Vol.1, Chapter XII (Cont’d) – Critical Review of the Johannean Problem


See the Liter. in § 40, and the history of the controversy by Holtzmann, in Bunsen’s Bibelwerk, VIII. 56 sqq.; Reuss, Gesch. der heil. Schriften N. T.’s (6th ed.), I. 248 sqq.; Godet, Com. (3d ed.), I. 32 sqq.; Holtzmann, Einleitung (2d ed.), 423 sqq.; Weiss, Einleitung (1886), 609 sqq.

The importance of the subject justifies a special Section on the opposition to the fourth Gospel, after we have presented our own view on the subject with constant reference to the recent objections.


The Problem Stated

The Johannean problem is the burning question of modern criticism on the soil of the New Testament. It arises from the difference between John and the Synoptists on the one hand, and the difference between the fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse on the other.

I. The Synoptic aspect of the problem includes the differences between the first three Evangelists and the fourth concerning the theatre and length of Christ’s ministry, the picture of Christ, the nature and extent of his discourses, and a number of minor details. It admits the following possibilities:

(1.) Both the Synoptists and John are historical, and represent only different aspects of the same person and work of Christ, supplementing and confirming each other in every essential point. This is the faith of the Church and the conviction of nearly all conservative critics and commentators.

(2.) The fourth Gospel is the work of John, and, owing to his intimacy with Christ, it is more accurate and reliable than the Synoptists, who contain some legendary embellishments and even errors, derived from oral tradition, and must be rectified by John. This is the view of Schleiermacher, Lücke, Bleek, Ewald, Meyer, Weiss, and a considerable number of liberal critics and exegetes who yet accept the substance of the whole gospel history as true, and Christ as the Lord and Saviour of the race. The difference between these scholars and the church tradition is not fundamental, and admits of adjustment.

(3.) The Synoptists represent (in the main) the Christ of history, the fourth Gospel the ideal Christ of faith and fiction. So Baur and the Tübingen school (Schwegler, Zeller, Köstlin, Hilgenfeld, Volkmar, Holtzmann, Hausrath, Schenkel, Mangold, Keim, Thoma), with their followers and sympathizers in France (Nicolas, d’Eichthal, Renan, Réville, Sabatier), Holland (Scholten and the Leyden school), and England (the anonymous author of “Supernatural Religion,” Sam. Davidson, Edwin A. Abbott). But these critics eliminate the miraculous even from the Synoptic Christ, at least as far as possible, and approach the fourth hypothesis.

(4.) The Synoptic and Johannean Gospels are alike fictitious, and resolve themselves into myths and legends or pious frauds. This is the position of the extreme left wing of modern criticism represented chiefly by Strauss. It is the legitimate result of the denial of the supernatural and miraculous, which is as inseparable from the Synoptic as it is from the Johannean Christ; but it is also subversive of all history and cannot be seriously maintained in the face of overwhelming facts and results. Hence there has been a considerable reaction among the radical critics in favor of a more historical position. Keim’s, “History of Jesus of Nazara” is a very great advance upon Strauss’s “Leben Jesu,” though equally critical and more learned, and meets the orthodox view half way on the ground of the Synoptic tradition, as represented in the Gospel of Matthew, which he dates back to a.d. 66.

II. The Apocalyptic aspect of the Johannean problem belongs properly to the consideration of the Apocalypse, but it has of late been inseparably interwoven with the Gospel question. It admits likewise of four distinct views:

(1.) The fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse are both from the pen of the apostle John, but separated by the nature of the subject, the condition of the writer, and an interval of at least twenty or thirty years, to account for the striking differences of temper and style. When he met Paul at Jerusalem, a.d. 50, he was one of the three “pillar-apostles” of Jewish Christianity (Gal_2:9), but probably less than forty years of age, remarkably silent with his reserved force, and sufficiently in sympathy with Paul to give him the right hand of fellowship; when he wrote the Apocalypse, between a.d. 68 and 70, he was not yet sixty, and when he wrote the Gospel he was over eighty years of age. Moreover, the differences between the two books are more than counterbalanced by an underlying harmony. This has been acknowledged even by the head of the Tübingen critics, who calls the fourth Gospel an Apocalypse spiritualized or a transfiguration of the Apocalypse.

(2.) John wrote the Gospel, but not the Apocalypse. Many critics of the moderate school are disposed to surrender the Apocalypse and to assign it to the somewhat doubtful and mysterious “Presbyter John,” a contemporary of the Apostle John. So Schleiermacher, Lücke, Bleek, Neander, Ewald, Düsterdieck, etc. If we are to choose between the two books, the Gospel has no doubt stronger claims upon our acceptance.

(3.) John wrote the Apocalypse, but for this very reason he cannot have written the fourth Gospel. So Baur, Renan, Davidson, Abbott, and nearly all the radical critics (except Keim).

