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Full text of "Recent criticism of the book of Acts"

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J, Gresham Machen 



Recent Criticism 

of the 

Book of Acts 




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RECENT CRITICISM OF THE BOOK 
OF ACTS 



J. GRESHAM MACHEN 



Reprinted from 
The Princeton Theological Review, Vol. XVII, No. 4, October, 1919 



RECENT CRITICISM OF THE BOOK OF ACTS' 

Some years ago the world of New Testament scholarship 
was startled by the conversion of Adolf von Harnack^ to 
the traditional view of the authorship of Luke-Acts. The 
book of Acts, Harnack concluded, was actually written by 
Luke, a companion of Paul. And what is more, it was 
written at about A.D. 60, or a little later, near the point of 
time where the narrative breaks off. Thus with regard to 
the date of the book the leading representative of modern 
"liberalism" had become more conservative than most of the 
"conservatives" themselves. Well might students of the 
New Testament ask, "Is Saul also among the prophets?" 

Perhaps the most distinctive contribution of Harnack to 
the argument for the Lucan authorship of Acts was his es- 
tablishment of the linguistic and stylistic unity of the book. 
The "we-sections" — the sections where the first person plural 
appears — are generally admitted to have been written by a 
companion of Paul. But as Harnack showed with especial 
clearness the we-sections are strikingly similar in language 
and style to the rest of the book. If, therefore, the book as 
a whole was written or compiled by an author different from 
the author of the we-sections, this author of the whole must 
at least have revised the we-section source which he was 
using, so as to impress upon it his own style. But if so, why 

1 Charles C. Torrey, The Composition and Date of Acts, Cambridge, 
Harvard University Press, Harvard Theological Studies I, 1916; "Fact 
and Fancy in Theories concerning Acts", in American Journal of 
Theology, xxiii, 1919, pp. 61-86, 189-212; F. J. Foakes-Jackson, "Pro- 
fessor C. C. Torrey on the Acts", in Harvard Theological Review, x, 
1917, pp. 352-361 ; W. J. Wilson, "Some Observations on thf Aramaic 
Acts", ibid, xi, 1918, pp. 74-99; "The Unity of the Aramaic Acts", ibid, 
pp. 322-335; Benjamin W. Bacon, "More Philological Criticism of Acts", 
in American Journal of Theology, xxii, 1918, pp. 1-23. Compare also 
Torrey, "The Translations Made from the Original Aramaic Gospels", 
in Studies in the History of Religions Presented to Craivford Howell 
Toy, 1912. 

^ Lukas der Arzt, 1906; Die Apostelgeschichte, 1908; Neue Unter- 
suchungen sur Apostelgeschichte imd zur Abfassiingszeit der synop- 
tischen Evangelien, 191 1. 



586 THE PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

did he not change the "we" to "they" ? As coming from the 
pen of a later writer, who as everyone knew could not have 
been an eye-witness of the missionary journeys of Paul, the 
"we" was rank nonsense. It could only have been retained 
if the final author was a mere compiler, copying out his 
sources mechanically. But that the final author was not a 
mere compiler is proved by the literary unity of the book. 
If, therefore, the final author was in the we-sections using 
a source written by some one else, he has revised everything 
in his source except the one thing, the "we", which most im- 
peratively required revision. 

It is with regard to the nature of the literary unity of the 
book that C. C. Torrey, in a series of notable studies, differs 
from Hamack. In his hands, it is true, the argument for 
the identity of the author of the we-sections with the author 
of the whole book remains absolutely unimpaired ; the hand 
of Luke, the author of the we-sections, he believes, can 
everywhere be detected. But he thinks that in the whole 
former half of Acts (Acts i. ib — xv. 35) Luke has given 
us a literal translation of an Aramaic document. The lin- 
guistic unity of the book is thus explained by the fact that 
the author of the latter half was himself the translator of the 
former half; while the Semitic coloring of the former half, 
which is in marked contrast with the purely Greek tone and 
style of the latter half, shows that in this former part of the 
book the author was allowing his language to be affected by 
a Semitic source.^ 

The fact of translation in "I Acts" (Acts i. ib — xv. 35) is 
thought to be established by a few "especially striking ex- 
amples of mistranslation" in the Greek form of the nar- 
rative, by many other evidences of translation, and by the 
great wealth of Semitisms (that is, Aramaisms) as con- 
trasted with the absence or extreme scarcity of Semitisms 



3 "Wherever, in the Gospel or Acts", Torrey says, "Luke's owii 
vocabulary and style appear, Luke is either translating or composing 
freely" (American Journal of Theology, xxiii, 1919, p. 210). In other 
words, Torrey rejects altogether the hypothesis of revision on the part 
of Luke of Greek written sources. 



RECENT CRITICISM OF THE BOOK OF ACTS 587 

in "II Acts" (Acts xv. 36 — xxviii. 31). Among the "es- 
pecially striking examples" may be mentioned Acts ii. 47, 
where the phrase im t6 airo is certainly very difficult. The 
word in the original of the passage,* it is argued, really 
meant "greatly", but was taken by the translator in the sense 
of "together". The reason for the mistake was that the 
word means "together" in the other Aramaic dialects (with 
which the translator was familiar), whereas in the Judean 
dialect, in which I Acts was written, it ordinarily meant 
"greatly". The verse meant in the original, then (if we 
correct also another slight mistake in translation), "And the 
Lord added greatly day by day to the saved." 

This one example will serve to indicate at least part of the 
method which Torrey uses. An examination of the other 
"striking examples of mistranslation" would exceed the 
limits of the present article, and would require expert knowl- 
edge of the Aramaic dialects. Whatever may be thought 
of the alleged mistranslations, however, the argument for an 
Aramaic original of Acts i. ib — xv. 35 is at least impressive. 
Certainly a good deal can be said for Torrey's view that the 
language of the former half of Acts is translation-Gl'eek. 
As over against the rival explanations of the Semitic color- 
ing of I Acts (and of such passages as Luke i. 5 — ii. 52)/'' 
even if one is not quite ready to characterize as a "grotesque 
performance" the imitation of the Septuagint on the part of 
Luke which is posited by Harnack, the hypothesis of trans- 
lation has at least the advantage of simplicity. It will per- 
haps repay further examination. 

