account abruptly ends. What had happened? St. Luke simply refers to St. Paul’s staying in Rome for a further ‘two years’. This indicates that St. Paul’s case never came to a full and proper trial. Instead he was released under the rule of Roman law that an accused person should be released if his accusers failed to appear for his trial within two years. In the light of the following quarter millennium of official and often bloody persecutions, it may seem strange to us that a negotiated peace with a pagan ‘god’ had ever been thought by an Apostle to have been possible. And what was St. Paul doing being friends with Asiarchs, officials in charge of the local Emperor-worship cult? In fact in the histories of Joseph with the Pharaoh and of Ezra and Nehemiah with the Persian kings, the Old Testament provides clear examples of close cooperation by holy men with rulers officially held by their subjects to be divine. With Nero however the pagan Empire declared war on the Church, and with the Apocalypse, St. John on behalf of our Lord and His Church responded in kind. 5
It was in 63 then that St. Luke completed his magnificent narrative of the Church’s first thirty years, his Acts of the Apostles. As a whole, Acts seems to have been compiled by St. Luke for St. Peter and St. Paul as a general summary and review of the Church’s missionary effort up until that time. It does not seem that St. Luke had at first compiled his Acts for reading at Mass. Containing hardly any internal doctrine (didache), but abounding in examples of kerygma (‘proclamation’) or preaching directed to non-believers, certainly Acts would soon have been a most useful ‘missionary’s manual’. As papyrus rolls, St. Luke’s two books came to almost 31 feet in length each; each was already at the maximum possible length for a papyrus roll and is longer than any other book of the New Testament. Perhaps this is the simple reason for St. Luke’s failure to add any ‘updates’: such would have required starting on a whole new papyrus roll. 6
Both St. Peter and St. Paul had been shocked and warned by what had happened in Corinth in 56. Their major preoccupation in their final years was therefore with the establishment not just of churches but with the Church: the problem of how to keep all their new churches united and orthodox beyond their own lifetime and into the indefinite future. In his epistles written during his captivity in Rome, his so-called ‘captivity epistles’, St. Paul therefore emphasised the unity of Christ with His world-wide Church. 7
Problems in the churches remained and, in his chains in Rome, St. Paul did not need to wait long before being reminded. Among his visitors in 62 was a certain Epaphras. This Epaphras was a deacon of St. Paul who had helped found a church at an Asian city inland from Ephesus named Colossae. This church’s membership seems to have been mostly of pagan rather than Jewish background, but seems to have been infected with quasi-Jewish angelogical ideas. The Colossians were being invited to approach God not through Christ but through angels. St. Paul therefore dictated his Epistle to the Colossians in which he emphasised the infinite superiority of Jesus Christ over any and
Published on Nov 29, 2011
Published on Nov 29, 2011
This survey of how the New Testament came to be written is also a chronicle of the first 40 years of the history of the Christian Church. It...