The Law in Luke-Acts, Part 2: The Mission to the Gentiles

The Mission to the Gentiles

In this part (cf. the earlier Pt 1), I will explore the Law in the book of Acts in terms of the early Christian Mission to the Gentiles, as presented in chapters 10-14, along with a specific discussion of the so-called “Jerusalem Council” in chapter 15.

The Early Mission into the Gentile World

This will be treated, rather briefly, under several headings:

    • Missionary Themes and Motifs in the early chapters
    • Conflict with Judaism
    • The Cornelius episode in Acts 10-11
    • The (first) Missionary Journey of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13-14)

Missionary Themes and Motifs (in Acts 1-9)

Acts 1:8—Jesus’ final instruction to his disciples (according to the narrative of Luke-Acts) emphasizes the worldwide character (i.e. into all the Greco-Roman world) of the eventual Christian mission; it fairly well serves as a summary of book of Acts itself:

“and you will receive power of the holy Spirit coming upon you, and you will be my witnesses—in Yerushalaim and [in] all Yehudah and Shomrôn, and until the end(s) of the earth

Cf. also the declaration in Luke 24:47 that the Gospel (repentence and forgivness of sins) “should be proclaimed in his [i.e. Jesus’] name unto all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem”.

Acts 1:15-26ff—As I have argued previously, the reconstitution of the Twelve, and the united presence of the believers together in one place in Jerusalem (2:1ff), are symbolic of the (end-time) restoration of Israel—an important theme in the early chapters of Acts. This idea of the (post-exilic) restoration of the twelve tribes, gathered from among the nations, was typically described in eschatological language, both in the Old Testament Prophets and subsequent Jewish tradition; often this involved, in some manner, the inclusion of Gentiles—see especially in the book of Isaiah (Deutero-Trito Isa 45:22; 49:5-6; 56:6-8; 60:3-7; 66:18-19ff), and cf. also Mic 4:1-2 (Isa 2:2-3); Zech 2:11; 8:20-23; Tobit 14:6.

Acts 2:4ff—There are echoes of the ancient Babel tradition (confusion of tongues) in the Pentecost narrative (the confusion created by the disciples speaking in tongues), a point I have demonstrated as well in prior studies. The hearing of the Word of God in the languages of the nations also reflects Jewish traditions surrounding the Sinai revelation (trad. set at Pentecost, cf. Exod 19:1). The reversal of the division of language (representing fundamental division of the nations), is also an eschatological motif (e.g. Zeph 3:9) which admirably serves the theme of the mission to the Gentiles in Acts.

Acts 2:5-11—The list of nations (set in the mouth of the crowd, as a literary/dramatic device) covers much of the territory of the Roman empire and its environs (i.e. the known world at the time). Even though these are Jews dwelling or residing in Jerusalem, they still represent the nations. The symbolism is two-fold: (1) the Jews returning to Jerusalem/Judah from the nations, and (2) the nations coming to Jerusalem to hear the word of God—both are important eschatological themes (see above) and foreshadow the mission into the Gentile world. For additional references to the universality of the Christian mission in Peter’s subsequent sermon-speeches, see Acts 2:21, 39; 3:25; 4:12.

Acts 6:1-6—This brief traditional narrative (which sets the stage for the story of Stephen in 6:8-8:1) indicates the influence of “Hellenists” (Jewish believers who exclusively, or primarily, speak and read Greek) in the early congregation. Some of these believers may have come from the Diaspora (2:5-11, 14, 41; cf. 6:9ff), that is from among the nations; all of the Seven (6:5-6) have Greek names, and at least one (Nikolaos) is described as a proselyte (Gentile convert to Judaism). This socio-religious dynamic may have contributed to the opposition to Stephen, and the charges against him (6:11-14). The ‘anti-Temple’ elements in his speech (in 7:35-50, cf. below) especially seem to point toward the wider Gentile mission—note the similarity of language in Paul’s speech at Athens (17:22-29). Following Stephen’s execution, the onset of persecution causes the believers to be scattered (a new Dispersion) out of Judea (8:4ff; 11:19) and into the Gentile world.

Acts 8:26ff—It is not clear whether the Ethiopian official (‘eunuch’) is a Diaspora Jew, a proselyte, or simply an interested Gentile (a ‘God-fearer’). The ambiguity may be intentional; at any rate, he holds a place (in the narrative framework) between the Diaspora Jews of 2:5-11 and the Gentile God-fearer Cornelius (chs. 10-11), and, as such, his encounter with Philip is set at the threshold of the mission to the Gentiles.

Acts 9:15—The visionary words (of Jesus) to Paul specifically declare that he “is to take up (and carry) my name in the eyes of (the) nations…”, directly emphasizing (for the first time in Acts) a mission to the Gentiles.

Conflict with Judaism

Issues related to the Law (Torah) in Acts occur within the framework of these two historical and narrative themes: (1) the mission to the Gentiles, and (2) early Christian conflicts with Judaism. Interestingly, for the most part, the conflicts with Judaism are not specifically tied to the Gentile mission.

Appearances before the Sanhedrin—There are three episodes where believers are taken into custody and brought before the Jewish council (“Sanhedrin”) in Jerusalem, in Acts 4:1-22; 5:17-41; and 6:8-8:1. There is a similar narrative arc to each of these episodes, increasing in severity, leading ultimately to the mob-execution of Stephen. The reasons indicated for the believers being taken into custody are as follows:

    • The priests and Sadducees were worried/troubled because the believers were proclaiming resurrection from the dead in Jesus (4:1-2)
    • The High priest, and those with him (identified as Sadducees), were “filled up with hot (zeal/jealousy)”, presumably because of the popular effect and success of the early Christian preaching (5:17)
    • Hellenist Jews who disputed with Stephen secretly gathered supporters and stirred up the crowd against him with (slanderous) claims (6:11); this leads to an action by the Council, with charges (apparently brought by false witnesses), 6:12-14.

The Sanhedrin action is clearest in the case of Stephen, with a ‘trial’ setting that has a number of definite similarities with the ‘trial’ of Jesus. The charges are related to those against Jesus as well (cf. 6:14; Mark 14:58 par), but they also look forward to the claims brought against Paul at his arrest in Jerusalem (21:28). With regard to Stephen and Paul, the claim is that they speak against the Law and the Temple. There is no indication that Stephen spoke against the Law, but there are anti-Temple sentiments in his speech (7:35-50) (on this, see my discussion in the series on the Speeches of Acts). In the book of Acts, Paul says nothing opposing the Law or the Temple (the closest we find is in 13:39); in fact, the author takes care in the narrative to indicate that this is not true of Paul (cf. 21:20-24ff). Elsewhere, in Galatians (and parts of Romans), Paul’s line of argument certainly could be (and doubtless was) understood by many Jews (and Jewish Christians) as being “against the Law”.

Opposition to Paul’s Mission Work—This is described already in chapter 9, following his conversion, in response to his early preaching in Damascus and Jerusalem (9:22-25, 29-30). During the story of his missionary journeys in Acts, the Jewish opposition is a (stereo)typical element in the narrative, with little attempt to flesh it out in detail; a definite pattern emerges, which is doubtless both historical and literary:

Even though Jewish opposition gradually leads to Paul focusing more on outreach to Gentiles, this mission does not appear to be the basis of the opposition. As in 5:17, the reason typically given is jealousy (13:45; 17:5), apparently due to the success of his preaching with other Jews and Gentile proselytes/God-fearers (in the synagogue setting). However, there certainly were substantive religious objections as well, as we see described (in seminal form) in 9:22-23:

“but Saul [Paul] was much more empowered and threw together the Jews (in confusion) [i.e. confounded them]…bringing together (points to show) that this (one) [i.e. Jesus] is the Anointed.
And as [i.e. after] sufficient days were filled up, the Jews consulted/decided together to take him away [i.e. to kill him]…”

See also the charge brought against him in Corinth (18:12), which is similar in tone and substance (even if presented maliciously) in 21:28. Thus we find three sources of opposition:

    • Jealousy with regard to the success of Paul’s mission
    • Paul’s (effective) proclamation and demonstration that Jesus is the Anointed One (“Messiah”)
    • The view, whether or not accurate to any extent, that Paul teaches against the Law

The last of these relates more directly to the Gentile mission, as we see also in the core narratives of chapters 10-11 and 15; in these episodes, however, as in Galatians, the opposition comes from Jewish Christians.

The Cornelius Episode (Acts 10-11)

I have already discussed this in detail as part of the series on the Speeches of Acts; here I will only highlight the most salient points:

    • Cornelius is identified as a devout “God-fearer”—i.e. a Gentile who follows Jewish belief, ethics and tradition (at least in part), is sympathetic and supportive of Judaism, faithful in prayer and charitable giving, etc. This is important in that it sets the initial mission to the Gentiles within a Jewish context. Cf. also the central episode of 13:13-52.
    • Central to the narrative of chapter 10 is Peter’s vision (vv. 9-16), which effectively abolishes the dietary restrictions involving clean and unclean animals (cf. Lev 11; Deut 14:4-20). When Peter objects to the divine command to slay and eat from both clean and unclean animals (vv. 13-14), the heavenly voice declares bluntly: “that which God (has) made clean you must not treat as common” (v. 15). The importance of this scene (and the difficulty surrounding it) is indicated by the fact that Peter narrates it a second time in chapter 11:5-11.
    • There are two levels of meaning to Peter’s vision: (1) literal, abolishing the dietary restriction (involving clean and unclean animals), and (2) symbolic, abolishing the ethno-religious distinction between Jew and Gentile. It is the latter interpretation that is in view in 10:28; however, it is hard to see how the plain sense of verse 15 can be ignored or denied—if valid, then it is the first instance in Acts where regulations from the Torah are abolished (or re-interpreted) in a Christian context. While the consequences of this view are not dealt with specifically in Acts, they seem to underlie the episode in Galatians 2:11-14, and would clearly be a practical concern in Jewish-Gentile relations in the mission field.
    • Peter accepts the invitation and visits Cornelius, entering his house, despite the basic religious objection voiced in 10:28: “it is not proper/lawful [i.e. against custom] (for) a Jewish man to join (with) or come toward another tribe/clan [i.e. race/nation]”—note the same basic objection, stated in more certain terms in 11:3 (“you went in toward men having foreskin [i.e. uncircumcised] and ate with them”).
    • The objection (11:3), from Jewish believers in Jerusalem, with regard to Peter’s action emphasizes two points: (a) circumcision and (b) Jews eating with Gentiles, which are central to the two main portions of chapter 15 respectively (cf. below).
    • Acceptance of Gentiles believers is confirmed by the miraculous work of God (10:44-46; 11:15-16); the question is whether Jewish believers would accept this (indicated by formal admission to baptism), 10:47-48; 11:17.
    • The narrative concludes with a fundamental acceptance that God has given to Gentiles salvation (“repentance unto [eternal] life”), 11:18.

The (first) Missionary Journey of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13-14)

The missionary work of Paul and Barnabas was centered primarily within the Synagogue setting, preaching to Jews and Gentile proselytes or ‘God-fearers’ (13:5, 14ff, 44; 14:1); see especially the central sermon by Paul at Pisidian Antioch (13:13-52), discussed as part of the series on the Speeches of Acts. Note the following important details of the sermon:

    • The addresses in vv. 16, 26, 38 unite Jews and (Gentile) God-fearers under the label “brothers”
    • The promise to the Fathers (of Israel) is fulfilled to their children (Jews and Gentiles both) in Christ (v. 32-33)
    • Salvation and forgiveness are connected with freedom, and contrasted with the Law of Moses (vv. 38-39) (a theme developed more substantially by Paul in Galatians and Romans)
    • Paul emphasizes his (and Barnabas’) role as chosen missionaries to the Gentiles (vv. 46-48); note, in particular, the citation of Isaiah 49:6 in v. 47 (cf. also Luke 2:32).

This episode represents a shift in focus—both historically (of Paul’s) mission, and in terms of the narrative of Acts—toward the Gentiles. Even though Paul would continue to preach in the Synagogues, he and his co-workers would increasingly address Gentiles outside of a Jewish context. This is clearly narrated (for the first time) in 14:8-18 (cf. also 17:17b ff).

