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   Chapter 16 THAT THE GOSPELS ARE GENUINE FROM THE EVIDENCE OF THE ACTS.

The Truth of Christianity By William Harry Turton Characters: 21033

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Importance of the Acts, as it is by the writer of the Third Gospel.

(A.) Its Accuracy.

Three examples of this:

(1.) The titles of different rulers.

(2.) The riot at Ephesus.

(3.) The agreement with St. Paul's Epistles.

(B.) Its Authorship.

The writer was a companion of St. Paul, and a medical man; so probably St. Luke.

(C.) Its Date.

There are strong reasons for fixing this at the close of St. Paul's imprisonment at Rome, about A.D. 60; and this points to an earlier date for the first three Gospels.

We have next to consider an argument of great importance derived from the Acts of the Apostles. This book is universally admitted to be by the same writer as the Third Gospel, as is indeed obvious from the manner in which both are addressed to Theophilus, from the former treatise being mentioned in the opening verse of the Acts, and from the perfect agreement in style and language. Hence arguments for or against the antiquity of the Acts affect the Third Gospel also, and therefore, to some extent, the First and Second as well. So we will consider first its accuracy, then its authorship, and lastly its date.

(A.) Its Accuracy.

Now, this book, unlike the Gospels, deals with a large number of public men and places, many of which are well known from secular history, while inscriptions referring to others have been recently discovered. It is thus liable to be detected at every step if inaccurate; yet, with the doubtful exception of the date of the rebellion of Theudas, and some details as to the death of Herod Agrippa, no error can be discovered. As this is practically undisputed, we need not discuss the evidence in detail, but will give three examples.

(1.) The titles of different rulers.

We will commence with the titles given to different rulers. As is well known, the Roman provinces were of two kinds, some belonging to the Emperor, and some to the Senate. The former were governed by propr?tors, or when less important by procurators, and the latter by proconsuls, though they frequently changed hands. Moreover, individual places had often special names for their rulers; yet in every case the writer of the Acts uses the proper title.

For example, the ruler at Cyprus is rightly called proconsul.[238] This used to be thought a mistake, but we now know that it is correct; for though Cyprus had previously belonged to the Emperor, it had been exchanged with the Senate for another province before the time in question. And an inscription[239] found there at Soli has the words in Greek, Paulus proconsul, probably the Sergius Paulus of the Acts. Cyprus, it may be added, subsequently changed hands again.

[238] Acts. 13. 7.

[239] Cyprus, by Cesnola (London, 1877), p. 425.

In the same way Gallio is correctly described as proconsul of Achaia.[240] For though this province belonged to the Emperor for some years before A.D. 44, and was independent after A.D. 66, it belonged to the Senate in the interval, when the writer referred to it. And an inscription, recently found at Delphi, shows that Gallio was proconsul in A.D. 52, which agrees well with the chronology of the Acts.[241] Equally correct is the title of governor or procurator, applied to both Felix and Festus.[242] While it is satisfactory to add that the title lord, addressed to the Emperor Nero, which used to be thought rather a difficulty, as it was not known to have been adopted till the time of Domitian (A.D. 81-96), has now been found in papyri of the age of Nero.[243]

[240] Acts 18. 12.

[241] Palestine Exploration Quarterly, July, 1913.

[242] Acts 19. 38; 23. 26; 26. 30.

[243] Acts 25. 26; Deissman, New Light on the New Testament, 1907, p. 80.

Again, Herod (i.e., Agrippa I.) shortly before his death, is styled king.[244] Now we learn from other sources that he had this title for the last three years of his government (A.D. 41-44), though there had been no king in Jud?a for the previous thirty years, nor for many centuries afterwards.

[244] Acts 12. 1; Josephus, Antiq., xviii. 6, xix. 5.

Moreover, his son is also called King Agrippa, though it is implied that he was not king of Jud?a, which was governed by Festus, but of some other province. Yet, strange to say, he seems to have held some official position in regard to the Jews, since Festus laid Paul's case before him, as if he were in some way entitled to hear it.[245] And all this is quite correct; for Agrippa, though King of Chalcis, and not Jud?a, was yet (being a Jew) entrusted by the Emperor with the management of the Jewish Temple and Treasury, and the choice of the High Priests, so he was a good deal mixed up in Jewish affairs.[246] And this, though only a trifle, is interesting; because a late writer, who had taken the trouble to study the subject, and find out the position Agrippa occupied, is not likely to have shown his knowledge in such a casual way. Scarcely anyone notices it. And equally correct is the remarkable fact that his sister Bernice used to act with him on public occasions.[247]

[245] Acts 25. 13, 14.

