What was sown in Jesus was reaped in the Church. We find
in the Acts of the Apostles, especially in St Paul's life, both the
continuation and the consequence of Jesus' life and death. The
record of events given there would be a very meagre one if
the book had been intended as a history of the apostolic Church.
But it was not: its title is misleading. We have no right to
presume from it that the apostles, other than Peter and Paul,
did not carry on an active and fruitful apostolate both in and
out of Judaea. Peter and Paul, it is true, might seem to receive equal honours, half the book each.
They both witness; both are persecuted by high priests and kings; both are delivered miraculously from prison; both set out from Jerusalem, and both convert the Gentiles; both raise the dead. Peter is given a deftly suggested primacy, but Paul is Luke's hero and the centre of his interest.
Yet it would be almost as wrong to think of the book as a chronicle of the acts of Peter and Paul, with a preference for the latter, as to call it a history of the apostolic Church. The real aim is far deeper: it is to bring out the meaning in the Church's early development and the inner theological movement of the apostolate from Jerusalem to the Gentiles. This is why the book centres on the apostle of the Gentiles par excellence, St Paul. The marked concentration of attention on the latter has both a personal and a theological explanation; in fact the two come together, for the nature of Paul's conversion identified him personally with the apostolate to the Gentiles and its theological justification. This conversion, it must be noted, is about the most significant event in the whole book, its importance being brought out by means of a triple description.
It was an experience with two sides, but one reality. On one side it was conversion from persecuting to preaching the name of Jesus, with the consciousness of a personal relationship with Jesus which from then on directed his every thought; on the other it was a mission to the Gentiles. In Paul's person these two are one. He was not first a Christian and then a missionary later on, he was called to be both from the very first.
I heard a voice which said to me, in Hebrew, Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me? This is a thankless task of thine, kicking against the goad. Who art thou, Lord? I asked. And the Lord said, I am Jesus, whom Saul persecutes. Rise up, and stand on thy feet; I have shown myself to thee, that I may single thee out to serve me, as the witness of this vision thou hast had, and other visions thou wilt have of me. I will be thy deliverer from the hands of thy people, and of the Gentiles, to whom I am now sending thee. Thou shalt open their eyes, and turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive, through faith in me, remission of their sins and an inheritance among the saints (26:14-18).
At the very moment of his conversion he was entrusted with the greatest of missionary tasks.
The expanding character of the Church's apostolate as also its inner nature are placed before us from the very beginning of Acts: 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and you will receive power from him; you are to be my witnesses in Jerusalem and throughout Judaea, in Samaria, yes, and to the ends of the earth' (1 :8). The apostolate begins in Jerusalem but is to be universal; it starts with the Jews but is to end with the Gentiles. It is a work of witnessing to Christ, for which the power of the Holy Spirit is required. Acts is a chronicle of the Spirit's activity, and it is this which gives unity to the two parts and renders the midway substitution of Paul for Peter a matter of secondary importance. The Spirit must work through men, and Acts is therefore also a chronicle of Christian witnessing; if Paul comes to dominate its pages, this is only possible because he has, like Peter, the character of Witness in its fullness, and is very specially and markedly guided by the Holy Spirit. The programme of 1:8—to witness in Jerusalem, Judaea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth—is carried out personally by Paul: 'First to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem, then to all the country of Judaea, then to the heathen, I preached repentance' (26:20), and the book ends with his witness in Rome (28:23).
