? To solve a puzzle of this kind, it was a usual technique to introduce another text where the same word or phrase occurred. Hence the third quotation in this series (35) (Psalm 16.10) which, literally translated, runs, "thou wilt not give thy holy one to suffer corruption". This verse has already been shown to apply to Jesus in an earlier speech in Acts (2.27). It also contains two of the same words ("give" and "holy") as the quotation from Isaiah. Therefore (by this method of reasoning) the "holy things" or blessings in the Isaiah passage must also be a reference to Jesus, who was thereby proved to have been promised to "you", that is, to the Jewish people. 'It is through him that forgiveness of sins is now being proclaimed to you' (38)—forgiveness of sins, that ultimate restoration of a perfect relationship with God which was the highest aspiration of Jewish religion, and which is here expressed in terms that seem to introduce, for a moment, the real Paul of the letters: 'everyone who has faith is acquitted' (39). The sermon ends with a quotation (41) from Habakkuk 1.5, which is a warning that, for all that the promise was intended for the Jews, it could still be forfeited if, instead of believers, they showed themselves to be scoffers.
Many Jews and gentile worshippers (43). The last phrase, in the Greek as well as the English, is ambiguous. It could be meant to include Gentiles who simply attended the synagogue and were only loosely connected with it. But ils more natural meaning is "devout proselytes", that is, men of gentile origin who had undergone circumcision and were now members of the Jewish community. This meaning also suits the structure of the narrative heller. On th is first Sabbath, conversions among non-Jews would have been out of place. It was a week later, as a result of the jealous resentment (45) of the Jews, that Paul and Barnabas look the decisive step of turning to the Gentiles (46). The scene is described impressionistically. Almost the whole
city (44) suggests a great open-air meeting, perhaps in the theatre; but in fact the setting must still be the synagogue. The Jews had now turned against the Christian preachers, whose message was acclaimed instead by the Gentiles. Who these Gentiles were, and what opportunity they had had to listen to the preaching and prepare themselves for their joyful acceptance of it, are questions Luke does not answer. His concern is simply to present the typical pattern of Jewish rejection followed by gentile acceptance, a pattern which was to be exemplified again and again in Paul's journeys, and which was foreshadowed even in the ministry of Jesus (see especially Luke 4.14-30).
They shook the dust off their feet (51)—a Jewish gesture, addressed to the Jews, and an answer to the Jews' own violent abuse (45). But this was far more than a personal reaction of impatience. The pattern was throughout divinely ordained. 'It was necessary that the word of God should be declared to you first' (46)—necessary, that is, on several counts: the whole story had started among the Jews; Jesus himself had taught that the Jews should be addressed first; Jesus was the Jewish' saviour'; and the Jewish people were the obvious inheritors of all that the Old Testament had promised. But after rejection by the Jews, the necessity of an approach to the Gentiles was equally strong. It was implied in a prophecy of Isaiah (49.6), 'I have appointed you to be a light for the Gentiles' (47) (a prophecy already used by Luke at the beginning of his gospel, 2.32: the Jews took it to describe the ultimate destiny of their people, Christians saw it as decreeing an immediate task which, if the Jews refused it, they were to perform themselves); and it was predestined by God: it could now be said of Gentiles, and not only of Jews,
that some of them were marked out for eternal life (48). In view of the immense growth of the church in gentile lands by the time he wrote, Luke could safely credit Paul with these tremendous assertions on the occasion of his first deliberate "turning to the Gentiles".
At Iconium (1). This city lay nearly a hundred miles south-east of Antioch, in the same Roman province of Galatia. Luke has little to say about Paul's work there, beyond the fact that it followed the pattern established at Antioch; and he hurries on to Paul's arrival in cities south and east of Iconium, Lystra and Derbe; for Paul's visit to Lystra was marked by a sensational event.
At Lystra sat a crippled man (8). The description of the healing falls into line with similar stories in the gospels and with Peter's miracle in Acts 3. Fixing his eyes on him, and using a formula borrowed from the Old Testament (it can hardly be an accident that the words, 'Stand up straight on your feet' (10) are an exact quotation of Ezekiel 2.1), Paul effected the cure in the manner of an authoritative exorcist. But the reaction of the crowds introduces us to a different world altogether. The city had the outward appearance of a typical Greco-Roman town in Asia Minor. The official languages were Latin and Greek, and the official religion included the cult of the main Greek deities such as Zeus (in this translation called by his Roman name, Jupiter (12)), carried on in temples that were doubtless built in the Greek style, one of which lay just outside the walls and close to the monumental gates of the city (13). But among themselves the inhabitants still spoke their native language, and doubtless it was their own ancestral gods whom they continued to worship under the forms of the Greek religion. Seeing the miracle that Paul had performed, they did not (as Jews, or other more sophisticated Roman citizens, would have done) think of Paul and Barnabas as men specially endowed by God with miraculous powers. More credulously, they thought their visitors must be gods themselves, walking (lie earth in a way that had formed the subject of countless pagan myths (and of one in particular that was set in their own part of the country). Paul, the spokesman, must be Mercury (12), the messenger of the gods. And since the king of the gods was believed often to disguise himself as a human traveller (in order to test the hospitality which people offered to strangers), Barnabas could well he Jupiter himself. Accordingly, they hastened to offer sacrifice (13). But their shouts were all in their native Lycaonian (11). It was some time before Barnabas and Paul realized what was happening.
They tore their clothes (14). A non-Jew might have reacted simply with a modest disclaimer. But to the apostles (as Paul and Barnabas are unexpectedly called in this chapter: normally the title is reserved for the Jerusalem leaders) it seemed much more serious. The Jews had a deep horror of pagan worship in any form. Indeed, the main reason why they kept themselves apart from Gentiles was to avoid any contact which might indirectly involve them in idolatrous observances. Paul and Barnabas now found themselves at the centre of an act of pagan sacrifice. Their sensibilities outraged, they tore their clothes, which was one of the most expressive gestures of the ancient world, and one which the Jews used particularly when they heard the name of God profaned.
'We are only human beings, no less mortal than you' (15). This was what they had to get across quickly, if they were to prevent the crowd from offering sacrifice to them (18). But curiously (as it seems to us) the rest of their brief speech strikes a different note. That God is the creator of all
is things (a basic Old Testament proposition, here borrowed from Exodus 20.11), and that he can be known through his creation, was one of the stock arguments used by Jewish writers against pagan religion. 'Turn from these follies to the living God' was a typical Jewish appeal to the gentile world. This kind of argument seems hardly what the situation demanded here; but in the scheme of Acts the speech is significant. It is the first report which Luke gives of Christians publicly addressing Gentiles. The approach they used to Jews has been abundantly illustrated, particularly by Stephen's speech (chapter 7) and Paul's first speech (chapter 13). Their approach to a fully non-Jewish world will be represented in detail by Paul's speech in Athens (chapter 17). What we have here is a fragment of the same argument. This, so far as Luke could see, was the way Paul and Barnabas must have spoken to the pagan crowds in Lystra.
But however pagan the city, the pattern (so at least Luke believed) was the same. Jews from Antioch and Iconium came on the scene (19), and set in motion that hostile reaction against the church which it seemed to be the destiny of the Jews to provoke. Paul barely escaped with his life—after which his work in the region is only summarily described. The return journey was used for consolidating the new churches. They also appointed elders for them in each congregation (23). Elders sounds like an official title, and indeed it soon became the name of one of the three orders of ministry in the church. How much of this technical meaning Luke intended when he used the word here, we cannot be sure. He may have meant no more than that some of the senior members of each congregation were entrusted with the responsibility of leadership.
Attalia (25) was the main port on this part of the coast of Asia Minor. On their return, Paul and Barnabas reported back to the church in Antioch. A decisive new stage had been reached: Christianity had now been preached direct to the Gentiles. But this (Luke insists once more) was no personal decision. It
was something that God had done through them (27). Its implications for the church at large are the subject of the next chapter.
Christianity was bom as a Jewish religion. Jesus was a Jew, and there is more than a hint in his teaching that he intended his message, at least primarily, for Jews. His followers were also Jews, and for some years their work consisted entirely of convincing their fellow-Jews that the Jesus whom they had personally followed was the Messiah, or Christ, whom all Jews were awaiting. They expressed their message in entirely Jewish terms. Indeed, one of their strongest arguments was that the recent facts of which they were witnesses provided the essential clue to understanding the Jewish scriptures. One could hardly come to Christ unless one started from the Old Testament. It followed that the Jesus whom they proclaimed was the saviour, first and foremost, of the Jewish people.
Yet by the last decades of the first century A.D. (when Acts was probably written) the majority in the church consisted of Gentiles. How had this happened? On a practical level, the process is not hard to understand. There were a large number of Gentiles in the Greek-speaking world who were well acquainted with Judaism. They found in the Jewish faith a pure and exalted conception of God, combined with a high and exacting ethic, such as they seldom found in the many religious cults of Greece and Asia Minor. But they also found in the Jews a disturbing exclusiveness. They were welcomed to listen in the synagogue, but they were not permitted to share the social life of the Jewish community, and the only way in which they could advance further was by submitting to what they could only regard as a barbarous rite—circumcision—and by taking upon themselves all those details of ritual observance which made up the Jewish way of life. By contrast, the Christian church seemed to offer them a religion at least as pure and as exacting, but with none of the racial exclusiveness of Judaism.
However, for the original Christians of Jewish descent, this matter of the admission of Gentiles to the church raised questions of deep principle. As Jews, they had been brought up to believe that theirs was a uniquely privileged race to which God had promised exceptional blessings. Were they now to accept Gentiles as members of the same elect community as themselves? All their lives they had shunned social contact with Gentiles, lest they should unwittingly be involved in pagan worship. Were they now to sit down beside Gentiles at table? They had always regarded the Law of Moses as their one defence against the prevailing immorality of the heathen world. Were they now to allow the Christian community to be one in which this Law was no longer regarded as binding? These questions were brought to a head at differ-enl limes in different places. At Antioch, for instance, the question of table-lellowship seems to have been ihe most urgent one, since almost from the beginning there was a large number of (ieniiles in that church. In Jerusalem, on the other hand, where a gentile Christian was a rare phenomenon, the question was rather one of principle: should Gentiles be admitted to the church? Should the Christian mission be carried into gentile lands? Some of the phases of this controversy are mentioned in Paul's letter to the Galatians. Luke presents it, perhaps a little schematically (since the details of his narrative are difficult to reconcile with Paul's account), as an issue that was debated and settled once and for all at a meeting in Jerusalem. Church historians have come to call this meeting the Council of Jerusalem. It may be calculated to have taken place at a date not much more than a year before or after A.D. 49.
The main point of principle—whether or not Gentiles should be admitted to the church—had already been settled by the incontrovertible fact that the gift of the Holy Spirit, which was the distinctive possession of the Christian community, had been imparted in full measure to Gentiles as well as Jews. This is the decisive point made by Peter in his speech at the council, and it was doubtless this, in reality, which made it impossible for the original Jewish churches to close their doors altogether to gentile converts. But there were still the more practical questions to be settled of table-fellowship and the application of the Mosaic Law. On these they had some precedents to guide them. Very similar questions were being debated in orthodox Jewish circles. One school believed that there was literally no salvation for mankind apart from the Jewish people, and that the only hope for a Gentile was to undergo the rite of circumcision, enter the Jewish community, and lay upon himself the full observance of the Law of Moses. But another school of thought was more liberal. According to this, God must be believed to accept the piety and good works of those Gentiles who genuinely turned from paganism to worship the true God, even if they did not take the ultimate step of integration with the Jewish community through circumcision. It was doubtless this more liberal opinion which led to the welcoming of Gentiles in the synagogues, and along with it went a much more flexible attitude towards social intercourse between Gentiles and Jews. But this attitude, though it was more humane and accommodating, still involved laying certain obligations and restrictions upon those Gentiles who wished to be associated with the religion of the Jews. They must, of course, give up every kind of pagan worship; they must also observe the Sabbath and the major Jewish festivals; they must keep certain rules about forbidden foods; and they must accept certain basic moral principles which could be deduced from the Law of Moses. Nevertheless, according to this school of thought, it was not necessary for them either to be circumcised or to adopt in full the Jewish way of life. The advocates of this attitude were able to find some precedent for it in the Old Testament, and doubtless they had already drawn up some kind of code regulating the conditions to be observed by gentile adherents to the synagogue. Unfortunately, we do not know exactly what such a code would have consisted of at this date. But it is fairly clear (despite considerable obscurities in Luke's account) that the decision of the Christian council in Jerusalem was modelled on a code of this kind.
Now certain persons who had come down from Judaea (1). These evidently represented the strictest party among Jewish Christians. Their teaching was that of the first school of thought mentioned above: those who were not circumcised in accordance with Mosaic practice could not be saved. At first sight it may seem surprising that such an illiberal point of view should have been represented in the Jerusalem church. But Luke has already mentioned that the Pharisees were sympathetic to the church, and among the Pharisees were to be found some of the most exclusive groups in Judaism. When, therefore, Luke tells us that there were by now Christians of the Pharisaic party in Jerusalem (5), we can understand how the adherence of people of such a background could have led to a movement to exclude uncircumcised Gentiles from the church. At any rate, it was the appearance of this strict view in Antioch which caused a deputation, including Paul and Barnabas, to leave for Jerusalem. They took the route southward along the coast, and established on the way that they had the wholehearted support of the Jewish Christian churches outside Jerusalem. Luke emphasizes that all differences of opinion on the matter were confined to Jerusalem; again, when we compare his account with Galatians 1-2, we can see that he has somewhat simplified the picture.
