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)

The Speeches of Acts, Part 14: Acts 10:34-43; 11:1-18 (continued)

The narrative setting and background (10:1-33) were discussed in part 13 of this series; here the two speeches themselves will be treated. For the first speech of Peter (10:34-43) the outline is as follows:

    • Narrative introduction (vv. 30-33)—the entirety of the narrative in Acts 10:1-33 (esp. vv. 23b-33) really should be considered here (see above), but I isolate verses 30-33 as the proper introduction to the speech itself.
    • Introductory Address (vv. 34-35)
    • [Citation from Scripture] (vv. 36-42)—instead of a Scripture citation (and exposition), we have a central kerygma (Gospel proclamation), the most complete and developed thus far in Acts.
    • Concluding Exhortation (v. 43)
    • Narrative Conclusion (vv. 44-48)

Narrative Introduction (vv. 30-33)—All of chapter 10 up to this point serves as an introduction to the speech, in particular the section narrating Peter’s visit to Cornelius (vv. 23b-33). Here I focus on verses 30-33, in which Cornelius recounts his visionary experience of vv. 1-8. Verse 33b sets the stage for the speech:

“Now therefore we are all along (here) in the sight of God to hear all the (thing)s set in order toward you under the Lord [i.e. appointed/arranged for you by the Lord]”

Introductory Address (vv. 34-35)—this consists of two theological statements:

    1. “God is not a ‘receiver of the face’ [proswpolh/pth$]” (v. 34)
    2. “In every nation, the one fearing Him and working justice/righteousness is accepted by Him” (v. 35)

The word proswpolh/pth$ (“receiver of the face”, “one who takes/receives the face”) is taken from the Old Testament (LXX)—lamba/nein pro/swpon—and based on the Hebrew/Semitic idiom <ynp acn (“lift/raise faces”), cf. Deut 10:17; 2 Chron 19:7, etc. In the ancient Near Eastern world, a greeting of respect or honor (esp. to a superior) involved prostrating oneself and/or lowering one’s face toward the ground. Lifting or raising the face is a sign that the person so greeted recognizes and accepts the one greeting. However, in a judicial context especially, the expression could have the sense of favoring one person over another, showing partiality or preference, superficial flattery, and the like. From a social-ethical standpoint, judges were expected to render verdicts and decisions without regard to a person’s status or the extent to which one sought to influence the judgment (by offering a bribe or other incentive). The noun proswpolh/yia (“receiving the face”, i.e. showing favoritism/partiality) came to be part of Hellenistic Jewish vocabulary, and is used in the New Testament (Rom 2:11; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25; James 2:1). When applied to God, it means that he is a completely fair and just judge, who does not act with regard to a person’s status, outward appearance, and so forth. The expression ‘Godfearer’ (“one fearing God”, o( fobou/meno$ to\n qeo/n) has already been used of Cornelius in verses 2 and 22 (on which see part 13), as has the description di/kaio$ (“just/righteous” [in the traditional sense], v. 22). The idea here is that Gentiles like Cornelius who are (or would be) sympathetic to the Israelite/Jewish religion, devoted to prayer, charitable giving and other acts of mercy, are accepted (dekto/$) by God, just like Jews who faithfully uphold the Covenant and observe the Torah. Verses 34-35 do not entirely equate Jews and Gentiles before God, but they do lay the groundwork for that doctrine.

Citation of Kerygma (vv. 36-42)—In place of the citation from Scripture (in the sermon-speech pattern), here we have a central kerygma (Gospel proclamation). In earlier speeches, there were kerygmatic elements and statements in and around a central Scripture citation; here the kerygma is greatly expanded and developed, bringing together the various strands found in the prior sermon-speeches. We can almost see the formation of the core Gospel narrative taking shape before our eyes. The kerygma is introduced in verse 36 (note the emphatic chain-structure):

    • The word/account [lo/go$]
      • which He sent
        • to the sons/children of Israel
          • announcing [lit. bringing the good message of] peace
            • through Jesus the Anointed (One)
              • this One is Lord of all

The accusative object “the word/account” (to\n lo/gon), which effectively serves as subject of the clause in v. 36, picks up again in verse 37, but with an odd shift in vocabulary: “you know the word/utterance [r(h=ma] (which) came to be down (through) the whole of Judea…”. This may be a sign that a kergymatic (credal) formula has been incorporated (somewhat awkwardly) into the speech (note also the use of the ‘frozen’ participle a)rca/meno$ which follows); Acts 1:1b-5 may draw upon a similar formula. I will now note briefly the key kerygmatic elements and phrases in each verse, with details found in prior speeches indicated; new/additional details are italicized.

  • V. 37—”beginning from [a)rca/meno$ a)po\]… the dipping/dunking [i.e. baptism]…” (1:22); the baptism by John is specifically mentioned in 1:5 (cf. also 13:24-25). For the idea of “beginning from Galilee”, see 13:31.
  • V. 38—”God anointed him” (4:27; cf. 2:36; 3:18); on his being anointed by/with the Holy Spirit (and power), cf. Lk 3:22; 4:1, 14; 5:17. For the association of the (Holy) Spirit and power, cf. also 1:8; 8:19; Lk 1:35; 4:14. The idea in Acts 2:22—Jesus’ doing works of power, signs and wonders—is here specified as doing good works, healing those down under the power of the devil (depicting numerous times in the Synoptic tradition). We have also the additional detail that God was with him.
  • V. 39—The apostles (and other early believers) are witnesses to all that happened (1:8, 22; 2:32; 3:5; 5:32; 13:31; Lk 24:48) in Jerusalem and Judea (1:8; Lk 24:47), especially to the death (2:36; 3:15; 4:10) and resurrection (in v. 40) of Jesus. The verb a)naire/w is also used of Jesus’ death in 2:23; 13:28; his death as “hanging upon a tree” occurs in 5:30.
  • V. 40—The demonstrative pronoun “this (one)” (ou!to$, acc. tou=ton) is used frequently referring to Jesus (2:23, 32, 36; 4:10-11; 5:31; 9:20; 10:36; cf. also 3:16; 4:17; 5:28; 7:35-38 [Moses/Jesus parallel], and similar usage in 6:13-14). Of course God’s raising of Jesus is central to the kerygma (2:24, 32; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30, etc), with the formula on the third day (or “after three days”) familiar from Synoptic tradition. The post-resurrection appearances (v. 41) are described here in unusual terminology: (God) gave him [i.e. made him] to come to be in (a manner of) shining forth [i.e. to appear clearly].
  • V. 41—The apostles are witnesses of the resurrection appearances (1:3, 22; 2:32; 13:31 etc); the emphasis on eating and drinking with Jesus after the resurrection is attested in Gospel tradition, and may be suggested in Acts 1:4a. Here the apostles are uniquely described as those chosen [lit. by raising the hand] before(hand) under [i.e. by] God; on witness to the resurrection appearances as a requisite qualification for apostleship, cf. 1:21-22.
  • V. 42—The disciples are commanded by Jesus to proclaim what they have witnessed (Lk 24:47-48); and they are to witness thoroughly/throughout (Acts 2:40; 8:25). Verse 42 concludes with a final kerygmatic statement, again using the demonstrative pronoun “this one” (ou!to$); Jesus is described as:
    “the (one) marked out [i.e. appointed, w(risme/no$] under [i.e. by] God” (2:23; 17:31, cf. also Rom 1:4)
    “(to be) judge of (the) living and dead” (cf. 17:31)

Concluding Exhortation (v. 43)—In many ways, this verse continues the central kerygma; note the following:

The adjective pa=$ (acc. pa/nta), “all/every (one)” in context here means both Jews and Gentiles—cf. the use of pa=$ in Peter’s vision (v. 12, 14).

Narrative Conclusion (vv. 44-48)—The inclusion of Gentiles is thus emphasized in the first and last verses (vv. 34-35, 43) which bracket the speech. This theological (missionary) theme is played out dramatically in the narrative, as the Holy Spirit suddenly (“as Peter was yet speaking these words…”) falls upon all (e)pi\ pa/nta$) the ones hearing the word (v. 44). Clearly, this re-enacts the Pentecost manifestation of the Spirit (Acts 2:1-4ff), a fact which amazes the Jewish Christians who are with Peter (referred to as “the ones of circumcision [who also] trusted [in Jesus]”), v. 45-46. The central underlying conflict (see verse 28) is addressed forcefully by Peter, with a question that effectively serves as a command: “(Surely) no one is able to cut off water for these (people so as) not to be dipped/dunked [i.e. baptized], (these) who have received the holy Spirit as we also (have)(—are they?)” It is important to note that the “baptism by the Spirit” takes priority over any baptism with water, which expressly emphasizes the miraculous, divinely-ordained sign that the Gentiles are to be included and accepted as believers in Christ.