The earlier incidents recorded in the book are an introduction and basis for St Paul's work: the Pentecostal gift of tongues, the speech and martyrdom of St Stephen, the baptisms of the Ethiopian eunuch and the centurion Cornelius, Peter's speech in the assembly at Jerusalem, all these lead up to the great mission pre-eminently confided to Paul—the mission that took him 'afar unto the Gentiles'. From this point of view the incident of Cornelius' conversion (chapter 10) has a quite special importance. Peter's speech to Cornelius (vv.34-43) is in many ways a key passage for the understanding of early Christian thought, and it begins with Peter's discovery that the Gentiles too are acceptable to God. After his account of the Council of Jerusalem (chap.15), Luke almost wholly ignores the apostolate in Jerusalem and Palestine, and if he continues to refer frequently to the conversion of Jews, yet it is always as a splinter group that he portrays those converted. What stands out of his book as clear as day is at once the steady Jewish rejection of the Church, the Gospel and Paul, and the conversion of a multitude among the Gentiles. This is made very plain, for instance, at Corinth, when Paul says to the Jews there, 'Your blood be upon your heads; I am clear of it; I will go to the Gentiles henceforward' (18:6). Or again there is the account of Paul's speech at Pisidian Antioch: 'We were bound to preach God's word to you first; but now, since you reject it, since you declare yourselves unfit for eternal life, be it so; we will turn our thoughts to the Gentiles' (13:46). But the clearest example of all is to be found in the words of Paul to the Jews at Rome which come at the very end of the book (28:25-8) and are indeed the key to what St Luke was trying to put across all along; they point the moral of the whole story:
It was a true utterance the Holy Spirit made to our fathers through the prophet Isaias:
Go to this people and tell them:
You will listen and listen, but for you there is no understanding;
You will watch and watch, but for you there is no perceiving.
The heart of this people has become dull,
Their ears are slow to listen,
They keep their eyes shut,
So that they may never see with those eyes,
Or hear with those ears,
Or understand with that heart,
And turn back to me, and win healing from me.
Take notice then, that this message of salvation has been sent by
God to the Gentiles, and they, at least, will listen to it.
This passage gives us the theological key to the whole plot and thesis of Acts,and St Paul dominates the book because its thesis can be shown forth most conveniently in and through an account of his work. This thesis is that Christianity is the fulfilment of Judaism, yet has itself a universal character, as much at home in Corinth or Rome as in Judaea; that official Jewry has rejected Christianity, and that this very rejection is the occasion, and a further reason, for the evangelization of the Gentiles. Now this is closely akin to the theme of the third gospel, as we know: Jesus did not reject Judaism, on the contrary his ministry was largely a journey up to Jerusalem, but it was Jerusalem that rejected him and his preaching as it had rejected other prophets before him; by so doing, it and it alone was responsible for the division between Christianity and official Jewry, while at the same time providentially opening the door through its very obduracy for the apostolate of the Gentiles. The final message of the Gospel is that repentance and the remission of sins should be preached in Christ's name to all nations (Lk.24:47), as the final message of the Acts is that salvation has been sent by God to the Gentiles, and they, at least, will listen to it (Acts 28:28).
Without going back over the plot of the third gospel, it is here worth considering two parables which help to make clear the supreme theme running through St Luke's work. We take first Luke 20:9-18, the parable of the vine-dressers and Jesus' reference to himself as the corner-stone. It is a passage which very clearly expresses what Luke was at such pains to bring home to his readers: that the mission to the Gentiles was the inevitable sequence to the Jewish rejection of Christ; God has given his vineyard to others. As Luke says, the chief priests saw the point of the whole story, and would gladly have laid hands on Jesus there and then. However as the whole of this passage is common to Matthew and Mark, from whom St Luke borrowed it, it is not very good evidence of St Luke's personal preoccupations. It is evidence, however, of something else of the greatest importance; it is this: St Luke's theology is only an unusual stress on something which was common and primitive doctrine. His theology is seen here as the natural development of Jesus' own application to himself of the rejected corner-stone of Psalm 117.
In our second parable, however, we find Luke more on his own. It is that of the great supper (14:16-24) which can be compared with the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew (22:1-14). These two passages are normally considered together by the textual critics in spite of their wide differences,but from our point of view their comparison is illuminating, for the point of the two is markedly different. The point of Matthew's parable centres on its second half, on what happened when the makeshift guests were collected from the street corners :
When the king came in to look at the company, he saw a man there who had no wedding-garment on; My friend, he said, how didst thou come to be here without a wedding-garment ? And he made no reply. Whereupon the king said to his servants, Bind him hand and foot, and cast him out into the darkness, where there shall be weeping, and gnashing of teeth. Many are called, but few are chosen (Mt. 22:11-14).
