22. The Critical Reconstruction of the History of the Apostolic Age
“Die Botschaft h'f6r’ ich wohl, allein mir fehlt der Glaube.” (Goethe.)
Never before in the history of the church has the origin of Christianity, with its original documents, been so thoroughly examined from standpoints entirely opposite as in the present generation. It has engaged the time and energy of many of the ablest scholars and critics. Such is the importance and the power of that little book which “contains the wisdom of the whole world,” that it demands ever new investigation and sets serious minds of all shades of belief and unbelief in motion, as if their very life depended upon its acceptance or rejection. There is not a fact or doctrine which has not been thoroughly searched. The whole life of Christ, and the labors and writings of the apostles with their tendencies, antagonisms, and reconciliations are theoretically reproduced among scholars and reviewed under all possible aspects. The post-apostolic age has by necessary connection been drawn into the process of investigation and placed in a new light.
The great biblical scholars among the Fathers were chiefly concerned in drawing from the sacred records the catholic doctrines of salvation, and the precepts for a holy life; the Reformers and older Protestant divines studied them afresh with special zeal for the evangelical tenets which separated them from the Roman church; but all stood on the common ground of a reverential belief in the divine inspiration and authority of the Scriptures. The present age is pre'ebminently historical and critical. The Scriptures are subjected to the same process of investigation and analysis as any other literary production of antiquity, with no other purpose than to ascertain the real facts in the case. We want to know the precise origin, gradual growth, and final completion of Christianity as an historical phenomenon in organic connection with contemporary events and currents of thought. The whole process through which it passed from the manger in Bethlehem to the cross of Calvary, and from the upper room in Jerusalem to the throne of the Caesars is to be reproduced, explained and understood according to the laws of regular historical development. And in this critical process the very foundations of the Christian faith have been assailed and undermined, so that the question now is, “to be or not to be.” The remark of Goethe is as profound as it is true: “The conflict of faith and unbelief remains the proper, the only, the deepest theme of the history of the world and mankind, to which all others are subordinated.”
The modern critical movement began, we may say, about 1830, is still in full progress, and is likely to continue to the end of the nineteenth century, as the apostolic church itself extended over a period of seventy years before it had developed its resources. It was at first confined to Germany (Strauss, Baur, and the T'fcbingen School), then spread to France (Renan) and Holland (Scholten, Kuenen), and last to England (“Supernatural Religion”) and America, so that the battle now extends along the whole line of Protestantism.
There are two kinds of biblical criticism, verbal and historical.
The verbal or textual criticism has for its object to restore as far as possible the original text of the Greek Testament from the oldest and most trustworthy Resources, namely, the uncial manuscripts (especially, the Vatican and Sinaitic), the ante-Nicene versions, and the patristic quotations. In this respect our age has been very successful, with the aid of most important discoveries of ancient manuscripts. By the invaluable labors of Lachmann, who broke the path for the correct theory (Novum Testament. Gr., 1831, large Greco-Latin edition, 1842-50, 2 vols.), Tischendorf (8th critical ed., 1869-72, 2 vols.), Tregelles (1857, completed 1879), Westcott and Hort (1881, 2 vols.), we have now in the place of the comparatively late and corrupt textus receptus of Erasmus and his followers (Stephens, Beza, and the Elzevirs), which is the basis of all Protestant versions in common use, a much older and purer text, which must henceforth be made the basis of all revised translations. After a severe struggle between the traditional and the progressive schools there is now in this basal department of biblical learning a remarkable degree of harmony among critics. The new text is in fact the older text, and the reformers are in this case the restorers. Far from unsettling the faith in the New Testament, the results have established the substantial integrity of the text, notwithstanding the one hundred and fifty thousand readings which have been gradually gathered from all Sources. It is a noteworthy fact that the greatest textual critics of the nineteenth century are believers, not indeed in a mechanical or magical inspiration, which is untenable and not worth defending, but in the divine origin and authority of the canonical writings, which rest on fax stronger grounds than any particular human theory of inspiration.