The Second Speech of Peter (11:1-18)

This section is unusual in that it largely repeats (in summary fashion) the narrative of chapter 10. The only other such example we find in Acts is the conversion of Paul (Saul) in Acts 9:1-19ff, which Paul re-states and describes (in considerable detail) on two other occasions in his (defense) speeches (Acts 22:4-16ff; 26:9-18). This demonstrates the central importance of the Cornelius episode for the author of Acts (and/or his underlying sources). Before briefly treating the second speech of Peter in ch. 11, it is worth re-iterating the theological and apologetic character of the narrative, which dramatically illustrates a key controversy in the early Church—that is, the acceptance and admission of Gentile believers (cf. Haenchen, p. 360):

When confronted with the miraculous and divine nature of the mission to the Gentiles, Jewish believers are forced to recognize its validity (cf. the conclusion at 11:17-18, echoing 10:47).

The second speech of Peter has a different character and purpose from the first—it is not a sermon-speech, but an (apologetic) address to fellow believers. The outline is relatively simple:

    • Narrative Introduction (vv. 1-3)
    • Citation from (recent) History (vv. 4-17)
    • Narrative Conclusion (v. 18)

Narrative Introduction (vv. 1-3)—This sets the basic conflict:

    • Other Christians (“the apostles and brothers down [through] Judea”) hear that the Gentiles (“the nations”) also have “received the word of God” (v. 1).
    • When Peter arrives in Jerusalem, certain believers are said to have “judged thoroughly [diekri/nonto] toward him”, that is, they marked/separated Peter out and disputed/contended with him about the matter (v. 2). These believers are described as “the ones of/from circumcision” (cf. 10:45), which has a two-fold significance here: (a) it means, of course, that they are Jewish Christians, but also (b) it is a foreshadowing of those Jewish Christians who would require that Gentile converts be circumcised and observe the Torah (cf. 15:1, 5).
    • They are critical of Peter, saying “you went in toward men having a foreskin [i.e. uncircumcised men] and you ate with them” (v. 3). On the essential conflict involved, see 10:28 and the significance of Peter’s vision in 10:9-16 (related to the Jewish dietary regulations).

Narration of Recent Events (vv. 4-17)—Here Peter narrates the recent events of the episode with Cornelius (chapter 10); in the speech-pattern it effectively takes the place of the Gospel kerygma and citation(s) from Scripture. It also serves much the same role as the narratio in classical (deliberative) rhetoric (cf. Galatians 1:11-2:14). This recapitulation can be divided into three sections:

The Vision (vv. 5-10; cf. 10:9-16)—there is very little difference from the account in Acts 10, but note the way that the three appearances of the vision and the arrival of three messengers in vv. 10-11 are related even more directly (cp. 10:16-18).
The Message (vv. 11-14; cf. 10:17-22)—this corresponds with the visit of the men from Cornelius to Peter and the message which they bring from Cornelius.
Verse 12 is especially notable (cf. 10:20): “and the Spirit said to me to go with them, not judging one thing thoroughly”. There is a bit of wordplay involving the verb diakri/nw (also used in 11:2; 15:9)—it is an intensive compound form of kri/nw, usually rendered “judge”, but with the fundamental sense of separate. In English it corresponds with the idea of making a distinction, i.e., distinguishing, discerning, judging. It can have the secondary meanings of “giving (considerable) thought” to something, even “to question (or doubt)”; also the idea of distinguishing or separating one person from another may carry the nuance of “oppose, contend (with), dispute”. In the simple narrative context of 10:20 and 11:12, the Spirit may be telling Peter not to hesitate or doubt, but the real underlying message (via the wordplay) is not to make any distinction between people; similarly, in 11:2, the Jewish Christians are judging Peter and contending with him, but again the underlying emphasis is on judging/distinguishing between people (i.e., Jews and Gentiles, cf. 15:9).
In verse 12, then, there are two themes embedded: (a) the role of the Spirit in the mission to the Gentiles, and (b) the divine command not to make any distinction between Jew and Gentile.
The Manifestation of the Spirit (vv. 15-17; cf. 10:44-47)—this is narrated in abbreviated form, with one additional detail, the kerygmatic mention of John’s baptism in verse 16 (see 1:5, also 1:22; 13:24); thus we have both aspects of baptism re-iterated: by water and the Spirit.
The possible objection to accepting Gentile believers (10:47) is also presented here, by way of conclusion to the speech, in verse 17, with one particular difference: to cut off [kwlu=sai, i.e. prevent/hinder] water (for baptism) from the Gentiles is the same as (attempting) to cut off [kwlu=sai, prevent/hinder] God!

Narrative Conclusion (v. 18)—Upon hearing these things, those who questioned or contended with Peter were silent (see the same reaction to Peter’s speech in 15:12)—indicating that the dispute came to and end, the conflict being resolved through hearing the word/account of God—and they honored/esteemed (i.e. gave glory to) God in response. This, of course, parallels and foreshadows the events of the “Jerusalem Council” in chapter 15, as does the ultimate declaration, with tacit or basic acceptance of the Gentile converts, in verse 18b:

“Then also God has given to the nations change-of-mind [i.e. repentance] unto/into life!” (cf. 2:38; 5:31)

The Speeches of Acts, Part 13: Acts 10:34-43; 11:1-18

In this part of the series on the Speeches of Acts, I will be looking at the two speeches given by Peter in chapters 10 & 11. As speeches, they are quite different from each other, but they are both essential to the overall narrative in these chapters—the episode of Cornelius, which begins the early Christian mission to the Gentiles. In order to understand the context of this episode within the overall structure of Acts, I offer the following outline of the first half of the book:

  • Introduction—the Disciples with Jesus (Acts 1:1-11)
  • The Believers in Jerusalem (Acts 1:12-8:3)
    Acts 1:12-26: The reconstitution of the Twelve, with a speech by Peter
    Acts 2:1-47: The Pentecost narrative (the coming of the Spirit), with a speech by Peter
    Acts 3:1-4:31: The healing miracle and the Apostles before the Sanhedrin, with two speeches by Peter and a prayer
    Acts 4:32-5:11: Conflict among the Believers—Ananias/Sapphira
    Acts 5:12-42: Miracle(s) and the Apostles before the Sanhedrin, with two speeches (by Peter and Gamaliel)
    Acts 6:1-7: Conflict among the Believers—the appointment of the Seven (incl. Stephen and Philip)
    Acts 6:8-8:3: The Stephen narrative, with a major speech, concluding with onset of persecution
  • The Early Mission outside of Jerusalem (Acts 8:4-12:25)
    Acts 8:4-40: Two episodes involving Philip (in Samaria and on the road to Gaza), along with an episode of the Apostles in Samaria (Peter and Simon Magus)
    Acts 9:1-31: The Conversion and early Ministry of Saul Paulus (Paul) (around Damascus)
    Acts 9:32-43: Two episodes (healing miracles) involving Peter (in Lydda/Sharon and Joppa)
    Acts 10:1-11:18: Peter and Cornelius (in Caesarea): first outreach to Gentiles, with two speeches by Peter
    Acts 11:19-30: Introduction to the Church in Antioch
    Acts 12:1-25: The arrest (and miraculous release) of Peter, followed by the death of Herod Agrippa
  • Paul’s (First) Mission to the Gentiles (Acts 13:1-15:35)

These two speeches by Peter emphasize the importance and centrality of the Cornelius episode, marking the beginning of the mission to the Gentiles, and the first clear Gentile converts to Christianity. It is noteworthy that this episode appears prominently in the so-called Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 (cf. vv. 7-9, 14ff), serving to legitimize the mission of Paul and Barnabas. The main speech of Peter in chapter 10 concludes an extensive narrative, which I divide as follows:

These are two interconnected pairs, each scene serving to draw Peter and Cornelius (Jew and Gentile) closer together. Before proceeding to the speech itself, I will briefly discuss each of the narrative scenes.