(4.) The fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse are both spurious and the work of the Gnostic Cerinthus (as the Alogi held), or of some anonymous forger. This view is so preposterous and unsound that no critic of any reputation for learning and judgment dares to defend it.

There is a correspondence between the four possible attitudes on both aspects of the Johannean question, and the parties advocating them.

The result of the conflict will be the substantial triumph of the faith of the church which accepts, on new grounds of evidence, all the four Gospels as genuine and historical, and the Apocalypse and the fourth Gospel as the works of John.


The Assaults on the Fourth Gospel

Criticism has completely shifted its attitude on both parts of the problem. The change is very remarkable. When the first serious assault was made upon the genuineness of the fourth Gospel by the learned General Superintendent Bretschneider (in 1820), he was met with such overwhelming opposition, not only from evangelical divines like Olshausen and Tholuck, but also from Schleiermacher, Lücke, Credner, and Schott, that he honestly confessed his defeat a few years afterward (1824 and 1828). And when Dr. Strauss, in his Leben Jesu (1835), renewed the denial, a host of old and new defenders arose with such powerful arguments that he himself (as he confessed in the third edition of 1838) was shaken in his doubt, especially by the weight and candor of Neander, although he felt compelled, in self-defence, to reaffirm his doubt as essential to the mythical hypothesis (in the fourth edition, 1840, and afterward in his popular Leben Jesu, 1864).

But in the meantime his teacher, Dr. Baur, the coryphaeus of the Tübingen school, was preparing his heavy ammunition, and led the second, the boldest, the most vigorous and effective assault upon the Johannean fort (since 1844). He was followed in the main question, though with considerable modifications in detail, by a number of able and acute critics in Germany and other countries. He represented the fourth Gospel as a purely ideal work which grew out of the Gnostic, Montanistic, and paschal controversies after the middle of the second century, and adjusted the various elements of the Catholic faith with consummate skill and art. It was not intended to be a history, but a system of theology in the garb of history. This “tendency” hypothesis was virtually a death-blow to the mythical theory of Strauss, which excludes conscious design.

The third great assault inspired by Baur, yet with independent learning and judgment, was made by Dr. Keim (in his Geschichte Jesu von Nazara, 1867). He went beyond Baur in one point: he denied the whole tradition of John’s sojourn in Ephesus as a mistake of Irenaeus; he thus removed even the foundation for the defence of the Apocalypse as a Johannean production, and neutralized the force of the Tübingen assault derived from that book. On the other hand, he approached the traditional view by tracing the composition back from 170 (Baur) to the reign of Trajan, i.e., to within a few years after the death of the apostle. In his denial of the Ephesus tradition he met with little favor, but strong opposition from the Tübingen critics, who see the fatal bearing of this denial upon the genuineness of the Apocalypse. The effect of Keim’s movement therefore tended rather to divide and demoralize the besieging force.

Nevertheless the effect of these persistent attacks was so great that three eminent scholars, Hase of Jena (1876), Reuss of Strassburg, and Sabatier of Paris (1879), deserted from the camp of the defenders to the army of the besiegers. Renan, too, who had in the thirteenth edition of his Vie de Jesus (1867) defended the fourth Gospel at least in part, has now (since 1879, in his L’Église chrétienne) given it up entirely.


The Defence of the Fourth Gospel

The incisive criticism of Baur and his school compelled a thorough reinvestigation of the whole problem, and in this way has been of very great service to the cause of truth. We owe to it the ablest defences of the Johannean authorship of the fourth Gospel and the precious history which it represents. Prominent among these defenders against the latest attacks were Bleek, Lange, Ebrard, Thiersch, Schneider, Tischendorf, Riggenbach, Ewald, Steitz, Aberle, Meyer, Luthardt, Wieseler, Beyschlag, Weiss, among the Germans; Godet, Pressensé, Astié, among the French; Niermeyer, Van Oosterzee, Hofstede de Groot, among the Dutch; Alford, Milligan, Lightfoot, Westcott, Sanday, Plummer, among the English; Fisher, and Abbot among the Americans.

It is significant that the school of negative criticism has produced no learned commentary on John. All the recent commentators on the fourth Gospel (Lücke, Ewald, Lange, Hengstenberg, Luthardt, Meyer, Weiss, Alford, Wordsworth, Godet, Westcott, Milligan , Moulton, Plummer, etc.) favor its genuineness.


The Difficulties of the Anti-Johannean Theory

The prevailing theory of the negative critics is this: They accept the Synoptic Gospels, with the exception of the miracles, as genuine history, but for this very reason they reject John; and they accept the Apocalypse as the genuine work of the apostle John, who is represented by the Synoptists as a Son of Thunder, and by Paul (Gal_2:1-21) as one of the three pillars of conservative Jewish Christianity, but for this very reason they deny that he can have written the Gospel, which in style and spirit differs so widely from the Apocalypse. For this position they appeal to the fact that the Synoptists and the Apocalypse are equally well, and even better supported by internal and external evidence, and represent a tradition which is at least twenty years older.

