July 6: Acts 28:25

Acts 28:25

In the concluding episode of the book of Acts (28:17-31), Paul is in Rome, under house arrest (v. 16), but given a limited freedom to receive visitors, etc., presumably because the Roman authorities did not consider him a threat to public order (Fitzmyer, p. 788). In this episode, leading members of the Jewish community in Rome come to see Paul (vv. 17-22), and eventually arrange for a second meeting with him for further conversations. The author summarizes this second meeting in vv. 23-28[f], which can also serve as a summary for the book of Acts as a whole:

“…he laid out (the message), giving witness throughout (regarding) the kingdom of God, and persuading (them) about Yeshua, both from the Law of Moshe and the Foretellers, from early (morning) until evening. And (on the one hand), (some of) the(m) were persuaded by the (thing)s being related to them, but (on the other hand), (some of) the(m) were without trust. And being without a voice together [i.e. in agreement] toward each other, they loosed themselves [i.e. departed] from (the gathering), (with) Paul (hav)ing said one (last) thing (to them): ‘The holy Spirit spoke well through Yesha’yah the Foreteller to your fathers, saying…’ {citation from Isa 6:9-10} So let it be known to you that to the nations was se(n)t forth this salvation of God—and they will hear it!”

Here we have a veritable compendium of key themes and motifs of Acts, all of which are closely connected with the Spirit-theme. As a way of concluding this series of notes, it is worth highlighting and discussing the most prominent of these themes.

The Kingdom of God. It should be emphasized once again regarding the keynote statement in 1:8, the declaration of Jesus to his disciples, in which the realization of the Kingdom of God (in this New Age) is explained by the two-fold theme of: (1) the presence and work of the Spirit, and (2) the proclamation of the Gospel (into all the nations). It is fitting that, also at the end of the book, this same two-fold realization of the Kingdom is again brought into view.

Prophecy. Just as the Spirit of God was the source of genuine prophecy in the Old Covenant, so it is also in the New Covenant. When the Spirit came upon the first believers in Jerusalem, they all prophesied, in fulfillment (as stated in the Pentecost speech by Peter) of the oracle in Joel 2:28-32. The inspiration and empowerment by the Spirit relates both to the general aspect of prophecy as communication of the word and will of God, and also to the more specific early Christian context of proclaiming the Gospel to the nations.

The fact that the Spirit-inspired Prophets of Israel foretold the events surrounding Jesus and the early believers gives added confirmation to the inspired character of the early Christian preaching—and thus legitimizing (especially for Israelites and Jews) the truth of the Gospel. Here, the reference to the Spirit (v. 25) specifically refers to the inspiration of Isaiah’s prophecy (6:9-10), even as the same is said of David (in 1:16 and 4:25 [Ps 69:25 / 109:8 & 2:1-2]).

Opposition to the Gospel. A recurring theme that is developed throughout the Acts narratives, and a significant aspect of the Spirit-theme, is the Jewish opposition to the early Christian mission. Such opposition and persecution toward believers begins in the early chapters of Acts (chaps. 4-7) and continues on through the narratives of Paul’s missionary journeys. Implied throughout is the idea that opposition to the Spirit-inspired Gospel preaching is essentially the same as opposing the Spirit of God itself. This equivalence is more or less stated directly in Stephen’s speech (7:51), but is very much present in other passages as well (see esp. the warning by Gamaliel to his fellow Jews in 5:39). Jewish opposition to the Gospel is highlighted here in the closing episode, though defined more in terms of an unwillingness (or inability) to accept the message.

Mission to the Gentiles. This episode also re-states the important theme of the early Christian mission to the Gentiles. There are two key aspects of the argument, within the Acts narrative, that legitimizes the inclusion of non-Jewish (Gentile) converts into the early Christian Community, a point central to the overall theme and message of Luke-Acts: (1) the missionary shift to the Gentiles is the result of Jewish opposition to the Gospel (cf. above); (2) the inclusion of Gentile believers into the People of God is occurring under the superintending guidance of the Spirit, and is thus part of God’s sovereign plan and purpose for His people.

Unity of Believers. The key theme in Acts of the unity of early believers is presented again here in the closing episode, partly by way of contrast with the lack of unity among Jews in responding to the Gospel. Consider how this is expressed in vv. 24-25a:

“And (on the one hand), (some of) the(m) were persuaded by the (thing)s being related to them, but (on the other hand), (some of) the(m) were without trust. And being without a voice together [i.e. in agreement] toward each other, they loosed themselves [i.e. departed] from (the gathering)…”

Verse 24 involves a me\nde/ construction, which typically indicates a pointed contrast, and can be translated in English as “one one hand…but on the other hand…”. In this case, the idea is that some Jews trusted (lit. “were persuaded”), but others did not (remaining “without trust”, vb a)piste/w). Even as they leave their meeting with Paul, it is emphasized that these Roman Jews are divided with regard to the Gospel; the phrase the author uses is “being without a voice together toward each other”. This lack of agreement is expressed by the adjective a)su/mfono$, which I translate literally as “without a voice together” (i.e., with no common voice, without agreement).

The point of contrast is confirmed again, subtly, in v. 25b, where the lack of agreement (i.e., many different opinions) by the Jews is contrasted with the one (ei!$, neuter e%n) thing Paul says to them as they depart. This “one thing” takes the form of a mini-sermon, with a Scripture citation (Isa 6:9-10) that is expounded and applied to the current time, related to the proclamation (kerygma) of the Gospel. This sense of unity continues in the final verses (vv. 30-31), stating how Paul continued to preach the Gospel, with boldness and without any real hindrance, even while under house arrest in Rome.

Early Christians were cognizant of the difficulty surrounding the lack of acceptance of the Gospel by many Israelites and Jews. How could it be that the people of God (under the Old Covenant) would, in many (if not most) instances, be unwilling or unable to accept the Gospel of Christ? The words of Isaiah in 6:9-10 provided an explanation for this. It was clearly a popular Scripture for early Christians to apply as an answer to the troublesome question, since we find it cited in a number of different places in the New Testament, beginning with the Gospel tradition (saying of Jesus) in Mark 4:12 par (Lk 8:10, cf. also Mk 8:17-18), and again in John 12:39-40, by Paul in Rom 11:8, and here in vv. 26-27. The reference in Rom 11:8 is, of course, part of Paul’s extensive treatment of the question in chapters 9-11 of Romans. There he gives a theological exposition of the same point that is implied in the book of Acts: namely, that the failure of Jews to accept the Gospel was part of the wider purpose of God in bringing the good news to Gentiles throughout the Roman Empire.

(For the background of the original Isaian prophecy in Isa 6, cf. my earlier study on the subject.)

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 31 (Doubleday / Yale: 1998).

 

 

July 5: Acts 19:21; 20:22-23; 21:4ff

Acts 19:21; 20:22-23; 21:4ff

As the narrative of Paul’s second and third missionary journeys (15:36-21:14) comes to a close, we find a number of key references to the Spirit. These references continue the theme of the Spirit’s guidance of the early Christian missionaries on their journeys. The difference in chapters 19-21 is that the focus shifts to Paul’s return journey to Jerusalem and the fate that awaits him there. The Spirit continues to guide Paul, even as his imprisonment (and death) approaches. In its own way, his arrest in Jerusalem would lead to a new stage in the proclamation of the Gospel (the final division of the book of Acts, 21:15-28:31), marked by Paul’s speeches before the ruling authorities and his ultimate voyage to Rome.

Within the Ephesus section of the narrative (18:23-19:41), this next stage of Paul’s journeys is anticipated and foreshadowed in 19:21:

“And, as these (thing)s were fulfilled, Paulus set (himself) in the Spirit, (hav)ing gone through Makedonia and Achaia, to travel (on) to Yerushalaim, saying ‘After my coming to be there, it is necessary (for) me also to see Rome’.”

As in 18:25 (cf. the previous note), the expression e)n tw=| pneu/mati (“in the spirit”) is ambiguous; it could mean “in the (Holy) Spirit”, but also “in (his) spirit”. On the one hand, the latter seems a better fit to the context—i.e., Paul resolved in his spirit to go to Jerusalem. However, given the prominence of the Spirit-theme in Luke-Acts, it seems likely that the author has the (Holy) Spirit in mind here.

The fulfillment of Paul’s intention is narrated in 20:1-16; the speech that follows (vv. 17-35), to the Ephesian elders at Miletus, marks the end of the (second and third) missionary journeys. As many commentators have noted, this speech has a number of features in common with the traditional “farewell speech”. Paul recognizes that the believers there in Asia Minor will never see him again (v. 25). This explains the emotion at their parting (vv. 36-38), with a confirmation by the author that, indeed, they would never see Paul again.

