The New International Encyclopædia/Acts of the Apostles
ACTS OF THE APOS'TLES (Gk. Πράξεις τῶν Ἀποστόλων, Praxeis tōn Apostolōn). The fifth book of the New Testament, the composition of which is ascribed by tradition and by the general consent of critics to the same author as that of the Third Gospel, to which book it forms a sequel. As the Gospel was written after the destruction of Jerusalem (70 A.D.), the date of Acts is still later, being not before 75 A.D., and not after 95 A.D., most likely about 80 A.D. Its place of composition is not possible to determine. Its purpose is apparent from the plan on which its material is selected and arranged, when compared with the declared purpose and evident plan of its antecedent book. (See Luke, Gospel of.) It is to place before Theophilus, who was either a convert from paganism, or, if yet a pagan, well on the way toward an acceptance of Christianity (see Theophilus), the development of the religion of Jesus from its old life in Judaism to its new life in Gentilism as providentially directed and so originally intended by its divine founder. There may have been a secondary purpose, to show, by the favorable reception and treatment which this religion received from Roman officials, that there was no disposition on the part of the Government to consider Christianity in a hostile light. Such a secondary purpose would be the more likely if Theophilus were yet himself a pagan and the book were composed in the early Flavian régime, when Christianity was under imperial suspicion. (See Persecutions of the Christians.)
The material of the book is derived partially from outside sources, both oral and written, the presence of which is specially evident in the first twelve chapters, which treat of the experience of the early church in Jerusalem and Judea, and partially from personal notes of the missionary experiences of Paul and his companions, taken, as the critical facts in the case would seem to make clear, by the author himself, who thus becomes a companion of Paul. As to the identity of this companion there would seem to be no valid reason against the tradition that he was Luke, mentioned in Paul's Epistles as standing in close relationship to the Apostle. (See Colossians iv:14; II. Timothy iv:11; Philemon, verse 24.) This is the general opinion of criticism.
Two schools of criticism have attempted to disparage the credibility of Acts, the Tübingen School (1845), which held it to be a tendency writing, so manipulating the narrative in the interests of the union movement of the Church in the second century as to destroy all accuracy of facts, and the Documentary School (1890), which held it to be a complex composite writing, made up of such variant documents, of such varied origins, and of such differing degrees of reliability as to hopelessly obscure the actual facts of the history. Neither of these attempts has proved successful. At present there is an effort among critics to subject it to the same process of literary criticism as has been so largely employed in the Old Testament. This would present it as a writing which not only gives us a history of the early times of which it tells, but in the way in which it gives that history so reflects the later times in which it was written as to give us a picture of its own age. By these critics it is held to be a composite writing of not earlier origin than the reign of Domitian (81-96 A.D.), compiled by a Gentile Christian, not Luke nor any companion of Paul, and, outside of the personal diary sections in the latter half of the book, which may have come from Luke, of no necessary historical accuracy.
Professor Blass of Halle has suggested that it was written originally in two texts, a longer and a shorter one, the former being the earlier, and represented in the text of the peculiar Codex Bezæ (D), the shorter being the later and represented in the canonical text of the Testament.
Bibliography. Commentaries: H. Meyer (edited by Wendt, Göttingen, 1899); W. de Wette (Leipzig, 1860); Ewald, Die drei ersten Evangelien und die Apostelgeschichte (Göttingen, 1872); F. C. Cook, in Bible [Speaker's] Commentary (New York, 1881); F. Nösgen (Leipzig, 1882); O. Zöckler, in Strack and Zöckler, Kommentar (Munich, 1894); H. J. Holtzmann, in Hand-Kommentar zum Neuen Testament (Freiburg, 1892); R. Knowling, in Expositor's Greek Testament (London, 1900). Introductions: Hilgenfeld (Halle, 1875); Holtzmann (Freiburg, 1892); Salmon (London, 1894); Weiss, English translation (Edinburgh, 1888); A. Jülicher (Leipzig, 1901); Th. Zahn (Leipzig, 1900); B. W. Bacon, in New Testament Handbook Series (New York, 1900); J. Moffatt, The Historical New Testament (New York and Edinburgh, 1901). General works: A. Neander, Planting and Training of the Christian Church, English translation in Bohn's Series (London, 1842-46); F. C. Baur, Paul, English translation (London, 1872-75); A. Ritschl, Die Entstehung der altkatholischen Kirche (Bonn, 1857); Th. Lewin, Life and Epistles of St. Paul (London, 1875); C. Weizsäcker, The Apostolic Age, English translation (Edinburgh, 1894); W. M. Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire Before 170 A.D. (New York, 1893); St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen (New York, 1895); F. J. A. Hort, Judaistic Christianity (Cambridge, 1894); J. Weiss, Ueber die Absicht und den litterarischen Character der Apostelgeschichte (Göttingen, 1897).