In detecting a great wealth of Semitisms in I Acts, Torrey 
is in conflict with the present tendency among philologians 
to reduce the number of Semitisms in the New Testament 
and explain the supposed Semitisms as popular usages of 
the Greek Koine, which formerly seemed un-Greek only be- 
cause until the discovery of the non-literary papyri we were 
unfamiliar with the popular, as distinguished from the liter- 



° See Studies in the History of Religions, loc. cit. 



588 THE PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

ary, form of the Greek world-language. Perhaps, however, 
the debate will finally be settled by a compromise. On the 
one hand, the modern philologians are undoubtedly correct 
in denying the existence of the special Jewish-Greek dialect 
in which the New Testament was formerly sometimes sup- 
posed to be written; but on the other hand the influence of 
Semitic originals or even a Semitic "atmosphere" upon the 
language of certain parts of the New Testament may be con- 
siderably greater than many philologians are at present will- 
ing to admit. At any rate, in order to disprove the hypothe- 
sis of translation with regard to I Acts, it is not sufificient 
to point out the supposed Semitisms individually in native 
Greek. It is the heaping-up in a single passage of these 
apparently Semitic usages, even though every one of them 
individually may be found on native Greek ground, which 
produces the impression of translation-Greek. The English 
example which Torrey gives in his paper on the Gospels is 
particularly instructive. Every idiom in the passage is good 
grammatical English, yet the heaping up of the idioms show 
clearly, to anyone thoroughly familiar with both languages, 
that the passage is a translation from the Latin. *^ It is evi- 
dence like this, rather than the supposed mistranslations, 
which will perhaps go furthest toward establishing the trans- 
lation-character of I Acts. 

The Aramaic document underlying I Acts, was, according 
to Torrey, thoroughly homogeneous,'' and has been trans- 

6 Op. cit., pp. 284 f . 

7 Torrey is unwilling to allow to W. J. Wilson (who agrees with him 
thoroughly in his principal contentions) even the presence of "doublets" 
in Acts iv and v. 17-42. In accordance with a very widespread opinion, 
Wilson holds {op. cit., pp. 91 f.) that the two accounts of imprison- 
ments of apostles (Peter and John in the former case, the apostles 
generally in the latter) are divergent accounts of the same event, the 
second being a heightening of the former. Torrey, however, insists that 
the heightening is inherent in the events, not merely in the tradition of 
the events, since it is only natural that, as the Christian movement 
spread, more and more drastic action on the part of the Jewish auth- 
orities would become necessary (American Journal of Theology, xxiii, 
1919. PP- 190 f.). Such common sense in dealing with the New Testa- 
ment narratives is very refreshing. 



RECENT CRITICISM OF THE BOOK OF ACTS 589 

lated by Luke literally and almost without editorial changes, 
so that its representations have been allowed to stand un- 
modified even when, as in the case of the time of the Ascen- 
sion or in the case of certain details of the conversion of 
Paul, those representations were contradictory either to 
other sources used by Luke or to Luke's own view.^ The 
''manipulation of documents" presupposed, for example, by 
Bacon's theory, was not, Torrey insists, "either usual or 
regarded as respectable in those days."^ 

The date of the Aramaic I Acts, according to Torrey and 
W. J. Wilson, is fixed at A.D. 49 or 50, in the first place by 
the general impression conveyed by the narrative that it was 
written in the "first flush" of enthusiasm after the triumph 
of liberal views which was achieved in the Apostolic Council 
(Acts XV. 1-35)," and in the second place by the fact that 
the author evidently did not yet know, as he must have 
known very soon, "that Silas, instead of returning with 
Judas to Jerusalem, remained at Antioch, and set out with 
Paul on a second missionary journey" (Acts xv. 33).^^ 
With regard to the common argument for a late date based 

8 According to W. J. Wilson, {op. cit., pp. 84-89), the account of the 
conversion in I Acts (Acts ix) is highly legendary, and contains inven- 
tion of details. In Acts xxii Luke corrects the account which had 
already been translated literally. Acts xxii is not incredible, though it 
requires modern interpretation. Acts xxvi is abbreviated. Thus Acts 
xxii is the best account of the conversion, Paul's ow^n inward inter- 
pretation of the experience (as in Rom. vii) being "so involved with 
ancient mystical psychology and with Paul's own subsequent reflections 
as to be of slight value from the modern point of view." The one cru- 
cial fact in Paul's interpretation (the moral aspect of the conversion) 
"seems to have passed completely over the heads of both of the authors 
of Acts." Here we have, in more extreme form than in Torrey himself, 
the characteristics of what may be called the "school" of criticism which 
he represents — thoroughgoing conservatism with regard to questions of 
date and authorship of the documents coupled with equally thorough- 
going disbelief in the deeper things that the documents attest. 

9 American Journal of Theology, xxiii, 1919, p. 68, footnote. 

1" So Wilson {Harvard Theological Review, xi, 1918, p. 329). If, 
Torrey argues {American Journal of Theology, xxiii, 1919, p. 192), 
other important events had already happened, the author of I Acts 
would have narrated them. 

^1 Torrey, op. cit., pp. 191 f. 