The apostles and elders held a meeting (6). The structure of the Jerusalem church had evidently changed since it first appeared as a group of twelve apostles leading a growing multitude of new converts. In chapter 6 Luke described the appointment of seven additional ministers; the terms he now uses allow for a further development. Alongside the original apostles (of whom at least one was dead, and others may have been dispersed), there were now elders. The Greek word, transliterated into English, is presbyters, from which the word "priest" is derived; and it is true that the order of Christian priesthood had its origins in the presbyters of the early church. Once again, however, we cannot be sure how far Luke is here using the word in a technical sense. It could mean simply "the senior men", the persons, that is, who would naturally be expected to assume responsibility in the church once the original group of apostles began to be dispersed.
From the letter to the Galatians, one would have expected that it was Paul who presented the case for gentile Christianity. But Luke, seeing Jerusalem us I he pivot of the church's activity, has placed the beginning of the gentile mission, not in Paul's recent journeys from Antioch, but in Peter's experience in ihe house of the centurion Cornelius. Peter, therefore, appears as the spokesman for the liberal point of view, and the bases his argument on that same episode (which is more fresh, perhaps, in the memory of the reader of Acts than it would have been in the minds of Christians some ten or fifteen
years after the event), in which God showed his approval of the Gentiles 'by giving the Holy Spirit to them, as he did to us' (8). His language seems to reflect the arguments subsequently used by the gentile church in its controversies with Jewish synagogues. To Jewish scruples that non-Jews must be held at a distance because they were ritually "impure", Christians could reply that God had 'purified their hearts by faith' (9). To Jewish reliance on the Law of Moses as the one bulwark against pagan immorality, the Gentiles
retorted that it was an intolerable 'yoke' (10). Salvation (this is very much the language used by Paul) was only 'by the grace of the Lord Jesus' (11).
James summed up (13). In the early chapters of Acts, Peter is represented as indisputably the leader of the church—which is what, indeed, Jesus had predicted. But subsequently (we do not know why) the leadership seems to have passed to one who was not one of the original Twelve, but who perhaps possessed a special claim to it, James the brother of Jesus. Luke tells us nothing about this change; but his narrative accurately reflects the changed situation. It is James who now makes the speech which forms the basis of the church's policy, and it is James who appears as the leader of the church in the next scene which takes place at Jerusalem (21.18). His speech bears right at the beginning a touch of local colour: he calls Peter, not even by his original name in its Greek form (Simon), but by the form which the name would
have had in his native language (Simeon) (14). James, Luke wishes us to understand, was speaking in Aramaic. But this impression is artificial, for the speech as it stands could never have been composed in any language other than Greek. The first point made in it is that the evidence of Peter is a fulfilment of Scripture. The passage quoted (16-18) is Amos 9.11-12 (along with a fragment from Jeremiah 12.15), and it runs here very much as it does in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament into Greek. But it happens that at this point the Septuagint translators misread the Hebrew original. Among other mistakes, they took what in Amos is an oracle about "the remains of Edom" as an oracle about "the rest of mankind" (17) (adam). This mistaken translation suits James' argument perfectly. But the historical James is unlikely to have known this Greek version, and in any case he certainly could not have exploited it in a speech purporting to be in Aramaic. It is clear that Luke possessed no transcript of the speech originally made by James. Instead, he followed the historian's convention of composing the kind of speech which he believed James would have made. There is no reason why Luke should have noticed that his Greek text of Amos diverged so strikingly at this point from the Hebrew original.
The principle, then, that Gentiles were intended by God to be admitted to the church was established both by the facts of the Christian mission and by Old Testament prophecy. The church must move in the direction indicated by the more liberal Jewish thinkers; the strict attitude of the Pharisaic party was untenable. But there remained the question of what obligations should be placed upon these gentile converts. Granted that they were neither to be circumcised nor to be subjected to the full Law of Moses, it was still axiomatic (from the Jewish point of view) that some rules should be laid upon them in order to make sure that when they became Christians they would make a clean break with pagan morals and pagan idolatry, and in order to ease the scruples which pious Jewish converts were bound to feel at having free social intercourse with them. The formula suggested doubtless owed something to the Old Testament itself: certain clauses of the Mosaic Law were expressly said to be binding upon non-Israelites resident in Palestine (for instance, the prohibition on "eating blood" instead of kosher meat, Leviticus 17.10). This provided a precedent for elaborating a "gentile code". Such a code was bound to include a reference to those two aspects of the pagan way of life which the Jews found particularly repellent: idolatry and sexual immorality. According to the main text of the NEB (20), these were the precise points covered by James' proposal. But, as the footnotes show, there is considerable disagreement among the manuscripts at this point, and we cannot be sure exactly what terms Luke intended to be included.
('Moses, after all, has never lacked spokesmen' (21). The last sentence of James' speech is obscure. If James' proposal seemed to some too liberal, he might be answering them by pointing out that the Gentiles in question always had the opportunity to hear and observe more of the Law of Moses if they wished. If on the other hand it seemed too strict, he could be saying that anything less would be inconsistent with a proper respect for the Law which was in fact publicly read in every town in the Jewish dispersion. This seems to be an occasion when we are now too far removed from the world of Luke's time to be able to catch the tone of voice of the speaker.)
With the agreement of the whole church (22). Luke conceives the council on the model of a Greek democratic assembly: speeches are made (on this occasion all on one side), the matter is put to the vote, and a resolution is recorded. Of the envoys, nothing more is known of Judas Barsabbas (who may of course have been a brother of the Joseph Barsabbas mentioned in 1.23); Silas appears again in the next chapter. Both are Jewish names; but among Romans Silas might well have been known as Silvanus, and we meet a Silvanus in Paul's letters to the Thessalonians and in 1 Peter.
They ... gave them this letter to deliver (23). This is one of the few occasions when an actual document is quoted in the New Testament. It has the form and style of the many official letters which have survived written on papyrus or recorded in inscriptions. But, as with speeches, so with letters: if a historian had not access to the original document, he felt perfectly free to compose the kind of letter which would have been written under the circumstances. The fact that this letter is written in careful and idiomatic Greek, combined with one or two phrases from the Greek Old Testament, suggests that in its present form it is more likely to be a composition of Luke than of the Jerusalem apostles. Moreover, it ties in with the episode at Antioch with which the chapter began (and which appears to have been forgotten in the meantime) in a way that suggests the hand of a skilful historian. At the same time, Luke may well have seen some document of the kind, and have reproduced, for instance, its address to gentile Christians in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, despite the fact that he has not yet mentioned the founding of any churches outside Antioch itself. In any case, the letter serves his purpose well. It repeats (with that slight stylistic variation he is fond of) the formula which was the most important result of the episode, and it allows him to emphasize once again that this whole matter of the Christian mission to the Gentiles was by no means the personal decision of certain church leaders, but the direct result of divine guidance. By slightly modifying a familiar official phrase, he can write, 'It is the decision of the Holy Spirit, and our decision' (28).
When it was read, they all rejoiced at the encouragement it brought (31). On the practical level, this was understandable: the immediate crisis had been resolved. But Luke twice uses a word, encouragement, which suggests a little more than this. It is the same word as is used of Paul's great speech at Pisidian Antioch (where it is translated 'exhortation', 13.15), and had an almost technical meaning. Specifically, it was the encouragement which came from being able to show that the great prophecies of the Old Testament were being fulfilled in contemporary events. This could well have been the kind of encouragement given by Judas and Silas, who were prophets themselves. We may imagine them, not merely communicating the Jerusalem decision, but demonstrating how it fulfilled the many Old Testament prophecies which stated that the people of Israel would one day, in some manner, be "a light that will be a revelation to the heathen" (Isaiah 42.6, quoted in Luke 2.32).
Throughout the first half of Acts, the progress of the Gospel has been represented as an advance by the whole church, directly authorized by the leaders in Jerusalem, or at least conducted under the supervision of the daughter-church in Antioch. But now the picture changes. The protagonist: is Paul and Paul alone, and his movements are no longer dependent on the decisions of a central authority. To this extent, Luke's narrative suggests a new initiative in the Christian mission, aptly described by the heading, Paul leads the advance.
Paul began with what we should now call a pastoral visit—'to see how our brothers are faring in the various towns where we proclaimed the word of the Lord' (36). This second visit included a journey through the country lying between Antioch and central Asia Minor (Syria and Cilicia (41)), which was mentioned during the discussions in Jerusalem (15.24), even though Luke does not record Paul's original mission to it. Meanwhile Barnabas and John Mark revisited Cyprus. Luke has to admit that this was not by any means the result of an amicable agreement to work in separate areas, but was preceded by a sharp dispute (39). This is the only case of serious disagreement which Luke records in the history of the early church (Paul's letters are very much more candid). Doubtless the crisis at Antioch was too vivid a memory to be passed over. A dispute at Antioch between himself and Barnabas also rankled in Paul's memory (Galatians 2.11-14); but in Paul's account it turned on the question of Jewish observances, and his real opponent was Peter. If the same dispute is behind Luke's narrative (and it is difficult to think that there were two such notable disputes between Paul and Barnabas at Antioch), Luke has made it turn on the much less explosive issue of the personal reliability of John Mark.
Timothy (1) is well known to us from many references to him in Paul's letters. But the information that Paul circumcised him, out of consideration for the Jews (3), is unexpected. Paul was strongly opposed to any pressure exerted upon gentile Christians to receive circumcision—this was the principal theme of his letter to the Galatians; and in one place he strongly repudiated the allegation that he ever advocated circumcision (Gal. 5.11). On the other hand, he continued to lay himself personally under the obligations of a strict Jewish way of life, and it may be that Timothy presented something of a special case. The son of a Jewish mother, even if his father was a Gentile, technically counted as a Jew, and was therefore obliged to be circumcised. Timothy's family had doubtless drifted away from the Jewish faith (Luke's narrative in 14.19 suggests that there was no Jewish community at Lystra), and the obligation to circumcise him had never been carried out. At Lystra he was probably regarded as a Gentile. But once he began travelling with Paul to cities where there were synagogues, his position might have become more difficult: he would have been recognized as a Jew who had failed to observe one of the most basic commandments. It may have been for a reason such as this that Paul, as a special case, took him and circumcised him.
They travelled (6). From being a pastoral visit, the journey soon turned into a new missionary venture; but Luke insists that it was still carried out strictly under divine guidance. They were prevented by the Holy Spirit from delivering the message in the province of Asia. The logical sequel to the work done so far might have seemed to be to press on to the great Greco-Roman cities in the heart of the province of Asia, such as Ephesus and Pergamum, where there were substantial Jewish communities and where the missionaries could expect to find a ready hearing among Greek-speaking citizens who were already interested in the Jewish religion. Instead, the Spirit led them further into the interior of Asia Minor. From there, their obvious objective would have been the Hellenistic cities on the shores of the Black Sea, in Bithynia (where there were in fact Christian churches well before the end of the century). But before they got there, their real destination was revealed to them: the port of Troas on the Aegean coast. This was a long journey—at least 500 miles—and must have taken many weeks. In the course of it, there must have been occasions when the gospel was preached and churches founded (18.23). But Luke is here giving only the briefest summary, to prepare for a dramatic new phase in the mission; and the few geographical details he offers are only a rough guide to the route actually taken by Paul and his companions.
Divine prompting this time took the form of a dream-vision: it led to their
getting a passage to Macedonia (10). The narrative now becomes noticeably precise about travel movements and ports of call; and at the same time it unexpectedly drops into the first person: we at once set about getting a passage. The writer seems suddenly to have joined the party, to leave it again as suddenly two paragraphs later, and to reappear briefly on two subsequent occasions. This "we" is a puzzle. On the face of it, the author seems either to have been present much of the time, but by carelessness to have alluded to the fact only haphazardly, or else to have been present only for short periods, and to have discreetly drawn attention to himself whenever appropriate. But there may also be more subtle reasons. Luke may have had access to some travel diary (whether his own or someone else's) and have dropped almost unconsciously into the first person when he used it as a principal source; or else he may have been more sensitive than we are to the literary convention that a good travel story ought to be vouched for by the writer who tells it. Whatever the explanation, a clear point is gained: the writer shows himself to have some personal knowledge of the events described, and thereby substantiates the claim he made at the beginning of his work (Luke 1.1-4) to give his readers 'authentic knowledge'.
Troas—the island of Samothrace—Neapolis (the port serving Philippi) (11): this was the most: direct sea-route, but their ship set a remarkably straight and swift course if it accomplished the crossing (as Luke implies) in a mere two days. From Neapolis, the road inland to Philippi (12) could have been covered in a few hours. Once there, the travellers found themselves in a city rather different from those in which they had worked so far. Philippi had a history as a Greek city going back at least to Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. But in 42 B.C., after the famous battle outside its walls, it had become a Roman colony, which meant that it was used as a place for settling regular Roman soldiers on their discharge from the army. As such, it retained a strongly Roman character. Latin was spoken alongside Greek, and the civil administration followed the Italian instead of the Greek model. This difference of atmosphere is faithfully reflected in the details of Luke's narrative. It was a peculiarity of the Province of Macedonia that it was divided into administrative "districts", and the description of Philippi as a city of the first rank in that district of Macedonia, even though it may not be quite accurate as it stands,nevertheless uses the correct technical terms. Justice in the city was administered by two officials known as duoviri, to whom Luke gives a more general Greek title, magistrates (20); and these had police officers (35) under them known as lictores: again Luke correctly gives the Greek equivalent of this title. These magistrates had power to hear charges brought by citizens against each other on such matters as a disturbance of the peace (20), and to inflict minor punishments; but more serious cases, such as charges arising out of the establishment of a new religion, had to be referred to the capital of the province, in which case the accused, if they could not offer surety for themselves (for instance, if they were travellers), would be held in prison until their case could be heard. But Paul possessed the Roman citizenship, and was therefore exempt from the summary justice of local magistrates. In this first encounter between the Roman government and the church, the government was publicly shown to be at fault. The point was important if it was one of Luke's intentions to show that the Christian religion at no time constituted a threat to law and order in the Roman empire.
