THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH - VOLUME 1 : by Philip Carrington, Archbishop of Quebec. Published by the syndics of the Cambridge University Press, 1957. Katapi edition by Paul Ingram, 2013.


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|48 Map 1: PALESTINE

MAP1: Palestine

(1) Jerusalem and Mount Zion, the old capital city of David, and the site of the Temple. Here Jesus was crucified. Here a migration from Galilee founded the first church under the twelve apostles.
(2) Samaria, north from Jerusalem, a Greek city founded by Alexander. Here Philip,' the deacon', fled after the martyrdom of Stephen. Here Simon Magus, traditionally a disciple of John the Baptist, developed his mystery cult in competition with Peter and the apostles.
(3) South of Samaria, the old sites of Shechem and Mount Gerizim, older by far in Jewish history than Jerusalem. The Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim competed with the Jewish Temple on Mount Zion.
(4-6) Philip also evangelized the sea-coast towns, passing south along the road that led to Gaza. Peter found a church at Lydda (4) and another at Joppa (Jaffa) (5). After the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 rabbinic academies flourished in these towns, the most authoritative being the one at Jamnia (6).
(7) It was a day's journey from Jerusalem to Joppa, and a second day from Joppa to Caesarea, the seat of the procurator or Roman governor, who ruled over Samaria and Judaea. Here Peter founded a church in the house of the Roman officer Cornelius. Here Philip and his family settled. Paul and Luke came to know it well.
(8-13) The Acts speaks of the church in Judaea, Samaria, and Galilee, as enjoying peace, and Peter as travelling about in all parts. It is not specifically said that he visited Galilee; but it is natural to suppose that his own country was included in his peregrinations. Herod Antipas was still the tetrarch of Galilee. His principal cities were Seppharis (8) and Tiberias (9). Other well-known places in Galilee were: (10) Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus; (11) Capernaum, the centre of his preaching and church organization; (12) Bethsaida, the town from which Peter and Andrew had come to take up fishing in Capernaum; Philip also came from Bethsaida; (13) Ptolemais (Acre), the seaport of Galilee.
(14) Decapolis, the ' Ten Cities' was the name given to the country east of the Sea of Galilee. It was in the tetrarchy of Philip the brother of Antipas. The 'Ten Cities' were mainly non-Jewish.
(15) South of the Sea of Galilee, on the eastern side of the Jordan, was Pella, a Greek city, to which the Christians from Jerusalem fled for refuge during the siege of 66 to 70. Here they established a church-in-exile under the leadership of members of the family of Jesus.
(16) Machaerus, a fortress belonging to Herod Antipas, in which he imprisoned John the Baptist, and (17) Masada, another Herodian fortress.


The existence of a Hellenistic community in Jerusalem, and a Greek-speaking synagogue for Jews from overseas, is no surprise for those who have considered the available evidence. It comes as a shock only to those who think of the Jews in Palestine as a unilingual minority of little political importance, cut off from the civilization of the day, and shut up within a backward and racially pure Judaism. When Pilate wrote out the inscription which was to be placed over the head of Jesus on the cross, he did it in three languages; Aramaic for such native Jews as knew no other tongue, Latin for the soldiers and officials, and Greek for all those who used the universal language of the day. A few years ago R. Weill discovered in the ruins of Ophel or Mount Zion, the part of the old city which lay south of the Temple, the remains of a synagogue of our period, and a stone which bears the following inscription in Greek:

Theodotus Insrciption Theodotus, son of Vettenus, priest and synagogue-ruler, son of a synagogue-ruler, grandson of a synagogue-ruler, built the synagogue for the reading of the Law and for the teaching of the commandments; furthermore the guest-house and the rooms and the water-installation for the lodging of needy strangers; the foundation had been laid by his father and the elders and Simonides.

