. The Speeches in Acts
. The Speeches in Acts
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter explores the “Book of Acts”, or the “Acts of the Apostles”. The chapter looks at the preface, narratives, speeches, and other letters in chronological order. This book was mainly intended for Theophilus as well as other readers and its primarily focus was the speeches of two figures: Peter and Paul. The next part of the chapter presents a discussion on the rhetorical features of discourses in Acts.
The book of Acts resembles a classical historical monograph; it has a preface and consists of a chronological narrative into which speeches and a letter are inserted, as in the work of Greek historians. Luke's choice of this form suggests that he expects an audience with some education, who would appreciate it, and that he thinks of himself in the role of a Greek historian—not a scientific collector of facts, but an interpreter and dramatizer of the direction and meaning of events.
The historicity of speeches in Greek historians varies considerably from writer to writer. Some speeches in Polybius may be quite close to what was actually said. Thucydides (1.22) describes his own method in composing speeches, but scholars differ over how his words and practice should be understood. Many Greek historians in Roman imperial times (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, for example) clearly felt almost complete freedom in composing speeches, a task for which they had been given training and encouragement by exercises in the rhetorical schools. Eusebius and later church historians abandon the use of speeches, thus tacitiy admitting diat they were perceived as artificial.
All of this, as well as the existence of prosopopoeiae in Luke's Gospel, suggest that he would have felt free to compose speeches for participants in the events described in Acts on the basis of what they were likely to have said. What was “likely” was determined by die demands of the situation, the character and beliefs associated with the speaker in Luke's mind, the rhetorical conventions of the setting, and what would seem appropriate to Luke's readers. If he knew, or thought he knew, die actual argument used on the occasion or on a similar occasion, that too would be a factor. Beginning in chapter 20 he (p.115) either reports his own firsthand witness of Paul's speeches or uses a firsthand account.
As in Greek historians, the speeches in Acts often occur at important points in the action or in unusual and interesting situations. Greek historians also use speeches as ways of dramatically setting forth conflicting policies in debate, as Luke does in Acts 15, and Thucydides, followed to some extent by the Roman historians Sallust, Livy, and Tacitus, uses them as ways of indicating how events may be interpreted. They bring out the issues in the narrative. Certainly many of the major themes of Acts are most evident in the speeches. The speeches also show the apostles, Peter and Paul in particular, performing their duty of preaching the gospel, both to Jews and to gentiles. As such, the missionary sermons in Acts need not be exacdy what was said on the specific occasion identified, but they remain valuable examples of the type of preaching practiced in synagogues and elsewhere. Peter or Paul often doubtless repeated the same message before different audiences, but to show them doing so is unnecessary in a literary work. In addition, the speeches in Acts are often too short for the occasions to which they are attributed, being perhaps summaries of what might have been said. Luke has exercised considerable restraint in literary elaboration of his speeches; those in the classical historians are generally much longer.
Luke is a reasonably skilled writer of speeches. He sometimes fails to tell us things we would like to know, and the speeches rarely achieve the eloquence of John's Gospel or of passages in Paul's episdes, but the arguments are mosdy well suited to a particular audience, occasion, and speaker. Ideas recur, but are expressed in different ways, for different purposes. Although he does not attempt to reproduce the personal diction or mannerisms of the speakers (classical historians do not do so, either), Peter, Stephen, Gamaliel, the town clerk of Ephesus, and Agrippa come across as distinct personalities. A few remarks on Paul's speeches in Acts are reserved for the end of this chapter.
(p.116) The following discussion consists of notes on some rhetorical features of discourses in Acts consisting of four or more verses. More could be said about most speeches. Some comments on the historicity of individual speeches are included, since this is a matter of special interest to some readers. The selections are discussed in the order of their occurrence in the text; here and there remarks on other rhetorically interesting passages appear as unnumbered sections in the sequence.
1. Speech of Peter, 1:16–22. Ver
Verses 18–19 are editorializing by Luke. The situation is the first meeting of the eleven disciples in Jerusalem after the ascension, and the exigence is Peter's perception of a need to fill the vacancy among the disciples caused by the defection and death of Judas. Peter bases this need on Scripture: “His office let another take” (1:20). He regards die disciples as the official witnesses of the resurrection and apparently feels there must be a full complement of such witnesses. He assumes leadership in the group without opposition and faces no great rhetorical problem. The speech thus requires little amplification. The proem is the single word “brethren” (1:16), often used with a friendly audience. There is then a brief narration, Luke's insetted description of Judas' death, the proof that action should be taken, based on Scripture, and the conclusion drawn from the situation and the text. Because the speech recommends an action in the (near) future, it is deliberative. To a classicist it is somewhat reminiscent of short speeches in the Iliad in which one of the heroes briefly describes the situation and ends with a recommendation for action, a very natural form of rhetoric. There is nothing unexpected in the contents of the speech. Given the knowledge that it was Peter who took the leadership role among the disciples and given a desire to dramatize an important event by prosopopoeia, Luke has created a predictable result.
2. Speech of Peter, 2:14–36,38–39, 40b.
The situation is the descent of the Holy Spirit manifested by speaking in tongues. The exigence is the bewilderment of the crowd and Peter's desire (p.117) that they should correctly understand what is happening. Luke inserts a speech to dramatize and interpret the event. Peter is again shown assuming leadership; the audience is friendly, and there is no serious rhetorical problem provided he can get their attention. His initial address to them is formal and polite: “Men of Judea.” The great interest of this speech is that it is the first example of a type of Christian preaching in which a speaker seizes upon some occasion, situation, or sign and uses it as a way to lead into the proclamation of the gospel. The result is sometimes the combination of two species of rhetoric. Here, verses 14–36 are judicial and are divided into two parts: verses 14–21, which are a refutation of the charge that those speaking in tongues are drunk, and verses 22–36, which are an indictment of the Jews for killing Jesus. The rhetorical function of the indictment is to amplify by contrast the innocence of those on whom the Holy Spirit has descended. The stasis in both cases is one of fact. After an interruption, the speech continues in a deliberative form (2:38–39,40b). Verse 40a indicates that the speech was considerably longer than that presented here, or more accurately, that Luke thought a longer speech would have been given.