However, for most of the chapter these official institutions remain in the background. The story begins, as usual, with Paul seeking out the local Jewish community. But this appears to have been very insignificant. Only some women gathered on the Sabbath (13), and a rather unexpected phrase of Luke's suggeststhat there was not even a regular synagogue, but only an agreed place of prayer by the river (which was over a mile outside the city, unless a smaller stream is meant). Lydia may or may not have been Jewish. Her native city, Thyatira (14), in that part of Asia Minor also known as Lydia, was famous for its purple-dyeing industry. Purple fabric was a great luxury, and any dealer in it was likely to be well off, and to have a house large enough to accommodate guests. As a result of her conversion and her hospitality, the Christian missionaries became established; and we know from Paul's letter to the Philippians that in the course of their stay they built up a loyal and flourishing church.
But Luke hurries on to the end of their visit. The immediate cause of this dramatic episode was a slave-girl who was possessed by an oracular spirit (16). Most cases of spirit-possession in the New Testament are set in a Jewish context; but this spirit was oracular, that is to say, it performed fortune-telling in the style of the great Greek oracle at Delphi, and it used pagan language about God—the Supreme God (17)—just as in a notable case of pagan possession recorded in the gospels (Luke 8.28). But spirits of any kind could be exorcised in the name of Jesus Christ (18). In a pious Jewish is community such an exorcism would have caused awe and rejoicing; but pagans saw less evil in the presence of spirits, and their reaction was frankly materialistic.
The release of Paul and Silas—a miracle comparable with the release of Peter in chapter 12—is told in the manner such stories demanded. There are touches of exaggeration (the inner prison, all the doors burst open, all (24), the prisoners found their fetters unfastened); there are conventional features (the prayers and singing answered by an earthquake—compare 4.31); and there is an irrational haste in the jailer's movements which adds greatly to the drama of the story, but which would have been odd behaviour for someone officially responsible for the whole jail. But the point, for Luke, was that Paul and Silas were miraculously released (as was to be expected when God was so clearly behind their work), and he told the story in the way that came most naturally to him. He was also able to make the episode something more than merely spectacular: it resulted in the conversion of the jailer and his whole family.
They now travelled by way of Amphipolis and Apollonia (1)—that is to say, they took the Via Egnatia, the great Roman road which led right across northern Greece to the Adriatic. After a few days' travelling they reached the most important city in Macedonia, Thessalonica. We know something of lheir work there from Paul's letters: Paul spent long enough in the city to found an important church (1 Thess.1.6-10), to sustain himself by doing manual work (2 Thess. 3.8), and to receive contributions to his physical
needs from Philippi, a hundred miles away (Philippians 4.16). It is evident, then, that Luke has telescoped his narrative, so that what was really a stay of several months reads like a short visit of a week or two. Moreover, while Paul tells us that the Christians in Thessalonica were persecuted by their pagan fellow-citizens (1 Thess. 2.14), Luke maintains that on this occasion the real instigators of the trouble were the Jews. In any case, Paul's work there conformed to the usual pattern: first (following his usual practice (2)) he addressed himself to the synagogue; but the fruit of his preaching was to be seen in the conversion of a great number of godfearing Gentiles and a good many influential women (4), with the result that the Jews soon launched a jealous attack upon him. This attack was more subtle than any which Paul had experienced in Asia Minor. Thessalonica was a "free city", which meant that its courts had more freedom of jurisdiction than in most cities of the Roman empire (Luke may well have known this, since he knew the unusual name by which the magistrates were known in Thessalonica: politarchs (6)). If the machinery of justice could be turned against Paul and Silas there, much damage might be done. The first plan was to bring them before the town assembly (5), where, in a kind of public inquisition, specific charges could be formulated. But, since they could not be found, all that could be
done was to bring a certain Jason (6) (who could have been either a Greek or a Jew who had assumed a Greek name) and certain others before the magistrates. The charges were calculated to arouse Roman apprehensions. 'Men who have made trouble all over the world' was the kind of language the Emperor Claudius had made fashionable when he instituted punitive measures against the Jews (he had accused them of "stirring up a universal plague throughout the world"): these Christians, therefore, with their Jewish type of religion, might be a recrudescence of the same evil. 'They all flout the Emperor's laws'—we do not know what this accusation was based on, but it sounded damaging enough. 'And assert that there is a rival king, Jesus' (7). This was the hardest charge of all for Christians to answer, for Jesus had been condemned and executed as a king, and it was not always easy to explain that Jesus' kingship was not of this world. Prima facie, therefore, there was a serious case against these men. But the men could not be found. The magistrates took the only course open to them. They bound over Jason (9)—the phrase is technical, meaning that Jason had to guarantee the good conduct of his guests. It would suit both the safety of Paul and Silas and the convenience of the local government if they left the city (for the jurisdiction of one city did not extend to another). Which is what they were immediately persuaded to do.
Beroea (today called Verria) lay off the trunk road, some fifty miles from Thessalonica. Exactly the same pattern was repeated, except that the Jewish opposition was not local (for the Jews there were more civil) but was stirred up by the same Jewish instigators who had caused trouble in Thessalonica. Once more, Paul prudently left the area. Luke is in error about Timothy's rather complicated movements. In fact he accompanied Paul to Athens, and subsequently returned to Thessalonica (1 Thess. 3.1-2).
At Athens he was exasperated to see how the city was full of idols (16). This was a characteristic Jewish reaction to the city which was still the cultural and intellectual centre of the ancient world; and Paul's speech to the Athenians is for the most part an attack such as any courageous and educated Jew might have made on the beliefs and practices of paganism. Athens, since its subjugation by Rome in the previous century, had lost all vestiges of its former political power; but its art and architecture were still an impressive monument to its past glory, its streets continued to be embellished by the lavish buildings of munificent patrons, and the sheer abundance of its temples and altars and statues, even compared with other flourishing Greco-Roman rities, could well have exasperated the sensibilities of a pious Jew seeing it for the first time. To this extent the scene is absolutely true to life. Nevertheless we cannot be sure that Luke had actually been to Athens himself or that he had any detailed information about Paul's activity there. The things he tells us about Athens are the things that any educated person knew about iy. Its fame now rested, first on its university, and secondly on the many religious cults which flourished there, and which even Roman Emperors found occasion to attend. These cults certainly gave the Athenians the reputation of being, in everything that concerns religion, ... uncommonly scrupulous (22). As far as public observances such as sacrifices and festivals were concerned, the Athenian religious institutions were zealously maintained, and offered a serious object of attack to any convinced monotheist. But the religion of an educated Greek was something a good deal more sophisticated; and this he learnt, not by frequenting the temples, but by furthering his education in that other institution for which Athens was famous, the schools of philosophy. It was philosophy rather than religion (though the dividing line was hard to draw, since many philosophies included a substantial amount of theology) which moulded the principles and ideals of educated Greeks and Romans. The Stoic view of life was the most popular, and had become almost the official philosophy of the Roman empire. It strongly affirmed the moral values of respectable Roman citizens, and it provided powerful intellectual arguments for a belief in God. But its vitality was due in part to the continual dialogue which went on between its exponents and the leaders of other philosophical schools. Athens was the centre of this dialogue. Philosophers met constantly in the city square (17), under the great colonnaded porticos built by foreign kings and benefactors. It was doubtless often said, somewhat cynically, that the Athenians in general and the foreigners there had no time for anything but talking or hearing about the latest novelty (21). But this was a surface impression. Luke also knew (as, again, every educated person knew, whether or not he had been there) that serious philosophical issues were constantly discussed. He presents Paul's appearance as a challenge to all that Athens stood for, to its religion and its philosophy, its temples and its university.
How was Paul equipped to address himself to such people? On the one hand the severe monotheism he had inherited from his Jewish upbringing commended itself to many serious-minded Greeks, and would have been familiar enough to his audience—though of course Paul was now a Christian, and was expounding this monotheism in terms of Jesus and Resurrection (18), a name and a concept which were both so alien in sound that his hearers simply assumed that he must be a propagandist for foreign deities. On the other hand, he possessed, like many educated Jews, a smattering of Greek philosophical terms and concepts, such that he could present his beliefs in the kind of language his hearers could understand. They, for their part, would sense that this was very superficial philosophy, and Luke, using a rare and expressive Greek word, says that they called him a charlatan— the original word suggests a bird picking up seeds wherever it can find them —and their first impression of Paul was perhaps of a man mouthing philosophical jargon without much understanding of what it meant.
So they took him and brought him before the Court of Areopagus (19). Areopagus is the name of a small hill ("Mars' Hill") near the Acropolis in Athens. In classical times, a select city council met there, and took its name from it; but, though it had great prestige, its actual power was insignificant. It was only under Roman rule that it became the most important assembly in the government of Athens. It was still called the Areopagus, but it now met in some part of 'the city square', close to the main civic buildings. It is possible that this council, or some committee of it, was in control of the teaching of philosophy, and that it was normal for a new teacher to be presented to it for its approval. But even if Luke had no certain information about what happened to Paul in Athens, it is not difficult to see why he should have chosen the Areopagus as the setting for Paul's self-defence. He knew that this was the name for the most important civic assembly at Athens; and he knew that the hill where it met (or, at least, used to meet) was the site of a historic Athenian tribunal. By using the word, he achieved his purpose of placing Paul at the very centre of the city's life.
In his preaching, Paul usually began with the Old Testament: rightly interpreted, the Jewish scriptures could be shown to proclaim the coming of one who would be the Saviour, not of the Jews only, but of all men; and that Saviour had now come in the person of Jesus. But this approach was only possible when his hearers were either Jews or else Gentiles who were already familiar with the Jewish religion. How was Paul to address himself to Athenian intellectuals, who knew nothing of these things, and who were accustomed to seek God, not by meditating on the history of a particular race, but by means of philosophical speculation? Luke (whether or not his information went back to Paul himself) had his own answer to this (for Paul's only other recorded speech to a gentile audience—that at Lystra, 14.15-17— follows exactly the same pattern as this one): Paul used the same language and arguments as had already been worked out by Greek-speaking Jews to commend the Jewish religion to men whose culture was Greek. Two points were frequently made in such Jewish apologetic. First, the statues and images and diverse cults of paganism were unworthy of the nature of God: God 'does not live in shrines made by men (24) ... we ought not to suppose that the deity is like an image in gold or silver or stone' (29). Secondly, even though the Jews alone had received in their scriptures the one authentic revelation of the true God, all men could have some intimation of his nature, and indeed the poets and philosophers of Greece had often come near to the truth about him: 'he has not left you without some clue to his nature' (14.17), 'he is not far from each one of us' (27). These points could of course be supported by quotations from the Old Testament. But «hoy were also implied by some widely held tenets of philosophy (indeed, Paul would probably have carried the Stoics in his audience with him until he reached the specifically Christian part of his argument); and Paul's speech, in the manner of sophisticated Jewish preachers, is a subtle mixture of the two. Thus: God 'created the world and everything in it' (24). This is the theme of the opening of Genesis, and a recurrent motif in Hebrew poetry (compare especially Isaiah 42.5, where many of the same expressions occur); but Stoic philosophers also proclaimed that God was the creator of all. Again, 'it is not because he lacks anything that he accepts service at men's hands' (25). This criticism of the temple sacrifices occurs often in the prophets and psalms (compare especially Psalm 50.12); but it was also a commonplace of Greek philosophy. 'He created every race of men of one stock.' (26) Hebrew thought conceived this truth mythologically: all human beings were descended from Adam, who was created by God; but from their philosophical standpoint, the Stoics laid equal stress on the unity of mankind. 'He fixed epochs of their history and the limits of their territory.' The Jews, again, invoked certain myths: God created the world in a certain number of "days", and laid down a plan for its history which could be reckoned in "weeks" of years; moreover (a myth which lies under the surface of parts of the Old Testament), in the course of creation he had subdued the forces of chaos and pushed back the sea so that it should not trespass upon the limits of inhabited territory. But the Stoics, though they did not share these myths, believed equally strongly in the succession of epochs and in the providential ordering of the earth's surface which made some parts fit for human habitation. In all this, Greek philosophy and Jewish religion stood so close together that we cannot always tell which phrase belongs to the Old Testament, and which to current philosophical jargon.
But Jewish preachers went further than this. The sages of ancient Greece were of course inferior to Moses, but they often had glimpses of the truth, and could be quoted to support the Jewish case. Even the supreme pagan deity had a name, Zeus, which (in one of its grammatical inflections) suggested "to live", just as the name of the God of Israel suggested "to be"; it was therefore self-evident to Jews and pagans alike that 'in him we live and move, in him we exist' (28), just as both believed (though in somewhat different senses) that all men are 'God's offspring' (28). 'Some of your own poets have said' (29). The quotation is in fact from a poet-astronomer of the third century b.c. named Aratus; but this does not show that either Paul or Luke was well read in Greek literature. The verses were quoted by at least one other Jewish writer, and the line in question was doubtless proverbial long before Aratus included it in his poem. It was probably just another stock example of the kind of old Greek wisdom which, Jewish preachers argued, showed that all men had some intimation of the true God.
