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Acts by Robert Dean
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:59 mins 7 secs

Introduction Part 4, Historical Accuracy of Acts

There was a shift in Biblical scholarship in which the groundwork was laid during the Enlightenment period when there was a reaction to the authoritative teaching of the Roman Catholic church. In Enlightenment thinking the Middle Ages was often referred to as the Dark Ages because they looked at the time as being intellectually dark. It was not a time of intellectual darkness but in terms of the Enlightenment philosophers it was intellectually dark because of what they considered to be the teaching of the church. Often this is mis-portrayed in history classes as a struggle between reason and religion, and it is not. It was a struggle between two different kinds of reason. What really shaped, twisted or distorted the teaching of the Bible and theology in the Middle Ages was the influence first of Platonism and then the influence of Aristotilianism. Both philosophers and theologians became enamored with Greek thought and it was within the framework of Platonism and Aristotilianism that theology was interpreted and the Bible was interpreted. That led to a certain amount of superstition and distortions of biblical teaching.

When western civilization rediscovered the original language MSS of the Bible it drove it to a study of the original. And at the same time—late 1400s—the combination of the printing press and the ability to mass produce Bibles in Greek texts, plus the invasion into Europe of the Moslem hordes caused the monasteries that were in the areas which had the treasures of ancient MSS and scrolls to gather them up and flee into Europe. Things that had been hidden away in monastic libraries for literally a thousand years or so suddenly came to light. This was part of the Renaissance. In southerm Europe the Renaissance drove the scholars to go to the original sources for Aristotle, Plato through the Greek and Roman writers. But in central and northern Europe, especially Germany, Switzerland and France, it drove them to the original sources of the Scripture. That is what caused real and genuine revival; that is what brought light into darkness. But it also brought an overthrow of the authority of the Roman Catholic church.

Once that authority that had really dominated everybody and kept everything under control for over a thousand years in western Europe began to be questioned and thrown off then there were those who really weren't interested in being under the authority of God either, so they became independent. They were what is known as the forerunners of the modern secular humanists. They became Enlightenment thinkers trying to reach absolute truth without paying any attention to the Bible and rejecting any kind of external authority. That led to a questioning of Biblical accuracy. So starting in the late 100s and early 1700s there were these Enlightenment thinkers whose assumption was that God certainly can't communicate to people. That took root and eventually flowered in the early nineteenth century and gave birth to what has become known as nineteenth century European Protestant liberalism. It has affected everything so that today when we think of Presbyterian theology, Methodist theology, or even in Judaism, they were affected by it. Presbyterian and Methodist theology is not today what it was 130 years ago. Everything changed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and among Protestants that was called the fundamentalist-modernist movement. Modernist for those who rejected Biblical authority, rejected miracles, rejected Pauline authorship as much as they could, rejected the deity of Christ, rejected the literal resurrection of Christ, all on the presupposition that the Bible is just a fallible human book written by fallible human beings and there is no such thing as God inspiring an inerrant and infallible Scripture. Part of that was an attack on both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts as being historically inaccurate in a number of different places.

But those attacks that were made in the late 1700s and the early 1800s, even though they gave birth to an anti-Biblical theological system, had their foundational ideas disproved through historical and archeological discoveries in the late 19th century and into the 20th century. Nevertheless those liberal ideas had taken hold and people still would teach them. There was the documentary hypothesis on the multiple documents behind the Pentateuch and it is one that was clearly disproved by archeology and the discovery and analysis of many ancient documents in the early 20th century. Yet you can still go to university and be taught this as the actual fact by many historians. 

Luke's accuracy as a historian came under attack for most of the 1700s and 1800s. But there was a scholar by the name of William Ramsey who was one of the early archeologists and historians and theologians who did a tremendous amount of work, especially in the area of Greece and what is now Turkey, to validate the history that we have in Luke and Acts, and to validate the fact that Luke was exactly right in the way he wrote things. For example, when he refers to certain provinces in Asia Minor he used the correct terms, and he used terms that would be correct for his period of time. The terms for leaders, government officials and things of that nature would change. Those who were rulers in Thessalonica were different terms than those that were used in Athens, and those were different from the terms that were used in Corinth. Maybe 100 years earlier they were different and 200 years later they were different but the terms Luke uses in Acts were accurately correct for that time period. His geography is correct. All of the things that he refers to just as an aside reflect the culture, the history, the geography, the politics, the administration of this period of time and have clearly been demonstrated to be accurate so that no legitimate scholar to day doubts or questions the historicity of either the Gospel or the book of Acts. Luke has it right and it has been demonstrated that way.

