Chapter 11:<B> </B>The Acts of the Apostles

The Story of the New Testament
by Edgar J. Goodspeed

Chapter 11:<B> </B>The Acts of the Apostles

Within fifty years after the death of Jesus his gospel had spread over Palestine and Asia Minor and had been carried by travelers and missionaries across the Aegean Sea to Greece and over the Mediterranean to Rome. Companies of Christian believers had been formed in the principal cities, and the new faith was spreading rapidly. But few of these new Christians had any clear idea of how the gospel had reached their communities, and by what providential means and through what perils and difficulties the missionary travelers had found their way to Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome. Few had any idea of how the Christian movement had first separated itself from the Jewish faith; how it had ever come to be offered to Greeks, when it had originally belonged exclusively to Jews; where this change in the propagation of the gospel had begun, and who had first undertaken to carry the gospel out of Syria and Palestine into the more western provinces of the Roman Empire.

Some men still lived who had seen this wonderful Greek mission develop and who had learned from others how it had begun. They knew what courage and perseverance and faith it had taken to bring about its spread through the Roman world, and they felt that it would strengthen the faith and stimulate the zeal of the Christian believers around them to hear the story from the beginning. In such a spirit the physician Luke, perhaps in some city on the Aegean Sea like Ephesus, began to write the story of the Greek mission.

He was himself a Greek, and knew little about the beginnings of the movement except what others had told him. For his first volume, as we have seen, he made use of a variety of written sources, which probably did not extend beyond the gospel story. But he was a close friend of Paul, who had done more than any other to carry the gospel among the Greeks of the Roman provinces. He had been with Paul on some of his most dangerous and adventurous journeys and in some of his most extraordinary experiences. With him he had visited Antioch, Caesarea, and Jerusalem, and in these cities he had met people who could tell him much about the strange series of events that had led the earliest Christians to push out first from Jerusalem to Caesarea and Antioch, and then from Antioch to Cyprus and Galatia. Luke had himself witnessed the extension of the movement from Asia Minor to Macedonia and Achaea, and had finally followed its progress to Rome itself. Supplementing his experiences by his inquiries, Luke fitted himself to relate the fascinating story, with its bewildering variety of riots, arrests, trials, councils, voyages, shipwrecks, imprisonments, and escapes. These are set in the most varied scenes: Temples, marketplaces, deserts, islands, synagogues, the courts of kings and governors, the streets of those splendid flourishing cities of the Greco-Roman world, Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, Athens, Rome. And over it all is the writer’s conviction of the providential hand of God shaping the decisions and movements of his people to his own great purposes.

The books known to us as the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are really the two volumes of Luke’s story of the beginning of Christianity and its development in the Greek world., In both of them his purpose is at once religious and historical. He wishes to strengthen the faith of his readers and commend Christianity to them. At the same time he wishes to make their knowledge of Christian history more exact and complete. We should have liked more definiteness in the dating of some events, and here and there we long for a line more about the fate of Paul or of Peter, the work of missionaries in the East and South, or the beginning of Christianity in Alexandria or Rome. But we must admit that Luke has told his story to its climax, for with the churches once established in Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome, the extension of the gospel to the rest of the Roman world about the Mediterranean was inevitable.

We are now accustomed to view history as a study of popular forces working their way to expression and influence, rather than of battles, reigns, and dynasties. With such a sense of historical values Luke wrote his sketch of the mission to the Gentiles. Kings and wars play little part in it. It is a record of a popular movement, at first obscure, then gradually making itself felt in widening circles and with increasing power. Even when he wrote, it was still little thought of and, indeed, hardly noticed by Greek or Roman historians and literary men. It was left for this Greek physician, the friend and fellow-traveler of Paul, to begin the writing of what we now call church history.