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The centre of expansion is Jerusalem, which soon sets up a second centre in the nearby coast city of Caesarea, the centre of government for the country; this was the work of Hellenistic refugees from Jerusalem. Other refugees carried the gospel northward along the coast of Phoenicia to Cyprus and Antioch, which becomes a third centre. Saul, or Paul, who had been sent out from Jerusalem and Caesarea to his native city of Tarsus in Cilicia, joined the apostolic staff at Antioch. Paul and Barnabas are sent out from Antioch, and take the gospel into Pamphylia and Galatia (eastern Phrygia). This is the full extent of the expansion prior to A.D. 50, so far as Luke's narrative reveals it.
Egypt. Christians from Cyrene were among the first evangelists in Antioch, but no other Africans appear in the narrative except for the Ethiopian chancellor. Nothing is said about expansion into Egypt or into points east of Palestine or Antioch. There must have been such expansion.
The Pentecostal List. The expansion in and from Antioch was being conducted in Greek, but was cradled in an older expansion which was conducted in Aramaic for Jews and others who spoke this language. How far this expansion went, we cannot say, but perhaps there is a clue to it in the list of nations from which pilgrims came to Jerusalem according to the first chapter of Acts. This list is commonly regarded by scholars as a preview of the Jewish diaspora, into which the gospel radiated. The picture is oriental.
1,2, and 3, are the Parthions, Medes, and Elamites, non-Semitic races in the mountainous country east of the Tigris; they are not included on the map. The Parthians, in common speech, meant the oriental empire which was the rival of Rome. Mesopotamia (4) is the land between the two rivers, where the capital of the Parthian king was situated; there were numbers of Jews there. 6 to 10 make up what we call Asia Minor; they are Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia; this was a field of missionary enterprise which may have been opened up from Antioch already, 11 is Egypt and 12 A and B are the parts of Libya around Cyrene, from which country the Antiochene evangelists had come. Cretans (13) and Arabs (14) seem to be added to round out the list. The Romans who are then mentioned are residents in Jerusalem, not visitors.
This picture recalls two others; one is the old oriental empire at its largest expansion, which became the dominions of the Seleucids and the Ptolemies; it is an oriental view of the world. The other is the list of Hellenistic synagogues in Jerusalem which is mentioned in Acts. It does not extend to Greece or Rome; it ignores the western world and the future work of Paul. It is a picture of the Christian dispersion as it existed in the year 50, when the Jerusalem council was held; it is a clue to the date of the sources which Luke uses in the first half of the Acts, and the geographical horizon of those who composed them. It is not really an introduction to Acts as a whole. It envisages an oriental expansion in which Peter is the most important figure.
The power and purpose pent up in the apostolic church were so great that it was bound to break through its Jewish confines and pour out into the Gentile world; all the more because it had been unable to induce the Jewish people to accept Jesus as their promised Messiah. Paul distinctly states that the rejection of Jesus by the Jewish people provided the stimulus which brought in the Gentiles. Luke has strangely little to tell us about the way it happened; but he makes it clear that it was not the work of Paul; or of Paul alone.
The impetus was supplied by the persecution in which Stephen was put to death. There were enthusiasts in his party whose original home had been in Cyprus and Cyrene, a region of Africa to the west of Egypt, where Jews were numerous. These men fled for refuge to Phoenicia and Cyprus, and some of them found their way to Antioch on the Orontes, where they addressed themselves to the ' Greeks', that is to say non-Jews, speaking the Greek language and enjoying the Greco-Roman culture.
Antioch had been the capital of the old Seleucid empire, and was the third greatest city in the Roman world. It was the place of residence of the 'legate' of Syria, who was sent by the Roman senate to govern their oriental dominions, and to watch over the frontier defences on the River Euphrates. He exercised a general supervision over southern Syria and Judaea, as we have already seen. He had authority over the procurator at Caesarea.
Luke had little source-material about the foundation of this important church; no story of heavenly guidance or spectacular conversions; no miracles; no inspired kerugmata; and what he had not got, he could |67 not give. Perhaps there was nothing very spectacular about the beginnings in Antioch? When the news reached Jerusalem, they sent Barnabas, who now apparently ranked as an apostle, to Antioch. He rejoiced at what he found there, and urged them to persevere; they may have needed the encouragement which he knew how to provide. He went on as far as Tarsus in Cilicia, where he found Saul, as he was still called; and he brought him to Antioch, where they worked together for a whole year. This allusion to a whole year illustrates the disconnected character of Luke's information; it hangs in vacancy without any indication of a beginning or ending; it does not help us to date the foundation of the Antiochene church. Some scholars would like to place it before Peter's visit to Caesarea. The plan of the Acts is really more geographical than chronological; it follows the outward expansion of the gospel from one Roman province to another until it reaches Rome itself.