[246] Josephus, Antiq., xx., 1, 8, 9.

[247] Acts 25. 23; Josephus, Wars, ii. 16; Life, xi.

Again at Malta we read of the chief-man Publius; the accuracy of which title (for it is a title, and does not mean merely the most important man) is also proved by inscriptions, though as far as we know it was peculiar to that island.[248] At Thessalonica, on the other hand, the magistrates have the curious title of politarchs, translated 'rulers of the city.'[249] This name does not occur in any classical author in this form, so the writer of the Acts used to be accused of a blunder here. His critics were unaware that an old arch was standing all the time at this very place, the modern Salonica, with an inscription containing this very word, saying it was built when certain men were the politarchs. The arch was destroyed in 1876, but the stone containing the inscription was preserved, and is now in the British Museum.[250] And since then other inscriptions have been found, showing that the term was in use all through the first century.

[248] Acts 28. 7; Boeckh's Corp. Ins. Lat. X., No. 7495; Corp. Ins. Gr., No. 5754.

[249] Acts 17. 6.

[250] In the Central Hall, near the Library.

Nor is this accuracy confined to well-known places on the coast; it extends wherever the narrative extends, even to the interior of Asia Minor. For though the rulers there are not mentioned, the writer was evidently well acquainted with the places he refers to. Take Lystra, for instance.[251] According to the writer, it was a city of Lycaonia, though the adjacent town of Iconium was not, and this has been recently proved to be correct. And it is interesting, because many classical authors wrongly assign Iconium to Lycaonia; while Lystra, though belonging to that province in the first century, was separated from it early in the second; so a late writer, or one ignorant of the locality, might easily have made a mistake in either case. And an inscription found near Lystra, in 1909, shows that the two gods, Jupiter and Mercury (i.e., Zeus and Hermes) were commonly associated together by the inhabitants, as they are represented to be in the Acts.

[251] Acts 14. 1-12; Ramsay, Bearing of Recent Discovery on New Testament, 1915, pp. 48-63.

(2.) The riot at Ephesus.

As a second example we will take the account of the riot at Ephesus. All the allusions here to the worship of Diana, including her image believed to have fallen from heaven (perhaps a meteorite roughly cut into shape), her magnificent shrine, the small silver models of this, her widespread worship, and the fanatical devotion of her worshippers, are all in strict agreement with what we know from other sources.

Moreover, inscriptions discovered there have confirmed the narrative to a remarkable extent. They have shown that the theatre was the recognised place of public meeting; that there were certain officers (who presided at the games, etc.) called asiarchs; that another well-known Ephesian officer was called the town-clerk; that Ephesus had the curious designation of temple-keeper of Diana (long thought to be a difficulty); that temple-robbing and blasphemy were both crimes which were specially recognised by the Ephesian laws; and that the term regular assembly was a technical one in use at Ephesus.[252] The reference to the town-clerk is particularly interesting, because what is recorded of him is said to agree with the duties of the town-clerk at Ephesus, though not with those of the same official elsewhere.[253] All this minute accuracy is hard to explain unless the narrative came from one who was present during the riot, and recorded what he actually saw and heard.

[252] Comp. Acts 19. 29-39; with inscriptions found in the Great Theatre. Wood's Discoveries at Ephesus, 1877, pp. 43, 47, 53, 51, 15, 39.

[253] Harnack, The Acts of the Apostles, translated by Wilkinson, 1909, p. 63.

(3.) The agreement with St. Paul's Epistles.

Our third example shall be of a different kind. It is that if we compare the biography of St. Paul given in the Acts with the letters of that Apostle, many of them written to the very Churches and persons described there, we shall find numerous undesigned agreements between them. And these, as before explained (Chapter X.) form a strong argument in favour of the accuracy of both. Take, for instance, the Epistle to the Romans. Though not dated, it was evidently written at the close of St. Paul's second visit to Greece; and therefore, if mentioned in the Acts, it would come in at Chapter 20. 3. And the following are two, out of the numerous points of agreement.

The first is St. Paul's saying that he was going to Jerusalem, with alms from Macedonia and Achaia for the poor in that city. Now in the Acts it is stated that St. Paul had just passed through these provinces, and was on his way to Jerusalem, though there is no mention about the alms there. But it happens to be alluded to some chapters later, without, however, mentioning then where the alms came from.[254] The agreement is complete though it is certainly not designed.