Scene 1: The vision of Cornelius (10:1-8)

The personal character of Cornelius (vv. 1-2)—A Roman military commander stationed in Caesarea, Cornelius is described (in verse 2) as:

    • eu)sebh/$ (euseb¢¡s)—This word is a bit difficult to translate literally, but fundamentally it would be rendered something like “(having/showing) good/proper respect”, especially in religious matters (i.e. “pious, devout”); though originally the root verb se/bomai would have more concretely indicated “fall back (in fear/awe)”. It is generally synonymous with qeosebh/$ (theoseb¢¡s, shorthand for sebome/no$ to\n qeo\n, “showing fear/respect for God”). For the eu)seb- wordgroup elsewhere, see Acts 3:12; 10:7; 17:23; it is especially common in the later (Pastoral) writings, 1 Tim 2:2; 3:16; 4:7-8; 5:4; 6:5-6, 11; 2 Tim 3:5, 12; Tit 1:1; 2:12; 2 Pet 1:3, 6-7; 3:11; for qeoseb- see John 9:31; 1  Tim 2:10. On the similar use of se/bomai, cf. Acts 13:43, 50; 16:14; 17:4, 17; 18:7, 13; 19:27.
    • fobou/meno$ to\n qeo\n (“[one who] is in fear of God”, i.e. ‘God-fearer’)—This concrete expression is parallel to eu)sebh/$/qeosebh/$ (and the similar sebome/no$ to\n qeo\n); it also appears in Acts 13:16, 26, and generally seems to derive from the LXX (cf. Psalm 115:11 [113:19]; 118:4; 135:20). On the idea of “fearing God” in the New Testament, see Rom 3:18; 2 Cor 5:11; 7:1; Heb 11:7; 1 Pet 2:17; Rev 14:7; 19:5, etc.
    • “one doing (act)s of mercy [e)lehmosu/na$] for the people”—in such a context, the Greek word is typically understood as charitable gifts or contributions (“alms”); here “the people” specifically means the Jewish people.
    • “making request of God through all (things)”—The verb de/omai means to ask or request from someone (out of need); in a religious context, of course, it means requesting from God, but can have the more general sense of “prayer” as well as the specific sense of “petition”.
      —”prayer and almsgiving” came to be a typical expression of religious piety in Jewish tradition (cf. Tobit 12:8-9, 12, 15; Sirach 35:6; 38:11; 45:16, etc).

The vision of Cornelius (vv. 3-6)—He receives his vision at the Jewish hour for prayer (Acts 3:1); the angel specifically mentions his prayer and “gifts of mercy” (alms) which have gone up (like a sacrificial offering) as a memorial before God. For a similar angelic visitation and message, see Luke 1:13ff (and note Acts 9:10-12).

Cornelius’ response to the vision (vv. 7-8)—Cornelius’ obedience and care in responding is narrated simply (cf. Acts 9:17; 10:21; 11:12).

Scene 2: The vision of Peter (10:9-16)

Peter’s vision is something of a different character than that of Cornelius—it is a symbolic, revelatory vision, one which also takes place during a time of prayer (v. 9). It is also specifically related to food (note Peter’s hunger and the time setting for the noon-day meal), touching upon the dietary regulations in the Old Testament / Jewish Law (Lev 11:1-47; Deut 14:3-20). The revelatory character is indicated by:

    • Heaven being “opened” [a)new|gme/non] (cf. Acts 7:56; Lk 3:21)—v. 11
    • The vessel “stepping down” [katabai=non] (i.e., descending) out of heaven (cf. Mark 1:10 par; Jn 1:32-33, 51, and frequently in John)—v. 11
    • The vessel was “taken up” [a)nelh/mfqh] into heaven (cf. Acts 1:2, 11)—v. 16

Elsewhere in the Gospels, this sort of language and imagery is associated with the incarnation and theophanous manifestation of Jesus. The vision occurs three times (an echo of Peter’s three-fold denial? cf. Jn 21:15-17), each time accompanied by a (divine) voice. There is 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.

Note in particular the 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]

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. This is most unlikely; 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. I will deal with this question in more detail as part of my series on “The Law and the New Testament” (in the article “The Law in Luke-Acts”).

Scene 3: The visit (of Cornelius) to Peter (10:17-23a)

This visit, of course, is made by Cornelius’ representatives—two servants and a soldier (v. 7)—rather than Cornelius himself. It is interesting how the drama of the scene is heightened by verse 17a, reflecting Peter’s uncertainty regarding the vision (“as Peter was thoroughly without answer in himself [as to] what [the meaning of] the vision might be…”); this may well reflect the joining of a separate tradition (Peter’s vision) into the fabric of the narrative, but it is most effective—note how this motif repeats in verse 19 (“and [at] Peter’s being thoroughly aroused in [thought] about the vision…”). There are perhaps several other subtle echoes of the vision in this scene:

    • Another revelation, here by the Spirit—”See, three men are seeking you” (v. 19)
    • Three men, just as the vision appeared three times
    • Peter “steps down” (i.e. goes down) to meet them (vv. 20-21), just as the vision “steps down” out of heaven—in both instances the verb katabai/nw is used

There is an additional parallel to Scene 1 with the description of Cornelius in verse 22, which now also characterizes him as “just/righteous” (di/kaio$).

Scene 4: The visit of Peter to Cornelius (10:23b-33)

The narrative builds as Peter’s arrival and his reception is described in solemn fashion (vv. 24-27); the “Western” text of Acts shows many differences in these verses. Peter states the central issue (and the basic conflict) clearly in verse 28:

    • It is contrary to law/custom [i.e. unlawful, a)qe/mito$]
      • for a Jewish man
    • to join [kolla=sqai] or come toward [prose/rxesqai]
      • (one) of another fulh/ [i.e. tribe/clan/race, etc]

Peter interprets or applies his vision in terms of people—no person should be treated as common or unclean. In verses 30-33, Cornelius reprises his own vision, setting the stage for the speech of Peter to follow.

The Speech of Peter (10:34-48)

Verses 34-48 could be broken into two scenes (5 and 6): the speech of vv. 34-43 and the effect/result of the speech (the manifestation of the Spirit) in vv. 44-48; however, I will deal with both under a single heading. Here is an outline of the speech, which loosely follows the basic sermon-speech pattern I have recognized and used earlier throughout this series:

    • Narrative introduction (vv. 30-33)—the entirety of the narrative in Acts 10:1-33 (esp. vv. 23b-33) really should be considered here (see above), but I isolate verses 30-33 as the proper introduction to the speech itself.
    • Introductory Address (vv. 34-35)
    • [Citation from Scripture] (vv. 36-42)—instead of a Scripture citation (and exposition), we have a central kerygma (Gospel proclamation), the most complete and developed thus far in Acts.
    • Concluding Exhortation (v. 43)
    • Narrative Conclusion (vv. 44-48)

The two speeches of 10:34-38 and 11:1-18 will be examined in detail in the next part of this article.

