Early Years of Christianity: The Apostolic Era.
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C. [See page 23.]


Our principal source is the book known under the name of the "Acts of the Apostles." Of this book we must, first of all, prove the credibility. Its authenticity was generally acknowledged in the early Church, from the time of Irenæus. "Quoniam autem is Lucas inseparabilis fuit a Paulo, et cooperarius ejus in Evangelio, ipse fecit manifestum." Acts xvi, 10. (Irenæus, "Adv. Hæres," Book III, chap. xiv, 1.) The letter of the Church at Lyons to the Churches in Asia Minor quotes the Acts. (See Eusebius, "Hist. Ecc.," V, chap. xi.) Clement of Alexandria ascribes the Acts to Luke: Καθὼς καὶ ὁ Λουκᾶς ἐν ταῖς πράξεσι τῶν ἀποστόλων ἀπομνημονεύει τὸν Παὺλον λέγοντα ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι. ("Stromat.," v, 588.) See also Tertullian: "Cum in eodem commentario Lucæ tertia hora orationis demonstretur." ("De jejun.," chap. x, "De Baptismo," chap. x.) Earlier than Irenæus, we find allusions in the Apostolic Fathers and in Justin Martyr to passages in the Acts. There is a striking agreement between the narrative of Luke and the manner in which these Fathers speak of the first century of the Christian Church. We may then say that the external evidence is in favor of the authenticity of the Acts. It remains to be seen if the internal evidence is as unfavorable as has been asserted. The Tübingen school has given a categorical denial to the authenticity of the book of the Acts. It regards it as a production of the second century, the object of which is to facilitate the combination of Judaizing Christians with the Christian disciples of Paul. It is not a history; it is a compromise attempted in the form of history. The author has endeavored to effect a sort of retrospective reconciliation between Peter and Paul; in doing so he has only carried out the impulse of the Church of his time, which felt it needful to efface the memory of irritating controversies. In order to attain this end, he could not do better than put into the mouth of Peter the doctrines of Paul, and tone down all that was most emphatic in the discourses of the latter. Schwegler and Baur assert, that the Paul of the Acts is not the Paul of the Epistles, who, in their view, is much more powerful in controversy.650650Schwegler, "Nachapostolisches Zeitalter," ii, 111. Baur, "Paulus," p. 5. " Das Christenthum, der drei erst. Jahr.," p. 112. M. Reuss, who is never untrue to his critical sagacity, assigns, as also does De Wette, its traditional date to the book of Acts; but he appears to us to make too large a concession to the Tübingen school in allowing that the history of the first century has been made to undergo, in the Acts, more or less modification, to subserve the interests of a reconciliation subsequently effected between the parties.651651Reuss, "Histoire de la Théologie Chrétienne au Siècle Apostoliclue," II, p. 591. "Geschichte der Heiligen Schriften des N. T.," § 210.

Baur and Schwegler ground their theory on a supposed deep division between the Apostles, a division which they hold to have continued until their death. The refutation of this error will become apparent from the history. We shall show that there were no sharp and bitter polemics, except between St. Paul and the false teachers of Corinth and Galatia, and that if his proclamation that the Gospel was as wide as the world caused at first a certain degree of surprise, the agreement between him and the other Apostles was immediately realized. No place is left, therefore, for a subsequent reconciliation of men who had never been enemies. So long as the genuineness of the first Epistle of St. Peter is admitted, it will be impossible to maintain that there is any radical opposition between the two Apostles. There was no occasion for a falsification of facts on their behalf in order to show, after their death, that a good understanding had existed between them during their life. The author of the book of Acts is not an unintelligent chronicler, who does no more than furnish, as it were, the mere material, the bare facts of the history. He is a thoughtful historian, who grasps the connection of events. The picture which he paints has perspective and a horizon; the present is illuminated by the future; from the very commencement of his book, he leads us to look for the solution of disputed problems. This solution he finds in the substitution of Christian universalism for that which was peculiar to the Jewish dispensation; but if we are right in our idea, that this solution marks in reality the close of the first period of the history of the apostolic Church, he fulfilled his duty, as a historian, in leading our expectations toward it. We can discern no trace of falsification in his narrative. He does not attempt, in any way, to disguise the Judaistic character of the worship of the Church at Jerusalem; he lets us see it fairly, in its devotion to the Temple-services and adherence to all the observances of the ceremonial law. The first sermons of Peter are strongly tinged with Old Testament coloring; they show no trace of the broad spirit of Christianity; salvation appears to him still to belong first to the seed of Abraham. Acts ii, 39. The objection drawn from the difference of language used by St. Paul in the Acts and in the Epistles presents no serious difficulty. The book of the Acts purports rather to give a narration of the foundation of the Churches than to give a picture of their inner life and conflicts. It was natural that the language of Paul, the missionary, should differ somewhat from that of Paul, the controversialist. But how many times in the Acts does not his speech wax warm and eloquent, and remind us of some passages in the letters to the Corinthians and Galatians. Acts xiii, 38-42, 46-48; xxiii, 3; xxviii, 25-28.