But what then becomes of the fourth Gospel? It is incredible that the real John should have falsified the history of his Master; consequently the Gospel which bears his name is a post-apostolic fiction, a religious poem, or a romance on the theme of the incarnate Logos. It is the Gospel of Christian Gnosticism, strongly influenced by the Alexandrian philosophy of Philo. Yet it is no fraud any more than other literary fictions. The unknown author dealt with the historical Jesus of the Synoptists, as Plato dealt with Socrates, making him simply the base for his own sublime speculations, and putting speeches into his mouth which he never uttered.

Who was that Christian Plato? No critic can tell, or even conjecture, except Renan, who revived, as possible at least, the absurd view of the Alogi, that the Gnostic heretic, Cerinthus the enemy of John, wrote the fourth Gospel Such a conjecture requires an extraordinary stretch of imagination and an amazing amount of credulity. The more sober among the critics suppose that the author was a highly gifted Ephesian disciple of John, who freely reproduced and modified his oral teaching after he was removed by death. But how could his name be utterly unknown, when the names of Polycarp and Papias and other disciples of John, far less important, have come down to as? “The great unknown” is a mystery indeed. Some critics, half in sympathy with Tübingen, are willing to admit that John himself wrote a part of the book, either the historic narratives or the discourses, but neither of these compromises will do: the book is a unit, and is either wholly genuine or wholly a fiction.

Nor are the negative critics agreed as to the time of composition. Under the increasing pressure of argument and evidence they have been forced to retreat, step by step, from the last quarter of the second century to the first, even within a few years of John’s death, and within the lifetime of hundreds of his hearers, when it was impossible for a pseudo-Johannean book to pass into general currency without the discovery of the fraud. Dr. Baur and Schwegler assigned the composition to a.d. 170 or 160; Volkmar to 155; Zeller to 150; Scholten to 140; Hilgenfeld to about 130; Renan to about 125; Schenkel to 120 or 115; until Keim (in 1867) went up as high as 110 or even 100, but having reached such an early date, he felt compelled (1875) in self-defence to advance again to 130, and this notwithstanding the conceded testimonies of Justin Martyr and the early Gnostics. These vacillations of criticism reveal the impossibility of locating the Gospel in the second century.

If we surrender the fourth Gospel, what shall we gain in its place? Fiction for fact, stone for bread, a Gnostic dream for the most glorious truth.

Fortunately, the whole anti-Johannean hypothesis breaks down at every point. It suffers shipwreck on innumerable details which do not fit at all into the supposed dogmatic scheme, but rest on hard facts of historical recollections.

And instead of removing any difficulties it creates greater difficulties in their place. There are certain contradictions which no ingenuity can solve. If “the great unknown” was the creative artist of his ideal Christ, and the inventor of those sublime discourses, the like of which were never heard before or since, he must have been a mightier genius than Dante or Shakespeare, yea greater than his own hero, that is greater than the greatest: this is a psychological impossibility and a logical absurdity. Moreover, if he was not John and yet wanted to be known as John, he was a deceiver and a liar: this is a moral impossibility. The case of Plato is very different, and his relation to Socrates is generally understood. The Synoptic Gospels are anonymous, but do not deceive the reader. Luke and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews honestly make themselves known as mere disciples of the apostles. The real parallel would be the apocryphal Gospels and the pseudo-Clementine productions, where the fraud is unmistakable, but the contents are so far below the fourth Gospel that a comparison is out of the question. Literary fictions were not uncommon in the ancient church, but men had common sense and moral sense then as well is now to distinguish between fact and fiction, truth and lie. It is simply incredible that the ancient church should have been duped into a unanimous acceptance of such an important book as the work of the beloved disciple almost from the very date of his death, and that the whole Christian church, Greek, Latin, Protestant, including an innumerable army of scholars, should have been under a radical delusion for eighteen hundred years, mistaking a Gnostic dream for the genuine history of the Saviour of mankind, and drinking the water of life from the muddy source of fraud.

In the meantime the fourth Gospel continues and will continue to shine, like the sun in heaven, its own best evidence, and will shine all the brighter when the clouds, great and small, shall have passed away.


85. The Acts of the Apostles

Comp. § 82.


1. Critical Treatises

M. Schneckenburger: Zweck der Apostelgeschichte. Bern, 1841.

Schwanbeck: Quellen der Ap. Gesch. Darmstadt, 1847.

Ed. Zeller: Contents and Origin of the Acts of the Apostles. Stuttg., 1854; trsl. by Jos. Dare, 1875-76, London, 2 vols.

Lekebusch: Composition u. Entstehung der Ap. Gesch. Gotha, 1854.