The Speeches of Acts, Part 12: Acts 7:1-53ff (concluded)

Due the length and complexity of the speech of Stephen (Acts 7:1-53ff), I have discussed it over three parts (9, 10, 11) of this series on the Speeches of Acts; in this part I will address several key critical and interpretive issues which have thus far been mentioned only in passing:

    1. The Narrative framework—the Sanhedrin trial setting
    2. The actual Speech in relation to the charges against Stephen
    3. The view of the Temple in the Speech (and in the book of Acts), and, finally
    4. The Speech in the overall context of Acts

1. The Narrative framework—the Sanhedrin trial setting

A number of factors have led critical scholars to question the historicity/factuality of the Sanhedrin setting:

    • it follows a general (narrative) pattern already encountered in chapters 4 and 5; and, while certainly it is plausible that the Apostles would have had multiple run-ins with the religious and Temple authorities, the pattern is distinct enough (esp. comparing 5:17-42 with 6:8-7:1, 54-60) to suggest a literary device.
    • the Sanhedrin trial setting, especially here in chs. 6-7, is suspicious due to the clear parallels drawn with the trial/death of Jesus (outlined at the end of part 11); while this may simply represent an historical synchronicity, it is likely that conscious literary patterning is at work here (at least in part).
    • the speech, and the narrative as a whole, in some ways, makes more sense without the Sanhedrin setting (removing portions of 6:12-15 and 7:1):
      (a) the long historical summary better fits a public sermon than a (defense) speech before a tribunal
      (b) Stephen nowhere in the speech directly deals with the charges against him—more to the point, he does not address the question asked to him directly by the High Priest in 7:1
      (c) the shift between the public dispute in 6:9-10 and the appearance before the Council (6:12ff) is rather abrupt and suggests a narrative adaptation
      (d) the reaction of the audience (to the speech) and the subsequent action in 7:54-60 is more consistent with a mob “lynching” than an official action by the Council—in some ways it better fits the (popular) reaction to a public sermon given by Stephen than the Council’s reaction to a defense speech
      (e) this is perhaps confirmed by the fact that the Council is not mentioned in vv. 54-60; apart from the detail mentioned in v. 58b (possibly), there is nothing to suggest that this is an official action

Traditional-conservative commentators, naturally, are more inclined to accept the narrative at face value; while some literary shaping is certainly present, with omissions and simplifications of detail, none of the events described are implausible per se. Probably the most difficult (apparent) discrepancy, recognized by nearly all commentators, is the fact that Stephen’s speech really does not answer (nor even address directly) the charges against him (according to 6:13-14; 7:1). It is to this question that I now turn.

2. The Speech in relation to the charges against Stephen

As mentioned previously, nearly all commentators have noted that the speech does not seem to address the charges brought before the Council in 6:13-14 (and see v. 11) and, correspondingly, the question of the High Priest in 7:1. Indeed, the most implausible detail in the narrative is that the Council would allow Stephen to talk for several minutes, without interruption, delivering the long (and seemingly irrelevant) historical digression we find in vv. 2ff. It must be admitted that, at least through verse 34, there seems to be no clear purpose to the speech; it is just what it appears to be—a straightforward summary of Israelite history (focused on Abraham, Joseph and Moses), with a significant degree of rhetorical development in the section on Moses (vv. 17-34). This changes in verse 35, and it is to verses 35-53 that we need to look for an answer to the charges against Stephen. I offer the following expository conclusions, based on prior exegesis (cf. parts 10 and 11):

    • Moses is presented as one who receives special revelation from God (through Angelic mediation) at Sinai (vv. 30-34), which leads subsequently to:
      (i) receiving the “living words/oracles” of God at Sinai (again through Angelic mediation, vv. 38, 53)—the Law
      (ii) receiving the type/pattern for the “tent of witness” (vv. 44f)—precursor to the Temple
    • A parallel is drawn between Jesus and Moses; both are: (a) sent by God, (b) made to be a leader and redeemer/savior for the people, (c) a Prophet, and (d) ultimately denied/refused by the people
    • A parallel is also drawn between the Temple and idolatry (the Golden Calf, etc)—both are works “made by (human) hands”
    • Just as Moses was denied/refused by the people, so was Jesus—this ultimately meant a rejection of the words of God, i.e. of the Law and the Prophets

These can be distilled down to two basic accusations leveled by Stephen in this section of the speech, that the people:

    1. acted according to a mistaken conception or idea of the “house” (dwelling) of God—the Tent/Temple
    2. refused to follow the Law-giver and Prophet (Moses/Jesus), and so rejected the Law itself

The first conclusion is stated in vv. 48-50, the second especially in v. 53 (and earlier in vv. 35, 39f). These do, in fact, address the two charges against Stephen, though somewhat obliquely; he has actually turned them around into charges against his accusers! Let us revisit the original claims (according to 6:13):

    1. he speaks words against this Holy Place (the Temple), and thus speaks evil “against God” (v. 11)
    2. he speaks words against the Law (also in v. 11)

In verse 14 this is further described according to teaching that:

    1. Jesus would destroy/dissolve this Place (the Temple), cf. Mark 14:58; John 2:19
    2. Jesus would alter the (religious) customs delivered by Moses

The first claim is partially supported in Gospel tradition, and it is certainly possible that Stephen had made statements (related to Jesus and the Temple) which could be interpreted in this way (cf. below). It is hard to know what to make of the second claim, which better fits the accusations made against Paul (see Acts 21:28, etc). If there is any substance to it at all, perhaps Stephen had taught to the effect that the new (eschatological) age inaugurated by Jesus meant that strict observance of the Law was no longer required. This is only guesswork, for we have nothing by which to assess Stephen’s teaching except for the speech in 7:2-53; and, in the speech itself, he makes no statements which could be in any way understood as anti-Law. It is a rather different matter regarding the Temple, as we shall see.

3. The View of the Temple in the Speech

I have already discussed parallels drawn in vv. 35-50 connecting the Tent/Temple with idolatry. Actually, this negative assessment is generally reserved for the Temple itself, the Tent of Witness (Tabernacle) in the wilderness period being treated more positively. Still, there can be no mistaking the implicit claim, regarding the (semi-)idolatrous nature of the Temple as a work (like the Golden Calf) “made with hands”. It is possible, of course, that Stephen (along with many Jews and early Christians) was not objecting so much to the Temple itself, but rather to the way it had been used and administered. This is the essence of the opposition to the Temple in the Qumran texts—it was being run by an invalid (and corrupt) priesthood. To a lesser degree, one can detect a similar emphasis in Jesus’ “cleansing” of the Temple (as recorded in Gospel tradition), both in the action itself and the saying which cites Isa 56:7 and Jer 7:11 together. However, the use of Isa 66:1-2, in the context of expounding/applying Amos 5:25-27 (along with the summary of Israelite history from the Golden Calf to the building of the Temple), strongly suggests a more fundamental opposition to the actual Temple (and the idea/conception of it). If so, this in many ways contrasts with the positive view of the Temple elsewhere presented in Luke-Acts; note:

    • The role and setting of the Temple in the Infancy narratives (Lk 1-2)
    • Compared with the other Gospels, Luke curtails the Temple “cleansing” scene (Lk 19:45f), and gives extra emphasis to the fact that Jesus was regularly teaching in the Temple precincts (19:47; 20:1; 21:37-38)
    • Luke does not include the Temple-saying reported at Jesus’ “trial” (cf. Mark 14:58 par)
    • After the resurrection, the disciples worship God in the Temple (Lk 24:53), and early Christians continue to frequent the Temple in the early chapters of Acts (2:46; 3:1-10; 5:20-25, 42)
    • Acts 6:11-14 describes the claim that Stephen spoke against the Temple as a “false” charge
    • In Acts 21:17-26, prior to Paul’s arrest in the Temple precincts, the author takes great care to depict that the claim that Paul teaches against the Law and religious ritual is false or unsubstantiated

The presentation in Luke-Acts presumably accords with the historical reality—that the early (Jewish) Christians continued to frequent the Temple, probably until the time of its destruction (70 A.D.), though the emphasis may have been more on the Temple as place for prayer, teaching and fellowship, rather than the sacrificial cult/ritual. Many of the New Testament writings (even Paul’s letters) say little or nothing specifically about the Temple. Eventually in early Christianity, a theology of “replacement” developed, which taught that Jesus (in his own person and work) fulfills (and effectively replaces) the Old Testament religious forms—including the Temple and all of its sacrificial ritual. This is best seen in the Gospel of John, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the book of Revelation, all writings which likely post-date the destruction of the Temple. Luke-Acts probably also stems from this period (c. 70-80 A.D.), but, as indicated above, it demonstrates a more positive view of the physical/historical Temple.

Apart from Stephen’s speech, the nearest parallel to Acts 7:48-50 (with its citation of Isa 66:1-2) is found in Revelation 21:22, which states that there will be no Temple in the New Jerusalem. Rev 21-22 draws heavily upon the eschatological/idealized “New Jerusalem” described in Isa 65-66, and in the later prophecy the Christian theology of replacement/substitution could not be more explicit: “for the Lord God the All-mighty (One) is its shrine, and [i.e. along with] the Lamb”. For believers, ultimately, God (the Father) and Jesus Christ are the Temple. To what extent does Stephen (and/or the author of Acts here) hold such a view? At the very least, the clear use of Isa 66:1-2 in this context would point in that direction. However, the association between the Temple and idolatry probably has more to do with polemical rhetoric (after the manner of the Prophets) than with a developed theological position. Also, one should not ignore the place of the speech in the overall context of Acts, as representing the last great episode of the early Jerusalem Church, prior to the mission into the wider (Gentile) world (see below). Acts records Paul using similar language in regard to Greco-Roman (heathen, polytheistic) religion (cf. Acts 17:24).