In the historical summary (preamble) of his speech, Paul juxtaposes his past missionary work (vv. 18-21) with the situation that faces him at the present moment (vv. 22-25). In the past, he faced persecution and the intention of certain Jews to act against him (tai e)piboulai/ tw=n Ioudai/wn, v. 19); the noun e)piboulh/ should probably be understood in the concrete sense of their intention (boulh/, “will, purpose, plan”) to lay their hand upon (e)pi/) him (in a hostile way). So also he realizes that he will face hostility and opposition when he journeys to Jerusalem:

“And now, see, having been bound in the Spirit, I travel to Yerushalaim, not having seen [i.e. known] the (thing)s coming to meet with [i.e. that will happen to] me in her—except that the holy Spirit, down through (every) city, witnesses to me that bonds and (tim)es of distress remain (for) me.” (vv. 22-23)

Again, here in v. 22, the expression tw=| pneu/mati (“in [the] spirit” or “by [the] spirit”) could refer to the Holy Spirit, but also to Paul’s own spirit (cf. on 19:21 above). The idea of being bound by the Spirit certainly fits the theme of the Spirit’s leading/guiding of the missionaries, and is most likely what the author intends to convey. It confirms that even the missionary’s arrest and imprisonment (“bonds”) by hostile authorities is part of the Spirit’s superintending guidance. In this case, Paul specifically indicates that the Holy Spirit communicated to him that suffering and imprisonment awaits him in Jerusalem (v. 23). Paul, for his part, is determined to remain faithful to his mission, even the face of this impending suffering (v. 24).

His journey back to Jerusalem is narrated in 21:1-14, marking the end of his journeys, and, from a narrative standpoint, the third division of the book of Acts. At his stops along the way, believers must have become aware of the the danger facing Paul (or sensed it), for it is stated that they warned him not to travel on to Jerusalem (v. 4):

“And, (hav)ing found learners [i.e. disciples] (there), we remained upon her [i.e. in Tyre] seven days, (and) some of th(em) said to Paulus, through the Spirit, (that he was) not to step up [i.e. go up] to Yerushalaim.”

Interestingly, the Spirit appears to give contradictory instruction here, telling Paul not to travel on to Jerusalem, while, in the earlier references (cf. above), the Spirit is directing him to travel there. The apparent contradiction can perhaps be explained by reading the Lukan syntax here as an example of compression and abbreviation, which results in a somewhat misleading statement. It should perhaps be understood as follows:

“…some of th(em) said to Paulus, (having been warned of the danger) through the Spirit, (that he should) not go up to Yerushalaim”

In other words, the communication of the danger and fate that awaits Paul was an authentic message by the Spirit, but their advice to Paul more properly reflects their natural (human) love and concern for him. Cp. Mark 8:32 par. That it was the will (and guidance) of the Spirit that Paul should, indeed, travel to Jerusalem, is confirmed by what follows in the narrative. During Paul’s stay at Caesarea (v. 8f), a prophet named Agabus (Hagab)—apparently the same one mentioned earlier in 11:28—arrived to deliver an oracular (prophetic) message to him:

“and, (hav)ing come toward us, and taking up the girdle [i.e. belt] of Paulus, (and) binding his own feet (with it), said: ‘Thus says the holy Spirit: the man whose girdle [i.e. belt] this is, this (one) the Yehudeans will bind in Yerushalaim and will give him along into (the) hands of (the) nations’.” (v. 11)

Despite the inspired prophecy, some of the people with Paul, as before, urged him not to proceed to Jerusalem (v. 12). Paul, however, recognized the prophecy as confirmation of what had already been communicated to him by the Spirit (cf. above), understanding that his arrest in Jerusalem would simply represent the proper completion of his mission-work. This he expresses movingly in verse 13:

“What are you do(ing), weeping and together breaking my heart? For I, not only to be bound, but also to die away in Yerushalaim, do I hold (myself) ready under the name of the Lord Yeshua.”

The other believers and companions of Paul realized that they could not persuade him into forgoing his journey. Their final declaration, “May the will of the Lord come to be”, serves as a tacit recognition of the Spirit’s guidance, however painful and difficult it might seem to be at the moment. In its own way, this may be viewed as another example of the unity of early believers in the Spirit.

There is only one other major reference to the Spirit to be considered, and it occurs in the final episode of the book (28:25). With this, in the next daily note, we will conclude our series on the Spirit-theme in Luke-Acts.

 

 

July 4: Acts 19:1-7

Acts 19:1-7

The connection between the Spirit and baptism, so central to the early Christian understanding of the Spirit (and the Spirit-theme in Luke-Acts), features in one episode of the Pauline missionary narratives in Acts. This episode (19:1-7) is part of the Ephesus section within the narrative of Paul’s second and third missionary journeys (15:36-21:14). I would outline this section as follows:

    • Establishment of Apostolic (Pauline) Christianity in Ephesus, contrasted with the incomplete understanding of ‘Baptist’ believers (18:23-19:7)
      • 18:23-28—Apollos in Ephesus (Baptism of John point of contrast [v. 25ff])
      • 19:1-7—Paul in Ephesus (Baptism of John point of contrast)
    • Paul’s Missionary Work in Ephesus (19:8-41)
      • 19:8-22—His Missionary Work described
        • Vv. 8-11—Part 1 narration
        • Vv. 12-16—Illustrated by two key traditions
        • Vv. 17-20—Part 2 narration
        • Vv. 21-22—Conclusion
      • 19:23-41—The Effect of His Missionary Work

As indicated above, Acts 19:1-7 is the first of two episodes narrating the establishment of Apostolic (Pauline) Christianity in Ephesus. The point of contrast lies in the incomplete understanding of certain ‘Baptist’ believers, regarding the true nature of Christian baptism. In the first episode, this was included as a detail related to the missionary Apollos. It is interesting to note how the author cautiously presents this motif in the case of Apollos:

“This (man) was (one) having been sounded down (into the ears) [i.e. given oral instruction] (regarding) the way of the Lord, and, seething with the Spirit, he spoke and taught accurately about the (thing)s of Yeshua, (though) being fixed in (his mind) upon only the dunking of Yohanan; and (so) this (man) began to speak with all (bold)ness in the (place) of gathering together [synagogue].” (18:24-26a)

In all respects, Apollos was like the inspired (apostolic) missionaries, but for his lack of proper understanding regarding baptism. The parallel with the next episode might suggest that he had not (yet) received the Holy Spirit, although it is said here that he was “seething [i.e. fervent] with the Spirit”. It is possible to translate the Greek as “seething in the spirit [i.e. in his own spirit]”, but I am reluctant to understand it this way, considering that there is no indication that Apollos subsequently received the Spirit (not having possessed it prior). In at least one other instance in the book of Acts, believers received the Spirit quite apart from (and prior to) being baptized (10:44ff).

In any case, Priscilla and Aquila, being older (or at least more experienced) believers, took Apollos aside and gave him an even more accurate instruction in the Christian faith (v. 26b), which certainly would have included the nature of Christian baptism.

As we turn to the episode in 19:1-7, Paul encounters a group of (around twelve) believers, in a similar situation to that of Apollos, being familiar only with baptism as practiced by John the Baptist (and his followers). Note the smooth manner in which the author joins this episode to the earlier Apollos scene:

“And it came to be, (with) Apollos (now) being in Korinthos, (as) Paulus was going through the upper [i.e. highland] parts, (he was) to come [down] to Ephesos and find certain learners [i.e. disciples], and he said to them: ‘(Hav)ing trusted, did you receive the holy Spirit?’ And they said to him, ‘But we did not even hear if [i.e. that] there is a holy Spirit.'” (19:1-2)

On the surface Paul’s question seems curious, certainly an odd way to introduce oneself to a group of believers. However, it reflects an important thematic concern within the book of Acts—namely, the relation between conversion (including baptism) and the Spirit, and how this relationship was to be maintained as Christianity spread beyond Jerusalem and the domain of the Twelve Apostles. Paul, along with the leading missionaries who were his colleagues, was also an apostle, in the fundamental meaning of the word. Such missionaries continued the apostolic tradition, and would also continue the practice of the Twelve (cf. 8:14-18), who laid hands on believers after baptism, and thus conferred (or at least confirmed) the presence of the Spirit on them.