The “Jerusalem Council” of Acts 15

Many critical questions and difficulties surround the narrative of Acts 15:1-35 (the so-called “Jerusalem Council”), which I am addressing (at least in part) in a supplemental article. Here, I wish to focus on the main issues involved, both from the standpoint of historical tradition, and the way this tradition has been understood and shaped within the narrative framework by the author of Acts (trad. Luke). The narrative can be divided into two main portions, which I treat here under the following headings:

    • What is not required of Gentile converts (15:1-21)
    • What is required of Gentile converts (15:22-35)

What is not required of Gentile converts (15:1-21)

The first half of the narrative can be outlined as follows:

    • Narrative Introduction (vv. 1-5), which establishes the conflict and the primary issue involved
    • Speeches of Peter (vv. 6-11) and James (vv. 13-21), with a joining transition in verse 12—the speeches of these leading apostles provide an authoritative determination of the issue.

Both of these sections have been analyzed in considerable detail in the series on the Speeches of Acts. The narrative introduction is framed by statements in vv. 1 and 5 which set the conflict:

V. 1: Believers (“certain [ones]”) from Judea (to those in Antioch): “If you are not circumcised in the custom/practice of Moses, you are not able to be saved”
Western MSS add “and walk in the custom/practice of Moses”
V. 5: Certain believers from the Pharisees (to the rest of the [Jewish] believers in Jerusalem): “It is necessary to circumcise them [i.e. Gentile converts] and to give along the message (that they are) to keep the Law of Moses

Clearly observance of the (entire) Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah) was at issue, but the main concern involved circumcision (also the principal question in Galatians). Interestingly, there is no record of the considerable debate, dispute and other discussion which must have taken place (summarized generally in vv. 6-7a, 12); rather, space is devoted entirely to the (positive) speeches of Peter and James:

  • Peter’s speech—Interpretation of recent events (conversion of Cornelius) as the work of God, confirmed by the miraculous gift of the Spirit, with no distinction between Jew and Gentile (vv. 7-9)
    • Determination: Observing the Law is referred to as a “yoke” which even Jews are not able to bear (thus it should not be forced upon Gentiles); rather we trust/believe that we all (Jew and Gentile alike) are saved by the favor/Grace of the Lord Jesus (v. 10-11) (there is a curious ‘Pauline’ ring to this which many commentators have noted)
  • James’ speech—Interpretation of Scripture (Amos 9:11-12), with its message of the (eschatological and ‘Messianic’) restoration of Israel (see above), applied to the Christian mission to the Gentiles (vv. 13-18)
    • Determination: His (authoritative) judgment is that Jewish believers should not “crowd in alongside” the Gentile converts, i.e. should not pressure or require them to observe the Law (v. 19)

What is required of Gentile converts (vv. 22-35)

The second half of the narrative follows an outline parallel to the first half:

    • Narrative Introduction (vv. 1-5)
      • Speeches of Peter and James (vv. 6-21)
      • The Letter (from the Council) (vv. 22-29)
    • Narrative Conclusion (vv. 30-35)

Just as verses 1 and 5 frame the conflict in the Introduction, so verses 30 and 35 frame the resolution (with its setting in Antioch). The believers rejoice at the letter (v. 31), they are strengthened and encouraged (v. 32), and peace is restored (v. 33). There are interesting details in the letter itself (discussed in the supplemental article), but the basic thrust of it follows James’ own determination in verses 19-21, and indeed, the narrative as a whole:

    • Verse 24—in the narrative context this would refer to verse 1-2, though many critical scholars hold that it refers to a separate (later) conflict (such as in Gal 2:12ff).
    • Verses 25-27 repeat what is narrated in v. 22; though it is just as likely that v. 22 derives from the letter.
    • Verse 28 follows the judgment of Peter and James in vv. 10, 19.
    • Verse 29 follows James’ statement in vv. 20-21.

As it is verses 20-21, stating what is required for Gentiles to observe, relating to the Law (Torah) and Jewish religious custom, which provide the greatest interpretive difficulty for us today—and since they are vital to a proper understanding of the early Christian view of the Law (as recorded in Acts)—I am devoting a separate note specifically to discuss them.

The Law in Luke-Acts, Part 1: The Temple and Torah Observance

The question of the Old Testament Law (Torah) in the Gospel of Luke has already been addressed in the series “Jesus and the Law”; in this article I will be looking at the overall treatment of the subject by the author of Luke-Acts (traditionally Luke, the physician and companion of Paul). The article will be divided into two parts:

    1. The Temple and Torah observance
    2. The early Mission to the Gentiles, with special emphasis on the “Jerusalem Council” in Acts 15

The Temple and Torah Observance

This part will be further divided into two main sections:

    • The Temple setting and theme in Luke-Acts
    • Torah observance by the Apostles and other disciples in Acts

The Temple setting and theme in Luke-Acts

This can be examined according to three aspects—narrative, theological, and apologetic—which are interconnected and impossible to separate out entirely; these will be discussed at the appropriate points below. To begin, with one may isolate several main narrative sections in Luke-Acts where the Temple setting and theme is central:

    • The Infancy Narratives (Lk 1-2)
    • The Passion Narrative (Lk 19:28 through chapter 23)
    • The Sanhedrin “trial” scenes in Acts 3-7
    • The Arrest of Paul (Acts 21-22)

The Infancy Narratives (Lk 1-2)

The Temple in Jerusalem provides the setting for three episodes in the Lukan Infancy narratives:

The Angelic annunciation to Zechariah (Lk 1:5-23)—The conception/birth of John the Baptist is announced by the heavenly Messenger Gabriel to John’s father Zechariah, during his priestly duty in the Temple sanctuary (vv. 8-10, 21ff). Gabriel appears to Zechariah standing on the right side of the altar (of incense).

The “Presentation” of Jesus at the Temple (Lk 2:22-38)—Two different rituals are combined in the narrative (vv. 22-24)—the sacrifice for purification after childbirth, and the ‘redemption’ of the firstborn male child—the latter being described in terms of Jesus being presented/dedicated to God in the Temple. This setting also serves as the dramatic stage for the encounters with Simeon (vv. 25-35) and Anna (vv. 36-38).

The Boy Jesus in the Temple (Lk 2:41-51)—This famous and dramatic narrative is set in the Temple, following the observance of Passover in Jerusalem (v. 41). The twelve-year old Jesus remains behind—when his parents find him again, he is in the Temple precincts, sitting (as a pupil) with the teachers (of the Law). The exchange between Jesus and his parents in vv. 48-49 is the climax of the episode.

Besides providing a dramatic narrative setting for these episodes, the Temple serves a theological and apologetic purpose for the author (and/or his traditional source[s]). An important point of emphasis is the religious devotion and faithfulness of Zechariah/Elizabeth (1:6) and Joseph/Mary (2:21, 22-24, 27, 39, 41), which includes the prescribed ritual activities (priestly duty, sacrificial offering, observance of Passover) in the Temple. This theme runs through the infancy narrative, culminating in Jesus’ declaration to his parents in verse 49: “…did you not know that it is necessary for me to be in/among the (thing)s of my Father?” Jesus stands in the midst of the Old Testament religious forms and fulfills the righteousness of the Torah and Temple. From an early Christian perspective, he is connected to the older Israelite/Jewish religious world, to venerable figures such as Zechariah/Elizabeth or Simeon/Anna (see esp. Lk 2:25ff, 37-38). This also reflects a positive view of the Temple, which we see throughout Luke (and Acts), more so than in the other Gospels.

The Passion Narrative

There are three traditional elements in the Passion narrative(s) of the Gospels involving the Temple: (1) the symbolic “cleansing” of the Temple by Jesus, (2) the Temple as a setting for Jesus’ teaching during the days before his death, and (3) the tearing of the Temple veil at Jesus’ death. With regard to the Lukan handling of these details, the following should be noted:

    • The Temple “cleansing” scene is greatly abbreviated (Lk 19:45-46), compared with the account in Mark
    • Luke makes no mention of the “Temple saying” during the ‘trial’ of Jesus (Mk 14:58, Matt 26:60-61, presented as false witness, but cf. Jn 2:19); however, he presumably was aware of the tradition (cf. Acts 6:14), so the omission here is likely intentional
    • Special emphasis is given to Jesus’ presence teaching in the Temple (Lk 19:47; 20:1, 21:5, 37)
    • In Lk 23:45 the Temple veil is torn prior to Jesus’ actual death (cp. Mk 15:38; Matt 27:51)

The Sanhedrin “Trial” scenes in Acts 3-7

The Temple setting and theme is prominent in three different narrative episodes in the early chapters of Acts:

  • Acts 3:1-4:31—a narrative arc including: (a) the healing of a crippled beggar by Peter and John in the Temple precincts (3:1-10), (b) a sermon-speech by Peter (3:11-26), (c) the arrest of Peter and John and their appearance before the Sanhedrin (4:1-22), including a second speech by Peter (vv. 8-12)
  • Acts 5:12-42—a similar narrative arc, involving: (a) additional healing miracles, including mention of the disciples again in the Temple precincts (vv. 12-16), (b) a second arrest of Peter and others, with their miraculous release and instruction (by the Angel) to go and preach in the Temple (vv. 17-21a); (c) search for the disciples, who are found teaching in the Temple (vv. 21b-26); (d) a second appearance before the Sanhedrin (vv. 27-42), with twin speeches by Peter (vv. 29-32) and Gamaliel (vv. 35-39)
  • Acts 6:8-8:1a—a narrative arc involving the arrest (6:8-15) and death (7:54-8:1a) of Stephen, in between which is the speech (set before the Sanhedrin) in 7:1-53; the Temple plays a key role in both the charges against Stephen (6:11-14) and the climactic sections of his speech (7:35-53)

The Arrest of Paul (Acts 21-22)

During Paul’s final visit to Jerusalem, he took part in a purification ritual in the Temple (21:23-26), where he was recognized and seized by the hostile crowd (vv. 27-30) and removed from the Temple precincts, being taken into custody by Roman authorities. This sets the stage for the speech by Paul in 22:1-21.

The Significance of the Temple setting and theme

This can be summarized under two basic thematic headings related to early Christianity and Judaism—continuity and conflict:

1. Early Christianity as a continuation of Israelite/Jewish religion (centered on the Temple)
  • This an important theme in the Infancy narratives (cf. above)—the parents of John the Baptist and Jesus are shown as righteous (in the traditional Jewish sense), faithfully observing the commands and ordinances of the Law, including participation in the prescribed Temple ritual. Jesus and his parents encounter similar examples of Israelite/Jewish piety in the figures of Simeon and Anna who regularly frequent the Temple. It is following the pilgrimage festival of Passover in Jerusalem, that Jesus stays behind in the Temple.
  • The theme of teaching in the Temple precincts, extending from Jesus (Lk 2:46; 19:47; 20:1; 21:37; 22:53) to the apostles (Acts 3:12; 4:2; 5:20-21, 25, 28, 42).
  • After the Resurrection/Ascension of Jesus, the early believers continue to frequent the Temple (Lk 24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:42).
  • Paul, the ‘apostle to the Gentiles’ (in Acts 13-20), willingly takes part (along with observant Jewish Christians) in a Temple ritual (Acts 21:23-26).
2. The Temple as a source and symbol of conflict between early Christianity and Judaism
  • The Temple action (“cleansing”) and saying by Jesus, though minimized in the Lukan narrative (cf. above), clearly serve as a point of conflict and controversy in the early Church. The substance of the charge (that Jesus would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days) in Mk 14:58 par is retained in the accusation against Stephen (Acts 6:14, below).
  • The Temple setting is central to the twin narratives (in Acts 3-5), where Peter and the apostles are arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin; it serves to heighten the sense of conflict (especially in 5:20-25ff).
  • The accusations and charges against Stephen (Acts 6:11-14) are:
    • “we heard him speaking abusive/slanderous words unto [i.e. against] Moses and God” (v. 11)
    • “this man does not cease speaking words against [this] holy Place and the Law” (v. 13)
    • “we have heard him say that Jesus the Nazarean will loose down [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this place and make different [i.e. change/alter] the customs which Moses gave along to us” (v. 14)
      The last two are said to have been made by “false witnesses”, and are clearly related to the charge made against Jesus at his ‘trial’ (Mk 14:58 par).
  • The speech of Stephen remarkably draws a connection between the Temple and idolatry (the episode of the Golden Calf, etc) in 7:39-43ff, and questions the value and purpose of the Temple itself (especially with the citation of Isa 66:1-2) in vv. 44-50. The improper approach to God (and His “dwelling”) is further wrapped up in the counter-charge that the Jewish leaders (i.e. the Sanhedrin, implied) are the ones who have not kept the Law (v. 53). I have discussed this at length in the series on the Speeches of Acts.
  • Paul’s arrest in Acts 21-22 (above) is similarly related to accusations against him, that he speaks against the Jewish Law and religious customs (21:20-21). While it is hard to say whether such claims have any basis with regard to Stephen, they could more plausibly be made against Paul, according to his argument in Galatians (and parts of Romans). However, the author of Acts, in presenting the episode of chaps. 21-22, takes pains to emphasize that this is not true of Paul. James’ recommendation for Paul to participate in the purification ritual is specifically made so that other Jews (and Jewish Christians) will know that “(the things) sounded down about you are nothing [i.e. are not true], but (rather) you walk in line and (your)self (are) keeping the Law” (v. 24). When Paul is recognized by the crowd, the accusation is stated: “this is the man teaching everyone everywhere against the Law and this Place” (note the similarity to 6:13). All of this takes place in the setting of the Temple precincts.