This was quite possibly the actual synagogue in which Stephen preached. There is also a burial inscription in which the Greek name Theodotion, in Aramaic characters, is followed by the Greek word didaskalos (teacher) in Greek characters. It is interesting, too, that the name of Jesus in a recently discovered funerary inscription (prior to A.D. 70) is in Greek characters.

|50 We learn from Josephus indeed that 'among us they do not welcome those who learn the language of many nations, and adorn their speeches with polished phrases, because this accomplishment was common to various sorts of free men, and even to those who desired it among slaves'. The training in elaborate Greek was available, therefore, though it was despised in the Pharisaic or priestly circles in which Josephus grew up. It should not be considered impossible, therefore, or unnatural, that men like Simon Peter or James the brother of the Lord, should be able to speak and write Greek, or command the services of those who were proficient in it, or even make use of a Greek Bible. Jerusalem was a city with cosmopolitan connexions. It was the centre of a world-wide dispersion, and the sanhedrin received taxes from every synagogue in the empire or out of it. It could not have carried on its ordinary business or government for a day without the use of the universal language.

Among the leading Christians in the holy city, Barnabas came from Cyprus and Paul from Cilicia, and both were bilingual. The 'speech' of Stephen shows points of contact with the Alexandrian Philo and with the tradition of the Samaritans. The Twelve came from ' Galilee of the Gentiles', where important Greek cities were located, and Greek influence was strong. The family of Jesus had connexions with Egypt, according to Matthew and the tradition in the Mishnah. Mark is a Roman name; Clopas, the uncle of Jesus, seems also to have been known as Cleopas, which is a man's name corresponding with that of Cleopatra; and Mark Antony and Cleopatra had once played a part in Jewish politics. The seven deacons all had Greek names, and one of them was a convert from paganism.

We must assume, therefore, that by sheer force of circumstances, the earliest preaching and teaching went on simultaneously in Aramaic and Greek. This is a point which deprives the literary research into hypothetical Aramaic originals of some of its value. The ' Aramaisms' of some New Testament texts may be the Aramaisms of some popular Palestinian Greek such as must have existed on certain levels of culture in a bilingual society. Only where retranslation into Aramaic provides an explanation for some incomprehensible phrase, can we begin to be sure that we are dealing with a later translation from an Aramaic document; and the experts are often divided on these points.


It is considered unlikely that the earliest forms of preaching and teaching were literary in the strict sense of the word. The indications are that the oldest forms were delivered orally in accordance with the custom of the rabbinic schools. Jesus had adopted the style and methods of the rabbis. He was saluted as a rabbi, even by his enemies. Indeed, the application of this title to Jesus is the first clear historical instance of this form of address. We may take it for granted, therefore, that his disciples continued to operate his teaching in oral form and in Aramaic; but it would be necessary to have Greek translations at once.

Other forms, which originated orally, were the 'kerugmata', or proclamations of the risen Jesus as Lord, or Anointed, or Child of God, or Prince of Life. The Aramaic quality in the kerugmata of Peter is very evident, so much so that many scholars think they may safely be regarded as translations.

These primitive Christian traditions are inseparable from the Jewish liturgical tradition. They cannot be understood apart from the Law, the Prophets, the psalms, the services of the Temple and synagogue, and so forth. It would appear that, so far as all these things went, the sect of the Nazareans was unimpeachably orthodox; but they had received from their master, within his household, a faith in God, and a way of living, and a liberating Spirit, which must have transformed the old liturgical order; for the prayers and the blessings and the thanksgivings and the sacraments would be 'all in the name of the Lord Jesus', and the Spirit would give them a certain largeness and freedom of utterance. Indeed the Jewish liturgical prayers themselves were not altogether fixed at this period.

Those scholars who talk about the church of this period as simply another Jewish sect, with the added doctrine that Jesus of Nazareth was the (Jewish) Messiah who was to come shortly in glory, forget the creative factor which Jesus himself contributed. His appearance on earth, his creative personality and teaching, his death and Resurrection, and his gift to the saints of the Holy Spirit, were acts of Almighty God in their midst, which were bound to outshine and transform and even supersede the old revelation of God.


There was a Nazarean scholarship which was at work on the text of the Law, the Prophets, and the psalms, examining them from this point of view. In the defence and confirmation of the gospel, and above all in controversy with other Jews, it was necessary to meet the opposition of the scribes with apt quotations from Holy Writ, and even to develop a new interpretation of it. Luke insists that the new insight into the old Bible was one of the greatest gifts of the risen Jesus to his church.