It we view the speech as a whole we see that it begins with a proem (14b), more extended than that of Peter's first speech because of his need to get the attention of a noisy crowd. This is followed by a proposition in the form of an enthymeme (2:15) and a scriptural explanation of what is happening, taken from Joel 2:28–32. Then comes a second proem (2:22) and the indictment of the Jews (23), where the argument is first supported from Scripture (25–28), then amplified by an exegesis of the passage, and then supported by another scriptural quotation, with a conclusion (36).
The success of Peter's speech is seen in the question from his audience: “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter answers this question with a proposition in 2:38–39, which is an exhortation to action: “Repent and be baptized.” This converts the speech into deliberative rhetoric. Scriptural authority is assumed to have been cited and referred to in verse 40. The (p.118) second half of that verse is the epilogue. Luke represents the speech as entirely successful (2:41–42). In terms of the circum-stances, this can be attributed to the miraculous sign of speaking in tongues; in terms of the rhetoric, to Peter's adroit utilization of the sign.
In composing this speech, all Luke need have known was the incident which prompted it. Clearly someone had to speak, and Peter was the most likely candidate; that he actually had spoken may of course have been remembered. Although the speech is more striking than that in chapter 1, the topics of which it is composed are ones which Luke clearly regarded as typical of the rhetoric of leaders of the early Church: the accusation that the Jews had killed Jesus and the seizing of an occasion to proclaim the gospel. The amplification comes from the scriptural evidence which is cited and which was as available to Luke as to Peter.
3. Speech of Peter; 3:12–26. Bot
Both Luke's technique of composition and the rhetorical strategy attributed to Peter are essentially the same here as in the speech just examined. Peter has cured a lame man at the gate of the temple, and the sight of the man walking and leaping and praising God attracts a great deal of public attention, which Peter seeks to use to preach the gospel. The first section (2:12–18) is judicial and seeks to explain what has happened, attributing it to God, and by contrast indicting the Jews for the death of Jesus. As in the previous speech, the contrast (curing/killing) amplifies Peter's action. The initial stasis is metastasis, transference of the responsibility for what he has done, a form of stasis of quality. The question whether such healing was within the law does not seem to be raised here, but Peter certainly does not admit to any crime. He denies his own authority, but claims the authority of God. The intellectual complexity of Paul's discussions of authority are lacking, and Luke portrays Peter as simple and direct.
The judicial section functions as proem and narration for the deliberative speech, which is here given in fuller form than (p.119) in the speech in chapter 2 (no. 2 above). This is followed by the proposition (19–21), proof based on Scripture (22–25), and epilogue (26). The speech is presented as successful with many (4:4), though it awakened the hostility of the priests and Sadducees.
Hostility to the gospel supplies Acts throughout with a dramatic “plot,” which here moves toward a climax in the death of Stephen and then in the second half (assuming it is the work of the same author) rises to a second climax in the trial of Paul. Dissension among Christians on the observance of the law provides a subplot for the first half of Acts, represented as happily resolved by the compromise of James (no. 13 below).
4. Speech of Peter, 4:8–12.
Peter and the other disciples have been arrested and brought before the high priest, the elders, and the scribes. The exigence is the demand “By what power or by what name did you do this?” (4:7). The situation is clearly judicial, and the audience is hostile to a greater degree than in the previous speech. The implication is that Peter is acting with some infernal, magical power. He replies, “full with the Holy Spirit”: these words are not his, but are given to him by God. The speech is a very short version of what Peter has said in two previous speeches, but with two distinctive features: he immediately labels his action a “good deed” (verse 9), thus establishing the stasis as one of quality; and the deliberative section is only implied by the words in verse 12, which take the form of an enthymeme. The reaction of die audience is to remark at Peter's boldness (that is, his confident tone of proclamation) and lack of education, which may refer to the relative absence of documentation, limited to one reference to the Psalms in verse 11. The speech is thus a radical response relying almost entirely on ethos, making no effort to conciliate the hostile audience, and as it were daring them to act. Peter and John are warned not to repeat the action, but insist they must speak what they have seen and heard, and the Council is afraid to take any action because of popular support for Peter.
A prayer can be epideictic (as is a prayer of thanksgiving), judicial (as is a prayer for forgiveness), or deliberative (as is a prayer for help). This is a deliberative prayer, as verses 29–30 make clear, for the speakers request continuation of the powers of inspired speech and miracle-working which have been manifested by Peter. Verses 24b–26 are a proem, with amplification of the greatness of God. This amplification is itself epideictic, in that it strengthens the belief of the speakers of the prayer and of those who hear them. In primitive society such amplification was probably originally regarded as persuasive with the divinity addressed: the gods liked to be flattered. Verses 27–28 are a narration, which also strengthens belief by noting the victory that has been achieved over Jesus' enemies. Verses 29–30 are the actual supplication, which is placed here in a structure resembling that of a simple deliberative speech such as that in chapter 1 (no. 1 above). The prayer is probably a traditional one, quoted verbatim by Luke.
6. Speech of Peter and the Apostles before the Council, 5:29–32.
This judicial speech resembles that at 4:8–12 (no. 4), with two differences. The charge this time is not the healing of a cripple by some suspect power, but violation of the injunction of the priests. This cannot be justified as a “good deed,” and the stasis is thus metastasis, transference of responsibility to God (29b). The other difference is the citation of witnesses as proof in verse 32. What we find in the text is really just an outline of the topics of a speech such as would have been given on the occasion.