But from this point the argument could go in one of two ways. If God had left all men with 'some clue to his nature', then (so one school would argue) the guilt of the Gentiles was all the more evident. They could not plead ignorance; they must bear the full severity of God's judgement on them—this is the line taken by Paul in the first chapter of Romans. Alternatively, a more liberal and optimistic conclusion could be drawn. The fact that God had revealed himself, even if only partially, to the whole of mankind surely meant that he must intend something better for them than damnation. Even now, if they turned to the pure worship of the God of Israel, the Gentiles could still be saved. This is the tone of the speech here: 'As for the times of ignorance, God has overlooked them'. 'Repent' (30)—this appeal must often have been heard from Jewish preachers: in their mouths it meant, Turn away from the idolatrous religion and debased morals of the pagan world, and accept the austere worship and ethic of the Jewish faith. But Paul proceeded differently: he offered as a motive for this repentance some precise information about the imminence of the Last Judgement and began to prove his argument, not by general considerations, but by a particular fact, the raising of a man from the dead. At this, some scoffed (32), and no wonder. Philosophy could hardly entertain such a dubious manner of proof. It was, as Paul subsequently wrote to the Corinthians, 'folly to Greeks' (1 Cor. 1.23).
Paul's argument, then, is of a kind that may often have been heard in Jewish propaganda: this was how an educated Jew addressed educated Greeks on the subject of his religion. Only in the last few words is any reference made to the new factors introduced by Christianity. Paul may indeed have adopted this style of preaching on occasion (though from his letters we should hardly have guessed it); but Luke certainly believed—perhaps in the light of the subsequent experience of Christian preachers—that this was the kind of argument which Paul would have used when addressing the Athenians. At any rate, he has certainly used his literary skill to make the form of the speech appropriate to the occasion. It contains a number of expressions and idioms which belonged to the speech of cultivated Greeks; and it makes brilliant use of a technique still used in sermons, that of starting from an object familiar to the audience. No altar bearing the inscription "To an Unknown God" (23) has in fact been found, and probably none existed bearing exactly this wording. But it was well known that, especially in Athens, altars were occasionally erected to nameless gods when none of the "known" gods seemed to be the appropriate one to pray to in a particular emergency; and this was perhaps a sufficient cue for Luke's vivid introduction to the theme of the whole speech: 'What you worship but do not know—this is what
I now proclaim'.
However, some men joined him and became believers (17.34). Paul's visit to Athens was not a failure, but neither was it a great success: he left behind him individual converts, but we do not hear of the existence of an Athenian church before the middle of the next century. The university city cannot have offered an easy opening for Paul's message. It was otherwise with Corinth (18.1), which was no longer a Greek city in the sense that Athens was, even though it was now the administrative capital of the Province of Achaia. Corinth had been virtually destroyed in the wars of the second century B.C., and lay deserted until it was refounded as a Roman colony by Julius Caesar. Its new citizens were more Roman than Greek; but its atmosphere was essentially cosmopolitan. It was a great trading centre. Ships from the east unloaded at the Isthmus rather than make the risky voyage round the Peloponnese. Their cargoes were then carried across and re-embarked in the gulf of Corinth. With this trade came settlers from all over the Mediterranean. There was a substantial Jewish community, there were cults of eastern deities (involving, it was said, much immorality). Corinth, in short, was more like the cities which Paul knew in Asia Minor than like Athens. His work there produced a very flourishing church, of which we gain a vivid picture in 1 Corinthians.
Luke's narrative touches Roman history at two points. Claudius had issued an edict that all Jews should leave Rome (2). This is confirmed by an independent historian, Tacitus. Claudius' reign (41-54) began with a declaration of a policy of toleration towards the Jews and their worship. But later— possibly as a result of divisions within the Jewish community caused by the arrival of Christianity in Rome—the Emperor moved against them. Priscilla (a diminutive form of Prisca) and Aquila we know to have been a well-to-do couple (see below on Romans 16.3), and were perhaps prominent enough at Rome to fall immediate victims to Claudius' edict. They may indeed already have been Christians. The second point of contact with secular history is the reference to the proconsul Gallio (12). This person is well known. He was the elder brother of the philosopher and dramatist Seneca, and he is proved by an inscription to have been proconsul (the correct title for the governor of a Roman province) of Achaia around A.D. 52. These two historical cross-references make it certain that Paul's arrival in Corinth can be dated between A.D. 49 and 51.
They were tent-makers (3). Cloth of goat's hair, used for tents and coats, was one of the industries of Paul's native Cilicia. The same trade may have been possible in Corinth; alternatively, the Greek word may bear the more general meaning it often had in antiquity, "leather-worker". It may seem surprising that a man as learned as Paul should have practised such a trade; but Jewish scholars received no payment for their services to the community, and often supported themselves in quite humble professions. Paul, moreover, prided himself on being financially independent; and the reason why, after the arrival of Silas and Timothy, he devoted himself entirely to preaching was probably that these men brought with them contributions from other churches towards his physical needs.
Given this slower and more settled pace, the progress of Paul's work in Corinth followed the usual pattern. First he preached in the synagogue; but on the Jews' refusal to accept that Jesus was the Messiah whom they expected, he solemnly absolved himself of any further responsibility towards them, and turned to the Gentiles (6). But this time the usual reaction was delayed. Some distinguished Jews became converts, such as Crispus, who held office in the synagogue (8); and in a vision Paul was instructed not to make his usual rapid departure, but to "settle down" and consolidate the new church.
A serious clash with the Jewish leaders was of course inevitable, but when it eventually came it left Paul and his church for the first time unharmed. This was entirely due to the attitude of the Roman government; and Luke seems to present the distinguished Roman administrator as a typical representative of what he took the correct Roman policy to be. Far from being a public menace, Christianity deserved to leave the government quite unconcerned (17).
The grandiose rostrum from which the proconsul gave his judgement (which is the literal meaning of the word here translated court (12)) has been excavated in the Agora, or main square, of Corinth. It was for Gallio to decide whether the charges brought against the defendant constituted an offence under Roman law. The Jews' charge against Paul could have done so, since certain kinds of religious proselytizing were certainly against the law (13) in the Roman sense. But, in the mouths of Jews,'' the law " usually meant the Jewish law; and so Gallio preferred to take it. This allowed him to decline to hear the case. What followed sounds like a riot; but once the case was handed back to the Jews, they were certainly empowered to administer a beating (17) to one of their own number if they could prove an offence. If Sosthenes was now a Christian—and a Christian Sosthenes is mentioned in the opening of 1 Corinthians—it would doubtless have been possible for them to frame a charge against so prominent a renegade, and to carry out the sentence in the public square of Corinth, within sight of the proconsul's rostrum. Alternatively, the general attack on Sosthenes may have been simply a case of popular anti-semitism.
After this long stay in Corinth, Paul set sail for Syria (18). The capital of Syria was Antioch, whence Paul had originally set out on his travels (15.36), and the direct route would have been to the port of Seleucia which served Antioch. But Paul may well not have found at Cenchreae (the port on the east side of the Isthmus of Corinth) a ship due to make the journey. Ephesus (19), at any rate, was a natural stage on it. Luke mentions that for some reason Paul made a personal visit to the synagogue there, apparently without attempting to start a Christian group (for this comes in the next chapter). Paul is kept moving on his journey. But this seems to have involved a considerable detour. There were many ports nearer to Antioch than Caesarea (22). But Caesarea served Jerusalem, and "going up" from Caesarea was almost a technical expression for taking the road up into the mountains to Jerusalem. Is this what Paul did? We cannot be sure: but there is perhaps a hint in Luke's statement that at Cenchreae he had his hair cut off (18), because he was under a vow. Solemnly cutting off one's hair was a religious act in more than one culture in antiquity, but the Jews practised a particular form
of it. It was open to any individual to lay himself under a vow to keep himself ritually clean, to abstain from wine, and to allow his hair to grow for the duration of the vow (these three disciplines were based on Numbers 6). Vows of this kind were taken for various periods, never for less than a month, but sometimes for much longer; thus, a man might take the vow until he had completed a particular enterprise—it was a way of strengthening his own resolution and (it was believed) of acquiring merit in the eyes of God. When the period of the vow was completed, the growth of hair was cut off and presented, along with other offerings, at the temple in Jerusalem. This procedure is described more clearly below in 21.24, but the reference here can hardly have any other meaning than that Paul had made some vow of this kind before or during his travels, and that his embarkation at Cenchreae marked the moment when the vow came to an end. He was now free to cut his hair and to drink wine; but he still had to make the prescribed offerings in Jerusalem. This would explain his circuitous route to Antioch via Caesarea and Jerusalem; but Luke seems to have mentioned it mainly to show that Paul, for all his contact with Gentiles, still abode by traditional Jewish observances.
Luke has only one more stage to record in Paul's missionary activity. Paul founded no more new churches; but he spent some years building up churches which already existed. Some of these, such as those in the Galatian country and in Phrygia (23), he had founded himself (16.6); but in Ephesus, where he was to be active for some time, he found Christianity already established. This presented a new situation in the pattern of Paul's work;
and Luke endeavours to clarify Paul's original relationship with this important church by describing the curious and incomplete form of Christianity which prevailed there before Paul's arrival, and the necessary corrections introduced by Paul.
Until now, each Christian church had been founded either by, or under the authority of, one of the Jerusalem apostles or by Paul himself; and the legitimacy of each new serious departure in missionary policy had been proved by an irrefutable manifestation of the gift of the Holy Spirit (2.4; 8.16-17; 10.44). So, at any rate, Luke seems to have understood the history of the early church. But Christianity at Ephesus began rather differently. Among the first missionaries there, Luke mentions only Priscilla and Aquila, who came from Rome, and Apollos, an Alexandrian (18.24). The situation was irregular; the Ephesian church needed to be brought into relation with the Christian tradition which stemmed ultimately from Jerusalem. This is precisely what Paul did, and the model for his action seems to have been an episode such as the foundation of the church in Samaria (8.4-17): others could preach the gospel, but only the apostles themselves (of whom Paul now counted himself one) could bestow the gift of the Holy Spirit. But in this case the matter was more complicated. There had been Christians in Ephesus at least since the arrival of Priscilla and Aquila (18.18). Since then, Paul had returned by sea to Antioch, and had travelled through the inland regions till he came to Ephesus (19.1), a long journey that must have lasted several months. During all this time, was the Christianity that was nourishing in Ephesus such that the converts were still without that gift which was the distinctive mark of any Christian community, the Holy Spirit? Luke says that it was, and suggests that the reason had to do with their baptism. In the gospel story, two kinds of baptism are mentioned, that of John the Baptist (which was simply an expression of repentance) and that of Jesus (which was carried out by his followers and conferred the Holy Spirit). That the Christians in Ephesus were still without the Spirit is explained by the fact that their baptism was only of the first kind. Luke describes how Paul put this right with the appropriate act of laying on his hands; and he accounts for the rise of this anomalous situation by the activity of a certain preacher named Apollos who, at least until he was instructed by Priscilla and Aquila, knew only John's baptism (18.25), and had presumably started to build up the church on an inadequate foundation.
This explanation is logical; but when examined more closely it raises difficulties. We are familiar with Apollos from 1 Corinthians 1-3. Luke's description of him, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, powerful in his use of the scriptures (24), suggests a well-known type. It was at Alexandria that Jewish scholars made the most consistent attempt to interpret the Old Testament in terms of Greek philosophy. In the voluminous works of Philo we possess an impressive example of this; but there were
certainly others who followed the same method, and Apollos was doubtless one of them. This would have made him a very different kind of preacher from Paul, whose understanding of his ancestral religion, and whose interpretation of the scriptures, was seldom expressed in purely philosophical terms; and the disagreement between the two men, which can be detected in 1 Corinthians, may well have arisen from this difference of background. But did Apollos also start with a serious misapprehension about Christian baptism and about the gift of the Spirit? There is nothing in 1 Corinthians to suggest it; indeed, it is not easy to imagine what sort of Christianity it could have been which left out two such essential elements. Moreover, Luke's account seems barely consistent with itself. How could Apollos have been instructed in the way of the Lord (18.25), and yet still be in need of being "taken in hand" by Priscilla and Aquila? (18.26) And why did Priscilla and Aquila, who had known Paul well in Corinth, not give the necessary instruction about the Holy Spirit long before Paul arrived in Ephesus? It is possible that Luke has put together his narrative out of recollections which were originally quite separate: first, Apollos was a distinguished preacher, at Ephesus and then at Corinth, who presented the gospel in a much more Hellenized form than Paul, and who was therefore regarded by some (as we know from 1 Corinthians) as belonging to a different "party". Secondly, the followers of John the Baptist may have had a longer history than the gospel narratives suggest, and Paul could well have converted a group of them to Christianity while he was in Ephesus. It may have been out of such fragments of historical material that Luke constructed his somewhat schematic account of Paul's part in the shaping of the church at Ephesus.
