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An Exposition Of The Acts Of The Apostles

THE TITLE prefixed to this Treatise on “The Acts,” &c., is read differently in different versions and MSS.

In some, it is “Acts of Apostles;” in others, “The Acts of the Apostles;” in others, “The Acts of the Holy Apostles” with the addition, “written by Luke, the Evangelist.”

Owing to this diversity, Critics generally maintain, that the title, admittedly of very high antiquity, was not prefixed by the Sacred writer himself.

“Acts of Apostles”—πραξεις Αποστολων—without the definite article is supposed to be the earliest title. It accurately conveys the Subject of this Treatise, which contains a summary of the doings of the Chief among the Apostles, viz.: Peter and Paul.

The Title “The Acts of the Apostles” with the definite article, the, might be calculated to mislead, as conveying that this Treatise was a record, or memoir of the doings of the Apostolic body, which would be erroneous, as it alludes only on a very few occasions to the Apostles as a body. After that, they disappear from view.

Besides dwelling on the labours and discourses of Peter and Paul, it briefly refers, in a passing way, to James the Lesser, Bishop of Jerusalem, who, after Peter took the most prominent part in the deliberations of the Council of Jerusalem (c. 15); to James the Greater, put to death by Herod: to John the Evangelist; to Barnabas, who though not reckoned among “the twelve” was still regarded as an Apostle (c. 14:4).

There is an account also of the beautiful discourse of St. Stephen before the Jewish authorities, his martyrdom in consequence (c. 6), and of some other Evangelical labourers, who though not of the Apostolic body such as Philip the Deacon, &c., were successfully engaged in the propagation of the Gospel.

This Treatise is divided by some eminent Critics (Beelen with others) into two parts. The most prominent figure in the first part, which embraces the twelve first Chapters, is Peter, the head of the Apostolic College, whose eloquent addresses it summarizes, as well as his successful labours in the conversion of Jews and Gentiles, in pursuance of the exalted commission Divinely accorded him, of feeding, ruling and governing the universal Church, “lambs and sheep,” Pastors and people.

The second and larger portion is devoted to the discourses, labours, sufferings, perilous journeys of the Apostle of the Gentiles up to the second year of his first imprisonment at Rome which brings the Treatise to a conclusion.

WRITER OF

We have the most incontrovertible evidence both extrinsic and intrinsic in proof of the universally received opinion, that the writer of this Treatise on “The Acts,” &c., was St. Luke the Evangelist, who wrote the third Gospel. Hence, it seems to me a useless waste of time at this stage to dwell on the proofs of this universally admitted fact, which hardly anyone denies.

The Holy Council of Trent in its Decree on the inspired Scriptures (SS. IV.) speaking of the Acts as one of the Inspired Books, says—“Actus Apostolorum a Luca Evangelista Conscripti.”

For a full personal history of St. Luke, see Preface to his Gospel (Commentary on).

WHEN AND WHERE WRITTEN?

These are points hard to be determined with any degree of accuracy.

As it gives the History of St. Paul down to the second year of his first imprisonment at Rome about the year 61 or 62 of our Era, it is certain it was not written before the expiration of that period. Whether written immediately after that or at Rome at all is a subject of controversy. The opinion of St. Jerome on the subject (de Scriptoribus Eccles., c. 17), who maintains that it was written at Rome, is not shared in by the most eminent Critics.

Most likely, it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus (A.D. 70). If written after, it would not pass over so important an event, especially as it could point to the verification of our Lord’s threats and predictions, so graphically recorded in St. Luke’s own Gospel (c. 21) which we know to have been sadly realised. By some it is held that it was written in the interval between the destruction of Gaza and the siege of Jerusalem, which took place after Gaza had been utterly destroyed. This, however, is controverted, so that nothing definite can be advanced either in regard to time or place in this matter.

LANGUAGE OF

It is universally admitted that it was written in Greek of which St. Luke was such a perfect master. Hence the style is more polished and the narrative more in accordance with the Greek idiom than that employed by the other sacred writers of the New Testament. The few Hebrew idioms observable in the discourses of which the sacred writer gives a summary are owing to his having given the words as uttered by the several speakers themselves. Some of them spoke in the Hebrew or Aramaic language, and while the substance of their discourses is given in Greek, their peculiarities of idiom are in many instances retained.

CANONICITY AND INSPIRATION OF

The Canonicity or Divine authority of the Acts has never been questioned in the Church. Hence, it reckoned among the Proto-Canonical Books, as Eusebius testifies in his History (Lib. iii., 25). It has been placed in the several Catalogues of inspired Books from time to time sanctioned by the Church, and lastly it has been defined to be the Inspired Word of God by the General Council of Trent in the Decree, de Canonicis Scripturis, SS. IV. Only some few heretical sects questioned its Canonical authority, as it contained some teachings opposed to their peculiar Heretical Tenets. The Ebionites rejected it, for proclaiming the abolition of the Mosaic Law, which they maintain to be still in vigour—the Soverigns, for abolishing the distinction of food which they still uphold. The Manichees, for its teaching regarding the promise of the Holy Ghost, whom they maintained to be no other than the impious founder of their Heretical sect. But the views of these are held in no consideration whatever.