[254] Rom. 15. 25, 26; Acts 19. 21; 24. 17.

The other refers to St. Paul's travels, which he says extended from Jerusalem as far as Illyricum. Now Illyricum is not once mentioned in the Acts; so there can be no intentional agreement here. And yet there is agreement. For we learn from various places that St. Paul had

gone from Jerusalem all through what we now call Asia Minor, and just before the date of this Epistle had passed through Macedonia, which was his limit in this direction. And as this was the next province to Illyricum, it exactly agrees with the Epistle.[255]

[255] Rom. 15. 19; Acts 20. 2.

We may now sum up the evidence as to the accuracy of the Acts. The above instances are only specimens of many which might be given. The writer knew about Jerusalem and Athens just as well as about Ephesus. While his account of St. Paul's voyage from C?sarea to Italy, including as it does, references to a number of places; to the climate, and prevailing winds of the Mediterranean; and to the phrases and customs of seamen, is so accurate, that critics of all schools have admitted that he is describing a voyage he had actually made. In short, the Book of the Acts is full of correct details throughout, and it is hard to believe that anyone but a contemporary could have written it.

(B.) Its Authorship.

Now if we admit the general accuracy of the book, there is little difficulty in deciding on its authorship. As is well known, certain portions of it (describing some of St. Paul's travels, including his voyage to Italy) are written in the first person plural, and are commonly called the "We" sections.[256] This shows that the writer was a companion of St. Paul at that time; and then the great similarity in language, between these sections and the rest of the book, shows that they had the same author. For they are both written in the same style, and they both contain over forty important words and expressions, which do not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, except in the Third Gospel. This is indeed so striking that it practically settles the point.[257]

[256] Acts 16. 9-40; 20. 5-21. 18; 27. 1-28. 16.

[257] Harnack, Luke the Physician, translated by Wilkinson, 1907, p. 53.

But there are also slight historical connections between the two portions. For example, in the earlier chapters some incidents are recorded, in which a certain Philip (one of the Seven) was concerned; and why should these have been selected? The writer was not present himself, and many far more important events must have occurred, of which he gives no account. But a casual verse in the We sections explains everything: the writer, we are told, stayed many days with Philip, and of course learnt these particulars then. And as it seems to have been his rule only to record what he knew for certain, he might well have left out other and more important events, of which he had not such accurate knowledge.[258] And the earlier reference, which ends with the apparently pointless remark that Philip came to C?sarea, without saying why or wherefore, is also explained, since this was the place where the writer afterwards met him. It is then practically certain that the whole book was written by one man, and that he was a companion of St. Paul in many of his travels.

[258] Acts 6. 5; 8. 5, 26, 40; 21. 10.; Luke 1. 3.

It is also practically certain that he was a medical man. The evidence for this is overwhelming, but as the fact is generally admitted, we need not discuss it at length. All we need say is that 201 places have been counted in the Acts, and 252 in the Third Gospel, where words and expressions occur which are specially, and many of them exclusively, used by Greek medical writers, and which, with few exceptions, do not occur elsewhere, in the New Testament.[259] For instance, we read of the many proofs of the Resurrection; the word translated proofs being frequently used by medical writers to express the infallible symptoms of a disease, as distinct from its mere signs, which may be doubtful, and they expressly give it this meaning. And we read of the restoration of all things; the word translated restoration being the regular medical term for a complete recovery of a man's body or limb.[260]

[259] Hobart's Medical Language of St. Luke (1882); some of his examples are rather doubtful.

[260] Acts 1. 3; 3. 21.

We conclude then, from the book itself, that the writer was an intimate friend of St. Paul and a medical man; and from one of St. Paul's Epistles we learn his name, Luke the beloved physician.[261] And this is confirmed by the fact that both this Epistle and that to Philemon, where St. Paul also names Luke as his companion, appear to have been written from Rome, when, as we know, the writer of the Acts was with him. And he seems to have remained with him to the last, only Luke is with me.[262] Yet this beloved and ever-faithful friend of St. Paul is not once named in the Acts, which would be most unlikely unless he were the author.

[261] Col. 4. 14; Philemon 24.

[262] 2 Tim. 4. 11.

(C.) Its Date.

The date of the book can also be fixed with tolerable certainty. It is implied in its abrupt ending. The last thing it narrates is St. Paul's living at Rome, two years before his expected trial (A.D. 58-60).[263] It says nothing about this trial, nor of St. Paul's release, nor of his subsequent travels, nor of his second trial and martyrdom (probably under Nero, A.D. 64); though had it been written after these events, it could hardly have failed to record them. This is especially the case as the martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul, which, according to early authorities, occurred together at Rome, would have formed such a suitable conclusion for a work chiefly concerned with their labours.