The historical or inner criticism (which the Germans call the “higher criticism,” h'f6here Kritik) deals with the origin, spirit, and aim of the New Testament writings, their historical environments, and organic place in the great intellectual and religious process which resulted in the triumphant establishment of the catholic church of the second century. It assumed two very distinct shapes under the lead of Dr. Neander in Berlin (d. 1850), and Dr. Baur in T'fcbingen (d. 1860), who labored in the mines of church history at a respectful distance from each other and never came into personal contact. Neander and Baur were giants, equal in genius and learning, honesty and earnestness, but widely different in spirit. They gave a mighty impulse to historical study and left a long line of pupils and independent followers who carry on the historico-critical reconstruction of primitive Christianity. Their influence is felt in France, Holland and England. Neander published the first edition of his Apostolic Age in 1832, his Life of Jesus (against Strauss) in 1837 (the first volume of his General Church History had appeared already in 1825, revised ed. 1842); Baur wrote his essay on the Corinthian Parties in 1831, his critical investigations on the canonical Gospels in 1844 and 1847, his “Paul” in 1845 (second ed. by Zeller, 1867), and his “Church History of the First Three Centuries” in 1853 (revised 1860). His pupil Strauss had preceded him with his first Leben Jesu (1835), which created a greater sensation than any of the works mentioned, surpassed only by that of Renan’s Vie de J'e9sus, nearly thirty years later (1863). Renan reproduces and popularizes Strauss and Baur for the French public with independent learning and brilliant genius, and the author of “Supernatural Religion” re'ebchoes the T'fcbingen and Leyden speculations in England. On the other hand Bishop Lightfoot, the leader of conservative criticism; declares that he has learnt more from the German Neander than from any recent theologian (“Contemp. Review” for 1875, p. 866. Matthew Arnold says (Literature and Dogma, Preface, p. xix.): “To get the facts, the data, in all matters of science, but notably in theology and Biblical learning, one goes to Germany. Germany, and it is her high honor, has searched out the facts and exhibited them. And without knowledge of the facts, no clearness or fairness of mind can in any study do anything; this cannot be laid down too rigidly.” But he denies to the Germans “quickness and delicacy of perception.” Something more is necessary than learning and perception to draw the right conclusions from the facts: sound common sense and well-balanced judgment. And when we deal with sacred and supernatural facts, we need first and last a reverential spirit and that faith which is the organ of the supernatural. It is here where the two schools depart, without difference of nationality; for faith is not a national but an individual gift.
The Two Antagonistic Schools
The two theories of the apostolic history, introduced by Neander and Baur, are antagonistic in principle and aim, and united only by the moral bond of an honest search for truth. The one is conservative and reconstructive, the other radical and destructive. The former accepts the canonical Gospels and Acts as honest, truthful, and credible memoirs of the life of Christ and the labors of the apostles; the latter rejects a great part of their contents as unhistorical myths or legends of the post-apostolic age, and on the other hand gives undue credit to wild heretical romances of the second century. The one draws an essential line of distinction between truth as maintained by the orthodox church, and error as held by heretical parties; the other obliterates the lines and puts the heresy into the inner camp of the apostolic church itself. The one proceeds on the basis of faith in God and Christ, which implies faith in the supernatural and miraculous wherever it is well attested; the other proceeds from disbelief in the supernatural and miraculous as a philosophical impossibility, and tries to explain the gospel history and the apostolic history from purely natural causes like every other history. The one has a moral and spiritual as well is intellectual interest in the New Testament, the other a purely intellectual and critical interest. The one approaches the historical investigation with the subjective experience of the divine truth in the heart and conscience, and knows and feels Christianity to be a power of salvation from sin and error; the other views it simply as the best among the many religions which are destined to give way at last to the sovereignty of reason and philosophy. The controversy turns on the question whether there is a God in History or not; as the contemporaneous struggle in natural science turns on the question whether there is a God in nature or not. Belief in a personal God almighty and omnipresent in history and in nature, implies the possibility of supernatural and miraculous revelation. Absolute freedom from prepossession (Voraussetzungslosigkeit such as Strauss demanded) is absolutely impossible, “ex nihilo nihil fit.” There is prepossession on either side of the controversy, the one positive, the other negative, and history itself must decide between them. The facts must rule philosophy, not philosophy the facts. If it can be made out that the life of Christ and the apostolic church can be psychologically and historically explained only by the admission of the supernatural element which they claim, while every other explanation only increases the difficulty, of the problem and substitutes an unnatural miracle for a supernatural one, the historian has gained the case, and it is for the philosopher to adjust his theory to history. The duty of the historian is not to make the facts, but to discover them, and then to construct his theory wide enough to give them all comfortable room.
The Alleged Antagonism in the Apostolic Church
The theory of the T'fcbingen school starts from the assumption of a fundamental antagonism between Jewish or primitive Christianity represented by Peter, and Gentile or progressive Christianity represented by Paul, and resolves all the writings of the New Testament into tendency writings (Tendenzschriften), which give us not history pure and simple, but adjust it to a doctrinal and practical aim in the interest of one or the other party, or of a compromise between the two. The Epistles of Paul to the Galatians, Romans, First and Second Corinthians - which are admitted to be genuine beyond any doubt, exhibit the anti-Jewish and universal Christianity, of which Paul himself must be regarded as the chief founder. The Apocalypse, which was composed by the apostle John in 69, exhibits the original Jewish and contracted Christianity, in accordance with his position as one of the “pillar”-apostles of the circumcision (Gal_2:9), and it is the only authentic document of the older apostles.