One thing of interest he does mention. The believers in Antioch were given a nickname, which, it seems, was not liked. They were called Christians, a Latin formation meaning soldiers or dependants of the Christus. The word Christus or Messiah could not help suggesting the idea of a claimant to the throne of David, and it may be that these political associations of the word give us the clue to its use. It suggests that the faith had come to the attention of the Roman authorities, and this, in its turn, suggests that the course of evangelization was not running smoothly. The word Christian seems to crop up at first in connexion with legal trials and persecutions.
Luke also mentions a visit from some Jerusalem prophets under the leadership of a certain Agabus. It is the first time that we hear of prophets in the church, though the church itself was thought of as a continuation of the prophetic succession. They seem to have made their appearance between 3 5 and 40. Their ministry in Antioch may be dated in this way. They prophesied a famine 'which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar', the inference being that the prophecy was uttered in the previous reign, which was that of Caligula, 37-41.
The Emperor Tiberius, in whose reign the crucifixion took place, was appointed co-emperor by Augustus in A.D. 13, succeeding him in 14. He did so with great caution and an elaborate deference to the old republican forms. When Caligula succeeded Tiberius in 37, it was quite another matter. The 'principate' was now an established institution. The 'princeps' was the master of the world, and was entitled to divine honours everywhere. His personal name was Gaius (or Caius), the name 'caligula' being a nickname which had been bestowed upon him by the soldiers; it means 'little boots'. He was a lunatic, and took his deity seriously. He set himself up in Rome as a divine ruler, and surrounded himself with a German bodyguard. Under this emperor a strong line was taken with the Jews.
We noted that during the last years of Tiberius, Herod Antipas, the 'tetrarch' of Galilee, had been engaged in a war with his ci-devant father-in-law Aretas, the king of Arabia.He had been unsuccessful, and Vitellius had been obliged to come to his aid. Now his new wife Herodias, who was a daughter of old Herod, had a brother named Agrippa, an agreeable and clever adventurer, who was usually in debt or trouble of some kind. After living in Galilee for a while, he went off to Rome, attempted to influence Tiberius against Antipas, made some unguarded remarks about Tiberius, and found himself in prison. When Tiberius died, Caligula restored Agrippa to favour, and made him king of Trachonitis (or Decapolis), the 'tetrarchy' on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee which was vacant by the death of the amiable Herod Philip.
His elevation to the rank of king did not please everybody. When he passed through Alexandria, late in 38 perhaps, there were serious riots in which synagogues were attacked and destroyed; and when he reached Palestine, he found his sister Herodias, and his brother-in-law (and uncle) Antipas very angry. Antipas had ruled Galilee for forty years without having the title of king, and Herodias insisted that the time had come for him to go to Rome and demand it. Agrippa sent a representative, who suggested to the emperor that he had troops at his |71 disposal on a war basis, and was inclined to make common cause with the Parthians against the Roman empire. The result was that Antipas was deposed and banished to Lyons in Gaul, where he ended his days. His tetrarchy of Galilee was added to the kingdom of Agrippa. These events occupied the years 39 and 40.
There were Christians in the immediate entourage of Antipas, whose names were known to Luke; Joanna, the wife of his 'steward' Chuza, had been a personal follower of Jesus; and Manaen his 'foster-brother' was a leader in the Antiochene church. It is possible that the faith reached Gaul in this strange manner. In any case the third of the sinister figures in the gospel narrative was gone.
The friendship of Caligula for Agrippa did not imply that he was fond of the Jews. They were to feel the full weight of his tyranny.
The disturbances at Alexandria developed into an organized campaign of violence, destruction and massacre. Synagogues were torn down, and many Jews died for their faith and nation. They could not, of course, accept the deity of the emperor, or offer him the divine honours which they were now required to do. This had been recognized in times past, and it had been held to be sufficient if they prayed for the emperor and offered sacrifices for him in the Temple. Conformity to the law of the empire was now insisted upon, and in this respect the later persecution of the Christians was anticipated. But possibly Caligula had good reason for suspecting that the thought of an alliance with the Parthians, and a revolt against Rome, which Agrippa had suggested was the policy of Antipas, did exist in the minds of the more turbulent Jewish parties. Perhaps it had existed in the mind of Antipas? Such political ambitions must have been very tempting.