There were three theological problems with which they had to grapple in order to win their battle of wits. First they had to show that Jesus was the promised Messiah; secondly they had to show that it had been indicated in the scriptures that this Messiah was destined to die, and to rise from the dead; and thirdly they had to explain how it came about that the chosen people had been so blind as to reject their heavenly leader when he came to them. According to the Gospels, Jesus had anticipated these points to some extent; but the scriptures were now searched for new texts, and at some early date collections of these were made for the use of teachers and evangelists. A theory has been advanced that the first book to be produced in the early church was a transcript of these texts. This theory seems to be too precise, but such collections of prophetic extracts were made very soon, and we shall allude to them as the Book or Books of Testimonies, not of course accepting thereby any particular theory of their character or contents. We prefer indeed to think of a school of oral study and a variety of partial transcripts.

This early Christian work on the Old Testament was of a very different character from the work of modern scholars; but it grasped the important principle that, while on the one hand there was a body of law and ritual in Israel which had attained a fixed and static form, there was also a forward-looking tradition in the canonical prophets, which could not find complete satisfaction therein, and dreamed of future acts and revelations of God that would transform the older Judaism into a religion of the spirit. On the other hand, the work on the Testimonies bears witness that there was no thought of founding a new religion apart from Judaism.


It is a favourite thesis of the literary critics that the various 'speeches' which we find in the Acts were composed by the author, and put into the mouths of his characters, with the object of clarifying their outlook and motives. This was a regular element in the literary technique of the Greek historians, and took the place of those analyses of purposes and policies which modern historians make on their own account and give as their own contributions to the history. Josephus, the Jewish historian, adopted this literary convention, and it would not be very astonishing if Luke had done the same; but the hypothesis is not perfectly satisfactory. The so-called speeches are of such different types. The kerugmata of Peter, for instance, do not look a bit as if they were freely composed by Luke; they look as if he found them in the sources which he used; they would appear to be Palestinian in origin, and Aramaic in character. The speech of Stephen, on the other hand, seems too long and elaborate to have been delivered on the spur of the moment at a trial which seems to have been hasty and irregular; indeed, it has been suggested that it was no trial at all, but simply an act of violence by the crowd, which was connived at by the authorities. Of course it is astonishing what an accomplished controversialist can do under extreme pressure; but it looks rather as if it were a summary of Stephen's theology which had been combined with the Acts of his martyrdom in order to clarify the causes for which the martyr gave his life.

It is a very distinctive piece of work, containing a highly original theology, which Luke obviously regarded as important. It dealt with the Old Testament from a novel point of view. The people of Israel, so far from being specially receptive of the truth, had always been rebellious and antagonistic to it; they had resisted all the messengers and ordinances of God, beginning with Moses himself. The Holy Land, which they regarded as sacred above all others, had not been the scene of his greatest revelations; he had revealed himself to the patriarchs in Syria and Egypt and Arabia. A simple quotation from Isaiah disposed of the great claims made for the Temple: 'Heaven is my throne; earth is my footstool; where is the house ye will build unto me? For all these things hath mine hand made, saith the Lord.'

This powerful theology shows that there was dynamite in the new sect. It was by no means a group of pious observants with a private |54 devotional tradition. A leading spokesman was capable of visualizing a larger Judaism on a grander scale than had yet been achieved, though the ancient prophets of the race had suggested it; a Judaism which was not dependent upon temples or sacrifices or holy places.


The sudden persecution of Greek-speaking Christians in Jerusalem scattered them far and wide; and the loss of these men may be one of the causes which led to the development of a more conservative and legalistic form of Christianity in the city. It certainly served to spread abroad the more liberal or radical type of Jewish Christianity. Philip, who was next to Stephen on the list of the Seven, fled to Samaria, where he preached with marked success. The city of Samaria was a Greek city which had been founded by Alexander and restored by Herod the Great; the people of the little country were mixed in nationality and hospitable to foreign cults; those who claimed to be Israelites differed from the Jews of Judaea and Galilee mainly in their refusal to accept Jerusalem as the central sanctuary spoken of in the Law of Moses. This opinion made it impossible for them to accept the writings of the prophets. Their scriptures consisted of the five books of Moses, together with the book of Joshua, his stalwart successor, who had occupied the part of the country they lived in long before the southern Israelites, under David, had taken possession of Jerusalem. Their temple was situated on Mount Gerizim near to the ancient city of Shechem, where Abraham had erected his first altar. Their priesthood claimed to possess legitimate Zadokite descent. Their sacred rites have continued there uninterruptedly down to modern times.

