How Miracles Help
When the author had transformed the religious theologian into a sorcerer, he was also compelled to boast of the man who (1 Cor. 15:30) was hourly in danger and whose sufferings and “incessant” afflictions gave him the right to boast of himself that (2 Cor. 4:10) he was carrying the dying Jesus around in his body (2 Cor. 4:10), only to involve him in apparent dangers, i.e. as soon as he got into a danger, to immediately remove the appearance as if he could be seriously and severely affected by it.
The man of God must not really suffer; divine help comes at the moment when a distress or danger threatens to become serious and a contradiction of his covenant with heaven; suffering and persecution, on the contrary, must result in his glorification.
Even the accidents of nature must be powerless against him: if an adder gets into his hand, so that people expect his death at any moment, nothing bad must happen to him and people must get the idea that he is a god (28:3-6); if a storm rises on a sea voyage and the ship seems certain to sink, God gives him the whole ship’s company (27:20, 24) and for his sake it is saved.
At one point he has to retreat from the fury of the Jews, whose envy had aroused the conversion of the Gentiles, and leave Pisidian Antioch but the sorrow of this fate is infinitely outweighed by the joy that it must give the apostle, since it proves how right he was when he said immediately before that it was his principle to preach the Word of God to the Jews first, so that their obduracy would be proof that salvation must come to the Gentiles (13:46-50). His adverse fate is important for his theory, necessary even, since he carries out his divine destiny as teacher of the Gentiles – it is the indispensable link in a theoretical proof.
Immediately after the flight of the apostle from Antioch, the same hatred of the “Jews” drives him out of Iconium — when he then proved himself great before the Gentiles in Lystra, even the Jews of Antioch and Iconium come and bring the people to revolt against him (14: 2-19) — this alone is only the continuation and completion of the trial that his fate in Antioch provided – the author therefore, with deliberate intention, sent the same Jews who initiated the trial in Antioch and who continued it in Iconium to complete it in Lystra.
Once this testing had been carried out, however, the apostle could no longer be subjected to severe suffering without it bouncing off his majesty and high destiny. The series of sufferings that hit him, for example, during his last stay in Jerusalem, became a corresponding series of glorifications and finally only served to pave his way to Rome. In Philippi (16:22-40) he is beaten with Silas and thrown into prison, but here too it must be shown that the attempts of his enemies bring about the opposite of what they intended and only result in the brilliant revelation of his covenant with heaven.
The nature and origin of the conflicts which the apostle experienced during his last stay in Jerusalem will be revealed to us later; for now we are only concerned with his miraculous fate in Philippi and the side story which contains the account of Peter.
Paul and Silas let themselves be whipped and thrown into prison, although, as is shown on the following morning, when the captains of the city were frightened when they heard that both were Roman citizens, this privilege, if they had claimed it in the first place, would have prevented all maltreatment – only they were to be whipped, they were to be thrown into prison, so that the omnipotence of heaven could declare for them, they were to mention their citizenship *) only in the morning, when the captains of the city had announced their freedom to them, so that these, in their fright, would see fit to come themselves and lead them out of prison.
*) How questionable this is, how Paul, of whose Roman citizenship the epistles still know nothing, how in association with him also Sllas comes to this privilege, we will leave untouched here.
The miracle, which revealed the two prisoners to be the friends of heaven, was also worth the fact that they did not invoke their civil privilege. When they prayed aloud at midnight, so that the prisoners heard them, an earthquake immediately arose, which burst open all the doors of the prison and loosed the shackles of all the prisoners **), including those who were imprisoned alongside Paul and Silas.
**) 16:26 πάντων τὰ δεσμιὰ
The jailer is awakened from his sleep by the shaking, and when he sees that the doors are open, he intends to fall on his sword, thinking that the prisoners have escaped. He is not allowed to think about investigating what has actually happened or to check if the prisoners have truly escaped, so that Paul (Verse 28) can shout to him that everyone – everyone, Paul must speak of everyone, because the author does not have time and space to report what Paul’s and Silas’ fellow prisoners have done – is still there.
