Verse 31. "Preaching the kingdom of God" - Showing the spiritual nature of the true Church, under the reign of the Messiah. For an explanation of this phrase, see the note on Matt. iii. 2.
"Those things which concern the Lord" - The Redeemer of the world was to be represented as the LORD; as JESUS; and as the CHRIST. As the Lord, o kuriov, the sole potentate, upholding all things by the word of his power; governing the world and the Church; having all things under his control, and all his enemies under his feet; in short, the maker and upholder of all things, and the judge of all men. As Jesus-the saviour; he who saves, delivers, and preserves; and especially he who saves his people from their sins. For the explanation of the word JESUS, see the note on John i. 17. As Christ-the same as Messiah; both signifying the ANOINTED: he who was appointed by the Lord to this great and glorious work; who had the Spirit without measure, and who anoints, communicates the gifts and graces of that Spirit to all true believers. St. Paul taught the things which concerned or belonged to the Lord Jesus Christ. He proved him to be the Messiah foretold by the prophets, and expected by the Jews; he spoke of what he does as the Lord, what he does as Jesus, and what he does as Christ. These contain the sum and substance of all that is called the Gospel of Christ.
Yet, the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, necessarily include the whole account of his incarnation, preaching in Judea, miracles, persecutions, passion, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, intercession, and his sending down the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit. These were the subjects on which the apostle preached for two whole years, during his imprisonment at Rome.
"With all confidence" - parrhsiav, Liberty of speech; perfect freedom to say all he pleased, and when he pleased. He had the fullest toleration from the Roman government to preach as he pleased, and what he pleased; and the unbelieving Jews had no power to prevent him.
It is supposed that it was during this residence at Rome that he converted Onesimus, and sent him back to his master Philemon, with the epistle which is still extant. And it is from Philemon 23, 24, of that epistle, that we learn that Paul had then with him Epaphras, Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke.
Here St. Luke's account of Paul's travels and sufferings ends; and it is probable that this history was written soon after the end of the two years mentioned in ver. 30.
That the apostle visited many places after this, suffered much in the great cause of Christianity, and preached the Gospel of Jesus with amazing success, is generally believed. How he came to be liberated we are not told; but it is likely that, having been kept in this sort of confinement for about two years, and none appearing against him, he was released by the imperial order.
Concerning the time, place, and manner of his death, we have little certainty. It is commonly believed that, when a general persecution was raised against the Christians by Nero, about A.D. 64, under pretense that they had set Rome on fire, both St. Paul and St. Peter then sealed the truth with their blood; the latter being crucified with his head downward; the former being beheaded, either in A.D. 64 or 65, and buried in the Via Ostiensis. EUSEBIUS, Hist, Eccles. lib. ii. cap. 25, intimates that the tombs of these two apostles, with their inscriptions, were extant in his time; and quotes as his authority a holy man of the name of Caius, who wrote against the sect of the Cataphrygians, who has asserted this, as from his personal knowledge. See Eusebius, by Reading, vol. i. p. 83; and see Dr. Lardner, in his life of this apostle, who examines this account with his usual perspicuity and candour. Other writers have been more particular concerning his death: they say that it was not by the command of Nero that he was martyred, but by that of the prefects of the city, Nero being then absent; that he was beheaded at Aquae Salviae, about three miles from Rome, on Feb. 22; that he could not be crucified, as Peter was, because he was a freeman of the city of Rome. But there is great uncertainty on these subjects, so that we cannot positively rely on any account that even the ancients have transmitted to us concerning the death of this apostle; and much less on the accounts given by the moderns; and least of all on those which are to be found in the Martyrologists. Whether Paul ever returned after this to Rome has not yet been satisfactorily proved. It is probable that he did, and suffered death there, as stated above; but still we have no certainty.
THERE are several subscriptions to this book in different manuscripts: these are the principal: - The Acts of the Apostles - The Acts of the holy Apostles - The end of the Acts of the holy Apostles, written by Luke the Evangelist, and fellow traveler of the illustrious Apostle Paul - By the holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke, &c. &c.
The versions are not less various in their subscriptions.
The end of the Acts, that is, the History of the holy Apostles.-SYRIAC.
Under the auspices and help of God, the book of the Acts of the pure Apostles is finished; whom we humbly supplicate to obtain us mercy by all their prayers. Amen. And may praise be ascribed to God, the Lord of the universe!-ARABIC.
This (book) of the Acts of the Apostles, which has been by many translated into the Roman tongue, is translated from the Roman and Greek tongue into the AEthiopic.-AETHIOPIC.
On the nature and importance of the Acts of the Apostles, see what is said in the preface to this book. To which may be added the following observations, taken from the conclusion of Dr. Dodd's Commentary.