The author of Acts was acquainted with all the different political arrangements in the provinces which are covered in the narration of Paul's missionary journeys. At the time when Paul was in Cyprus the proconsul was in charge and although there had been many changes within a brief period of time Luke used the correct title when describing the proconsul in Cypress. Philippi is accurately described as a Roman colony in Acts. This is when Paul was thrown in prison and the next day he emphasized the fact that he was a Roman citizen. If that city was a Roman colony and he is a Roman citizen then how they treated him was completely outside of the law, and that meant that they could be brought up on charges and be executed for treating a Roman citizen in such a manner. In Thessalonica the unusual term politarches [politarxej] is used. That term was not used anywhere else in the entire Roman empire but evidence now shows that that is what the rulers in Thessalonica were called. At Malta the ruler is called "chief man" but the Greek term that is used is accurate for that time period. Also at Ephesus there are correct references to the local government organization. All of this is to show that when Luke talked about the rulers, the different terms that he uses, the ways he describes the geography, the travels, accurately reflects what we have learned about that time period through archeology, through inscriptural evidence and historical writings of that time. Luke shows that he genuinely is a man of that era. Luke could not have been written in the second century after Christ because things were very different in that time, so this means he must have been writing in the middle of the first century.

The Herods: The trouble is that the term "Herod," like Caesar, came to be applied to all of his sons, those of the family, and so it can get a little confusing. Herod the Great in his youth really was an incredible, accomplished, educated individual. He had a passion for architecture and the architectural projects that he had were just incredible. But he was a man who as time went by became erratic, neurotic, psychotic, and he was paranoid. He believed, with some good reason in some cases, that his sons were all out to kill him so that they could take over the kingdom. In order to forestall their conspiratorial attempts to overthrow or kill him he had them executed. Reading the life and times of Herod the Great and his family, as he marries one woman and divorces and he marries another, would outdo any soap opera on television.

Herod ruled from 37 BC to 4 BC. When he died his kingdom was divided up among his sons. Herod Archelaus who only rules to 6 BC is called an ethnarch. Another son, Herod Antipas, is called a tetrarch, and he is significant for the book of Acts because he reigns until 39 AD and then Herod Philip then tetrarch is barely involved in the period of Acts and rules only until 34. When Antipas died he was replaced by Herod Agrippa I who ruled from 39-44 and he is mentioned in Acts 12 specifically. He was succeeded by Herod Agrippa II.

Herod the Great was an Idumite, i.e. a descendant of Esau. The territory of the Idumites is in the south of Judea. In 47 BC he was appointed to be the governor of Galilee. At the time he was appointed he got into trouble with the Jewish authorities on several occasions. He was stirring up too much trouble so the Romans appointed him to be the governor of Syria within a couple of years. In 41 BC Mark Anthony appointed Herod and his brother to be tetrarchs of Judea. Then in 40 BC the Parthians invaded and gained control of Jerusalem. They worked with various rebellious elements among the Jews and caused a revolt to take place. The Parthians came from the area of Persian and Iraq and that is the same area of the old Babylonian empire that was made up by the Medes and the Persians. The Parthians were the inheritors of the empire of the Medes and the Persians and one of the tribes of the Medes was called the Magi. They had a lot of background in various types of magic, astronomy and astrology, and it is believed that because of the use of that term in the Aramaic text of Daniel that when Daniel, because of his ability to interpret the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar, that he was made a member of this Magi caste. Later on this caste became so powerful in the basic structure of the Parthian empire that they are the ones who determined the succession of kingship. So the Magi actually played a major role in appointing the successive kings in the Parthian empire.