A reasonable emperor would have dealt with these disturbances by making wise concessions; but Caligula was not the man to be so easily mollified on a point of personal prestige and possibly of military danger. A deputation of Alexandrian Jews waited upon him in Italy, headed by the illustrious scholar and philosopher, Philo; but they were kept waiting at the imperial palace through the summer months, and finally went home without an answer. There was a counter-deputation under the leadership of a Greek scholar named Apion, who had written |72 some anti-Jewish tracts, in which he made some extraordinary statements. He affirmed that the Jewish people had originated as a group of rebels of Egyptian origin, that they worshipped a god with an ass's head, and that they fattened up Greeks in their Temple to be sacrificed to this god. These extraordinary libels were believed by so intelligent a Roman as Tacitus.
Orders were sent to Petronius, the legate of Syria, to have an image of the emperor made, and to install it in the Temple at Jerusalem. Petronius knew the folly of this policy, but dared not disobey. In the summer of 40, he advanced into Galilee and quartered his army at the sea-port of Ptolemais, the modern Acre. Here he received a dignified protest from the leading Jews. He visited Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, where further protests were made. He was met by thousands of Jewish peasants, who had neglected their farms in order to appear before him; they declared their willingness to die, rather than submit to the desecration of the Temple. Such is the story in Josephus. The proconsul made a brave decision. He agreed to delay proceedings and recommend the emperor to give up the project. He relied, no doubt, on the support of King Agrippa.
The end of the affair was most dramatic. Caligula was persuaded to give up the project, but Petronius must pay the price. Orders were sent to him to kill himself; but before these orders reached him, a faster messenger brought him the news that the emperor had been assassinated on 24 January 41. King Agrippa played an important part in bringing the new emperor, Claudius, to the throne. He was rewarded by having Judaea and Samaria added to his kingdom. The kingdom of Israel was thus restored to its fullest extent; but he was the last monarch to occupy the throne of David, and his reign was short. He enjoyed the kingdom for three years, A.D. 41-44.
Luke does not refer to any of these events in the Acts, for he was not engaged in writing a history of his times, like Josephus; but they are of importance to us, since they supply the background which helps to explain the rise of the Christian prophets.
We know of a Jerusalem prophet of this period named Silas (or Silvanus) who co-operated with Paul, some ten years later, in the |73 evangelization of Macedonia, and was a co-author with him of the Epistles to the Thessalonians, which contain some fragmentary apocalyptic texts. They speak darkly of' a man of lawlessness, or son of perdition, who lifts himself up and exalts himself above every god or object of worship, to the extent of enthroning himself in the Temple of God, and displaying himself as God'. The reference to Caligula is unmistakable. The authors of the Epistles go on to state that the danger was not past; the 'mystery of lawlessness' was still at work; there was for the moment a restraining influence, but before long the evil thing would appear again in even greater force.
There is also a dated reference in 2 Corinthians to a man who was well known to Paul about the year 40 (' fourteen years ago' is the phrase used), who had marvellous visions and revelations, and was ' caught up into the third heaven, into the Paradise', whether in the body or out of the body Paul was not able to say. This man heard ' unutterable utterances' which it was not lawful for a man to speak. We do not know who he was; for the traditional theory that it was Paul himself is hard to reconcile with the wording of the epistle; but the reference sheds a little light on the nature of the prophetic movement as it existed among Christians in Syria in the reign of Caligula.
In the opinion of many scholars we may also take into consideration some of the older visions which were incorporated into the Revelation of St John. Some of these were the work of a Jerusalem prophet; for the first commission of the seer, after receiving his call from the hand of an angel, was to ' measure the Temple of God, and the altar, and those that worship at it'; and this was succeeded by the picture of the martyrdom of the witnesses of God in 'the great city which is spiritually called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified too'; from which we can see that the Jerusalem prophets maintained their witness against the authorities in Jerusalem who were responsible for the policy of persecution. Now we find, in the thirteenth chapter of this book, a horrible 'wild beast' which rises up out of the sea (that is to say the west), and demands the homage of the whole world, and makes war on the saints; and there is a second wild beast, from the land, which makes an image of the first, and puts to death those who will not worship it. This prophecy has been rewritten to accord with the times of Nero, but it appears to retain features which were suggested by the episode of (iuligula and Petronius.
|74 We shall have to come to terms with the idiom of Judaeo-Christian prophecy, and to recognize it as a form of historical writing with its own idiom and conventions. It is far removed, however, from the kind of history in which men make plain factual statements, weighed and measured; it is a kind of poetry which may sometimes have been composed in a state of vision or ecstasy. It is not entirely fantasy, however. Stern facts appear, disguised in dream-like shapes, which embody the terrors and perils of the existent historical situation. It used a language which had been inherited from the old prophetic and apocalyptic tradition, but what it had to say was relevant to the 'last times', which simply meant the time in which men were actually living.