He attended the synagogue (19.8) ... some proved obdurate (9). Given this new start in the history of the Christian community, Luke is able to show that even at Ephesus Paul's work conformed to the usual pattern: first an approach to the Jews, and only when that had failed a wider mission to the Gentiles. The transition is emphasized by a vivid detail. The synagogue was the centre, not only of Jewish worship, but of that whole culture and education which the Jews strove so hard to keep intact from the influence of pagan customs and beliefs. Over against it stood a number of magnificently endowed buildings (such as still dominate the ruins of Ephesus) devoted to instruction in philosophy and general education in Greek culture. When Paul withdrew his converts (9) from the synagogue and began to hold discussions daily in the lecture-hall of Tyrannus, the significance of the move was apparent: he was no longer preaching a religion intended only, or even mainly, for Jews.
This went on for two years (10). Ephesus was the most important city in which Paul had yet worked. It was the commercial capital of the Roman Province of Asia, which embraced the whole of the western part of Asia Minor with its many wealthy cities; it was an important port and a great religious and cultural centre. Having been rebuilt on a grand scale during the Roman period, it had a population of perhaps a quarter of a million. Clearly it presented an important field for mission. Luke says summarily that the whole population of the province of Asia, both Jews and Gentiles, heard the word of the Lord. This grandiose claim is not wholly exaggerated. We hear from Paul's letters (Colossians 4.13) of three cities inland from Ephesus where churches were founded (of which Colossae was one); and by the time the Revelation was written, six other great cities in the province had churches. What Luke does not mention (either because he did not know about it or else because he saw no reason to record it) is that during this time Paul also visited Corinth. In short, his activity must have been intense.
Luke, however, describes this period, not with a list of achievements, but with a series of anecdotes. Through Paul God worked singular miracles (11). Paul—and this is perhaps why Luke mentions it—was not to be imagined as in any way inferior to the other apostles in supernatural power: what Peter could do with his shadow (5.15) Paul could do through even indirect contact with his body. The following paragraph leaves Paul for a moment, and describes the power of the new religion itself over all its competitors (Ephesus was proverbially a centre of magical traditions). Exorcism in particular, though it was esteemed more reputable than magic, used unmistakably magical techniques. It consisted of discovering the name and power of the demon, and then "adjuring" it (a technical term) by the name of some superior power. A Jewish chief priest, by virtue of his office, was privileged to utter the sacred name of the true God (which was religiously avoided by all other Jews). The sons of such a person, by making unscrupulous use of this secret knowledge, might well have had some success as exorcists, since this divine Name was believed to have unique power. But (hey would doubtless have used many lesser names besides; and hearing of I he potency of a certain "Jesus" in this connection, they would naturally have added his name to their repertory. Luke's anecdote is a dramatic pendant to the stories of exorcism in the gospels. There, the spirits had recognized in Jesus an exorcist of supreme authority. Here, while still recognizing the same authority ('Jesus I acknowledge' (15)) the spirit challenges the irresponsible use of that authority, and demonstrates the reality of its own power (and by implication the power of Jesus whom it acknowledges) by a typical manifestation of violence, such that (like the crowds which witnessed Jesus' miracles) they were all awestruck (17). From the historical point of view, the only difficulty in the story is that we know of no Jewish chief priest called Sceva (14) (a Latin name)—but the exorcists' father may well have been an impostor also. In any case, Luke has successfully conveyed an atmosphere of charlatanry. Exorcism practised without due authority yielded before the authentic power of the new religion. As for ordinary limbic, its practitioners publicly repudiated their arts in one of those orgies of book-burning by which great cities of the Roman empire periodically attempted to hold in check the superstitious credulity of the time. By the equivalent standard adopted in the NEB, the total value of the books (19) was between two and three thousand pounds.
When things had reached this stage (21). The phrase is a significant one. Christ was triumphant in the province of Asia; Paul's work here was done. It was no longer a matter of being harried from place to place by the Jewish opposition; Paul was now free to take the initiative himself. Accordingly, he made up his mind
The Christian movement gave rise to a serious disturbance. We know from Paul's letters that his stay in Ephesus was by no means peaceful. He underwent a nearly fatal illness—if that is what is meant by Paul's enigmatic words in 2 Corinthians 1.8-9—and he was involved in some public demonstration which nearly cost him his life (1 Corinthians 15.32). One would have expected Acts to fill in the details; but in fact Luke's narrative is either concerned with a quite different disturbance, or else it deliberately gives the episode another direction. Either way, it is a fitting climax to this part of Acts: the confrontation between Christianity and the greatest religious cult of Asia Minor. For Ephesus' most famous possession was its temple to Artemis (in Latin, Diana (24)), which had been rebuilt in the fourth century b.c. and was one of the architectural wonders of the ancient world. To the Ephesians, Artemis was far more than the huntress-goddess of classical Greek mythology. She was the greatest divinity in Asia, and represented the power of fertility. She was worshipped at countless shrines in the countryside, and her temple was a place of the greatest sanctity and wealth.
This temple was served by dignitaries with various exotic titles, one of which was a Greek word meaning literally "temple-makers"; and an inscription proves that one of these "temple-makers" around this time was named Demetrius. It is possible that Luke knew Demetrius' official title, but misunderstood it and inferred that he was a silversmith who made silver shrines of Diana. Equally, Demetrius may have been another man of the same name who was really a silversmith, for the manufacture of small models of temples was quite common, and it may only be accident that no such models of the Ephesus temple have been found. In any case, this Demetrius was one whose interests were directly affected by any falling away in the observance of the cult of Diana. His harangue to his fellow-workers has a prophetic ring: very soon after Luke wrote, a Roman governor in Asia Minor was to complain that, as a result of Christianity, the pagan temples were becoming deserted. But in his summary of Paul's propaganda (26) he borrows the language, not of Christianity, but of Judaism: 'gods made by human hands are not gods at all' was one of the stock phrases of the Jewish attack upon pagan idolatry. This is the first touch by which Luke allows an agitation which could have been (and may in fact have been) a serious blow for the Christian church to read like an outburst of popular anti-Jewish feeling, in which the Christians were ultimately barely involved.
They seized Paul's travelling-companions ... and made a concerted rush with them into the theatre (29). This theatre is still well preserved. In the course of the first century a.d. the stage buildings underwent massive alterations, and we should probably imagine them surrounded by scaffolding. But the auditorium, an immense semicircle cut into the hillside, with tier upon tier of seats holding over 25,000 people, must have appeared very much as it does today. It was the natural place, not only for drama, but for any large meeting of the city populace; and once the crowd had assembled there, it was for any orator who could be found to explain the emergency and suggest a course of action. Demetrius had mysteriously disappeared (Luke has let him make his speech at an earlier stage), and the only attempt at giving some direction to the proceedings was made by a certain Alexander (33), who was presumably a spokesman for the Jewish attitude towards the official religion of Ephesus. But his appearance was the cue for a burst of frank anti-semitism. It is easy to imagine how the endless chanting of the crowd would have affected any Jews who happened to be present. The church, on the other hand, seems to have been barely represented. Paul himself was absent. As Luke observes, even some of the dignitaries of the province (31) (Luke uses a technical title mainly reserved for men entrusted with responsibility for the official religion) were sufficiently favourable to Christianity and to Paul to make sure that he should not get implicated. If any of Luke's readers had heard of a riot at Ephesus, and had jumped to the conclusion that ii was Christians who were responsible, Luke was careful to correct such a damaging misapprehension.
But there was another side to the affair. Ephesus still retained its old Greek constitution, under which an assembly of the citizen body had the power of a parliament. This power was allowed to them somewhat grudgingly by their Roman rulers, and in fact came to an end a few generations later; and the rest of (he scene is played out under the shadow of the stern power of Rome. The assembly of rioters could easily have been misconstrued in official quarters as an abuse of democratic power; and the speech of the senior city magistrate (whom Luke correctly calls by his official title of town clerk (35)) is
devoted entirely to avoiding this danger. Emergency assemblies (such as this had become) could be called only when serious danger threatened the life of the city; and no such danger could be alleged. The official mythology of Ephesus was surely unassailable: some symbol or image of the goddess was venerated which, it was believed, fell from heaven (we know this to have been the case in some Greek cults, though we have no other evidence it was so at Ephesus), and the city therefore possessed the unique honour of being temple-warden of her cult. Moreover, no damage was alleged to have been done to the holy places. There could therefore be no emergency, and the speech ends by outlining the proper course of action which should be taken if someone had a serious grievance. For civil disputes between individuals, regular assizes were held (38) before the Roman governor (the proconsul); any further question (39)—that is, anything affecting the community as a whole— could be brought in due course before the statutory assembly, the citizen body at one of its regular meetings. The speech fits the occasion admirably: this is exactly how we should expect the Ephesian town clerk to have warned the people against conduct which might lead the Romans to deprive them of their privileges. But that, in Luke's narrative, is the end of the story; and the implication is unmistakable. The whole thing was trumped up, the mob had been irresponsibly roused, and it all came to nothing. The only people seriously implicated were the Jews; the Christians were actually under official protection. There was no more than this to the famous incident at Ephesus. The church was perfectly on the right side of the law. It was only incidentally that anyone could say that "the Christian movement had given rise to a serious disturbance".
Paul ... set out on his journey to Macedonia (1). Ephesus to Thessalonica was a long and complicated journey, whether by sea or land; but Luke gives us none of the details. His narrative of Paul's movements is remarkably vague until the mysterious "we" suddenly reappears in verse 5; whoever is speaking (see above on 16.10) seems to have spent the interval at Philippi, and now to rejoin Paul and his party when they call at Philippi on their way. After this the travel diary is as detailed as usual. But for the previous three
a months spent in Greece (2), we have to draw upon Paul's own letters, from which (especially Romans 15.22-6) it is fairly certain that his destination in Greece was Corinth, and that at least one of his motives for the subsequent voyage to Jerusalem, if not the most important one, was to pay over the financial contributions which he had so painstakingly collected from his various churches for the needs of the church in Jerusalem. This throws some light on the plot that was laid against him by the Jews (3). If Paul had sailed with all the money on a ship plying direct from Corinth to a port in Syria, he would have been very vulnerable. His return by way of Macedonia, though it was much longer, had so many different stages (not to mention the perhaps deliberate splitting up of the party at certain points) that a planned ambush would have been much more difficult. However, Luke says nothing of all this. The purpose of the last part of Acts is simply to show the stages by which Paul reached Rome. It seems significant that the members of Paul's escort are all listed under the countries they came from. They may in fact have been emissaries of the various churches, entrusted with the collection. But again, Luke says nothing of this. In his narrative their names and countries simply reflect the geographical extent of Paul's missionary work.
(Sopater (4) may or may not be the Sosipater mentioned in Romans 16.21. Aristarchus has been mentioned in 19.29. Secundus is unknown. Gaius the Doberian, if this reading is correct, would be the Gaius of 19.29; for Doberus was in Macedonia. But if the usually accepted reading, "the Derbaean", is correct (see the NEB footnote), this would be another Gaius, and be more naturally paired with Timothy, who came from Lystra: Lystra and Derbe were neighbouring cities in central Asia Minor. Tychicus (Colossians 4.7; 2 Timothy 4.12) and Trophimus (21.29) were Asians, by which Luke probably means Ephesians.)
We ourselves set sail from Philippi after the Passover season (6). The dating, as usual in Acts, is by the great Jewish festivals; and in fact the seasons fall exactly as one would expect. The three months Paul spent in Greece were presumably in mid-winter, when sea-voyages were seldom risked. Sailings were resumed in the spring, and Paul would have embarked at the earliest opportunity, had he not changed his plans and spent some weeks going north to Philippi. This brought him to the Passover season, which fell each year some time in March or April, and left him another six weeks before the next great festival for the rest of the voyage to Jerusalem (he was eager to be in Jerusalem, if he possibly could, on the day of Pentecost (16)). Even allowing for changing ships once or twice, this was quite a feasible programme, given normal Mediterranean conditions in early summer.
On the Saturday night (7). Literally, "on the first day of the week". If Luke was using the Jewish way of reckoning days from sunset to sunset, then I he first day of the week began on Saturday evening, and the NEB is accurate. But he may equally well have been using the Roman reckoning (midnight to midnight), in which case it was Sunday night. In either case we can probably see the point of Luke mentioning it. By the time Luke wrote, if not long before, Christians regularly held their assembly for the breaking of bread once a week, on Sunday, the day of the resurrection, in the early morning or in the evening.
It is hard to be sure whether this incident at Troas is intended to read like a miracle, falling from the third storey to the ground (9) would not necessarily have been fatal (the house, like many others we hear of in antiquity, had a ground and two upper storeys); and the version in the NEB seems to
assume that it was not, and that Paul administered some kind of first aid. But the Greek is not so clear. Literally, it has "was picked up dead" for was picked up for dead (10), and "there is life in him" for 'there is still life in him'. If these details are pressed, we are confronted with a feat which would place Paul in the very first rank of miracle-workers: raising from the dead.
Troas and Assos lay on opposite sides of a promontory: the main party went round by ship, Paul for some reason crossed by land. After that, the ship made its way south, stopping each night at one of the islands that lie off the coast of Asia Minor: Lesbos (of which Mitylene was the capital), Chios and Samos. Calling at Ephesus would have involved a substantial delay, and Paul had deliberately chosen a ship which followed a direct course to Palestine. However, there was one more port of call on the mainland, the historic city of Miletus. This marked Paul's final departure from the province of Asia, and Luke records it as a moment of great solemnity.