Baur (Gesch. der christl. Kirche, I., 80 sqq.) and Renan (St. Paul, ch. X.) go so far as to assert that this genuine John excludes Paul from the list of the apostles (Rev_21:14, which leaves no room for more than twelve), and indirectly attacks him as a “false Jew” (Rev_2:9; Rev_3:9), a “false apostle” (Joh_2:2), a “false prophet” (Joh_2:20), as “Balaam” (Joh_2:2, Joh_2:6,Joh_2:14, Joh_2:15; comp. Jud_1:11; 2Pe_2:15); just as the Clementine Homilies assail him under the name of Simon the Magician and arch-heretic. Renan interprets also the whole Epistle of Jude, a brother of James, as an attack upon Paul, issued from Jerusalem in connection with the Jewish counter-mission organized by James, which nearly ruined the work of Paul.
The other writings of the New Testament are post-apostolic productions and exhibit the various phases of a unionistic movement, which resulted in the formation of the orthodox church of the second and third centuries. The Acts of the Apostles is a Catholic Irenicon which harmonizes Jewish and Gentile Christianity by liberalizing Peter and contracting or Judaizing Paul, and concealing the difference between them; and though probably based on an earlier narrative of Luke, it was not put into its present shape before the close of the first century. The canonical Gospels, whatever may have been the earlier records on which they are based, are likewise post-apostolic, and hence untrustworthy as historical narratives. The Gospel of John is a purely ideal composition of some unknown Gnostic or mystic of profound religious genius, who dealt with the historic Jesus as freely as Plato in his Dialogues dealt with Socrates, and who completed with consummate literary skill this unifying process in the age of Hadrian, certainly not before the third decade of the second century. Baur brought it down as late as 170; Hilgenfeld put it further back to 140, Keim to 130, Renan to the age of Hadrian.
Thus the whole literature of the New Testament is represented as the living growth of a century, as a collection of polemical and irenical tracts of the apostolic and post-apostolic ages. Instead of contemporaneous, reliable history we have a series of intellectual movements and literary fictions. Divine revelation gives way to subjective visions and delusions, inspiration is replaced by development, truth by a mixture of truth and error. The apostolic literature is put on a par with the controversial literature of the Nicene age, which resulted in the Nicene orthodoxy, or with the literature of the Reformation period, which led to the formation of the Protestant system of doctrine.
History never repeats itself, yet the same laws and tendencies reappear in ever-changing forms. This modern criticism is a remarkable renewal of the views held by heretical schools in the second century. The Ebionite author of the pseudo-Clementine Homilies and the Gnostic Marcion likewise assumed an irreconcilable antagonism between Jewish and Gentile Christianity, with this difference, that the former opposed Paul as the arch-heretic and defamer of Peter, while Marcion (about 140) regarded Paul as the only true apostle, and the older apostles as Jewish perverters of Christianity; consequently he rejected the whole Old Testament and such books of the New Testament as he considered Judaizing, retaining in his canon only a mutilated Gospel of Luke and ton of the Pauline Epistles (excluding the Pastoral Epistles and the Epistle to the Hebrews). In the eyes of modern criticism these wild heretics are better historians of the apostolic age than the author of the Acts of the Apostles.
The Gnostic heresy, with all its destructive tendency, had an important mission as a propelling force in the ancient church and left its effects upon patristic theology. So also this modern gnosticism must be allowed to have done great service to biblical and historical learning by removing old prejudices, opening new avenues of thought, bringing to light the immense fermentation of the first century, stimulating research, and compelling an entire scientific reconstruction of the history of the origin of Christianity and the church. The result will be a deeper and fuller knowledge, not to the weakening but to the strengthening of our faith.