The apocalyptic tradition visualizes the universe as a scene of conflict between God Almighty and the powers of evil; a conflict which was concentrated for the moment in a trial of strength between the people of God and the empire of the world. It declares its unconquerable faith in the triumph of God's people, which will be consummated in the glorious appearance of the Messiah or Son of Man. The popular talk of the Christians in Antioch may have approximated more closely to the speech of Silas or of the Revelation, than to the spiritual wisdom of Paul or the well-measured prose of Luke; and if veiled references to the emperor as the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, were passing from mouth to mouth, or cryptic statements to the effect that the Lamb would overcome him because he was King of kings and Lord of lords, it is easy to understand how Christianity might come to be regarded as a revolutionary movement. Of course Christianity is in some sense a revolutionary movement.
Such visions and revelations were in line with the utterances of the Hebrew prophets which were read every Sabbath in the synagogues, and with later apocalypses, too, which were not in the canon; but their starting-point will have been those sayings of Jesus himself which were expressed in this idiom. It is considered likely that collections of his sayings of this sort, perhaps with explanatory notes, were being made and even reduced to writing about this time; such as the ' Little Apocalypse', for instance, in the thirteenth chapter of Mark.
When Agabus and his friends reached Antioch, we may feel confident that they had revelations and visions to offer of this sort, and the famine which they predicted for the future would be only one of the woes which were to come upon the earth. When a bad famine did
|75 actually come in the years 45-46, the church at Antioch decided to send relief to the church in Jerusalem 'by the hands of Barnabas and Saul'; but in saying this, Luke seems to have pursued one of his sources of information a little too far, and has to retrace his steps to take up another.
In Rome King Agrippa had wielded a good deal of influence with two successive emperors; in Palestine he had won considerable prestige by his handling of Caligula; and the way was open for the revival of the old Jewish kingdom in some of its ancient glory. He was an astute politician with dreams of grandeur. He adopted a highly orthodox policy on religious affairs, but this did not prevent him from showering favours on the numerous independent Greek cities which came under his rule. He made the best of both worlds.
The Nazareans at Jerusalem were in a difficult position. Strong passions had been aroused by the attempted desecration of the Temple by Caligula, and the anti-Gentile feeling in the hearts of many Jews must have been intensified; the feeling of loyalty to the Temple must have been deepened; and the church was already suspect on that point. It was now fraternizing with the Gentiles, and semi-Gentile congregations were coming into existence in Syria and Cilicia and even as near home as Caesarea.
Early in the year A.D. 44 the king gave his sanction to the persecution of Christians in Jerusalem, and this time members of the Twelve were singled out. James the son of Zebedee was killed, but there are no Acts of his martyrdom. It pleased the Jews, Luke tells us, and Agrippa proceeded to arrest Peter about the time of the Passover. A great change had taken place since the days of Peter's popularity, when it was said that people used to bring out their sick and lay them in the street, so that his shadow might fall upon them as he passed.
The document which Luke is using gives a remarkable narrative of his escape from prison, which was regarded as an intervention of providence; or, as they expressed it, an angel of the Lord. The element of the marvellous in the first half of the Acts cannot be passed over without any consideration, and a few observations are offered.
The first is that the element of the marvellous, apart from the question of the Resurrection itself, does not determine the course of history; |76 it blends into it. There were of course the 'pneumatic' gifts, such as tongues, prophecy, visions, healings, and so forth, which every one admits to have been features of primitive Christian religion; but above and beyond that, there was the sense of being controlled by great spiritual powers, a faith which was frequently expressed in the language of vision or apocalypse. It was the angel, or the Spirit, that directed and preserved the apostle or evangelist in all his ways; and the Syro-Hellenistic mind enjoyed a colourful sensuous presentation of this evangelical conviction. It liked to externalize it in concrete images. But, even so, the angel of Hebrew thought was not a Michelangelo angel with a superb physique and uplifted wings; it was a sudden inrush of invisible spiritual energy. The light that woke Peter in his prison cell was not, of necessity, a visible light; the voice that commanded him to rise up was not, of necessity, an audible voice; his condition at the time was not a normal one; he was in a dream or trance; he did not realize that it was true until he found himself in the street, and ' came to himself. Then he believed. The Lord had indubitably sent his angel to deliver him. We have the talk of Peter to himself as he walked down the street.
It is plain that we have no idea what 'actually happened'; and it almost looks as if Peter had no idea either; but, in any case, there were excellent reasons for not revealing the mechanics of the escape, if there were mechanics. There were Christians in Herod's household perhaps, who might have to pay the penalty. The language of apocalyptic was the best language to use, and fully expressed the facts of the situation on the plane that really mattered to the Christian mind. It was a wonderful escape; it was an act of God; no need to say more.