The elders of the congregation at Ephesus (17) could hardly have been summoned to Miletus in less than four or five days (the distance by road may have been as much as forty miles); but Ephesus had been the scene of Paul's longest single period of continuous work, and his desire to say a formal farewell is perfectly plausible. If his ship had to spend a few days in the harbour anyway, it would have been natural for Paul to take advantage of the opportunity to make contact with his friends. At the same time, Luke clearly had a historian's interest in the scene. He had reached the end of Paul's missionary work. It was the moment for summing up what had been achieved before beginning what was to be a very dillerent chapter in Paul's life. A convenient pretext for such a summing up lay ready to hand. Ancient writers liked to put into the mouths of their heroes a farewell speech. Luke had done this for Jesus in his gospel (22.21-38). In this brief pause at Miletus he now had the opportunity to do the same for Paul. Some such scene may well have taken place, and Luke himself may have been present. But we must at least allow for the possibility that, as a conscious literary artist, he deliberately elaborated it in order to fix in the reader's mind a clear picture of Paul's personality and achievements.
A hint of this is provided right at the outset. The description of Paul's activity in the province of Asia (18) rings absolutely true of the pattern which was followed in church after church that he founded, and indeed can be substantiated in many of its details from Paul's own letters. The machinations of the Jews (19) have been a recurring theme; but, curiously enough, one place where Luke has mentioned no such "machinations" is—Ephesus! Clearly Luke has generalized: Paul's whole missionary experience is the subject here. Similarly with Paul's glimpse of the future. This is an accurate foretaste of the story Luke still has to tell, and yields a vivid picture of the sense both of divine guidance (constraint of the Spirit) (22)and of personal self-sacrifice which strengthened Paul as he neared Jerusalem. How did Paul know in advance of his imprisonment and hardships? (23) Luke provides the answer (and illustrates it below, 21.7-14): prophets, moved by the Holy Spirit, had foretold these things to him in city after city.
One word more (25). The speech so far has been a portrait of Paul; but in what follows the real subject is the church for whose benefit the portrait is being painted. This church may be Paul's own foundation in Ephesus; or it may be the church of Luke's day, a generation later, to which Luke is deliberately addressing a summary of the principles which governed Paul's work. In either event we are in a difficulty, for we cannot do more than guess at the issues which caused the saying or the writing of such sensitive words. 'I here and now declare that no man's fate can be laid at my door' (26). Who was accusing Paul of this? In the original, the word for fate is even stronger: it means "death". The early Christians regarded expulsion from the church as tantamount to death; and in Corinth, at least, Paul had occasionally recommended expulsion (1 Corinthians 5.5). Is such a case in mind here? Alternatively, is it the fate of the Jews in general which is meant, to whom Paul had said, 'Your blood be on your own heads!' (18.6)? Or is it some subsequent bitter schism in the church, for which the ultimate blame is being "laid at the door" of some ambiguity in Paul's original teaching? We do not know. I lowever, in what follows the case is perhaps a little clearer. 'Savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock' (29). The metaphor is obvious enough, and was used by Jesus himself. A few generations later than Paul's time, it was used frequently in Christian writings, and always meant heretical teachers. Paul may well have foreseen the emergence of such teachers; but by the time Luke wrote they were a reality, and amid the conflicting loyalties within the contemporary church it may have been useful to record Paul's single-minded devotion for three years, night and day (31), to the building up of the church in Ephesus. Paul's farewell at Miletus could also be read as a timeless warning to the shepherds of the church (28)—which, in the Greek, is much more than a metaphor: the phrase translated "shepherd in charge" contains the word which was soon to become the official title of the senior minister in the church: episkopos, bishop.
'I have not wanted anyone's money or clothes for myself' (33). On the face of it this is an even stranger piece of self-defence: why should Paul have been accused of such a thing? Yet there are hints in his letters that his enemies were not above casting suspicion on his handling of the money collected for the church in Jerusalem. Moreover, we know that a fierce debate raged round the issue whether or not a preacher was entitled to be supported by the church. On this, Paul's own view was that in general it was proper to give a minister his board and lodging, even though in his own case he preferred to decline it. In support he quoted a saying of Jesus that 'those who preach the Gospel should earn their living by the Gospel' (1 Corinthians 9.14). But here, it is Paul's personal example of hard work at a manual trade (35) which is held up as an example to the church, and this too is supported by a proverb-like saying attributed to Jesus (though it was certainly said by others besides him), "Happiness lies more in giving than in receiving". Paul's financial independence was one of the many ways in which his example was to be followed by the churches; and with this, somewhat unexpectedly, the speech comes to an end.
Even if the later interests of the church have coloured the composition of this speech, its tone is still faithful to the sadness, the foreboding, and the sense of inexorable purpose with which Paul must have taken leave of his churches; and Luke allows the same tone to permeate his brief account of the remaining stages of the voyage. The ship ran easily before the prevailing north-westerly wind, and made the usual stops on its way round to the mainland port of Patara. A different ship—possibly a larger one—then took the travellers on the much longer stage across the open sea from Patara to the coast of Palestine (the narrative here has some good nautical terms). They stopped at two ports, Tyre (3) and Ptolemais (7), before they reached Caesarea (8); and at each they found Christian churches to greet them (though their foundation has not been mentioned in Acts). At Caesarea there were already links with the past: Philip the evangelist, who was one of the Seven (10) (6.5; 7.4-13), and a prophet named Agabus (11.28) who, in a scene reminiscent of the Old Testament (11-14) (e.g. Isaiah 20), brings to a climax the series of prophetic warnings by which the tension of the journey has been built up.
So we reached Jerusalem (17). The main purpose of this visit we know from Paul's letters: to hand over the collection which had been raised in the gentile churches for the needs of the Jewish church in Jerusalem. Luke seems to have known about this collection and alludes to it below in 24.17. Its purpose was twofold: to express the solidarity of the gentile churches with the parent Jewish church, and to bring assistance to the impoverished Christians in Jerusalem. One aspect of this purpose is in fact dealt with in Luke's narrative, even though for some reason he makes no mention of the collection itself.
The solidarity between Jewish and gentile churches was once again threatened. On a previous occasion (chapter 15), the question had been how far, and under what conditions, Gentiles could be admitted to the church without at the same time becoming full Jewish proselytes. But this had been settled by a decree (which is mentioned again here). The new cause of dissension was the question of the proper conduct of Jews who had become Christians. How far was it right for them to abandon the strict Jewish way of life in order to live in close community with their gentile fellow-Christians? How far was the full observance of the Jewish Law still binding upon them, now that they had come to place their confidence, no longer in the old Jewish observances, but in Christ? We know for certain that Paul was deeply involved in this question: he grappled with it as a matter of principle in Romans and Galatians; and there had been a serious dispute about the practical implications of it in Antioch (Galatians 2.11-14; see above on 15.39). In its crudest form, the objection of strict Jewish Christians against him could well have been expressed in these words: 'you teach all the Jews in the gentile world to turn their backs on Moses' (21).
Paul's arrival in Jerusalem brought this question to a head. In a scene very reminiscent of the earlier "council" (chapter 15), he was given a hearing before the elders of the church (18) under the presidency of James. But this time there was no argument—after all, this was Paul's last contact with the Jerusalem church, and Luke would have been unwilling to describe it as anything but cordial. The suggestion was made that Paul should demonstrate his allegiance to Jewish institutions by publicly assisting certain Jewish members of the church to fulfil their obligations in the temple. The expenses involved were considerable: at least eight lambs were needed for the sacrifice. Luke does not say whether Paul paid these out of his own pocket or whether the money in fact came from the collection (it would have been a signal instance of solidarity between gentile and Jewish Christians if the Gentiles were prepared to see the money used for such a purpose). His object is simply to show that Paul's conduct was visibly correct by the strictest Jewish standards. The four men under vow may have been in real financial distress. By paying their expenses (24) Paul may have rescued them from an embarrassing situation—this kind of help was highly regarded by the Jews as an act of kindness. Further, by publicly associating himself with the ritual, Paul would have given ample proof that he was still a practising Jew himself.
The exact details of the ritual of purification (26) seem a little confused. A vow of this kind has already been mentioned (18.18). It was temporary, and was terminated by shaving the head and making an expensive offering at the temple. During the period of the vow, it was necessary to remain ritually "clean"; unless they had become "unclean" by accident (which would have meant that they had to follow elaborate rules of purification before they could complete their vow), the four men were ready to enter the temple as soon as the offering was available. Paul, on the other hand, had just returned from abroad, and was therefore by definition "unclean". Before he could bring the men's offering to the temple, he had to go through a simple ritual of purification, once on the third day after his arrival, and once on the seventh day. Only thus could he be present for the offering to be made (26). Luke's narrative makes it sound as if the four men under a vow had also to be purified with Paul. On the basis of what we know, this seems unlikely. Either Luke has expressed himself obscurely, or he was not certain himself
about the details of the observance. But on one point he is clear and convincing. For his part in the ritual, Paul was obliged to make two visits to the temple. The second of these, at the end of the seven days (27), was to be critical.
The remainder of Acts is taken up with Paul's conflict with the Jews in Jerusalem, his appearance before the Roman authorities, and the events which led up to his arrival as a prisoner in Rome. The trouble began in the temple; and we can fill in a number of details. The central and highest part of the temple area consisted of buildings and open courts which only Jews could enter. Surrounding these was a large colonnaded terrace which was open to all. Round the inner part ran a balustrade, on which were fixed prominent notices in red letters forbidding entry to all Gentiles on pain of death. The rumour that Paul had deliberately introduced a Gentile past this barrier was the immediate cause of the disturbance. Such an act would have been regarded as outrageous. The statement that the whole city was in a turmoil (30) may not be more than slightly exaggerated.
The crowds which thronged this temple area, particularly at festival seasons, often gave rise to riots. For this reason, the main Roman garrison in Jerusalem (consisting of a cohort of about a thousand men (31)) was stationed in the Antonia fortress, which had been built by Herod the Great in a commanding position at the north-west corner of the temple area, with its own flight of steps leading down into the colonnaded terrace. A force of soldiers was always on duty there to cope with public disorders. Luke's description of the riot fits these arrangements at every point.
The Roman officer naturally assumed that Paul was yet another of the insurrectionaries who constantly aggravated the burden of keeping the peace in Judaea. We know that there was in fact an Egyptian (38) who had led a large following into the wilds about ten years previously with a view to organizing an attack on Jerusalem; and we also know that many murders were committed in Jerusalem by Jewish terrorists during the years immediately preceding the Jewish Revolt of A.D. 66, particularly during festivals. The historical distinction between the two movements has been obscured by Luke's narrative. But the purpose of Paul's dialogue with the commandant is to show how far he was from any such movement. A mere insurrectionary would presumably have been an uneducated Jew, unable even to speak Greek correctly. Paul, by contrast, was able to conduct a highly polished conversation in Greek, and as for his upbringing, he could point with pride to his citizenship of one of the leading university cities of the east: Tarsus in Cilicia 'no mean city' (39), as Paul adds, using the idiom of a well read man.
These advantages were apparently sufficient for him to obtain permission to speak to the people.
'Brothers and fathers' (1). The suspicion that Paul had brought a pagan into the sacred precincts of the temple had been the immediate cause of the riot. This was of course unfounded; but it was a symptom of a much more fundamental grievance against Paul which, according to Luke's narrative, was beginning to obsess the Jews in Jerusalem and which eventually left the Roman administration with no choice but to send Paul to Rome for trial. This grievance arose, quite simply, from the fact of Paul's missionary work among the Gentiles. Christian Jews had come to accept this (though Luke allows us to see some of the difficulty they had in doing so); but to ordinary people in Jerusalem it could appear only as a dangerous and shameless attack upon the whole idea of a single and exclusive Jewish religion. Paul's speech (which has clearly been written up by Luke to elucidate this first direct confrontation between Paul and the Jews) is a defence against any such interpretation of his work. From the very outset, it stresses Paul's complete solidarity with the Jewish people. Luke even notes the language it was spoken in: not Greek (for, although this was the common language of Jews throughout the world, and the language in which Paul wrote his letters and worked out his theology, it was also the language of that whole pagan culture from which the Jews were so anxious to protect their own traditions), but the Jewish language (21.40) (which, for this purpose, presumably meant Aramaic). The speaker was in every sense a Jew, by birth, by upbringing, and by his education at the feet of one of the most famous of Jewish scholars, Gamaliel. (22.3) He could even call upon the High Priest and the whole Council of Elders (5) to testify to his service in trying to stamp out the Christian movement. There had followed his conversion, which has already been narrated once in Acts (9.1-19). Luke lets the story be repeated here (with a few minor variations of detail and style); but the ending has a significant new twist. The man called Ananias (12), who was Paul's first personal contact in Damascus, is described as a devout observer of the Law and well spoken of by all the Jews of that place. That is to say, even Paul's experience of the risen Jesus did not separate him from the company of the strictest Jews; indeed, the new turn in his life was something that could be analysed (as it is here) according to the traditional patterns of Jewish religion. So much so, that he expected his work to be among his former Jewish friends. But his natural expectations were overruled by a vision in the temple (this has not been mentioned before, and is not very easy to fit into the known history of Paul's early years as a Christian). "Go, for I am sending you far away to the Gentiles" (21).
But all this made no difference. Paul may have been as Jewish as any of his hearers, and have received his divine summons in the very temple he was accused of desecrating; but a deliberate mission to the Gentiles was still incompatible with the traditional Jewish faith, and the moment he referred to it the uproar began again. To the Roman officer it was clear enough that Paul, for whatever reason, constituted a threat to public order, and he was fully entitled to take police action and examine him by flogging (24). And there the matter would have ended, but for Paul's revelation (dramatically held back to this moment by the narrator) that he was a Roman citizen.
