The M+G+R Foundation
Introductory Notes to
The Acts of the Apostles
Apostolic Letters in the New Testament
A guest document
Straubinger [1883 - 1956]
Doctor Honoris Causa by the University
translate this text into any major language Click Here
Acts of Apostles
The book of Acts does not attempt to narrate what each of the apostles
did, but takes, as did the evangelists, the principal facts that the
Holy Spirit has suggested to the author for the nourishment of our
faith (cf. Luke 1:4; John 20:31). God shows us here, with an
incomparable historical and dramatic interest, what was the life and
apostolate of the Church in the first decades (years 30-63 of the birth
of Christ), and the role in them played by the Princes of the Apostles,
St. Peter (chap. 1-12) and St. Paul (chap. 13-28). The largest part is
therefore dedicated to the journeys, works and triumphs of this Gentile
Apostle, until his first captivity in Rome. With this the author stops
almost unexpectedly, giving the impression that he intended to write
another treatise later.
There is no doubt that this author is the same person who wrote the
third Gospel. At the end of the third Gospel, St. Luke takes up the
thread of the narrative and composes the book of Acts (see 1,1), which
he dedicates to Theophilus himself (Luke 1,1 ff.), the Holy Fathers,
mainly St. Polycarp, St. Clement Roman, St. Ignatius Martyr, St.
Irenaeus, St. Justin, etc. as well as modern critics, testify and
unanimously recognize that this is a work of Luke, a native Syrian
antiochenus, doctor, companion and collaborator of St. Paul, with whom
he presents himself in many passages of his story (16, 10, 17; 20,
5-15; 21, 1-18; 27, 1-28, 16). He wrote, in Greek, the current language
at the time, from the original of which the present version comes; but
its language also contains aramaisms denouncing the nationality of the
The composition dates from Rome around the year 63, shortly before the
end of the first prison, remana of St. Paul, that is, five years before
his death and also before the terrible destruction of Jerusalem (70
A.D.), that is, when the life and worship of Israel continued normally.
The object of St. Luke in this writing is, as in his Gospel (Luke 1:4),
to confirm us in the faith and to teach the universality of the health
brought by Christ, which is manifested first among the Jews of
Jerusalem, then Palestine, and finally among the Gentiles.
Today's Christian, often ignorant in this matter, thus understands much
better, thanks to this Book, the true character of the Church and its
intimate connection with the Old Testament and with the chosen people
of Israel, seeing that, as Fillion observes, before coming to Rome with
the apostles, the Church had its first stage in Jerusalem, where it was
born (1, 1-8, 3); in its second stage it extended from Jerusalem to
Judea and Samaria (8, 4-11, 18); it had a third stage in the East with
headquarters in Antioch of Syria (11, 19-13, 35), and finally it was
established in the pagan world and in its capital Rome (13, 1-28, 31),
thus fulfilling the words of Jesus to the apostles, when these gathered
together questioned him believing that he would immediately restore the
kingdom to Israel: "It is not for you to know the times and moments
which the Father has set by his power. But when the Holy Spirit
descends upon you, you will receive virtue and you will be my witnesses
in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth"
(1:7ff). This testimony of the Holy Spirit and of the apostles had been
announced by Jesus (John 15:26) and ratified by St. Peter (1:22; 2:32;
The admirable Book, whose perfect unity recognizes even the most
adverse criticism, could also be called the "Acts of the Risen Christ".
"Without him, apart from some features scattered in the Epistles of St.
Paul, in the Catholic Epistles and in the rare fragments that remain of
the first ecclesiastical writers, we would know nothing of the origin
of the Church" (Fillion).
S. Jerome summarizes, in the letter to the presbyter Pauline, his
judgment on this divine Book in the following words: "The book of the
deeds of the Apostles seems to tell a simple story and weave the
childhood of the nascent Church. But, knowing that its author is Luke,
the doctor, "whose praise is in the Gospel" (II Cor 8:18), we will see
that all his words are, at the same time as history, medicine for the
Letters from St. Paul
Saul, who after being converted called Paul - that is, "little" - was
born in Tarsus of Cilicia, perhaps in the same year as Jesus, although
he did not know him while the Lord was alive. His parents, Jews of the
tribe of Benjamin (Rom. 11:1; Philip. 3:5), educated him in the love of
the Law, handing him over to one of the most famous doctors, Gamaliel,
in whose school the fervent disciple interpenetrated himself with the
doctrines of the scribes and Pharisees, whose ideals he defended with
sincere passion while ignoring the mystery of Christ. Not content with
his training in the disciplines of the Law, he also learned the trade
of weaver, to earn a living with his own hands. The book of Acts
recounts how during his apostolic journeys he worked on it "day and
night" as he himself proclaimed several times as an example and proof
that he was not a burden for the church (see Acts 18, 3 and note).