It is characteristic of these stories that they are full of realistic and interesting detail. This one shows us the church met together in earnest prayer in the house of Mary the mother of Mark; we are even given the name of the maid who opened the door; it was Rose (Rhoda). Once again a Lucan source which many would describe as legendary enables us to follow new developments in the life of the church. The position of the Twelve has altered; they no longer dominate the scene in Jerusalem. Peter goes away 'to another place'; but before doing so he indicates the future leader of the Jerusalem church. It was, of course, James the brother of the Lord.
Even this Jerusalem story ends with a reference to Caesarea. The
|77 persecution is brought to an end by the sudden death of Herod Agrippa at Caesarea later in the same year; a death which was regarded as a judgement of God, both in the Acts and by Josephus. He was celebrating some imperial festival, and in the course of it he gave himself some of the airs of a divine king after the Gentile pattern. The angel of the Lord struck him, Luke says, because he gave not God the glory. Josephus gives unpleasant details with regard to the loathsome disease of which he died. The Jewish monarchy, on the grand scale, was extinguished. His son, who was also called Herod Agrippa, was a minor; and though he was given royal status some six years later, it was only as king of Chalcis, a small district in the Lebanon. We shall hear of him in connexion with St Paul. Indeed, he retained his position as king until his death in about A.D. 100.
And now the Jews were placed once again under the rule of agents of the emperor called 'procurators', and the loss of their independence, nominal as it had been, provoked bitter resentment. We hear now of the Zealot or Cananean party, and hostility to Rome was further inflamed by the misgovernment and avarice and atrocities of the procurators. Rebellion now became endemic, as one modern historian says.
Cuspius Fadus became procurator in 44, and was succeeded by Tiberius Alexander, a renegade Jew from Alexandria and a nephew of the philosopher Philo. It was under Fadus that a 'magician' named Theudas led a company of his followers to the River Jordan which, he assured them, would divide at his command. He should not be confused with the earlier Theudas, who is mentioned by Gamaliel in his speech before the sanhedrin which is reported in the Acts; unless, indeed, Luke has introduced his name into Gamaliel's speech by error. Tiberius Alexander took strong action against the Zealots, and crucified two of their leaders, James and Simon, who were sons of that Judas of Galilee who had founded the party. Is it possible that the Zealot Simon, who was executed by Tiberius Alexander, was the disciple of Jesus who holds the eleventh place in the list of the Twelve, next to Judas Iscariot, and is always called Simon the Zealot, or Cananean?
The disorders of this time were made worse by an extensive famine which began in 45 and continued through 46. Josephus tells us how Helen, the dowager-queen of Adiabene, brought relief to the people of Jerusalem, on behalf of her son King Izates, who was a circumcised Jew. Adiabene was a small Syrian principality in the Parthian sphere of influence, beyond the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. Judaism was extending its religious and political influence in those regions. It is our misfortune that we know nothing of the expansion of the gospel in this direction, for some expansion there must have been.
No doubt help came in from many parts of the world to the hungry city, including the help brought by Barnabas and Saul from the church at Antioch. It must have been a considerable task to make the collection from the brethren, 'from each according to his means', to convert it into goods, and to bring it to Jerusalem; for a gift of cash would not have given immediate relief, and is therefore unlikely. In making all these arrangements the two apostles had the help of a Gentile Christian named Titus, who came up with them to Jerusalem, as we learn from Galatians.The visit may have coincided with one of the great festivals, when many pilgrims came up to Jerusalem. The gifts were received on behalf of the Jerusalem church by the elders. We have not met with elders before; but every Jewish community was traditionally governed by the elders of the people. In this atmosphere of benevolence and of gratitude, a conference on outstanding difficulties might have some chance of success; and we learn from Galatians that such a conference was held.
Peter and John were there as well as James. It is noticeable that Paul uses, and continues to use, the Aramaic name 'Kephas', of which the name Peter is a translation into Greek. He calls him Peter twice, but we infer that this name had not come into general use, and that he still moved for the most part in circles where Aramaic was spoken. This agrees with the information that he was regarded as the ' apostle of the circumcision', that is to say of the Jewish world; Paul (who is still called Saul in Acts) was now regarded as the ' apostle of the uncircumcision', |79 that is to say of the Gentile world; his stature had greatly increased. We get the impression that Peter exercised a travelling and supervising ministry among the predominantly Jewish congregations of Judaea, Samaria, and Galilee, while Paul did the same for the more largely Gentile congregations of Cilicia and Syria. We have no clear evidence, as yet, of entirely Gentile congregations.