Klostermann: Vindiciae Lucancae. Göttingen, 1866.

Arthur König (R. C.): Die Aechtheit der Ap. Gesch. Breslau, 1867.

J. R. Oertel: Paulus in der Ap. Gesch. Der histor. Char. dieser Schrift, etc. Halle, 1868.

J. B. Lightfoot: Illustrations of the Acts from recent Discoveries, in the “Contemporary Review” for May, 1878, pp. 288-296.

Dean Howson: Bohlen Lectures on the Evidential Value of the Acts of the Apostles, delivered in Philadelphia, 1880. London and New York, 1880.

Friedr. Zimmer: Galaterbrief und Apostelgeschichte. Hildburghausen, 1882.

Comp. also, in part, J. H. Scholten: Das Paulinische Evangelium, trsl. from the Dutch by Redepenning, Elberf., 1881. A critical essay on the writings of Luke (pp. 254 sqq.).

Friedrich Spitta: Die Apostelgeschichte, ihre Quellen und ihr historischer Wert. Halle, 1891 (pp. 380). It is briefly criticised by Ramsey.


2. Commentaries on Acts

By Chrysotom; Jerome; Calvin; Olshausen; De Wette (4th ed., revised by Overbeck, 1870); Meyer (4th ed., 1870; 5th ed., revised by Wendt 1880); Baumgarten (in 2 parts, 1852, Engl. transl. in 3 vols., Edinburgh, 1856); Jos. A. Alexander; H. B. Hackett (2d ed., 1858; 3d ed., 1877); Ewald (1872); Lecher-Gerok (in Lange’s Bibelwerk, transl. by Schaeffer, N. Y., 1866); F. C. Cook (Lond., 1866); Alford; Wordsworth; Gloag; Plumptre; (in Ellicott’s Com.); Jacobson (in the “Speaker’s Com.,” 1880); Lumby (in the “Cambridge Bible for Schools,” 1880); Howson and Spence (in Schaff’s “Popul. Com.,” 1880; revised for “Revision Com.,” N. Y., 1882); K. Schmidt (Die Apostelgesch. unter dem Hauptgesichtspunkt ihrer Glaubwürdigkeit kritisch exegetisch bearbeitet. Erlangen, 1882, 2 vols.); Nösgen (Leipz. 1882), Bethge (1887).


The Acts and the Third Gospel

The book of Acts, though placed by the ancient ecclesiastical division not in the “Gospel,” but in the “Apostle,” is a direct continuation of the third Gospel, by the same author, and addressed to the same Theophilus, probably a Christian convert of distinguished social position. In the former he reports what he heard and read, in the latter what he heard and saw. The one records the life and work of Christ, the other the work of the Holy Spirit, who is recognized at every step. The word Spirit, or Holy Spirit, occurs more frequently in the Acts than in any other book of the New Testament. It might properly be called “the Gospel of the Holy Spirit.”

The universal testimony of the ancient church traces the two books to the same author. This is confirmed by internal evidence of identity of style, continuity of narrative, and correspondence of plan. About fifty words not found elsewhere in the New Testament are common to both books.


Object and Contents

The Acts is a cheerful and encouraging book, like the third Gospel; it is full of missionary zeal and hope; it records progress after progress, conquest after conquest, and turns even persecution and martyrdom into an occasion of joy and thanksgiving. It is the first church history. It begins in Jerusalem and ends in Rome. An additional chapter would probably have recorded the terrible persecution of Nero and the heroic martyrdom of Paul and Peter. But this would have made the book a tragedy; instead of that it ends as cheerfully and triumphantly as it begins.

It represents the origin and progress of Christianity from the capital of Judaism to the capital of heathenism. It is a history of the planting of the church among the Jews by Peter, and among the Gentiles by Paul. Its theme is expressed in the promise of the risen Christ to his disciples (Act_1:8): “Ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you (Act_2:1-47): and ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem (Acts 3-7), and in all Judaea and Samaria (Acts 8-12), and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 13-28). The Gospel of Luke, which is the Pauline Gospel, laid the foundation by showing how salvation, coming from the Jews and opposed by the Jews, was intended for all men, Samaritans and Gentiles. The Acts exhibits the progress of the church from and among the Jews to the Gentiles by the ministry of Peter, then of Stephen, then of Philip in Samaria, then of Peter again in the conversion of Cornelius, and at last by the labors of Paul and his companions.

The Acts begins with the ascension of Christ, or his accession to his throne, and the founding of his kingdom by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; it closes with the joyful preaching of the Apostle of the Gentiles in the capital of the then known world.