Many Samaritans believed and were baptized, Samaritans of Israelite descent, we may suppose. It was within the competence of Philip to administer this sacrament; but it was felt that his converts had not received the Holy Spirit which was the mark of the new Christian's 'justification' or acceptance by God. The news of conversions in Samaria was received with joy in Jerusalem, where the apostles had remained, untouched apparently by the persecution which had broken upon the Hellenists. They sent Peter and John to Samaria, who assembled the newly baptized, prayed for them, and laid their hands upon them, after which they too received the Holy Spirit. This interesting |55 narrative is our first record of the apostles being sent out from Jerusalem on evangelistic work, and it is also our first record of the laying-on of hands with prayer as the sacramental completion of baptism, and the mode by which the new believers received the Holy Spirit. « Naturally there are other explanations of this apostolic action. See, for instance, The Apostolic Age by G. B. Caird (1955), pp- 59 ff. It also introduces the enigmatic and sinister figure of Simon Magus, who offered the apostles money in return for the right or power of conferring the Holy Spirit in this way.


The ' magus' was a well-known figure in the ancient world, the religious adventurer. The original magus was a priest of Median origin, who was regarded as having the power of reading the stars and divining the future. The word was soon applied to any enchanter or magician. It suggested some acquaintance with astrology and occult lore. The man who practised these arts did not hesitate to attribute his marvels to the assistance of unseen spirits of a higher order than man; and Simon claimed that such a power was embodied in himself,' the power of God which is called great', as Luke said.

Simon had a long and successful career. His triumph in Samaria was remarkably complete. Justin Martyr, who was born there about sixty years later, says that almost all the Samaritans in his time believed in him. He adds that he paid a visit to Rome in the reign of Claudius, and dazzled the metropolis by his displays of the magic art. He became a great figure in the Christian literature and myth of the second century, and was regarded as the father of all the gnostic heresies. He must have been a man of enormous force of character, and we see him now at the beginning of his career. The story of his visit to Rome has been doubted by modern historians, but the arrival there of Simon, or some form of Simonianism, would explain why Luke thought it necessary to devote so much space to him in the Acts.

It has been observed that many of the stories in the first part of the Acts have assumed the character of popular tales, and Luke loves to tell them in this spirit. It is obvious that he glorifies the apostles and evangelists; he enjoys the element of the supernatural; and he tends to idealize the early church. He does this simply and innocently, |56 however, and the historical value of his sources is proved by their almost unconscious admissions. In this case the narrative admits that Simon was at one time a believer, if not a colleague. (Later legend makes him a disciple of John the Baptist.) Peter rebukes him because he offers money in order to buy his way into the apostolate. This recalls the rebuke of Ananias, who had attempted to deceive Peter in the matter of a money offering. In that case the rebuke had gone home; Ananias died. In the case of Simon Magus nothing happened; there is a perfunctory submission by Simon, but the story is robbed of its dramatic conclusion. Strictly speaking it has no end. Of the two Simons it might be said, 'And so we measured swords – and parted.' This is history, not fable, even though it may be told after the manner of the popular tale.


We are entering now upon the first of three sequences of narratives in the Acts, each of which comes to a close at Caesarea. Shorter stories are threaded together to form these sequences, but each sequence is a unity. There is good reason for supposing that they took form in Caesarea, and that the author of Acts obtained them there.

They are tales which have been told many times, and improved in the telling; for evangelism thrives on 'human interest' anecdotes which illustrate its own spiritual power and effectiveness. It was useless to bring the gospel in word only, St Paul said; it had to come in power and in the Holy Spirit and in much fulfilment. In the course of telling, the tales go through a process of adaptation. Minor detail which seems to be superfluous falls away; the wonder or the beauty or the pathos is heightened; there can be exaggeration even; but the story retains its spiritual power and dramatic effect. From the evangelical point of view, its essential truth may be intensified; for all great art works its miracles by the process of elimination, selection, and emphasis.