As Paul traveled through the unevangelized parts of the Roman Empire, it would have been somewhat unusual for him to encounter people there who were already believers, which is perhaps what prompted him to ask the question he does. He may have sensed that it was at least possible that a proper performance of the rite of baptism (in the new Christian sense) had not been undertaken for them. With regard to this Christian sense of baptism, Paul’s follow-up question states the issue well enough:

“And he said, ‘Into what, then, were you dunked?’ And they said, ‘Into the dunking of Yohanan’.” (v. 3)

Early Christian baptism was related to, and (we may say) inspired by, the baptisms performed by John, and yet clearly the Christian ritual came to take on a very different significance. Paul understands and explains this succinctly in verse 4:

“And Paul said, ‘Yohanan dunked (with) a dunking of a change-of-mind [meta/noia], saying to people (that it was) in the (one) coming after him that they should trust—that is, in Yeshua’.”

This statement quite clearly summarizes the Christian tradition(s) that formed the basis for the new view of baptism, being rooted in the early Gospel tradition—specifically the two sayings by the Baptist in Mark 1:7-8 par. These two sayings, which Mark presents as a sequence, but which Matthew and Luke (3:16, perhaps drawing upon a separate “Q” tradition) combine together into a single compound saying, are:

    • The saying about the “one coming after” him (v. 7 par)
    • The baptism-saying, contrasting dunking in water and dunking in the Holy Spirit (v. 8 par)

If we accept the authenticity of Paul’s words here, then he was clearly familiar with both of these traditions, as he alludes to each of them in v. 4:

    • “Yohanan dunked (with) a dunking of a change-of-mind [meta/noia]”, implying the contrast between the two kinds of baptism [i.e., the baptism-saying]
    • “…saying to people (that it was) in the (one) coming after him that they should trust”

The baptism-saying is especially important for the Acts narrative, as the author cites it twice, but in a form whereby Jesus is the speaker (1:5; 11:16), which may reflect an entirely separate line of tradition. The saying about “the one coming” is also mentioned (by Paul in his sermon-speech at Antioch) at 13:24-25.

Part of the Baptist-tradition in the Gospel is that the primary goal of John’s baptism-ministry was repentance (Mk 1:4-5 par). Paul does not deny that Christian baptism likewise involves a “change of mindset” (meta/noia, i.e. repentance)—the issue is “into what” this repentance leads. Trust in the Gospel leads one “into Jesus”. I rendered the preposition ei)$ quite literally in verse 3, while in v. 4 the same preposition is rendered as “in”, when referring to a person’s trust in Jesus. If we may summarize these two ways of translating the preposition in terms of the Christian experience:

    • Trust in [ei)$] Jesus leads to =>
      • being united into [ei)$] Jesus

And it is the second aspect that is reflected (and symbolized) by the baptism ritual. The presence of the Holy Spirit represents the manifest presence of the exalted Jesus (cf. the parallel phrasing in 16:6-7, discussed in the previous note). It also symbolizes the unity of believers in Christ—a point discussed a number of times in recent notes. Paul wishes to make certain that these believers understand the proper meaning of Christian baptism, in terms of: (1) its relation to trust in Jesus, and (2) the close connection between baptism and the presence of the Spirit. That these men were genuine believers is indicated by the ready way that they accept Paul’s instruction (much as, we may assume, Apollos accepted the instruction from Priscilla and Aquila, cf. above):

“And hearing (this), they were dunked into [ei)$] the name of the Lord Yeshua” (v. 5)

The laying on of hands (by Paul) follows the dunking in water, and, according to early Christian tradition, it was this second stage of the ritual that was specifically connected with the coming of the Spirit (on the exception to this in 10:44ff, cf. the earlier note):

“…and (at) Paul’s setting (his) hands upon them, the holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (v. 6)

Again, it must be emphasized that “prophesying” in the early Christian sense fundamentally refers to proclaiming the Gospel, though the more general aspect of speaking out the word and will of God (as His representative) is also in view. In the book of Acts, all believers fulfill this role, though there are certain ones who may be more gifted in speaking and understanding.

 

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 48 (Part 2)

Psalm 48, continued

Verses 10-15 [9-14]

This is the second of the two stanzas of the Psalm, as indicated rather clearly by the overall structure (including the two pause-markers at the end of verses 9 [8] and 15 [14]). Overall, this stanza follows a 3+2 meter, though there are a couple of exceptions (cf. below).

Verse 10 [9]

“Shall we compare your goodness, O Mightiest,
in the midst of your palace?”

The second stanza opens with a 3+2 couplet which I read as a rhetorical question, meant to inspire the praise of the people. It probably has the sense here of “To what shall we compare your goodness…?”, implying that the “Mightiest One” (YHWH) is incomparable. The noun ds#j# is translated according to its fundamental meaning (“goodness, kindness”); however, as I have often noted, the term frequently must be understood in the context of the covenant, denoting (or connoting) faithfulness, loyalty, etc. The first stanza emphasized the protection provided by YHWH, which is a central aspect of His covenant loyalty, whereby God fulfills His obligation to His people (according to the terms of the agreement).

The phrase in the second line, “in the midst of your palace”, again emphasizes Zion (Jerusalem) as the dwelling-place of the King. The “palace” (lk*yh@) of YHWH is, of course, the Temple. Even as the palace of the earthly king resides on Zion, so also does the palace of the heavenly King.

Verse 11abc [10abc]

“Like your name, Mightiest,
so (also) your praise,
(is) unto (the) ends of (the) earth.”

The meter of this verse is slightly irregular, but generally corresponds to a 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon. The idea seems to be that the praise which YHWH deserves corresponds to the greatness of His name. Oddly enough, in this regard, this ‘Elohist’ Psalm here does not use the Divine name (hwhy), but the substitution <yh!l)a$ (“Mightiest [One]”, i.e., “God”). According to the ancient Near Eastern mindset, a person’s name embodies the essential nature and character of the person.

Dahood (p. 292), following the suggestion of earlier commentators, would read imvk as “like your heaven” (;ym#v*K=, spelled defectively):

“Like your heaven, Mightiest,
so (also) your praise,
(reaches) unto (the) ends of (the) earth…”

In some ways, this would be more fitting to the context of the Psalm, continuing the comparison (vb hm*D*) mentioned in v. 10. It would also develop the idea of the parallel between the heavenly and earthly dwelling of YHWH, as well as emphasizing the role of YHWH as Creator and King over the universe. The dome of the heavens extends over the entire surface of the earth; so also does YHWH’s rule, and the praise that is His due (as King).

Verse 11d-12 [10d-11]

“You right hand is full of justice—
let mount ‚iyyôn rejoice,
let (the) daughters of Yehudah twirl,
in response to your judgments!”

Rhythmically, we have here a pair of 3+2 couplets (following the meter established in the opening verse); however, the conceptual parallelism of the quatrain is rather different: the outer lines (1 and 4) forming a pair, along with the inner lines (2 and 3). The inner parallel also relates to the outer parallel:

    • Your right hand…justice
      • Let Mount Zion rejoice
      • / let daughters of Judah twirl (with joy)
    • / …your judgments

Judah and Jerusalem are to rejoice because of (/u^m^l=) the justice and judgments made by YHWH. This emphasizes God’s role as King and Judge over the universe. The noun qd#x# (“justice, right[eous]ness”) here is fundamentally related in meaning to ds#j#—both terms refer to the goodness, faithfulness and (covenant) loyalty of God. YHWH’s judgments, and the exercise of His justice over the world (and to the nations) take the form of goodness/kindness for His people.

Verses 13-14 [12-13]

“Go around ‚iyyôn and circle through her,
(and) count her great (tower)s;
set your heart to (consider) her rampart(s),
(and) examine her (fortified) dwellings—
in order that you may recount it
to the circle [i.e. generation] (that comes) after.”

This verse returns to the theme of the fortifications of Zion—and thus the protection provided by YHWH—from the first stanza (see esp. verse 4 [3]). Again, this is not meant as a literal/physical description of the city’s defenses; rather, it emphasizes two important motifs: (a) the traditional connection between the Temple mount (and the palace-locale of the ‘City of David’) and the ancient Canaanite hilltop fortress site, and (b) the protection that comes from the presence of YHWH within the city. The true nature of the city’s fortifications  lies in the protective presence of YHWH.

Three terms are used for the fortifications of Zion: (1) “great (tower), tall (place)” [lD*g+m!]; (2) “rampart” [hl*yj@]; and (3) “(fortified) dwelling” (i.e. palace, citadel) [/omr=a^].

The verb gs^P* (in the second line of the second couplet) occurs only here in the Old Testament, and its meaning (and derivation) is quite uncertain. The context suggests a meaning something like “examine”.