Men and women who were citizens of Rome by birth enjoyed certain privileges when they travelled or lived abroad in any part of the empire. They were exempt from most of the taxes paid by provincials, and on any criminal charge they normally had the right to be tried at Rome, and to be protected from any summary execution of justice on the spot. These privileges constituted a valuable reward which could be given to provincials for services rendered to the state, and it was a perquisite of the Emperor to confer the citizenship on anyone he wished. In due course, certain professions and offices began to entitle a man to apply for the citizenship. In particular, officers in auxiliary regiments could often obtain it, and indeed had to do so, if they were to rise to the rank of commanding officer in charge of a cohort (tribunus militum). It is therefore no surprise that this particular officer had done so, nor that he had had to pay a large sum (28) in bribes to get his name high enough on the list. On becoming a citizen, he had correctly added the name of the reigning Emperor, Claudius, to his own name (23.26); indeed, his full Roman name now marked him as a Roman citizen. Paul's position was different: he was a citizen by birth. This means that his father, in Tarsus, had acquired the citizenship in some way before he was born. Nevertheless Paul, at least when among Jews, lived as a Jew (and presumably dressed as a Jew) and was known, not by his full Roman name, but only by his last name, Paul (or Saul). In order to enjoy the privileges of citizenship, he had to claim them, and even if necessary prove his right to them by producing a document or consulting the municipal archives at Tarsus. This is the claim he makes here; and it gives a sensational new turn to the proceedings.
After this, the commandant clearly had to proceed carefully. He could not discharge his prisoner, for fear of further riots; on the other hand, he could not inflict a warning punishment himself because of Paul's status as a Roman citizen. His only course was to try to get the Jews to present their grievance against Paul in an intelligible form. This is the point of the following scene. The Jewish Council (22.30)—the Sanhedrin—had only limited powers under the Roman government, but it was still an autonomous body with its own meeting place (somewhere in or near the temple precinct) and its own rules of procedure. It must have been as the official deputy of the Roman Governor (who was in Caesarea) that the commandant ordered the chief priests and the entire Council to assemble. He presumably hoped that they would act as assessors in the case. But proceedings took an unexpected course. Why did the High Priest order Paul to be struck on the mouth? (23.2) For speaking out of turn? For not using a sufficiently respectful form of address? For making
a statement he regarded as untrue? And why had Paul 'no idea that he was High Priest' (5) (for so far as we know it was always the High Priest who presided)? Because he was short-sighted? Or because he thought the man's conduct unworthy of his high office? These questions can be answered only by guesswork; possibly Luke had to construct the scene out of scanty information. But he was able to make two points: first, the court proceeded illegally in allowing the prisoner to be struck before the verdict (compare Leviticus 19.15: "You shall do no injustice in judgement"); secondly, Paul's retaliation was in the manner of a prophet: 'God will strike you' (3). In fact, Ananias was murdered a few years later. Luke may have known this and seen Paul's speech as an inspired prophecy; if so, it became even more impressive if Paul uttered it as it were blindfold, without realizing who it was he was speaking to—this is a possible explanation of the episode. At the same time, Paul's curious unawareness was also his defence against what he recognized to be a clear infringement of the Law (Exodus 22.28), "You must not abuse the ruler of your people". Both in Paul's opening statement, and despite the formal offence involved in prophesying the priest's death, Luke was anxious to show that Paul was correct by the Jewish law, and was a man
with a perfectly clear conscience (1).
It is certainly true that the Jewish Council at this period consisted of two clearly defined parties. The Sadducees (6) were the conservative and aristocratic element; they still exercised considerable power in Jerusalem, but they were being gradually displaced by the influence of the Pharisees. The Pharisaic party included many doctors of the law who held seats in the Sanhedrin. Alongside the social and cultural differences between them, there were differences of religious doctrine. The Sadducees accepted as binding only what was literally stated in the Law of Moses; the Pharisees, on the other hand, recognizing that this Law was now archaic, professed to have a tradition of interpretation which enabled them to lay bare its true meaning. One result of this was that they claimed to be able to support from Scripture the widespread belief in the resurrection of the dead, whereas the Sadducees, finding no such support for it in their literal interpretation of Scripture, regarded the belief as false. Luke adds that they also denied the
s existence of any angel, or spirit. This we did not know, but it follows from what has been said. The Pharisees claimed that their tradition of interpretation was sometimes confirmed by a heavenly apparition; and this of course the Sadducees disbelieved.
How far a session of the Sanhedrin would in fact have degenerated into a tumultuous dispute between these parties on a matter of doctrine is hard to say. But in the early chapters of Acts Luke has already shown that the Pharisees had much in common with Christianity, and the fact that the heart
of Paul's message was a particular form of the hope of the resurrection of the dead (6), and that his activity had been inspired by a vision like that of an angel or spirit (9) (such as the Pharisees believed in as endorsing their own teaching), might well have commended him to the Pharisaic party, and enabled him to exploit the inherent rivalries within the Sanhedrin. At any rate, there was no formal judgement forthcoming to help the commandant; meanwhile Paul was strengthened by a divine intimation that all his vicissitudes were only the stages of a process which would eventually bring him to Rome.
Unless he were to release him unconditionally, the commandant now had no choice but to remit Paul's case to the only person in Judaea who had the right to hear a serious criminal charge against a Roman citizen, the Roman Governor. If he still had any doubt about it (or if Luke's readers were still wondering why the Roman authorities acted as they did), all doubt was dispelled by the story of the Jews' conspiracy (13). The discovery of the plot led the Romans to take exceptional security measures: Paul was given an enormous escort—according to Luke, who fills his account with technical military terms (23),it amounted to half the total garrison of Jerusalem; and the two-day journey to Caesarea, where the Governor resided, was begun during the night, so that by daylight the party was well over half-way from Jerusalem to Caesarea, at Antipatris (31). There is certainly a touch of exaggeration in all this. Antipatris was more than 35 miles from Jerusalem. The soldiers, starting three hours after sunset (23), could hardly have got so far by dawn the next day, and the infantry certainly could not have made the return journey within twenty-four hours of setting out. Similarly, Paul's escort seems out of all proportion to the danger of ambush by forty conspirators. But if Luke wanted to give an impression of military strength and urgent preparation being displayed by the Roman authorities for Paul's protection, he has succeeded vividly; and by adding the text of an accompanying letter from Lysias (25-30), he has made the whole episode sound formally correct according to official Roman procedure.
It was the policy of the Roman Empire at this period to allow routine matters of administration and jurisdiction to be carried out by local courts and institutions; but serious capital charges, and any case which affected the maintenance of public order, were always heard before the provincial (iovernor himself. In such cases, the charge was brought by private accusers, and the defendant was given an opportunity to reply. When he had heard the evidence (which was often presented by professional advocates), the Governor, usually with the assistance of a bench of magistrates, decided for himself what kind of offence was involved. If the defendant was an ordinary subject, he then pronounced verdict and sentence; but if the prisoner was a Roman citizen, the case might have to be referred to Rome.
The official residence of the Governor of Judaea was the palace built by Herod at the port of Caesarea. Normally, the Governor would probably have dealt with cases arising in Jerusalem on the occasion of one of his visits there; but Luke has just shown the reason why it was necessary to take special measures in Paul's case. Granted these exceptional circumstances, the Governor's reaction was entirely correct by the usual procedure. 'I will hear your case,' he said, 'when your accusers arrive.' (35) The commandant in Jerusalem had correctly instructed Paul's accusers to go down to Caesarea and state their case (30); and preparations were made for a formal hearing of both sides. The Governor himself, Antonius Felix, cuts a shabby figure in the pages of other historians of the time. Provincial governors were normally Romans of good family; but Felix was the son of a slave or a freedman, and had won his position entirely through influence at the Emperor's court. He was governor of Judaea approximately from A.D. 53 to 55, and his period of office was marked by considerable popular unrest. Luke hints at his venality (24.26); but in other respects Felix's conduct of the case appears to conform exactly with what was expected of a Roman Governor.
Five days later the accusers duly arrived (1), bringing with them a professional advocate. Luke's description of the hearing uses the correct legal terminology, and the two speeches are elegant miniature specimens of formal advocacy, complete with the compliments with which it was the rule for such speeches to begin (Paul's 'for many years you have administered justice in this province' (10) may be a courteous exaggeration, though Felix seems to have held some position of authority in the province before he became Governor). The words in which the Jewish advocate brought his charge are carefully chosen. 'We have found this man to be a perfect pest, a fomenter of discord among the Jews all over the world.' (5) This was the language of contemporary anti-semitism (see above on 17.6); it was exactly what was needed to make the Governor uneasy about Paul as a potential threat to public order (and so to the record of his own tenure of office). But Paul's reply showed this up as mere rhetoric. The original disturbance in the temple was alleged by some Jews from the province of Asia (18), who had now disappeared. Paul was on strong ground when he said that if this charge were to be sustained the original accusers would have to be present: we happen to know that the Roman government was becoming increasingly impatient of informers who failed to appear in person to substantiate their charges. Moreover, his own reason for being in the temple at that time was exemplary—'I came to bring charitable gifts to my nation and to offer sacrifices' (17) (a hint that Luke knew about Paul's collection from the gentile churches, even though he does not explicitly mention it). As for the other charge, of being s 'a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes' (5), there was nothing sinister in this. Even the Jewish Council had found it to be mainly concerned with a
belief, a form of which many of them held themselves, in 'a resurrection of good and wicked alike' (15). There was nothing in this to make Paul suspect of disrespect towards Jewish religious and moral traditions. The grandiose charges of his opponents were simply not proven.
'When Lysias the commanding officer comes down', he said, 'I will go into your case.' (22) This was still correct procedure: Lysias was the one available independent witness of the charge that Paul constituted a threat to public order, and nothing more could be done until his evidence was heard. However, two years later Paul was still in prison. This was not unheard of: provincial governors were not obliged to do prompt justice, and there must have been many temptations to delay. But Luke perhaps wishes to drop a few hints about the reason. Drusilla, who was a Jewess (24), was the sister of King Agrippa II, and had left her former husband in order to marry the Roman Governor, who was a Gentile. Paul's discourse about morals, self-control, and the coming judgement (25) may have touched on this affair (much as John the Baptist had lectured Herod Antipas on a similar misalliance), and so have alarmed Felix. On the other hand, Luke represents him as sympathetically interested in Christianity, and also as hoping to pick up a bribe (which was of course illegal, but was not uncommonly done). These conflicting interests could well have encouraged him to prevaricate until the end of his term of office. He could then either quickly settle the matter by releasing Paul, or else pass the case on to his successor. In the end, self-interest prevailed. A retiring governor could always be accused at Rome by provincials whom he had misgoverned; and Felix may well have had reason for wishing to curry favour with the Jews (27).
Little is known about Porcius Festus (1), beyond the bare fact that he succeeded Felix as Governor of Judaea around A.D. 55 or 56. In this narrative he stands, as his predecessor did, for the correct Roman attitude towards a case such as Paul's. It was natural that the Jews, having failed with his predecessor, should make a renewed attempt to have Paul brought out of custody as soon as the new Governor arrived; it was equally natural that Festus should insist on a renewed formal hearing at his own residence in Caesarea. This hearing was as inconclusive as the previous one. What was Festus to do? The clue to his otherwise rather strange suggestion that he should after all hold the trial in Jerusalem is probably the fact that the Governor did not preside in court alone, but had advisers whom he could consult (12). Paul's case appeared to turn on questions of Jewish law and religion. If he transferred the hearing to Jerusalem, he could presumably have some members of the Sanhedrin as his advisers, and so be better briefed to form a judgement. But this, of course, would have been to load the proceedings heavily against Paul, and Paul was fully within his rights to refuse. As a Roman citizen, he was entitled to ask for the trial to be held at Rome. This was the moment to claim the privilege. It did not take Festus long to establish that this was a legitimate claim, and that it must be granted. His only remaining responsibility was to draft a report to go with the prisoner. The courtesy visit (13) of some Jewish royalty gave him the opportunity to get some expert assistance in this difficult task.
For the Roman Governor was, as he admitted himself, "out of his depth" (20). On the question of procedure he was perfectly clear in his own mind: "It is not Roman practice to hand over any accused man before he is confronted with his accusers and given an opportunity of answering the charge" (16)—this we know to have been the correct attitude for any provincial Governor to adopt. Therefore it would have been wrong for him to have handed Paul over to the Jews. But Paul's case would now have to be heard in Rome, and Festus would be expected to forward some account of the charges against him. Unfortunately, these appeared to turn upon 'certain points of disagreement ... about their peculiar religion' (19).
Agrippa and Bernice (13) are the most distinguished persons yet to have appeared in Acts. Agrippa II, a great-grandson of Herod the Great, had been a youthful companion of the Emperor Claudius, and his influence at court obtained for him various kingdoms in the Middle East. Bernice, his sister, married two other petty kings of Herod's family in succession, and ultimately became the mistress of the Emperor Titus. At this time they were both quite young—well under thirty—but they were already famous and influential. Luke makes the most of this. They came in full state ... accompanied by high-ranking officers and prominent citizens (23). Paul's last speech of self-defence before he reached Rome was made to the very greatest in the land. In their presence, even the Roman Governor was careful to use correct and deferential language when referring to the Emperor—His Imperial Majesty (25) ... our Sovereign (26).