In the wonderful element that abolishes all distances, Paul can speak from the innermost prison cell to the jailer, who has just awakened from sleep and is separated from the apostle by cells and corridors, and make himself heard. In the miraculous light that illuminates the event, the jailer immediately knows that it is a miracle and has happened for the sake of Paul. He forgets the other prisoners and throws himself at the feet of the apostle and his companion, even though he had just intended to fall on his sword out of fear of the chief magistrates. Suddenly, he knows that their anger is dispelled, and after he and his household have received baptism, he hosts a banquet for the apostles in his home that same night. In fact, the next morning the chief magistrates announce the freedom of the two prisoners, so their inexplicable change of heart coincides miraculously with the change in the prisoners’ situation during the night. However, Paul insists that they come and release them themselves, and they do come and ask both of them to leave their city. They act just like the Gadarenes, who also felt only terror before the mighty power of Jesus and asked him to leave their land. The author of the Acts of the Apostles even copied the corresponding Gospel account word for word, to leave us in no doubt about his source. *)
*) Acts 16:39 και ελθοντες παρεκαλεσαν αυτους και ηρωτων εξελθειν της πολεως
Mark 5:15 και ερχονται . . . V. [17 – corrected from 16] και ηρξαντο παρακαλειν αυτον απελθειν απο των οριων αυτων
The contradictions through which Peter’s corresponding experience moves also work so thoroughly that they break it up and lift it out of the real world into that ideal region in which everything, even the impossible, is possible. Everything, even the utterly incoherent, is inwardly connected.
Why were Peter and John, after helping the lame man to his feet, arrested by the priests, the captain of the temple and the Sadducees? Because of the miracle they had performed before the eyes of the people? However, the question is put to the two in the Sanhedrin: “by what authority or in what name did you do this?” – Peter, in his speech of defence, proceeds from the assumption that he and his comrade would be judged because of the benefit they had done to a sick person (4:7, 9) – but of a part of their opponents the author expressly remarks (V. 2) that they had brought about the arrest of the disciples because of their teaching and because they taught in Jesus the resurrection of the dead, – why, then, is this reason for the arrest not brought up by the judges? Simply because the author had only one interest this time, only one intention to achieve, and only wanted to punish the opponents of the apostles by the fact that their measures and legal proceedings led to the official certification of their sins. Why, then, does he mention, before the Sadduceans, their opposition to the disciples’ sermon on the resurrection, their annoyance at their preaching? Why does he not bring out the hostile interest of the Sadducees in the course of the judicial proceedings? Simply because he knows beforehand that soon afterwards a second arrest of the apostles will take place and as a result the opposition of the Sadducees will really come to the fore – but he does not consider that this opposition is not directed against the disciples, but rather causes an inner discord in the Sanhedrin itself – Furthermore, he introduced this contrast much too early and when he was already exhibiting it (4:2), he was idly slacking off.
The miracle is thus for now the reason for the arrest, the subject of the trial, and its complete authentication the purpose of the author. But why do the judges ask: “In whose name are you doing this? Why? The question could not have occurred to them, since they had arrested the disciples as heads of the new sect, and therefore also knew whom they proclaimed as their Lord and Master – but the author put the question into their mouths, so that Peter might have an opportunity to “prove his boldness” and preach before them the name in which alone salvation is given (vv. 10-12).
Why do they ask, “by what authority did ye do this?” Because the Jesus of the Gospels is the original “apostolic” founder of the Church, because therefore also the disciples must hear the same question which was put to the Lord after the cleansing of the Temple *), and because now, after this question, Peter’s answer led all the more surely to the conclusion that Jesus is the true author of the miracle and, by the miraculous crast which he communicates to the disciples, puts beyond doubt their authority to “found” his Church.
*) Acts 4:7 εν ποια δυναμει . . . . εποιησατε τουτο . . .
Mark 11:28 εν ποια εξουσια ταυτα ποιεις
The opponents’ attack must be to their own detriment – their questions must lead to their embarrassment – if the fact that a “lame” person jumps on Peter’s word promotes the growth of the church, the opponents’ limitation must at the same time prove the “solid” foundation on which the church rests.
The church works miracles – the limitations of its opponents prove its power.