7. Speech of Gamaliel to the Council, 5:35–39.
The question before the Council is what to do about the insubordination of the apostles. Gamaliel, as a learned Pharisee, speaks with external authority. His proem (35b) warns of the seriousness of the situation. He then cites precedents, as a teacher of the law might be expected to do, from which he draws an inductive conclusion: “Keep away from these men and let them alone.” (p.121) This he supports with a disjunctive hypothetical enthymeme: “For if this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them” (38–39). As read by Luke's Christian audience the statement has great meaning, but it is a perfectly sound piece of advice which a judicious man might have said. In these verses Luke has well captured the mode of thought of a teacher of the law, and it is possible that it is attributed to Gamaliel as a well-known legal scholar radier than on historical evidence that he spoke at this time. A legal scholar doubtless would have cited a precedent, though not necessarily this particular one. In structure the speech resembles the simple deliberative plan seen in 1:16–22 (no. 1) and elsewhere, but the examples replace the narrative otherwise found.
8. Speech of Stephen before the Council, 7:2–53.
The situ ation is a trial for blasphemy, specifically that Stephen has said that Jesus will destroy the temple and change the customs of Moses; hostile witnesses are furnished (6:13–14). The exigence is provided by the words of the high priest, “Is this so?” (7:1). The rhetorical problem is acute: Stephen clearly concludes that there is no real possibility of making the Council understand the message of Jesus, he expresses anger at his persecutors, and he deliberately invites martyrdom. The words “full of the Holy Spirit” (7:55), applied to Stephen at the end of the speech, are probably to be extended to the whole of his remarks. He speaks throughout the words that are given to him. The stasis can be viewed as cmtengklema, counteraccusation, but the effect of that, as often, is to imply a rejection of the right of the tribunal to try him, which is stasis of jurisdiction. Stephen's hostility to the Council is only gradually revealed. His proem (7:2a) uses the word “brethren,” which Peter has used to friendly audiences, and the narration, which constitutes the bulk of the speech (2b℃48), at first seems objective, but an element of indictment is gradually introduced (for example, at 25 and 39). This leads to a proposition (51) attacking the Jews in general, which is briefly supported by historical evidence (p.122) (52–53). Rhetorically the speech is incomplete: it needs either a return to the charge against Stephen, with an explicit rejection of the right of the Council to try him, or a deliberative epilogue calling for repentence, as in the speeches of Peter. An epilogue is, however, supplied to the rhetorical unit of the story of Stephen by the vision of 54–56, which constitutes proof of the Tightness of Stephen's cause both for himself and for the readers of Acts. As a result of this transcendent vision, Stephen can acquit his persecutors: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (60). God, not the Council, is the real judge.
Although it is unlikely that the speech was written down at the time, and Luke's text cannot be accepted as a word-for-word account of what Stephen said, there are factors in the situation which point to a degree of historicity in our version. The first martyrdom was a turning point for the Church, and the substance of what Stephen said may thus have been remembered. Although the speech uses common topics, it is unusual in tone and in its incomplete structure. Finally, the attribution to the Holy Spirit gives it some of the qualities of sacred language and thus attracts special veneration. Against this, however, it should be noted that Luke probably felt that the Holy Spirit was speaking through himself throughout his own composition, making him inclined to rely on his intuition.
9. Speech of Peter, 10:34–43·
This is the first pure example of kerygmatic preaching. Though the gospel is proclaimed in earlier speeches, it has been coupled with indictment of the Jews. The situation here is created by the invitation of the gentile centurion Cornelius that Peter tell “all you have been commanded by the Lord” (10:33). Peter has external authority from the vision sent to Cornelius, and he has no serious rhetorical problem. His proem (34–35) lacks any word of direct address, but graciously acknowledges the extension of the gospel to the gentiles. This is a situation into which the apostles have been pushed by Jewish hostility, but which has been validated for them by external signs. The narration (36–42) reviews the (p.123) prophecy of John, the anointment of Jesus, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the commandment to preach the gospel and to testify that Jesus has been ordained to be judge of the living and the dead. This could be taken in personal terms; nothing is said about die early end of the age. Demonstration of the truth of the message is by direct evidence, including the miracles of Jesus and the witness of the apostles. The only enthymeme occurs in verse 38: “for God was with him.” There is little amplification except in verse 41, where a second relative clause adds emphasis to the witness of the apostles, “who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” The actual situation would seem to have required a more extensive address than is given here. Peter would probably have given an account of his dream and of the circumstances which brought him to this occasion, but this is unnecessary in the economy of Luke's literary account. His compositional hand is thus clearly at work. The speech itself is epideictic, focusing on belief; the decision to baptize gentiles is a reaction to the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit after the speech rather than to any appeal initiated by Peter such as that in 2:38.
10. Speech of Peter, 11:4–18.
This is Peter's defense before the circumcision party, which accuses him of violating the law in associating with gentiles. He admits the fact and the contravention of the law but assigns responsibility to God, thus employing metastasis. The audience, though critical of his action, is Christian and willing to entertain Peter's basic argument, that the order of God takes precedence over die law. The format is a personal narration “in order” (11:4), that is, “from beginning to end.” No proem is supplied, but Peter probably would have said “brethren.” The tone is very personal and the speech persuasive because of Peter's external authority and his ability to project an internal ethos, chiefly a matter of candor: he had protested to God at being told to violate the law (8). No evidence is given other than Peter's own words, and the only argumentation comes at the end: “If then God gave the same gift: to them as he gave to us when we believed in the (p.124) Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” The rhetorical question has a pathetic appeal: “What would you have done?” The speech is presented by Luke as entirely successful (18).