Torah observance by the Apostles and other Disciples in Acts

The episode in Acts 21 (discussed above) brings out more clearly the fundamental issue of whether, or to what extent, the early Christians faithfully observed the commands and ordinances of the Law (Torah). Though the evidence is relatively slight, the book of Acts suggests that the early believers in Jerusalem (Jewish Christians) were observant. The following passages may be noted:

    • The Apostles and early Christians continued to frequent the Temple (Lk 24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:42); though they are not depicted especially participating in the Temple ritual, it is likely that they did so as well (cf. Acts 3:1; 21:23-26).
    • The charge that Stephen speaks against the Law (Acts 6:13) is presented as false testimony; there is no clear evidence that he ever did such, though there does appear to be an anti-Temple theme in his sermon-speech (cf. Acts 7:35-53).
    • Peter’s objection to the command in the vision of Acts 10:9-16 suggests that he faithfully observed the dietary regulations in the Torah; on this, see below.
    • The conflict leading to the “Jerusalem Council” in Acts 15 clearly shows that many, if not most, Jewish Christians were strictly observant, and some wished that Torah observance be required of Gentile converts as well (v. 1, 5); cf. also 11:1-3ff. This will be discussed in more detail in the next part of this series.
    • The circumcision of Timothy (Acts 17:3), in apparent contrast with Gal 2:3-5 (and the argument throughout Galatians, etc).
    • James, the leading figure of the Jerusalem Church, is depicted as a staunch supporter of the Torah, both in Acts 21:17-26 and (to a lesser extent) in 15:12-29. Other Jewish believers in Jerusalem are described as “zealous for the Law” (21:20; cf. also 22:12) and as those who would regularly take part in the required Temple ritual (vv. 23-24). James is concerned to quash any rumors that Paul opposed the Law and Jewish religious custom (vv. 21ff), and so recommends that Paul participate in the ritual.
    • In addition to Paul’s participation in the ritual of Acts 21:23-26, he makes several direct statements in his subsequent defense speeches regarding his support and observance of the Law—cf. Acts 22:3, 17; 24:11-14, 17; 25:8. The question of Paul’s observance of the Torah, as well as the portrait of Paul in Acts compared with the Epistles, will be addressed later in this series.

A treatment of the mission to the Gentiles and the “Jerusalem Council” will come in the second part of this article; here, however, it is necessary to discuss briefly Peter’s vision in Acts 10:9-16 (cf. also 11:5-10).

Peter’s Vision (Acts 10:6-16; 11:5-10)

The vision involved the descent of a vessel filled with all kinds of animals—clean and unclean (cf. the dietary regulations in Lev 11:1-47; Deut 14:3-20). A voice commanded Peter to “stand up… slay (the animals) and eat” (v. 13), the implication being that he should eat the unclean animals as well. To this Peter objects saying, “not so, Lord, (in) that I have not ever eaten any (thing) common and unclean” (v. 14). In response, the (heavenly) voice declares: “(that) which God has cleansed you must not consider common” (v. 15). It is a striking and powerful scene, but how is it to be understood? Is it simply about food (dietary regulations), or is it symbolic—or both?

Some commentators have tried to suggest that the vision does not abolish the dietary laws, but is simply meant as an example that the Gentiles should be accepted into the Church. I find this most unlikely, even though it is the primary interpretation given in 11:18. While the symbolism regarding acceptance of the Gentiles is certainly correct (see vv. 28b, 35, 45 and 11:1ff), the argument related to the dietary laws themselves seems abundantly clear and specific. It may be helpful to distinguish between the meaning of the vision itself (as a possible independent historical tradition) and the role it plays in Acts 10-11. Taken at face value, the vision appears to be about food and the dietary restrictions of the Torah regarding “clean and unclean” animals; if so, then declaration in verse 15 means that God has declared all animals clean and that they may be eaten without restriction. This would effectively abolish the dietary laws in Lev 11, etc.; however, it must be admitted that the specific logical consequences of the vision do not play any role further in Acts, nor in the rest of the New Testament. Apart from the behavior of Peter narrated in Gal 2:12, it is hard to find evidence of any apostolic sanction for Jewish Christians to disregard the dietary regulations. Upon hearing Peter’s account of the vision (and subsequent events), the Jewish believers accept that Gentiles have come to salvation, but make no comment about the implications related to clean and unclean food. This certainly accords with the purpose of Acts—the emphasis is on the inclusion of the Gentiles, not a commentary on the Torah regulations per se.

The force of the vision itself may be appreciated by a closer examination of the actual language and symbolism used; first, there appears to be a two-fold aspect to the symbolism of the vision, marked by the adjective pa=$ (“all”):

    • “All [pa/nta] kinds of animals” (v. 12)—this indicates a removal of the clean/unclean distinction in the dietary laws; note Peter’s objection (“I have never eaten anything [pa=n] common or unclean”).
    • “All parts of the earth”—as symbolized by the vessel as a “great sheet” with four corners set down upon the earth (v. 11); this indicates the universality of the Christian mission (to the Gentiles), cf. Lk 24:47; Acts 1:8; 2:5ff; 9:15.

In addition, note the careful structure of Peter’s objection (following the dietary laws) and the divine response (vv. 14-15):

    • Not anything common [koino/$]
      • Not anything unclean [a)ka/qarto$]
      • God has cleansed [kaqari/zw]
    • Do not call/consider common [koino/w]

It is a clear, symmetric argument, which certainly appears to undo or abolish the dietary regulations in the Torah. If the vision originally (at the historical-traditional level) addressed the food laws specifically, the author of Acts has deftly incorporated it into the Cornelius narrative of chapters 10-11. This is indicated by the presence of several details—for example, the three-fold vision (10:16) coincides with the appearance of three men (vv. 17-19); similarly, just as the visionary scene “steps down” from heaven to meet Peter (v. 11), so Peter “steps down” (vv. 20-21) to meet his visitors (the same verb katabai/nw is used). This complex thematic interweaving is appropriate, for the question of the dietary laws is ultimately interwoven with the early Christian mission to the Gentiles, as is made abundantly clear in the episode at Antioch narrated in Galatians 2 (cf. the recent notes on Gal 2:11-21). For Jewish-Christian missionaries, to continue observing the dietary restrictions of the Torah meant that Gentiles would effectively be required to do the same if they wished to enjoy proper table fellowship with their fellow (Jewish) believers. Paul saw the serious problem this created, both at the practical and deeper theological levels.

The next part of this article will deal specifically with the mission to the Gentiles and the central episode of the “Jerusalem Council” in Acts 15.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 3

Psalm 3

This is the first entry in the Psalter (following the customary order) which begins with a superscription, which for the Psalms typically contain an indication of subject/author and a musical instruction. According to the Hebrew verse numbering, the superscription counts as the first verse, while in most English versions it is regarded as part of the verse. In such instances, I will be utilizing the Hebrew numbering, but with the English numbering in parentheses.

Verse 1

The superscription marks this work as romz+m! (mizmôr) which simply means a musical composition, often specifically one that is sung. It is also said to be dw]d*l= (l®d¹wid), which would be “(belonging) to David”, either in the sense of being written/composed by him or, that he is considered to be the subject of the work. This setting of the song (according to the superscription) is David’s flight during the rebellion by his son Absalom (cf. 2 Samuel 15-18). The historical reliability of these traditional notices is disputed by commentators; generally, it does seem that they reflect attempts to place a particular Psalm into the context of a specific Scriptural narrative, one which fits the overall mood and tone of the work. Critical scholars regard the superscriptions as traditional, but quite secondary to the Psalms themselves; even among traditional-conservative commentators, few would treat the superscriptions as part of the original (inspired) text.

Verses 2-3 (ET 1b-2)

The tone of lament, which, of course, would suit the situation of David indicated in the superscription, comes through clearly in the opening lines, in which the root bbr (“to be many”) appears three times. This sets the lone Psalmist against his “many” opponents and enemies; whether this reflects an historical reality or poetic hyperbole is impossible to say. In any case, it is to God (YHWH) that the Psalmist raises his lament to ask for deliverance:

“YHWH, how many they are [WBr^], the (one)s hostile to me,
(how) many [<yB!r^] (the one)s standing up against me,
(how) many [<yB!r^] (the one)s showing (hostility) to my soul!
—There (seems to be) no help for him with the Mightiest [i.e. God]!”

The sense of these lines is straightforward, with one notable exception which affects the specific meaning (and translation) of the passage. In the third line, we have the participle <yr!m=a), from the verb rm^a*, which is typically translated “say, speak”. Following this standard interpretation, the fourth line reflects what the “many” say to the Psalmist (to “his soul”), as a taunt: “There is no help for him with God!”. However, the original, fundamental meaning of the Semitic root rma had more to do with making something visible (“shine, show”), from which came the idea of making something known through speaking. Admittedly, this earlier meaning of rma is not attested much in the Hebrew of the Old Testament; however, poetry often preserves older/archaic usage, and that may be the case in a number of Psalms. Dahood (p. 16) cites examples where he feels rma has the meaning of “see, look (at)” rather than “say”; perhaps the most relevant example is from Ps 71:10, where rma is set parallel to rmv (“watch”) in a construction very close to that here in Ps 3:

“My enemies say/show [Wrm=a*] to me, and the (one)s watching my soul [yv!p=n~ yr@m=v)] take counsel as one [i.e. together]”

This suggests that, in these instances, rma may indeed have the sense of looking at someone (with hostile intent). I have tried to capture both possibilities by rendering the participle <yr!m=a) as “(one)s showing (hostility)”. According to this interpretation, the fourth line would not necessarily record the words of the “many”, but could simply reflect the apparent hopelessness of the situation.

Verses 4-5 (ET 3-4)

In these lines, the Psalmist’s hope is restored by reflecting on the character of YHWH—as a Ruler who has proven that he will protect and reward his loyal vassals. It begins with an address to YHWH (v. 4 [3], continuing from vv. 2-3 [1b-2]), then shifts to an objective declaration of His character:

“And (yet) you, YHWH, are (my) Protection (round) about me,
my Honorable [lit. Weighty] (One), and (the one) lifting my head (up) high.
(When) I should call out with my voice to YHWH,
(then) indeed he answers me from (the) mountain of his Holiness.
Selah

Verse 4 (3) utilizes three idioms related to the language of royalty and suzerain-vassal relations:

    • /g@m*, a noun derived from the root /ng (“surround, protect”); it is often translated “shield”, but is better rendered according to its basic meaning (“protection”), perhaps as an honorific attribute of the ruler (i.e. Protector, Defender)
    • dobK*, a noun derived from db^K*, fundamentally referring to something with weight, i.e. value, worth, etc. It refers to the honor (and honorable/noble character) of the ruler, including the authority he possesses to bestow honor on others (cf. Psalm 84:12 [11]). The specific epithet “(my) honorable (one)” as a Divine title, is found in Pss 4:3 [2]; 62:8 [7]; 66:2 (Dahood, p. 18).
    • yv!ar) <yr!m@ (“[the] one lifting/raising my head high”)—to “lift the head” or “lift the face” is an ancient Near Eastern idiom, referring to one in a position of authority who shows favor to a subordinate.