The two 3+2 couplets are followed by a short 2-beat (2+2) couplet that explains the reason for counting and examining the fortifications of Zion (that is, the protection provided by YHWH’s presence)—so that it all can be declared (“recounted,” same verb rp^s* as in v. 13) for the generations (noun roD, “circle, [life-]cycle”) of people that are to come. This declaration is the essence of the very Psalm and song of praise that is being sung.

Verse 15 [14]

“For this (all belongs to the) Mightiest,
our Mighty (One from the) distant (past) until (the end)
—(so) He will guide us (into the) distant (future).”
Selah

The conclusion of the stanza (and the Psalm itself) takes the form of a 3-beat (3+3+3) tricolon. The initial line is best understood as an abbreviated statement: “for this (belongs to the) Mightiest”, i.e., “for this (is) God’s” —that is, the city (Zion/Jerusalem) and everything in it. In particular, the fortifications of Zion belong to YHWH. It is even possible to read the line in a more literal fashion, in this regard: “For this [i.e. the fortifications] (is the) Mightiest” —i.e., the fortifications are the protective presence of YHWH Himself.

I tentatively follow Dahood (p. 293f) in reading twm-lu (MT twm-lu^, “until death”) as toml*u), a feminine plural form of <l*ou (typically referring to the “distant” past or future), understood as an intensive or comprehensive plural (i.e., “[the most] distant [future]”), corresponding to colloquial English “forever (and ever)”. As Dahood notes, the first stanza ends with “until (the) distant (future)” (<l*ou-du^), and it is proper that the second stanza would end in a similar manner (toml*udu^).

References above marked “Dahood” are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965).

Saturday Series: Acts 6:1-8:4 (continued)

Acts 6:1-8:4, continued

In the previous studies (last week and the week prior) I examined the background and setting of Stephen’s speech, the Narrative Introduction (Acts 6:8-15; 7:1), and the Introductory Address (7:2-42a) which includes the lengthy summary of Israelite history (and the last section of which [on Moses] I discussed in some detail). This week, I will treat the remainder of the speech, beginning with the citation from Scripture in verses 42b-43.

Citation from Scripture (vv. 42b-43)

Though the length of the prior historical summary might suggest otherwise, the Scripture citation (from Amos 5:25-27) here is as central to Stephen’s speech as that of the prior sermon-speeches in Acts, for it begins to address (somewhat more directly) the charges against Stephen regarding the Temple and the Law. The version of Amos 5:25-27 more or less matches that of the Greek LXX, with two minor differences, and two more significant ones:

    • v. 42 has reversed the order of “in the desert” [en t¢ er¢¡mœ] and “forty years” [ét¢ tesserákonta]
    • MSS B D (and several others) read “of the god” instead of “of your god” in v. 43, omitting the pronoun hymœ¡n
    • v. 43 read “to worship them [proskyneín autoís]” instead of “yourselves” [heautoís]
    • the conclusion of the citation, “upon those (further parts) of…” [i.e. beyond, past], Acts reads “Babylon” instead of “Damascus” in Amos 5:27, making it relate more directly to the Babylonian exile (which involved the destruction of the Temple)

The Greek version itself appears to be corrupt, having misread (and/or misunderstood) the twin references in Amos 5:26:

    1. Heb. sikkû¾ malk®½em, “Sakkut your king”, but Grk. t¢n sk¢n¢¡n tou Moloch, “the tent of Moloch”
    2. Heb. kiyyûn kô½a» °§lœhê½em, “Kaiwan, star of your god”, or “Kaiwan your star-god”, but Grk. to ástron tou theoú hymœ¡n Raiphan, “the star of your god Raiphan”

In the first expression, (a) MT twks was read as related to hK*s% (s¥kkâ), “woven-shelter [i.e. hut, booth, tent]”, whereas it should almost certainly be understood as the Assyrian-Babylonian deity Sakkut [vocalized tWKs^, sakkû¾]; and (b) “(your) king”, where the MT ilm (mlk) was vocalized/read as the proper name “Moloch”. In the second expression, it is generally assumed that an original transliteration Kaiphan became Raiphan/Rephan; in some (Western) manuscripts of Acts it reads Remphan, while in B a3 it is Rompha[n]. “Sakkut” and “Kaiwan” are names of Assyrian/Babylonian astral deities (the latter [kayawânu] being the name for the planet Saturn). In the original Hebrew of Amos, the word ƒalmê½em, “your images”, despite its positioning, probably meant to refer to both deities; it is possible, of course, that there is also corruption in the Hebrew MT. Amos 5:26-27 is quoted, more or less following the MT vocalization, in the Damascus Document [CD MS A] 7:14ff, but applied in a very peculiar way (in connection with Amos 9:11).

Exposition and Application (vv. 44-50)

Also unusual is the interpretation which Stephen (and/or the author of Acts) gives to these verses, for it differs significantly from the original context. Amos 5:18-24, 25-27 is part of a series of Woe-oracles pronouncing judgment against Israel (primarily the northern kingdom, under Jeroboam II, centered in Samaria). Verses 18-20 speak of the day of YHWH, how it will come suddenly and unexpectedly—hitting God’s own people right where they live. Verses 21-24 emphasize that God’s judgment extends even to Israel’s religion: He will not accept their worship and sacrificial offering—a theme found elsewhere in the Prophets, most famously in Isaiah 1:10-17. The implication, indicated by the exhortation in Amos 5:24, is that the people are not living and acting according to justice/righteousness. This is expressed most strikingly in Jeremiah 7:1-26, where condemnation is especially harsh against those who act wickedly and yet continue to participate in the religious ritual (esp. vv. 9-11). The current corruption of religion, according to the prophet, is apparently contrasted with the wilderness period (Amos 5:25): at that time Israel did not present sacrificial offerings (those began only when the people arrived in the promised land)—a much better situation than the corrupt (and idolatrous) worship currently being offered up (v. 26)! It is not entirely clear whether or not we should take v. 26 literally: were the Israelites actually worshiping these Assyrian deities, or are the expressions meant to symbolize the idolatrous character of the ritual (corrupted by unrighteousness and injustice). Either is possible—Jeremiah 7:9-10, for example, mentions actual idolatry (Baal worship) together with moral corruption, whereas Isa 1:10ff emphasizes the ethical side.

In Stephen’s speech in Acts, a rather different point of view is implied: during the wilderness period, the Israelites did not offer sacrifices to God (even though they should have!), and instead actually practiced idolatry during those years. This idolatry began with the Golden Calf (7:40-41), whereupon God “gave them over” (v. 42) to worship the heavenly bodies (sun, moon, and stars, etc). However, it would seem that this interpretation is not so much historical as it is rhetorical (and didactic); note the pattern, which I extend to the verses (vv. 44-47) which follow:

    • Failure to obey Moses in the wilderness—idolatry (the Golden Calf), vv. 39-41
      • The (portable) tent of witness (Tabernacle) in the wilderness, following God’s words to Moses, vv. 44-45
      • David and Solomon seek instead to build a (fixed) house (Temple) for God, vv. 46-47
    • The people are “given over” to more serious and persistent idolatry (leading to the Exile), vv. 42ff

The history of Israel, then, is depicted according to two different progressions—one involving idolatry and corruption of religion (the outer pair above), the other involving the building of a house (temple) for God (the inner pair). That these are meant to be understood in parallel (and corresponding terms) becomes even more clear if one includes the Scripture citation (of Isaiah 66:1-2) that follows in vv. 49-50 and present them in sequence:

    • Failure to obey Moses’ words—beginning of idolatry, vv. 39-41
      • The people are given over to more serious idolatry, v. 42a
    • A portable Tent, according to God’s instruction to Moses—beginnings of a “house”, vv. 44-45

The interpretative key to all this is found in verse 48, which summarizes the Isaiah passage that follows:

“but the Highest does not put down house [i.e. dwell] in (buildings) made with hands…”

Isa 66:1-2 is part of an eschatological/idealized vision of a “new Jerusalem” in 65:17ff, where the people live in peace and harmony in relationship with God. Verses 1-4 of chap. 66 shift the focus to religious worship, questioning the very purpose and value of the Temple and its ritual. Acts cites vv. 1-2a precisely according to the LXX, except for tis tópos (“what place”) instead of poíos tópos (“what sort of place”). The two principal nouns in v. 1—oíkos (“house”) and tópos (“place”)—are commonly used of the Temple. Verses 3-4 identify the ritual sacrifices (offered at the Temple) with outright wickedness, to the point of referring to the (prescribed) ritual as a “miserable” (Heb. °¹wen) and “detestable” (šiqqûƒ) thing—both words can be euphemisms for idolatry. This echoes a regular prophetic theme that religious worship is worthless (even detestable) in God’s eyes if it is not accompanied by (personal and communal) righteousness and justice, or if it is similarly corrupted by idolatrous behavior; Jeremiah 7 provides perhaps the most striking example (see above). Isaiah 66:1-5 has a clear parallel earlier in the book (Isa 1:10-17), only here we find a more direct declaration of true worship (in 66:2b):

“This (is the one) I will look on [i.e. give attention to]—to (the one who is) humble/lowly and stricken of spirit/breath and trembling upon my word”

This very much prefigures the language of Jesus in the Beatitudes (and elsewhere in his teaching), and it is significant that Jesus himself says very little about the Temple and its ritual—the few statements which are preserved in the Gospels tend to be critical, such as the citation of Hos 6:6 in Matt 9:13; Mark 12:33 par and the sayings associated with the “cleansing” of the Temple in Mark 11:15-17 par (citing Isa 56:7; Jer 7:11). Keep in mind that in John’s account of the Temple “cleansing”, Jesus uttered a saying similar to that reported during his ‘trial’: “loose [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this shrine and in three days I will raise it (again)” (Jn 2:19). Of course, such a claim was also part of the charge against Stephen (Acts 6:13-14).

