7. The viewpoint of the author of the Acts of the Apostles



The viewpoint of the author of the Acts of the Apostles.

What de Wette, with the brevity required by the dignity of a textbook, simply presents as fact, Schneckenburger, by taking a hypothesis of Dr. Baur as a basis, seeks to establish with at least some certainty, and Schwegler has finally sought to make it fully comprehensible by inserting it into a larger historical context.


When de Wette *) refers to the justification of the teachings and effectiveness of the Apostle Paul “against the narrow-minded views of the Jewish Christians” as a “subordinate pragmatic aspect of the historical narrative” in the Acts of the Apostles, Schneckenburger **) describes the Judaizers, against whose “hostility and accusations” the Apostle to the Gentiles is to be defended, as faithful Israelites who believed that the influx of the “mass” of Gentiles into the church threatened the privilege of the chosen people, following the lead of Dr. Baur. Finally, Schwegler ***) identifies “reconciliation, mutual approximation, and unity” of the two conflicting parties, the Paulinists and the Petrinists, as the purpose pursued by the author of the Acts of the Apostles in the composition of his work, and calls this apologetic historian a “Paulinist who, in a time still predominantly inclined towards Jewish Christianity and among a generation still prejudiced against the person, doctrine, and activity of the Apostle to the Gentiles, could only obtain recognition for Pauline universalism by making sacrifices.”

*) Textbook of the Introduction to the N. T. 1848. p. 223. 224.

**) op. cit. p. 90. 217. Baur, der Apostel Paulus, p. 347. 349.

***) Post-apostolic age ll. 73. 74. 113.

The insignificant disagreement of these scholars regarding the relationship between the apologetic purpose pursued by the author of the Acts of the Apostles and his historical narrative, their disagreement about the extent of the influence that his apologetic purpose had on the existing historical flow, is no longer of interest to us, now that it has been shown that the Acts of the Apostles is entirely a free creation and artificial product. While de Wette may push cautious belief the furthest, carefully distinguishing the historical narrative from that pragmatic perspective, calling it only a subordinate aspect and thus blunting the entire question of the habit of faith out of love, while Schneckenburger may attribute greater influence to the pragmatic purpose of the author, such as the fact that “Paul is only presented from his side facing Judaism, with omission and modification of what could bother the Judaizers,” and while Schwegler may extend the limits within which the purpose pursued by the author of the Acts of the Apostles “transformed the actual course of events and circumstances,” these scholars still share the assumption that the author was given the actual historical circumstances and that he modified them more or less in the interest of his purpose.


Having established the origin of the Acts of the Apostles as a product of free reflection, we can calmly leave these scholars to their debate about the extent to which the author’s tendency influenced the transformation of historical facts. We will use their agreement as well as their differences to draw attention to the difficulty of their fundamental assumptions. In this regard, it will be only Messrs. Schwegler and Schneckenburger who can engage us, as the audacity with which Mr. de Wette presents his few sentences, assertions, and clauses is too far beyond our scope.


“Against all the hostility and accusations of the Judaizers”, the author of the Acts of the Apostles wanted to defend the Apostle Paul in the “matter of the Gentiles”, as Schneckenburger assumes – “in a time still predominantly turned towards Jewish Christianity”, according to Schwegler, he wanted to bring Pauline universalism to recognition.

So the same purpose, the same tendency, the same interest! But how is it possible that the author of the Acts of the Apostles, who according to Schneckenburger wrote before the destruction of Jerusalem, according to Schwegler around the middle of the second century, could find the same opponents in both cases, take the same part and pursue the same purpose? How is it possible that an insightful and adroit Pauline, whether he appeared in the Neronian period or a century later, could in both cases find the struggle waged for the recognition of his teacher at the same stage, that he could consider the position taken by the writer of Acts as the most appropriate and fitting to decide the battle in his master’s favour?

In other words, a definition of the purpose of the Acts of the Apostles that conveniently finds its historical substrate in the time before the destruction of Jerusalem and a century later cannot be correct, – a view of history that is able to find exactly the same parties and these parties in exactly the same position in two points in time that are separated from each other by a century – (and by what a century, by what battles and decisions!) – cannot be other than erroneous.


And who are the opponents that the author of the Acts of the Apostles wanted to appease and win over? Really those Jewish Christians who were concerned about the crowds of Gentiles who flocked to the Church in such numbers after the overthrow of the law “that they soon exceeded the number of believing Israelites” – to whom the thought that the Gentiles should enjoy salvation before the chosen people was unbearable? Really those Jewish Christians whose views and fears, as Schneckenburger thinks, “a careful consideration of the Epistle to the Romans” teaches us, – those Jewish Christians who, as Dr. Baur has really proved with the help of the Epistle to the Romans, alarmed and frightened by the disproportion between the encroaching crowd of Gentiles and the small number of believing Jews, dared to assert that “for the sake of the Jews the Gentiles should be excluded from the grace of the Gospel?”