Barnabas and Paul held a private conference with Peter and James and John, who were held in high honour in the Jerusalem church, Paul says;' they were highly regarded as the pillars';' they appeared to be of importance'; though that, he adds, made no difference to him. An undoubted note of asperity creeps into his writings; for he was in a very uncomfortable position. He asserts emphatically that his apostolate had come to him from heaven, so that his position was every bit as good as theirs; and yet he was in desperate need of reassurance or support on some point or points, 'lest he was running in vain'. Their full recognition was essential to him, and he was relieved when they formally recognized his apostolate, and extended the right hand of fellowship. They would go to the Jews; he and Barnabas would go to the Gentiles. Only, it was stipulated, he must remember the poor; that is to say he must continue to bring further material help from time to time to the Jerusalem church, which had suffered from persecution and famine; the very thing, he says, that he was occupied with at the time.
Paul honoured this pledge in the most generous way. Never for one moment did he think of breaking away, or forming his own sect or party. The gospel, the apostolate, and the church, formed a unity in Christ, a point which he emphasizes increasingly as he grows older.
The understanding was not final. There were problems of practice and procedure which would have to be thought out; and there were strong groups in the Jerusalem church which were far from friendly. He had made many enemies there. False brethren, he says, were privily smuggled in to spy out' our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus'; that is to say, the freedom of the Gentile mission from the yoke of the Jewish Law. These men were offended by the presence of Titus, a Gentile convert who had never been circumcised. Pressure was brought to bear; and though Paul says that he did not yield even for an hour, 'by way of subordination', this peculiar modifying clause rather suggests that he did yield by way of voluntary concession, or that
Titus agreed to be circumcised for the sake of peace. The true interpretation of this sentence will never be known.
We learn from the Acts that they took back with them to Antioch John Mark, who was a cousin of Barnabas, and a son of the Mary in whose house Peter had sought temporary refuge after his escape from prison. At a later date he became the 'interpreter' of Peter and the composer of the gospel which bears his name. The stage was set for new adventures.
Luke now introduces into the Acts the Antiochene document for which he has been preparing the way; or perhaps we have been dealing with it already. It may have begun with the account of the foundation of the Antiochene church which we suggested was composed by Luke out of his own personal knowledge. He has deviated from it to introduce the events of the Jerusalem persecution under Agrippa I, which may be derived from Caesarean sources. He comes back again to Antioch.
The church of Antioch is now furnished with prophets and teachers, like the church in Jerusalem we may suppose. This does not imply that they had no other ministry, as some scholars have assumed; it means that they were now well endowed with spiritual leaders of their own in addition to their apostles Paul and Barnabas. Among these leaders were Symeon the Black and Lucius of Cyrene, who would appear to have been two of the original evangelists of the city; both may have been of African origin. Another was Manaen (or Menahem), who is described as the foster-brother of Herod Antipas of Galilee; his connexion with the gospel might date back to the time of the ministry of Jesus himself, for Luke mentions in his Gospel a steward of Herod named Chuza, whose wife Joanna belonged to the immediate circle of Jesus.
There was a public act of worship or service of God, in which the Spirit made known his will, doubtless through the prophets; 'Separate me Barnabas and Saul', he said, 'for the work to which I have called them.' This powerful, largely Gentile church was fully 'pneumatic'; it knew the Spirit as a living force from which it received direction.
We may, if we please, in company with the scholars to whom we have referred, recognize here a characteristic feature of Syrian Christianity; the feeling for God as living Spirit infused into the hearts of the believers; into their bodies, Paul would say; for Paul, in his earlier |81 writings, is an exponent of this type of theology. In his Epistle to the Galatians, which we assign to Antioch at this period, his gospel of the Spirit is as strong and determinative as his gospel of the Son of God. It comes upon the believer in his baptism; it expresses itself in prayer to the Father; it overcomes the lusts of the flesh; it generates love and joy and peace and other Christian graces. In a church rilled with such a consciousness of spiritual power, we would expect to find inspired teachers and prophets, earnest services of prayer and fasting, revelations of the will of heaven, and missionary enterprise. In Galatians, and in 1 Corinthians as well, the Spirit makes its presence felt by these powerful demonstrations; it is the real substitute in the ecclesia for the Jewish Law. Moses gave the Law; but Jesus Christ gives life and spiritual power.
It is a decisive moment in Luke's narrative. The course of the gospel is decided; it strikes westward. The two apostles who have given leadership in the Syrian capital have finished their work there, and, with Mark as their assistant, they are designated for a new field of labour.