There is considerable difference among the scholars of this higher criticism, and while some pupils of Baur (e.g. Strauss, Volkmar) have gone even beyond his positions, others make concessions to the traditional views. A most important change took place in Baur’s own mind as regards the conversion of Paul, which he confessed at last, shortly before his death (1860), to be to him an insolvable psychological problem amounting to a miracle. Ritschl, Holtzmann, Lipsius, Pfleiderer, and especially Reuss, Weizs'e4cker, and Keim (who are as free from orthodox prejudices as the most advanced critics) have modified and corrected many of the extreme views of the T'fcbingen school. Even Hilgenfeld, with all his zeal for the “Fortschrittstheologie” and against the “R'fcckschrittstheologie,” admits seven instead of four Pauline Epistles as genuine, assigns an earlier date to the Synoptical Gospels and the Epistle to the Hebrews (which he supposes to have been written by Apollos before 70), and says: “It cannot be denied that Baur’s criticism went beyond the bounds of moderation and inflicted too deep wounds on the faith of the church” (Hist. Krit. Einleitung in das N. T. 1875, p. 197). Renan admits nine Pauline Epistles, the essential genuineness of the Acts, and even the narrative portions of John, while he rejects the discourses as pretentious, inflated, metaphysical, obscure, and tiresome! (See his last discussion of the subject in L’'e9glise chr'e9tienne, ch. I-V. pp. 45 sqq.) Matthew Arnold and other critics reverse the proposition and accept the discourses as the sublimest of all human compositions, full of “heavenly glories” (himmlische Herrlichkeiten, to use an expression of Keim, who, however, rejects the fourth Gospel altogether). Schenkel (in his Christusbild der Apostel, 1879) considerably moderates the antagonism between Petrinism and Paulinism, and confesses (Preface, p. xi.) that in the progress of his investigations he has been “forced to the conviction that the Acts of the Apostles is a more trustworthy source of information than is commonly allowed on the part of the modern criticism; that older documents worthy of credit, besides the well known We-source (Wirquelle) are contained in it; and that the Paulinist who composed it has not intentionally distorted the facts, but only placed them in the light in which they appeared to him and must have appeared to him from the time and circumstances under which he wrote. He has not, in my opinion, artificially brought upon the stage either a Paulinized Peter, or a Petrinized Paul, in order to mislead his readers, but has portrayed the two apostles just as he actually conceived of them on the basis of his incomplete information.” Keim, in his last work (Aus dem Urchristenthum, 1878, a year before his death), has come to a similar conclusion, and proves (in a critical essay on the Apostelkonvent, pp. 64-89) in opposition to Baur, Schwegler, and Zeller, yet from the same standpoint of liberal criticism, and allowing later additions, the substantial harmony between the Acts and the Epistle to the Galatians as regards the apostolic conference and concordat of Jerusalem. Ewald always pursued his own way and equalled Baur in bold and arbitrary criticism, but violently opposed him and defended the Acts and the Gospel of John.
To these German voices we may add the testimony of Matthew Arnold, one of the boldest and broadest of the broad-school divines and critics, who with all his admiration for Baur represents him as an “unsafe guide,” and protests against his assumption of a bitter hatred of Paul and the pillar-apostles as entirely inconsistent with the conceded religious greatness of Paul and with the nearness of the pillar-apostles to Jesus (God and the Bible, 1875, Preface, vii-xii). As to the fourth Gospel, which is now the most burning spot of this burning controversy, the same author, after viewing it from without and from within, comes to the conclusion that it is, “no fancy-piece, but a serious and invaluable document, full of incidents given by tradition and genuine ‘sayings of the Lord’” (p. 370), and that “after the most free criticism has been fairly and strictly applied,... there is yet left an authentic residue comprising all the profoundest, most important, and most beautiful things in the fourth Gospel” (p. 372 sq.).
The Positive School
While there are signs of disintegration in the ranks of destructive criticism, the historic truth and genuineness of the New Testament writings have found learned and able defenders from different standpoints, such as Neander, Ullmann, C. F. Schmid (the colleague of Baur in T'fcbingen), Rothe, Dorner, Ebrard, Lechler, Lange, Thiersch, Wieseler, Hofmann (of Erlangen), Luthardt, Christlieb, Beyschlag, Uhlhorn, Weiss, Godet, Edm. de Pressens'e9.
The English and American mind also has fairly begun to grapple manfully and successfully, with these questions in such scholars as Lightfoot, Plumptre, Westcott, Sanday, Farrar, G. P. Fisher, Ezra Abbot (on the Authorship of the Fourth Gospel, 1880). English and American theology is not likely to be extensively demoralized by these hypercritical speculations of the Continent. It has a firmer foothold in an active church life and the convictions and affections of the people. The German and French mind, like the Athenian, is always bent upon telling and hearing something new, while the Anglo-American mind cares more for what is true, whether it be old or new. And the truth must ultimately prevail.
St. Paul’s Testimony to Historical Christianity
Fortunately even the most exacting school of modern criticism leaves us a fixed fulcrum from which we can argue the truth of Christianity, namely, the four Pauline Epistles to the Galatians, Romans, and Corinthians, which are pronounced to be unquestionably genuine and made the Archimedean point of assault upon the other parts of the New Testament. We propose to confine ourselves to them. They are of the utmost historical as well as doctrinal importance; they represent the first Christian generation, and were written between 54 and 58, that is within a quarter of the century after the crucifixion, when the older apostles and most of the principal eye-witnesses of the life of Christ were still alive. The writer himself was a contemporary of Christ; he lived in Jerusalem at the time of the great events on which Christianity rests; he was intimate with the Sanhedrin and the murderers of Christ; he was not blinded by favorable prejudice, but was a violent persecutor, who had every motive to justify his hostility; and after his radical conversion (a.d. 37) he associated with the original disciples and could learn their personal experience from their own lips (Gal_1:18; Gal_2:1-11).
Now in these admitted documents of the best educated of the apostles we have the clearest evidence of all the great events and truths of primitive Christianity, and a satisfactory answer to the chief objections and difficulties of modern skepticism.
