Catholic Culture Resources
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The MOST Theological Collection: Basic Scripture

"Chapter 22: The Acts of the Apostles"


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It is clear that Acts has the same author as the Gospel of Luke. But when was the work written? Current estimates are apt to run between 80 and 90 A.D. The reasons: It is clear that Acts follows on the Gospel, which so many think, without valid reason, belongs to that decade. Second, it is commonly thought that Luke did not know Paul.

The chief reasons are the following:

1) It is said that Acts 15:1-35 clashes with Gal 2:1-10. In Galatians Paul tells of the meeting with the Apostles, and says he compared notes with them and they "added nothing to me." But in Acts 15:29 the letter of the Council tells gentile converts to "abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity."

Now of the four items from the letter, one repeats the basic commandment against loose sex. Paul of course speaks against loose sex too. The other three items are taken from the old law, and are just a sop, a concession to the feelings of Jews. But Paul in Galatians refers to basic doctrine. The 3 items in Acts 15:29 are not basic doctrine at all, they are, as we said, a sop to the feelings of the Jews. Paul did preach the three points where they applied, as we see from Acts 16:4. Further, the letter of the Council was addressed only to gentiles in Syria and Cilicia - that did not include Galatia. If the Vatican today sends a letter to the bishops of one region, it does not affect bishops of a different region.

2) It is said that Acts does not mention Paul's Epistles. True, but the purpose of Acts was to show how the Church finally reached Rome, the center of the world. Acts does show Paul presenting the most basic doctrines of the Epistles, namely, justification by faith, the divinity and resurrection of Christ, and baptism and repentance. In Acts 15:9 Peter says that God "cleansed their hearts by faith." In 16:30 the jailer at Philippi asks Paul what to do and Paul replies: "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved". [Here, as often, saved means entry into the Church]. At Miletus in Acts 20:21 Paul says he has been "testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. In Acts 13:39 at Antioch in Pisidia Paul says, speaking in a synagogue: "Everyone who believes in Him is made just. " In Acts 17:3 Paul explains and proves, "that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead" and so to atone for sins.

In Acts Paul also does preach that Jesus is the Son of God: Acts 9:20 shows Paul preaching this right after his conversion. A Greek concordance under the word Kyrios, "Lord", shows numerous other times Paul called Him Lord, the title Paul also uses for Jesus in his Epistles.

In both Acts and the Epistles Paul does speaks of the need of baptism: cf. 1 Cor 1:14-17; Romans 6:3-8; Eph 4:5; Col 2:12)

3) It is said that only in Acts does Paul preach the need of repentance. But Paul does preach repentance elsewhere, e.g., Romans 2:4; 2 Cor 7:9-10; 1 Cor 5:3-5. The objection is like the foolish idea that Jesus Himself did not require repentance for forgiveness.

4) In Acts 21:20-26 at the suggestion of James, Paul goes through the Nazarite ceremony in Jerusalem. Some say this was hypocrisy. But it was not, Paul was just following his own principle of 1 Cor 9:20-22 in which he expresses his standing policy of being all things to all men: "To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law, I became as one under the law." There was nothing wrong in the rite itself. It would have been wrong if Paul meant thereby to earn salvation. 5)In 2 Cor 11:23-29 Paul speaks at length of his sufferings in preaching Christ. In Acts he is pictured going through the sufferings mentioned in 2 Corinthians: persecutions from Jews: 14:2 17:1-10; stoning at Lystra (14:19); scourging at Philippi: 16:22-23.

Neither in Acts nor in the Epistles does Paul think the end is close at hand: we will see the critical passage of 1 Ths 4:15 & 17 later.

So we can believe the testimony of St. Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.1.1) that "Luke the follower of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by him [Paul]," and of the Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke which says: "Luke of Antioch in Syria, a physician, having become a disciple of the Apostles, and later followed Paul until his martyrdom... after the Gospels had been written - by Matthew in Judea, by Mark in Italy - moved by the Holy Spirit, wrote this Gospel in Achaia... with great care, for gentile believers.

Sometimes appeal is made to the "we" passages to show that at those points, chiefly in the 2nd and 3rd missionary journeys and on the trip to Rome, Luke traveled with Paul. This is likely, but not conclusive, for there is a problem of literary genre. Some travel accounts of the times used a similar alternation of first and third person forms.

About the speeches recorded in Acts, since Luke was an educated Greek, we would expect him to follow the policy of the classic Greek historians. We know what that was, thanks to Thucydides, who tells us (1.22) that he would try to get the actual text if possible, but would not try to keep the same words. If he could get only the content, he would put it in his own words. If he could get none of these, he would write a speech suitable for the occasion. Luke did travel much with Paul, and so could have gotten at least the content of the speeches easily. Further, Paul, like other traveling speakers, would use much repetition, with some variation in wording. He had a typical approach to the Jews, and another for gentiles.

Peter's speech on Pentecost was of such great moment that we would expect it would be easy to get the content of it. The speech of Stephen would also be likely to be remembered. On the other hand, the speech of Gamaliel in the Sanhedrin (5:34-39) might have been harder to get, and this fact could account for some of the historical problems about the false Messiahs.

In all, many have noted that Luke's introductions to both his Gospel and to Acts show the intent to write careful history, in the pattern of the pagan Greek historians.

Why does Acts break off with Paul in house arrest in Rome? Probably, as we said, the intention was to show how the Gospel reached the center of the world, Rome. When that was done, no more was needed. It is also possible Luke intended to write still another volume, and somehow never did so.

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