These stories are distinctly less Judaistic than the Jerusalem stories, and they enable us to see the nature of the evangelistic mission which established itself in Caesarea. It was a movement of the Spirit which expressed itself in the marvellous; in visions, voices, conversions, healings, and so forth. It was still Jewish in the heart of it, but it was a Judaism which had come to terms with Syrian Hellenism. It delighted |57 in romantic narratives and visual images. At some dramatic moments it speaks of the Angel of the Lord in preference to the Spirit of the Lord; the words are practically interchangeable terms; but it is possible to visualize an Angel. « This poetic visualization of spiritual forces is found in the writings of the Roman prophet Hermas. Philip lives in perpetual dependence upon the invisible world. The Angel of the Lord bids him journey to the south; the Spirit commands him to leap into the chariot of the Ethiopian chancellor; he baptizes him at a moment's notice, and the Spirit whirls him away. He is'found'at Azotus. He preaches his way to Caesarea.

Caesarea was the most important city in Palestine after Jerusalem. It was the centre of the Roman government in the country, and Pontius Pilate was still residing there in the praetorium, when Philip first arrived. Jews and Greeks were supposed to have equal rights, but there was continual friction between the two races. Here the Hellenistic form of Jewish Christianity was able to develop more freely than it had done in Jerusalem. It did not yet address itself to Gentiles, but it was a borderline church where the original Jewish Christianity could develop along Hellenistic lines.

Philip was what modern scholars call a 'pneumatic'; a man guided and controlled by the Spirit. He was neither an apostle nor a prophet; but the spiritual ferment in which he lived was the kind of substance out of which Christian prophecy developed. It is an interesting point that it is not Philip, but his daughters, who are said to have prophesied. He came in time to be called an evangelist. In any case he was a great figure in the church, and became the head of a new missionary district, in a city of strategic importance.


The second sequence of Caesarean stories turns back to Jerusalem, and picks up the figure of Saul, a 'young man' who had taken an official part in the stoning of Stephen. He was a Hellenist from Tarsus in Cilicia, which was a home of Stoic philosophy, and he was proud of his city; but he was prouder still of his Israelite ancestry. He was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, he said, a Pharisee of the Pharisees; he was a devotee of the Law and of the traditions handed down from the fathers; and he tried to find what was mysteriously called 'justification' in the |58 precepts of that law. He speaks in veiled terms of a period in his life when he lived apart from the Law. He fled to the Law to find redemption from the power of his passions; but while it brought illumination and discipline, it only increased his sense of inward conflict; it dealt him a mortal blow.

He was enrolled in the classes of the wise Gamaliel, but can have had little in common with that master of moderation. He remained unhappy and frustrated; and he hated men like Stephen, because they were a threat to the system of Law which was now his sole spiritual hope, though it had brought him, as yet, no peace or satisfaction.

It was this violent and unhappy man who led the persecution in Jerusalem which followed the death of Stephen, a persecution which may have been directed only against those Christians who shared the radical views of the martyr. He broke into their homes, he put them in chains, he threw them into prison, he had them punished in the synagogues, he forced them to 'blaspheme the name'. Such are the details which we gather from various references in the Acts. It was all done in the cause of righteousness, but it only added to his sense of guilt.

The story of his conversion is told three times in the Acts, and there are some allusions to it in his own writings. Armed with letters of commendation from the high priest, the same Caiaphas who had handed over Jesus to the Romans, he set out for Damascus to take action against the devotees of 'the way' in that city. It was a journey of something under two hundred miles, and, in all probability, he took the road through Galilee, where Jesus had preached two or three years before. The road skirted the western side of the Lake and then ran east of Mount Hermon with its range of lofty peaks, on one of which, it seems probable, Peter had been given the vision of his master ' transfigured'. As Saul entered on the last stage of his journey, the conflicting passions from which he suffered reached a degree of intensity which was too much for him to endure. His conversion occurred; the only sudden conversion of this type in the New Testament records. He saw a light brighter than the noon-day sun; he was thrown to the earth blinded with its glory; he heard a voice which called him by his name; ' What are you persecuting me for?' it said.