The human traditions of his home and school, and the Pharisaic zeal for
the Law, made Paul a passionate sectarian, who believed himself obliged
to give himself in person to persecute the disciples of Jesus. Not only
did he actively witness the stoning of St. Stephen, but, burning with
fanaticism, he set out for Damascus, where he organized the persecution
against the Christian name. But on the road to Damascus the divine
grace awaited him to make him the most faithful champion and doctor of
that grace which had so worked in him. It was Jesus himself, the
Pilgrim, who - showing him that he was stronger than he was - tamed his
unbridled zeal and transformed him into an unparalleled instrument for
the preaching of the Gospel and the propagation of the Kingdom of God
as "Light revealed to the Gentiles".
From Damascus Paul went to the Arabian desert (Gal 1:17) to prepare
himself, in solitude, for that apostolic mission. He returned to
Damascus, and after having made contact in Jerusalem with the prince of
the apostles, he returned to his homeland until his companion Barnabas
led him to Antioch, where he had the opportunity to show his fervor in
the cause of the Gentiles and the doctrine of the New Law "of the
Spirit of life" brought by Jesus Christ to free us from the slavery of
the old Law. Henceforth he made three great apostolic journeys, which
his disciple St. Luke refers to in the "Acts" and which served as the
basis for the conquest of an entire world.
After the third trip, he was imprisoned and taken to Rome, where he
undoubtedly regained his freedom around the year 63, although since
then the last four years of his life are in darkness. Apparently, he
traveled to Spain (Rom.15, 24 and 28) and made another trip to the
east. He died in Rome, beheaded by the executioners of Nero, in the
year 67, on the same day as the martyrdom of St. Peter. His remains
rest in St. Paul's Basilica in Rome.
The Pauline writings are exclusively letters, but of as much doctrinal
value and supernatural depth as a Gospel. The teachings of the Epistles
to the Romans, the Corinthians, the Ephesians, and others, constitute,
as St. John Chrysostom says, an inexhaustible mine of gold, to which we
have to go in all circumstances of life, having to frequent them very
much until we become familiar with their language, because their
reading -as St. Jerome says- reminds us rather of thunder than the
sound of words.
Through his letters St. Paul gives us an immense knowledge of Christ.
Not a systematic knowledge, but a spiritual knowledge that is what
matters. He is above all the Doctor of Grace, the one who deals with
the ever-present themes of sin and justification, of the Mystical Body,
of Law and freedom, of faith and works, of flesh and spirit, of
predestination and reprobation, of the Kingdom of Christ and his Second
Coming. Rationalist writers or Jews like Klausner, who in good faith
find a difference between the Master's Message and the apostle's
interpretation, have not seen well the immense transcendence of the
synagogue's rejection of Christ, sent first and foremost "to the lost
sheep of Israel" (Mat. 15, 24), in the time of the Gospel, and of the
new rejection by the Jewish people of the dispersion of the apostolic
preaching that renewed in the risen Christ the promises of the ancient
Prophets; rejection that brought the rupture with Israel and brought
about the passage from health to gentility, followed very soon by the
tremendous destruction of the Temple, just as the Lord had announced
We must not forget, then, that St. Paul was chosen by God to be the
Apostle of the Gentiles (Acts 13, 2 and 47; 26, 17 ff; Rom 1,5 ), that
is, of us, sons of pagans, formerly "separated from the society of
Israel, strangers to the covenants, without hope in the promise and
without God in this world" (Eph. 2:12), and that we enter into
salvation because of Israel's unbelief (see Rom. 11:11 ff; cf. Acts
28:23 ff. and notes), being called into the new and great mystery of
the Mystical Body (Eph. 1:22 ff.; 3:4-9; Col. 1:26). Hence Paul is also
for us the great and infallible interpreter of the ancient Scriptures,
especially of the Psalms and Prophets, quoted by him at every step.
There are Psalms whose disputed meaning is fixed thanks to the
quotations that St. Paul makes of them; for example, Psalm 44, of which
the apostle teaches us that it is nothing less than the lyrical praise
of Christ triumphant, made through the mouth of the divine Father (see
Hebr. 1:8 s). The same can be said of S. 2, 7; 109, 4, etc.