But there never were such people – the Epistle to the Romans, as the renewed examination of it and the correct determination of its origin will prove, knows nothing of them, and in the Acts of the Apostles they appear nowhere, after once the clumsy pragmatism of miracles had removed the equally clumsily formed misgivings of the early church against the admission of the Gentiles and their deliverance from the law.

And if the Acts of the Apostles was written around the middle, in the second half of the second century – in this later time there should still have been Jewish Christians who denied the calling of the Gentiles, who at most only wanted to grant them salvation on the condition that they first submitted to Judaism through complete submission to the Law? At that time, “Jewish Christianity” still held sway, so that a Pauline could only get the Apostle of the Gentiles to recognise him at the price of the smallest compromises?


Where is the evidence that the universalism of the congregation had to beg for a precarious existence around the middle of the second century?

Nowhere – nowhere can they be found.

Schwegler himself has to show how bad the situation is with regard to his basic premise when he lets his Pauline Fathers beg for a meagre and even humiliating recognition “in a time still predominantly turned towards Jewish Christianity, among a generation still prejudiced against the Apostle to the Gentiles”.

But still? still? By leaving the time in which Paulinism really fought – a time which itself has yet to be “elucidated” and which can only really be formed from the criticism of the Pauline letters – to itself for now and placing ourselves in the middle of the second century – what was the expression of the “Jewish Christianity” which still prevailed at that time – what were the prejudices which the generation of that time still harboured against the Apostle to the Gentiles?

Was there any party worth mentioning that was not convinced of the universal purpose of Christianity? A party that did not grant salvation to the Gentiles? Any party worth mentioning that wanted to accept the Gentiles into the church only on condition of their complete submission to the law?

None of the above.

So what did the parties argue about that the author of Acts wanted to reconcile? Mr. Schwegler will be as unable to say as all those who believe they have recognised and interpreted the entire history of the first two Christian centuries, if they attribute all movements, struggles and developments to the one opposition of the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians, the Petrines and the Paulines.


So what were they arguing about? What was it that made the Jewish Christians bitter against Paul, or at least aroused their suspicion and worried them?

None of the scholars who have dealt with this question in modern times has been able to say, and the author of the Acts of the Apostles himself did not know, could no longer know, since the dispute between the Pauline and Jewish Christian parties had reached its end in his time and the points of contention had become blurred, confused, forgotten. When the author wanted to bring about the final catastrophe and let the fate of the Apostle to the Gentiles be fulfilled through the suspicion, yes, through the hostility of the believing Jews in Jerusalem, he was so incapable of forming a real and tenable opposition that he made one approach after another and always ended up with another, an ever more impossible and untenable opposition. By the time he wrote his work, the earlier, the historical contrast between the Pauline and the Judaeo-Christian movements had become blurred and incomprehensible – only unsubstantiated echoes of an earlier contrast occasionally penetrate his presentation, but the contrast itself does not appear in reality, the author cannot present it and no longer understands it.

At the moment of the dispute, when the opposition was still alive and active, a work like the Acts of the Apostles would have been impossible – as the difference between Paulinism and the Judaeo-Christian direction, a difference which, of course, can only be brought back to its truly historical form through a renewed critique of the Pauline letters, it would not have occurred to anyone to weave a “reconciling veil” *) in the Acts of the Apostles and to count on a reconciliation of the differences by throwing this veil over the points of contention – no one would have listened to the “peace proposal” if **) the Acts of the Apostles was presented as such.

*) Schwegler, op. cit. p. 73.

**) Same p. 74.


When the Acts of the Apostles were written, the tension of the parties had already collapsed, the opposition had already been veiled, the difference blurred, peace had already been made – the Acts of the Apostles is not a proposal for peace, but the expression and conclusion of peace and relaxation.

The Acts of the Apostles does not want to have an effect on genuine, original Pauline Christians, for example, with the intention of getting them to be tolerant and lenient towards the Jewish Christians, and it could not have had this intention because such Pauline Christians no longer existed. Nor does it want to make the Jewish Christians tolerant of the Pauline Christians, because this opposition no longer exists, because it was already obliterated. The author of the Acts of the Apostles does not live in the opposition in which the Pauline epistles move, nor in the opposition which modern scholars presuppose in every stage of the history of early Christianity; in his consciousness, rather, the elements of that earlier opposition had run into one another – when he wrote, the parties had melted away and the unity in whose element he lived had already been established.