If the Psalmist affirms YHWH’s status as a trustworthy and honorable Ruler in verse 4, he publicly affirms His faithfulness again in v. 5. I would agree with commentators who take this as a conditional sentence, one which demonstrates YHWH’s faithfulness. When a person calls out to YHWH (as the Psalmist is doing), He will answer, responding to the request. We ought to read here the same Ruler-Vassal language of v. 4 and understand the condition as referring to the request of a loyal vassal (e.g. David, in the purported setting of the Psalm). Moreover, the wording “call out with my voice” is presumably meant to indicate the intensity of the situation—the earnestness of the Psalmist, as well as his desperation. The sacred-mountain locale of the Deity is common, especially in the Semitic world where the Creator God °El/Ilu was typically seen as dwelling on (or in) a great Mountain-Tent. The Canaanite sky/storm deity Haddu (i.e. “Baal”) also had a mountain dwelling. Typically, a specific mountain which came to be associated with the deity was based on actual geographic circumstances—but any mountain could fill this role, even a modest hill such as that of Zion/Jerusalem. The mountain was foremost the dwelling place of God (El/YHWH).

This is the first Psalm (in the standard Psalter) with the musical notation Selah (hl*s#). Both the etymology and technical meaning of this term remain uncertain; presumably in the Psalms it refers to some kind of musical refrain, either instrumental or choral.

Verses 6-7 (ET 5-6)

The assurance of the Psalmist in verse 5 [4] receives even greater expression in these lines, with the answer/response of YHWH cast in more personal terms, according to the needs of the Ruler’s loyal vassal (the Psalmist/David):

“(When) I should lie down and sleep, (then) I wake (again), for YHWH rests (his hand on) me.
I will not fear from the multitudes of people placed around against me.”

Verse 6 [5] is probably best read as another conditional sentence, on the pattern of v. 5 [4]; it shows that YHWH’s protection extends even to the times when his vassal is asleep. We should assume here a setting of sleeping/waking in the midst of being surrounded by enemies, a situation which is made clear again in the following line. The verb Em^s* (“lay/lean [on], hold, support”) here is a bit tricky to translate; probably the sense is twofold: (a) of God laying his hand down on the sleeping Psalmist (as protection); and (b) as support under and around him. The idea of full protection all around is implied; indeed, this is the reason why the Psalmist does not fear the enemies surrounding him. The noun hb*b*r= (“multitude”) is related to the same root bbr used in vv. 2-3 (cf. above). However, there is a separate roor bbr which means “shoot (arrows)”, and it is possible that here the expression <u* tobb=r!m@ means something like “(groups of) arrows of the people” which surround the Psalmist. We see this idiom elsewhere in Scripture, most notably in Job 16:13, but there may also be two occurrences in the Psalms. In Psalm 89:51 [50], we read:

“Remember, my Lord, the scorn of your servants,
I carry (with)in my chest the <yB!r^ of the peoples”

Here <yB!r^ as “arrows” (i.e. things shot at him) makes much more sense than “many/multitudes”. Also worth noting is Ps 18:44 [43]:

“You have brought me out (away) from the <yb!yr! of the people”

Here, in the Masoretic text, the noun in question appears to be derived from the root byr! (“strive, contend, dispute”), with the expression <u* yb@yr!m@ meaning something like “from the strife/disputes of the people”. However, again the reading “from the ‘arrows’ of the people”—i.e., the scorn/taunts as something “shot” like arrows by the people—would make equally good sense, and would only require a general repointing of the consonental text. Cf. Dahood, p. 19.

Verses 8-9 (ET 7-8)

Verse 8 [7] the Psalmist returns to the immediacy of his dire situation, calling out to YHWH to act on his behalf:

“Stand up, YHWH, save me, my Mighty (One) [i.e. God]!
That you (would) have struck all my enemies (on the) jaw,
(and would) have broken the teeth of (the) wicked (one)s!”

The verbs in the first line are imperative forms, urging YHWH to take action. The verbs in the next two lines are perfect forms, and are almost certainly to be understood as precative perfects—i.e. what the Psalmist would have God do as though it already has been accomplished. The request is made in graphic, almost gruesome terms—breaking the jaws of the enemies and shattering their teeth—symbolic of a humiliating defeat at YHWH’s hands. According to Israelite (royal) theology, even if the defeat occurs through military action, it is still seen as God’s own work on behalf of his people, and his loyal vassal the king (David). The closing line of the Psalm serves as a final refrain, calling on God (YHWH) to save his people:

“Salvation, O YHWH!—Your blessing be upon your people.”

The prefixed preposition (l) may serve as a vocative marker (hw`hyl^, “O YHWH”), and that is how I have translated it here; otherwise the phrase would mean “Salvation (belongs) to YHWH”. It seems more likely that here it is a general call to YHWH for salvation/deliverance. Actually the petition is two-fold:

    • bring salvation (to the Psalmist) in his time of need, and
    • bring blessing (hk*r*B=) to the people as a whole

This second line, especially, forms a doxology to the Psalm which is quite similar to that of Psalm 2 (cf. the previous study):

“(The) happiness of all (the one)s taking refuge in Him [i.e. in YHWH]”

The general pattern which this establishes between the first two Psalms (2 and 3) is instructive. In each instance, we have a poem/song which draws upon Israelite royal tradition and theology. The first (Psalm 2) is rooted in the tradition of the coronation/enthronement of the new king; the second (Psalm 3) purports to come from a setting in the life of David (as king). However, each utilizes royal language and imagery which expresses the idea of the king as the faithful vassal of YHWH, ruling under His favor and protection. By the time these Psalms took on definite written form, and certainly by the time the Psalter was put together, the royal traditions had been re-interpreted and applied to the Israelite/Judean people as a whole. Most likely this took place under the influence of Wisdom traditions, such as those expressed in the opening Psalm 1 (cf. the initial study). Long after the monarchy effectively ceased to exist, Israelite and Jews—collectively and individually—could identify with the Psalmist. All of the themes and motifs from the earlier royal theology take on new meaning—trust in YHWH, the favor and protection he provides, deliverance from surrounding enemies, etc.—these all now apply more directly to the people‘s relationship with God. We will see this dynamic repeated numerous times as we proceed through these studies.

Interestingly, despite the royal/Davidic setting, there is no real evidence that Psalm 3 was ever interpreted or applied in a Messianic sense; this differs markedly from Psalm 2, as we saw.

Also, for those interested, I made no mention above of the Dead Sea Scrolls for the simple reason that Psalm 3 is not preserved among the surviving manuscripts of the Psalter. This is unfortunate, as it may have elucidated one or two textual points discussed above.

July 5: Gal 2:21

This is the last of four daily notes on Galatians 2:15-21 (for the first three notes see #1, 2, 3). Today’s concluding note is on verse 21, which I have summarized as a concluding argument regarding justice/righteousness.

Galatians 2:21

The sentence in this verse is made up of two statements or clauses, the first by way of a bold declaration:

ou)k a)qetw= th\n xa/rin tou= qeou=
“I do not displace [i.e. set aside] the favor of God”

From a rhetorical standpoint, this a refutation (refutatio) by Paul of a charge (real or hypothetical). The verb a)qete/w, “unset, displace, set aside”, is often used in a legal context, i.e., of “setting aside” (invalidating, nullifying) an agreement; it can also be used in the more general sense of “disregard, deny, repudiate”, even to “act unfaithfully, be disloyal”, etc. For other occurrences of the verb, cf. Gal 3:15; 1 Cor 1:19; 1 Thess 4:8; 1 Tim 5:12. Here Paul probably has the legal sense in mind, related to the Israelite/Jewish covenant (agreement) with God. Paul’s Jewish (and Jewish Christian) opponents might well have accused him of annulling the Covenant by his particular view of the Old Testament Law, as expressed here in Galatians (on this, cf. the previous note). According to the basic Jewish view, salvation (and the establishment of the Covenant) is the result of God’s gracious election of Israel; and observing the commands, ordinances and precepts of God, as revealed in the Torah (Law of Moses), represents the terms whereby Israel fulfills (and adheres) to the agreement. By effectively abrogating the Law, Paul invalidates the Covenant, and, in turn, disregards the favor (grace, xa/ri$) of God. This last is the argument that Paul refutes. It is actually a clever bit of substitution—he does not frame the charge in terms of setting aside the covenant, but rather of setting aside the favor/grace of God. This is important to his rhetorical argument as a whole, as we shall see in the second clause that follows:

ei) ga\r dia\ no/mou dikaiosu/nh, a&ra Xristo\$ dwrea\n a)pe/qanen
“for if justice/righteousness (is) through (the) Law, then (the) Anointed (One) died away dwrea\n

The word dwrea/n (dœreán), which I left untranslated above, properly means “(as) a gift”, and so Paul uses it in a similar context in Romans 3:24; however, this translation can be misleading in English, since often the emphasis is rather on being “free of charge” or “without payment”, either in a positive (2 Cor 11:7) or negative (2 Thess 3:8) sense. It can even carry the harsher connotation of “in vain, for no purpose”; the English expression “for nothing” captures this ambiguity—it can mean something done “for free, as a gift” or “for no purpose”. It is this latter sense that Paul plays on here, juxtaposing xa/ri$ and dwrea/n, as he does in Rom 3:24; there the parallelism is synonymous (both words can mean “[as a] gift”), here it is rather antithetical (or better, ironical). I will return to this in a moment.

The key portion of this conditional statement is the unreal or false (indicative) clause: “if justice/righteousness (is, or comes) through the Law…” Paul has already stated that this is false in verse 16, effectively as a (rhetorical) point of agreement with his (Jewish Christian) opponents, implying however that their viewpoint and behavior actually (if unintentionally) contradicts the ‘agreed-upon’ doctrine in v. 16. Now, he goes on to say that, if they are correct, and one is justified by observing the Law, then this “sets aside” the very work of Christ on the cross! The final irony is that the false/hypothetical charge (against Paul) in v. 21a turns into a real charge against Paul’s opponents—by requiring believers to observe the Old Testament Law, they set aside the grace of God. Usually when Paul speaks of something being “in vain”, he uses the adverb ei)kh= or the expression ei)$ keno\n, as in Gal 2:2; 3:4; 4:11; so the use of dwrea/n here is most distinctive (and intentional), reflecting a powerful irony—by disregarding the central teaching that salvation/justification is entirely by trust (or faith) as a free gift from God (i.e. “for nothing”), Paul’s opponents have made Christ’s sacrificial death to be “for nothing”. Ultimately, of course, this entire argument is intended as a warning and exhortation for the Galatian believers (see Gal 1:6ff; 5:2-4ff; 6:12ff).

It also demonstrates again how important the mystical, participatory language and symbolism of dying with Christ was for Paul. Salvation “by grace” was not simply a matter of God overlooking or forgiving human sinfulness, it was centered in the idea of God “giving” his Son (and Christ “giving himself”) as a sacrificial offering for us. Our faith/trust is “into” Christ and places us “in” Him; this entry is focused—spirtually and sacramentally—upon our participation in His Death and Resurrection.

The Speeches of Acts, Part 17: Acts 14:8-18

The speech of Paul recorded in Acts 14:8-18 is so brief that one might decide not to treat it among the Speeches in the book of Acts; however, it warrants inclusion as the first (apostolic) address to Gentiles specifically, and because it prepares the groundwork for the much longer speech by Paul in Athens (Acts 17:16-34).