The first part of the parable, concerning the guests who refused to come and maltreated the king's servants, refers doubtless to Israel; but the stress of the parable lies more in the second part referring to the newly invited, and its moral—the kernel of Jesus' teaching here—is given in the final verse, 'Many are called but few are chosen', which refers to the second part of the story, to the man without a wedding-garment,and has nothing special to do with the Jewish people as such. Luke's parable has a different ending; nothing about a wedding-garment, or about a selection among the newly-invited guests. When the servant came back and told his master of the guests' refusal,
The host fell into a rage, and said to his servant, Quick, go out into the streets and lanes of the city; bring in the poor, the cripples, the blind and the lame. And when the servant told him, Sir, all has been done according to thy command, but there is room left still, the master said to the servant, Go out into the highways and hedgerows, and give them no choice but to come in, that so my house may be filled. I tell you, none of those who. were first invited shall taste of my supper (Lk.14:21-4).
Again, the moral of the story is given in the last line, but the point here is precisely the rejection of the first invited, that is to say the Jews, after their refusal of God's invitation to the supper of the kingdom; furthermore the call of the Gentiles is placed in the very strongest relief—'Give them no choice but to come in.' The point of this parable is similar to that of the vine-dressers, and it is repeated outside the parable and in the strongest terms in Luke 13:28-9: 'Weeping shall be there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets within God's kingdom, while you yourselves are cast out. Others will come from the east and the west, the north and the south, to take their ease in the kingdom of God.' This again is paralleled in Matthew (8:11-12); but it is noteworthy that the passage in Matthew follows naturally upon the story of the Centurion's faith—it is an obvious reaction to the latter; hence it has perhaps less import than in Luke, where it has a different context and a more significant one, immediately preceding the terrifying denunciations of Jerusalem, murderer of the prophets.
Jerusalem treated them all the same—the old prophets, Jesus, the disciples of Jesus. There is a parallelism of action within St Luke's writings which is very significant. The resemblance of the Passion of St Stephen to that of Our Lord is particularly clear,but everywhere we find a similar pattern: fidelity to Israel and the temple is followed by persecution from official Jewry, which in its turn results in the punishment of Jerusalem, the rejection of Israel and the proclamation of the mission to the Gentiles. This cycle in Our Lord's life, as depicted in the third gospel, has already been analysed; it is less obvious, but still clearly discoverable, in the early chapters of Acts relating to the general body of apostles. Their fidelity to the temple (Lk.24:52-3; Acts 2:46-7, etc.) is rewarded by constant persecution (Acts 4:1-22; 5:17-40; 6:12-15, etc.) and this results in the scattering of the disciples abroad, and especially Philip's mission to Samaria and the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8). But it is in the life of St Paul that the cycle of Our Lord's life is best reflected; this reflection is to be expected in so far as St Luke's theme was the same in his two books, and hence the central figures of the two may be expected-—all proportions guarded—to resemble one another.
Both Jesus and Paul were a light to the Gentiles, not only joined in function but actually by the very title (Lk.2:32; Acts 13:47, Φῶς ἐθνῶν). Nevertheless, if when he is writing of Jesus and when he is writing of Paul Luke has a similar theological preoccupation uppermost in his mind, this does not mean that there is not a vast difference for him between the place of Jesus and the place of Paul in that theological scheme of things. Though Luke treats of them both, with special regard to the mystery of the rejection of the Jews and the calling of the Gentiles, their relation to this mystery is very different. Paul's life is subordinate to the mystery; it is something he preaches, something he witnesses to, but something which exists already, of which he is the servant. But the mystery itself is subordinate to Jesus' life and finds in the latter its very justification. Without the mystery of the calling of the Gentiles Paul's life would be meaningless, but without Jesus' life the very mystery of the calling of the Gentiles would lose its meaning. Jesus is the prophet-messiah, corner-stone of salvation; Paul is his witness.
We may consider Paul's life as related to the Lord's life in two ways: on the one hand, as sequel—Our Lord having been rejected by the Jews, it was for Paul to go to the Gentiles; one follows on the other: on the other hand, as the re-enactment—Christ having been rejected by the Jews, Paul, as a true other Christ, must also be rejected by the Jews; thus seen, it is not so much sequel as mirror. In fact this second aspect has been little considered and it is especially that which I wish to draw out here.