590 THE PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

on the supposed dependence on Josephus {Antiq. Jud. XX. 
V. 1,2) in Acts V. 36, 37, Torrey admits a confusion of the 
author with regard to Judas and Theudas, but supposes that 
the confusion arose on the basis of some earlier source where 
the events were less clearly narrated than in Josephus/^ 

The treatment of II Acts in Torrey's monograph and sub- 
sidiary articles is very interesting and in the main very con- 
vincing, but since it is less distinctive than the treatment of 
I Acts it may be reported more briefly. Here also, the homo- 
geneity of the narrative is insisted upon, particular attention 
being given to Norden's hypothesis of the dependence of 
Acts xvii. 16-34 upon a treatise of Apollonius of Tyana, and 
to Bacon's separation of Acts xxviii. 17-28 from the we- 
section that precedes. The refutation both of Norden and 
of Bacon is vigorous and convincing. The early date of II 
Acts, which places it at the very point of time when the 
narrative closes, that is, according to Torrey's chronology, 
about A.D. 64, is maintained by means of some of the very 
characteristics of Acts xxviii. 17-28 which Bacon urges 
against the Lucan origin of that passage. If written at a 
later date, Torrey says, the passage would perhaps not be 
impressive, but when it is dated at the time of the events 
themselves, it is altogether what might have been expected. 

There emerges, then, according to Torrey, the following 
"suitable and convincing" chronological series for the Lucan 
writings : 

I Acts A. D. 50 
Gospel of Luke A. D. 60 

II Acts A.D. 64 

It may be remarked in passing that Torrey regards the 
Gospel of Mark as "practically a contemporary account" of 
the events that it narrates. ^^ 

Such a chronological scheme would not be so remarkable 
if it came from some "orthodox" source (though conserva- 



^^ Composition and Date of Acts, pp. 70 f . ; American Journal of 
Theology, xxiii, 1919, pp. 199-201. 
^2 Op. cit., p. 193. 



RECENT CRITICISM OF THE BOOK OF ACTS 59I 

tive scholars have not usually dated the Synoptic Gospels and 
Acts so early), but as coming from C. C. Torrey, it is really 
enough to take one's breath away. For Torrey gives no 
evidence of being a "conservative" or an "orthodox" theolo- 
gian ; on the contrary he seems to be as uncompromising as 
anyone in his denial of the historicity of the supernatural 
element in the New Testament narratives. Yet he regards 
as practically contemporaneous with the events (at least as 
written only some twenty years after the origin of the 
Church, and in the dialect used in Judea) a document which 
represents Jesus of Nazareth as holding table-companionship 
with His disciples after His resurrection from the dead! 
What has become of the hypothesis of gradual production of 
myth in the Christian tradition which has been popular since 
the days of Strauss ? When Torrey maintains that the rec- 
ord of facts in the New Testament narrative is essentially 
true, but that the narratives have put an erroneous, super- 
natural interpretation upon the facts, it might almost seem 
as though we had returned to the days of Paulus and the 
older rationalism. The method of interpretation, it must be 
admitted, is totally different. Our modern rationalists are 
careful not to try to work out their rationalizing in detail; 
and for the most part, despite the rationalizing principle just 
enunciated, the treatment of the sources shows closer affinity 
to Strauss than to Paulus. 

But how could legendary representations like the table- 
companionship with the risen Christ or the speaking with 
tongues on the day of Pentecost have found a place in prac- 
tically contemporary records ? Despite the supposed parallel 
of Saint Simeon Stylites,^* and the antique fondness for 
miracles, the thing does not seem very natural to the great 
majority of investigators. As was pertinently pointed out 
against Harnack, it is the advocates of this modern return to 
tradition in literary criticism v^^ho are the real sceptics. For 
if legendary representations like the bodily resurrection of 
Jesus can find a place in the very reports of contemporaries, 
where can the truth ever be found ? 



1* Op. cit., pp. 196 f. 



592 THE PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

Nevertheless the tendency represented, in an ascending 
scale, by Kirsopp Lake, Harnack and C. C. Torrey, is not 
without its significance. That significance does not indeed 
consist in any return, on the part of the representatives of 
the tendency, to a belief in evangelical Christianity. One 
would have to search far, for example, to discover a more 
abysmal scepticism with regard to the objective validity of 
Christian beliefs than is to be found in Kirsopp Lake.^^ Yet 
Lake is the author of the admirable book, so conservative in 
its treatment of the Lucan account of Paul's relation to the 
Jerusalem Church, The Earlier Epistles of St. Paul. Scarcely 
less abysmal, perhaps, is the scepticism of A. C. McGiffert,^*^ 
yet McGiffert, some years ago, was the author of a notable 
history of the apostolic age, which, very much after the 
manner also exemplified by the commentary of Wendt, seeks 
so far as possible to save everything in the narrative of Acts 
except the one thing really worth saving — namely the super- 
naturalness of the origin of Christianity.^^ 

The real significance of the "return to tradition" in 
literary criticism^^ consists in the support that it affords to 
those who have not decided to reject the supernaturalistic 
view of Christian origins. Harnack and the others have 
at least introduced a dangerous antinomy into the imposing 
"liberal" reconstruction of early Christianity. The late dat- 
ing of such documents as the book of Acts was an integral 



15 The Steii'ardship of Faith, 1915. Lake leaves open the question 
of Lucan authorship of Luke-Acts (see his article "Acts of the Apostles" 
in Hastings' Dictionary of the Apostolic Church). With regard to the 
presentation in Acts of the attitude of Paul toward the original apostles 
and the Jewish Church, Like completely reverses the unfavorable esti- 
mates which were formerly in vogue. See especially The Earlier Epistles 
of St. Paul, 191 1. 

1^ See especially The Rise of Modern Religious Ideas, 1915. 

'^'' McGiffert and Wendt do not, it is true, accept the Lucan author- 
ship of Acts and do not represent that recent "return to tradition" which 
we are now discussing. 

1^ Of course the prevalence of this return should not be exaggerated. 
The great majority of those who hold the naturalistic view of the origin 
of Christianity still maintain the non-Lucan and post-apostolic view of 
Luke and Acts. 



RECENT CRITICISM OF THE BOOK OF ACTS 593 

part of that reconstruction. But if Acts was written in 
A.D. 60 or 64, all is thrown into confusion. It is not sur- 
prising that the great majority of "liberal" historians have 
reacted strongly against Ilarnack's recent conclusions. 
Furthermore, if Harnack and Lake and Torrey are correct, 
the objection to the New Testament account of Christian 
origins is seen more and more clearly to be simply and solely 
an objection to the miraculous. It used to be maintained 
that contradictions and improbabilities in the New Testament 
discredit the narratives even entirely apart from the c|uestion 
of the miraculous, and that if the New Testament books do 
not accredit themselves in the ordinary historical field, still 
less can they be given credence when they attest marvels. 
But now we have men like C. C. Torrey and Kirsopp Lake 
engaging in the most thoroughgoing defence of the nar- 
ratives in just those points where they were supposed to be 
most clearly discredited. 

