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It was a high honor to compose the most significant chapters in the history of the Christian Church; yet the author of The Acts, who alone relates the origin of the most significant society and of the mightiest movement in the world, makes no mention of his own name. There is little doubt, however, that this author was "Luke, the beloved physician," the faithful friend and companion of Paul. This belief is supported (1) by a constant tradition extending back to the earliest centuries; (2) by the fact that the same writer composed the Third Gospel, which fact appears in the dedication of both books to Theophilus, in the similarity of style and spirit, in the identity of language, more than forty words being found in both books which appear nowhere else in the New Testament, in the common use of technical medical terms, in the opening reference of The Acts to a "former treatise" which was a life of Christ; therefore, as the Gospel always has been assigned to Luke, it is evident that he also must have written The Acts; (3) by the fact that in certain sections of the book the author writes in the first person, using the pronouns "we" and "us," thus modestly intimating that at the time of the events described he was associated with Paul; and when the circumstances recorded are compared with references made to Luke, by name, in the Epistles, it becomes evident that of all the associates of Paul only Luke could have written these passages. That these passages came from the same pen as the rest of the book is evident from the unity of plan and style and vocabulary.
It appears, then, that the author was a Greek by birth, possibly a native of Antioch, a man of culture and refinement, an extensive traveler, modest, intelligent, sympathetic, loyal. He accompanied Paul from Troas to Philippi on that memorable journey when the great apostle brought the gospel tidings from Asia to Europe; on a subsequent
journey he returned with Paul from Philippi to Jerusalem; he was with him during his imprisonment at Cæsarea, he journeyed with him to Rome, and there in the dreary days of confinement, he showed the unique fidelity which Paul records in that memorable phrase: "Only Luke is with me."
Surely this writer was well equipped for his immortal task. For his earlier narratives he had opportunity to secure materials from Mark at Rome, from Philip at Cæsarea, from Paul and his companions on their long journeys and during the repeated periods in prison; but the most brilliant passages are those which he writes as an eyewitness, when he again lives through the stirring scenes which by his genius have become unfading, inspiring pictures for the Christian world.
Luke shows himself a historian, not of the third or second but of the very first rank, by his absolute accuracy, by the definiteness of his and by the consequent careful selection and consistent use of his literary material. He had in mind one clear purpose;
to that every narrative is related, by that all needless details are excluded, with that before him he gave to his work unity, clearness, force; as a result, we have here no mere disconnected memoirs, no chance extracts from a diary, no careless collection of apostolic traditions, but a finished treatise, a monument of artistic skill. His definite aim was to write a history of the formation and early growth of the Church; or, in the words of a modern scholar, it was to compose a special history of the plan ing and extension of the Church by the . . . establishment of radiating centers at certain salient points throughout a large part of the Roman Empire, beginning at Jerusalem and ending at Rome." Thus it was not the purpose of the writer to produce biographies of Peter or Paul or other apostles; he described these characters only in so far as their activities were concerned with his main purpose of showing how the Church was formed, how broadened to receive Gentiles, how extended from Jerusalem to Rome. So, too, it was evidently not his aim to write all that he knew of the history of any local church, at Jerusalem or
Antioch or Philippi, but only to show how the witnessing of Christian messengers resulted in the establishment of such societies, and how they aided in the work of proclaiming the gospel to the whole world.
There is thus one great theme to which every paragraph of the narrative is related, namely, The Church Witnessing for Christ. It should be noted, then, that the writer is continually concerned with a history of the Church. He is not describing the growth of local organizations, but he has in mind a new and a unique body in which Jews and Gentiles were united on a perfect equality. Such a union had been intimated by Christ, John 10: 16, but "the mystery" of such a "body" was not fully revealed until after his resurrection. Eph. 3: 6. The Acts shows how this body came into being, how it gradually developed from a local sect into a universal brotherhood, how by it Christianity was emancipated from Judaism and became a world religion. Luke traced its extension throughout the empire as far as the city of Rome; he shows that it embraced representatives of many nationalities and was established in many provinces, but was always one united body. In later days of denominational divisions and of sectarian strife there is something refreshing, inspiring, if not rebuking, in this picture of the Apostolic Church.
It should be noted, further, that this Church was a witnessing body. The Acts is not so much concerned with the development of Christian life or the application of Christian truth as with the work of preaching the gospel. Thus it may be well to follow the popular custom and to suggest, as a key verse, the eighth verse of the first chapter: "Ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judæa and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." The witnessing was to be done by the power of the Holy Spirit. In no book of the Bible can more be learned as to the Spirit's divine office than in The Acts, in none are there more marvelous records of his might; so that by some writers the narrative has been called "The Acts of the Holy Spirit."
How this witnessing was done in Jerusalem is related in the first seven chapters of the book; the witnessing in Judæa and Samaria is recorded in chapters eight to twelve; and the remainder of the narrative concerns the witnessing "unto the uttermost part of the earth." As to the nature of this witnessing, the most casual reading of the story shows that it was no mere heralding of the truth, regardless of results; but it was undertaken with care and method, and was so directed as to secure the establishment of churches which became permanent centers of enlarging effort.
Again, it should be noted that this witnessing was for Christ. Nor does this mean merely that he was the Person to whom witness was borne. It is true that the substance of the witness was invariably the death, the resurrection, the present power, and the coming Kingdom of Christ; but when Christ declared that the disciples were to be his witnesses, he meant that they were to be his instruments, his mouthpieces; he was to do the witnessing through them. In the first verse of the story, Luke has referred to his Gospel as written "concerning all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, until the day in which he was received up"; and he has been thought to imply that this second "treatise" would concern what Jesus continued to do. It is a question whether the word "began" was so intended by the writer; but the fact remains that such is indeed the character of the book; The Acts does record the continuing activity of Christ; he is the mighty Worker in all the stirring scenes of the story, his message is being spoken, his power is being manifested, his will is being done.
Some, unwisely, have pressed even further the word "began," to make it indicate that, as the Gospel contained great fundamental words and works of Christ's earthly ministry, so in The Acts the writer recorded only certain, selected, initial deeds and teachings of our risen Lord. While this forces too far the single word, it does call to mind the truth that this is a book of beginnings. The author has shown how the work was commenced and how foundations were laid at certain important centers; he has described the origins of societies and activities, and