1. The leading facts in the life of Christ, his divine mission, his birth from a woman, of the royal house of David, his holy life and example, his betrayal, passion, and death for the sins of the world, his resurrection on the third day, his repeated manifestations to the disciples, his ascension and exaltation to the right hand of God, whence he will return to judge mankind, the adoration of Christ as the Messiah, the Lord and Saviour from sin, the eternal Son of God; also the election of the Twelve, the institution of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the mission of the Holy Spirit, the founding of the church. Paul frequently alludes to these facts, especially the crucifixion and resurrection, not in the way of a detailed narrative, but incidentally and in connection with doctrinal expositions arid exhortations as addressed to men already familiar with them from oral preaching and instruction. Comp. Gal_3:13; Gal_4:4-6; Gal_6:14; Rom_1:3; Rom_4:24, Rom_4:25; Rom_5:8-21; Rom_6:3-10; Rom_8:3, Rom_8:11, Rom_8:26, Rom_8:39; Rom_9:5; Rom_10:6, Rom_10:7; Rom_14:5; Rom_15:3; 1Co_1:23; 1Co_2:2, 1Co_2:12; 1Co_5:7; 1Co_6:14; 1Co_10:16; 1Co_11:23-26; 1Co_15:3-8, 1Co_15:45-49; 2Co_5:21.
2. Paul’s own conversion and call to the apostleship by the personal appearance to him of the exalted Redeemer from heaven. Gal_1:1, Gal_1:15, Gal_1:16; 1Co_9:1; 1Co_15:8.
3. The origin and rapid progress of the Christian church in all parts of the Roman empire, from Jerusalem to Antioch and Rome, in Judaea, in Syria, in Asia Minor, in Macedonia and Achaia. The faith of the Roman church, he says, was known “throughout the world,” and “in every place “there were worshippers of Jesus as their Lord. And these little churches maintained a lively and active intercourse with each other, and though founded by different teachers and distracted by differences of opinion and practice, they worshipped the same divine Lord, and formed one brotherhood of believers. Gal_1:2, Gal_1:22; Gal_2:1, Gal_2:11; Rom_1:8; Rom_10:18; Rom_16:26; 1Co_1:12; 1Co_8:1; 1Co_16:19, etc.
4. The presence of miraculous powers in the church at that time. Paul himself wrought the signs and mighty deeds of an apostle. Rom_15:18, Rom_15:19; 1Co_2:4; 1Co_9:2; 2Co_12:12. He lays, however, no great stress on the outer sensible miracles, and makes more account of the inner moral miracles and the constant manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit in regenerating and sanctifying sinful men in an utterly corrupt state of society. 1Co_12:1-31 to 1Co_14:1-40; 1Co_6:9-11; Gal_5:16-26; Rom_6:1-23 and Rom_8:1-39.
5. The existence of much earnest controversy in these young churches, not indeed about the great facts on which their faith was based, and which were fully admitted on both sides, but about doctrinal and ritual inferences from these facts, especially the question of the continued obligation of circumcision and the Mosaic law, and the personal question of the apostolic authority of Paul. The Judaizers maintained the superior claims of the older apostles and charged him with a radical departure from the venerable religion of their fathers; while Paul used against them the argument that the expiatory death of Christ and his resurrection were needless and useless if justification came from the law. Gal_2:21; Gal_5:2-4.
6. The essential doctrinal and spiritual harmony of Paul with the elder apostles, notwithstanding their differences of standpoint and field of labor. Here the testimony of the Epistle to the Gal_2:1-10, which is the very bulwark of the skeptical school, bears strongly against it. For Paul expressly states that the “pillar”-apostles of the circumcision, James, Peter, and John, at the conference in Jerusalem a.d. 50, approved the gospel he had been preaching during the preceding fourteen years; that they “imparted nothing” to him, gave him no new instruction, imposed on him no now terms, nor burden of any kind, but that, on the contrary, they recognized the grace of God in him and his special mission to the Gentiles, and gave him and Barnabas “the right hands of fellowship” in token of their brotherhood and fidelity. He makes a clear and sharp distinction between the apostles and “the false brethren privily brought in, who came to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage,” and to whom he would not yield, “no, not for an hour.” The hardest words he has for the Jewish apostles are epithets of honor; he calls them, the pillars of the church, “the men in high repute” ('ef'e9̔ 'f3'f4'f5͂'eb'ef'e9, 'ef'e9̔ 'e4'ef'ea'ef'f5͂'ed'f4'e5'f2, Gal_2:6, Gal_2:9); while he considered himself in sincere humility “the least of the apostles,” because he persecuted the church of God (1Co_15:9).