The opponents are so limited and lacking in understanding that they only now, in the course of the negotiations, discover that the disciples (4:13) are not the idiots and unlearned people they thought they were – i.e. the author only now lets them get to know the disciples’ gift of oratory and their art of interpreting Scripture by forgetting that they (4:1) when Peter preached his great sermon about the Risen Lord, so that they must have known long ago how powerfully Peter knew how to speak and how skilfully he knew how to handle the testimonies of the Scriptures from his Master. The author does not consider at all that the Jewish authorities must have known of the danger when they decided to arrest the chiefs of the new sect – but he does not consider it because he wanted to leave the opponents, after they had citied the disciples before the highest court in a correct appreciation of the danger, in the unrecognised danger.
Another intermediary must confound the opponents and bear irrefutable testimony to the miraculous nature of the wonder – namely, the healed man who stands beside the two disciples during the trial. The author himself feels how inappropriate and impossible his presence is and hopes to anticipate the reader’s objections by noting (4:14) that the judges “had nothing to say” when they saw him standing next to the disciples. However, this does not explain how he could have entered the courtroom, nor how he could have filled the interim period from the moment when the healed man (3:11) joined the two disciples until the trial, nor how he could have cleared the healed man’s path from the temple, through the prison, to the courtroom.
The Sanhedrin must at last “admit” to itself – and this confession was just what the author wanted to bring about by his unfortunate pragmatism – that they cannot judge the arrested and deny the miracle, since the same (V. 16) is known to all the “inhabitants” of Jerusalem. They even see themselves so constrained by the force of the facts that they can neither come to a decision nor to a sentence – the fear of the people (V. 21) compels them to release the arrested without fail – but if the people were to be feared to such a degree and the public admiration they paid to the great deed demanded such unconditional consideration, then the arrest was also an impossibility from the outset.
Nevertheless, the arrest was repeated soon afterwards. All the apostles were thrown into prison. The angel of the Lord frees them and commands them to teach publicly in the temple. When the Sanhedrin learns of their bold work in the temple, it sends out the centurion with the servants and – these? They bring the disciples to trial, but (5:26) “not by force, for they feared” the people. *)
*) Mark 11:32 εφοβουντο τον λαον, απαντες γαρ . . . .
Acts 4:16 οτι μεν γαρ γνωστον . . . . πασι . . . .
After the consideration for the people and the fear of them had already put themselves between the Jewish authorities and the disciples in the same way as they paralysed the opponents of Jesus after the cleansing of the temple *), the same fear now compels the captains to renounce violence, just as the Sanhedrin had to give up the idea of carrying out the arrest of Jesus by open violence for fear of a popular uproar *).
*) Mark 14:2 μη εν τη εορτη . . . . .
Luke 22:2 εφοβουντο γαρ τον λαον. V. 6 ατερ οχλου.
Acts 5:26 ου μετα βιας εφοβουντο γαρ τον λαον.
But this fear of the people also allows the opponents of Jesus in the Gospel to act correctly; it is real fear and has its natural consequences; the imprisonment is omitted economically and is only carried out when a means presents itself which makes open force necessary; – In the Acts of the Apostles, on the other hand, the same fear does not take effect until later, after that which should have made it impossible has happened – the author has placed the key words of the Gospels wrongly, because he certainly needed the catastrophe which the fear of the people had to prevent, and needed it beforehand, before the opponents of the disciples remembered the necessary consideration for the people.
This time he needed the repeated arrest of the disciples, who, after their miraculous liberation, must voluntarily follow the servants of the Sanhedrin, so that in the new trial the discord between the Jewish parties, which he had already caused at an inopportune moment during the previous arrest, would really break out and in a new way contribute to the irresistibility of the “Christian” cause.
Gamaliel is now to appear and paralyze the zeal of the Sadducees **).
**) Acts 5:17 επλησθησαν ζηλου.
But even this contrast is made – made according to the pattern of the Gospel, in which the Sadducees also appear as special opponents of the work of salvation “and indeed as the same opponents of the resurrection as they prove to be in the Acts of the Apostles – the contrast is therefore unhappily copied from the Gospel – for if it really makes sense and is coherent when the Saddueans of the Gospel make common cause with their bitterest enemies against Jesus and attack him in their own way, it is inconceivable that the two ruling parties would not have forgotten their particular quarrel with a new sect by which they both saw themselves threatened in the same way.