It has been asserted that the Acts are a compilation of several documents. To us, however, there appears throughout a unity of style and of composition too striking to allow us to suppose it the work of more than one hand, and that the very hand which penned the third gospel.652652See De Wette, "Apostol. Geschichte Einleit.," p. 4, and also the article "Lucas," in the "Encyclopédie Herzog." We see no sufficient ground for granting the hypothesis that Timothy may have been the narrator of the second part of the Acts, that in which the narrator speaks as the direct witness of the events he records. Clearly the manner in which the writer speaks of Timothy contradicts such a supposition. Acts xix, 22; xx, 4.

The voice of tradition, which ascribes to Luke the composition of the Acts, appears to us the best sustained opinion; it is well known that he was one of the companions of Paul in his last journeys. Col. iv, 14; Phil. 24; 2 Tim. iv, 11. We are quite prepared to admit that he made use for the Acts, as for his Gospel, of various documents. The letters and discourses inserted in the history were probably not written from memory. The date of the composition it is impossible to fix with certainty. It appears to us that the book which closes so abruptly, must have been written before or shortly after the death of St. Paul.

D. [See page 32.]


It is not to be denied that the narrative of St. Luke presents some serious difficulties. It is not easy, in the first place, to understand the object of the miracle, for the foreign Jews who were at Jerusalem all understood the Aramaic tongue. In the next place, the extraordinary outpouring of the Spirit does not appear in other passages of the Acts, to be accompanied with the gift of tongues. Acts x, 44. In the third place, the γλώσσαις λαλεῖν which is mentioned in 1 Cor. xiv, 2, is very different from the gift of tongues at the Pentecost; for the person speaking with tongues at Corinth, so far from having the privilege of being understood by strangers, needs an interpreter in his own Church. Explanations have been multiplied of this difficult problem of sacred criticism. Some, like Bilroth, have seen in the gift of tongues at the Pentecost the recovery for the moment of the primitive language of mankind. Others, like Bunsen,653653Introduction to the second English edition of Hippolytus. suppose that the first Christians at the Pentecost spoke the usual Aramaic language, which all would comprehend, instead of the sacred tongue, the ancient Hebrew, which had till then been specially used for purposes of worship. The astonishment of the hearers would be excited by this fact, so entirely new, and, it may be added, so much in harmony with the spirit of the gospel covenant. But, in order to admit this supposition, it is necessary to set aside the sacred narrative, the purport of which is evidently something different. Olshausen, in his commentary, likens the gift of tongues to a magnetic phenomenon. The Apostles, reading the hearts of their hearers, employed for them their own language; a strange theory, which places the inspired teacher in absolute dependence on those whom he is to teach. Neander identifies the gift of tongues at Pentecost with the gift of tongues at Corinth, and sets down as errors on the part of St. Luke those details of the narrative which do not accord with this explanation.654654Neander, "Pflanz.," i, p. 28.

For ourselves, we should be very slow to admit that, on a fact of such importance, the primitive tradition of the Church can be erroneous or inexact. We see no difficulty in believing that the miracle of the gift of tongues assumed a special character on the day of Pentecost. It was the language of ecstacy, and in this respect resembled the gift of tongues at Corinth, but was distinguished from the latter by its intelligibility. Why should not the same miracle have assumed various forms in the apostolic age? Its extraordinary and unique character on the day of Pentecost is explained by supposing that the miracle reached on that day, as it were, its mightiest development. It was a glorious completion of the divine symbolism, which we have recognized in the marvelous circumstances accompanying the first outpouring of the Spirit.

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