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:
- The Sabbath/Synagogue preaching and teaching (v. 44; 14:1; 16:13; 17:1, 10, 17; 18:4, 7-8; 19:8)
- The initial success among Jews (and Gentiles) (vv. 44-45, 48; 14:1; 16:14-15; 17:4, etc)
- Jewish jealousy and (organized) opposition, resulting in a hostile crowd (vv. 45, 50; 14:2, 4-5, 19; 17:5-9, 13; 18:12ff, etc)
- A shift in missionary focus toward Gentiles (vv. 46-48; 14:1, 27; 15:3; chap. 16ff)
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]”
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)