This was done with fasting and prayer and the laying on of hands. It was not an 'ordination', for both men had been working as apostles for some years, and Paul quite defiantly asserts that his apostolate had not been given him by men or through a man, but came to him directly from Christ. It was a commission for new work, and an outward expression of the fact that the church at Antioch had reached its full stature, and had become a missionary centre in its own right, like Jerusalem. It was the sending body which now stood behind the apostles and supported them, financially no doubt as well as spiritually. It was to Paul and Barnabas what Jerusalem was to Peter and John.
It cannot be part of our plan to tell in detail the story of these 'missionary journeys', as they have been called in the modern literature on the subject. We can only pick out what appear to be the indications of important historical developments. The island of Cyprus was their immediate destination. It had already heard the gospel from evangelists of the school to which Stephen had belonged. It was the native land of Barnabas; but it is clear that Paul now took the leading part. It may be more than a coincidence that after his discomfiture of the ' magician' Elymas (a figure of the same type as Simon of Samaria), and the favourable impression which he made on the proconsul Sergius Paulus, his old name of Saul ceases to be used. Saul the Jew gives way |82 to Paul the Roman citizen. The narrative reads ' Paul and his party left for Perga of Pamphylia', a country which was situated on the southern coast of Asia Minor.
Paul and Barnabas proceeded into the mountainous interior. Mark returned to Jerusalem for reasons unknown to us, which Paul considered inadequate. His arrival there would serve to inform the mother-church of the progress of the Pauline mission. Mark perhaps had never bargained on going farther than Cyprus, where of course he had relations.
The first stop was at Pisidian Antioch in the south-eastern part of the Roman province of Galatia. This city must not be confused with the Syrian Antioch, and it will be convenient to adopt the French expedient of calling it Little Antioch (Antiochette). It was one of the Hellenistic cities which had been founded more than two centuries before by the Seleucid monarchs from the greater Antioch, and there had been a strong Jewish element in these cities from the beginning. The story of the preaching of the gospel in Little Antioch is told with freshness and charm, and the detail is of great interest. It gives us the only authentic picture which we possess of a Sabbath service in a Jewish synagogue of our period, except for the companion picture (also given by Luke) of the preaching of Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth. It vouches for the reading of the Law and the prophets, which seems to be a point of importance in the source which Luke is now using. It also mentions the 'word of exhortation' which followed the prophetic lection, thus indicating the point of the service at which the preaching of the gospel was in order.
We turn to the report of Paul's preaching with some interest, as we are about to see him in action for the first time; and frankly we are disappointed. There is no apparent power or magnetism or personality in it. It is a rather colourless proclamation of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah of David's line. Its content does not differ much from what Peter preached in Jerusalem, but it is devoid of his poetic diction. It ends on what seems to be a Pauline note, the doctrine of' justification' (or right standing with God) through faith, and not through Law; but the evidence of Galatians shows that this too was common ground with Peter.
|83 We naturally do not expect Paul to speak to Jews in a Jewish synagogue as he did later, in his Epistles, when writing to his own churches. We know that his policy was to come to the Jews as a Jew, and that he did preach Jesus as the ' seed of David according to the flesh'. But we feel that this ' speech' is not in his style. At the best it is a summary of his message, and the message itself was the conventional evangelistic material. On the other hand, the Jews who heard it would be more excited about it than we are when we read it after nineteen centuries of Christian history. It proclaimed a successor to the throne of David; it sharply criticized the Jewish authorities who had crucified him; it announced the Resurrection; it made the gospel superior to the Law; and it ended on a stern note of warning. It would have been disturbing.
Was this summary composed by Luke, or did he find it in his source? We shall give reasons for supposing that he found it in his source. It has every appearance of being put where it is to convince those who read it that the preaching of Paul was on sound Jerusalem lines, even if it was sharply expressed.
We are entering into the famous Galatian controversy which has exercised the minds of the leading critics and scholars for the past century. These are the churches of Galatia to which Paul wrote his most effective and warlike epistle, not sparing his colleagues in the apostolate Peter and Barnabas. It is true that the great scholar, Bishop Lightfoot, transported this controversy, and the destination of that Epistle, to a region farther north; but that famous theory was a paradox which the history of later criticism justifies us in rejecting. Nor can we find the time when Paul could have fared so far north, or any convincing evidence that he ever did so.