4. The Speech in the overall Context of Acts

As indicated above, Acts 6:8-8:1 (which includes the speech of 7:2-53) is the final episode recorded of the early believers in Jerusalem, the first major division of the book (1:128:3). The themes (and style) of Stephen’s speech then would be expected to draw upon the prior chapters, as well as to look forward to what follows. I propose these points for consideration:

    • the sequence of appearances before the Sanhedrin, from a literary/narrative point of view, serve several purposes:
      (a) they provide an effective dramatic setting for proclamation of the Gospel
      (b) they depict early believers fulfilling the pattern and example of Jesus, who also faced opposition from the religious leaders and faced a similar “trial” before the Sanhedrin
      (c) they demonstrate the increasing division/separation between the (Jewish) followers of Jesus and the rest of the (Jewish) people
    • the speech, while it may not entirely fit the Sanhedrin “trial” setting, is nevertheless appropriate here in the narrative:
      (a) it offers a definitive statement as to the place of Jesus and (by extension) early Christians within the Old Testament and Israelite history, and as the fulfillment of it
      (b) the corruption/deterioration depicted through history (leading from true revelation to idolatry) emphasizes the idea that a “new age” has dawned, reflecting the important theme of the “restoration of Israel” found in the early chapters of Acts
      (c) just as Gentiles would need to be instructed in Old Testament history, so here a summary of that history is presented prior to the inauguration of the wider mission (to the Gentiles) as recorded in chapters 8-12ff
    • the climactic position of the narrative makes a longer, dramatic speech fitting, in several respects:
      (a) it records the death of Stephen, the first Christian “martyr”, in terms somewhat similar to Jesus’ own death in the Gospels
      (b) it inaugurates a period of intense persecution, which leads to the dispersal of believers outside of Jerusalem (and Judea) and ultimately into the wider Gentile/Greco-Roman world
      (c) it marks the initial separation between Christianity and Judaism

In conclusion, it may be useful to revisit a basic critical question regarding the speeches in the book of Acts, which is especially acute in the case of Stephen’s speech—that is, the source and nature of their composition. There are two main components to Acts 6:8-8:1: (i) a traditional narrative involving Stephen (reflected in 6:8-15; 7:54-60), and (ii) the speech in 7:2-53. Nearly all scholars would, I think, agree that the core narrative stems from authentic tradition, with some degree of editing or adaptation having taken place. Opinion varies much more greatly regarding the speech; there are four main views:

    1. The speech more or less records Stephen’s actual words (with minor modification), delivered just as the narrative context in Acts suggests—this would be the traditional-conservative view.
    2. The speech is an (authentic) tradition, preserving the substance of what Stephen said (or preached) publicly prior to his death, though much of the actual wording (and style) is probably Lukan (i.e. from the author of Acts); according to this view, the Sanhedrin setting may (or may not) be authentic.
    3. The author (trad. Luke) has set an authentic Christian speech/sermon (or the substance of it) into the mouth of Stephen, inserting it into the traditional narrative and creating the seam at 6:15; 7:1 and 7:54.
    4. The speech is essentially the creation of the author of Acts, though perhaps drawing upon tradition and examples of early preaching, being inserted into the narrative much as in view #3.

Most critical scholars would hold some version of view #3 or 4; my own (personal) view of the matter is closer to the moderate critical position of #2 above. Fortunately the power and effect of Scripture here in Acts (as elsewhere) does not depend on a particular view of historicity and composition, though these are important questions to address; rather, the narrative as it has come down to us—reflecting both historical tradition and inspired creative expression—speaks as a whole, the marvelous end product unique and unparalleled as a work of Christian history, and requiring no defense.

The Speeches of Acts, Part 11: Acts 7:1-53ff (continued)

In the previous two parts of this series (9 and 10), 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). In this part, 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” [e)n th=| e)rh/mw|] and “forty years” [e&th tessera/konta]
    • MSS B D (and several others) read “of the god” instead of “of your god” in v. 43, omitting the pronoun u(mw=n
    • v. 43 read “to worship them [proskunei=n au)toi=$]” instead of “yourselves” [e(autoi=$]
    • 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. <k#K=l=m^ tWKs! (sikkû¾ malk®½em), “Sakkut your king”
      th\n skhnh\n tou= Molox, “the tent of Moloch”
    2. <k#yh@ýa$ bk^oK /WYK! (kiyyûn kô½a» °§lœhê½em), “Kaiwan, star of your god”, or “Kaiwan your star-god”
      to\ a&stron tou= qeou= u(mw=n Raifan, “the star of your god Raiphan”

In the first expression, (a) MT twks was read rel. 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 was vocalized/read as the proper name “Moloch”. In the second expression, it is generally assumed that an original transliteration Kaifan (Kaiphan) became Raifan/Refan (Raiphan/Rephan); in some (Western) MSS of Acts it reads Remfan (Remphan), while in B a3 it is Romfa–n— (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 <k#ym@l=x^ (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 (though far less markedly than that of CD). 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
        • Citation from Amos 5:25-27, in vv. 42b-43
    • A portable Tent, according to God’s instruction to Moses—beginnings of a “house”, vv. 44-45
      • Construction of a more permanent (fixed) house for God, vv. 46-47
        • Citation from Isaiah 66:1-2, in vv. 49-50

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 ti$ to/po$ (“what place”) instead of poi=o$ to/po$ (“what sort of place”). The two principal nouns in v. 1—oi@ko$ (“house”) and  to/po$ (“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” (/w#a*) and “detestable” (JWQv!) 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 [xeiropoi/hton] and within three days I will build another house made without hands [a)xeiropoi/hton]” (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 e&rga tw=n xeirw=n au)tw=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” (poie/w); in the Life of Moses II. 88, Philo refers to the Tent with the same expression “made with hands” (xeiropoi/hto$)
    • in verse 48, the Temple is specifically referred to in terms of a house “made with hands” (xeiropoi/hto$)
    • the citation of Isa 66:2a [LXX] in verse 50, by contrast, refers to God as the one whose hand (xei/r) has “made (e)poi/hsen) 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; Jos. Ant. 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 next (concluding) part of this series on Stephen’s speech.

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 a)ei (“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]”, di/kaio$, cf. 3:14), which has led them to become “betrayers” (prodo/tai, [ones] giving [Jesus] before [the Roman authorities]) and “murderers” (fonei=$)
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; Jos. 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 [diepri/onto] 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 (ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/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:

    • the setting before the Sanhedrin
    • the (false) charges, and their similarity—6:11, 13-14; Mark 14:55-58 par
    • mention of the Son of Man at the right hand (of God)—v. 56; Luke 22:69 par
    • the prayer, after Psalm 31:6—v. 59; Luke 23:46
    • the loud cry before death—v. 60; Luke 23:46
    • the prayer for forgiveness—v. 60; Luke 23:34

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 [o(moqumado/n] rushed (ahead) upon him…”

The adverb o(moqumado/n 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 the next part of this series.

The Speeches of Acts, Part 10: Acts 7:1-53ff (continued)

In Part 9 of this series, I examined the overall setting and background of the speech of Stephen (Acts 7:1-53ff), as well as the Narrative (Introduction) which precedes it in 6:8-15, according to the outline:

    • Narrative Introduction—the speech follows upon the main narrative (or first part of it) in 6:8-15, with the question of the High Priest to Stephen in 7:1.
    • Introductory Address (7:2-42a)—instead of Gospel kerygma, we find here a lengthy summary of Israelite history, from the call of Abraham to the Exodus and the incident of the Golden Calf.
    • Citation from Scripture (vv. 42b-43)—from Amos 5:25-27.
    • Exposition and Application (vv. 44-50), including a second Scripture citation (from Isa 66:1-2) which is parallel to the prior passage.
    • Concluding Exhortation (vv. 51-53), with a faint kerygmatic detail in v. 52b.
    • Narrative Summary—the narrative continues/concludes in 7:54-8:1a.