This statement of Paul makes it simply impossible and absurd to suppose (with Baur, Schwegler, Zeller, and Renan) that John should have so contradicted and stultified himself as to attack, in the Apocalypse, the same Paul whom he had recognized as a brother during his life, as a false apostle and chief of the synagogue of Satan after his death. Such a reckless and monstrous assertion turns either Paul or John into a liar. The antinomian and antichristian heretics of the Apocalypse who plunged into all sorts of moral and ceremonial pollutions (Rev_2:14, Rev_2:15) would have been condemned by Paul as much as by John; yea, he himself, in his parting address to the Ephesian elders, had prophetically foreannounced and described such teachers as “grievous wolves” that would after his departure enter in among them or rise from the midst of them, not sparing the flock (Act_20:29, Act_20:30). On the question of fornication he was in entire harmony with the teaching of the Apocalypse (1Co_3:15, 1Co_3:16; 1Co_6:15-20); and as to the question of eating meat offered in sacrifice to idols ('f4'e1̀ 'e5'e9̓'e4'f9'eb'ef́'e8'f5'f4'e1), though he regarded it as a thing indifferent in itself, considering the vanity of idols, yet he condemned it whenever it gave offence to the weak consciences of the more scrupulous Jewish converts (1Co_8:7-13; 1Co_10:23-33; Rom_14:2, Rom_14:21); and this was in accord with the decree of the Apostolic Council (Act_15:29).
7. Paul’s collision with Peter at Antioch, Gal_2:11-14. which is made the very bulwark of the T'fcbingen theory, proves the very reverse. For it was not a difference in principle and doctrine; on the contrary, Paul expressly asserts that Peter at first freely and habitually (mark the imperfect 'f3'f5'ed'e7́'f3'e8'e9'e5'ed, Gal_2:12) associated with the Gentile converts as brethren in Christ, but was intimidated by emissaries from the bigoted Jewish converts in Jerusalem and acted against his better conviction which he had entertained ever since the vision at Joppa (Act_10:10-16), and which he had so boldly confessed at the Council in Jerusalem (Act_15:7-11) and carried out in Antioch. We have here the same impulsive, impressible, changeable disciple, the first to confess and the first to deny his Master, yet quickly returning to him in bitter repentance and sincere humility. It is for this inconsistency of conduct, which Paul called by the strong term of dissimulation or hypocrisy, that he, in his uncompromising zeal for the great principle of Christian liberty, reproved him publicly before the church. A public wrong had to be publicly rectified. According to the T'fcbingen hypothesis the hypocrisy would have been in the very opposite conduct of Peter. The silent submission of Peter on the occasion proves his regard for his younger colleague, and speaks as much to his praise as his weakness to his blame. That the alienation was only temporary and did not break up their fraternal relation is apparent from the respectful though frank manner in which, several years after the occurrence, they allude to each other as fellow apostles, Comp. Gal_1:18, Gal_1:19; Gal_2:8, Gal_2:9; 1Co_9:5; 2Pe_3:15, 2Pe_3:16, and from the fact that Mark and Silas were connecting links between them and alternately served them both.
The Epistle to the Galatians then furnishes the proper solution of the difficulty, and essentially confirms the account of the Acts. It proves the harmony as well as the difference between Paul and the older apostles. It explodes the hypothesis that they stood related to each other like the Marcionites and Ebionites in the second century. These were the descendants of the heretics of the apostolic age, of the “false brethren insidiously brought in” ('f8'e5'f5'e4'e1́'e4'e5'eb'f6'ef'e9 'f0'e1'f1'e5'e9́'f3'e1'ea'f4'ef'e9, Gal_2:4); while the true apostles recognized and continued to recognize the same grace of God which wrought effectually through Peter for the conversion of the Jews, and through Paul for the conversion of the Gentiles. That the Judaizers should have appealed to the Jewish apostles, and the antinomian Gnostics to Paul, as their authority, is not more surprising than the appeal of the modern rationalists to Luther and the Reformation.
We have thus discussed at the outset, and at some length, the fundamental difference of the two standpoints from which the history of the apostolic church is now viewed, and have vindicated our own general position in this controversy.
It is not to be supposed that all the obscure points have already been satisfactorily cleared up, or ever will be solved beyond the possibility of dispute. There must be some room left for faith in that God who has revealed himself clearly enough in nature and in history to strengthen our faith, and who is concealed enough to try our faith. Certain interstellar spaces will always be vacant in the firmament of the apostolic age that men may gaze all the more intensely at the bright stars, before which the post-apostolic books disappear like torches. A careful study of the ecclesiastical writers of the second and third centuries, and especially of the numerous Apocryphal Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses, leaves on the mind a strong impression of the immeasurable superiority of the New Testament in purity and truthfulness, simplicity and majesty; and this superiority points to a special agency of the Spirit of God, without which that book of books is an inexplicable mystery.
23. Chronology of the Apostolic Age
See the works quoted in 'a7 20, especially Wieseler. Comp. also, Hackett on Acts, pp. 22 to 30 (third ed.).
