Chapter 6 - The Honour of His Name - The place and purpose of Acts in the canon

Chapter 6 - The Honour of His Name

IN considering the use of the simple name in the Acts of the Apostles, the place and purpose of that book in the sacred Canon claims attention. And this is a matter of far-reaching importance. For no one who understands the ground-plan of the Bible can miss what Pusey calls its "hidden harmony." And knowledge of this will give complete immunity from the attacks of the sham Higher Criticism.
The Bible has both an outward and a spiritual aspect. Christ is the burden of its esoteric teaching, while on its outward side it relates mainly to the covenant people. A brief preface of eleven chapters contains all that it gives us about the world's history for thousands of years before the call of Abraham; and the story of Abraham's descendants monopolises the rest of the Old Testament. For it is only in relation to Israel that Gentile Powers ever come upon the scene.
To Abraham was given the promise of earthly blessing, and to David the promise of earthly sovereignty; the Mosaic revelation being the unfolding and the complement of the Abrahamic covenant. And the New Testament opens with the birth of Christ as son of David and Son of Abraham - of Him with whom rests the fulfilment of all the Old Testament promises and covenants. The Gospels tell the story of His life and death - His Ministry, and His rejection by the favoured people. And the Acts gives the records of a dispensation during which that people, notwithstanding their apostasy and guilt, received the offer of Divine pardon on the ground of grace. We are apt to misread the book if we fail to recognise the special mission and ministry to the children of Israel, which were committed to the Apostle Paul. And because of that commission it was that he gave his testimony first to the Jews, in every place he visited, not excepting Rome, although a Christian Church had already been gathered there. And this explains why it is that the Book of Acts ends abruptly by recording the rejection of the gospel by the Jews of Rome, the last two verses containing all that is told us of his two years' ministry in the Imperial city. It explains also why not a word is added about his ministry after his release from his first imprisonment. For the book is not the early history of Christianity, but the history, divinely given, of the Pentecostal dispensation, during which Israel enjoyed a priority in the proclamation of the gospel.
And when we recognise both the purpose and the historical character of Acts, we are prepared to find that here, as in the Gospels, the Lord is named in the narrative by His personal name. And yet such occurrences are limited to seven. The first is in the opening sentence of the book. The second is in verse 14, and the third is found in the concluding words of verse 16, which clearly belong to the parenthesis that ends with the 19th verse. The supposition is grotesque, that when the Apostle Peter mentioned Judas, in addressing his brethren a few days after the Crucifixion, he needed to explain that the Judas to whom he referred was the traitor of that name!
The other passages in Acts where the Lord is narratively named as "Jesus" will be found in chapters vii. 55; viii. 35; xviii. 18; and xxviii. 23. Chapter ix. 27 should perhaps be included in the list. And if we follow the Revisers, we shall.add the 20th verse of that chapter, and also chapter xviii. 25. It is noteworthy that the Lord was thus named by the heavenly messengers who appeared to the disciples after the Ascension (i. 11). Far more noteworthy is it, that in every instance where the record contains words spoken by unbelievers, the Lord is only "Jesus."
The narrative of Stephen's martyrdom has a unique interest. "Being full of the Holy Ghost, he looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God." Here only is the title "Son of Man" used of the Lord by human lips. "And why here?" Dean Alford asks; and the following is the answer he gives: "Stephen, full of the Holy Ghost, and speaking not of himself at all, but entirely by the utterance of the Spirit, repeats the very words in which (the Lord) Jesus Himself, before this same Council, had foretold His glorification" (Matt. xxvi. 64). Christians are apt to treat this phrase as merely an orientalism for "man." But, as the Book of Daniel teaches us, it was a Divine title. And that the Jews so regarded it is clear; for the Lord's assumption of it when before the Council led - them all to exclaim, "Art thou then the Son of God?" (Luke xxii. 69, 70). It is never used in Scripture in connection with the Incarnation. As man He was born in Bethlehem; but as Son of Man He "descended out of heaven."
One word more: that Stephen saw "Jesus" at the right hand of God, the divine narrative records. But "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" was his dying prayer. "0 Jesus" would presumably be the language of not a few of our hymn writers.