In this connection we are brought to what is perhaps 
most significant of all in the recent tendency of "return to 
tradition." Harnack, Lake and Torrey represent the cul- 
mination of what may be called, if a convenient word-coin- 
age be permitted, the progressive de-Tiibingenizing of the 
criticism of Acts. 

About the middle of the nineteenth century, F. C. Baur of 
Tubingen laid the foundation for subsequent New Testa- 
ment criticism by a bold reconstruction of early Christian 
history. Strauss in his famous Lehen Jesu (1835) had, in 
the opinion of many, demolished the supernatural view of 
the Gospels. Zeller, who with Baur belongs to the so-called 
"Tubingen school", extended the wotk of demolition, with 
equal thoroughness, to the book of Acts. But Baur and 
Zeller were not content with demolition. They sought 
rather to construct with the old materials a new building of 
genuine history. The New Testament documents, rejected 
for the most part as true accounts of the events which they 
purport to narrate, were made to do duty as indirect wit- 
nesses, through their very misrepresentations of history, to 



594 THE PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

the several tendencies in the thought and Hfe of the Church 
for the sake of which those misrepresentations were ventured 
upon. The fundamental fact of apostolic history, accord- 
ing to Baur, was a conflict between Paul and the original 
apostles, between Gentile Christianity and Jewish Christian- 
ity; and that conflict extended on through the middle of the 
second century, until it was finally settled by a compromise. 
The New Testament books are party documents, to be dated 
according to their place in the development of the conflict. 
Those books, like the anti-Pauline Apocalypse of John on 
the one hand, and the genuine epistles of Paul on the other, 
which stand strongly on one side or the other of the con- 
flict, are relatively early; those books like the book of Acts, 
which represent an "irenic" or compromise tendency are 
late. 

The construction of Baur, in its entirety, soon had to be 
abandoned or at least seriously modified. Albrecht Ritschl, 
for example, showed that Baur had enormously exaggerated 
the influence of specifically Jewish Christianity upon the 
history of the Church. Anti-Pauline Jewish Christianity, 
he pointed out, never had the support of the original apostles 
(indeed the real conflict in the apostolic age w^as between all 
the apostles on the one hand and an extreme Judaizing party 
on the other), and soon ceased to be influential. The Old 
Catholic Church of the close of the second century owes its 
divergence from Paul not to a compromise between a Pauline 
and an anti-Pauline party but to the natural inability of the 
ordinary man to understand the Pauline doctrine of grace 
— to a development therefore upon purely Gentile Christian 
ground. 

Furthermore, a more detailed study of the early patristic 
literature, on the part of such men as Lightfoot and Zahn, 
soon showed that Baur's late dating of many of the New 
Testament books was excluded by external evidence. It 
was no longer possible to string out the books of the New 
Testament along anywhere at will throughout the second 
century in the interests of a plausible theory of develop- 



RECENT CRITICISM OF THE BOOK OF ACTS 595 

merit. A study of plain literary relationships came in to 
supplement and contradict Baur's use of internal evidence. 

But because the theory of Baur was soon rejected as a 
whole, it does not follow that it became uninfluential. On 
the contrary, it has left its mark upon all subsecjuent develop- 
ments in New Testament criticism. And it has done so 
especially at the point which interests us just now — namely 
in the treatment of Acts. Baur's reconstruction of apos- 
tolic history was based fundamentally upon a comparison of 
the book of Acts with the Pauline Epistles — to the detri- 
ment of the former. At this point he has been followed, 
more or less closely, by subsequent criticism. 

In the general wreck of alleged apostolic writings, accord- 
ing to Baur, one solid rock emerges triumphant from the 
storm — namely the genuineness of the four major epistles 
of Paul. The account, therefore, which they give of apos- 
tolic histor)^ is the touch-stone by which all other documents, 
and particularly the account given in Acts, must be tested. 
Now at most points the testing of Acts is impossible, or at 
least very difficult, because the book does not run parallel 
with anything that is found in Paul. But in the fifteenth 
chapter we find an account of an event which is also narrated 
in the Epistle to the Galatians (Chap. ii). Here at any rate 
is an opportunity for comparison. 

The comparison, Baur maintains, results disastrously for 
the book of Acts ; Acts and Paul are found to be in hopeless 
disagreement. The disagreement, moreover, concerns not 
merely details, but the vital matter of the relation existing 
between Paul and the original apostles. That relation, says 
Baur, was according to Paul one of fundamental difference 
of principle, the agreement reached at the time of Paul's 
Jerusalem visit (Gal. ii. i-io), being essentially an agreement 
to disagree. Paul was careful to assert his own complete in- 
dependence of those who had been apostles before him. 
The book of Acts on the other hand represents the relation 
between Paul and the original apostles as altogether har- 
monious; far from insisting upon his independence Paul is 



596 THE PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

actually willing to consent to a compromise and permit the 
Jerusalem church to impose upon the Gentile converts a 
certain portion at least of the ceremonial law — the so-called 
"Apostolic Decree" (Acts xv. 23-29). The worst of it is, 
moreover, that this false representation of the relation be- 
tween Paul and the original apostles is allowed to color the 
entire history in the book of Acts; from beginning to end 
the book is intended to show, in defiance of the real facts, 
that Paul and Peter were in perfect harmony; the real in- 
dependence of the apostle Paul is carefully concealed. Thus 
in the book of Acts, Paul is brought into early conference 
with the Jerusalem leaders (Acts ix. 26-30) ; he does not 
hesitate to visit them again before the Council (Acts xi. 30) ; 
and all through his subsequent career he is careful of Jewish 
custom and deferential to the Jerusalem authorities (Acts, 
xvi. 3, 4; xxi. 26). Peter, on the other hand, is represented 
as expressing thoroughly Pauline views about Gentile free- 
dom (Acts XV. 7-12), and even as taking the lead in the 
Gentile mission (Acts x). Indeed an elaborate parallelism 
is set up, all through the book, between the careers of the 
the two apostles, and everything that might have called to 
mind their disagreements, like the unfortunate incident of 
Titus, for example, or the dispute at Antioch (Gal. ii. 
11-21), is carefully suppressed. 