The objective representation of the progress of the church is the chief aim of the work, and the subjective and biographical features are altogether subordinate. Before Peter, the hero of the first or Jewish-Christian division, and Paul, the hero of the second or Gentile-Christian part, the other apostles retire and are only once named, except John, the elder James, Stephen, and James, the brother of the Lord. Even the lives of the pillar-apostles appear in the history only so far as they are connected with the missionary work. In this view the long-received title of the book, added by some other hand than the author’s, is not altogether correct, though in keeping with ancient usage (as in the apocryphal literature, which includes “Acts of Pilate,” “Acts of Peter and Paul,” “Acts of Philip,” etc.). More than three-fifths of it are devoted to Paul, and especially to his later labors and journeys, in which the author could speak from personal knowledge. The book is simply a selection of biographical memoirs of Peter and Paul connected with the planting of Christianity or the beginnings of the church (Origines Ecclesiae).



Luke, the faithful pupil and companion of Paul, was eminently fitted to produce the history of the primitive church. For the first part he had the aid not only of oral tradition, but she of Palestinian documents, as he had in preparing his Gospel. Hence the Hebrew coloring in the earlier chapters of Acts; while afterward he writes as pure Greek, as in the classical prologue of his Gospel. Most of the events in the second part came under his personal observation. Hence he often speaks in the plural number, modestly including himself. The “we” sections begin Act_16:10, when Paul started from Troas to Macedonia (a.d. 51); they break off when he leaves Philippi for Corinth (Act_17:1); they are resumed (Act_20:5, Act_20:6) when he visits Macedonia again seven years later (58), and then continue to the close of the narrative (a.d. 63). Luke probably remained several years at Philippi, engaged in missionary labors, until Paul’s return. He was in the company of Paul, including the interruptions, at least twelve years. He was again with Paul in his last captivity, shortly before his martyrdom, his most faithful and devoted companion (2Ti_4:11).


Time of Composition

Luke probably began the book of Acts or a preliminary diary during his missionary journeys with Paul in Greece, especially in Philippi, where he seems to have tarried several years; he continued it in Caesarea, where he had the best opportunity to gather reliable information of the earlier history, from Jerusalem, and such living witnesses as Cornelius and his friends, from Philip and his daughters, who resided in Caesarea; and he finished it soon after Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, before the terrible persecution in the summer of 64, which he could hardly have left unnoticed.

We look in vain for any allusion to this persecution and the martyrdom of Paul or Peter, or to any of their Epistles, or to the destruction of Jerusalem, or to the later organization of the church, or the superiority of the bishop over the presbyter (Comp. Act_20:17, Act_20:28), or the Gnostic heresies, except by way of prophetic warning (Act_20:30). This silence in a historical work like this seems inexplicable on the assumption that the book was written after a.d. 70, or even after 64. But if we place the composition before, the martyrdom of Paul, then the last verse is after all an appropriate conclusion of a missionary history of Christianity from Jerusalem to Rome. For the bold and free testimony of the Apostle of the Gentiles in the very heart of the civilized world was the sign and pledge of victory.


The Acts and the Gospels

The Acts is the connecting link between the Gospels and Epistles. It presupposes and confirms the leading events in the life of Christ, on which the church is built. The fact of the resurrection, whereof the apostles were witnesses, sends a thrill of joy and an air of victory through the whole book. God raised Jesus from the dead and mightily proclaimed him to be the Messiah, the prince of life and a Saviour in Israel; this is the burden of the sermons of Peter, who shortly before had denied his Master. He boldly bears witness to it before the people, in his pentecostal sermon, before the Sanhedrin, and before Cornelius. Paul likewise, in his addresses at Antioch in Pisidia, at Thessalonica, on the Areopagus before the Athenian philosophers, and at Caesarea before Festus and Agrippa, emphasizes the resurrection without which his own conversion never could have taken place.


The Acts and the Epistles

The Acts gives us the external history of the apostolic church; the Epistles present the internal life of the same. Both mutually supplement and confirm each other by a series of coincidences in all essential points. These coincidences are all the more conclusive as they are undesigned and accompanied by slight discrepancies in minor details. Archdeacon Paley made them the subject of a discussion in his Horae Paulinae, which will retain its place among classical monographs alongside of James Smith’s Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul. Arguments such as are furnished in these two books are sufficient to silence most of the critical objections against the credibility of Acts for readers of sound common sense and unbiased judgment. There is not the slightest trace that Luke had read any of the thirteen Epistles of Paul, nor that Paul had read a line of Acts. The writings were contemporaneous and independent, yet animated by the same spirit. Luke omits, it is true, Paul’s journey to Arabia, his collision with Peter at Antioch, and many of his trials and persecutions; but he did not aim at a full biography. The following are a few examples of these conspicuously undesigned coincidences in the chronological order:


Paul’s Conversion.


Comp. Acts Act_9:1-43; Act_22:1-30 and Act_26:1-32; three accounts which differ only in minor details. Gal_1:15-17; 1Co_15:8; 1Ti_1:13-16.  