Much has been written about St Paul's physical constitution. He was a man of immense nervous energy, and he suffered from some psychological or bodily malady which caused him profound humiliation; |59 but we do not know what it was. It has been possible perhaps to work out some of the psychological connexions by which this instantaneous release came to him; but even so, little has been explained. It may rightly be called a conversion, because it was the occasion on which every motive and conviction in his mind was radically reversed; but he spoke of it himself as a resurrection-appearance of the Son of God, similar to the appearances which had come to those who were apostles before him; and they in turn recognized this by admitting him to their company. It was always, for Paul, an intervention in his life by the risen Lord, who had thereby given him 'grace' and apostleship.

As a conversion, however, it abolished once and for all the moral and spiritual conflicts in his soul; the contention of Law and sin ceased to exist. His old life came to an end; the 'body of sin' (that is to say, his sinful self) was destroyed; a 'new man' was created in him. He was a creature full of grace and power. He was 'justified'; he was right with God; a 'righteousness' which he had never earned was conferred upon him.

There was an intellectual change, too. The system of Law which had been given to Israel through Moses ceased to be the dominant thought in his religious life; it retreated into the background before the new vision of the Son of God, who had been crucified for him, and raised from the dead by the power of God. This does not mean that the moral and religious law ceased to exist, or was no longer true or valid. It was still an expression of the will of God; but it was not his last word. His last word was Jesus Christ. A new revelation of God's righteousness had been given.


The gospel had reached Damascus and was sufficiently strong there to attract the attention of the authorities in Jerusalem. It is not very far from Galilee, and ranked as one of the cities of Decapolis, a territory in which Jesus had preached and ministered. Its condition at the time of Saul's conversion is uncertain. There had been a war between Aretas, king of Arabia, and Herod Antipas of Galilee, who had divorced the daughter of Aretas in order to marry Herodias. Herod had got the worst of it, and the Jews regarded his defeat as a judgement upon him for the murder of John the Baptist. The Roman legate in Antioch had come to his assistance, but we do not know whether peace had been |60 made or on what terms. Aretas appears to have had some interest in Damascus, since coins of his are found there.

The leading Christian in Damascus was a certain Ananias, who was a model of Hebrew piety. He debated in his prayers whether he should visit Saul or not, but was convinced by a dream that it was his mission to do so. He prayed with him and laid his hands upon him, after which he recovered his sight; he received baptism and began to preach in the synagogues. He went away into Arabia, but it is not known what he did there. What we do know is that when he got back to Damascus the local representative of Aretas was on the watch for him. He escaped from the city by being lowered over the wall in a basket. He arrived in Jerusalem again 'after three years', which means after two years in our idiom.

By working out the notes of time which Paul gives in Galatians, and comparing them with the indications which we find in the Gospels and the Acts, we arrive at the following chronology which may be regarded as approximately correct.

30. The Crucifixion and Resurrection.
32-33. Martyrdom of Stephen: conversion of St Paul.
35-36. St Paul returns to Jerusalem.

It is sometimes suggested that this gives too little time for all the developments which have taken place; but events move fast in a period of high spiritual tension.


In Jerusalem the brethren were scared of Paul, and unwilling to trust him, Luke says in the Acts; but Barnabas took him and introduced him to the apostles. Paul himself gives an account of the matter in Galatians ii, in which he does not mention Barnabas. He says that he went to Jerusalem to see Peter, and stayed only a fortnight; 'but I saw no other of the apostles except James the brother of the Lord'; an expression which does not necessarily imply in the Greek idiom that James ranked as an apostle. It would seem that the brother of the Lord had a spiritual position of great eminence which was not quite classified.

Paul says that he was unknown by face to the churches of Judaea; but Luke says that he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and |61 disputed with the Hellenists. These encounters probably took place in the synagogue.

Minor discrepancies between excellent sources are inevitable in all human evidence. They are a sign that we are dealing with independent witnesses. Luke seems to be writing out of his own knowledge here, rather than from a special source; Paul is quite capable of stating his case rather too absolutely; and in his Epistle to the Romans (xv. 19) he does regard his career as an evangelist as having begun in Jerusalem. However this may be, both writers agree that his witness was cut short, if indeed it was ever seriously begun. Luke says that there was a plot against his life, and that the brethren took him down to Caesarea, and sent him away on a mission to Tarsus; and in one of Paul's speeches, as recorded in Acts, there is a reference to a vision which he had in the Temple, which convinced him that his life's work would be among the Gentiles. This mission of Paul to the regions of Syria and Cilicia is confirmed in Galatians. The course of events is clearly established, and the narrative of the Acts has again returned to Caesarea.