This treatment of the book of Acts has been generally 
modified by subsequent investigators. The relative good 
faith of the author, for example, is now usually accepted. 
The book is no longer regarded as a party document written 
late in the second century and intended to bring peace into 
the Church by means of a deliberate falsification of history. 
If it misrepresents the relation between Paul and the original 
apostles it is now thought to do so merely because at the 
time when it was written the apostles were surrounded with 
the halo of antiquity and sanctity, and the memory of the 
birth-throes of Gentile freedom had been lost. The obscura- 
tion of the profound differences of principle in the apostolic 
age is thus regarded as naive rather than deliberate; true 



RECENT CRITICISM OF THE BOOK OF ACTS 597 

Paulinism, it is urged, was not easy for a later generation to 
understand. Baur and Zeller, moreover, are generally ad- 
mitted to have been wrong in making the representation of 
apostolic unity, as manifested, for example, in an elaborate 
parallelism between the fortunes and achievements of Peter 
and Paul, the determining principle of the choice of material 
in the book. The principal purpose of the author of Acts is 
now often admitted to have been the telling of the truth, 
though unfortunately, it is said, he set about the task from 
the point of view of his own age. 

At one point, however, the position of Baur has generally 
been maintained. The fifteenth chapter of Acts, it is in- 
sisted, does prove to be in contradiction to the second chapter 
of Galatians. No doubt the unfavorable judgment of Baur 
was greatly exaggerated ; no doubt his exegesis of Galatians 
and Corinthians was one-sided. But after all, it is said, 
the contradiction, however it arose, is a fact, and it discredits 
even those portions of Acts where direct testing is im- 
possible. The book of Acts is thus regarded as having 
failed at the very point where it can be tested in the light of 
an unimpeachable authority. There is some justification, 
therefore, for calling, with B. W. Bacon, the relation be- 
tween Acts and Galatians, particularly as regards the Apos- 
tolic Council, the "crux of apostolic history."^^ 

Even this last stronghold of Tubingenism, however, has 
not been immune from attack, and the vigor of the attack 
seems to be increasing rather than diminishing. The pic- 
ture which the book of Acts draws of the apostle Paul has 
been finding vigorous defenders. 

With regard to the specific problem of Acts xv. 1-35 there 
have been various lines of defense. 

The most thoroughgoing is the contention that Gal. ii. i-io 
and Acts xv. 1-35 are not contradictory for the simple reason 
that they are accounts of two entirely difiFerent events, 
Gal. ii being an account, not of the Apostolic Council, but of 

19 "Acts versus Galatians : the Crux of Apostolic History", in Ameri- 
can Journal of Theology, xi, 1907, pp. 454-474; "Professor Harnack 
on the Lukan Narrative", ibid, xiii, 1909, pp. 59-76. 



/ 



598 THE PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

what happened at the "famine visit" of Paul to Jerusalem, 
which is mentioned in Acts xi. 30; xii. 25, In its most 
thoroughgoing form, this view places the Epistle to the 
Galatians actually before the Apostolic Council of which it 
was formerly supposed to give an account.^" This early 
dating of Galatians can no longer be regarded as a mere 
uninfluential vagary of criticism. For some time an idiosyn- 
cracy of the Roman Catholic scholar Weber, it has now won 
the support of Lake, Ramsay, Emmet, and Plooij.^^ Un- 
doubtedly it solves many of the problems. The omission in 
Galatians of the "famine visit" of Paul to Jerusalem (Acts 
xi. 30; xii. 25), for example, no longer needs to be explained, 
if Galatians actually contains a rather extended account of 
that visit, and the omission of the "Apostolic Decree" is 
easily explicable if at the time when the Epistle was written 
that decree had not yet been promulgated. 

Three principal difficulties beset the hypothesis. In the 
first place, it makes the chronology a little difficult. The 
visit narrated in Gal. ii took place fourteen years 
(Gal. ii. i) after the first visit, which took place three years 
after the conversion (Gal. i. 18) ; thus the event of Gal. ii is 
apparently to be put seventeen years after the conversion of 
Paul. But the famine visit apparently took place at about 
the time of the death of Herod Agrippa I in A.D. 44. If 
therefore the famine visit is to be identified with Gal. ii we 
get A.D. 2J (44-17) as the date of the conversion of Paul, 
which is of course too early. 

This chronological difficulty is, however, not insuperable. 
The figures given in Galatians i. 18; ii. i may be taken in 

20 The identification of Gal. ii. i-io with Acts xi. 30; xii. 25, without 
the early dating of Galatians, is advocated by Maurice Jones (Expositor, 
8th Series, vol. xvii, 1919, pp. 443-446. See also "The Date of the 
Epistle to the Galatians", in Expositor, 8th series, vol. vi, 1913, pp. 193- 
208, where weighty considerations are adduced against the early dating 
of the Epistle.) 

^^De Chronologic van het leven van Paulus. See the review of this 
recent book by Maurice Jones ("A New Chronology of the life of St. 
Paul", in Expositor, 8th series, vol. xvii, 191^, pp. 363-383, 424-446). 
The book itself has not been accessible to the present writer. 