The contrast is all the more unfortunate because the same Gamaliel, at whose feet (22:3) Paul sat and under whose leadership the zealot persecutor of the Christians became a zealot for the law, could not possibly have spoken in favour of a cautious and gentle procedure against the young church in the mild manner that the author portrays.
Gamaliel also could not have made the speech which the author puts into his mouth, since the rebellion of Theudas, which he presents as a past one (5:36), occurred at least ten years later.
If, therefore, all the individual features of the report were to dissolve, it would be an unjustifiable half-measure to drop the person of Gamaliel and to attribute his advice *) “only to the view prevailing at that time among the rulers of the Jews” that “it might be best to leave the cause of Jesus to its own fate for the time being”, since it would “soon become apparent how little there was in it” – it would be a more than bold assumption *), “that the enemies of Jesus cared little for his followers in the immediate aftermath of his death, and as “they saw them increasing” and had to be concerned about them, did not consider it worth the trouble “to apply more serious measures” – it is not at all permissible **) to speak of “this first period of the first Christian community” “and to say of it” that it was “still devoid of eventfulnes.”
*) as Dr Baur does; the apostle Paul p. 35.
*) See the same ibid. p. 33, 34.
**) Nevertheless, as Dr. Baur does.
This first Christian community, known only from the Acts of the Apostles, this first period of the community that the author portrays in the first sections of his work, does not belong to history, because the substrate no longer exists once everything that reveals its nature has proved to be unhistorical – this basis of the author’s historical account has dissipated when the building he erected on it, which stands in the correct architectural proportion to it, has collapsed.
Whoever, with reference to the account of the Acts of the Apostles, speaks of a first Christian congregation, of a “first period” of the same, of a view of the Jewish authorities that prevailed “at that time”, of a mood of the Jewish parties in the “next” time after the death of Jesus, must also accept all statements of this Scripture as historical – whoever places himself on the ground of the Acts of the Apostles and wants to orientate himself from there about the first period of the Christian congregation, must not and cannot even distinguish between legendary embellishments and a real foundation, for another “first” Christian community, another “first” epoch of it apart from that which the Acts of the Apostles may describe, is not possible according to all its presuppositions – but none of these presuppositions leads to real history – all are the testimony of the later ideal view.
Anyone who wants to learn about the origins of the Christian community must take a longer detour and, above all, have first acquired the certainty that the late construction of the Acts of the Apostles is not built on historical ground. We will never know what the opponents of the “first” Christian community thought of it from Gamaliel’s council – but he teaches us that the author of the Acts of the Apostles could not find a better testimony to the irresistibility with which the church grew than the recognition that even the chief and spokesperson of the Pharisees had to offer to its divinity.
Dr. Baur therefore only tries to make a groundless distinction when he *) does not want to accept Peter’s miracle of punishment of Ananias and Sapphira as historical and nevertheless wants to assert the assumption “that these two names are not interwoven into the history of the first Christian community without historical reason” as a legally permissible one. Barnabas, for example, “displayed an attitude and conduct that made their names so odious and detestable that one believed one could only see a divine judgment in their death, which somehow occurred.
*) Ibid, p. 23
Rather, the one who killed them also created them in the first place. It was not the tragic indignation over their “despicable” behaviour that made them important to the congregation and preserved the memory of their names until it occurred to the late historian to “bring about” their death by Peter’s word – but the only interest they could offer to the congregation was their death, which Peter inflicted on them with a single word.
Not the two deceitful spouses are the object of Christian interest, but the deed that Peter performed on them, and apart from this deed they could not even exist.
In the end, until the author of the Acts of the Apostles came and did his last work on them, did the church carry their names around in their memory in contrast to that of Barnabas, who shamed them by his “sacrifice and altruism”? Rather, it was only the late historian who connected the name of Barnabas (4:36, 37) with theirs – not only for the sake of contrast, but because he was already thinking of what Barnabas (9:27) did to Paul, and because he wanted to show which intimate and deserving member of the early church was the one who introduced the late Gentile apostle to the apostles.
He who had such a definite intention when he reported the generous deed of Bamabas, by means of that intention, created that deed in the first place – created for Peter’s sake the “detestable” deed of Ananias and Sapphira – created the deceptive couple in the first place.