This brings us to a key motif in Stephen’s speech: the idea of the Temple as something “made with hands”; note the references:

    • the charge against Stephen in Acts 6:13-14 echoes the saying of Jesus reported at his trial (and partially confirmed by John 2:19); the Markan version of this saying has an interesting detail (italicized): “I will loose down [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this shrine made with hands [cheiropoí¢ton] and within three days I will build another house made without hands [acheiropoí¢ton]” (Mk 14:58)
    • in the speech (7:41), the Golden Calf (and, by extension, any idol) is cited as “the works of their hands” (ta érga tœn cheirœ¡n autœ¡n)
    • the Tent of Witness (v. 44f), i.e. the Tabernacle, is viewed positively (much moreso than the Temple) in the speech, yet it too is something “made” (vb poiéœ); in the Life of Moses II. 88, Philo refers to the Tent with the same expression “made with hands” (cheiropoí¢tos)
    • in verse 48, the Temple is specifically referred to in terms of a house “made with hands” (cheiropoí¢tos)
    • the citation of Isa 66:2a [LXX] in verse 50, by contrast, refers to God as the one whose hand (cheír) has “made (epoí¢sen) all these things [i.e. all creation]”

The statement in verse 48 was a truism actually well-understood by ancient people—that the invisible, transcendent Deity did not “dwell” in human-built shrines in an actual, concrete sense. This was admitted by king Solomon at the dedication of the Jerusalem Temple, as recorded in 1 Kings 8:27 (cf. 2 Chron 2:6; Josephus Antiquities 8.107). A physical temple or shrine represented a religious accommodation toward human limitations, a way for human beings to relate to God in time and space, by ritual means; however, like any human institution (even one divinely appointed), it was prone to corruption and abuse. Temple priests (and/or the religious-political leaders who controlled them) were often powerful (even wealthy) persons who exercised considerable influence over ancient society. Jesus’ harshest words were directed toward the religious leadership, and the fiercest opponents of Jesus (and early Christians in Jerusalem) were the “Chief Priests” who controlled much of the Temple establishment. Beyond this, however, we do find here, to some degree, strong criticism against the Temple itself, which I will discuss in the concluding part of this study (next week).

Concluding Exhortation (vv. 51-53)

Instead of the exhortation in the sermon-speech pattern, we have here a harsh and vehement accusation toward those in the audience (the Sanhedrin), which proceeds along three points (still drawing upon the historical summary):

    1. they “fall against” [i.e. resist/oppose] the holy Spirit—as their fathers did (v. 51)
    2. they became ones who betrayed and murdered the “Just One” [Jesus]—as their fathers pursued and killed the prophets (v. 52)
    3. they received the Law (as a divine revelation), but did not keep it—along with their fathers (implied) (v. 53)

Several of the expressions in verse 51 are taken straight from the Old Testament:

The particle aeí (“always”, i.e. continually, regularly) connects the current people (esp. their leaders) with those in the past who rebelled against God. Opposition to the Holy Spirit (by persecuting the Christians) is the most prominent, immediate transgression—from this, Stephen works backward:

Verse 52—their role in the death of Jesus (“the Just [One]”, díkaios, cf. 3:14), which has led them to become “betrayers” (prodótai, [ones] giving [Jesus] before [the Roman authorities]) and “murderers” (phoneís)
Verse 53—even prior to this, by implication, they had not kept the Law (of Moses); it is not certain just what is meant by this: from an early Christian standpoint, rejection of Jesus was tantamount to rejecting the Law and Prophets, but whether he is charging them otherwise with ethical or ritual transgressions is hard to say. For the idea of the Law having been delivered by heavenly Messengers (Angels), cf. Deut 33:2 LXX; Jubilees 1:27-29; Josephus Antiquities 15.136; Galatians 3:19; Heb 2:2 and earlier in Acts 7:38.

Narrative Summary (7:54-8:1a)

The reaction is similar to that in Acts 5:33, with the same phrase being used:

and having heard these things, they were cut/sawn through [diepríonto] in their hearts…”

In the earlier narrative, Gamaliel is able to prevent the crowd from taking violent action (5:34ff); here the hostility builds as they “grind/gnash their teeth upon him”. Verse 55 picks up from 6:15, emphasizing that Stephen was under the power of God (“full of the holy Spirit”), and stretching (to look) [i.e. looking intently] into heaven, he saw a vision of Jesus standing at the right-hand of God. The image of Jesus having been raised and exalted to the “right hand” of God in Heaven was an important piece of early Christian preaching (influenced by Psalm 110:1), as seen previously in Acts 2:25, 33-34; 5:31. It is hard to say whether there is any special significance to Jesus standing (normally he is described as seated), but it certainly adds to the dramatic effect, and may draw greater attention to the “Son of Man” connection.

In describing his vision (v. 56), Stephen refers to Jesus as the Son of Man (huiós tou anthrœ¡pou), the only use of this title in the New Testament by someone other than Jesus himself. This is curious, and may reflect authentic historical detail, however, it is just as likely that the reference is primarily literary—to enhance the parallel between the trial/death of Jesus and Stephen; note:

There certainly would seem to be some degree of conscious patterning here. The dramatic moment leading to the execution (by stoning) is described vividly in verse 57:

“and crying (out) with a great voice, they held together their ears and with one impulse [homothymadón] rushed (ahead) upon him…”

The adverb homothymadón was used repeatedly in the early chapters of Acts (1:14; 2:46; 4:24; 5:12; cf. also 8:6; 15:25) as a keyword to express the unity and solidarity of believers in Jerusalem; here it is used in an entirely opposite sense—to depict a (unified) opposition against Christ (cf. also 18:12; 19:29). Here, opposition has finally broken into open violence against Christians. The mention of Saul in 7:58 and 8:1a sets the stage for the intense, if short-lived, persecution which follows (8:1-4; 11:19a).

By way of conclusion, I will discuss some key points of criticism and overall interpretation of the speech in our study next week.

July 1: Acts 16:6-7

Acts 16:6-7

We have seen how the guidance provided by the Holy Spirit for the early Christian missionaries (on their journeys) is an important aspect of the Spirit-theme in Acts. It is an aspect that was introduced in the Gospel, in relation to the Galilean ministry of Jesus (4:1, 14). The Spirit directs and leads believers on their mission, showing them where to go and what to speak, etc.

This theme continues in the second missionary journey of Paul, following the council at Jerusalem in chap. 15. The new journeys by Paul, extending even further west into the Greco-Roman world, form the core of the third division of the book of Acts (15:36-21:14). The second missionary journey proper begins at 16:6, with the earlier two sections (15:36-41; 16:1-5) being more introductory in nature, establishing two new missionary companions for Paul (Silas, Timothy). It is significant that the role of the Spirit is emphasized at the beginning of this great journey:

“And they went through the Phrygian and Galatian area, (hav)ing been cut off by the holy Spirit (from) speaking the account (of God) in Asia; and, (hav)ing come down to Mysia, they tested (whether they were) to travel into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Yeshua did not permit them” (16:6-7)

Here, the direction/guidance of Spirit is expressed in negative terms—that is, the Spirit directed the missionaries to go in a different direction than they had intended. In the first instance, the verb is kwlu/w, which fundamentally means “cut off, shorten”, sometimes in the more general sense of weakening something or preventing it (from happening). It is something of a Lukan term, used six times in the Gospel and another six in Acts, more than half of all NT occurrences (12 of 23). For the prior three occurrences in Acts, it is used in the specific context of hindering/preventing someone (lit. cutting them off) from being baptized (8:36; 10:47; 11:17). Here, the Spirit prevents Paul and his companions from going into the Roman province of Asia (in the Anatolian plateau), west of Phrygia. Instead, they took a northwestern route, traveling along the border of Asia.