In Acts 12:21 Herod (Agrippa I), dressed in his royal robes and seated on his throne (that is, with all the trappings of external authority), gives a formal address to the people. It is no part of Luke's purpose to reveal its contents. Herod is proclaimed a god by the people—and falls dead. Josephus gives a somewhat different account (Jewish Antiquities 19.343–52), in which the popular salutation to the king is followed by a heart attack. Herod, knowing that he is dying, then gives a brief, pathetic address. The two accounts show how difficult it is to know whether details in Acts are exact and how much they may have been rearranged on the basis of the values and message of the writer. Josephus too had causes to plead.
11. Speech of Paul, 13:16–41.
Paul has set out on his first missionary journey, preaching in synagogues. The first speech reported is delivered in Antioch in Pisidia on a sabbath after the regular Jewish service, with reading of the law and the prophets. The rulers of the synagogue then invite Paul to speak, “if you have any word of exhortation for the people” (13:15). Paul stands and motions with his hand. In 12:17 Peter is described as using a gesture of the hand to secure silence, and that is probably the case here, despite the temptation to associate Paul's behavior with the words at 13:17: “and with uplifted arm he led them out of it.” Reference to the gesture might suggest that Luke was present and remembered it, but something like it is mentioned again (21:40) and was doubdess usual when a preacher sought to begin his remarks. Despite the call for an exhortation, which implies a deliberative speech, Paul's remarks are epideictic, aiming at belief, not at action. The rhetorical problem is chiefly Jewish hostility to Jesus, but since the Pisidian Jews bear no responsibility for that hostility, Paul avoids any indictment of them and seeks to explain why (p.125) hostility existed in Jerusalem (27). Paul does not know his audience, and his brief proem is rather formal (i6b). The narration (17–25) is a survey of events from the Egyptian captivity to John the Baptist. These would be familiar to the audience and help to establish Paul's basis of communication with them. Then comes a proposition, “to us has been sent the message of this salvation” (26), and a proof (27–37), explaining the circumstances of Jesus' death, which is attributed to the ignorance, not the wickedness, of Jews, and claiming witness of his resurrection, with citation of scriptural prophecy. An epilogue (38–39) summarizes the message and warns against disregarding the prophecy. This is an element of pathos. As usual in Acts, the early end of the age is not mentioned. The speech can probably be taken as a typical example of the contents of Paul's preaching under similar conditions.
Paul is successful in interesting the congregation and is asked to speak again on the next sabbath. This time a large crowd of Jews and gentiles collects, some of the Jews revealing hostility. Paul and Barnabas spurn the Jewish opposition; the gospel must be proclaimed; since the Jews reject it, they will preach to the gentiles (46–47).
12. Speech of Peter, 15:7–11.
The apostles and elders are deliberating whether circumcision and other observances of Jewish law are to be required of new converts. There was “much debate” (15:7), of which the speeches of Peter and James are briefly reported as well as the letter sent to Antioch to resolve the question. Luke deliberately avoids dramatizing the radical Jewish viewpoint. Peter's speech takes up his remarks in chapter 11 (no. 10 above). He appears to be trying to get others to identify with his extension of the gospel to the gentiles, the validity of which he claims they all know (15:7). This is not strictly relevant to the question at issue. On that matter he advances only one argument: that to demand strict obedience to the law would “make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear” (10). As in his previous speech, this argument (p.126) is cast as a rhetorical question. Two points are implied in this argument: first, that the Jews themselves have had difficulty living up to the law and that it is thus unrealistic to expect others to accept it; second, that to demand obedience to the law by those not born into the Jewish tradition will make it much harder for some to accept the gospel, and thus will “try God.” This may be assumed to apply particularly to circumcision, which for an adult (without anaesthesia or sedatives during several weeks of recovery) is notoriously painful and sometimes the effective equivalent of sexual mutilation. God would have to instill great resolution in the hearts of converts to persuade them to undergo the rite. Both of Peter's arguments are somewhat pragmatic, as suits his character, and much simpler than the theological arguments advanced by Paul in his epistles. It is not clear whether these issues, which could be viewed as a conflict between principle and expediency, were directly faced in the debate or only alluded to indirectly as they are by Peter here.
13. The Compromise of James, 15:12–21.
Paul and Barnabas side with Peter, reporting signs and wonders done among the gentiles. It is God's will, therefore, that the gospel be extended. James uses the evidence of Peter and Old Testament prophecy to establish the point that the gospel should be extended and proposes a compromise under which only four requirements of the law, not including circumcision, should be retained. Verse 21 ostensibly gives his reason, but in fact it is not a reason why these four requirements are the essential ones, nor does that appear from the prophecy cited (16–18). Luke seems to have overlooked a necessary part of James' speech or to have omitted a reference to previous discussion of these four laws. The argument would have been that they were pre-Mosaic and applied to all mankind, not just to the children of Israel. His account of the debate is not very satisfactory; that may result from unsatisfactory sources, from unstated assumptions, or from a desire to mute the dissension. He certainly moves to (p.127) end this part of his account on a very positive note of Christian unity.
The letter of Acts 15:23–29 resembles the rescript of a Roman magistrate responding to a query from a subordinate and has the rhetorical characteristics of a public letter of the Roman period. That could mean that it is genuine, but it unfortunately also means that it is exactly the kind of letter which Luke could have composed with limited knowledge of the contents. The letter well expresses the ethos of the senders and their concern for their brethren at Antioch, but again no explanation is given of the logical basis of the decision.