The outline of the speech is extremely simple (here it is actually an outline of the narrative itself):

    • Narrative Introduction (vv. 8-14)
    • Introductory Address (v. 15)
    • Central Proclamation (vv. 16-17)
    • Narrative Conclusion (v. 18)

Narrative Introduction (vv. 8-14)

A healing miracle is recorded, similar to that in Acts 3:1-10, only here the event is noteworthy as the first reported in the context of the mission to the Gentiles. It takes place at Lystra, in the southern portion of the district of Lycaonia, during the first Missionary Journey of Paul (and Barnabas) in Acts 13-14. One may divide this narrative section into three parts:

    • The healing miracle (vv. 8-10)
    • The reaction of the crowd (vv. 11-13)
    • The response of Paul and Barnabas (v. 14)

The crowd reaction is particularly striking and memorable, as the Lycaonians shout out: “The gods becoming like men have stepped down toward us!”—the miraculous power apparently being understood as the work of gods in human form (v. 11). Barnabas is identified with Zeus (Rom. Jupiter) and Paul with Hermes (Rom. Mercury) (v. 12); for a story involving appearances of Zeus and Hermes (also set in Asia Minor), see Ovid Metamorphoses 8:617-725. So extreme is the reaction that the priest of Zeus brings gifts and sacrificial offerings to present along with the crowd (v. 13). Paul and Barnabas respond with horror, tearing their clothing, and rush into the crowd hoping to put an immediate stop to things (v. 14). This sets the stage for Paul’s address to the crowd in verses 15-17.

Introductory Address (v. 15)

This begins with a vocative (“Men!…”, cf. 13:14, 26, 38, etc) followed by a question: “(For) what [i.e. why] are you doing these things?” Paul’s address then is two-fold, stressing his (and Barnabas’) proper identity:

    • “We also are like-passioned [o(moiopaqei=$] men (along) with you…”—The declaration of the crowd was that Paul and Barnabas must be the gods (Zeus and Hermes) “become like men” [o(moiwqe/nte$ a)nqrw/poi$]; Paul’s response is a forceful play on words, that he and Barnabas are simply “like-passioned men” [o(moiopaqei=$ a&nqrwpoi], that is, they are fully ordinary human beings (affected by various things) like everyone else.
    • “…to bring the good message [eu)aggeli/zomenoi] for you…”—the same verb eu)aggeli/zw is used in 13:32 where Paul likewise emphasizes his (and Barnabas’) role and purpose in proclaiming the good message (Gospel).

The clause in verse 15b clarifies the “Good Message”, specifically as it relates to Gentiles, those unfamiliar with the Old Testament Scriptures and Israelite/Jewish religion:

“…to turn away from these empty (thing)s (and) upon [i.e. toward] (the) living God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all the (thing)s in them”

This exhortation away from (pagan) polytheism, involving various forms of image/idol-worship, will be expanded considerably by Paul in the Athens speech (17:22-29). Here Paul refers to the Lycaonian (Greco-Roman) religious worship (and superstition) as “empty/vain [ma/taio$] things”, using standard Old Testament terminology (cf. 1 Kings 16:13; 2 Kings 17:15; Isa 31:2; Jer 2:5; 8:19; Zech 10:2, etc). The empty/vain things (idols, etc) are contrasted with “the living God”—cf. Deut 5:26; Josh 3:10; 2 Kings 19:4, 16; Psalm 42:2; 84:2; Isa 37:4, 17; Hos 2:1, etc.; in the New Testament, see Matt 16:16; 26:63; 2 Cor 3:3; 6:16; Heb 3:12; 9:14, etc. In preaching to polytheistic Gentiles, God is emphasized as Creator of (“[the one] who made”) all the things (natural phenomena, etc) typically venerated as representing divine powers—heaven, earth, sun, moon, stars, sea, etc.

Central Proclamation (vv. 16-17)

Syntactically, these verses form a single sentence with verse 15; note the structure:

    • “…(the) living God”
      • who [o^$] made the heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them (v. 15b)
      • who [o^$] in the (times) come to be (but now) passed along [i.e. in times past], let [i.e. permitted] all the nations to travel in their (own) ways (v. 16)

The main proclamation occurs with the compound clause in verse 17:

    • “and yet he did not leave him(self) without witness,
      working good(ness)—”
      • giving rain to us (from) heaven and fruit-bearing seasons
      • filling (us full) of nourishment and our hearts (with) a good (state of) mind [i.e. joy/gladness]

Taken together, vv. 15b-17 serves as a well-constructed theological statement, from the standpoint of what we would call “general (or natural) revelation”, which could be understood by almost anyone, more or less apart from the specific (special) revelation in the Scriptures. For the basic message of verse 16, stated somewhat differently, see Acts 17:30. On creation as a witness to God—his character and existence—see the famous passage in Romans 1:19-20ff; on the goodness of God (as Creator) in terms of rain and harvest, the fruitfulness of the earth, etc., cf. Lev 26:4ff; Deut 11:14; 28:12; Job 5:10; Psalm 147:8-9; Ezek 34:26ff; Zech 8:12; and especially, in a similar context, Matthew 5:45. The final clause in verse 17 appears to be an echo of Psalm 104:14-15, 27.

Narrative Conclusion (v. 18)

The reaction to Paul’s address suggests that the people did not entirely understand what he was telling them—

“and relating these things, (only with) difficulty did they settle down the throng so as not to slaughter [i.e. offer sacrifice] to them”

that is, Paul and Barnabas could hardly stop them from offering sacrifices. Clearly it was easier for missionaries to address Gentiles with a Jewish context (that is, proselytes or ‘Godfearers’, such as Cornelius [cf. Acts 10-11]). Relating to the wider pagan/heathen world, without benefit of a common understanding based on the Scriptures and familiarity with Israelite/Jewish religious tradition, would prove to be more difficult work (note also the lack of initial success in Athens). Yet even in the early missionary work of Paul and Barnabas in Asia Minor there were numerous Gentile converts, as indicated in verses 21-23 and 27-28. These last references coincide with their return trip to Antioch and set the stage for the “Jerusalem Council” in chapter 15.

July 4: Gal 2:19-20

This is the third of four daily notes on Galatians 2:15-21, today covering verses 19-20 which I would summarize as:

The Relation of the believer to the Law

It builds upon the prior verses, especially vv. 17-18 (a rhetorical argument to show the problem with applying the Law to [Gentile] believers), which I discussed in the previous day’s note.

Galatians 2:19-20

These two verses are comprised of a string of declaratory (doctrinal) statements, which will be examined in turn.

e)gw\ ga\r dia\ no/mou no/mw| a)pe/qanon i%na qew=| zh=sw
“For through (the) law I died (off) from (the) law,
(so) that I might live to God”

The translation here is perhaps a bit misleading; a simpler rendering of the first clause would be: “through the law, I died to the law”. The expression “through (the) law” (dia\ no/mou) here means that Paul (in the first person, as an example of the ordinary believer) shares the common human condition of being “under the law”. The purpose (and result) of the Old Testament Law (and the force of it) was to “enclose all (things/people) under sin” (Gal 3:22). This establishes the very condition which makes justification by faith in Christ (and not by the Law) possible. Thus the paradoxical statement is realized: “through the Law, I died (off) from [i.e. died to] the Law”, followed by the result clause: “so that I might live to God”—life is possible only once a person has died to the Law.

Xristw=| sunestau/rwmai
“I have been put to the stake (together) with (the) Anointed”

Here this death is described in stark, graphic imagery—of the believer being crucified together with Jesus (see also Gal 5:24; 6:14). This is one of the more dramatic examples of Paul’s participatory language—i.e., of the believer living and dying with Jesus (see esp. Romans 6:1-10). It is also clear that “dying to the Law” is not simply a matter of ignoring or neglecting the Old Testament commandments; rather, it is the natural product (and result) of our “dying with Christ”. In a sense, it is also related to the idea of “dying to sin” (cf. Rom 6:1ff). Paul’s concept of the sacraments (esp. Baptism) is, to a large extent, based on this same language and imagery.

zw= de\ ou)ke/ti e)gw/, zh=| de\ e)n e)moi\ Xristo/$
“but yet I do not (now) live, but (rather) (the) Anointed (One) lives in me

With this statement, Paul’s mystical participatory language is at its most inspired and profound. This is both:

    1. An existential statement—how the believer should understand his/her own existence and identity in Christ, and
    2. A statement of spiritual unity—we confess and (to some extent) experience the reality of Christ living “in us” (through the Spirit), but this unity is, in turn, expressed by our life “in Christ”; this reciprocal relationship is grounded and ultimately defined by the phrase “in Christ”.

The emphatic “I” (e)gw) is the point of transition between the dying (to the law, sin etc) in verse 19 and the living (to Christ) in verse 20. In conventional theological terms, the emphasis is on self-mortification and self-denial—the believer is no longer driven by selfish and material/carnal desires, but walks “according to the Spirit”, following the will of God and the example of Christ.

o^ de\ nu=n zw= e)n sarki/ e)n pi/stei zw= th=| tou= ui(ou= tou= qeou=
“but the (life) which I live now in (the) flesh, I live in (the) trust (that is) of the son of God…”

Here Paul speaks of a different kind of “life”—the ‘ordinary’ daily life one leads—but still tied to the (eternal and spiritual) life the believer has in Christ. It builds upon the “new identity” expressed in v. 20a, and centers the believer’s daily life and existence “in trust/faith [e)n pi/stei]” and “in Christ” (i.e. in the faith/trust of the Son of God).

tou= a)gaph/santo/$ me kai\ parado/nto$ e(auto\n u(pe\r e)mou=
“… the (one) loving me and giving himself along over me [i.e. for me, on my behalf]”

The concluding phrase is a Christological declaration and piece of early kerygma; for a similar statement in the Pauline writings, see Ephesians 5:2. For the same idea of Christ’s self-sacrifice as giving himself over (u(per) elsewhere in Galatians, cf. 1:4; 3:13.

It would be hard to find a more precise and dramatic statement that the believer is dead to the Law—it is a clear shift from being under (or “in”) the Law (and, hence, under sin) and being “in Christ”. As Paul will go on to explain here in Galatians (and elsewhere), the believer in Christ is now guided by the Spirit and no longer is required to observe the commandments of the Old Testament Law. Religious and ethical behavior is maintained (entirely) by life in the Spirit and by following the example and teachings of Jesus. This point is discussed further in my series on “Paul’s View of the Law” (articles soon to be posted here).

* * * * * *

On the 4th of July, which, in large part, commemorates the qualified independence and socio-political freedom which individuals have in the United States, it is worth remembering that, for believers in Christ, true freedom is very different. Paul writes of this throughout Galatians, referring to “our freedom (e)leuqeri/a) which we hold in the Anointed Yeshua {Christ Jesus}” (2:4). This is not freedom from social or political authority; rather, it is freedom from the bondage to sin under which all of humankind has been, and continues to be, enslaved. In Paul’s teaching, this bondage to sin is intertwined with bondage to the Law, esp. the Old Testament Law (Torah). That this is a genuine bondage is made abundantly clear at many points in Galatians (and Romans), especially in the illustration of Hagar and Sarah, their children (Ishmael and Isaac) representing “children of slavery” and “children of freedom” respectively (4:21-31). Paul’s teaching on the Law (cf. above) in this regard can be difficult for many to follow (and to accept); a summary of it is given in Gal 3:19-27 (see esp. verse 23). The good news is that, through our trust in Jesus, and our subsequent union with him, we come to be children of freedom—we are freed from the power of sin, and of the requirements of the Law. In Paul’s words:

“In freedom the Anointed (One) has made us free; therefore you must stand and must not be held in (bondage) again by (the) yoke of slavery!” (5:1)

This “yoke of slavery” has two aspects: (1) bondage to sin, and (2) bondage to the Law. The second means that believers are no longer bound (required) to observe the Law of the Old Covenant (the old order of things); the first means that we are no longer obligated (and forced) to obey the power of sin. How is this freedom realized? Paul’s answer is two-fold: (1) through the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit, and (2) by following the teaching and example of Jesus as summarized and embodied in the “love-command”. This is the message of Gal 5:1-6:10, which concludes the main body of the letter. The declaration (and teaching) in 5:13 perhaps encapsulates the message best:

“For we were called upon freedom, brothers—only not (for) th(is) freedom (to be) unto a rushing off in the flesh, but (rather) through love we must serve [lit. be a slave to] each other.”

In other words, we must allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit (5:16-18), and not be carried off by the impulses of the flesh (which can lead to sin). The irony is that this freedom prompts us to serve one another, like fellow slaves in Christ.