The story of Paul, like that of Jesus, begins with fidelity to the temple and the Law of Moses (cf., above all, Acts 22:1-5), and this fidelity always remained; his conversion to Christ never involved his turning away from the temple and the
synagogue. His constant visits to the synagogue are stressed (Acts 13:14; 14:1; 17:1-17, etc.); he always preached first to the Jews and only afterwards to the Gentiles, although he was fully aware that his vocation was above all to the latter. In this fidelity to the old order he was faithfully following Jesus. His greatest period of activity—that of the chief missionary journeyings (Acts 15:30-21:15)—begins and ends at Jerusalem; it was not for him, any more than it had been for his master, to reject Jerusalem, but to be rejected by Jerusalem. This is best seen in the narrative of his journey there. We have seen how the central and most important part of the third gospel treats of Jesus' journey to Jerusalem, a journey dominated by the thought of the Passion which is to be its achievement. From the Transfiguration onwards Jesus is moving towards Jerusalem and the death he is to meet there. There is no hiding this death, on the contrary he prophesies it:
Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and all that has been written by the prophets about the Son of Man is to be accomplished. He will be given up to the Gentiles, and mocked, and beaten, and spat upon; they will scourge him, and then they will kill him; but on the third day he will rise again (Lk.18:31-3).
It is almost startling, on turning to the life of St Paul, to find in the very centre of it a similar journey up to Jerusalem; and not merely a journey to Jerusalem, but to his Passion in Jerusalem. This is not now the journey of the prophet, but of the witness: Paul goes up to Jerusalem to witness to Jesus by word and suffering (20:24; 23:11). In the account of Paul's life, Acts 19:21—' When all this was over, the thought in Paul's heart was to go to Jerusalem'—has something of the same significance as Luke 9:51 in the life of Our Lord. It is followed by 20:16, 'He was eager, if he found it possible, to keep the day of Pentecost at Jerusalem.' His eagerness reminds us of the same resolution of Jesus; and Paul, like Jesus, looked forward in Jerusalem to the passion and persecution which it always afforded the prophets of God. 'Now, a prisoner in spirit, I am going up to Jerusalem, knowing nothing of what is to befall me there; only, as I go on from city to city, the Holy Spirit assures me that at Jerusalem bondage and affliction await me' (20:22-3). He, like Jesus, has the guidance of the Spirit; but unlike Jesus, he has no full knowledge of the future. Moreover whereas it was Jesus who told His disciples of the coming Passion, Paul learns of it from the prophecies of others. The brethren at Tyre warned him not to go up to Jerusalem (Acts 21:4), and at Caesarea
A prophet named Agabus came down from Judaea. When he visited us, he took up Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands and feet with it; then he said, Thus speaks the Holy Spirit, The man to whom this girdle belongs will be bound, like this, by the Jews at Jerusalem, and given over into the hands of the Gentiles. At hearing this, both we and our hosts implored Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. To which he answered, What do you mean by lamenting, and crushing my spirits ? I am ready to meet prison and death as well in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 21:10-13).
And so, we are told, he 'went up to Jerusalem' (21:15).The Jews should have had no complaint to find with him; faithfully he went to the temple, publicly joining with four others in a week's purification. It was at this moment when Paul was most devout in the observances of the Old Law, in the service of the temple, that his passion in Jerusalem began. Attacked by the mob, dragged out of the temple, handed over to the Roman soldiers, tried before the Sanhedrin and then before the Roman governor, Paul bore his witness to Jesus in Jerusalem; and he bore witness especially by the very similarity between his treatment and that inflicted on his master. One high priest replaces another; Felix and Festus replace Pilate; Agrippa replaces Herod; but their functions in Christian history are to be compared. The following words addressed later by Paul to the Jews of Rome apply equally well to Jesus himself: 'Brethren, I am one who has done nothing to the prejudice of our people, or of our ancestral customs; yet, in Jerusalem, they handed me over to the Romans as a prisoner' (Acts 28:17). This handing over gave St Paul his opportunity to witness to Christ in the most solemn way. Jesus had told his disciples: ' Men will be laying hands on you and persecuting you; they will give you up to the synagogues, and to prison, and drag you into the presence of kings and governors on my account; that will be your opportunity to witness' (Lk.21:12-13). For this solemn witnessing in persecution, the Spirit's instruction was particularly promised (Lk. 12:11-12). Now St Paul is given this opportunity, and hence his long speeches before 'kings and governors' (chapters 24 and 26) have a special importance. They are in a way the culmination of Paul's career as witness. After such occasions there was really nowhere for him to go but to Caesar and Rome!