He, who first saw the community of goods of the primitive community as unconditional, who expressly reports (C. 4, 34) that all who had land or houses sold them and laid the money redeemed at the apostles’ feet, and afterwards not only ( C. 6.1-4) speaks of the administration of the “alms”, but also mentions (C. 12.12) houses owned by individual members of the community, can teach us as little about the property situation of the first Christian community as Epiphanius about the antiquity of his Ebionites when he tells us that they tell the same about themselves as the author of the Acts of the Apostles tells about the early community *).
*) In the present study, we do not have a direct interest in discovering the origins of the Christian community – we only examine what sense of time, what historical perspective, the Acts of the Apostles express and represent. Therefore, we cannot even consider inferring the form of the first community from the late testimony of Epiphanius. The criticism of the statements and hypotheses of Epiphanius is a separate matter – Dr. Baur’s criticism (ibid. p. 32) is therefore at least premature. Just because the Ebionites of Epiphanius claimed of themselves that they (haer. 30) sold their property in the times of the apostles and “added the proceeds to the apostles’ funds,” and because of their well-known hostility to the apostle Paul, the Acts of the Apostles written by the Pauline Luke could not have been authoritative for them – does this mean that this expression was not borrowed from this scripture, that it is significant for the early days of the community, and that it justifies historical conjectures? Therefore, can one assume that the Ebionites later represented their original poverty as a result of a free decision? At the time of Epiphanius, in the late fourth century, that passage of the Acts of the Apostles should not have become a common and prevalent historical category – it should have been impossible for unclear sectarians or Epiphanius himself to use it arbitrarily? However, the criticism of Epiphanius is a separate matter.
At the same moment, when he is calling the renunciation of personal possessions a general and unconditional one, he lets Peter speak against Ananias (6:4) as if he could have kept the field and withheld the proceeds. How, then, does he come to this inconsistency? What drove him to act against a note he had just written down?
He was interested in portraying Ananias, who could thus freely dispose of his own, as a man who did secretly what he should have done openly – as a man who secretly kept a part of the proceeds for himself.
But why did he care? Because Peter of the Acts, as bishop of the congregation – for that is at least how he behaves – takes the place of the Lord, and because the author wanted to show that what Ignatius says *) is true, that he who conceals from the bishop what he is doing serves the devil.
*) ad Smyrn. C. 9. ο λαθρα επισκοπου τι πρασσων, τω διαβολω λατρυει.
Peter thunders at Ananias that he has lied (5:4) not to men but to God – smashes Sapphira with the accusation that she and her husband have become one to tempt the Spirit of the Lord.
The couple wanted to see if it was true that the Spirit of the Lord was really in Peter, if Ignatius was right that “he who betrays the bishop, the visible one, mocks the invisible one” **).
**) ad Magnes c. 3
The attempt, of course, went badly, for the author’s main concern was to show that the theory developed in the letters of JgnatiuS was completely correct.
This late theory of ecclesiastical hierarchies was also in the mind of the author when he reported that the apostles, when standing in the hall of the sanctuary, formed a sacred group which the people dared not approach.
For if Peter is the bishop and representative of Christ, the apostles are that holy association and synod of God which the presbyters form *) – Peter with the apostles forms the holy collegium, to which the others, as the laity, show their reverence by respectful distance.
*) Ignat. Ad Trall. C. 3: honour the presbyters ως συνεδριον θεου και ως συνδεσμον αποστολων.
When Schneckenburger **) explains the predominance of Peter in the first part of the Acts of the Apostles “from the historical fact itself, that it was really Peter who everywhere led the word and powerfully guided the young church,” and when he also refers to the explanation of Jesus (Matt. 16:18) according to which Peter is the rock of the church, then to the word (Luke 22:32): “strengthen your brothers”, finally to the “old testimony” (John 21:15): “feed my lambs”, then I have proven with my critique of the Gospels that the dignities, which these sayings of the Gospel Jesus confer on Peter, were only created when Peter had become the bearer of the later ecclesiastical hierarchy, and as far as the “old testimony” of the fourth Gospel is concerned, then I have rather proven ***) that the author of it had the Acts of the Apostles in mind.
**) p. 158.
***) See my critique of the Gospels.
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