Verse 7 describes the next major decision on their travel route. Having gone north, all the way to the border of Bithynia and Pontus, it is said that they “tested” (vb peira/zw) whether they should travel north into Bithynia. They did not proceed, however, as the Spirit “did not permit” them—the verb here being e)a/w, “[give] leave, allow, permit”. This verb again is typical of Luke, occurring twice in the Gospel and 7 times in Acts (9 of the 11 NT occurrences); the prior use in Acts was at 14:16.

It is not clear how the denial of permission by the Spirit was manifested. Possibly something unforeseen occurred which prevented the missionaries from proceeding, and this was seen as a sign from the Spirit. Such direction by the Spirit can also be expressed through visions (vv. 9-10) and oracular prophecy. In any case, Paul and his companions choose to travel west instead, moving along the northern Mysian coast, along the sea of Marmara, all the way to Troas (v. 8).

An interesting detail here in v. 7 is that the Holy Spirit is referred to as “the Spirit of Yeshua”. This confirms the early Christian identification of the Spirit with the manifest presence of the exalted Jesus among believers. This is an important Christological tenet, and it is expressed at numerous points in the Pauline (e.g., Rom 8:9; Gal 4:6; Phil 1:19) and Johannine writings. Luke attests to it here as well, though otherwise it is not particularly emphasized in the two-volume work of Luke-Acts.

In passing, it is also worth mentioning that the aspect of the Spirit guiding/directing the early Christian missionaries is emphasized in several of the expanded variant readings in the ‘Western’ text (recension) of Acts. Two such instances, in particular, should be noted:

    • Acts 19:1—”Paul was wishing to travel unto Jerusalem according to his own plan/counsel (but) the Spirit said to him to turn back into Asia, and coming through…” (Ë38 D syrh mg etc). This is an example of the more expansive narrative introductions typical of the Western text; here it emphasizes the Spirit’s direction (and intervention) in Paul’s travels.
    • Acts 20:3 (of Paul)—”he wished to take up sail into Syria but the Spirit said to him to turn back through Macedonia…” (D syrh mg etc). A similar expanded introduction emphasizing the guiding direction of the Spirit.

For other distinctively ‘Western’ references to the Spirit in Acts, cf. my earlier article on the subject.

June 29: Acts 13:52; 15:28

Acts 13:52; 15:28

In the previous notes we examined the role of the Spirit in guiding and empowering the early Christian mission. A key aspect of the Spirit-theme in Luke-Acts is also how the Spirit is manifested in the effect (and result) of the mission. The proclamation of the Gospel leads to individuals coming to trust in Jesus, and to be baptized, and thus to their receiving (and being filled with) the Holy Spirit. In addition, however, there is the broader effect of the mission on the Community of believers. We see this, for example, in the various expressions of unity among believers, which is closely connected with the presence of the Spirit. An especially significant instance is the scene of the prayer-speech in 4:23-31, which climaxes with a powerful manifestation of the Spirit within the Community.

In the middle of the narrative of Paul’s first missionary journey, at the conclusion of his great sermon-speech at Pisidian Antioch, there is another important reference to the Spirit. This episode (13:13-52) is the keystone section of the missionary narrative, and embodies the shift—so important to the Acts narrative—from a mission aimed at Jews to one aimed at non-Jews (Gentiles) in the Greco-Roman world. Within the drama of the narrative, this shift is expressed in vv. 44-51 (with the citation of Isa 49:6). It builds upon the earlier episodes of Jewish opposition and persecution, as well as the key Cornelius episode in chap. 10 (conversion of a pro-Jewish ‘God-fearer’), which is echoed here in v. 43.

Jewish opposition forced Paul and Barnabas out of Pisidian Antioch (vv. 50-51), but the ultimate result of their missionary work there is the continued spread of the Gospel and conversion of both Jews and Gentiles. It is worth considering how this is framed in the narrative:

    • The response of Gentile believers (v. 48-49):
      (a) rejoicing [vb xai/rw]
      (b) acceptance of the Gospel and conversion [trust, vb pisteu/w]

      • The response of (Jewish) opponents (v. 50)
      • The response of Paul and Barnabas to this opposition (v. 51)
    • The response of [Jewish] believers (v. 52)
      (a) rejoicing [“were filled with joy”, e)plhrou=nto xara=$]
      (b) the presence of the Spirit [“(filled) with the holy Spirit”]

It is best to understand the “learners” (i.e., disciples, maqhtai/) in v. 52 as followers of Paul and Barnabas’ mission-work—primarily Jewish believers and converts. It is comparable to the reaction of Jewish believers to the conversion of Cornelius and his household (10:45ff and throughout chap. 11). Common to the response of the Gentile and Jewish believers is joy/rejoicing (xara/ / xai/rw), which is the first aspect (a) in the outline above. The second aspect (b) properly summarizes the early Christian mission itself (cf. Jesus’ declaration in 1:8): (i) the proclamation of the Gospel, and (ii) the presence (and power) of the Spirit. On the connection between the Spirit and joy/rejoicing, cf. especially Luke 10:21.

The essential point of this section in the narrative is that the wider Community is blessed and strengthened by the inclusion of the Gentile converts. As is expressed by the concluding words, the Jewish believers were “filled with the holy Spirit” by this success of the mission and the inclusion of Gentile believers.

The theme of Jewish-Gentile unity within early Christianity reaches its dramatic climax in chapter 15 and the council held in Jerusalem to address the issue of the Gentile converts (the result of Paul/Barnabas’ mission-work). Support for the mission is expressed through the twin speeches by Peter (15:7-11) and James (vv. 13-21). The manner of expression in each of these speeches differs, but the basic message is the same, recognizing that the conversion of the Gentiles is part of God’s ordained plan for His people.

On this point, cf. the wording in 13:48, where the Gentile converts are characterized as those “having been arranged [i.e., appointed, by God] unto (the) life (of the) Ages [i.e. eternal life]”. Similarly, this predetermination of the Gentile believers’ salvation is implied by Peter in 15:7-8 (cf. also 10:34-35). Peter emphasizes again, in v. 8, that the legitimacy of the Gentile conversions was confirmed by the coming of the Spirit upon the household of Cornelius (10:44ff). The testimony of Paul and Barnabas (15:12) regarding their mission to the Gentiles gives further witness to Peter’s message.

The definitive statement of the Jerusalem Church on this matter is summarized in vv. 22-29, presented as a letter intended for the new (predominantly Gentile) congregations in Syria and nearby Asia (Cilicia, Pisidia). This section begins with the words:

“Then it seemed (good) to the (one)s sent forth [i.e. apostles] and the elders, together with the whole called out (Community) [e)kklhsi/a]…to send…” (v. 22)

This emphasizes that the decision is a unified response by the entire Community of believers—that is, an expression of Christian unity. Further on in the letter itself (v. 28), the unity of their response is said also to include the presence of the Spirit:

“For it seemed (good) to the holy Spirit and us…”

Beyond the association of the Spirit with the unity of believers, this verse also re-affirms the presence of the Spirit among Gentile believers and converts.

June 28: Acts 9:17; 11:24; 13:2-4ff

Acts 9:17; 11:24; 13:2-4ff

In these daily notes, focusing on the Spirit-theme in Luke-Acts, we turn now to the missionary work of Paul. This narrative strand is introduced in the second division of the book, beginning with the account of Paul’s conversion (9:1-19), and concluding with the completion of his first missionary journey (chaps. 13-14) and the council held at Jerusalem (chap. 15). Paul’s first missionary journey was made with Barnabas as his partner.

The role of the Spirit in this journey is established by the author at several points in the narrative. First, we have the information that both Paul and Barnabas, prior to their missionary journey, were filled by the Spirit. In the case of Paul (Saul), this is indicated within the conversion episode, where Ananias lays hands on him and prays/declares that “…you would be filled by [the] holy Spirit” (plhsqh=|$ pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou) (9:17). It is not stated that Paul received the Spirit, but we can certainly assume it from what follows in the narrative. As for Barnabas, the same is stated directly by the summary narration: “…he was a good man, full [plh/rh$] of (the) holy Spirit and trust” (11:24).