The chronology of the apostolic age is partly certain, at least within a few years, partly conjectural: certain as to the principal events from a.d. 30 to 70, conjectural as to intervening points and the last thirty years of the first century. The Resources are the New Testament (especially the Acts and the Pauline Epistles), Josephus, and the Roman historians. Josephus (b. 37, d. 103) is especially valuable here, as he wrote the Jewish history down to the destruction of Jerusalem.
The following dates are more or less certain and accepted by most historians:
1. The founding of the Christian Church on the feast of Pentecost in May a.d. 30. This is on the assumption that Christ was born b.c. 4 or 5, and was crucified in April a.d. 30, at an age of thirty-three.
2. The death of King Herod Agrippa I. a.d. 44 (according to Josephus). This settles the date of the preceding martyrdom of James the elder, Peter’s imprisonment and release Act_12:2, Act_12:23).
3. The Apostolic Council in Jerusalem, a.d. 50 (Act_15:1 sqq.; Gal_2:1-10). This date is ascertained by reckoning backwards to Paul’s conversion, and forward to the Caesarean captivity. Paul was probably converted in 37, and “fourteen years” elapsed from that event to the Council. But chronologists differ on the year of Paul’s conversion, between 31 and 40.
4. The dates of the Epistles to the Galatians, Corinthians, and Romans, between 56 and 58. The date of the Epistle to the Romans can be fixed almost to the month from its own indications combined with the statements of the Acts. It was written before the apostle had been in Rome, but when he was on the point of departure for Jerusalem and Rome on the way to Spain, (Rom_1:13, Rom_1:15, Rom_1:22; Rom_15:23-28; comp. Act_19:21; Act_20:16; Act_23:11; 1Co_16:3) after having finished his collections in Macedonia and Achaia for the poor brethren in Judaea; (Rom_15:25-27; 1Co_16:1, 1Co_16:2; 2Co_8:1-24 and 2Co_9:1-15; Act_24:17) and he sent the epistle through Phebe, a deaconess of the congregation in the eastern port of Corinth, where he was at that time. (Rom_15:25-27; 1Co_16:1, 1Co_16:2; 2Co_8:1-24 and 2Co_9:1-15; Act_24:17) These indications point clearly to the spring of the year 58, for in that year he was taken prisoner in Jerusalem and carried to Caesarea.
5. Paul’s captivity in Caesarea, a.d. 58 to 60, during the procuratorship of Felix and Festus, who changed places in 60 or 61, probably in 60. This important date we can ascertain by combination from several passages in Josephus, and Tacitus. It enables us at the same time, by reckoning backward, to fix some preceding events in the life of the apostle.
6. Paul’s first captivity in Rome, a.d. 61 to 63. This follows from the former date in connection with the statement in Act_28:30.
7. The Epistles of the Roman captivity, Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, a.d. 61-63.
8. The Neronian persecution, a.d. 64 (the tenth year of Nero, according to Tacitus). The martyrdom of Paul and Peter occurred either then, or (according to tradition) a few years later. The question depends on the second Roman captivity of Paul.
9. The destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, a.d. 70 (according to Josephus and Tacitus).
10. The death of John after the accession of Trajan, a.d. 98 (according to general ecclesiastical tradition).
The dates of the Synoptical Gospels, the Acts, the Pastoral Epistles, the Hebrews, and the Epistles of Peter, James, and Jude cannot be accurately ascertained except that they were composed before the destruction of Jerusalem, mostly between 60 and 70. The writings of John were written after that date and towards the close of the first century, except the Apocalypse, which some of the best scholars, from internal indications assign to the year 68 or 69, between the death of Nero and the destruction of Jerusalem.
The details are given in the following table:
Chronological Table of the Apostolic Age
Scripture History. Events In Palestine Events in the Roman Empire a.d.
Birth of Christ Death of Herod I. or the Great (a.u. 750, or b.c. 4). Archelaus in Judaea, Samaria, and Idumea; Herod Antipas in Galilee and Peraea, and Philip in Auranitis, Trachonitis, Paneas, and Batanaea. Archelaus deposed, and Judaea made a Roman province Augustus Emperor of Rome, b.c. 27-a.d. 14. 6
His visit to the Temple at twelve years of age Cyrenius (Quirinius), Governor of Syria (for the second time). The registration, or, “taxing.” Act_5:37. Revolt of “Judas of Galilee.” Coponius Procurator of Judaea. Marcus Ambivius Procurator 9
Tiberius colleague of Augustus 12
Annius Rufus Procurator (about) 13
Valerius Gratus Procurator Augustus dies. Tiberius sole emperor (14-37) 14
Pontius Pilate Procurator from a.d. 26 26
Christ’s Baptism. Caiaphas high priest from a.d. 26
His three years’ ministry.
