A Question I Was Asked:

Two Questions About the Ending of Acts of the Apostles

The Questions:

I have two questions concerning the ending of Luke's account of the Acts of the Apostles:

1. What happened to Paul? Did his life end when he was sent to Rome?

2. Why does Acts end so suddenly? Couldn't Luke have said a little more?

UK Apologetics Reply:

1. What happened to Paul? Did his life end when he was sent to Rome?

We cannot be certain as to what happened to Paul directly after the text of Acts ends. Certainly he would have been already released except for the fact that he had appealed to Rome, as a Roman citizen.

Some believe that he was executed when he was sent to Rome. It is known that his life did indeed end in Rome, however, date-wise, there seems to have been time for him to do a little more. I belong to the group who have tended to believe that he was possibly released at Rome and that even Luke's compilation of the Book of Acts might have been at least partially written as a full defense of Paul's work, to be presented at Rome. Paul wanted to visit Spain and there are very strong traditions - but no certainty - that he eventually did go there and even up into Gaul and possibly parts of southern Britain! But how reliable are these traditions?

I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while. (Romans 15:24).

So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this contribution, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. (Romans 15:28).

The early church epistle of 1 Clement, which appears to have been written around the 70s AD (possibly around ten years after Acts was completed, and therefore close in time to Paul), says the following about him:

1 Clement 5.5-7:
"Through envy Paul, too, showed by example the prize that is given to patience: seven times was he cast into chains; he was banished; he was stoned; having become a herald, both in the East and in the West, he obtained the noble renown due to his faith; and having preached righteousness to the whole world, and having come to the extremity of the West, and having borne witness before rulers, he departed at length out of the world, and went to the holy place, having become the greatest example of patience."

Clement seems to be claiming that Paul achieved his goal in going to Spain ("the extremity of the West") [Romans 15.24,28], before having been martyred. This would seem consistent with Paul's desires within Scripture, that the Holy Spirit enabled him to achieve each missionary goal he set out to do. In fact, the early Church quite widely appeared to believe that Paul went to Spain.

Muratorian Fragment:
"... as well as the departure of Paul from the city [of Rome] when he journeyed to Spain."

Chrysostom, Second Timothy, Homily 10:
"For after he had been in Rome, he returned to Spain, but whether he came thence again into these parts, we know not."

Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerusalem Catecheses, Lecture 17.26:
" ... one, who from Jerusalem, and even unto Illyricum, fully preached the Gospel, and instructed even imperial Rome, and carried the earnestness of his preaching as far as Spain, undergoing conflicts innumerable, and performing signs and wonders."

So while none of us can be certain, Paul was possibly released at Rome just after the events which Acts 28 mentions (being released seemed the most likely outcome anyway), and possibly did indeed later travel to "the extremity of the West." But later he was indeed sent to Rome where he was executed. Against this, Acts 28 does state that he was in Rome for two years and this would seem to eat up a lot of the time he had available. We know he was martyred at Rome circa AD 65-68.

Much Christian tradition has Paul being beheaded in Rome around the mid 60s A.D. during the reign of Nero. Several Bible dictionaries and some commentaries can give us details on the traditions surrounding Paul's death. The Great Persecution administered by the emperor Nero (who would shortly die himself), was raised against the Christians about A.D. 65, under pretence that they had set Rome on fire, both the Apostles Paul and Peter died at this time, the latter being crucified with his head downward; the former being beheaded, in A.D. 65-68, and buried in the Via Ostiensis (as a Roman citizen, Paul could not be crucified).

Looking at the dating of Acts, it might appear that Paul had another 18-24 months during which he could indeed have travelled to Spain (and possibly even beyond), assuming he was released when first sent to Rome. But we must remember that Acts 28:30 states that Paul was in Rome for a full two years - would there have been sufficient time for him to have travelled so widely after being released? One must say that it is somewhat debatable! Yet we cannot ignore the beliefs of the early church who were obviously closer to these events than you and I.

So, why does Luke not mention any further travels of Paul? Well we have to realise that Acts was never intended as a comprehensive record of what all the Apostles were doing at all times, in fact only Paul and Peter are even mentioned, nothing is said about the work of John, Thomas or any of the others. If part of the reason that Luke compiled Acts was as a record of the trustworthy behaviour of Paul to be presented at Rome, that is another reason that the book finishes quite suddenly. However, if he was soon executed, it could be that Luke felt that he had already stated quite enough about his work.

The Book of Acts, while written by the pen of Luke, was certainly inspired by the Holy Spirit. It gives us some truly inspiring 'chunks' of what the Apostles were doing and where they were going back in the first century AD, although Peter and Paul are unquestionably the chief focus.

2. Why does Acts end so suddenly? Couldn't Luke have said a little more?

I have probably already partly answered this. We just do not know, but Luke's chief interest could have been a record of the activities of Paul to be presented at Rome to show that he was a man of impeccable character. There again, there could be things about the working of the early church which our Lord does not want to reveal at the present time.

The comment has often been made that there is no proper, formal ending to the Book of Acts because the story goes on. You and I today carry on the work of the Apostles who were "sent forth" to preach Jesus and His Gospel, that is not to say, of course, that you and I have the office of 'Apostle' - quite obviously not - but that the business of disseminating the Gospel goes on and that book cannot close during this age of the Church. I think that is a very good comment.
Robin A. Brace. March 5th, 2012.