RECENT CRITICISM OF THE BOOK OF ACTS 599 

accordance with the ancient inclusive method of reckoning 
time by which "three years" may mean only one whole year 
with parts of two other years. The 17 years of Galatians 
would then be reduced to 15 (13+2, instead of 14+3). 
The famine visit probably occurred not at the very time of 
the death of Herod Agrippa I, but a year or two later, per- 
haps as late as A.D. 46, Acts xii not being placed as exactly 
synchronous with xi. 30, but being intended merely to bring 
the Jerusalem thread of the narrative up through the time 
since the last mention of Jerusalem, If then, the famine 
visit occurred in 46 and that was 15 years after the con- 
version, we have A.D. 31 (46-15) as the date of the con- 
version — which is not absolutely impossible. Moreover, it 
is by no means certain that the "fourteen years" of Gal. ii. i 
is to be reckoned from the first visit rather than from the 
conversion itself. In the latter case the famine visit 
(A.D. 46) would be only fourteen (or according to the in- 
clusive reckoning, thirteen) years after the conversion; the 
conversion then would be placed in A.D. 32 or 33 — which is 
perfectly possible. The balance of chronological probability 
is therefore only slightly against the identification of Gal. ii 
with the famine visit of Acts xi. 30; xii. 25, and it is unneces- 
sary to suggest, with Lake, that "fourteen" in the text of 
Gal. ii. I is a primitive copyist's error for "four." 

The second difficulty is based upon the apparent coin- 
cidences existing between Gal. ii. i-io and Acts xv. 1-35. 
These similarities, in the minds of most scholars, can be ex- 
plained only if the two passages are regarded as accounts 
of the same event. Furthermore, if the matter of Gentile 
freedom had already been settled at the famine visit in the 
way described in Gal. ii. i-io, how could it come up again, 
apparently de novo, at the Apostolic Council ? 

This difficulty is more serious than the chronological diffi- 
culty just considered. It must be admitted that there is a 
prima facie case for identifying Gal. ii with Acts xv. But 
here again the difficulty is not absolutely insuperable. Gal. 
ii says nothing with ^absolute clearness about a public con- 



600 THE PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

ference with the Jerusalem church. But if the conference at 
the famine visit was merely a private matter between Paul 
and the Jerusalem leaders, a public conference, to silence the 
Judazing agitators who had subsequently arisen, might still 
be necessary. The Apostolic Council of Acts xv is there- 
fore not unnatural, even if the conference of Gal. ii had 
preceded it. 

The third difficulty, unlike the two others, concerns not 
the identification of Gal. ii. i-io with Acts xv. 1-35, but only 
the other feature of the thoroughgoing hypothesis that we 
are now considering, namely the dating of the Epistle to the 
Galatians before the Apostolic Council. If Galatians was 
written before the Apostolic Council, it preceded the Epistles 
to the Thessalonians, and is the earliest of the extant epistles 
of Paul. But in that case it is separated from the epistles 
of the second group — that is, the epistles of the third mis- 
sionary journey, I and II Corinthians and Romans — for 
which, especially for Romans, it displays a marked affinity 
both of language and of thought. The early dating of 
Galatians, therefore, seems to disrupt the natural grouping 
of the epistles and render unintelligible the development of 
Paul's thinking. 

To meet this difficulty Kirsopp Lake has ventured upon 
the bold hypothesis that the Epistle to the Romans, in an 
original form in which it was intended for general circula- 
tion, was written at an early date, though afterwards it 
was modified by Paul and sent as an epistle to the church of 
Rome. If Romans, as well as Galatians, is early, then the 
affinity between the two epistles is no longer an argument 
against the early dating of the Galatian epistle. The hypo- 
thesis of Lake is supported by certain interesting textual 
phenomena in Romans. But it does not silence altogether 
the objection drawn from the natural grouping of the Paul- 
ine Epistles; for it separates not only Galatians but also 
Romans from the Corinthian epistles. And it is perhaps 
too venturesome to be relied upon with any confidence. If 
it be rejected, then we can defend the separation of Galatians 



RECENT CRITICISM OF THE BOOK OF ACTS 6oi 

from the epistles of the third journey only by the general 
consideration that development of language and thought 
is seldom perfectly regular. Perhaps the simplicity of the 
Thessalonian epistles, for example, in comparison with the 
later epistles of Paul, is to be explained by the immaturity 
of the readers, far more than by any immaturity in Paul's 
own thinking. It must always be remembered that the 
period covered by the epistles, except perhaps the Pastorals, 
represents only a comparatively brief portion of the Chris- 
tian life of Paul. Long years of experience, of labor and of 
meditation had preceded. The thought of Galatians, there- 
fore, cannot certainly be pronounced too highly developed 
for the Epistle to have been written in A.D. 50. 

Before the question of the early dating of Galatians is 
finally dismissed, it is only fair to observe that the hypothesis 
can be maintained only upon the "South Galatian" theory of 
the address of the Epistle. If the Epistle was written before 
the Apostolic Council (Acts xv) it could not have been 
written to the churches of "North Galatia", for they were 
not founded until after the Council (Acts xvi. 6) . The later 
dating of the Epistle — at some time after the Council — has 
the advantage of being consistent with either of the theories 
as to the addressees, whereas the early dating is consistent 
only with one. 

On the whole, it may be said that the identification of Gal. 
ii. i-io with the famine visit (Acts xi. 30; xii. 25), with or 
without the early dating of the Epistle, is possible. If there 
is strong independent ground for accepting the Lucan author- 
ship of Acts and if such acceptance of Lucan authorship is 
impossible on the hypothesis that Acts xv. 1-35 is parallel to 
Gal. ii. 10, then the identification of Gal. ii. i-io with the 

A- 

famine visit may well be accepted. Meanwhile, the prima 
facie evidence is perhaps still in favor of the old identifica- 
ton with the Apostolic Council. 

