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And for this reason, we shall not feel that any apology is due from us, if, in the course of the following pages, we should be compelled to suggest any view unfavourable to the historical character of the Acts of the Apostles. We believe that the world is now prepared to hear such questions freely discussed, and we are convinced that the cause of Christianity will be served, not weakened, by the open acknowledgment of any difficulties that may be found to hang around its historical origin, and by the transference of the evidence in its favour from the letter of the book to the mind and conscience of the individual believer.
That the book of Acts was written with a special, and that an apologetic design, that nothing has been admitted into the work which did not favour this design, and that most of its statements have been made simply for the sake of the design, and with the very slightest regard to historical truth, are the results which, as is pretty generally known, the Tübingen theologians believe that they have obtained from an impartial criticism of the work, and a comparison of it, where possible, with the scattered allusions to past and passing events in the Epistles of Paul. The grounds on which such conclusions rest are, however, less generally appreciated, and it may not perhaps be 'uninteresting to enter at some length into an examination of them, with especial reference to what we have named the artistic power of the historian.
We propose to take as the basis of our remarks the celebrated work of Baur on the Apostle Paul, in which he has endeavoured, by a most searching, minute, and, if often overstrained, still wonderfully ingenious criticism, to take from the Acts all historic credibility. We must not, however, attempt to travel over the entire field of inquiry thus opened before us. It will be sufficient to present some examples of the way in which we think Luke has permitted himself to be influenced either by love of effect or by some special interest; while we shall devote some space to the consideration of a question of the greatest importance for the determination of the relative position of the Jewish and Gentile Christians, viz., the relation which the fifteenth chapter of the Acts bears to the second chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians.
Upon the inconsistency pointed out by Dr. Baur* between the statement of Acts i. 15, that the number of disciples assembling in Jerusalem after the ascension was “about an hundred and twenty," and the testimony of Paul (1 Cor. xv. 6) that Christ before his ascension—for so we are entitled to assume
Paulus, &c. p. 37.
that this event took place—appeared to “above five hundred brethren at once,” we do not lay any stress, because Luke's account does not exclude the existence of other Christians not in Jerusalem; and it is obvious to suppose-if, indeed, it is not by far the most natural supposition—that the Christophany recorded by Paul occurred in Galilee. Nor is it at all improbable that the number of disciples may have increased so rapidly as to rise in very
short time to three thousand one hundred and twenty; and again, after another interval, to five thousand, exclusive of women and children (for so we are disposed to understand Tôv åvopôv in Acts iv. 4). Still, admitting that these numbers may ανδρών . 4) possibly be derived from a tolerably reliable tradition, and may therefore represent facts, it is impossible not to recognise here the skill of the narrator in the presentation of such facts as will tell in favour of the cause whose history he writes—a skill, however, so far perfectly fair and commendable. The address of the Apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost, it may easily be supposed, would produce a deep impression upon the multitude; and where
a so many must have been previously disposed to accept Christianity, the conversion of a large number at once would naturally follow. And in regard to the third statement of the number of the disciples,* which seems to form a climax to the other two, we must remark that there is no warrant in the history itself for assuming that the increase from three to five thousand took place in one day. Indeed, the reverse of this seems to be implied ; for the words which announce the increase are preceded by the statement that “ many of them which heard the word believed;" and from the concluding verse of chapter ii. we learn that “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved," whence it appears that the infant church was in a continually progressive state. Baur's assertion, therefore, that the small number is plainly erroneous, and that it is made to precede the larger ones merely in order to produce a strong impression of the rapid success of the gospel, and this without any regard to the facts of the case, we are disposed to treat as one of those instances in which he has permitted himself to overstep the limits of sound historical criticism. At the same time, in justice to the great critic, it must be added that this proof of the writer's special pleading is adduced only as one of many, and by itself it would probably have been regarded by him as having no weight. And here we may take occasion to remark,-what, however,
we are sure our readers do not require to learn from us,—that there is a cumulative force in reasoning of this kind ; and that many indications of a special design apart from historic truth pervad
* Acts iv. 4.
ing any given work, although each by itself might without much difficulty be explained away, will, when taken together, prove that such a design really exists.