Acts 1:1–15:35 seems to be a compositional unit and could be read as a complete work. The disciples have carried on the mission of Jesus and seem to have settled their internal differences; faced with Jewish opposition they have persevered, and the gospel is being extended to the gentiles. From 15:36 to the end of the book, focus is turned entirely upon the missionary activities of Paul; Peter and the other apostles are forgotten. Beginning in 16:10 the first person plural is occasionally used in the narrative, creating a tone of personal witness. It is generally assumed that Luke joined Paul at this point and is here giving his own account of events, but it is odd that he does not specifically mention this, and Timothy, rather than Luke, is introduced as Paul's new associate. Again in chapter 20 Timothy joins Paul and the narrative slips into the first person plural. (“These” in 20:5 need refer only to Tychicus and Trophimus.) It is possible that Luke utilized Timothy's account of his travels with Paul and did not alter “we” to “they.” This is unlikely to be an editorial oversight, considering the number of times it occurs and the otherwise smooth flow of the narrative. Except for the use of “we” there is no significant change in style, and the compositional methods of the next two speeches are similar to those employed in the first half of Acts. Apparently “we” did not hear either of these speeches; Timothy (p.128) clearly did not. Firsthand knowledge of what Paul said begins in chapter 20, when Timothy is present, and the speech there is rather different from what has gone before.
Acts 1:1–15:35 may represent a compositional unit which was all that was originally intended to be added to Luke's Gospel. Classical historiography generally does not employ a rhetorical epilogue and instead often concludes with a very brief reference to continuing events (as at the end of Acts 28). This well describes where we are left in Acts 15:30–35. The opening of 15:36 is reminiscent of the opening of Xenophon's Hellenica, a work read in Greek schools. Xenophon attached his work on Greek history to the abrupt end of Thucydides (probably as left at the latter's death) by the words meta de tauta, “And after this….” Acts 15:36 begins “And after some days….” An educated audience such as Luke had in mind might have perceived this.
If in fact the second half of Acts is Luke's version of Paul's travels, conceived as a separate entity and based on Timothy's account filled out by Luke for those periods Timothy did not witness, the retention of the “we” is not an editorial oversight, but a stylistic rhetorical device to increase the authority of the account. No deceit need have been intended; Luke may have thought that the introduction of Timothy in chapter 16 made clear what he was doing, and it is possible that 15:36 was intended to be given a title such as “Luke's Account of the Missions of Paul, after Timothy.” The result would have been a loosely connected corpus in three parts: the Gospel, the activities of the disciples from the ascension to the meeting in Jerusalem, and the missions of Paul. In the third part, although there is little difference in the prose, there is considerable difference in tone resulting from firsthand observation and from a movement beyond Palestine, Syria, and Pisidia to the Ionian coast, Greece, and beyond. In this new setting Paul's speech at Athens, the first address in what might be called Second Acts, takes on special meaning. Not only the Jews reject the gospel; so do the philosophers of the intellectual capital of the world. There is a dramatic movement from rejection in Athens, to (p.129) rejection in Jerusalem and Paul's trial, to rejection in Rome, but this rejection by leaders everywhere is shown against a pattern of acceptance by the people.
In the second part of Acts Paul preaches in synagogues and occasionally elsewhere. Some of his discourses were extensive; in Thessalonica, for example, he argued with the Jews in synagogues for three weeks (17:2). Other evidence of long single speeches will be cited below.
14. Paul's Areopagus Speech, 17:22–31.
The rhetorical situation of this celebrated speech is described in some detail. Paul is in Athens, waiting for Silas and Timothy (who thus did not hear the speech) and is offended at the many idols in the city (17:16). His distress, even anger, establishes a basically judicial situation, though of course his ultimate goal is a deliberative one, to convince any audience to embrace Christianity. He argues in the synagogue with Jews and in the agora with anyone who will listen to him and succeeds in arousing a somewhat hostile interest on the part of certain Stoics and Epicureans. Athens in the Roman period was a “university town,” the seat of the philosophical schools. This is referred to contemptuously in verse 21. Paul's interlocutors are perhaps not the heads of these schools, but their contentious students. They must have been largely Stoics; Paul's arguments are cast in terms which would be comprehensible to Stoics, not Epicureans, and Epicureanism was not very strong in this period. Cynics and Academics may well have been in the audience as well. They label him a babbler and accuse him of preaching foreign divinities. Finally they take him to the Areopagus and demand that he justify his teachings. The passage has usually been taken to refer to the hill of the Areopagus, but more likely the setting of the speech was the Royal Stoa at the northwest corner of the agora, where the Council of the Areopagus met in this period. “Areopagus” thus means the court of the Areopagus, which had jurisdiction over religious offenses. We know from the sequel (17:34) that at least one member of the court was present, and probably there was a quorum. It seems therefore (p.130) that the author of Acts intends us to view the occasion as a preliminary legal hearing which might lead to a formal indictment. The result is a continuation of the case: “We will hear you again about this” (17:32). The matter seems to have ended with Paul's withdrawal from Athens.
Paul addresses this court with the conventional form found in the Greek orators as an address to heliastic courts, “Men of Athens.” Luke may not have realized that this was not appropriate for the Areopagus, where the address would probably simply have been “Gentlemen,” but the longer phrase well suits the function of the speech as outlined above. There is no further attempt at a proem and no attempt to establish Paul's personal authority. The fact is, he had none. The body of the speech falls into two parts: 22b-28 is a refutation of the charge that he is teaching a foreign divinity; 29–31 is a prosecution of the religious errors of the Athenians and ends by preaching the gospel. In the defense Paul uses the altar of the unknown god as a sign that the god he preaches is not foreign. He then describes this god in terms that would be comprehensible to Stoics. What Paul means by saying that God made the world and what Stoics would understand by that are rather different, but Stoics could easily accept the enthymeme that God does not live in shrines and is not served by human hands, since he needs nothing from man and in fact gives man life and breath (25). Paul's usual techniques of proof are adapted to a Greek audience. He makes no use of Jewish history, which would have been scorned or accounted meaningless, and he cites as external evidence not the Scriptures, but Greek poets (28). From this picture of the nature of God, Paul draws the conclusion that God ought not to be thought of as a representation of the art and imagination of men. This seems a logical non sequitur in our highly compressed text, because the unknown
God is worshiped without an image; but the conclusion helps to convert defense into attack. Philosophical Greeks usually acquiesced in pagan worship of idols, even though they did not believe the idol was literally a god.