In this part I will continue with the speech proper.

Introductory Address (7:2-42a)

Stephen begins with a vocative address, similar to that of Peter (e.g., in Acts 2:14, 22, 29; cf. also the beginning of Paul’s address in Acts 22:1):

 &Andre$ a)delfoi\ kai\ pate/re$, a)kou/sate
“Men, Brothers and Fathers—hear!”

Instead of the kerygmatic phrases and statements found in the prior sermon-speeches, Stephen here delivers a lengthy summary of Israelite history in “deuteronomic style”, extending from the call of Abraham to the Exodus and the incident of the Golden Calf; for Old Testament parallels to such an historical summary, cf. Joshua 24; Psalm 78, 105; Ezekiel 20:5-44; Nehemiah 9:7-27, and also note the historical treatment given in the Damascus Document [CD] 2:14-6:1 (Fitzmyer, Acts, p. 364).

Nearly all commentators have noted that this is a curious way to address the question posed by the High Priest in v. 1; it also hardly seems an appropriate way for an accused man to offer defense (apologia) in a ‘trial’ setting. This has served as an argument in favor of the view that the Sanhedrin setting and framework to the speech is a secondary (and artificial) construction by the author of Acts (trad. Luke)—for more on this, see further below.

There is perhaps a tendency to gloss over this lengthy recital of Old Testament history; it can seem rather tedious, even irrelevant, in context. It may be tempting, indeed, to skip on ahead to verse 43ff, or even verse 54ff; however there are several reasons why it is important to include this section (and to read it carefully):

First, there is a rhetorical and narrative structure to the speech (see above) which is disrupted if one omits (or ignores) the historical summary; it is vital to a proper understanding of the speech as a whole.
Second, it is important to recognize the place that the Old Testament narrative had for early Christians and in their Gospel preaching; the way Paul references the Scriptures in his letters makes it clear that even Gentile converts must have been made familiar with the Old Testament and Israelite history as part of their basic instruction. Early Christians also saw themselves as fulfilling the history of Israel along with the promises God made to her, and so the Old Testament narrative was, in many ways, fundamental to Christian identity.
Third, the cumulative effect of the speech is lost if one ‘skips ahead’; in particular, the Scripture citation and exposition in vv. 43ff are climactic to the historical summary and really cannot be understood correctly outside of that context.

There are a number of ways one may outline this section; for a useful five-part outline, see Fitzmyer, Acts, p. 365. I have opted for a tripartite structure, as follows:

    • Abraham—the promise made by God to his people (vv. 2-8)
    • Joseph—the sojourn/exile of God’s people in the land of Egypt (vv. 9-16)
    • Moses—the exodus out of Egypt toward the land of promise (vv. 17-42a); this portion can be broken down further:
      (a) {the first forty years}—Moses in Egypt (vv. 17-22)
      (b) forty years—Moses visits his people in Egypt (vv. 23-29)
      (c) forty years—Moses receives revelation from God, with a promise to deliver the people from Egypt (vv. 30-34)
      —”This Moses”… who led Israel out of Egypt (vv. 35-37)
      —”This (Moses)” is the one who was with the congregation (of Israel) in the wilderness (vv. 38-39a)
      ** The Israelites refused to hear/obey (Moses) in the wilderness—turned to idolatry (the Golden Calf, vv. 39b-42a)

Abraham (vv. 2-8)

The first two sections (on Abraham and Joseph) are relatively straightforward summaries of passages from Genesis, with simplification and compression of detail. The summary of Abraham is taken from Genesis 11-12, with quotations or allusions from Psalm 29:3 and Deut 2:5, followed by references to Gen 17:8; 15:13-14 (LXX); Exod 3:12; Gen 17:10; 21:4. The key verse is v. 5, emphasizing God’s promise to Abraham’s descendents—Gen 17:8 (and 48:4); also Gen 12:7; 13:5; 15:18-20; 24:7. This theme of promise already appeared in Peter’s earlier speech (Acts 3:25), and will also be mentioned in Acts 7:17; 13:32; 26:6; the covenant promise to Abraham would play a key role in Paul’s writings (Galatians 3-4; Romans 4; 9:1-9ff). Verse 7 cites Exodus 3:12 (LXX), with one small difference: instead of “in/on this mountain” (e)n tw=| o&rei tou/tw|) we find “in this place” (e)n tw=| to/pw| tou/tw|), which better fits the Temple context underlying the speech.

Joseph (vv. 9-16)

The section on Joseph draws on portions of Genesis 37-46, along with allusions to Psalm 105:21; 37:19; there are also references to Deut 10:22 and Exod 1:6 in verse 15, along with a conflation of Gen 23:16-20 and 33:19 in verse 16. The overall setting of Israel in Egypt naturally fits the theme of exile and the dispersion (Diaspora) of the Israelite/Jewish people—a motif which could already be seen with Abraham leaving his homeland, and sojourning to the land of promise.

Moses (vv. 17-42a)

This section (on Moses) is by far the most developed, demonstrating a clear rhetorical (and didactic) structure. Verses 17-34 adopt the (traditional) scheme of dividing Moses’ life (of 120 years) into three equal periods of 40:

    • forty years—Moses in Egypt (vv. 17-22) [drawn from Exodus 1-2]
    • forty years—Moses visits his people in Egypt (vv. 23-29) [from Exodus 2]
    • forty years—Moses receives revelation from God, with a promise to deliver the people from Egypt (vv. 30-34) [Exodus 3:1-10, direct quotations and paraphrase]

Vv. 23 and 30 begin with similar Greek expressions:

“and when/as forty years’ time was filled (up) [e)plhrou=to] for him…” (v. 23)
“and forty years having been filled (up) [plhrwqe/ntwn]…” (v. 30)

It is also worth noting some key extra-biblical and/or traditional details mentioned in this section:

    • Moses’ beauty—Exod 2:2 [LXX]; Philo, Life of Moses I.9, 18; Josephus, Antiquities II.224
    • Moses’ learning—Philo, Life of Moses I.20-24; II. 1; Jos. Antiquities II.236
      and eloquence—Philo, Life of Moses I.80; Jos. Antiquities II.271 (cf. also Sirach 45:3)
    • The Angel (of the Lord) in the burning bush—Exod 3:2 [LXX] (MSS D H P S 614 of Acts 7:30 read “of the Lord”)

The revelation by theophany (manifestation of God), i.e. His Presence—even if understood in Exod 3:1-10 as occurring through ‘Angelic’ mediation—is an important theme, as it closes this section on Moses’ life and leads into the forceful section in vv. 35-38ff with its emphasis on false worship and idolatry. Even so, it must be admitted (along with many commentators) that the precise point of the speech (taken through verse 34) is hard to see; it certainly does not answer the charges against Stephen, and appears on the surface to be a long (even irrelevant) digression. The tone of the speech, however, changes suddenly and dramatically with verse 35, with the repeated use of the demonstrative pronoun (ou!to$, acc. tou=ton, “this [one]”).

“This (Moses)…” (vv. 35-38)—the speech moves from historical summary (in vv. 17-34, similar to the sections on Abraham/Joseph), to a series of statements extolling Moses’ role in the Exodus and wilderness period, drawing attention especially to the person of Moses by the repeated, staccato-like use of the the demonstrative pronoun (“this”). This not only represents forceful rhetoric, but also serves to draw a clear and unmistakable parallel between Moses and Jesus, as we shall see. Keep in mind a similar use of the demonstrative pronoun in referring to Jesus already in Acts 1:11; 2:23, 32, 36; 4:10-11; 5:31 (“this [one], this Jesus”; also “this name”, Acts 3:16; 4:17; 5:28); the Temple also has been referred to as “this place” (cf. Acts 6:13-14; 7:7).