The narrative, apart from the kerugma itself, is alive with colour and detail. It conveys something of the feeling of exhilaration which was in the air. The gospel was the sensation of the town for those few days. There may of course have been some individual believers in Little Antioch already; but it had never yet received an official mission from apostles of the Messiah who claimed to have seen him after his resurrection. The prestige of the apostles rose to incredible heights; but deadly hostility was created in the hearts of the unbelieving Jews, who were able to influence certain socially elect ladies of 'Greek' descent, who in their turn brought influence to bear upon the magistrates. The authorities took action, and the apostles fled to Iconium.
|84 Before they left Little Antioch, however, there had been a definite schism between the Gentile believers and the Jewish disbelievers. In accordance with the Galilean precedent, the apostles 'shook off the dust from under their feet'. A complete cleavage now existed between the old Jewish synagogue and the company of the disciples, which was filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
St Paul himself gives some impressions of the new churches which he founded on this tour. He speaks of his bad health, his 'infirmity of the flesh' which humbled him and made him a trial to others; yet they received him as if he were an angel of God, as if he were Messiah Jesus himself. They believed, they were baptized, they became sons of God, they received the Holy Spirit. We have no difficulty in visualizing the baptismal scene, and the working of the Spirit in their hearts, and the spontaneous outpouring of prayer in which they sang or shouted the words 'Abba, Father'; an Aramaic word out of the prayer-life of the Palestinian church. There were no more worldly distinctions among them; neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female; they were 'in the Messiah'; they were seed of Abraham.
It is amazing. The religion of the Spirit, for all its breadth and freedom and humanity, was still the religion of the old Israel. The old religion had not been abandoned or cast aside or repudiated; on the contrary, the Gentile converts had been incorporated into it. But it was a Judaism without the Law, and without the feeling of racial exclusiveness. Faith in the Messiah gave these Gentile converts perfect standing with God as members of his ancient people. And that is what the ' speech' which Paul made at Antioch had finally said.
There is another question, however, which the narrative of Acts compels us to ask. Why were the Gentile authorities so easily persuaded to take action against the apostles if the gospel was simply a spiritual message? Why did the chief men of Little Antioch and the rulers of Iconium drive them out of town? What did the Jews say about the gospel which justified them in taking such strong action? Paul supplies no answer to this question, but perhaps Luke does. Perhaps it was the formal proclamation in the synagogue of a new king, |85 Jesus the son of David; an ineradicable semi-political element in the gospel tradition; the charge on which he had been crucified.
This point explains in a very precise way the nickname given to the disciples in Antioch; they were Christians : Messiah's men. It also explains Paul's theology; they were 'in Messiah'; and because they were in Messiah, they were in David and therefore in Abraham, and therefore in Israel. The sermon of Paul in Little Antioch seems to fit very well into its place. A year or two later, in the evangelization of Greece, the apostles are charged with acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar and saying that there is another king, one Jesus. It is the same accusation.
At Iconium the same course of events was repeated, and the apostles fled to the village of Lystra. Their success here was so great that they were thought to be pagan gods come down to earth. Barnabas was identified with Zeus, the bearded paternal 'father of gods and men'; Paul with Hermes, a smooth-faced young man with a trim athletic figure and the gift of speech. He was the chief speaker, they noticed. Barnabas was approaching old age; he was perhaps a little older than most of the apostles; Paul was a little younger. He was a 'young man' at the time of his conversion, and even now may not have been much more than forty. Fifteen years later he describes himself, perhaps in a half-comic vein, as 'such a one as Paul the aged'; hardship, ill-health and ceaseless work had taken their toll.
A hundred years later the legends which had grown up in Galatia about this mission were collected and worked into a novel called the Acts of Paul. It contains a description of the apostle which is hardly llaitering, and may be based on personal tradition:
a man of small stature, thin-haired upon the head, crooked in the legs, of C.ood condition of body, with eyebrows joining, his nose somewhat hooked; full of grace; for sometimes he appeared like a man, and sometimes he had the face of an angel.
(Acts of Paul, ii. 3.)
The apostles were stoned out of Lystra, Paul being seriously injured, and took refuge in Derbe. After recuperating, they turned back and re-entered each town in turn, gathering the disciples, urging them to stand firm, and imparting some degree of organization to their churches |86 by appointing 'elders', whom they commended to God with prayer and fasting, warning the disciples at the same time that we can only enter into the Kingdom of God through many afflictions. There is a 'we' in the last sentence which adds immensely to the personal feeling with which this narrative is marked throughout, and comes no doubt from the original document used by Luke. It is a first-hand story, with some literary touches of its own.
When the apostles returned to Antioch, they lost no time in gathering the church together, and reporting what God had done through their means, and how he had 'opened a door' to the Gentiles. The narrative which Luke has been reproducing in his own style gives the substance of that report, and may depend upon some written form of it.
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