In canon it contains 14 Epistles bearing the name of the great apostle
of the Gentiles, including the one destined for the Hebrews. Some
others seem to have been lost (I Cor. 5:9; Col. 4:16).
The succession of the Pauline Epistles in the canon does not obey the
chronological order, but rather the importance and prestige of their
addressees. That of the Hebrews, as Chaine says, was added at the end
of Paul and not among the "Catholics", because of its origin, but this
does not necessarily imply that it is later than the others.
As for the dates and place of the composition of each one, we refer the
reader to the indications we give in the initial notes.
Letter of the Apostle St. James
Jame's letter is the first of the seven non-Pauline Epistles that, for
not indicating several of them a special addressee, have been called
generically Catholic or universal, although strictly speaking most of
them are addressed to Christianity of Jewish origin, and the last two
Epistles of St. John have an even more limited heading. St. Jerome
characterizes them by saying that "they are as rich in mysteries as
they are succinct, as brief in words as they are long in sentences".
The author, who gives himself the name "James, servant of God and of
our Lord Jesus Christ," is the Apostle we usually call James the
Lesser, son of Alphaeus or Cleophas (Matt. 10:3) and of Mary (Matt.
27:56), "sister" (or relative) of the Virgin. He is, therefore, of the
family of Jesus and called "brother of the Lord" ( Gal. 1, 19; cf.
Matt. 13, 55 and Marc 6, 3).
St. James is mentioned by St. Paul among the "pillars" or apostles who
enjoyed the greatest authority in the Church (Gal. 2:9). Through his
faithful observance of the Law, he had a great influence, especially on
the Jews, since among them he exercised his ministry as Bishop of
Jerusalem. He died a martyr in 62 A.D.
He wrote this letter not long before suffering martyrdom and with the
special purpose of strengthening the Christians of Judaism who, because
of persecution, were in danger of losing their faith (cf. the
introduction to the Epistle to the Hebrews). Turn, therefore, to "the
twelve tribes which are in the dispersion" (cf. 1:1 and note), that is,
to all the Hebrew-Christians1, within and without Palestine (cf. Rom.
10:18 and note).
They are of Christian profession, because they believe in the Lord
Jesus Christ of Glory (2, 1). They await the Parousia in which they
will receive the prize (5, 7-9), they have been begotten into new life
(1, 18) under the new law of freedom (1, 25; 2, 12), and the anointing
of the sick is recommended to them (5, 14 ff).
The non-allusion to pagans is seen in the fact that James omits to
refer to what St. Paul usually fights against in these: idolatry,
impudence, drunkenness (cf. I Cor. 6:9 ff; Gal. 5:19 ff). On the other
hand, the Epistle insists strongly against vain talk and the faith of
pure formula (1, 22 ff; 2, 14 ff.), against slander and the ravages of
the tongue (3, 2 ff; 4, 2 ff; 5, 9), against false doctors (3, 1),
bitter zeal (3, 13 ff.), easy oaths (5, 12).
The style is concise, judgmental and extraordinarily rich in images,
with the eloquent ones dedicated to the language in chapter 3 and to
the rich in chapter 5 and their parallel with the humble in chapter 2
being classic. More than in the supernatural mysteries of grace with
which St. Paul usually illustrates us, especially in the Epistles of
captivity, the present one is a vigorous meditation on conduct before
one's neighbor and that is why it has sometimes been called the social
Letters from St. Peter
Simon Bar Jona (son of Jonah), who was to be St. Peter (Acts 15, 14; II
Peter 1, 1), was called to the apostolate in the first days of the
Lord's public life, who gave him the name Cephas (in Aramaic Kefa),
that is, "stone", from where the Greek Petros, Peter (John 1, 42). We
see in Matt. 16:17-19 how Jesus distinguished him among the other
disciples, making him "Prince of the Apostles" (John 21:15 ff.). Paul
tells us that Jesus, as the Apostle of the Gentiles, had directly
entrusted to him (Gal 1:11 f.) the evangelization of the Gentiles,
while Peter, like James and John, had the evangelization of the
circumcised or Israelites (Gal 2:7-9; cf. Jas 1:1 and note). From
Pentecost Peter preached in Jerusalem and Palestine but around the year
42 he moved to "another place" (Acts 12, 17 and note), not without
first admitting the pagan Cornelius to baptism (Acts 10), as the deacon
Philip had done with the Ethiopian "proselyte" (Acts 8, 26 ff.). A few
years later we find him again in Jerusalem, presiding over the Council
of Apostles (Acts 15) and then in Antioch. Scripture does not give more
information about him, but tradition assures us that he died a martyr
in Rome in the year 67, the same day as St. Paul.