With Herod in 40 this insurrection occurs in Judea that is fomented by the Parthians and he has to flee. They set up Antigonus who was one of the leaders in the Maccabean dynasty to be a puppet ruler in Jerusalem. His brother was captured and before he could be tortured he committed suicide. Herod took his family to Masada where he was protected in a fortification and then he went to Rome for help against the Parthians. He approached Mark Anthony and Augustus Octavian and they appoint him to be the king of the Jews. They send him back with the appropriate Roman support and he was eventually successful in expelling the Parthians from the area of Judea and Galilee. In the process thousands of Jews are slaughtered because they are fighting against Herod with the Parthians because they don't want Rome to dominate them. So this does not make Herod very popular among the Jews.

The succession to Herod was a mess. His sons Alexander and Aristobulus, the sons of Mariamne I, were his favorites. He dotes on them but as they come to adulthood and have been spoiled they became a little impatient for his death, so that they could inherit the kingdom, and decide to maybe help nature along a little bit. They are found guilty of conspiracy to kill him and are executed by strangulation in 7 BC. Antipater is then the one, the sons of his first wife Doris, who is brought back from exile, but he grows impatient as well and attempts to poison Herod. But it doesn't go well and instead, Herod's other brother drank the poison. Antipater was imprisoned. Herod had to wait to get permission from Caesar to execute him and in the meantime he designated Archelaus to be king in his place, and then to appoint his next son Antipas as the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, and Philip to be the tetrarch of the area of Eritrea.

Herod died miserably in 4 BC. He had Antipater executed just a few days before his death. Archelaus and Antipas then go to Rome because they want to dispute the inheritance line. Augustus compromised by making Archelaus the ethnarch—which means ruler of a nation—over Idumea, Judea and Samaria. Antipas is made tetrarch over Galilee and Perea.

Archelaus doesn't last very long but he is the worst of Herod's sons. Before going to Rome to dispute the inheritance with Antipas he had 3000 killed by putting down a revolution that was led by people who were avenging those his father had killed. He was so brutal that the Jewish authorities sent a delegation to Rome in order to protest his being appointed as the ethnarch. He further angers the Jews by marrying his half-brother, Alexander's, widow. And he is so repressive and intolerable that finally he is removed by the emperor. The birth of Jesus occurs just before 4 BC and the death of Herod the Great. So Jesus had to have been born about a year before Herod died.

Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee and Perea, is the ruler through the first nine chapters of the book of Acts. He is the Herod who imprisoned and executed John the Baptist, Mark 6:14-28. Jesus refers to him as the fox, Luke 13:3. Like his father he is a gifted architect and administrator. He built the city of Tiberius which he named for the emperor. His family life and marriages are just about as confusing as his father's. Initially he married the daughter of the Nabatean king. Then he divorced her to marry Herodius, the wife of his half-brother Herod Philip. This is the marriage John the Baptist announced as unlawful. This is what eventually led to John losing his head. The Nabatean king wasn't happy that his daughter had been divorced. He took it as an affront so he attacked Antipas in AD 36. Antipas was defeated and this is viewed as divine judgment for the execution of John the Baptist. In AD 39 his nephew Herod Agrippa informed the emperor Caligula that Antipas was plotting against him, and so Antipas was deposed and exiled until his death.

The last one that is significant in Acts is Herod Agrippa, referred to also as Herod the king in Acts 12. He is the son of Aristobulus the grandson of Herod the Great, and following the execution of his father in 7 BC he grew up in Rome with extremely close ties to the emperor's family. There was a messianic thought about him. That is important to understand. There was a lot going on behind the scenes. There was a sort of messianic aura about Herod Agrippa and so when he comes to take his place as ruler of the kingdom then he is idolized by the people. Acts doesn't go into a lot of detail on this but it is thought that this is one of the reasons that when he is being idolized by the people in Caesarea and they are shouting that he is like a god, God took him out of the picture at that point because a sort of messiah cult could have developed around him. This is another way of God's protection of the infant church. He had a son, Herod Agrippa II, and two daughters, Berenice (Acts 25:13) and Drusilla. It was to Herod Agrippa that Paul, explains the gospel.