"The plainness and simplicity of the narration are strong circumstances in its favour; the writer appears to have been very honest and impartial, and to have set down, very fairly, the objections which were made to Christianity, both by Jews and heathens, and the reflections which enemies cast upon it, and upon the first preachers of it. He has likewise, with a just and honest freedom, mentioned the weaknesses, faults, and prejudices, both of the apostles and their converts. There is a great and remarkable harmony between the occasional hints dispersed up and down in St. Paul's epistles, and the facts recorded in this history; insomuch as that it is generally acknowledged that the history of the Acts is the best clue to guide us in the studying of the epistles written by that apostle. The other parts of the New Testament do likewise agree with this history, and give great confirmation to it; for the doctrines and principles are every where uniformly the same; the conclusions of the gospels contain a brief account of those things which are more particularly related in the beginning of the Acts. And there are frequent intimations, in other parts of the gospels, that such an effusion of the Spirit was expected; and that with a view to the very design which the apostles and primitive Christians are said to have carried on, by virtue of that extraordinary effusion which Christ poured out upon his disciples after his ascension; and, finally, the epistles of the other apostles, as well as those of St. Paul, plainly suppose such things to have happened as are related in the Acts of the Apostles; so that the history of the Acts is one of the most important parts of the sacred history, for neither the gospels nor epistles could have been so clearly understood without it; but by the help of it the whole scheme of the Christian revelation is set before us in an easy and manifest view.
"Even the incidental things mentioned by St. Luke are so exactly agreeable to all the accounts which remain of the best ancient historians, among the Jews and heathens, that no person who had forged such a history, in later ages, could have had that external confirmation, but would have betrayed himself by alluding to some customs or opinions since sprung up; or by misrepresenting some circumstance, or using some phrase or expression not then in use. The plea of forgery, therefore, in later ages, cannot be allowed; and for a man to have published a history of such things so early as St. Luke wrote; (that is, while some of the apostles and many other persons were alive who were concerned in the transactions which he has recorded;) if his account had not been punctually true, could have been only to have exposed himself to an easy confutation and certain infamy.
"As, therefore, the Acts of the Apostles are in themselves consistent and uniform, the incidental things agreeable to the best ancient historians which have come down to us, and the main facts supported and confirmed by the other books of the New Testament, and by the unanimous testimony of so many of the ancient fathers, we may, I think, very fairly, and with great justness, conclude that, if any history of former times deserves credit, the Acts of the Apostles ought to be received and credited; and, if the history of the Acts of the Apostles be true, Christianity cannot be false: for a doctrine so good in itself, and attended with so many miraculous and Divine testimonies, has an the possible masks of a true revelation." On St. PAUL'S character and conduct, see the observations at the end of chap. ix. 43, where the subject is particularly considered.
The book of the Acts is not only a history of the Church, the most ancient and most impartial, as it is the most authentic extant, but it is also a history of God's grace and providence, The manner in which he has exerted himself in favour of Christianity, and of the persons who were originally employed to disseminate its doctrines, shows us the highest marks of the Divine approbation. Had not that cause been of God, could he have so signally interposed in its behalf? Would he have wrought such a series of miracles for its propagation and support? And would all its genuine professors have submitted to sustain the loss of all things, had not his own Spirit, by its consolations in their hearts, given them to feel that his favour was better than life? That the hardships suffered by the primitive apostles and Christians were great, the facts themselves related in this book sufficiently declare: that their consolation and happiness were abundant, the cheerful manner in which they met and sustained those hardships demonstrates. He who cordially embraced Christianity found himself no loser by it; if he lost earthly good in consequence, it was infinitely overbalanced by the spiritual good which he received. Paul himself, who suffered most, had this compensated by superabounding happiness. Wherever the Gospel comes, it finds nothing but darkness, sin, and misery; wherever it is received, it communicates light, holiness, and felicity. Reader, magnify thy God and saviour, who hath called thee to such a state of salvation. Should thou neglect it, how grievous must thy punishment be! Not only receive its doctrines, as a system of wisdom and goodness, but receive them as motives of conduct, and as a rule of life; and show thy conscientious belief of them, by holding the truth in righteousness, and thus adorn these doctrines of God thy saviour in all things.-Amen.
I have often with pleasure, and with great advantage to my subject, quoted Dr. Lardner, whose elabourate works in defense of Divine revelation are really beyond all praise. The conclusion of his Credibility of the Gospel History is peculiarly appropriate; and the introduction of it here can need no apology. I hope, with him, I may also say: - "I have now performed what I undertook, and have shown that the account given by the sacred writers of persons and things is confirmed by other ancient authors of the best note. There is nothing in the books of the New Testament unsuitable to the age in which they are supposed to have been written. There appears in these writers a knowledge of the affairs of those times, not to be found in authors of later ages. We are hereby assured that the books of the New Testament are genuine, and that they were written by persons who lived at or near the time of those events of which they have given the history.