The Jews were not content simply to hand Paul over to the Gentiles; they sought his death as they had sought that of Jesus (23:12; 25:3), and Paul for his part was ready to meet death in Jerusalem for the name of Jesus (21:13); this was not to be. In his own person the whole dramatic cycle had to be played out; not only his faithfulness to Israel and Israel's rejection of him, but also the full consequence of that rejection—Israel's own rejection made clear by the apostolate to the Gentiles. In prison in Jerusalem the Lord comes to his side and says to Paul, 'Do not lose heart; thou hast done with bearing me witness in Jerusalem, and now thou must carry the same witness to Rome' (23:11). And these words are made still clearer by others pronounced before, but still fresh in Paul's mind: uttered in the temple, they are the key to his vocation and his role in Christian history. 'Make haste, leave Jerusalem with all speed; they will not accept thy witness of me here. . . . Go, I mean to send thee afar off, to the Gentiles' (22:18-21).
Paul is maltreated like Jesus and the prophets, and his reaction is the same. But whereas Jesus merely predicted the fall of Jerusalem and the universalization of the kingdom, it is Paul's mission actually to go forth to the Gentiles, 'to carry the same witness to Rome'. In order to bear this witness he has received the Holy Spirit and is possessed with a power (δύναμις) like that of Jesus (9:22; 19:11), which enables him to fulfil in his own person the whole programme of Acts 1:8. Similar to Jesus in his mission and treatment, carrying out the instructions left by Jesus to his disciples, it may seem strange that he was not given the character of the persecuted Jesus, the character of a prophet. It is true that Paul is numbered among the prophets in Acts 13:1 and he did prophesy his imminent Passion in Jerusalem; moreover in such incidents as his encounter on Cyprus with Elymas the magician (a false prophet) Paul appears clearly as a true prophet filled with the Holy Spirit, and a miracle-worker (Acts 13 :6-12). But, by and large, neither Luke nor Paul himself stresses Paul's prophetical character, though the idea was certainly present in the minds of both.There are several reasons for this, the chief of which we already know: the function of the prophet was replaced by that of the apostle-witness, a change of name which indicates a change in the structure of God's Church on earth. Prophets, named as such, remained in the Christian Church, and their function is not to be underestimated; but the name was acquiring a more specialized significance, and its bearer was subordinate to the apostle. The latter had become the really important title, and was the right one to give Paul, who indeed, in face of suggestions about his inferiority, found it necessary to stress his gift of apostleship very much indeed.
With the title of apostle was intimately linked that of witness; St Paul himself attached great importance to it, to having seen the Lord and to having been appointed to proclaim what he had seen—'Am I not an apostle, have I not seen Our Lord Jesus Christ?' (1 Cor.9:1). For Luke this was the most significant title of all: Acts is the history of witnessing. It is with Paul's right to the title of witness, to be indeed the supreme witness, that Luke concerns himself. 'Rise up and stand upon thy feet', says the Lord to Paul on the Damascus road, 'for to this end have I appeared to thee, that I may make thee a minister and a witness of those things which thou hast seen and of those things wherein I will appear to thee' (26:16). Ananias echoed the Lord's words in 22:15. Paul has not merely seen the Lord, he has been officially constituted witness of what he has seen, and this places him at least on a level with those to whom the original command of witnessing was given. His work frequently receives the name of witness,and both its wide range and the unrivalled sufferings and persecutions which it brought on Paul made the title of witness one peculiarly his own.
By his vision on the Damascus road and instant conversion, then, St Paul received the dual character of apostle and witness.Paul himself stressed his right to the first title, Luke to the second. If St Luke does not give Paul the name of apostle (apart from 14:4 and 13) it was perhaps so as to distinguish him clearly from the Twelve; it was certainly not to minimize the importance of this vessel of election. For him the title of witness was the most important, and its prophetical character brought Paul as close as was possible to Jesus the prophet, closer than if Paul had been given the now subsidiary title of prophet. In Luke's eyes Paul was witness because he had seen Christ, witness because he had fulfilled the Lord's command of witnessing throughout the whole world, witness because of his sufferings and trials before kings and governors. If in ecclesiastical tradition St Paul has received the astonishing title of 'The Apostle', for St Luke he was, quite simply, 'The Witness'.