There are seven progress reports that are given in the book of Acts. In Acts 2:47 we are told that the people who Peter's first sermon on the day of Pentecost were praising God, having favor with all the people, and the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. In Acts chapter seven the Word of God spread and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. So there were a huge number who were trusting Jesus as the Messiah. In Acts 9:31 NASB "So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase." So there are literally tens of thousands of Jewish people being converted. The church is primarily Jewish until the period of the sixties, so for the first thirty years it was Jewish and then the gospel goes to the Gentile nations via Paul. Acts 12:24 is the fourth marker. NASB "But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied." The next is in Acts 16:5 NASB "So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily." Next, Acts 19:20 NASB "So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing." Finally in Acts 28:31 NASB "preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered."

Remember Acts 28:31. This is near the end of Acts and is a sort of summary, and it is talking about what is going on. They were preaching the kingdom of God. What does that mean? We have to think about that because this idea of the kingdom of God, as we will see, is present from the very beginning.

The key verse in Acts is 1:8 NASB "but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." Those three divisions are Jerusalem, 1:1-6:7; Judea and Samaria, 6:8-12:25; to the end of the earth, 9:32-28:31.

In the first section God the Holy Spirit authenticates, empowers and directs the apostles' witness in Jerusalem. God always authenticates what He is doing. Nothing happens in private, God always authenticates with some sort of public validation, the greatest of which is the resurrection. In Acts 1:3 we are told NASB "To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs…" There is validation. Jesus gives them confirming empirical evidence that He is alive. "… appearing to them over {a period of} forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God." So during that forty-day period from the resurrection until ten days before the day of Pentecost Jesus is teaching them about the kingdom of God. Then the last verse in the book of Acts talks about the fact that the church as it is expanding is teaching about the kingdom of God. So what does that mean? It is very important to understand.

So God through the Holy Spirit authenticates what He is doing, validates it. He empowers the church through the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that not many days from then they would receive power when the Holy Spirit had come upon them. So the growth of the church is not a natural phenomenon, it happened as a result of the work of God the Holy Spirit within the church. The Holy Spirit empowers and directs their witness initially in Jerusalem in the first five chapters. The division in the first two chapters is the birth of the new spiritual entity, the church. At the very beginning is the prologue in the first three verses. Jesus provided convincing evidence of His resurrection and taught the disciples about the kingdom of God.

Acts 1:1 NASB "The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach." Here Luke is just starting a second volume of something he has already started. He is continuing the record of all that had taken place, initially with Jesus in His public ministry up to the resurrection, and at this point he is going to continue with what had happened after the resurrection. In the Greek the second word, which is untranslated, is men [men]. It is often untranslated and is put into a narrative because it is one of those words that in Greek writing and story-telling creates an expectation in the reader's mind that something else is coming. As soon as you see the word you know that there is more to come, it raises the expectation of ongoing action.

He writes this to Theophilus. This is the same Theophilus that is mentioned in Luke 1:3 – NASB "it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write {it} out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus." He investigated carefully. This is how Luke was; he was a historian. The name Theophilus literally means—Theo from theos/God; philus from phileo/love—someone who is dear to God or loved by God. Some people think that this was a pseudonym for someone who was high up in the household of Caesar. Others think that this was just an idealized name for not a particular individual but just anyone who was a lover of God. But none of this is really necessary. Theophilus was a common name and that is attested very much from documents from the first century. This also fits the style that was typical of how someone would address a patron, someone who perhaps had helped to finance them so that they were able to carry on their research and write this kind of a book. We see this with Josephus' writings. At the beginning of his first volume of Against Apion he addresses the volume to Epaphroditus who refers to as "the most excellent of men." The second volume of Against Apion is introduced by the words "by means of the former volume, my most honored Epaphroditus, I have demonstrated our antiquities." So we see that the way Luke begins the book of Acts is very typical of the ways that things were written at that time period. He is going to write about the things that Jesus began both to do and to teach. That was what was in the former account, the beginning of Jesus' earthly ministry, what He did in terms of the miracles that He performed, and what He taught. 

Acts 1:2 NASB "until the day when He was taken up {to heaven,} after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen." In this verse to make it good sense it is necessary to rearrange all of the clauses in the Greek. So to retranslate: "Until which day He was taken up, He had already [aorist participle] given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen through the Holy Spirit." This introduces us to the doctrine of apostleship.