"Any one may be sensible how hard it is for the most learned, acute, and cautious man, to write a book in the character of some person of an earlier age; and not betray his own time by some mistake about the affairs of the age in which he pretends to place himself; or by allusions to customs or principles since sprung up; or by some phrase or expression not then in use. It is no easy thing to escape all these dangers in the smallest performance, though it be a treatise of theory or speculation: these hazards are greatly increased when the work is of any length; and especially if it be historical, and be concerned with characters and customs. It is yet more difficult to carry on such a design in a work consisting of several pieces, written, to all appearance, by several persons. Many indeed are desirous to deceive, but all hate to be deceived; and therefore, though attempts have been made to impose upon the world in this way, they have never, or very rarely, succeeded; but have been detected and exposed by the skill and vigilance of those who have been concerned for the truth.
"The volume of the New Testament consists of several pieces: these are ascribed to eight several persons; and there are the strongest appearances that they were not all written by any one hand, but by as many persons as they are ascribed to. There are lesser differences in the relations of some facts, and such seeming contradictions as would never have happened if these books had been all the work of one person, or of several who wrote in concert. There are as many peculiarities of temper and style as there are names of writers; divers of which show no depth of genius nor compass of knowledge! Here are representations of titles, posts, behaviour of persons of higher and lower ranks in many parts of the world; persons are introduced, and their characters are set in a full light; here is a history of things done in several cities and countries; and there are allusions to a vast variety of customs and tenets, of persons of several nations, sects, and religions. The whole is written without affectation, with the greatest simplicity and plainness, and is confirmed by other ancient writers of unquestionable authority. If it be difficult for a person of learning and experience to compose a small treatise concerning matters of speculation, with the characters of a more early age than that in which he writes, it is next to impossible that such a work of considerable length, consisting of several pieces, with a great variety of historical facts, representations of characters, principles, and customs of several nations, and distant countries, of persons of ranks and degrees, of many interests and parties, should be performed by eight several persons, the most of them unlearned, without any appearance of concert.
"I might perhaps call this argument a demonstration, if that term had not been often misapplied by men of warm imagination, and been bestowed upon reasonings that have but a small degree of probability. But though it should not be a strict demonstration that these writings are genuine, or though it be not absolutely impossible, in the nature of the thing, that the books of the New Testament should have been composed in a later age than that to which they are assigned, and of which they have innumerable characters, yet, I think, it is in the highest degree improbable, and altogether incredible.
"If the books of the New Testament were written by persons who lived before the destruction of Jerusalem, that is, if they were written at the time in which they are said to have been written, the things related in them are true. If they had not been matter of fact, they would not have been credited by any persons near that time, and in those parts of the world in which they are said to have been done, but would have been treated as the most notorious lies and falsehoods. Suppose three or four books should now appear amongst us, in the language most generally understood, giving an account of many remarkable and extraordinary events, which had happened in some kingdom of Europe, and in the most noted cities of the countries next adjoining to it; some of them said to have happened between sixty and seventy gears ago, others between twenty and thirty, others nearer our own time; would they not be looked upon as the most manifest and ridiculous forgeries and impostures that ever were contrived? Would great numbers of persons in those very places, change their religious principles and practices upon the credit of things reported to be publicly done, which no man ever heard of before? Or, rather, is it possible that such a design as this would be conceived by any sober and serious persons, or even the most wild and extravagant? If the history of the New Testament be credible, the Christian religion is true. If the things that were related to have been done by Jesus, and by his followers, by virtue of powers derived from him, do not prove a person to come from God, and that his doctrine is true and divine, nothing can. And as Jesus does here, in the circumstances of his birth, life, sufferings, and after exaltation, and in the success of his doctrine, answer the description of the great person promised and foretold in the Old Testament, he is at the same time showed to be the Messiah.
"From the agreement of the writers of the New Testament with other ancient writers, we are not only assured that these books are genuine, but also that they are come down to us pure and uncorrupted, without any considerable interpolations or alterations. If such had been made in them, there would have appeared some smaller differences at least between them and other ancient writings.
"There has been in all ages a wicked propensity in mankind to advance their own notions and fancies by deceits and forgeries: they have been practised by heathens, Jews, and Christians, in support of imaginary historical facts, religious schemes and practices, and political interests.
With these views some whole books have been forged, and passages inserted into others of undoubted authority. Many of the Christian writers of the second and third centuries, and of the following ages, appear to have had false notions concerning the state of Judea between the nativity of Jesus and the destruction of Jerusalem; and concerning many other things occasionally mentioned in the New Testament. The consent of the best ancient writers with those of the New Testament is a proof that these books are still untouched, and that they have not been new modelled and altered by Christians of later times, in conformity to their own peculiar sentiments.
"This may be reckoned an argument that the generality of Christians had a very high veneration for these books; or else that the several sects among them have had an eye upon each other, that no alterations might be made in those writings to which they have all appealed. It is also an argument that the Divine providence has all along watched over and guarded these books, (a very fit object of especial care,) which contain the best of principles, were apparently written with the best views, and have in them inimitable characters of truth and simplicity."-See Dr. Lardner's WORKS, vol. i. p. 419.
Let him answer these arguments who can.-A. C.