His first Letter is considered to have been written shortly before the
persecution of NerÃ³n broke out, that is, around the year
63 (cf. II
Peter 1, 1 and note), from Rome to what he calls Babylon because of the
corruption of its pagan environment (5, 13). Its purpose is to console
mainly the dispersed Christian Hebrews (1, 1) who, living also in a
pagan world, ran the risk of losing their faith. However, several
passages testify that his teaching also extends to converts of
gentility (cf. 2, 10 and note). To the same addressees (II Peter 3, 1),
but extending it "to all who have attained the faith" (1, 1) is
addressed the second Letter, which the Apostle wrote, as he says,
shortly before his martyrdom (II Peter 1, 14), from which his date is
calculated by the years 64-67. "From this it can be deduced as probable
that the author wrote of Rome", perhaps from prison. In the forsaken
Christian communities false doctors had already been introduced who
despised the Scriptures, abused the flock and, sustaining a perverse
concept of Christian freedom, also said that Jesus would never return.
against those and against the many imitators that he will have in all
times until the end, the Head of the Twelve raises his voice, to warn
the present and future Churches, being the verbs in the future, Judas,
its parallel, already refers to this problem as present and pressing
(Judas 3 s; cf. II Peter 3, 17 and note).
In these brief letters - the only two "Encyclicals" of the prince of
the apostles - filled with the most precious doctrine and prophecy, we
see the admirable work of the Holy Spirit, who transformed Peter after
Pentecost. That ignorant, restless and cowardly fisherman and denier of
Christ is here the apostle full of charity, gentleness and humble
wisdom, who (like Paul in II Tim. 4:6) announces to us the nearness of
his own death that Christ himself had foretold for him (John 21:28).
St. Peter sets before us, from the beginning of the first Epistle to
the end of the second, the mystery of the future return of our Lord
Jesus Christ as the theme of meditation par excellence to transform our
souls into faith, love and hope (cf. Jude 20 and notes). The main
dogmatic teaching of the Second Peter," Pirote says, "undoubtedly
consists in the certainty of the Parousia and, consequently, of the
retributions that will accompany it (1, 11 and 19; 3, 4-5). It is
according to this expectation that the alternative between Christian
virtue and the license of the "mockers" should be understood (2, 1-2
and 19). The guarantees of this faith are: the oracles of the prophets,
and the teaching of the apostles, witnesses of God and messengers of
Christ (1, 4 and 16-21; 3, 2). The Gospel is already the realization of
a first cycle of prophecies, and this realization increases all the
more our confidence in the fulfillment of subsequent prophecies" (cf.
1:19). This is what the Risen Jesus himself, having already fulfilled
the prophecies of his Passion, his Death and his Resurrection,
reiterated about the future announcements of "his glories" (I Peter
1:11), saying: "All that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, in
the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled" (Luke 24:44).
Little could be promised of the faith of those Christians who, calling
themselves sons of the Church, and proclaiming that Christ is where
Peter is, resign themselves to spend their entire life without worrying
about what this Peter and this Paul said, in their brief letters, in
order to be able, as the Liturgy says, "to follow in all the precept of
those for whom religion began. (Collection from the Mass of St. Peter).
The three Letters
bearing the name of Saint John - one more general, very important, and
the other very brief - have been written by the same author of the
fourth Gospel (see its introductory note). This is, says the Office of
St. John, that disciple whom Jesus loved (John 21, 7) and to whom the
secrets of heaven were revealed; the one who reclined at the Supper on
the Lord's breast (John 21, 20) and who drank there, in the fountain of
the Sacred Chest, streams of wisdom that he enclosed in his Gospel.
The first Epistle lacks a headline, which led some to doubt its
authenticity. But despite the absence of the author's name, there is a
unanimous and constant tradition that this incomparably sublime Letter
is to be attributed, like the two that follow it and the Apocalypse, to
the Apostle John, made Zebedee and brother of James the Elder, and this
was confirmed by the Tridentine Council in pointing out the canon of
the Sacred Scriptures. The lack of a title at the beginning and of a
greeting at the end will be explained, according to the common opinion,
by its intimate relationship with the fourth Gospel, to which it serves
as an introduction (cf. 1:3), and also as a corollary, since it has
been rightly said that if the Gospel of St. John makes us cross the
threshold of the Father's house, this intimately familiar Epistle makes
us feel like "little children" in our own house.