The third sequence of Caesarean narratives begins with the statement that the whole church throughout Judaea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was 'built up', or as we would say, organized. It then speaks of Peter as passing round through all places. It is our first glimpse of him as a supervising and travelling apostle, and our only reference to the church in Galilee subsequent to the ministry of Jesus. However, it is natural to suppose that Peter did visit his native country from time to time; and though the Twelve are said to have taken up residence in Jerusalem, there is no need to suppose that they never left it on evangelistic journeys. Indeed, our view of the Twelve is rather dim subsequent to the events of the day of Pentecost, and they do not appear in the records any more as the Twelve. We constantly read of 'the apostles', but we cannot be sure that it does not refer to a larger body.

In the year 36 there was a disturbance in Samaria. A prophet arose who claimed that he knew where Moses had concealed the sacred vessels of the tabernacle on Mount Gerizim; he collected a considerable following, and Pilate sent soldiers from Caesarea who attacked them and |62 killed a number of them. The Samaritans were not without friends in Rome, however, and Pilate was recalled, arriving in Rome shortly after the death of the Emperor Tiberius on 16 March 37. This synchronism supplies us with the date of the event. Nothing whatever is known of the further history of Pilate.

Vitellius, the legate of Syria, who had intervened in the emergency, appointed a temporary procurator, Marcellus, who took Pilate's place, until the new procurator, Marullus, arrived. Vitellius, who was the father of the emperor of that name, visited Jerusalem for the Passover of 37, and won the good opinion of the Jews. He deposed Caiaphas, the high priest who had condemned Jesus, and appointed his brother-in-law Jonathan; but Jonathan did not last long; he was deposed and succeeded by his brother Theophilus, the administration remaining throughout in the same family. These changes removed from the scene two of the sinister figures of the gospel narrative, and may be responsible for the period of peace for the church to which Luke alludes. The travels of Peter may have occurred between 37 and 39.


Luke is making use of a source which tells of a missionary journey to the sea-coast during which Peter visited the towns of Lydda and Joppa, where healing miracles are recorded.

We would gather from the gospel record that Peter was no Pharisee. He appears to have been a pious Jew of a simple, old -fashioned type, who kept the Law as he understood it, even if he did not observe all the fasts, or practise the ablutions before meals. He had kept the food laws, however, and had never eaten anything which was common or unclean. His eyes were now to be opened. As he prayed and fasted on the flat roof of Simon the tanner at Joppa, in sight of the blue water of the Mediterranean, he passed into a trance and had a curious dream. 'A vessel', he said, 'like a great sheet', was let down from heaven by its four corners, full of living creatures of all kinds; and a voice said to him,' Get up, Peter, and kill and eat.' When Peter protested that he had never eaten anything common or unclean, the voice rebuked him, ' What God has cleansed', it said,' do not you make common or unclean' – a theology as radical as that of Stephen.

The dream had the vague and elusive quality which dreams have, |63 but its message of liberation and release was as clear as that which had come to Paul on the road to Damascus. No doubt it was the climax of great searchings of heart; and there were older declarations which seem to have contributed, in a rather confused way, to this revelation. When God created the world, he had said that it was all good. When Jesus was in Galilee, he had said that nothing which entered into a man could make him common or unclean. And yet the Law said that certain foods were common or unclean, and defiled a man if he ate them.

Peter woke, and while he was waiting to have a meal, he heard men knocking at the door. They were messengers from Cornelius, a Roman officer who had a house in Caesarea, a Gentile adherent of the synagogue. This man presented a new problem. The synagogues in the Gentile world had attracted many adherents of this kind, who accepted the piety and the moral commandments and the worship of the One God, but were never circumcised, and did not observe the outward forms of the Law. They were Gentiles still. They accepted Judaism, but they had not taken the step which made them Israelites in all respects. Cornelius was pious and devout; he fasted and prayed, he gave alms, he received visions. An angel had appeared to him and told him to send for Peter; but how could Peter accept such an invitation? It was contrary to every Jewish instinct, it was an irreligious act, to accept the hospitality of a Gentile, and eat and drink in his house; but Peter was caught between two visions, and he surrendered. The Spirit spoke in his ear and told him to go. God had taught him to call nothing common or unclean.