    • V. 35—”this [tou=ton] Moses, whom they denied/refused… this (one) [tou=ton] God set forth (as) a leader and redeemer…”
    • V. 36—”this (one) [ou!to$] led them out, doing marvels and signs…”
    • V. 37—”this [ou!to$] is Moses, the (one) saying to the sons of Israel…”
    • V. 38—”this [ou!to$] is the (one) coming to be in/among the called-out (people) in the desolate (land)…”

Verses 36-37 specifically emphasize Moses’ role in the Exodus—the deliverance of God’s people out of Egypt; in verses 38-39, the emphasis is on Moses’ role with the congregation (e)kklhsi/a) of Israel in the wilderness. Verse 39 (beginning with the relative pronoun o%$ [dat. w!|]) is transitional, stressing the disobedience of the people and leading into the section on the Golden Calf (vv. 40ff). The following details clarify the parallel drawn between Moses and Jesus:

    • the people denied/refused [h)rnh/sato] Moses (v. 35, cf. also 39ff) just as they denied Jesus (Acts 3:13, same verb)
    • “leader [a&rxwn] and redeemer [lutrwth/$]” (v. 35) are titles similar to those applied to Jesus in Acts 3:15; 5:31 (cf. also 2:36)
    • Moses and Jesus are both “sent” by God (vb. a)poste/llw) in v. 35; 3:20, 26
    • “wonders and signs” (v. 36) are parallel to the miracles of Jesus (2:22, cf. also 4:30)
    • Jesus as fulfillment of the “Prophet (to come) like Moses” from Deut 18:15 (cited v. 37, and in 3:22-23)
    • Moses was with the “called-out” people (e)kklhsi/a) of Israel in the wilderness (v. 38), just as Jesus is with the “called-out” people (e)kklhsi/a), i.e. the believers in Christ, the “church”—the word is first used in this latter sense in Acts 5:11, and occurs frequently from 8:1 on; it was used in the LXX in reference to the people gathering/assembling (to receive the Law, etc), esp. in Deut 4:10; 9:10; 18:16.

The central theme of the theophanous revelation of God at Sinai (already emphasized in vv. 30-34) is brought out again here in verse 38—the closing phrase is especially significant, as it relates to one of the main charges against Stephen; it is useful, I think, to look at it in context with verse 39a:

“(this [Moses])…
who [o^$] received living lo/gia to give to us,
to whom [w!|] our Fathers did not wish to become as (ones) who listen under [i.e. {are} obedient]…

The neuter noun lo/gion (lógion), related to the more common lo/go$ (lógos, “account, word”), more properly refers to something uttered, i.e., “saying, announcement, declaration”; in a religious context especially it is often translated as “oracle”. For the idea of “living words/oracles” see Lev 18:5; Deut 32:46-47; note also a similar expression “the words/utterances of this life” in Acts 5:20.

The Golden Calf (vv. 39-42a)—the second half of verse 39 leads into the episode of the Golden Calf:

“…but they thrust (him [i.e. Moses]) away from (them) and turned in their hearts unto Egypt”

Verses 40-41 are taken from the account of the Golden Calf incident (Exod 32:1-6), emphasizing unlawful/inappropriate sacrifice (qusi/a, [ritual] slaughtering) and idolatry (worship of an image, ei&dwlon). Most important are the closing words of verse 41:

“…and they were happy [lit. of a good mind] in the works of their hands [e)n toi=$ e&rgoi$ tw=n xeirw=n au)tw=n]”

This last phrase introduces the idea of things “made with hands” (tied specifically to idolatry), which will play a vital role in the remainder of the speech.

In verse 39, it is stated that the people turned [e)stra/fhsan] in their hearts (back to Egypt, and idolatry); now, in verse 42a, God turns [e&streyen, same verb] and gives the people over [pare/dwken] for them to do (hired) service [latreu/ein, in a religious sense] to the “armies of heaven” (i.e. sun, moon, stars and planets). Of the many references warning against the consequences of image-worship, see, e.g. Hos 13:2-4; for a fundamental passage warning against worship of the celestial bodies, see Deut 4:16ff. On this idea of God giving/handing transgressors over to an even more serious form of idolatry, see Wisdom 11:15-16 and the famous passage in Romans 1:24-28; often there is the sense that the result (and punishment) of idolatry will resemble the very thing that was being worshipped (cf. Jer 19:10-13, etc).

The main Scripture citation (from Amos 5:25-27), along with the remainder of the speech, will be discussed in the next part of this series.

The Speeches of Acts, Part 9: Acts 7:1-53ff

The great sermon-speech of Stephen in Acts 7 is by far the longest in the book and serves as the climax of the first division (Acts 1:1-8:4)—the story of the early believers in Jerusalem. The persecution recorded in 8:1-4 sets the stage for apostolic mission outside of Judea and the mission to the Gentiles. Stephen’s speech is part of a larger narrative arc, from 6:1 to 8:4:

    • Introductory Narrative (6:1-7)—Stephen and the Seven “deacons”, with summary in verse 7
    • Main Narrative (6:8-15)—the story of Stephen: his arrest and appearance before the Sanhedrin, which serves as a narrative introduction to the speech
    • The Speech of Stephen (7:1-53)
    • Continuation of the Narrative (7:54-8:1a)—the crowd’s reaction and the death of Stephen, which serves as a narrative summary/conclusion to the speech
    • Concluding Narrative (8:1-4)—onset of persecution and the dispersal of believers out of Jerusalem and Judea

There are several details in this narrative which indicate that it is transitional between the story of the early Jerusalem believers (centered around Peter) in chapters 1-5 and the missionary outreach which follows:

    • Stephen is a member of a second group of (seven) men who serve a ministry and leadership role in the congregation, separate from the (twelve) Apostles (6:2-3ff).
    • Though not Apostles, men such as Stephen still share in the miracle-working gift and power of the Spirit (6:8); more than simply waiting on tables (v. 2ff), Stephen was capable and empowered to teach and preach. It is specifically said of him that he was “full of trust (in God) [i.e. faith] and (the) holy Spirit” (v. 5) and “full of favor (from God) [i.e. grace] and power” (v. 8), and that he spoke “with wisdom and (the) Spirit”. Philip, another member of the Seven, has a similarly prominent role in Acts 8.
    • Stephen (and apparently the rest of the Seven) are connected with the “Hellenists” (6:1). Though its precise meaning is disputed, here the term “Hellenist” (transliteration of  (Ellenisth/$, “Greek” or “one who speaks Greek”) probably refers to Jews (i.e., Jewish Christians) who primarily (or entirely) speak and read in Greek. Most likely this includes many Jews from the surrounding nations (the Diaspora) who came and dwelt (“put down house”, 2:5) in Jerusalem and were among the early converts (2:6ff, 41).
    • In verse 9ff, Stephen is shown in close contact with other Hellenistic Jews (from the Diaspora), indicated as being members of several different groups—Libertini (free Roman citizens in Italy), and people from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia and Asia (i.e. in Asia Minor). Here “synagogue” (sunagwgh/) refers not to a building, but to a congregation that meets together for worship and study. Probably five different congregations (along national/ethnic) lines are meant; though it is possible that the last four groups were all part of the Libertini. This detail echoes the Pentecost narrative in Acts 2, as well as foreshadowing the upcoming dispersion (“diaspora”) of Christians into the wider mission field.

Stephen’s speech, though familiar, is probably not so well-known as one might think. It is actually highly complex, especially when looked at within its context in the book of Acts. Despite its length and complexity, it still fits the sermon-speech pattern I have been using in discussing the speeches of Acts:

    • Narrative Introduction—the speech follows upon the main narrative (or first part of it) in 6:8-15, with the question of the High Priest to Stephen in 7:1.
    • Introductory Address (7:2-42a)—instead of Gospel kerygma, we find here a lengthy summary of Israelite history, from the call of Abraham to the Exodus and the incident of the Golden Calf.
    • Citation from Scripture (vv. 42b-43)—from Amos 5:25-27.
    • Exposition and Application (vv. 44-50), including a second Scripture citation (from Isa 66:1-2) which is parallel to the prior passage.
    • Concluding Exhortation (vv. 51-53), with a faint kerygmatic detail in v. 52b.
    • Narrative Summary—the narrative continues/concludes in 7:54-8:1a.