Paul’s Persecution and Escape at Damascus.


Act_9:23-25. The Jews took counsel together to kill him … but his disciples took him by night, and let him down through the wall lowering him in a basket. 2Co_11:32, 2Co_11:33. In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king guarded the city of the Damascenes, in order to take me; and through a window I was let down in a basket by the wall, and escaped his hands  



Paul’s Visits to Jerusalem.


Act_9:26, Act_9:27. And when he was come to Jerusalem … Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles. Act_15:2. They appointed that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders [to the apostolic conference to settle the question about circumcision]. Gal_1:18. Then after three years [counting from his conversion] I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and tarried with him fifteen days. Gal_2:1. Then after the space of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus also with me. And I went up by revelation. [This inner motive does, of course, not exclude the church appointment mentioned by Luke.]  



Paul Left at Athens Alone


Act_17:16. Now while Paul waited for them [Silas and Timothy] at Athens. 1Th_3:1 We thought it good to be left behind at Athens alone, and sent Timothy, etc. Comp 1Th_3:7.  



Paul Working at His Trade.


Act_18:3. And because he [Aquila] was of the same trade, he abode with them, and they wrought; for by their trade they were tent makers. Comp. Act_20:34. 1Th_2:9. Ye remember, brethren, our labor and travail: working night and day, that we might not burden any of you. Comp. 1Co_4:11, 1Co_4:12.  



Paul’s Two Visits To Corinth.


Act_18:1; Act_20:2. 1Co_2:1; 1Co_4:19; 1Co_16:5.  



Work of Apollos at Corinth


Act_18:27, Act_18:28. 1Co_1:12; 1Co_3:6.  



Paul Becoming a Jew to the Jews.


Act_16:3; Act_18:18; Act_21:23-26. 1Co_9:20.  



Baptism of Crispus and Gaius.


Act_18:8. 1Co_1:14-17.  



Collection for the Poor Brethren.


Act_28:23. 1Co_16:1.  



Paul’s Last Journey to Jerusalem.


Act_20:6; Act_24:17. Rom_15:25, Rom_15:26  



His Desire To Visit Rome.


Act_19:21. Rom_1:13; Rom_15:23.  



Paul an Ambassador in Bonds.


Act_28:16-20. Eph_6:19, Eph_6:20  


The Acts and Secular History

The Acts brings Christianity in contact with the surrounding world and makes many allusions to various places, secular persons and events, though only incidentally and as far as its object required it. These allusions are — with a single exception, that of Theudas — in full harmony with the history of the age as known from Josephus and heathen writers, and establish Luke’s claim to be considered a well-informed, honest, and credible historian. Bishop Lightfoot asserts that no ancient work affords so many tests of veracity, because no other has such numerous points of contact in all directions with contemporary history, politics, and typography, whether Jewish or Greek or Roman. The description of persons introduced in the Acts such as Gamaliel, Herod, Agrippa I., Bernice, Felix, Festus, Gallio, agrees as far as it goes entirely with what we know from contemporary sources. The allusions to countries, cities, islands, in Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy are without exception correct and reveal an experienced traveller. We mention the chief points, some of which are crucial tests.

1. The rebellion of Theudas, Act_5:36, alluded to in the speech of Gamaliel, which was delivered about a.d. 33. Here is, apparently, a conflict with Josephus, who places this event in the reign of Claudius, and under the procuratorship of Cuspius Fadus, a.d. 44, ten or twelve years after Gamaliel’s speech. But he mentions no less than three insurrections which took place shortly after the death of Herod the Great, one under the lead of Judas (who may have been Theudas or Thaddaeus, the two names being interchangeable, comp. Mat_10:3; Luk_6:16), and he adds that besides these there were many highway robbers and murderers who pretended to the name of king. At all events, we should hesitate to charge Luke with an anachronism. He was as well informed as Josephus, and more credible. This is the only case of a conflict between the two, except the case of the census in Luk_2:2, and here the discovery of a double governorship of Quirinius has brought the chronological difficulty within the reach of solution.

2. The rebellion of Judas of Galilee, mentioned in the same speech, Act_5:37, as having occurred in the days of the enrolment (the census of Quirinius), is confirmed by Josephus. The insurrection of this Judas was the most vigorous attempt to throw off the Roman yoke before the great war.

3. Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians, Act_8:27. Strabo mentions a queen of Meroè in Ethiopia, under that name, which was probably, like Pharaoh, a dynastic title.

4. The famine under Claudius, Act_11:28. This reign (a.d. 41-54) was disturbed by frequent famines, one of which, according to Josephus, severely affected Judaea and Syria, and caused great distress in Jerusalem under the procuratorship of Cuspius Fadus, a.d. 45.