[263] Rackham's Commentary on the Acts, 1901, p. lxvii; many place it a year or two later, some a little earlier.

On the other hand, the abrupt ending of the book is at once accounted for if it was written at that time, about A.D. 60, by St. Luke, who did not relate anything further, because nothing further had then occurred. And it is obvious that these two years would not only have formed a most suitable period for its compilation, but that he is very likely to have sent it to his friend Theophilus just before the trial, perhaps somewhat hurriedly, not knowing whether it might not involve his own death, as well as that of St. Paul.

This would also account for the great prominence given to the events of the immediately preceding years in Chapters 20. to 28., which is quite unintelligible, unless the book was written soon afterwards. They were nothing like as important as the events of the next few years, about which the writer says nothing. And why should he go through the earlier stages of St. Paul's arrest and trial, so carefully, step by step, from Lysias to Felix, from Felix to Festus, and then to Agrippa, and on to Rome; and then when he comes to the crisis, and the Apostle is about to appear before C?sar, suddenly break off, without giving a hint as to which way it was decided? Everyone must feel how tantalising it is; and how unlikely he is to have stopped here, if he could have gone on.

This abrupt ending, then, is the great argument for dating the book about A.D. 60; but it is supported by several others. In the first place, the journey to Rome itself, especially the shipwreck, is described with such minute and graphic details, that it seems likely to have been written down very soon afterwards, probably in that city.

Secondly, the Roman judges and officials are always represented as treating the Christians with fairness, and even kindness; and the writer leaves St. Paul appealing to C?sar, with every hope of a favourable verdict. There is no sign of bitterness or ill-feeling anywhere. And all this would have been most unlikely after the great persecution in A.D. 64; when Christians regarded Rome with the utmost horror.[264] Compare the somewhat similar case of the Indian Mutiny. Can we imagine an Englishman in India writing soon after the Mutiny a history, say of Cawnpore, up to 1854, and then closing it, without ever letting a hint fall that he was aware of the terrible tragedy which happened in 1857, or showing the slightest ill-feeling towards its perpetrators? The only reasonable conclusion would be that such a history must have been written before the Mutiny. In the same way the Acts must have been written before Nero's great persecution.

[264] E.g., Rev. 17. 6.

Thirdly, the same sort of argument is afforded by the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Had the book been written after this, it is strange that the writer should seem to be entirely unaware of it; more especially as it had so close a bearing on the events described in the Acts, such as the Jewish law not being binding on Gentile Christians. And it is the more significant, because he records the prophecy of the event in his Gospel,[265] but nowhere hints that the prophecy had been fulfilled.

[265] Luke 19. 43.

Lastly, an early date is implied by the passage, where St. Paul tells his friends near Ephesus, that they would not see him again. It was quite natural for him to have said so at the time, as his feelings were very despondent; but no one, writing many years later, would have recorded it without comment; since it is almost certain that St. Paul, after his release from Rome, did revisit Ephesus.[266]

[266] Acts 20. 25, 38; 2 Tim. 4. 20.

On the whole, then, there is very strong evidence in favour of the Acts of the Apostles having been written by St. Luke about A.D. 60; and this of course proves an earlier date for St. Luke's Gospel. And this again proves a still earlier one for St. Mark's Gospel, which is now generally admitted to have been written before St. Luke's; and probably for St. Matthew's as well. The evidence of the Acts, then, while confirming our previous conclusion that the first three Gospels were certainly written before A.D. 70, enables us to add with some confidence that they were also written before A.D. 60. And, it may be added, Prof. Harnack, who long maintained the opposite view, has at last accepted this early date for all these Gospels.[267] The book has of course no direct bearing on the date of St. John's Gospel.

[267] Date of Acts, and Synoptic Gospels, translated by Wilkinson, 1911, pp. 99, 133, 134. Some writers would place them still earlier. Thus Canon Birks, dates them all between A.D. 42-51, and he gives strong reasons for thinking that St. Luke, and his Gospel, are referred to in 2 Cor. 8. 18. (Hor? Evangelic?, 1892, edit., pp. 259, 281, 293); and Archdeacon Allen places the second Gospel, about A.D. 44, and the first about A.D. 50. (Introduction to the Books of the New Testament, 1913, p. 13.)

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