Now that he is on the offensive, Paul calls his audience ignorant (p.131) and demands their repentance, introducing pathos by confidently predicting the end of the world. This is one of the very few specific references to that doctrine in Acts, but in itself it would not have astonished a Greek audience. Stoics believed that the world would be destroyed and also that God or his agents judged the dead, though they usually did not associate the two events because they viewed the destruction as part of a natural cycle, rather than as a judgment in itself. At the very end Paul introduces the only specifically Christian doctrine, the resurrection of Christ. For this he supplies no evidence, and the remark leads some to mock him. The concept is not necessarily impossible for a Stoic (Heracles was a stoic hero who had descended into the underworld and returned), but the assertion would seem to require some evidence if the speech was to succeed. Paul might have cited witnesses, perhaps even described his experience on the Damascus road. Certainly he would have done so in his discourses in the synagogues. The abrupt end of the speech as we have it seems to be part of the rhetoric of the author of Acts, who through-out the passage seeks to polarize the situation. He clearly holds the philosophers in some contempt and wishes to leave a picture of Paul as the radical Christian amid the mocking and ignorant philosophers. But if Paul actually delivered a speech like this, he made a remarkable effort to carry the gospel to the gentiles in terms they might have understood. He had only limited success and left Athens, abruptly it seems, for Corinth, which was at the time the capital of the Roman province of Greece. There he stayed a year and a half. When brought before Gallio, the governor (and brother of the great Stoic philosopher Seneca), on the complaint of local Jews, the case against him was summarily dismissed by Gallio as a matter outside his responsibility.
As 1 and 2 Corinthians demonstrate, some Corinthians found Paul lacking in philosophy and eloquence. Apollos was more successful in this respect. He is first met in Acts 18:24, where he is described as both eloquent and well-versed in Scripture. He “powerfully confuted the Jews in public, showing (p.132) by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.” In method this is not unlike the preaching of Paul, but it must have differed considerably in style. It is a pity that the author of Acts did not attempt an example of Apollos' preaching, but that would have detracted from his portrait of Paul.
15. Speech of the Town Clerk of Ephesus, 19:35–40.
Paul's ministry to Ephesus, viewed locally as an economic threat to the livelihood of the artisans of pagan idols, has resulted in a riot. The grammateus, or clerk of the town council, delivers a realistic deliberative speech to calm the crowd. He relies heavily on his ethos. In his proem (19:35) he treats the question of the greatness of Ephesus' pagan shrines as beyond debate. His proposition, like that of Gamaliel (no. 7 above), is that the crowd should do nothing rash. His argument (37–39) is that Paul and his friends have done nothing sacrilegious and that the law-courts are open if there are complaints from individuals. His epilogue (40) appeals to civic pride. Timothy did not hear this speech, and it was probably composed on the basis of what was likely to have been said.
Paul's addresses were almost certainly longer than what is usually attributed to him in Acts. Speaking to the Christians of Troas when they met to break bread on the first day of the week (thus in the morning), he prolonged his discourse until midnight (20:7). What he said in such an extended discourse is unknown, but can perhaps be imagined as a combination of exegesis of prophecy, exposition of the gospel, and theological disquisition, with refutation of other views as seen in the epistles, the whole interspersed with personal experiences, scriptural quotations, prayers, and exhortations. Such a sermon would be more repetitive than the epistles and more discursive or less carefully structured.
16. Paul's Farewell Address at Miletus to the Elders of Ephesus, 20:18–35.
As noted in Chapter 3, the farewell address is a Greek epideictic form, but Paul's discourse here does not accord with (p.133) the rhetorical conventions described by Menander Rhetor. On first reading, it may appear to look to the past and to be a defense of Paul's actions, with some advice for the future, but careful consideration reveals that the apostle's major concern throughout is with the future, including how his past ministry will be considered in the future. The function of the first half (20:18–27) is therefore not to defend Paul's ministry, but to establish his ethos in the eyes of the Ephesians and himself, and it may be viewed as an extended proem. Even within this section the most important topic is probably the anticipation of martyrdom seen in verses 23–24. A strong note of pathos is here combined with ethos. With that basis for appeal laid down, Paul then states a proposition in verse 28: “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with the blood of his Son.” The two relativeclauses support the proposition and have the effect of an enthymeme. Paul then prophesies about the future as the Ephesians will see it, employing the metaphor of the wolf coming on the flock (29). His own past sufferings will be an example for them (31). The poignant epilogue (32–35) commends the Ephesians to God, resumes the topic of Paul's ministry, and identifies the Ephesians with Paul, reinforcing this with a quotation from Jesus. The speech had a moving effect on the Ephesians, and it is indeed the most personal of the apostle's discourses in Acts, and the finest. It is also the first speech in Acts which “We” heard personally, as indicated by the repeated use of the first person in the chapter, and thus could be quite close to what was actually said. That this is so is further confirmed by similarities of style and content to Paul's writing in the epistles, especially in the Epistle to the Philippians. Philippians is one of the last letters, written in Rome shortly after the events described in Acts and thus possibly close to the time that Timothy may have written up an account of his travels with Paul. If Timothy became bishop of Ephesus, as has often been believed, he would have had a special interest in the apostle's farewell to his own church.