We have to make the best we can of these stories; for this was the atmosphere of primitive Christianity. Life was lived in accordance with impulses from another world. Indeed, the surprising thing would be if the records did not contain such stories.

Peter went to Cornelius in accordance with his dream, which had by now become a spiritual certainty in his mind; and when he saw the company of Gentiles all waiting for him in faith, he summed up the significance of the occasion in a sentence from the Hebrew scriptures which was filled now with a new significance,' Of a truth I see that God is no respecter of persons.'

He announced his doctrine of the absolute equality of all human beings in the sight of heaven. He uttered his third great 'kerugma', his declaration of the gospel for the Gentiles, without any quotations from |64 the Hebrew scripture, as it happens. So soon as this was done, there were manifest signs of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Without hesitation, he administered the sacrament of baptism; he accepted their hospitality; he ate and drank with them; a new church was born.

Such is the story of this very interesting document, which concludes the series connected with Caesarea. We have it, no doubt, in the form in which it was accepted in the Caesarean church, when Luke stayed there with Philip about twenty years later. The motive for its preservation there is obvious; it formed the credentials of the Gentile church in Caesarea. But it was a greater thing than this; it was a glimpse of a wider Judaism without distinctions of race or ritual purity.


Peter went back to Jerusalem without fully realizing, perhaps, all the consequences of his action. His mind was not like that of Paul; for Paul was able to visualize things rapidly in their relation to one another, and to create theologies and to express them in a dialectic which appealed to the mentality of the age. The mind of Peter worked more slowly. He wavered and shifted until he saw things plain; and then he was apt to see them in a vision, and act on them by impulse. In the long run, after hesitations and even mistakes, he was the rock which could not be shifted. When he was converted, the Lord had said, he would establish the brethren.

When he got to Jerusalem, he encountered criticism from a party which Luke describes as 'those of the circumcision'. These critics are not represented as objecting to the baptism of a Gentile, though the title given to them suggests that they were of the opinion that baptized Gentiles should be circumcised. What they objected to was Peter's going into a Gentile house, and eating and drinking with the uncir-cumcised and so making himself 'unclean'. He made his report, and the critics were silenced. They were silenced, but were they satisfied? Was his spiritual ascendancy weakened a little at this point?

It is no small merit of Luke's collection of narratives and 'speeches' that they enable us to follow, under the surface so to speak, the political trends and currents in the church. The Stephen stories showed us the emergence of a broad-minded left-wing group in the Jerusalem church, principally among the Hellenists, which may have advanced beyond the |65 position of the church as a whole. The Cornelius story enables us to see the emergence of a narrow-minded right-wing group among the stricter brethren. There was by no means a unity of policy and practice in the mother-church; in fact it would seem that the seeds of most of the later dissensions were to be found there already.

Luke does not allow these painful differences to come into full view. He wrote at a later date, it is thought, when some of the great men he dealt with had become martyrs; he revives no memories of old unhappy controversies; and yet, since his sources are good and his historical instinct is sound, we are able to infer a great deal, some of which can be confirmed when we have other sources to draw upon, such as the Epistle to the Galatians. In this instance we have no such help; but judging by the cases in which we have, we must surely infer that the episode of the baptism of Cornelius and his household caused a violent and far-reaching controversy.

We are in a position now to make a conjecture about the original form and purpose of the narrative which Luke has preserved for us, and told for the most part twice over. We are told that Peter made a report when he got back to Jerusalem, and what would such a report consist of, if not the record which we have been following? This suggestion explains the whole form and content of the sequence; the miracles at Lydda and Joppa which proved that the divine agency was working in this apostolic mission; the emphasis on Jewish piety with its hours of prayer, its fasting, its alms-deeds and so forth, which proved its orthodoxy; the visions which announced the new principle of action, and led the apostle irresistibly to the house of the pious Gentile; and finally the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which sealed the whole enterprise, and was actually compared by Peter with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem.

Such is the general pattern or outline of the kind of document which modern theology has labelled as a 'missionary journey'. There are others of the same sort in the Acts. But, whatever was its origin or purpose, such a document existed, and found its way into the hands of the author of Acts.
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