To say that Paul and Barnabas were “filled” by the Spirit, simply means that they were genuine believers (all such believers received the Spirit), and that they were empowered for active missionary work (involving the proclamation of the Gospel, supported by the working of miracles). Paul’s initial mission-work, begun shortly after his conversion, is narrated in 9:19b-30. We are not informed of similar work by Barnabas, beyond what is narrated in 11:22-26, which is included primarily to establish the site of Antioch as a (Hellenistic) Christian center, and to introduce the pairing of Barnabas and Paul (vv. 25-26).

The author also cleverly introduces the Spirit-theme in relation, specifically, to the congregation(s) at Antioch, through the brief episode narrated in 11:27-30. This is a transitional narrative, meant to join the Paul/Barnabas/Antioch strand with the Peter/Jerusalem strand in chap. 12. It introduces the idea of the suffering of the Jerusalem believers which would be developed in chap. 12; but it also prepares the ground-work for the introductory narrative (13:1-3) to the missionary journey of Paul/Barnabas.

In 11:28, a minor detail is noted: an otherwise unknown early Christian prophet (v. 27) named Abagus (Hagab) foretells the coming of a great famine. The specific information about this famine is only tangential to the narrative, but the comment that the prediction came true in the reign of the Emperor Claudius (v. 28b) serves to underscore the inspired character of the prophecy. Indeed, it is said that Abagus “marked” (i.e., indicated, made known, vb shmai/nw) the coming famine “through the Spirit” (dia\ tou= pneu/mato$).

This sets the stage for the narrative introduction to the missionary journey of Paul/Barnabas in 13:1-3. The two men were already missionaries “filled/full of the Spirit”, yet they were further chosen to go out on a special missionary tour into the wider Greco-Roman world (Asia Minor). Their selection and confirmation as missionaries for this purpose took place in a gathering of believers at Antioch (v. 1):

“And, in their doing service to the Lord and fasting, the holy Spirit said: ‘Mark off for me Bar-Neba and Ša’ûl unto the work (for) which I have called to them’.”

It is not specified precisely how this information was communicated to the believers at this gathering, but, based on the earlier Agabus episode (cf. above), we can fairly assume that the oracular utterance by a prophet, speaking with the voice of the Spirit, was involved.

In any case, the believers responded faithfully to this directive, and ‘set apart’ Barnabas and Paul (Saul) for the designated missionary service. A three-part ritual ministry was involved (v. 3): (i) a time of fasting, (ii) prayer, and (iii) the laying on of hands. Based on other occurrences of the ritual gesture (5:12; 6:6; 8:17-19; 9:17; 19:6, etc), the laying of hands was meant to confer (or at least to confirm) the presence and power of the Spirit. That the prayer was answered, and the ritual effective, is indicated by what follows in verse 4—properly the beginning of the missionary narrative-complex in chaps. 13-14—for it shows that the Spirit was indeed present with Paul and Barnabas, guiding their journey from the outset:

“Then they, (hav)ing been sent out under the holy Spirit, went down to Seleukia, and (from) there to Kypros…” (v. 4)

This is an important aspect of the Lukan Spirit-theme which the author has only begun developing at this point in the narrative. In the book of Acts, it was introduced in the Philip episode with the Ethiopian official (8:29, 39), and touched upon again in the conversion episodes of Paul and Cornelius (9:10-17; 10:19-20ff). Within the broader context of Luke-Acts, it was introduced in relation to the person of Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry (4:1, 14), where he is led by the Spirit into the desert (to endure temptation) and then back into Galilee.

The presence of the Spirit will be mentioned numerous times in the narratives of Paul’s missionary journeys. The first such instance is at 13:9, where the Spirit’s presence empowers Paul (“[hav]ing been filled by the holy Spirit”) to confront the Jewish magician and ‘false prophet’ (Bar-Yeshua), and to speak against him with divine authority (and miracle-working power), vv. 10-11. As throughout the book of Acts, this working of miracles (‘signs and wonders’) is meant to support the proclamation of the Gospel, as it does here, where the Cypriot proconsul on Paphos (Sergius Paulus) responds to the Gospel and believes.

Notes on Prayer: Acts 12:5, 12; 13:3

Acts 12:5, 12; 13:3

The two narrative strands in chapters 9-14, focusing (in turn) on the early missionary work of Peter and Paul, respectively, share something of the common Lukan theme of prayer. We saw this in the conversion-episodes of Paul (Saul) and Cornelius (discussed in last week’s study), but it is also expressed more directly in relation to the apostles’ missionary work.

In the case of Peter, this relates to his arrest and imprisonment (12:3-5), part of a brief period of persecution instigated against the early Christians by King Herod Agrippa (12:1ff). This persecution is introduced most vividly in the narrative, setting the scene for the dramatic episode that follows:

“And, at (about) that time, Herod the king, to harm certain (one)s from the called-out (Community) [e)kklhsi/a], threw (his) hands upon (them), and he took away (the life of) Ya’acob, the brother of Yohanan, by (the) sword.” (vv. 1-2)

As in the case of Jesus, Peter’s arrest took place around the time of Passover. He was being held in prison until after the festival (cp. Mk 14:1-2 par), where he would be presented for a public ‘trial’ and execution. During this time, we read that the Jerusalem believers were praying for Peter:

“So (on the one hand) Peter was (being) kept in the (prison-)guard, but (on the other hand) a speaking out toward [i.e. prayer to] God was coming to be (made) intensely under [i.e. by] the called out (Community) [e)kklhsi/a] over him.” (v. 5)
The “one the one hand…one the other” framework reflects the me\nde/ syntactical construction in Greek.

Here in the narrative, we see how the noun e)kklhsi/a comes to be used on a more regular basis to refer to the Community of believers—both in Jerusalem and beyond. The fundamental meaning of the term is that of an assembly or gathering which people are called out to attend; however, in the early Christian context, it must be understood in the sense of being called out—by God, through the proclamation of the Gospel—to join the Community of believers.

In earlier studies, we saw how prayer was an important way of demonstrating (and affirming) this common bond of unity among believers. And so it also is here. The Community had been harmed and disrupted by a time of periodic persecution (8:1-4ff); several of its members had been put to death, including the apostle James, and now another apostle (Peter) is suffering and in danger of being killed. This aspect of missionary work has always been the focus of prayer, and rightly so. We do not have the words of the believers’ prayers in this regard, but they likely echoed the great prayer-speech of 4:23-31, along with specific requests for the protection and deliverance of Peter.

The Jewish believers in Jerusalem would already have been making special gatherings together because of the festival time of Passover. The danger to Peter now gave these gatherings a new sense of purpose, and a focal point for prayer.

Peter’s deliverance from prison is narrated in the verses that follow (vv. 6-11), clearly indicating that his rescue (by supernatural / Angelic means) is an answer to prayer. When Peter arrives at the house of Mary, mother of John Mark, the believers there are once again engaged in prayer (v. 12). This would be an example of an early house-church in Jerusalem, in which a group of believers would regularly meet; here it is described as a place “in which an ample (number) having gathered together (were) also speaking out toward (God) [i.e. were gathered together and were praying]”.

In v. 5 the noun proseuxh/ is used, but with the full sense of the expression “speaking out toward God [pro\$ to\n qeo/n]” being specified. Here in v. 12, it is the related verb proseu/xomai, with the idea of their speech directed “toward God” being implied. Soon enough, they realize that their prayers (regarding Peter) have been answered. When our prayer is focused on God’s Kingdom and our mission on its behalf, we can rest assured that such prayer, likewise, will be heard and answered.

The purpose of the Community’s prayer in the case of Paul (and Barnabas) is rather different. The setting is a congregational (house-church) meeting in Antioch (13:1), a city far away from Jerusalem, but the second most prominent early center of Christianity, and a focal point for many Greek-speaking believers. During one such meeting, “in their doing service to the Lord and fasting”, the believers there were instructed (by the Holy Spirit) to set apart (lit. “mark off from [others]”, vb a)fori/zw) Paul and Barnabas for special work as missionaries (v. 2). On the role of the Spirit in this process (also v. 4), cf. my upcoming daily note on the subject. What is important to point out here is close connection between the Spirit and prayer, and how the prayer of early believers relates to the Spirit-theme of Luke-Acts.

In verse 3 we read:

“Then, (hav)ing fasted and (hav)ing spoken out toward (God) and (hav)ing set th(eir) hands upon them, they released (them) from (the gathering) [i.e. sent them off on their mission].”