It is calculated that it dates from the end of the first century and is
considered to be addressed, like the Apocalypse, to the churches of
proconsular Asia - and not only to those seven of the Apocalypse (cf.
1, 4 and note) - of which, although they were not founded by him, the
Apostle would have taken charge after his exile in Patmos, where he
wrote his great prophetic vision. The motive of this Letter was to
indoctrinate the faithful in the secrets of the spiritual life in order
to warn them mainly against pregnosticism and the advances of the
Nicolaitans who polluted the vineyard of Christ. And so the occasion to
write it was probably the one that the same author points out in 2, 18
s, as also happened with Judas (Judas 3s).
We would see John, although "Apostle of circumcision" (Gal. 2:9),
installed in Ephesus and teaching - thirty years after the apostle of
the Gentiles and almost as much after the destruction of Jerusalem -
not only Christians of Israelite origin but also those same Gentiles to
whom St. Paul had written the highest Epistles of his captivity in
Rome. Paul pointed to the doctrinal position of sons of the Father.
John shows them the intimate spiritual life as such.
It is not noted in the Epistle marked division; but yes, as in the
Gospel of St. John, the great guiding ideas: "light, life and love",
presented again and again under the newest and richest aspects,
undoubtedly constituting the highest document of supernatural
spirituality that has been given to men. He insists on the divinity of
Jesus Christ as Son of the Father and on the reality of Redemption and
Parousia, attacked by heretics. It also warns against these
"antichrists" and inculcates in a singular way the distinction between
the divine Persons, the divine filiation of the believer, the life of
faith and trust founded on the love with which God loves us, and
fraternal charity as inseparable from the love of God.
In the other two Epistles St. John calls himself "the elder" (in Greek
presbyter), a title which is also given to St. Peter making it
extensive to the heads of Christian communities (I Peter 5, 1) and
which was undoubtedly given to the apostles, as presumed by the
declaration of Popes, bishop of Hierapolis, when he referred to how he
had been informed of what had been said "the elders Andrew, Peter,
Philip, Thomas, John". Father Bonsirven, who brings these data, also
tells us that the doubts about the authenticity of these two Letters of
St. John "began to arise at the end of the second century when various
authors began to condemn millenarianism; discovering milleranism in the
Apocalypse, they resisted attributing it to the Apostle John and
declared it, consequently, the work of that presbyter John of which
Papias speaks, and so, by countercoup, the presbyter John was placed by
several in possession of the two small Epistles. Pirot also notes that
"in order to deny the apocalypse John's authenticity, Dionysius of
Alexandria also denies it to our two little letters". The second
Epistle is addressed "to the lady elect and her children", that is to
say, as it is understood by the aforementioned and other modern
commentators, to a community or Church and not to a lady (cf. II John
1, 13 and notes), who, moreover, in the Christian language were not
usually called ladies (Eph. 5, 22 ff; cf. John 2, 4; 19, 26).
The third Letter is
more of a personal nature, but in both the holy apostle shows us, as in
the first, both the importance and value of fraternal love - which
constituted, according to a well-known tradition, the permanent theme
of his exhortations until his most advanced old age - and the need to
abide by the primitive teachings in order to defend oneself against all
those who wanted to go "beyond" the Words of Jesus Christ (II John 9),
either by adding to them or by taking something away from them (Apoc.
5:4). 22, 18), or wanting to give to God in another way than he had
taught (cf. Wis 9, 10; Is. 1, 11 ff), or abusing the pastoral office
for his own benefit as Diotrephes (III John 9). Pirot notes that "the
Apocalypse denounced the presence in Pergamum of Nicolaitans against
whom resistance was dangerously insufficient (Rev. 2:14-16)".
Therefore, given that the Apostolic Constitutions mention Gaius as the
addressee of this Letter, at the head of this church (like Demetrius in
Philadelphia), it would be appropriate to suppose that it was the
church entrusted to Diotrephes and that he had been replaced shortly
afterwards by that faithful friend of John..
St. Jude, brother of
James the Lesser, wrote this letter between the years 62 and 67, in
order to strengthen the faith of the Jewish Christians and warn them
against the doctrine of false doctors. On this common concern in all
apostolic writings, see II Pet. 3, 17 and note. In many passages this
Letter bears a notorious resemblance to II Peter 2, cf, v, 17 f. and