Saturday Series: Deuteronomy 32:1ff

In recent weeks, we have examined various areas of Biblical Criticism, using the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 as a case for study. We have looked at:

    • Textual Criticism—Analysis of the Hebrew text, including variant readings, attempts to determine the most likely original form of the text, and how it may have been shaped during the course of copying and transmission. For the Hebrew Old Testament, the Scripture manuscripts from Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) are especially important, when they differ from the Masoretic Text.
    • Form Criticism—Study of the specific form and genre of the passage, as far as it can be determined. What type of material are we dealing with, what are its characteristics, and how is it distinguished from other portions elsewhere in Scripture or in the same book? Specific issues are involved when dealing with ancient Hebrew poetic or psalm/hymn forms, as in the case of Deut 32.
    • Source Criticism—How did the passage come to be incorporated into the book as a whole? Did the writer(s) make use of an existing document or line of tradition? If so, how might it be distinguished from other material in the book?
    • Historical Criticism—Consideration of the (original) historical setting and background of the book, and how it came to be composed. A separate issue involves analysis of the historical accuracy of the material, whether dealing with specific traditions or literary (and narrative) sections. The latter is not merely a question of whether the Scripture is historically reliable (from a particular standpoint), but of how the content of a passage relates to its composition.

We shall now apply these to an examination of the Song of Moses as it has come down to us, looking at specific selected verses or lines of the poem. This will help us to see just how criticism relates to interpretation—here in the case of a famous and influential piece of ancient Hebrew poetry within an Old Testament Scripture. Broadly speaking, this sort of study may be referred to as literary criticism—analysis of the distinct literary form and structure, i.e. the book and passage of Scripture, as it has come down to us.

Before proceeding, it will be helpful to consider the thematic outline of the Song. Such an outline normally would follow the sort of study we are doing, being the result of it; however, in this instance it will help things along to include it here beforehand.

    • 1-3: Opening (exordium)—Call to Creation (heaven and earth)
    • 4-18: God’s covenant with His people Israel, and their violation of the covenant
      —The Creator God (YHWH) as their Father (vv. 4-6)
      —His choice of Israel as His people, becoming their God (vv. 7-9)
      —His protection and guidance during the Exodus and wilderness travels (vv. 10-14)
      —His people turned away from Him, worshiping foreign gods (vv. 15-18)
    • 19-42: God’s punishment of His people, and their subsequent deliverance
      —Punishment for violation of the covenant (vv. 19-25)
      —Concern for how this will be perceived by Israel’s enemies (vv. 26-31)
      —Plans to bring punishment on Israel’s enemies in turn (vv. 32-35)
      —Ultimate justice/deliverance for His people, and judgment on His enemies (vv. 36-41)
    • 43: Conclusion—Call to the Nations

We start with the first verse (and line) of the Song.

Deuteronomy 32:1

The Song begins with a call (by the poet) to all of creation—”the heavens and the earth”:

“Give ear, O heavens, and I will open to speak,
And hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.” (v. 1)

This first line (bicolon) demonstrates the parallelism, common to much ancient Near Eastern (and Hebrew) poetry, which runs throughout the song. We examined this in the study on Form Criticism. It is not simply a stylistic device; it also allows the poet to emphasize certain themes and ideas, giving two (or more) variations of a basic motif, the second restating or building upon the first. Here the dual-concept of the universe (creation) as consisting of the pair “heaven and earth” serves to establish the parallelism in the line. This sort of opening is actually a traditional literary (and rhetorical) device, seen in other places in the Old Testament—Isa 1:2-3; Jer 2:4ff; also Psalm 50:4; Mic 6:1ff. It draws upon ancient religious and cultural traditions, including certain conventions associated with establishment of binding agreements (covenants) and treaties, etc. In establishing such an agreement between parties, it was customary to call on deities as witnesses, as way of “hallowing” the agreement, and, in a quasi-magical manner, to bring down divine judgment if it should ever be violated by one of the parties. We see a faint vestige of this sort of practice today in our continued use of oaths in official legal proceedings and public ceremonies.

Of course, in the context of early Israelite monotheism, Yahweh was the one called upon in oaths and the like. In the case of the covenant between God (YHWH) and Israel, the typical custom (of calling upon deities as witness) could not be applied in the same way, nor was it entirely appropriate. Nothing of the sort is found in the early covenant traditions (in Gen 15, 17; Exod 24, etc) which we examined in earlier studies. However, it does appear several times in the book of Deuteronomy: 4:26; 30:19, and at 31:28, just prior to the Song. Though “heaven” and “earth” as such were viewed as deities in the ancient Near East, they are not treated this way here. Rather, they represent “all of creation”—i.e. the universe, the created order. The poet, following God’s own word, calls on heaven and earth to hear the words of the Song. According to 31:19, the Song itself serves as witness of the covenant, to which heaven and earth join, according to the traditional motif. This enhances the importance of the Song and its message. Verse 2 extends the idea of creation as witness, hearing the words of the Song, through the natural imagery of rain and dew—i.e., water from heaven, which, drawing upon sky/storm theophany, has God as its source. God’s word—that is, the inspired message of the Song—comes down from heaven to the earth.

Commentators sometimes refer to the call to heaven and earth in verse 1 (and similar passages) as part of a “covenant lawsuit” tradition, whereby one calls upon the (divine) witnesses to deliver a complaint that the binding agreement (treaty or covenant) has been violated. Such violation will result in divine judgment, often understood in military terms—attack upon the party who violated the covenant. While verse 1 almost certainly draws upon such a tradition, it must be said that there is no real sense in the Song of a legal proceeding. It is, however, present more decidedly in Isa 1:2-3ff and Jer 2:4ff, passages which were doubtless influenced by Deut 32; indeed, there are a number of rather clear parallels between Isa 1:2-31 and the Song of Moses. For examples of heaven/earth taking a more active role in the proceedings, see Mic 6:1-2; Jer 4:28; 6:19; 51:38. Natural disasters and other phenomena were typically understood as manifestations of divine judgment.

This last point is significant, and can easily be overlooked in a casual reading of vv. 1-3. By injecting a developed (later) form of monotheism into these early Scriptures, there is also a tendency to exaggerate a separation between the transcendent Creator God (YHWH) and the Creation. In early Israelite thought and expression, God and the Creation (heaven and earth) were much more closely connected than is often realized by Jews and Christians today. While not “gods” in the sense found in ancient Near Eastern religious lore, heaven and earth, along with all of the natural phenomena contained within them, obeyed YHWH and worked/acted on His behalf. As witnesses to the covenant, they also would “act” against the violators of the agreement, as indicated in the passages cited above. We already saw in the Golden Calf episode (Exod 32), how natural features and phenomena were utilized to bring judgment on the people (vv. 20, 35), presented in tandem with attack by military forces (“the sword”, vv. 25-28), and this could be repeated numerous times from similar passages in the Old Testament. Here in the Song, upon violation of the covenant, the earth itself, which was at first fruitful (vv. 13-14), would turn against the people, through the burning fire of God’s anger which consumes the earth’s produce and fertility (v. 20). Along with this, there will famine, plague, disease and attacks by wild beasts (v. 24)—all natural disasters which will strike the people, even as they will also be attacked by the sword of invading military forces (v. 25). This is all very much part of the traditional language of divine judgment in the Old Testament.

It is also especially significant in light of the primary theme which runs through the Song: the contrast between YHWH as Israel’s God, and the foreign deities which the people came to worship, thereby violating the covenant. This will be discussed in our study on subsequent verses in the Song, but it is important to note how the theme is established here in the opening. We have seen how the call to heaven and earth draws upon ancient Near Eastern tradition whereby the gods were called upon as witnesses to a covenant or treaty. Thus there is here an implicit reference to the religious distinction, from the Israelite standpoint, between the one true Creator God (El-YHWH) and all of the other deities recognized by the surrounding nations. In early Israelite monotheism, this distinction was not as sharp as it would later become. The “sons of God” had not yet been reduced to “angels”, and could refer to various sorts of divine and/or heavenly beings. In the context of the traditional language of verse 1, heaven and earth are obedient servants of YHWH, and their natural activities (rainfall, etc) parallel God’s own word being spoken (v. 2). This unifying sense of purpose is emphasized by the declaration which follows in verse 3:

“For the name of YHWH I call out—
Give greatness to our God [Elohim]!”

Note again the parallelism here, where the second half-line builds upon the first (an example, I would say, of synthetic parallelism). The poet calls out “the name of YHWH”, a way of acknowledging that Yahweh is his God, and that he is serving a prophetic, oracular role in making Him known (His word and will) to the people. In the second half-line, the poet calls upon the people to respond in kind, acknowledging and declaring “the greatness of our God”. The word translated “God” is the plural noun °§lœhîm, which, when applied to the Creator El-Yahweh, is perhaps best understood as an intensive plural, meaning something like “Mightiest (One)”. When used as a true plural, of course, it would refer to other “Mighty Ones”—deities or divine beings, such as those worshiped by the surrounding nations. The Song plays heavily upon this dual meaning and use of the word.

In the next study, we will move ahead to verses 5-6, and then touch again on verses 8ff, to see how the theme of the Creator YHWH as Israel’s God is developed, being central to the very idea of the covenant (and its violation) that is at the heart of the Song. This we will do, God willing, when we meet here again next weekend.

The Speeches of Acts, Part 16: Acts 13:13-52 (continued)

For the first part of this article, including a detailed discussed of verses 13-37, see Part 15. I continue here with the third (and final) main section of the speech:

Concluding Exhortation (vv. 38-41)

This section, like the two main sections prior, begins with a similar vocative address, but with some variation, as a solemn declaration (cf. 4:10, also 1:19): “Therefore (let it) be known to you—Men, Brothers…” The exhortation has two parts: (a) an announcement of forgiveness, and (b) a warning (citing Scripture).

(a) Announcement of Forgiveness (vv. 38-39)—This is an important element of the exhortation section of prior speeches (2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 10:43) and follows as part of the basic Gospel proclamation (cf. Lk 24:47). The core declaration here is:

“…that through this one [i.e. Jesus] release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins is given down (as a) message [i.e. announced] to you”

Verses 38b-39 appear to be distinctly Pauline addition (see below), relating forgiveness to the idea of justification (making/declaring one to be just/righteous):

“…[and] from all things [pa/ntwn] of which you were not able to be made/declared just in/by the Law of Moses,
in/by this one [i.e. Jesus] every [pa=$] one trusting is made/declared just.”

The demonstrative pronoun “this (one)” (ou!to$, acc. tou=ton) is used frequently referring to Jesus (2:23, 32, 36; 4:10-11; 5:31; 9:20; 10:36, 40, 42-43; cf. also 3:16; 4:17; 5:28; 7:35-38 [Moses/Jesus parallel], and similar usage in 6:13-14).

(b) Warning from Scripture (vv. 40-41)—”See (to it), therefore, (that) it not come upon you, the (thing) spoken in/by the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets]…” The Scripture citation which follows is from Habakkuk 1:5, and is one of the most extreme examples in the New Testament of an Old Testament passage taken out of its original context. Originally, verses 5-11 were an announcement of judgment (to Judah and the surrounding nations), that of the impending invasion by the Babylonians (Chaldeans). The important point carried over by Paul is that the (historical) Babylonian conquest was the work of God (Hab 1:5-6)—”I (am about to) work a work in your days…”—and foreshadows the coming eschatological Judgment. On this theme and emphasis elsewhere in Acts, see 2:19-20, 40; 3:23; 10:42; 17:31; 24:25. There is perhaps a tendency for modern Christians to ignore or minimize the importance of the idea of God’s impending (and imminent) Judgment in the New Testament, but it is a key and vital component of early Christian preaching and teaching, going back to the authentic words of Jesus himself (regarding the Kingdom of God and the Son of Man, etc).

Narrative Conclusion (vv. 42-43ff)

Verses 42-43 represent the immediate narrative conclusion to the speech, with two main details:

    • Paul and Barnabas were asked to speak more on the subject on the next Sabbath (v. 42)
    • After the meeting, many Jews and (Gentile) proselytes/Godfearers followed Paul and Barnabas to hear more (v. 43); it is further stated that Paul and Barnabas persuaded them “to remain toward the favor/grace of God” (cf. 11:23; 14:22).