On arrival in Jerusalem, Paul was warmly but apprehensively greeted by the Christian community and advice was given to him by several of its leaders, here cast in the form of a single speech which the narrator personally heard (21:18). Greek historians (see, for example, Thucydides 1.68) occasionally use this technique of attributing a speech to more than one spokesman to indicate a community decision or to sum up in compressed form what several speakers said. This speech follows the simple deliberative pattern we observed in the early speeches in Acts. A proem sets forth the need for action (20–22). This is followed by specific advice, supported by a reason (23–24).
18. Paulas Speech to the Jews of Jerusalem) 22:3–22.
The effort to conciliate the Jews, described in chapter 21, failed. To prevent a riot Paul was put into protective custody by a Roman tribune, but he persuaded the officer to allow him to make an appeal to the crowd with the soldiers as personal protection. The speech is judicial and entirely a narration of Paul's former activities against the Christians and his subsequent conversion and commission to the gentiles. It was delivered in Hebrew (22:2) as an ethical device to show Paul's own Jewishness. This is the only place where the language of a speech is identified. The speeches of Peter and others in the first half of Acts were probably in Aramaic. On his missionary journeys, when speaking in synagogues Paul may sometimes have used Aramaic, but if gentiles were present he probably spoke in Greek, and he may have used Greek exclusivelyin Corinth. Paul begins with a gesture (21:40), here probably the palm of his right hand with fingers extended as a request for silence from the crowd. His reference to his education with Gamaliel in the “strict manner of the law of our fathers” (22:3) is also of course an ethical appeal to the crowd. Since Paul does not deny that his actions have been inconsistent with the law, the stasis is best regarded as metastasis, transferring responsibility for his actions to God. Paul is interrupted by the crowd at the first reference to the (p.135) gentiles. If he had been allowed to continue he would presumably have cited evidence from Scripture, and if the Holy Spirit had warmed the hearts of the crowd he might even have hoped to conclude with an exhortation to repent and be saved. That proved impossible.
In chapter 23, brought before the Council, Paul gives no formal speech but is examined as in a legal hearing and employs a diversionary tactic. Something rather like this is occasionally seen in Greek oratory, as when Aeschines, speaking at Delphi, turned the attention of the Amphictionic Council from the issue at hand to the illegal occupation of sacred land by the Amphissians (Against Ctesiphon 107). Here Paul perceives that his audience is part Sadducee, part Pharisee, and makes an ad hominem appeal to the Pharisees by a diversionary reference to the resurrection of the dead. The Pharisees as a result take up his cause, while Paul himself is escorted out by the tribune and sent to the governor of Syria with a letter indicating that he is a Roman citizen who has broken no civil law. His accusers are ordered to make their complaints to the governor. The tactics attributed to Paul on both of these occasions may well be those he actually employed; “we” are not mentioned, but were probably present.
19. Speech of Tertullus to Felix, 24:2–8.
The high priest Ananias and the elders follow through the prosecution and are represented before the governor Felix by the “rhetor” Tertullus. He is apparently a professional patron at the bar, familiar with the procedure and language of Roman courts. His name is Latin and he may have addressed Felix in that language, probably at greater length than in the speech given here. In a conventional classical proem he flatters the governor (24:2–4), alleges that Paul is a Nazarene agitator who has profaned the temple, and asks the governor to interrogate him. The Jews subscribe to the charges and offer themselves as witnesses to prove it (9).
The speech is judicial, the stasis fact: Paul denies that he has engaged in disputation or stirred up a crowd (12) or that he has profaned the temple (18). He begins with a short and respectful proem, couched in a good classical Greek periodic sentence (10), which he follows with an equally short narration (n) and proposition (12). Some use is made of Greek proverbs (14, 26). The rest of the speech is devoted to proof, with no epilogue. Paul admits belonging to “the way” (14), which was not known to be illegal, and claims that he had purified himself before entering the temple (18), that the accusation is not being made by those who witnessed the incident (19), and that it is not specific (20), but he admits that he did speak of the resurrection of the dead. He refrains from pointing out that this doctrine was supported by the Pharisees. That may be an omission by the author of Acts on the ground that the point had been made before in his narrative (23:6–9), though possibly it would not have been a useful point with the governor. Since he presents no evidence to support what he says, Paul must be regarded as relying on ethos—chiefly his confident candor—and on the legal assumption that he is innocent unless his prosecutors can document his guilt. The disinclination of Roman officials to enforce Jewish religious law is of course strongly in his favor, but that is left unvoiced.
Felix continues the case pending the arrival of the tribune who had arrested Paul, a necessary witness. He holds Paul in custody but allows him visitors, presumably including the narrator, and invites him to speak before himself and his Jewish wife about Christianity. Apparently he finds public discussion unacceptable, either personally or because it tended to stir up feelings, and the conversations are conducted in private. This is said (24:27) to have gone on for two years, but that may mean that Felix served a total term of two years, in which case Paul's custody was much shorter. The delay was probably occasioned by the governor's wish to leave the decision to his successor, who had probably been named and was en route (p.137) from Rome, but the narrator also says that Felix hoped to be bribed (24:26). When the new governor, Festus, arrives, the Jews renew their charges against Paul and Festus proposes a trial in Jerusalem. Paul refuses and appeals to Caesar. Festus accepts the appeal and orders him taken to Rome (25:12).
21 and 22. Addresses of Festus to Agrippa, 25:14–21 and 24–27.