The difficulty of such identification is diminished by an 
acceptance of the so-called "Western text" of the Apostolic 



A 



602 THE PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

Decree (Acts xv. 20, 29; xxi. 25). This solution is adopted 
by Harnack and Lake.^^ 

It has already been observed that one of the chief Tiibin- 
gen and post-Tiibingen arraignments of the book of Acts is 
based upon the decree of the Jerusalem church, which accord- 
ing to Acts was accepted by the apostle Paul. Paul says in 
Galatians that the original apostles "imparted nothing" or 
"added nothing" to him. But according to Acts, it is urged, 
they did add to him something very important indeed — 
namely a requirement that the Gentile converts should keep, 
not indeed all, but a part of the ceremonial law, that they 
should refrain, not only from fornication, but also from 
"things offered to idols and from blood and from things 
strangled." The acceptance of that requirement, it is said, 
would have been the acceptance of a compromise, which was 
absolutely contradictory to the character of Paul and ab- 
solutely contradictory to what he says in Galatians. Various 
explanations have been proposed for the origin of the sup- 
posed error in Acts ; it is generally admitted that the decree 
could hardly have been invented out of whole cloth by the 
author. A common view supposes that it was actually a 
decree of the Jerusalem church, but that it was promulgated 
after Paul's departure and without his consent. Acts xxi. 
25 is the chief support of this view; James, it is said, is there 
represented not as calling attention to something that Paul 
already knew but as informing him of what had been done 
in his absence. On the other hand, the leading com- 
mentator on the book of Acts in Germany, H. H. Wendt, 
comes to the conclusion that the decree was not only passed 
by the Jerusalem church but passed with Paul's consent, at 
the Apostolic Council, as the narrator represents ; the error, 
he believes, consists merely in the attribution of a greater 
importance and larger scope to the decree than was actually 
the fact. Such a concession, however, goes far beyond what 



22 Lake thus combines two of the methods of defending the narrative 
in Acts — the early dating of Galatians and the adoption of the Western 
text of the decree. Yet his purpose is certainly not apologetic. 



RECENT CRITICISM OF THE BOOK OF ACTS 603 

is usual except among conservative scholars. In general, 
from Baur to Bacon the Apostolic Decree has been made one 
of the chief objections to the historicity and Lucan author- 
ship of the book. 

But if the so-called "Western text" of the decree is ac- 
cepted, the objection, to a great extent at least, disappears. 
The Western text, as represented by the manuscript D sup- 
ported by the usual companion evidence (the patristic evi- 
dence taking us back at least to the close of the second 
century) omits all reference to "things strangled" or "that 
which is strangled" in Acts xv. 20, 29, and adds the so-called 
negative form of the Golden Rule ("Whatsoever things you 
would not have happen to you, do ye not to another"). In 
xxi. 25, also, the omission occurs, though it is somewhat 
more weakly attested; but there is no addition of the Golden 
Rule. The addition is generally admitted to be a gloss. But 
the matter is not so clear about the omission. 

If the "things strangled" be omitted we have mentioned 
in the decree only things offered to idols and blood and for- 
nication. In this form the decree may be taken as purely 
moral rather than ceremonial — "things offered to idols" may 
mean idolatry, "blood" may mean murder (it is possible to 
think of a form of murder like exposure of infants which 
was widely practised in those days), and "fornication" of 
course would be taken in the most general sense. It is the 
mention of "things strangled" which makes the decree cer- 
tainly refer to food-requirements, and apparently fixes the 
word "blood" as meaning blood that might be eaten — with 
meat or otherwise. Without the word "blood" the clause 
may be taken as prohibiting merely the three deadly sins — 
idolatory, murder and fornication. Such a prohibition could 
not be regarded as modifying in any way the gospel which 
Paul preached; for Paul was as careful as anyone else to 
require holy living of his Gentile converts. If the Western 
text be correct the Apostolic Decree meant an absolutely un- 
compromising victory for Gentile freedom; far from keep- 
ing any part of the ceremonial law, the Gentiles are to re- 



604 THE PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

frain from nothing except deadly sin; the words of Paul re- 
main true in the fullest and most literal sense, "They . . . 
who were of repute imparted nothing to me." (Gal. ii. 6). 

If this shorter, three-fold form of the decree, without 
"things strangled," be original, then the subsequent develop- 
ment of the text may be explained by the diverging efforts 
of copyists to fix the meaning. The text in its original form 
was ambiguous, since "blood" might mean either blood to 
be eaten, or, figuratively, murder. Those who took it in the 
ceremonial sense, as blood to be eaten, made the meaning 
clear by adding "things strangled" ; those who took it in the 
moral sense, as murder, made the meaning clear by adding 
the Golden Rule, which may be regarded as the summation 
of the moral, as distinguished from the ceremonial law. On 
the other hand, if the longer, fourfold form, with "things 
strangled", be original, then the Western text would be ex- 
plained as an effort on the part of copyists to whom the 
circumstances that had given birth to the decree lay far 
away in the past, to make the decree intelligible by reducing 
it to a moral commonplace. Lake, however, insists that just 
in those quarters where the moral form of the decree appears 
in the text of Acts there existed a food-law to which the 
ceremonial form of the decree could have given convenient 
support; there would therefore, he thinks, have been no 
motive for removing the food-provisions from the decree. 
Furthermore, Lake argues, there is a singular failure on the 
part of those in the second century who attest the food-law 
in question to base that food-law upon the authority of Acts. 

The very interesting textual question cannot here be dis- 
cussed. Probably it must be admitted that the elaborate 
monographs on the subject have not yet brought a final settle- 
ment. Decision depends of course to a considerable extent 
upon what is thought of the Western text as a whole; and 
if it be argued that although the Western text is discredited 
in its additions it is valuable where, as here, it omits some- 
thing, the reply may perhaps be made that the omission of 
"things strangled" is here so closely associated with an ad- 



RECENT CRITICISM OF THE BOOK OF ACTS 605 

dition — the addition of the Golden Rule — as to share in the 
discredit which attaches to that manifest gloss. As with 
regard to the identification of Gal. ii. i-io with Acts xi. 30, 
the most that can be said at present is that the adoption of 
the Western text of the decree is a possible way out of the 
difficulties that are thought to beset a comparison of Acts 
with the Pauline Epistles; and on the whole it is perhaps a 
less satisfactory way than that other hypothesis. 

