A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 1:1-4. b. Luke the diplomat (continued).
It was Matthias Schneckenburger in his *Uber den Zweck der Apostelgechichte* (1841) who made ‘the first elaborate investigation into the purpose of Acts’ He believed that Luke was defending Paul against Jewish-Christian criticism of his mission to the Gentiles by emphasizing his Jewish practices and his good relations with the Jerusalem church. He was also at pains to demonstrate their ‘parallel miracles, visions, sufferings and speeches’, in order ‘to make Paul equal to Peter’.
F.C.Baur went much further. He saw Acts as having a precise ‘tendentious’ purpose. On the rather flimsy foundation of the Corinthian faction (‘I follow Paul… I follow Peter…’, 1 Cor. 1:12) he constructed an elaborate theory that the early church was torn apart by conflict between original Jewish Christianity represented by Peter and later Gentile Christianity represented by Paul. He regarded Acts as a second-century attempt by a ‘Paulinist’ ( a follower and champion of Paul) to minimize and even deny, the supposed hostility between the two leading apostles and so to reconcile Jewish and Gentile Christians to one another. He portrayed Paul as a faithful Jew, who kept the law and believed the prophets, and Peter as the evangelist through whom the first Gentile was converted. The two apostles are thus seen in harmony, not at loggerheads, with each other. In fact, Luke attempted to reconcile the ‘two opposing parties by making Paul appear as Petrine as possible, and, correspondingly, Peter appear as Pauline as possible…’
It is generally agreed that F.C.Baur and his successors in the Tubingen School carried their theory much too far. There is really no evidence that in the early church there were two Christianities (Jewish and Gentile) headed by two apostles (Peter and Paul) in irreconcilable opposition to each other. Baur was probably influenced by Hegel’s dialectical understanding of history in terms of a recurring conflict between thesis and antithesis. There certainly was tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians, and because of the activity of the Judaizers a serious split did seem possible until the issue was settled by the Council of Jerusalem. Luke does not hide this. Certainly too, in Antioch, Paul publicly opposed Peter to his face (Gal 2:11), because of his withdrawal from the fellowship with Gentile believers. But this confrontation was exceptional and temporary; Paul wrote about it to the Galatians in the past tense. Peter recovered from his momentary lapse. The reconciliation between the two leading apostles was real, not fictitious, and the thrust of Acts, Galatians 1 and 2, and 1 Corinthians 15:11 is on the agreement of the apostles about the gospel.
Luke did not invent this apostolic harmony, as Baur argued: he rather observed it and recorded it. It is evident that he gives prominence in his story to Peter (chapters 1-12) and to Paul (chapters 13-28). It seems very probable as well that he deliberately presents them as exercising parallel rather than divergent ministries. The similarities are remarkable. Thus, both Peter and Paul were filled with the Holy Spirit (4:8 and 9:17; 13:9); both preached the word of God with boldness (4:13, 31 and 9:27, 29); both bore witness before Jewish audiences to Jesus crucified, risen and reigning, in fulfilment of Scripture, as the way to salvation (e.g. 2;22ff.; and 13:16 ff); both preached to Gentiles as well as Jews (10:34 ff; and 13:46 ff); both received visions which gave vital direction to the church’s developing mission (10:9 ff; 16:9); both were imprisoned for their testimony to Jesus and then miraculously set free (12:7 ff; and 16:25 ff); both healed a congenital cripple, Peter in Jerusalem and Paul in Lystra (3:2 ff; and 14:8 ff); both healed other sick people (9:41; and 28:8); both exorcized evil spirits (5:16; and 16:18); both possessed such extraordinary powers that people were healed by Peter’s shadow and by Paul’s handkerchiefs and aprons (5:15; and 19:12); both raised the dead, Tabitha in Joppa by Peter and Eutychus in Troas by Paul (9:36 ff; and 20:7 ff); both called down God’s judgment on a sorcerer/false teacher, Peter on Simon Magus in Samaria and Paul on Elymas in Paphos (8:20 ff; and 13:6 ff); and both refused the worship of their fellow human beings, Peter that of Cornelius and Paul that of the Lystrans.(10:25,26; and 14:11 ff)
It is true that these parallels are scattered through Acts and are not put in direct juxtaposition to each other. Yet there they are. They can hardly be accidental. Luke surely includes them in his narrative in order to show by his portraiture of Peter and Paul that they were both apostles of Christ, with the same commission, gospel and authentication. It is in this way that he may be called a ‘peacemaker’, who demonstrated the unity of the apostolic church.
Tomorrow: c). Luke the theologian-evangelist.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.