So what did he want? What did he achieve in his work?

First, those who, like Schwegler, start from the premise that he wrote in a “time still predominantly inclined towards Jewish Christianity” may answer the question whether the dominance of this Jewish Christianity, which the author of Acts wanted to “reconcile” with Pauline Christianity, was later completely broken, whether this Jewish being was later completely subjugated to the Christian principle!

But we only say so, without waiting for their answer: The Acts of the Apostles first brought Judaism to dominion and recognition within the congregation, it helped to close the chain that connected the congregation with the Jewish world, and the church held fast to the Acts of the Apostles and recognized it as the canonical expression of its consciousness, because it wanted this covenant with Judaism and this Jewish marriage with the past and with heaven.

The author of the Acts of the Apostles gave form, flesh and blood and a sanctioning history to Judaism, which had neutralised the original conflicts and their struggle.

“To Judaism,” we say, even though this term, which we have immediately put in the title of our work because it is the only correct one, will cause some offence.

Judaism, which has prevailed in the Acts of the Apostles and received its balance with Paulinism, is of course not the historical Jewish people. Rather, the Jewish people as such is hostile to the church in Acts – “the Jews” are the opponents of the church, their opposition to salvation is determined and remains the same from beginning to end, their nature and character is finished, they persist in their nature, persecute Paul as they persecuted the original apostles: – in short, they stand outside and can only harbour enmity for the church.


The Judaism which triumphs in the Acts of the Apostles is not the Jewish Christianity of which modern scholars have so much to say – it has nothing against the freedom of the Gentile Christians, nor does it intend to impose the yoke of the law on them. On the contrary, on the ground on which this Judaism prevailed, the freedom of the Gentile Christians and the universality of the community were an undeniable truth, and the former opposition between the Gentile and Jewish Christians was disappearing.

The Judaism we speak of is rather a power that, although in changing forms, has maintained its dominance until modern times. It still worked and operated in the ignorance of the rationalists, who concealed their lack of historical knowledge by assuming a mediated revelation and expressed their inability to distinguish and recognize different historical epochs, for example, by assuming a messianic dogma before the emergence of Christianity and the Gospels. It still worked until recently in the apologetics of Hengstenberg and his attempt to demonstrate the New Testament in the Old, that is, to conceal and eliminate the difference and opposition in the development of religious consciousness. It gives the freethinkers the courage to speak of research after the works of criticism, but in reality, they retain all the essential categories of the old belief system in the vagueness of their minds. It is the eternal opponent of specificity, historical differences, original formation, self-determined decision, and the shaking that the self-determined hero, who draws the resolution and strength for his action from the source of his inner being, brings into the life of habit and into the world of regulation and tradition. It is the tireless power that immediately flattens and brings into conformity with the existing level as soon as a new force emerges. It fills in the incisions that the creative self-power makes in the usual course of history, pushes the boundary markers left by the hero as a testimony of his work far back into the past, and makes the discovery an outflow of tradition. It is the power that quickly submits the revolution that the discovering hero brought about to the past and tradition, thereby securing the discovery but also reducing it to the comprehension of the masses.


We call this power Judaism, which is a conservative, reconciling, counter-revolutionary force that nonetheless ensures the gains of the revolution. It received its classical expression in the Old Testament, in the inability of the Israelites to perceive historical differences, in the Jewish transformation of later historical products into a divinely inspired tradition – in short, in Jewish theism, which condemns the historical creator to impotence and hands over the prerogative of revelation to heaven. And indeed, this power has maintained its influence in the church through the original inheritance that the new community received from the Old Testament and even gained a larger terrain for its influence.


No! It was not a self-determined revolution – that is the main theme which the author of the Acts of the Apostles carries out in the interest of this Judaism – there was nothing original or creative, it was not a sacrilege of self-power when Paul brought salvation to the Gentiles and freed them from the law – he only did what heaven wanted, and heaven had already accomplished it through Peter before him.

The historical struggle is over, the opposition blurred, the revolution completed, the birth pains of the new creation forgotten – the revolutionary is incorporated into the holy chain of tradition – the Judaism of the church has blurred the characteristics of the epochs – it has submitted to the human creator and returned the honor due to God and tradition.

After this meaning of the Acts of the Apostles has become clear to us from the text itself, we only have to summarize some results of our investigation in order to eliminate several prejudices about its composition and determine the time of its writing.


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Neil Godfrey

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