His Crucifixion, Resurrection (April), and Ascension (May). Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost Birthday of the Church (May). Acts, Act_2:1-47. Marcellus Procurator Pilate sent to Rome by the Prefect of Syria 36 36
Martyrdom of Stephen. Act_7:1-60. Maryllus appointed Hipparch Caligula Emperor (37-41) 37
Peter and John in Samaria. Act_8:1-40. Herod Agrippa I King of Judea and Samaria 37
Conversion of Saul . Act_9:1-43, comp. 22 and 26, and Gal_1:16; 1Co_15:8.
Saul’s escape from Damascus, and first visit to Jerusalem (after his conversion). Gal_1:18. Admission of Cornelius into the Church. Act_10:1-48 and Act_11:1-30. Philo at Rome Claudius Emperor (41-54) 41
Persecution of the Church in Jerusalem. James the Elder, the son of Zebedee, beheaded. Peter imprisoned and delivered. He leaves Palestine. Act_12:2-23. Herod Agrippa I dies at Caesarea
Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem, with alms from the church at Antioch. Act_11:30 Conquest of Britain, 43-51
Paul is set apart as an apostle. Act_13:2. Cuspius Fadus Procurator of Judea
Tiberius Alexander Procurator 46
Ventidius Cumanus Procurator 47
Paul’s first missionary journey with Barnabas and Mark, Cyprus, Pisidia, Lystra, Derbe. Return to Antioch. Act_13:1-52 and Act_14:1-28.
The Epistle of James (variously dated from 44 to (62).
The apostolic council of Jerusalem. Conflict between Jewish and Gentile Christianity. Paul’s third visit to Jerusalem with Barnabas find Titus. Peaceful adjustment of the question of circumcision. Act_15:1-41 and Gal_2:1-10.
Temporary collision with Peter and Barnabas at Antioch. Gal_2:11-14.
Paul sets out on his second missionary journey from Antioch to Asia Minor (Cilicia, Lycaonia, Galatia, Troas) and Greece (Philippi, Thessalonica, Beraea, Athens, Corinth). The Christianization of Europe. Act_15:36 to Act_18:22 Antonius Felix Procurator 51
Paul at Corinth a year and a half. Writes First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians from Corinth. The Tetrarchy of Trachonitis given to Herod Agrippa II (the last of the Herodian family) Decree of Claudius banishing Jews from Rome 52
Paul’s, fourth visit to Jerusalem (spring). Short stay at Antioch. Enters (autumn, 54) on his third missionary journey, occupying about four years. Paul at Ephesus, 54 to 57. Act_19:1-41). Revolt of the Sicarii, headed by an Egyptian (Act_21:38) Nero Emperor 54 55
Paul writes to the Galatians (?) from Ephesus or from some part of Greece on his journey to Corinth (57). Act_20:1-38.
Paul writes First Epistle to the Corinthians from Ephesus; starts for Macedonia and writes Second Epistle to the Corinthians from Macedonia.
Epistle to the Romans from Corinth, where he spent three months. He visits (the fifth time) Jerusalem; is apprehended, brought before Felix, and imprisoned at Caesarea for two years. Acts, Act_21:17 to Act_26:32.
Paul appears before Festus, appeals to Caesar, is sent to Italy (in autumn). Shipwreck at Malta. Act_27:1-44 and Act_28:1-31. Porcius Festus Procurator 60
Arrives a prisoner at Rome (in spring). Embassy from Jerusalem to Rome rspecting the wall. War with Boadicea in Britain 61
Paul writes to the Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, from his prison in Rome. Apollonius of Tyana at the Olympic games
Martyrdom of James, the Lord’s brother, at Jerusalem (according to Josephus, or 69 according to Hegesippus). Josephus at Rome 62
Paul is supposed to have been released. Act_28:30 Albinus Procurator
Epistle to the Hebrews, written from Italy after the release of Timothy (Heb_13:23).
First Epistle of Peter. Epistle of Jude (?). Second Epistle of Peter Gessius Florus Procurator Great fire at Rome (in July); first imperial persecution of the Christians (martyrdom of Peter and Paul)
The Synoptical Gospels and Acts Beginning of the great war between the Romans and the Jews Seneca and Lucan put to death by Nero 65
Paul visits Crete and Macedonia, and writes First Epistle to Timothy, and Epistle to Titus (?). Paul writes Second Epistle to Timothy (?) Vespasian General in Palestine
Paul’s and Peter’s martyrdom in Rome (?).
The Revelation of John Galba Emperor 68
Otho and Vitellius Emperor 69
Vespasian Emperor 69
Destruction of Jerusalem by Titus 70
(Josephus released) Coliseum begun 76
Destruction of Pompeii and Heraculaneum 79
Titus Emperor 79
John writes his Gospel and Epistles (?). Domitian Emperor 91
John writes the Revelation Persecution of Christians Nerva Emperor 95 96