5. The death of King Herod Agrippa I. (grandson of Herod the Great), Act_12:20-23. Josephus says nothing about the preceding persecution of the church, but reports in substantial agreement with Luke that the king died of a loathsome disease in the seventh year of his reign (a.d. 44), five days after he had received, at the theatre of Caesarea, divine honors, being hailed, in heathen fashion, as a god by his courtiers.

6. The proconsular (as distinct from the propraetorian) status of Cyprus, under Sergius Paulus, Luk_13:7 (σύν τῷ ἀνθυπάτῳ Σεργίῳ Παύλῳ). Here Luke was for a long time considered inaccurate, even by Grotius, but has been strikingly confirmed by modern research. When Augustus assumed the supreme power (b.c. 27), he divided the government of the provinces with the Senate, and called the ruler of the imperatorial provinces, which needed direct military control under the emperor as commander of the legions, propraetor (ἀντιστράτηγος) or legate (πρεσβύτης), the ruler of a senatorial province, proconsul (ἀνθύπατος). Formerly these terms had signified that the holder of the office had previously been praetor (στρατηγός or ἡγεμών) or consul (ὕπατος); now they signified the administrative heads of the provinces. But this subdivision underwent frequent changes, so that only a well-informed person could tell the distinction at any time. Cyprus was in the original distribution (b.c. 27) assigned to the emperor, but since b.c. 22, and at the time of Paul’s visit under Claudius, it was a senatorial province; and hence Sergius Paulus is rightly called proconsul. Coins have been found from the reign of Claudius which confirm this statement. Yea, the very name of (Sergius) Paulus has been discovered by General di Cesnola at Soli (which, next to Salamis, was the most important city of the island), in a mutilated inscription, which reads: “in the proconsulship of Paulus.” Under Hadrian the island was governed by a propraetor; under Severus, again by a proconsul.

7. The proconsular status of Achaia under Gallio, Luk_18:12 (Γαλλίωνος ἀνθυπάτου ὄντος τῆς Ἀχαίας). Achaia, which included the whole of Greece lying south of Macedonia, was originally a senatorial province, then an imperatorial province under Tiberius, and again a senatorial province under Claudius. In the year 53-54, when Paul was at Corinth, M. Annaeus Novatus Gallio, the brother of the philosopher L. Annaeus Seneca, was proconsul of Achaia, and popularly esteemed for his mild temper as “dulcis Gallio.”

8. Paul and Barnabas mistaken for Zeus and Hermes in Lycaonia, Act_14:11. According to the myth described by Ovid, the gods Jupiter and Mercury (Zeus and Hermes) had appeared to the Lycaonians in the likeness of men, and been received by Baucis and Philemon, to whom they left tokens of that favor. The place where they had dwelt was visited by devout pilgrims and adorned with votive offerings. How natural, therefore, was it for these idolaters, astonished by the miracle, to mistake the eloquent Paul for Hermes, and Barnabas who may have been of a more imposing figure, for Zeus.

9. The colonial dignity of the city of Philippi, in Macedonia, Act_16:12 (“a Roman colony,” κολώνια; comp. Act_16:21, “being Romans”). Augustus had sent a colony to the famous battlefield where Brutus and the Republic expired, and conferred on the place new importance and the privileges of Italian or Roman citizenship (jus Italicum).

10. “Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira,” Act_16:14. Thyatira (now Akhissar), in the valley of Lycus in Asia Minor, was famous for its dying works, especially for purple or crimson.

11. The “politarchs” of Thessalonica, Act_17:6, Act_17:8. This was a very rare title for magistrates, and might easily be confounded with the more usual designation “poliarchs.” But Luke’s accuracy has been confirmed by an inscription still legible on an archway in Thessalonica, giving the names of seven “politarchs” who governed before the visit of Paul.

12. The description of Athens, the Areopagus, the schools of philosophy, the idle curiosity and inquisitiveness of the Athenians (mentioned also by Demosthenes), the altar of an unknown God, and the quotation from Aratus or Cleanthes, in Act_17:1-34, are fully borne out by classical authorities.

13. The account of Ephesus in the nineteenth chapter has been verified as minutely accurate by the remarkable discoveries of John T. Wood, made between 1863 and 1874, with the aid of the English Government. The excessive worship of Diana, “the great goddess of Artemis,” the temple-warden, the theatre (capable of holding twenty-five thousand people) often used for public assemblies, the distinct officers of the city, the Roman proconsul (ἀνθύπατος), the recorder or “town-clerk” (γραμματεύς), and the Asiarchs (Ἀσιαρχαί) or presidents of the games and the religious ceremonials, have all reappeared in ruins and on inscriptions, which may now be studied in the British Museum. “With these facts in view,” says Lightfoot, “we are justified in saying that ancient literature has preserved no picture of the Ephesus of imperial times — the Ephesus which has been unearthed by the sagacity and perseverance of Mr. Wood — comparable for its life-like truthfulness to the narrative of St. Paul’s sojourn there in the Acts.”