Prayer (again the vb proseu/xomai) is the central component of a three-part ritual ministry to confirm and prepare Paul and Barnabas for their work. The prayer was preceded by a time of fasting, and then followed by the laying on of hands. From what we have seen elsewhere in the narrative regarding the ritual gesture of laying hands on a person (5:12; 6:6; 8:17-19; 9:17; 19:6, etc), this was meant to confer (or at least to confirm) the presence and power of the Spirit with Paul and Barnabas. If so, then the gesture (and the prayer) of believers seems to have been answered, for in v. 4 we see that the Spirit is directly guiding the missionaries on their journey.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 48 (Part 1)

Psalm 48

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsj (vv. 1-9 [1-8])

Much like the two prior Psalms, Ps 48 is a hymn on the Kingship of YHWH, with special emphasis on Jerusalem (Mt. Zion) as the King’s city. It continues the theme of YHWH as King over all the earth (and the nations), but who has a special covenant relationship with Israel, with His throne in the sanctuary of the Jerusalem Temple. This is an important component of Israelite (and Judean) royal theology. As long as Israel (and its king) remains faithful to the covenant, YHWH will continue to provide protection. The emphasis on Zion as a fortified location (on a hill) is a way of expressing this idea of God’s protection.

This Psalm consists of two stanzas (vv. 2-9 [1-8], 10-15 [9-14]), with a Selah (hl*s#) pause indicator marking the end of the first stanza. The meter is irregular, but the first stanza tends to follow a 2-beat couplet (or quatrain) format, with a brief shift to a 3+2 meter, before returning to a 2-beat quatrain in the closing verse.

The musical direction in the superscription is quite brief, somewhat oddly indicating that this musical composition (romz+m!) is also a “song” (ryv!). On the attribution to the “sons of Qorah”, cf. the introduction to the study on Psalm 42/43.

Verses 2-9 [1-8]

Verse 2 [1]

“Great (indeed is) YHWH
and very much to be praised,
in (the) city of our Mighty (One),
(on the) mountain of His holiness.”

The second couplet emphasizes the mountain location of Jerusalem, which is somewhat misleading, since the city scarcely is located on a mountain, but rather a more modest hill. However, in Canaanite religious tradition, the Creator El (“[the] Mighty [One]”) resided on a great cosmic mountain. Any local mountain could represent this dwelling of El. The same was true in terms of Israel’s view of the dwelling of El-Yahweh. He could be seen as present upon any local mountain (such as Sinai/Horeb), or even a modest hilltop site such as Zion/Jerusalem.

Indeed, the original fortified hilltop site captured by the Israelites was the location for both the Temple and royal Palace-complex. While the name Zion (/oYx!, ‚iyyôn) could refer to the expanded city of Jerusalem, it properly signifies the smaller fortress-site (the “City of David”) where the Temple and Palace were built.

Verse 3 [2]

“Beautiful (in its) height,
(the) joy of all (the) earth:
Mount ‚iyyôn, (on the) sides of ‚aphôn,
meeting-place of (the) great King!”

The quatrain in this verse is composed of another 2-beat (2+2) couplet followed by a 3-beat (3+3) couplet. The first couplet emphasizes both the beauty of Zion and its elevated location (indicated by the rare noun [on)—so stated in the first line. Both of these attributes are figurative, rather than meant as a realistic description of the city itself. Both its beauty and its elevation are due to the dwelling of YHWH there. Zion thus represents, from a symbolic and ritual standpoint, the cosmic dwelling of El-Yahweh, traditionally understood as a great mountain filling the heavens. As the dwelling-place of God, Zion also brings joy, i.e., is a cause for rejoicing (cocm=), for the entire earth.

The second couplet makes two points. The first point is that Zion is on the “sides” (dual of hk*r@y+) of Zaphon. The noun /opx* in Hebrew commonly means “north”, though it literally refers to something “hidden” or stored away. However, in Canaanite tradition, a local manifestation of El’s cosmic mountain-dwelling (and also that of Baal-Haddu) was Mt. Zaphon, usually identified with Mt. Casius (modern Jebel el-Aqra’). This great mountain was certainly to the ‘far north’ of Jerusalem, and a suitable location for the dwelling of the Great King (El-Yahweh). El’s mountain-dwelling (also envisioned as a great domed tent) was traditionally understood as existing in the ‘far north’, which may explain the origins of the name Zaphon (/opx*). Clearly, Mt. Zion is being identified here with the cosmic dwelling of El, according to Canaanite (and Israelite) religious tradition.

In the final line, the hy`r=q! could be translated flatly as “city” or “town”, parallel with ryu! in v. 2 [1]. However, I have chosen to translate it here in a way that preserves what is likely the original meaning, as a “meeting place”. In this case, it is a place where the people can “meet” the Great King (YHWH), referring to the religious ritual surrounding the Temple and its sanctuary.

Verse 4 [3]

“(The) Mightiest (is) among her forts,
being known as a place set (up) high.”

This is a rather difficult couplet, largely due to the attempt of expressing a relatively complex matrix of ideas within the confines of a short 2-beat couplet. But the basic meaning seems to be that it is the presence of YHWH, dwelling among the fortifications of the city, that gives to Zion (Jerusalem) its secure position and protection. Remember that Zion properly refers to the old Canaanite hilltop fortress-site that was captured by Israel (in the time of David). The ancient fortifications, and elevated position, gave to the city some measure of protection against invaders and hostile peoples. However, Zion was scarcely a high mountain (like Zaphon), and the characteristic here of its being a bG`c=m!, literally a “place set high up”, is something of an exaggeration. Its figurative high elevation (and thus its secure position) is due to the presence of YHWH.

Even though the Divine name (hwhy, YHWH) was used earlier in the Psalm, the occurrence of <yh!l)a$ here may be another example of substitution (for YHWH) in the ‘Elohist’ Psalms (cf. also the closing line of v. 9 [8] below).

Verses 5-6 [4-5]

“For, see! the kings are (gather)ed as appointed,
they passed by (the city) as one;
they saw (it and) thus were astounded,
they were terrified and (fle)d in fear.”

With this verse, there is a metrical shift in the stanza, from a predominantly 2-beat (2+2) couplet format to a 3+2 meter. The idea of kings gathering together, meeting at an appointed time and place, suggests that they have come together for a hostile purpose (cf. Psalm 2:1-2). The emphasis on protection in the previous verses certainly makes a military scenario probable here. The site of the grandeur and elevated position of Zion (Jerusalem) fills the kings with astonishment (vb Hm^T*). This turns to utter fear, causing them to flee in terror (vbs lh^B* and zp^j*). Their reaction, of course, is properly due to the presence of YHWH in the city.

Verses 7-8 [6-7]

“Trembling seized hold of them (right) there,
writhing like (that of one) giving birth;
(as when) by (the) east wind (they) are shattered,
(the proud) ships of Tarshish.”

The fear and trembling (du^r^) that take hold of the kings is here described with a pair of picturesque illustrations: (1) a woman in writhing pain (ly!j) while giving birth, and (2) trading ships (filled with goods) that are torn apart at sea by a powerful east-wind.

Verse 9 [8]

“Even that which we have heard,
so (now) we have seen (it),
in (the) city of YHWH of (the) armies,
in (the) city of our Mighty (One)!
(The) Mightiest will make her firm
until (the) distant (future)!”
Selah

As in the opening verse, so also at the close of the stanza we have a 2-beat (2+2+2+2) quatrain, though this meter is skewed slightly by the third line (which may be textually suspect [cf. Kraus, pp. 472-3]). The idea seems to be that the residents of Jerusalem (and Judah) have heard of how YHWH protected His city (and its people) in times past, but now they have witnessed this first hand. There is no way of knowing if any specific historical incident is in view, though the famous attack on the city by Sennacherib during the Assyrian invasion of Judah (701 B.C.) naturally comes to mind.

To preserve the poetic meter, I have translated the title toab*x= hwhy according to its abbreviated form, i.e., “YHWH of (the) armies”. However, the full sense of the expression must be understood according to its likely meaning as a sentence-title that retains the verbal force of hwhy, something like “(the One who) creates the (heavenly) armies”. From the ancient Israelite religious standpoint, once YHWH came to be used as the regular name for the Creator God (El), the expression is perhaps best understood as “YHWH, (commander) of (the heavenly) armies”, emphasizing His control over the heavens (forces of nature, Angelic beings, etc).

The final (3-beat) line is a declaration of praise to YHWH, confirming that He will protect His city, and continue to make it secure, far into the distant future (i.e., for all time). Almost certainly this Psalm well pre-dates the fall of Jerusalem (and the destruction of the Temple) in 587. It is interesting to consider how Israelites and Jews would explain this hymn from the standpoint of the Exile. The obvious theological explanation is that YHWH’s protection is contingent upon Israel/Judah remaining faithful to the covenant. As long as the nation, and its capital city of Jerusalem, remained faithful, God’s protection of her would last forever.

References above marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 1. Teilband, Psalmen 1-59, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 1-59, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).