A legitimate development of the Jewish religion—this is how Paul presented Christianity. Yet his speech was carefully adapted to its cultured audience. It began with the usual polished compliments (2-3), and then turned at once to Paul's own relationship with Judaism. 'I belonged to the strictest group in our religion' (5). As a Pharisee, he could hardly be criticized on matters of Jewish observance; and moreover he was committed, through the traditional Pharisaic approach to the scriptures, to expecting God's promises to the legendary twelve tribes of Israel (7) to be fulfilled in terms of a new age initiated by resurrection (a difficult concept for non-Jews: Paul perhaps deliberately spelt it out for some of his hearers as the proposition that God should raise dead men to life (8)). It was only on the character and timing of this new age that Christians differed from the majority of the Jews.
This difference, however, was critical, so much so that Paul had begun by working actively against the name of Jesus of Nazareth (9) (and there seems to be an element of rhetorical exaggeration in his description of this activity when compared with Luke's earlier account of it, 7.58; 9.1-2). Only his experience on the road to Damascus led him to see the truth. This experience is related here for the third time in Acts. There are, as usual, slight variations in the details (this seems to be a deliberate feature of Luke's style). In particular, the audience is told explicitly that the supernatural voice spoke in the Jewish language(though in order to bring home to them the force of the voice's message, it is put for their benefit in the form of a Greek proverb, "It is hard for you, this kicking against the goad"). But the important change is in the sequel. There is no mention of the temporary blindness, of Ananias, of Paul's baptism and the other practical consequences. Instead, the voice outlines Paul's future mission in language drawn partly from Old Testament prophecies (16-18) (compare especially Jeremiah 1.7; Isaiah 35.5; 42.7,16) and partly from the formulas which Christians soon began to use when confessing their faith (compare Colossians 1.13-14; Ephesians 2.1-2). The experience, we know from Paul himself, convinced him that his primary mission was to the Gentiles (Galatians 1.16; 2.8), and he ends his autobiography by giving a very summary sketch of his missionary work. It was this approach to the Gentiles which had caused the Jewish opposition. But even this could be seen as a fulfilment of the great prophecies of the Old Testament. 'I assert nothing beyond what was foretold by the prophets and by Moses' (22). Christianity was a legitimate development of the Jewish religion. More, it was its necessary end and culmination.
In its essentials, this whole argument turned on the interpretation of Old Testament prophecies. This was too much for Festus, who is made to intervene impatiently just when Paul has made his decisive point. But Paul had his eye on Agrippa, who could be assumed to be following the argument. 'Do you believe the prophets?' (27) Of course, all Jews did. It was just a question of how one understood them. The difference between Jews and Christians could be reduced to this one point. Not much was needed to make a Christian of a Jew. If Agrippa saw this, so should any Jew. This is the point of the whole scene, the point which Luke probably especially hoped would be grasped by his Roman readers. Paul ultimately arrived at Rome as a prisoner. Was he therefore a criminal? The highest authorities in Judaea had found no substance in any criminal charges against him. Everything turned on the interpretation of the Jewish scriptures. 'The fellow could have been discharged, if he had not appealed to the Emperor' (32).
When it was decided that we should sail for Italy (1). The responsibility of escorting Paul on the long journey to Rome was given to a military officer, a centurion named Julius, of the Augustan Cohort. (The privileged title Augustan was given to some detachments of the Roman auxiliary forces, including one known to have been in Syria during the first century A.D.). He had a squad of soldiers with him (27.30), and his task was to secure a passage for the whole party on any ship which was going in the right direction. This particular centurion seems to have been correct and courteous towards Paul. He very considerately (3) allowed Paul substantial freedom of movement, both at the first stop (Sidon) and later in the journey. He also apparently consented to Paul bringing some friends with him: Aristarchus (2), who has been mentioned before (19.29), and the person (perhaps the author) who lies behind the mysterious "we" which reappears here from 21.17.
The route of the sea-journey was determined entirely by the course of any available ship, and the courses which the ships took can only be understood in the light of the fact that the prevailing wind in the eastern Mediterranean comes from the north-west. If, as on this occasion, the ultimate destination also lay north-west, then for any sailing ship the course was bound to involve considerable detours and a lot of tacking. From Caesarea, the first stage was made in a ship of Adramyttium (2) (a port near Troas, in north-west Asia Minor) bound for ports in the province of Asia. This was the right direction (north-west) but there could be no question of sailing straight across the sea into a head wind. The closest course the ship could set was due north, leaving Cyprus on the left (under the lee of Cyprus (4), which gave some protection), until it reached the southern coast of Asia Minor, off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia (5). It could then take advantage of different winds coming off the land, and sail or tack westwards, not too far from the coast, but avoiding the deep bays and inlets, and so, in a sense, across the open sea. In this way it reached an important port in the south-west corner of Asia Minor, Myra in Lycia.
It was nothing out of the ordinary to find in Myra an Alexandrian vessel bound for Italy (6). Rome was provisioned largely by corn from Egypt, which was carried by a fleet of large transport ships. But, once again, the course of these ships was determined by the wind. To sail directly north-west across the open sea was normally impossible. The prevailing wind came from precisely that quarter, and so the ships, sailing as close to the wind as they could, were forced to go due north from Alexandria to the coast of Asia Minor. Myra was one of the ports they could reach: from there, they would
creep westward near the coast and among the islands, making use of the land winds; but this part of the journey was notoriously difficult, and a stop was usually made at Cnidus or Rhodes. We made little headway, and we were hard put to it to reach Cnidus must have been typical of many sailors' diaries. After this, the direct route west across the Aegean was impracticable (the southern promontories of mainland Greece were notoriously hard for a sailing ship to round) and an easier course was set south-westward as far as Crete. The prevailing wind made it impossible to sail along the north side of the island, but on the south side there was more protection, less danger of being blown on to the rocks, and more chance of local southerly winds.
However, on this occasion, even under the lee of Crete, progress was slow. Fair Havens (8) was probably a harbour about half-way along the south coast of Crete; and we are told that it was unsuitable for wintering (12). This unsuitability was now the only reason for continuing the voyage. The Fast was already over (9)—this was a characteristic Jewish way of saying that it was already the closed season for sailing (the one Jewish fast-day in the year was connected with the Day of Atonement, which fell around the autumn equinox). The ship must find a harbour to anchor in for the winter; the rest of the voyage could not be completed before the spring. A southerly breeze (13) seemed to offer an opportunity to sail along the coast westward and make for Phoenix, a Cretan harbour which was presumably known to provide good protection against winter storms.But on the way the ship was caught by a north-easterly gale, which was so powerful that there was little the crew could do but allow the ship to drift before it, keeping as far north as possible so as to avoid ending up on the notorious quicksands of Syrtis (17), off the coast of north Africa. After a fortnight's severe battering in the open sea, the ship struck land at Malta, some five hundred miles to the west. It was clumsily beached, and broke up on the shore. No lives were lost.
Reduced to this bare outline, the story is unremarkable. Despite the storm, the ship actually followed the usual course taken by transports from Alexandria, and in the long run the only difference for the passengers was that they wintered in Malta (another regular port of call on the route) instead of in Crete. But a severe storm in a sailing vessel, ending in shipwreck, is not the kind of experience that is quickly forgotten, and if Luke was one of the party, this is sufficient reason why he should have filled out the narrative with so much detailed description. The chapter abounds in what were evidently nautical terms, not all of which we can understand. "Under-girding" the ship (17), for instance, is assumed to mean "frapping", i.e. passing heavy ropes under the ship and tightening them on a windlass to protect the hull from strain in a heavy sea; and when they lowered the mainsail and let her drive, the effect was presumably to reduce the amount of sail to the minimum needed to keep the ship on any sort of course (for to have run straight in front of the gale at any speed would have taken them straight south-west towards the shallows of Syrtis, whereas in fact they succeeded in drifting more or less due west). But we cannot be sure that this is the correct meaning of the various terms. Moreover, it is not certain that Luke had so much technical knowledge himself. He may simply have wished to colour his narrative with whatever terms he thought appropriate, without checking them with a professional sailor.
Nevertheless, while most writers who described a storm at sea made the most of its horror, Luke's narrative is of exemplary sobriety. There is no exaggeration, no dramatizing. The whole personal interest is concentrated on Paul, who made some unexpected interventions. First, he appeared simply to offer amateur advice—'this voyage will be disastrous' (10)—and was very naturally overruled by the professionals. Secondly, he had a vision (23-6), and was able to encourage the ship's company. Thirdly (31-2), he caused the soldiers to interfere in the sailors' use of the dinghy rightly or wrongly: if he was wrong about the sailors' intentions, he was responsible for the loss of
the dinghy and perhaps even indirectly for the loss of the ship; but it is true that a panic-stricken stampede for the dinghy was a feature of shipwrecks, then as now. Fourthly, he took bread, gave thanks to God in front of them all, broke it, and began eating (35)—words which may mean no more than they say, but which would also have perfectly described the actions of the president of a Christian eucharist. Through these interventions, the hand of God is seen to be guiding events, bringing the whole crew to safety, and ensuring that Paul will duly reach Rome.
The rough islanders treated us with uncommon kindness (2). The touchstone of civilization in the Roman empire was language. If people spoke Latin or Greek, they belonged to a world which, thanks to the achievements of Alexander the Great and of Roman government, now possessed a single Greco-Roman culture. If not, they were simply "barbarians", here translated rough islanders. Malta, now part of the Roman empire, was originally a Phoenician colony, and the people probably still spoke only their own language. Luke therefore describes the scene as a typical encounter between "Greeks" and "barbarians"—compare the events at Lystra in 14.8-18, where the natives are also described as speaking their own language. Yet the reaction of the natives to Paul's snake-biteshows that Luke credited them with much the same beliefs as Greek people had, if only a little more naive. All Greeks believed in divine justice (4), and most were prepared to allow for the possibility of meeting a god incognito (6).
The chief magistrate of the island (7): we know from inscriptions that Luke, here as elsewhere, has used the correct title for this official. Publius was one of the standard Roman first names, and we cannot identify him further. The almost casual miracle of the snake-bite is capped by a series of healing miracles (8-9) well in the tradition of Jesus himself.
Three months had passed (11). The season for sea voyages opened in February or March. There was then no difficulty in getting a passage: Malta lay on the usual route between Alexandria and Rome, and the Castor and Pollux was presumably another of the corn transports which had wintered in the island and was now ready to leave. (The name of the ship was typical: Castor and Pollux were twin gods, protectors of ships at sea, and particularly revered in Egypt.) It was an easy tack across the prevailing wind to Syracuse (12), and on up to Rhegium (13) (actually a straight course; but to a passenger it might seem like "sailing round" Sicily). After that, a following wind gave them a good speed—about 5 knots—up the coast of Italy to Puteoli, near Naples. This—now called Pozzuoli—was the principal port serving Rome until very shortly after this date. The last lap of the journey was by road along the Appian Way, a march of less than a week. Paul found himself already in the company of Christians, and parties came out to meet him (15) at two towns along the way.
When we entered Rome (16). The last section of the book has the effect of summing up Paul's final position with regard to the Romans on the one hand, the Jews on the other. Paul was allowed to lodge by himself with a soldier in charge of him, and an impressive picture of the consideration shown to him by the Roman authorities is built up throughout this chapter. Even though he was technically in custody, he was able to pursue his work of preaching and teaching without hindrance (31)—the word was often used in legal documents and is placed emphatically at the end of the closing sentence of the book. It may well be intended as a final proof to Roman readers that Paul was at no time regarded by the authorities as a serious criminal, and that therefore (by implication) the religion which he preached must not be imagined to constitute any sort of threat to public order.
The Jews, on the other hand, behaved true to form. We know that there was a large and influential Jewish community at Rome, grouped around a number of synagogues. What is described here is a formal confrontation between its leaders and Paul; and it is carefully shown that Paul started with an absolutely clean sheet: no information had yet reached Rome to his discredit (21), and he for his part had no accusation (19) to bring against them. His efforts to convert them should have had every chance of success. But no, without reaching any agreement among themselves they began to disperse (25). This was tantamount to rejecting the gospel. There could be no explanation but that this was the will of God; and this explanation lay ready to hand in a passage of Isaiah (6.9-10) (26-7) which had been used by Jesus himself in somewhat similar circumstances (see above on Mark 4.12). The scene was a further justification—if any was needed—of what had been the principle of Paul's whole missionary work: 'this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles' (28).
He stayed there two full years (30). We have every reason to believe that Paul was put to death in Rome, and there are allusions in letters by him or ascribed to him to at least one period of imprisonment and to his own uncertainty as to the outcome of his trial. But we have no means of knowing either the date of his death or its immediate cause: it may have followed the trial to which the events in Acts have been tending, or Paul may have been acquitted and released and then imprisoned again on a new charge. In any event, given the distance between Jerusalem and Rome, it could well have been many months before his accusers arrived, and there is no reason to doubt I dike's statement that things dragged on for a full two years. The only serious question is why Luke ends his story at this point. To our minds it seems to leave matters very much in the air. We would dearly love to know what happened Paul, and since it is likely that Acts was written well after
Paul's death, we find it hard to forgive Luke for not telling us about it. It is possible, of course, that he planned, or even wrote, a continuation; but it may also be true that our modern presuppositions about how the book ought to end are mistaken. Luke has described the progress of the church from its first beginnings in Jerusalem to its world-wide presence a few decades later. He has explained the constant Jewish opposition to it, and has justified the consideration so often shown to it by the Roman government. He has now described how its greatest missionary finally reached the capital of the empire, technically a prisoner, but in fact able to continue teaching and preaching quite openly and without hindrance (31). And he may well have felt that, if he was to leave these momentous facts clearly impressed upon the minds of his readers, this was the right place to end.