Thus we see emphasized: (a) the initial success of the Gospel preaching, and (b) Jews and Gentiles both respond to the Gospel. This leads to a second, supplemental narrative section (vv. 44-52), which further sets the stage (and pattern) for the subsequent mission work of Paul (and Barnabas) as narrated in Acts; note the following themes:

Central to verses 44-52 is the quotation from Isaiah 49:6 in verse 47, corresponding the the LXX version (slightly abridged):

“I have set you unto a light of the nations [i.e. as a light for the nations],
(for) you to be unto salvation [i.e. to bring salvation] until the end(s) of the earth”

Interestingly, Paul cites this verse as a charge laid by God on he and Barnabas (!), another striking example of the way that Paul (along with many other early Christians) creatively applied and interpreted the text of the Old Testament. This is one of the so-called Servant Songs in Isaiah, passages which eventually came to be treated as ‘Messianic’ references related and applied to Jesus (cf. Acts 8:28-35); for another allusion to Isa 49:6 in Luke-Acts, see the canticle of Simeon (Lk 2:29-32). With regard to Paul’s identification with the appointed figure in Isaiah, it may be better to view this in terms of Paul and Barnabas as appointed to preach the word of God and proclaim the good message (Gospel) of Jesus (see verse 32). In other words, the emphasis is on the Gospel, centered on the person and work of Jesus, that they preach, rather than on Paul and Barnabas themselves; at any rate, this would be the more natural (orthodox) understanding of verse 47. Verse 48 follows with a clear statement of the Gentile response to the Gospel message:

“And hearing (this), the nations were happy [i.e. rejoiced] and they honored/esteemed the word of the Lord and trusted, as (many) as were set [i.e. appointed] unto (the) life of the age(s) [i.e. eternal life]”

Concluding Observations

In conclusion, for the moment, I must return to the question (see at the beginning of Part 15) regarding the composition of the Speeches in the book of Acts—namely, the critical view (that they are primarily Lukan compositions) versus the traditional-conservative view (that they substantially reflect the authentic words of the speakers). Analysis of Paul’s speech, compared with other speeches earlier in Acts, provides certain pieces of evidence related to each viewpoint. Generally in favor of the critical approach is the close resemblance especially—in terms of style, structure, and content—between Paul’s speech and the Pentecost speech of Peter (Acts 2:14-36, on which cf. Parts 2 & 3 of this series). Consider the points of similarity:

    • The three-part structure—both use a vocative address (“Men, Judeans/Israelites/Brothers…”) to begin each section (2:14, 22, 29; 13:16, 26, 38)
    • In each, the second section is devoted to the kerygma and citation(s) from Scripture (Psalms) (2:22-28; 13:26-37)
    • In each, there is citation of a primary ‘Messianic’ passage applied to Jesus (Ps 110:1; 2:7, respectively)—specifically to his resurrection/exaltation (2:34f; 13:33ff)
    • Both cite Psalm 16:10, interpreted and applied to Jesus’ death and resurrection, in much the same way (2:25-31; 13:35-37)

It seems unlikely that this is merely an historical coincidence; it may be that the similarities reflect a basic style and format of early preaching, but some degree of intentional literary adaptation and patterning of material (by the author) seems to have taken place as well. Furthermore, there is a clear literary purpose to the similarities: Acts 2:14-36 and 13:16-41 represent the (first) major sermon-speeches by Peter and Paul, respectively—the two principal figures in the book; it is natural that they should be closely related.

On the other hand, as I have pointed out previously in this series, the speeches of Acts seem to preserve many authentic details from the early kerygma (Gospel proclamation), including a number of phrases and formulae not typically found in subsequent Christian writing (in the New Testament and elsewhere). A comparison between the speeches of Peter and Paul in Acts 2 & 13 show that: (a) in Peter’s speech the kerygma is presented piecemeal (2:22-25, 32-33, 36), in rougher and less ‘standard’ phrasing; while (b) in Paul’s speech there is a more developed, continuous, polished presentation (13:26-32f). The difference and development could be considered as historical (Paul’s speech is some years later than Peter’s), or literary (the author purposely gives a fuller treatment in Paul’s speech), or both. A possible argument in favor of the authenticity of Paul’s speech is the presence of several apparent ‘Pauline’ ideas and arguments, recognizable to those familiar with his letters (especially the undisputed epistles, e.g. Galatians, Romans); note the following details:

    • The Jewish lack of recognition of the Scriptural testimony regarding Jesus (v. 27; cf. 2 Cor 6:14)
    • Paul’s self-understanding as an Apostle (implied) (v. 32, 47; cf. Rom 1:1, 5; 11:13; 1 Cor 1:1; 9:1-2; 2 Cor 1:1; 12:12; Gal 1:1, 17, etc)
    • Jesus and the Gospel as the promise (to the Fathers) (v. 32) is a prominent theme in several epistles (Rom 1:2; 4:13-21; 9:8; 15:8; Gal 3-4; Eph 3:6, etc), though hardly unique to Paul
    • Salvation and forgiveness (lit. “release”) involve freedom from the Law (v. 38-39; cf. throughout Galatians and Romans 3-4, 7:1-8:7, 10:4-5; also Phil 3:9, etc)
    • Specifically the idea and terminology of justification (“made/declared just”) (v. 38-39, and frequently esp. throughout Galatians and Romans)

The Speeches of Acts, Part 15: Acts 13:13-52

Acts 13:13-52 represents one of the longest speeches in the book of Acts, and the first delivered by Paul—it is the centerpiece of Paul’s “First Missionary Journey” (Acts 13-14). It is also the last of the major sermon-speeches in the first half of the book, and serves as a veritable compendium of all that has gone before.

One should perhaps mention again here the critical theory that the speeches in the book of Acts are essentially the product of the author (trad. Luke), rather than reflecting the actual words of the putative speakers. There is some evidence in confirmation of this basic viewpoint here in Acts 13:13-52, as we shall see, but also certain details which appear to reflect authentic Pauline thought. The ‘Pauline’ elements will be discussed in their place below.

In this first Missionary Journey, Paul and Barnabas set out from Antioch (13:1-3), traveling to Cyprus (vv. 4-12), then sailing up to the southern/central coast of Anatolia (‘Asia Minor’), journeying first to Perga in the district of Pamphylia (v. 13), then north through Pisidia until they reached Antioch in Phrygia (v. 14). This Antioch was on the border facing Pisidia, and so is referred to as “Pisidian Antioch” (sometimes, inaccurately, as “Antioch in Pisidia”). From there, Paul and Barnabas traveled east through Lycaonia (13:51-14:23), before journeying back, apparently along the same route from whence they came (14:24-26ff). The speech of Paul in Acts 13:13-52 is set during the missionary work in Pisidian Antioch. It may be outlined as follows:

    • Narrative Introduction (vv. 13-15)
    • Introductory Address (vv. 16-25), with two main sections:
      (a) Historical Summary (vv. 17-22) and
      (b) Kerygmatic Summary (vv. 23-25)
    • Central Section (vv. 26-37)—a developed form of the Scripture citation and exposition (with kerygma) from the earlier sermon-speech pattern, divided into three sections:
      (a) Kerygmatic Introduction (vv. 26-32)
      (b) Scripture Citation (v. 33)
      (c) Exposition (vv. 34-37), with two other Scripture citations
    • Concluding Exhortation (vv. 38-41), also with a Scripture quotation
    • Narrative Conclusion (vv. 42-43), which leads into a second narrative section (vv. 44-52) with a central Scripture citation

Special attention should be given to the way that the three-fold structure of the speech proper (vv. 16-41) parallels almost precisely that of Peter’s Pentecost speech (Acts 2:14-36), each section beginning with a vocative address (“Men…”). I present them side by side for comparison:

Acts 2:14-36

  • vv. 14-21: “Men, Judeans…” ( &Andre$  )Ioudai=oi…)
  • vv. 22-28: “Men, Israelites…” ( &Andre$  )Israhli=tai…)
  • vv. 29-36: “Men, brothers…” ( &Andre$ a)delfoi/…)

Acts 13:16-41

    • vv. 16-25: “Men, Israelites ( &Andre$  )Israhli=tai) and the ones fearing God…”
    • vv. 26-37: “Men, brothers ( &Andre$ a)delfoi/), sons of Abraham and the ones fearing God among you…”
    • vv. 38-41: “Men, brothers ( &Andre$ a)delfoi/)…”

It is hard to believe that this is simply an historical coincidence. Critical scholars would perhaps regard it as evidence for Lukan composition of both speeches; at the very least, some form of intentional adaptation or patterning by the author seems likely. It may also reflect a basic sermon format or technique in common use, by the apostles and/or in Luke’s time. In discussing Peter’s Pentecost speech, I argued that there is a definite progression in the three addresses—from geographical (Judeans) to ethnic/religious (Israelites) to an even closer familial tie (Brothers). I would argue for a similar kind of progression in Paul’s speech, especially in the qualifying phrases he uses:

    • “Men, Israelites and the ones fearing God (oi( fobou/menoi to\n qeo/n)”—this connects the (Gentile) ‘Godfearers’ (such as Cornelius, cf. chapters 10-11) with the people of Israel.
    • “Men, brothers, sons of the lineage of Abraham (ui(oi\ ge/nou$  )Abraa\m) and the ones fearing God among you (oi( e)n u(mi=n fobou/menoi to\n qeo/n)”—this draws an even closer connection between Israelites and (Gentile) Godfearers, and labels them both as “brothers”.
    • “Men, brothers”—here the address is to brothers, inclusive, without any qualification.

Though Paul is primarily addressing Jews (in the Synagogue), the inclusion of “Godfearers” is surely significant (and intentional), presumably by Paul himself (as the speaker), but certainly by the author of Acts. In this first mission, Paul and Barnabas begin to “turn to the Gentiles” (vv. 46-47ff), and the narrative of the mission (chs. 13-14) is positioned between the Cornelius episode (chs. 10-11) and the Jerusalem ‘Council’ of chap. 15—both of which deal specifically with the question of the acceptance and inclusion of Gentile converts. This thematic emphasis will be strengthened by an examination of the speech in detail.

Narrative Introduction (vv. 13-15)

Verses 13-14a briefly narrate the arrival of Paul and Barnabas in Pisidian Antioch; verses 14b-15 establish the Synagogue setting of the speech. In his missionary work, Paul customarily began by speaking to Jews (and proselytes) in the local synagogue (Acts 9:20; 14:1; 17:1, 10, 17; 18:4, 7-8; 19:8; cf. also Apollos in 18:26), a practical approach, if nothing else—in the synagogue one might find, among those gathered together, a number of persons who would be interested in the Gospel, familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures and Israelite/Jewish history. Here in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas are invited to take part in the service of worship, to offer a possible “word of comfort/exhortation [lo/go$ paraklh/sew$]” for the people. Paul’s sermon-speech is presented as a response to this invitation.

Introductory Address (vv. 16-25)

“Men, Israelites and the ones fearing God…”—this is the first of the three vocative formulas which begin the three major sections of the speech (cf. above). This particular section is perhaps to be considered as the first clear presentation of “Salvation History” in the New Testament; certainly, as an authentic speech by Paul (at least in substance), it would have to be regarded as such. It can be divided into two parts:

(a) Historical Summary (vv. 17-22)—This brief summary of Old Testament (Israelite/Jewish) history naturally brings to mind the earlier speech of Stephen (Acts 7:1-53); though Stephen’s historical presentation is much lengthier, it similarly covers the period from Abraham and Joseph (“the Fathers”, 13:17) down through the reign of David (13:22). More significant is the different purpose and tone of the historical summary in Stephen’s speech, a defense speech (given before the Sanhedrin), with a severe rhetorical and polemical thrust, especially in the latter sections (7:35-53). Paul’s speech, on the other hand, is intended to convince interested Jews of the truth of the Gospel, and the historical summary is preparatory for his proclamation of Gospel history (kerygma). The historical summary concludes in v. 22b, with a composite citation of Psalm 89:20 and 1 Sam 13:14 (cf. also Isa 44:28): “I have found David the (son) of Jesse, a man according to my heart, who will do all my wishes”. If the comparison in Stephen’s speech was between Jesus and Moses, here it is between Jesus and David.