But if both of these hypotheses should be rejected, if Gal. 
ii. i-io still be identified with Acts xv. 1-35 as an account 
of the Apostolic Council, and if the form of the Apostolic 
Decree contained in the great manuscripts be accepted as 
against the Western text, must we then abandon the Lucan 
authorship of Acts and admit that the book has drawn a false 
picture of the apostle Paul ? C. C. Torrey, at least, does not 
think so. Rejecting both the hypotheses which have thus far 
been considered, maintaining the ordinary identification of 
Gal. ii. 10 with Acts xv. 1-35 and the ordinary text of 
the Apostolic Decree, he yet sturdily rejects all Tiibing- 
enizing suggestions and insists that the account which the 
book of Acts gives of the attitude of Paul is in all essentials 
correct. With regard to the Apostolic Decree, in particular, 
he insists that "no one of the four things named is either a 
religious requirement or thought of as connected with spe-» 
cifically Jewish customs." Acts xv. 21 he interprets in a 
rather unusual way as being simply a "rather naive explana- 
tion of the fact that all through the known world these four 
things were normally regarded as the requirements of 
morality and decency." "The Gentiles, the writer seems 
to say plainly, hold the same opinion as the Jews with regard 
to these particular things."^^ With regard to the general 
attitude attributed by the book of Acts to the apostle Paul, 
Torrey arrives at an equally favorable conclusion. Peter, 
he thinks, believed in continuing circumcision and Jewish 
customs as a racial matter, though not as a means of salva- 
tion ; Paul's attitude seems to have been one of "disapproving 

2' American Journal of Theology, xxiii, 1919, pp. 76 f. 



6o6 THE PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

acquiescence." The controversy between Paul and the 
original apostles at the Apostolic Council was not serious, 
and was not of importance to the interests of the whole 
Church. Peter no doubt confessed his error after being re- 
buked by Paul at Antioch. The influence of the Judaizers 
in the Church soon diminished. The original apostles were 
not on their side at the time of Paul's last visit to Jerusalem. 
A small band of Judaizers would have had great influence 
with the non-Christian population there, and would have 
been amply sufficient, without any adherence of the apostles, 
to give rise to the apprehensions which Paul expresses in 
Rom. XV. 30-32.^* 

Thus Torrey finds in the picture of the apostle Paul given 
in the book of Acts absolutely no reason for abandoning 
his view of the early date of both parts of the book. Indeed, 
even if I Acts were anti-Pauline in some particulars, he 
thinks that a companion of Paul could still have incorporated 
it in his work without change, especially since (says Torrey) 
it is quite possible that the companion in question had little 
understanding of the theology of Paul and perhaps little 
liking for it. But as a matter of fact, Torrey believes, the 
friendship of Luke was put to no such test; for the author of 
I Acts, like the author of II Acts, was a man of broad spirit 
in full sympathy with the Gentile mission.^^ 

In the account which Torrey gives of the attitude of Paul 
according to Acts and Galatians, there is a good deal that is 
questionable. The exegesis of Acts xv. 21, for example, 
may have to be rejected in favor of the more usual view that 
the four prohibitions are here represented simply as an effort 
to avoid offending the Jews who heard Moses read in the 
synagogues; and to explain the silence of Paul one may fall 
back upon the general consideration that the decree was 
never intended to be one of the requirements of salvation 
or an addition to Paul's gospel, but was merely an attempt to 
solve the concrete problem of certain churches, and was 



^ Op. cit., pp. 70-81. 
Op. cit., pp. 68 f . 



RECENT CRITICISM OF THE BOOK OF ACTS 607 

limited in geographical scope. So understood, it would be 
quite in accord with Paul's own principle of becoming all 
things to all men. 

But even after all qualifications are made, Torrey's exposi- 
tion of the Lucan account of Paul is highly significant. Along 
with the expositions given by Lake and Harnack and others 
it is significant as a symptom of the progressive overcoming 
of an unfavorable estimate of Acts which has existed since 
the days of Baur. The Tiibingen view is indeed by no 
means abandoned; certainly it will not be altogether aban- 
doned in America until the opinions of B. W. Bacon, for 
example, are radically changed. But the work of Lake, 
Harnack, Torrey and others is sufficient to show that in 
certain quarters where apologetic interest is quite out of 
the question a more favorable estimate of Acts is gaining 
ground. The book of Acts can no longer be so easily ruled 
out of court by the simple test of the Epistle to the Galatians. 
The account of Paul which is given in Acts may perhaps 
after all be allowed to supplement what he himself tells 
us in his letters. 

Under such treatment, the figure of the great apostle will 
by no means suffer, as Tubingen and neo-Tiibingen scholars 
have always maintained that it would; the apostle will lose 
nothing of his uncompromising devotion to principle. On 
the contrary, his true greatness appears all the more clearly 
in the additional light which is shed upon him. Important 
as is the Epistle to the Galatians, and false as is the conten- 
tion of Watkins^^ that in it Paul is misrepresenting certain 
aspects of the truth in the interests of his argument, it is 
quite impossible that in one brief letter Paul should have 
succeeded in revealing all that is worth knowing about him- 
self. The one-sided use of Galatians has been one of the 
chief sources of misinterpretation of the Epistle itself and 
one of the chief sources of error in the investigation of the 
apostolic age. The Tubingen construction was produced 



^^Der Kampf des Paulus um Galatien, 1913. (St. Paul's Fight for 
Galatia, 1914). 



6o8 THE PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

by disregarding all sources of information except the Epis- 
tles to the Galatians and to the Corinthians — and then mis- 
interpreting these. That construction is beginning to give 
place to broader views. 

It is true, the work of Lake and Harnack and Torrey 
does not get to the root of the matter. The root of the 
matter is the supernatural origin of Christianity, and these 
investigators have not got one bit nearer to that. But if they 
themselves have come no nearer to the goal, they have helped 
others to come near — all the more because of their manifest 
freedom from apologetic bias. On the basis of naturalistic 
presuppositions they have arrived at conclusions in the 
sphere of literary criticism which are profoundly contra- 
dictory to the naturalistic view. 

J. Gresham Machen. 

Princeton. 



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