The book known as the Acts of the Apostles was originally the second half of the gospel of Luke, and the text continues in the same viscerally charged vein.
My straight-through reading left me puzzled by the standard ordering of the gospels and what follows.
Richmond Lattimore rationally opens his translation with Mark, followed by Matthew. Doing so does diminish the transition in the Jewish viewpoint of Matthew, but does nod toward Mark’s more compact overview of the life of Jesus as a better introduction to all that will follow.
Moving John into the third spot would come at the cost of breaking the synoptic repetition, but it would allow Luke’s account to unfold more seamlessly, especially in the transition from the extraordinary events after the resurrection and leading to the introduction of Saul/Paul, who becomes the central figure in the remainder of the narrative.
Indeed, the title of the book is misleading, as others have noted. It’s essentially an argument that Saul/Paul, who never met Jesus is the flesh, is entitled to be considered one of the apostles — those sent forth as the emissaries of Jesus.
Acts also demotes the authority of Peter and James and the church council in Jerusalem, which insisted on observing Jewish practices of circumcision, kosher diet, and the like. The mantle is instead handed over to Paul, who had been their persecutor, and his Hellenic (uncircumcised, pork-eating) churches.
In the absence of an account of these events from sources in the church at Jerusalem — and the events following the destruction of the city in 70 CE — we’re left with a one-sided heroic portrayal of Paul and his companions.
We’re also left with a drastic turn in the emerging path of Christianity.
The text is full of action, murder and martyrdom, daring escapes, perilous storms at sea, and the road to Rome as it follows the resurrected Jesus to the Ascension and gift of Pentecost before shifting authority to Paul and the Gentiles.
One thing that jumped out at me in David Bauscher’s translation from Aramaic is the emphasis on the Holy Spirit, or Spirit of Holiness, in his terminology — especially its power dwelling within believers. This experience, rather than faith, legalistic practices, or custom — is the defining characteristic of Christianity in Paul’s churches.
I am intrigued by mention in 6:1-2, of the Hellenist disciples complaining “that their widows were disregarded in the daily ministry” of teaching and evangelizing, saying “It is not acceptable for us to forsake the word of God and to serve tables.” There is no clear statement of the outcome of this debate, but the implication is clear that women were, in some circles of the early church, clearly ministers.
There’s also a description, in chapter 10, of angels as men clothed in white, no mention of wings.
Despite Bauscher’s ongoing argument that Jews would strictly avoid anything Greek, he glides over one phrase in 27:14, “the wind of a hurricane … called ‘Typhoniqos Euroqlydon.'” Here’s something that’s clearly not Aramaic. Euroclydon is comprised of two Greek words, one meaning wave and the other southeast wind. In his extensive and often arcane notes, Bauscher makes no mention of its usage. To me, however, its appearance seriously undermines his contention of the purity of the Aramaic New Testament from outside influences.
The text ends with Paul living for two years, at his own expense, under house arrest in Rome.
Some give the date of composition as 64 CE, before Paul’s execution in Rome. Others place it as 95-100 CE.