14. The voyage and shipwreck of Paul in Act_27:1-44. This chapter contains more information about ancient navigation than any work of Greek or Roman literature, and betrays the minute accuracy of an intelligent eye-witness, who, though not a professional seaman, was very familiar with nautical terms from close observation. He uses no less than sixteen technical terms, some of them rare, to describe the motion and management of a ship, and all of them most appropriately; and he is strictly correct in the description of the localities at Crete, Salmone, Fair Havens, Cauda, Lasea and Phoenix (two small places recently identified), and Melita (Malta), as well as the motions and effects of the tempestuous northeast wind called Euraquilo (A. V. Euroclydon) in the Mediterranean. All this has been thoroughly tested by an expert seaman and scholar, James Smith, of Scotland, who has published the results of his examination in the classical monograph already mentioned. Monumental and scientific evidence outweighs critical conjectures, and is an irresistible vindication of the historical accuracy and credibility of Luke.


The Acts an Irenicum

But some critics have charged the Acts with an intentional falsification of history in the interest of peace between the Petrine and Pauline sections of the church. The work is said to be a Catholic Irenicum, based probably on a narrative of Luke, but not completed before the close of the first century, for the purpose of harmonizing the Jewish and Gentile sections of the church by conforming the two leading apostles, i.e., by raising Peter to the Pauline and lowering Paul to the Petrine plane, and thus making both subservient to a compromise between Judaizing bigotry and Gentile freedom.

The chief arguments on which this hypothesis is based are the suppression of the collision between Paul and Peter at Antioch, and the friendly relation into which Paul is brought to James, especially at the last interview. Act_15:1-41 is supposed to be in irreconcilable conflict with Galatians. But a reaction has taken place in the Tübingen school, and it is admitted now by some of the ablest critics that the antagonism between Paulinism and Petrinism has been greatly exaggerated by Baur, and that Acts is a far more trustworthy account than he was willing to admit. The Epistle to the Galatians itself is the best vindication of the Acts, for it expressly speaks of a cordial agreement between Paul and the Jewish pillar-apostles. As to the omission of the collision between Peter and Paul at Antioch, it was merely a passing incident, perhaps unknown to Luke, or omitted because it had no bearing on the course of events recorded by him. On the other hand, he mentions the “sharp contention” between Paul and Barnabas, because it resulted in a division of the missionary work, Paul and Silas going to Syria and Cilicia, Barnabas and Mark sailing away to Cyprus (Act_15:39-41). Of this Paul says nothing, because it had no bearing on his argument with the Galatians. Paul’s conciliatory course toward James and the Jews, as represented in the Acts, is confirmed by his own Epistles, in which he says that he became a Jew to the Jews, as well as a Gentile to the Gentiles, in order to gain them both, and expresses his readiness to make the greatest possible sacrifice for the salvation of his brethren after the flesh (1Co_9:20; Rom_9:3).


The Truthfulness of the Acts

The book of Acts is, indeed, like every impartial history, an Irenicum, but a truthful Irenicum, conceived in the very spirit of the Conference at Jerusalem and the concordat concluded by the leading apostles, according to Paul’s own testimony in the polemical Epistle to the Galatians. The principle of selection required, of course, the omission of a large number of facts and incidents. But the selection was made with fairness and justice to all sides. The impartiality and truthfulness of Luke is very manifest in his honest record of the imperfections of the apostolic church. He does not conceal the hypocrisy and mean selfishness of Ananias and Sapphira, which threatened to poison Christianity in its cradle (Act_5:1 sqq.); he informs us that the institution of the diaconate arose from a complaint of the Grecian Jews against their Hebrew brethren for neglecting their widows in the daily ministration (Act_6:1 sqq.) he represents Paul and Barnabas as “men of like passions” with other men (Act_14:15), and gives us some specimens of weak human nature in Mark when he became discouraged by the hardship of missionary life and returned to his mother in Jerusalem (Act_13:13), and in Paul and Barnabas when they fell out for a season on account of this very Mark, who was a cousin of Barnabas (Act_15:39); nor does he pass in silence the outburst of Paul’s violent temper when in righteous indignation he called the high-priest a “whited wall” (Act_23:3); and he speaks of serious controversies and compromises even among the apostles under the guidance of the Holy Spirit — all for our humiliation and warning as well as comfort and encouragement.

Examine and compare the secular historians from Herodotus to Macaulay, and the church historians from Eusebius to Neander, and Luke need not fear a comparison. No history of thirty years has ever been written so truthful and impartial, so important and interesting, so healthy in tone and hopeful in spirit, so aggressive and yet so genial, so cheering and inspiring, so replete with lessons of wisdom and encouragement for work in spreading the gospel of truth and peace, and yet withal so simple and modest, as the Acts of the Apostles. It is the best as well as the first manual of church history.