These two speeches are included because they fall within our criteria of four or more verses. They are chiefly of interest in revealing the point of view and legal interpretation of Festus, who gives a simple narrative of Paul's case. The object of the hearing is indicated in the final verse, to clarify the charges so that a written report can be sent to Rome. Within the rhetoric of Acts the speeches contribute a feeling of historicity.
23. Paulas Defense before Agrippa, 26:2–23.
When compared to Paul's address to the Jews in Jerusalem and his defense before Felix (nos. 18 and 20 above), this speech shows an attempt to adapt the same basic materials to a different audience, in this case the hellenized Jewish king Agrippa. Paul has clearly had an opportunity to prepare his address in advance, something which was not possible when he spoke in Jerusalem. Stasis remains metastasis, transference of responsibility to God. The rhetorical question of verse 8 is reminiscent of the device used by Peter in addressing the Christians of Jerusalem. There are elegances of style which Agrippa would have appreciated, for example the litotes of verse 19.
The graceful proem (2–3) is intended both for Agrippa and for Festus, since it embraces Festus' purpose in getting the advice of Agrippa on a subject he is well suited to judge. There follows a narration in which Paul omits reference to Gamaliel and to his own blindness, but adds the fact that God had addressed him in Hebrew. The report of the direct address functions as an authoritative witness. The proof (19–23) argues that Paul (like Peter) had no choice and adds scriptural evidence. But when Paul refers to preaching to the gentiles he is again interrupted, this time, surprisingly, by Festus, who says, (p.138) “Paul, you are mad; your great learning is turning you mad” (24). “Too much reading” might be a better translation of polla grammata, as though Paul had been searching out prophecies. Paul protests that “these things” (the prophecies) are known to Agrippa and then resumes a more personal appeal to him (27).
The speech is partially successful in that Agrippa and Festus agree that Paul has done nothing wrong, but it is not so successful that they are willing to undertake any sponsorship of his cause or issue any rebuke to the priests. They would have set Paul free to take his chances if he had not appealed to Caesar (32), but as it is, to Rome he must go. Early Christians of course regarded this as part of God's plan; certainly it is difficult to see how, at this stage in the situation, a different rhetorical approach would have secured different results. Like Socrates, Paul regarded some kinds of rhetorical appeal as unacceptable: anything that departed from the truth as he understood it or from his duty to preach the gospel. Friendly witnesses to his conduct in Jerusalem existed and might have helped his case with Roman officials, but it may have been impractical for them to come forward, and most would not have had the stature before the court that the leaders of the Jewish community did. All of these factors pointed toward a tactic of relying upon ethos, supported where possible by scriptural prophecy. That ethos is an appealing one: the lonely figure of a human being who has had a transcendent religious experience and who seeks not to explain, but to express it in the most natural way possible.
24. Paul's Prophecy on Shipboard, 27:21–26.
This appears to be primarily an epideictic, rather than deliberative speech, exhorting those on the ship to faith, with a prophecy that they will be saved, though the ship will be lost, on the basis of a dream Paul has had. The speech seems to have been included in Acts primarily because of this dream, in which an angel tells Paul not to fear, “you must stand before Caesar in Rome” (27:23). The incident is more reminiscent of experiences such as those of Aeneas in Virgil's Aeneid than of a truly oratorical situation.
Nothing is said about the effect on the audience.
This is a short speech explaining why Paul has come to Rome, anticipating charges against him, and exonerating the Roman officials and the Jewish nation as a whole (28:19). He shows himself open to reconciliation. This speech can be regarded as a proem for subsequent preaching (even though that does not occur immediately), for its main objective is to establish an understanding with the local Jewish leaders. The ensuing discourse is not reported, but it extended from morning until evening (23) and resulted in some conversions (24). In verses 26–28 Paul expresses his frustration and his intention to turn to the gentiles instead, much as at Corinth (18:6).
Is the rhetoric of Paul in Acts the rhetoric of Paul in the epistles? Most readers would probably say no. The accounts in Acts lack his complicated dialectic, often projected in dialogue with himself, and do not show his fondness for pleonasm or for exploring the subtle meanings of words or new interpretations for old texts. Speeches attributed to Paul in Acts through chapter 19 do not appear to be based on a firsthand knowledge of what he actually said and have the characteristics of construction that Luke seems to have used in speeches attributed to Peter and others. The speech to the elders of Ephesus (20:18–35, no. 16 above) is the first in Acts that seems based on direct knowledge by the narrator, and the only speech really evocative of Paul's personal style, though simplified for use in an historiographic work. Subsequent speeches are not markedly Pauline in style, except perhaps the exchange with Agrippa. They seem to have been written with some knowledge of Paul's arguments, but probably not of his actual words. Yet it must be kept in mind that their audience is different from the audience addressed in the epistles; these are public addresses, for the most part, in which Paul's personal style would have been less appropriate and less effective. The epistles show that he could adapt his writing to his audience and the occasion: his tone with the Thessalonians is different from his tone with (p.140) the Galatians, for example. It is very likely that his tone in Jerusalem was different from his tone in addressing the elders of Ephesus, and whatever was distinctive about it is further diluted by adaptation to a historical work and by the literary abilities of the writer or writers of Acts. The situation is slightly analogous to the portrayal of Socrates in Plato and Xenophon. Plato's Socrates is far more complicated and far more powerful. In Paul's epistles we have something more vivid than that: not the impression of an inspired pupil, but the actual words of the master.
Of the rhetorical features of Acts the most important historically is the way the apostles utilize occasions to preach the gospel. Whenever given an occasion to speak, even in defense of specific charges against them personally, they try to convert the situation into an opportunity to proclaim the message of Jesus and convert others. That is what really matters to them, not their personal danger, or the needs of the moment. This is generally true of Paul's epistles also and has remained a characteristic of Christian rhetoric.