Chapter

The Acts of the Apostles

Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics

The Acts of the Apostles

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The second volume of Luke–Acts takes the story of the followers of Jesus from his ascension on the Mount of Olives (1: 12; cf. Luke 24: 50–1), through the period when the earliest churches were being founded, to the moment when Paul arrives in Rome. There, in the heart of the eternal city, the preaching of Paul about ‘the kingdom of God’ and his teaching of the things which ‘concern the Lord Jesus Christ’ (28: 31) complete what had started with John the Baptist in remote Palestinian villages a generation before. Acts, like the gospels, is a narrative which has been schematically organized by the writer to present his own account of how the Christian churches had come into being, and were spread by the work of the apostles. Like all history it is written from a point of view: constituting propaganda for a particular ideology. Its testimony must be taken seriously, but recognized for what it is. Paul has always been a controversial figure, both in his own day and ever since. Some people in Christian history, including Marcion, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Karl Barth have seen Paul as central to Christianity; others have suspected that in his writings he interpreted and distorted the oral tradition of Jesus's teaching as, perhaps, Plato did that of Socrates. What relation Luke's Paul bears to the Paul of the New Testament letters is impossible now to determine. He appears as an idealized figure, especially in the account of his conversion experience on the road to Damascus (9: 1–9, 10–30; cf. 22: 1–21). That story is the first in a long line of such stories, stretching from the first to the twentieth century, characteristic of certain forms of religious experience, and its shape has influenced the way many later people have told their own story. The phrase ‘a Damascus-road experience’ has passed into English as an idiom for sudden and total changes of heart, views, and way of life. Other, possibly more frequent, varieties of religious experience have tended to be eclipsed by the mythic quality of Paul's conversion. Apart from Peter, all the other disciples of Jesus fade into the background of Luke's narrative. Luke's account of how the earliest churches came into being and then developed is remarkable for its picture of relative harmony in what must have been a time of much conflict. Jesus versus the Jewish authorities in the gospels is much more acrimonious. Paul's letters speak of disputes and outbursts of temper between himself and the other apostles, yet Luke's narrative describes a peaceful but inexorable growth of the churches. Jewish opposition is certainly there, but infighting of Christians among themselves and between the emergent churches is glossed over.

Chapter.  1247 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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