We proceed to notice another instance in which the scriptural historian has been thought by some of his critics, and, as it seems to us, with more justice than in the former case, to have indulged in exaggerated description, in order to present Christianity in as favourable a light as possible. What a beautiful and engaging picture does he draw of the simple and loving life of the primitive church !-"And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. . . . . And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.” * Now in regard to this description, so beautiful in its matchless simplicity, the question may fairly be asked, whether it is to be regarded as representative of the real state of the Jerusalem church in the earliest times, or of that church as idealised by a mind which looked back upon it with regretful glance through the perspective of years. On the one hand, it may be readily conceived that the new life shed abroad by Christ would continue to produce its effects through his apostles, who, now that he was gone, drew upon themselves the eyes of the world, and would awaken men's sympathies and unite their hearts in a way before unknown. The religious feelings, planted so deep down in man's nature, so far below those surface-affections which are called into every-day activity, and to which the dust of earth ever clings, undoubtedly possess, when fully aroused, a binding power such as belongs to nothing else. In proportion to their remoteness from those meaner passions which are most readily excited amid the ordinary concerns of life, they are strong and lasting; and hearts divided by the distinctions of race, or rank, or intellect, will fly to clasp one another in the close embrace of a common faith. Besides, the firm belief which had taken such strong possession of the first disciples, that the risen Jesus would soon return to earth in power and great glory, to judge the world and change the existing order of things, would naturally raise all hearts above the ignorant present, and by transporting them into the coming kingdom of righteousness and peace, fill them with a spirit concordant with the expected bliss. But, on the other hand, is it to be supposed that the large numbers of persons of all ranks who were so speedily, and even suddenly converted, were at once transformed into genuine Christians? Even Neander admits that this could not have been the case, and observes, that “the Holy Spirit operated then, as in all succeeding ages, by the publication of divine truth, not with a sudden transforming magical power, but according to the measure of the free self-determination of the human will."* Many passages, moreover, of Paul's epistles prove that churches called into existence under influences quite as exciting as those which attended the formation of the first church at Jerusalem, and for which the possession of the Holy Spirit was equally claimed, were by no means free from the evil passions which prevailed amongst their members previous to conversion. Yet the statements of the Acts present a picture of almost perfect harmony of thought and feeling,-a picture the colouring of which is only heightened by the one dark spot which appears on the canvas: for as the sin of Ananias and Sapphira with its terrible consequences, is the single exception to the otherwise universal love of the disciples, the inference is evidently intended to be drawn that when they were removed, there was not one left who would have either dared or desired to oppose himself to the apostles, or in any way disturb by the jarring of selfish passions the prevailing peace.
* Acts ii. 42.45, and iv. 32-33.
It was perhaps inevitable, certainly excusable, that a Christian author, looking back through at least forty years to the origin of an institution with which his best feelings and hopes were bound up, should have invested its first beginnings with
, a glory drawn from his own fancy rather than from any historical research; and to say that he has done so, is not in the least to impeach his veracity. The story of Ananias and Sapphira, however, is so evidently unhistorical in its character, that we are forced to the conclusion, either that it is purely fictitious, or that it rests upon a tradition having a very slight foundation in truth. Looked upon as a miraculous event,--and so undoubtedly the narrator intends it to be taken, -the death of Ananias and his wife presents difficulties which to us seem insuperable. The character of the miracle is the first difficulty. That the Divine Power, which in no single instance recorded in the gospels was exerted to inflict an injury on any human being, however guilty, which permitted the canting Pharisee and the
very murderers of our Lord to escape unhurt, should now have been put forth supernaturally to strike with punishment two individuals who, though certainly sinful, were still making
Planting and Training, vol. i. p. 22.
some sacrifice for the common good,--and this, moreover, at the bidding of the very man who had himself denied his Master with an oath,-seems to us altogether inconceivable, and, at all events, is not to be believed except on the strongest contemporary evidence. And again, is it to be supposed that a wealthy man, together with his wife, should have died suddenly, both in one day, both in consequence of having deceived the apostles, and that no investigation into the circumstances of the case should have been made? If the Sanhedrim apprehended Peter for healing a lame man, they surely would not have let him escape when he struck dead a sound one. This difficulty applies also to the rationalistic explanation, which has besides some peculiar to itself. That Ananias should have been so startled, so terribly shaken through mind and body, by the rebuke of Peter acting upon his guilty conscience, as to fall dead instantaneously, is highly improbable; but that the same thing should have been repeated in the same day is impossible. Nor can the rationalist wholly dispense with the supernatural element; for had not Peter received a divine warning that Sapphira's fate would be the same as that of her husband, he would hardly have ventured himself to pronounce the doom which followed spontaneously in the case of Ananias.
These difficulties are cleared away only by rejecting the story. We do not, indeed, feel ourselves justified in asserting that there is no truth whatever at its foundation; possibly there is, but how much it is now impossible to decide. Certain it is, that, whether consciously or unconsciously on the part of the writer, the narrative fulfils a twofold end; tending, on the one hand, as we have before stated, to bring out into relief, by a striking contrast, the Christian unity of the disciples, and on the other, to exalt immensely the dignity and power of the apostles. Nor, indeed, is it easy to escape the inference that this effect was expressly designed, when we notice how the writer directs attention to the consequences of this terrible event in the “great fear” which “came upon all the church ;"* and how, in the section immediately following, he takes occasion to represent the apostles as standing apart from the multitude in isolated majesty, while the people around, including the disciples, looked on them with the profoundest reverence and awe, not daring to come into any close proximity.t
It is worth while also to notice, in connection with this subject, how skilfully the excellent example of the wealthy Joses,
• Acts v. 11.
# We agree with Baur (Paulus, &c. p. 22, note) in taking Tôv No1tv, in Acts v. 13, to signify the rest of those who were assembled in Solomon's porch, exclusive simply of the apostles. Indeed, it does not seem certain that any but Christians were present.