(b) Gospel Summary (vv. 23-25)—This short summary is really just the first part of the kerygma (Gospel proclamation) in the speech, the second part begins the central section (vv. 26-32). Verse 23 joins (and completes) the prior statement regarding David: “from the seed of this one [i.e. David] God has led forth to Yisrael a Savior, Yeshua” (cf. Acts 2:30). Verses 24-25 transition to the baptizing by John, which had become a key touchpoint for beginning the Gospel narrative (cf. 1:5, 22; 10:37; 11:16; 19:4, and in the Gospel tradition). V. 25 is an interesting blend of traditions (sayings) otherwise attested separately in the Synoptics and John (cf. Jn 1:20-21; Mk 1:7 par).

Central Section (vv. 26-37)

The sermon-speech pattern I have recognized (and been using) in these studies on the Speeches of Acts typically contains: (a) kerygmatic elements, (b) a central citation from Scripture, and (c) and exposition/application of the Scripture, in something of that order. The same components are present here as well, but more clearly and precisely brought together within a single section. This second section begins with a similar vocative address as the first: “Men, brothers, sons of the lineage of Abraham and the ones fearing God among you—to you this word/account [lo/go$] of salvation has been sent forth [lit. set out from {God}]” (v. 26). On expressions comparable to “word/account of salvation”, cf. Acts 5:20; 6:2, 7, etc; 4:12; 16:17; 28:28.

(a) Kerygmatic Introduction (vv. 26-32)—For those who have followed these studies on the Speeches of Acts, or are otherwise familiar with the speeches themselves, the phrases and details in these verses will be recognizable from the prior speeches, including that of Peter in Acts 10:34-48 (cf. vv. 37-42 and the discussion in part 14). I will isolate these kerygmatic elements, citing similar occurrences, and with occasional comments:

    • V. 27—for the role of the rulers (a&rxonte$) of Jerusalem in the death of Jesus, cf. 3:17; 4:26-27 (and vv. 5-11); 5:30; 7:52; on the motif of ignorance and unknowing, cf. 3:17 (and note Jn 16:3; Lk 23:34); for the Prophets’ witness to Jesus, cf. 3:18, 21-25; 8:34; 10:43; for a similar emphasis as in this verse, see also 2 Cor 3:14ff.
    • V. 28—on Jesus’ innocence (i.e. no crime requiring an interrogation or trial), and Pilate’s role in his death, cf. 3:13ff; 4:27, also 7:52; 8:32ff, and the Gospel tradition; on the use of the verb a)naire/w for putting Jesus to death, cf. 2:23; 10:39.
    • V. 29—on the death of Jesus specifically as the fulfillment of what is written in the Scriptures, cf. Lk 24:25-27, 33, 44-48; Acts 1:16, also 3:18, 21-25; 8:34; 10:43; on the mention of Jesus’ death by hanging on a tree, cf. 5:30; 10:39; here is the first reference to Jesus’ burial in Acts (cf. the Gospel tradition).
    • V. 30—Jesus’ resurrection is stated briefly, cf. 2:24, 32; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40.
    • V. 31—on the resurrection appearances of Jesus, cf. 1:3-4; 10:40-41; on the apostles/disciples as witnesses, cf. 1:8, 22; 2:32, 40; 5:32; 10:39, 41; Lk 24:48; on the geographical detail (Galilee–Jerusalem), cf. 1:8, 11-12; 10:37; Lk 24:47.
    • V. 32—the pronoun “we” (h(mei=$) connects Paul and Barnabas with the other apostles/disciples (cf. 14:14; chap. 15) as ones called to proclaim the good message; on the ‘promise’ (e)paggeli/a) made to the Fathers, cf. 3:25; 26:6, note also 1:4; 2:33, 39; 7:17; 13:23.

(b) Scripture Citation (v. 33)—Verse 33 concludes the kerygma by emphasizing (a) the resurrection of Jesus (v. 30) as the fulfillment of the promise made to Israel (the Fathers) in v. 32, and (b) the Jews (and Godfearers) of Paul’s day as the offspring (heirs/children) of the Fathers. For the idea of believers as ‘children of the promise’, cf. 3:25-26, and e.g. in Galatians 3-4. This leads into the central citation from Scripture in v. 33b, a precise quotation of the LXX of Psalm 2:7b—

ui(o/$ mou ei@ su/, e)gw\ sh/meron gege/nnhka/ se
“You are my Son, today I have caused you to be (born)”

which is also an accurate rendering of the Hebrew. This verse holds much the same position as Psalm 110:1 in Peter’s Pentecost speech (Acts 2:34-35). Ps 2:7 and 110:1 come from royal Psalms, with the setting of the coronation/inauguration/enthronement of the (new) king, and both were understood by Christians early on as related to Jesus (as the Messiah [and Son of God]). Ps 2:7 is cited in Hebrews 1:5 and by the heavenly voice at Jesus’ baptism in the ‘Western’ text of Lk 3:22. Hebrews 5:5-6 quotes Ps 2:7 and 110:1 together.

(c) Exposition of Scripture (vv. 34-37)—In subsequent Christology, Ps 2:7 and 110:1 were generally understood in terms of Jesus’ divine nature and status as the (pre-existent) Son of God (this also appears to be the sense of Heb 1:5). In Acts, however, these verses relate the Sonship/Lordship of Jesus specifically with (and as a result of) his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God. Here in Paul’s speech, Ps 2:7 is clearly interpreted in the context of the resurrection, emphasized right before and after the citation in vv. 33a, 34a. For more on early Christological thought compared with (Nicene) orthodoxy, see part 3 of this series, along with several supplemental notes and the article on Adoptionism. The citation of Ps 2:7 is followed and expounded with quotations from two further passages of Scripture, as follows:

    • An allusion to Ps 16:10 in verse 34a—”(God) made him stand up out the dead, no more about to turn under into (complete) ruin/decay [diafqora]”
      • Reference to Isa 55:3 in v. 34b (see below)
    • Citation of Ps 16:10 in v. 35—”you will not give your holy/righteous [o%sio$] One to see (complete) ruin/decay [diafqora]”

The association between Isa 55:3 and Ps 16:10 is based on the substantive adjective o%sio$ (Hebrew dysj); here is the relevant portion of Isa 55:3, in the three versions (MT/LXX/Acts) side by side:

Isa 55:3 MT

<yn]m*a$n# dw]d* yd@s=j^ <l*ou tyr!B= <k#l* ht*r=k=a#w+
“…and I will cut for/with you a lasting agreement,
the (well) supported loving/loyal things of David”

Isa 55:3 LXX

kai\ diaqh/somai u(mi=n diaqh/khn ai)w/nion ta\ o%sia Dauid ta\ pista/
“…and I will arrange for/with you an arrangement of-the-ages,
the holy (and) trustworthy things of David”

Acts 13:34b

dw/sw u(mi=n ta\ o%sia Daui\d ta\ pista/
“…and I will give you the holy (and) trustworthy things of David”

The Greek verb diati/qhmi has the fundamental meaning of setting (or arranging) things through, i.e. in order, or for a specific end purpose. The noun, of course, is related, i.e. an “arrangement”—in basic English, the Greek expression could be fairly rendered “I have arranged with you an arrangement…” (as above). The noun diaqh/kh often had the more technical sense of a “disposition (of goods/property)”, “testament”, or the like, and was also regularly used to translate the Hebrew tyrb (“agreement, covenant”). It is this latter sense (from the Old Testament) that diaqh/kh is typically carries in the New Testament. Paul’s quotation does not mention the agreement/covenant, but only the final phrase, “the holy (and) trustworthy things of David”, which is synonymous with the covenant (promises). The Hebrew adjective dysj has a wide and diverse semantic range, but perhaps could be summarized as “good, kind/loving, loyal”. The corresponding Greek adjective o%sio$ more properly relates to the religious sphere—that which is proper, good and right (“pure, whole, holy, sacred”, etc); in the LXX and New Testament it is largely synonymous with di/kaio$ (“just, right[eous]”).

Verses 36 and 37 apply Psalm 16:10 to the death and resurrection of Jesus in a manner very similar to that in Peter’s Pentecost speech—cf. Acts 2:29-32 and the notes in Parts 2 & 3 of this series.

(The remainder of the discussion is continued in Part 16)

July 3: Gal 2:17-18

This is the second of four daily notes dealing with Galatians 2:15-21. Yesterday’s note covered verses 15 and 16, summarized as a basic proposition regarding justification and the Jew/Gentile distinction. Today’s note will examine verses 17-18, which I have summarized as:

A Rhetorical argument to show the problem with applying the Law to (Gentile) believers

Galatians 2:17-18

In verse 17, Paul begins by posing a question (best understood as a rhetorical question), the first conditional clause of which contains two parts:

(a) “But if, seeking to be declared just in [e)n] (the) Anointed (One)…”

This can be understood one of two ways:

(i) True condition—A Gentile who seeks (correctly) to be justified/saved by faith in Christ (instrumental use of the preposition e)n)
(ii) False condition—A believer (Jew or Gentile) already “in Christ” seeks (incorrectly) to be justified by observance of Jewish law

The second part of the clause is:

(b) “…(we our)selves are also found to be sinful ones [i.e. ‘sinners’]…”

This clause also can be understood either as a:

(i) True condition—Converts are shown to be sinful (by the Law) and thus can only be justified through faith in Christ
(ii) False condition—Believers “in Christ” who do not observe the Law are considered to be “sinners” (from the strict Jewish Christian perspective)

The overall polemic, and the specific use of a(martwloi (“sinners”) in verse 15, strongly indicate that the second portion (b) is a false condition—that, according to the Jewish Christian viewpoint, Gentile believers who do not observe the Jewish Law are effectively “sinners”. However, Paul may also be playing on the idea of the true condition as well—i.e., if his (Jewish Christian) opponents are correct, then believers (already justified by faith in Christ) are truly sinful, having transgressed the religious law. The sense of the first portion (a) of the clause is even more difficult to determine: perhaps it is intended as a true condition, emphasizing those (Gentiles) who seek to be justified/saved by faith in Christ, but the false condition is at least possible as well.  The upshot of the question, however, is that the Jewish Christian emphasis on observing the Law results in (Gentile) believers effectively being reckoned as “sinners”. This is made clear in the concluding clause:

“…then is (the) Anointed (One) an attendant [i.e. servant] of sin? May it not come to be (so)!”

The notion Paul frames within this question, drawn from the implicit logic of his (Jewish Christian) opponents, is that a believer who trusts in Christ for justification (being declared just/righteous) ends up becoming a “sinner”. This, in turn, implies that Christ serves to bring about sinfulness (transgression) for the believer (under the Law)—clearly an absurd notion!—and yet one which Paul effectively regards as true if it is necessary (as his ‘opponents’ claim) for believers to continue observing the Old Testament Law.

The conditional statement in verse 18, brings greater clarity to the complex rhetorical question of v. 17:

“For, if the (things) which I loosed down [i.e. dissolved/destroyed], these (things) I build (up) again, I make myself stand together (with) one (who) ‘steps over’ [i.e. violates/transgresses]”

As Paul will expound in the argument:

    • by trusting in Christ one effectively dies to the Law (dissolving it)
    • to continue observing the Law—or claiming that one needs to do so—re-establishes it (builds it up again)
    • but the purpose of the Law was to make sin (transgression) known (Rom 4:15, etc) to all people
    • therefore, if taken seriously, the believer (attempting to observe the Law) again comes to be under sin (a transgressor)

It is powerful line of reasoning, and, I suspect, one which many Jewish Christians would not have considered (and which many still do not realize today). The uniqueness of Paul’s viewpoint comes largely from the third premise above—his extraordinary teaching that the fundamental purpose of the Law was to make sin known (effectively to establish humankind’s bondage under sin, Gal 3:22). There is hardly a Jew at the time (or since)—including, I am sure, many (or most) Jewish Christians—who would accept this remarkable Pauline doctrine. The stark implication of it is that, to (re-)establish the requirement of Torah observance for believers who have died to the Law (Torah), serves ultimately to undo the very work of Christ! This will be discussed further, in the next daily note on vv. 19-20.