The inspired authority of this Book is now defined by the Church. Inspiration does not necessarily imply revelation, although, no doubt, God may sometimes be pleased to reveal certain things, which the inspired writer may not, humanly speaking, have ascertained. It, by no means, excludes the idea of an inspired writer’s employing all available human means to acquire beforehand an accurate knowledge of the several subjects he committed to writing. All we need hold, prescinding from verbal inspiration, is that he was moved by the Holy Ghost, to commit to writing what he knew, and that in the act of writing, he was preserved by the superintending influence of the same Holy Spirit from all error, and guided in the selection and arrangement of the several topics, with full liberty, at the same time to employ his own peculiar and natural style of writing. Hence, we find the same idea expressed differently by several sacred writers, and a peculiar style of narrative maintained by each throughout. Thus, we find St. Luke, so well versed in the Greek language, employing a more polished style, as well in his Gospel as in the Acts, than the other Evangelists. St. Paul, whose early education was of a high order, being brought up “at the feet of Gamaliel,” displays in his Epistles a lofty style of eloquence which the other inspired writers could not attain to.

SOURCES OF INFORMATION

Prescinding altogether from revelation and inspiration, and regarding the matter from a human point of view, St. Luke had the best means of acquiring knowledge on the several subjects recorded in the Acts. He was an eye witness of a greater part of them from the time he joined the Apostle at Troas (c. 16), whose constant and inseparable companion he was, with some slight interruptions, till the first imprisonment of the latter with which the Treatise concludes. No doubt, the several leading events and circumstances were well known to the early Christians, who zealously recorded and freely spoke of them. With them St. Luke freely conversed and might have learned all from them. Likely, he kept a Diary, and noted day by day the several events that occurred during his attendance on the Apostle which he could consult when writing the history of the Acts. Moreover, he had the best opportunity of learning from the Apostle himself personally the several facts and circumstances recorded in his narrative.

We can hardly doubt, that an account of the several orations of SS. Peter and Paul were committed to writing of which we have a summary left us by St. Luke.

The Apologetic defence of the Apostles by Gamaliel (v. 34, &c.) at the meeting which Paul, a zealous defender of the Law, most likely, attended, was given St. Luke by Paul who eagerly caught up every word that fell from the lips of Gamaliel, the master he revered.

The letter emanating from the Council of Jerusalem (c. 15) and that addressed by the Tribune Lycias to the Governor Felix were copies which St. Luke translated and recorded.

AFFECTING ELOQUENCE OF THE SEVERAL ORATIONS

In reading over the several orations contained in this Treatise of “The Acts,” &c., whether of St. Peter, of St. Paul, or St. Stephen, one cannot fail to be impressed with their lofty eloquence and truly Apostolic firmness and intrepidity. The judicious selection of topics and arguments so well suited to the circumstances in which they were delivered is truly marvellous, so that they may be proposed as models for imitation at all times. How different the tone and persuasive line of argument employed by St. Paul when, on several occasions addressing his Jewish co-religionists, for whom he had so ardent an affection, whom he was anxious to conciliate, whose prejudices he wished to soften down, from that employed by him in addressing the learned Pagans, for instance, in the Areopagus at Athens (c. 17), and in proclaiming as well there as at Lycaonia (c. 14) the fundamental truths of natural religion, which alone they could appreciate. How different his Apologetic defence before King Agrippa, and that before the Pagan Governors of the Province. We cannot too earnestly impress on all Christian teachers charged with guiding their people in the way of Salvation by preaching the Word, “in season and out of season,” to make the eloquent and affecting discourses of St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. Stephen, the subject of serious meditation, and follow them as models of imitation at all times, as far as possible. Hardly is there any part of the New Testament so interesting on several grounds, as the inspired History of the infant Church contained in this short Treatise on “The Acts of the Apostles.”

CHRONOLOGY

Perhaps the greatest difficulty to be encountered in the Exposition of this Treatise on the Acts is the knotty question of Chronology. In this connexion, it may be observed that the several eminent Critics who have applied themselves, with such laudable industry, to elucidate the several points connected with the chronological order and dates of events, have managed to differ materially from one another; so that nothing determinate has come of their labours.

We think it right to say, that however desirable an accurate System of Chronology may be—and what system can escape the carping criticism of the irreconcileable crew of unbelievers with whom the present world is deluged?—the adoption or rejection of any Table of Chronology does not materially affect the chief, or rather the only object we have in view, which is, to give a plain and accurate Exposition of the Sacred Text for the benefit of such as may think proper to peruse it, leaving writers on chronology to adjust their systems and settle their differences as best they can.

XJOHN, ARCHBISHOP OF TUAM.

ST. JARLATH’S, TUAM,

October 1, 1894.








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