 Narrative Introduction (6:8ff; 7:1)

The main narrative is divided into two parts: (1) the arrest of Stephen with his appearance before the Sanhedrin (6:8-15) and (2) the death of Stephen (7:54-58), with the speech occurring in between. 6:8-15 effectively serves as an introduction to the speech. Much as in chapters 3-4, 5, the miraculous, Spirit-filled ministry of the early Christians (vv. 8-10) provokes a hostile response from the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Stephen, like Peter and the Apostles, is seized and brought before the Council (the Sanhedrin) for interrogation (v. 12; cf. 4:1-6; 5:17-18ff). Stephen’s opponents, it is said, “threw (in) men under(neath)” (i.e., acted underhandedly, in secret) to make claims against him; this, in turn, “moved [i.e. stirred/incited] the people together” to act, as well as the religious leaders (elders and Scribes) who had him arrested, and brought (“into the [place of] sitting togther”, i.e. the Sanhedrin) to face additional charges. Three specific claims or charges against Stephen are mentioned:

    1. “we have heard him speaking words of (abusive) slander uttered unto [i.e. against] Moshe [i.e. Moses] and God” (v. 11)
    2. “this man does not cease speaking words uttered down on [i.e. against] [this] holy (Place) and the Law” (v. 13)
    3. “we have heard him recount/relate that this Yeshua the Nazarean will loose down [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this Place and will make different [i.e. change/alter] the customary/usual things that Moshe gave along to us” (v. 14)

The dual charge in vv. 13-14 is said to have been made by “false witnesses”—this, along with the mention of dissolving/destroying the Temple, establishes a clear and obvious parallel with Jesus’ “trial” before the Sanhedrin as narrated in the Synoptic Gospels (see Mark 14:56-59 and the par Matt 26:59-61); there is also an echo of the High Priest’s question to Jesus (Mark 14:60 par) here in Acts 7:1. These correspondent details have led many (critical) scholars to the conclusion that the author of Acts (trad. Luke) has consciously patterned the narrative framework after that of Jesus’ trial (note the similar framing in chs. 4-5), and that the Sanhedrin setting is secondary (and artificial) to the basic narrative and the speech of Stephen. I will address this point further on.

It is possible to summarize and simplify the charges against Stephen:

    1. he says harsh and evil things against Moses and God
    2. he speaks against the Temple and the Law of Moses (i.e. the Old Testament / Jewish Law)
    3. he says that Jesus will abolish/destroy the Temple and alter the religious customs (rel. to the Law of Moses)

The first claim should probably be viewed as a vulgarized or simplistic form of the last two, which themselves appear to be parallel versions of the same idea—the abolition of the Temple and the Law. But what exactly is involved? Elsewhere in early Christianity, we find two related claims made (against Jesus and Paul):

    • In Synoptic tradition, as indicated above, witnesses at Jesus’ ‘trial’ before the Council claimed that Jesus said:
      “I will loose down [katalu/w, i.e. dissolve/destroy] this shrine ‘made with hands’ and through [i.e. within] three days I will build another ‘made without hands'” (Mk 14:58)—the Matthean version is simpler:
      “I am powered [i.e. able] to loose down [katalu=sai] the shrine of God and, through [i.e. within] three days, to build the house (again)” (Mt 26:61)
      Mark and Matthew say that these were “false witnesses” (as in Acts 6:13); however, Jesus is recorded as saying something similar in John 2:19:
      “Loose [lu/sate] this shrine, and in three days I will raise it”
      I have discussed this saying at some length in an earlier article.
    • In Acts 21:27-28, upon the occasion of Paul’s arrest in the Temple precincts, the claim is made against him that:
      “This is the man (the one) teaching every(one) everywhere against the People and the Law and this Place…”
      The reaction to Paul may simply be due to the way he dealt with Gentiles (in relation to the Law); however, his complex (and controversial) arguments in Galatians and Romans, especially, could certainly be viewed by many Jews (and Jewish Christians) as speaking against the Law.

The charges against Stephen seem to be a combination of these—i.e., (a) he was repeating a saying/teaching of Jesus similar to that of John 2:19 (cf. also Mk 13:1-2 par), and/or (b) he was teaching that the ‘new age’ in Christ meant that it was not necessary to observe the Law and/or Temple ritual. There is no way of knowing for certain whether either of these were fundamental to Stephen’s own argument—Acts 6:10 provides no information; all we have to go by is the speech in 7:2-53. This is most significant, since the High Priest asks Stephen directly whether these charges are true: ei) tau=ta ou!tw$ e&xei, “if these (things) thus hold (true)?” (7:1) One might expect that Stephen would address the charges in defense; but his response provides a most interesting answer, as we shall see.

A final detail in the narrative here is in 6:15:

“And stretching (to look) [i.e. looking intently] unto him, all the (one)s sitting down in the (place of) sitting-together [i.e. council, Sanhedrin] saw his face—as if the face of a (heavenly) Messenger!”

This precedes the High Priest’s question and heightens the drama greatly; it also foreshadows the conclusion to the narrative in 7:54ff, with Stephen’s vision of the exalted Christ (Son of Man) in Heaven at God’s right hand.

The remainder of Stephen’s speech will be discussed in the next part of this series.

The Speeches of Acts, Part 8: Acts 5:34-40

Acts 5:34-40 represents the seventh speech in the book of Acts, and the first by a non-Apostle (Gamaliel). It functions in tandem with the speech of Peter in Acts 5:27-32—on this, along with an outline of the overall narrative structure in chapter 5, see the discussion in Part 7. Gamaliel (la@yl!m=G~, transliterated in Greek as Gamalih/l) the first (flourished c. 20-50 A.D.) was a known historical figure, a Rabbi (Teacher/Master, lit. “great one”) of the highest degree (Rabban, /B*r^, “Our Master”), grandson of the famous R. Hillel and grandfather of R. Gamaliel II. Here in Acts he is described as:

    • ti$ e)n tw=| sunedri/w|—someone [i.e. a certain member] in the “(place of) sitting together” (Sanhedrin, or council of Jewish leaders in Jerusalem)
    • Farisai=o$—a Pharisee
    • nomodida/skalo$—a Teacher of the (Old Testament / Jewish) Law
    • ti/mio$ panti\ tw=| law=|—honored by all the people

According to Acts 22:3, the young Saul of Tarsus (Paul the Apostle) studied under Gamaliel.

Though it does not reflect apostolic preaching, Gamaliel’s speech, in many ways, still follows the basic sermon-speech pattern I have used in analyzing these speeches in the book of Acts:

    • Narrative Introduction (v. 34)
    • Introductory Address (v. 35)
    • Citation from History (vv. 36-37)—instead of a Scriptural citation, two examples taken from recent/contemporary (Jewish) history are cited
    • Concluding Exhortation (vv. 38-39), with an application to the current situation
    • Narrative Summary (vv. 39b-41)

Before proceeding, it may be useful to repeat the narrative transition of verse 33, which describes the reaction to Peter’s speech (in vv. 27-32) and joins it to the speech of Gamaliel:

“And (at this) the (one)s hearing were cut [lit. sawn] through and wished to take them up [i.e. do away with them, kill them]”

This reaction and response is similar to that following Stephen’s speech (cf. Acts 7:54ff), only here Gamaliel’s words restrain the crowd (of Jewish leaders) seeking the Apostles’ death.

Narrative Introduction (v. 34)—it is narrated how Gamaliel, “standing up” (a)nasta\$), intervened:

“…he urged [i.e. ordered] (them) to make the men [i.e. the apostles] (wait) outside a short (time)”

For the terms and expressions used to describe Gamaliel, see above.

Introductory Address (v. 35)—Gamaliel addresses the Council in a manner similar to that of Peter in Acts 2:22; 3:12 (cf. also 2:14, 29):  &Andre$,  )Israhli=tai… (“Men, Israelites…”); his address serves as a word of warning:

“have (care) toward yourselves upon [i.e. concerning] these men, how [lit. what] you are about to act!”
(or, in more conventional English)
“take care yourselves concerning what you are about to do to these men!”

Citation from History (vv. 36-37)—instead of a citation from Scripture (according to the sermon-speech pattern), Gamaliel offers two examples from recent/contemporary Jewish history—of Theudas and Judas the Galilean—men who had considerable (revolutionary) influence over the people, but whose success was short-lived and ended in failure. These verses contain two apparent (and apparently blatant) historical discrepancies:

    1. According to Josephus (Antiquities 20.97-98), Theudas was a Messianic-type ‘imposter’ who gathered a following during the period when C. Cuspius Fadus was procurator in Judea (44-46 A.D.). This would seem to have occurred later than the time of Gamaliel’s speech here in Acts (44 A.D. is the customary date given for the death of Herod Agrippa I, which does not take place until Acts 12:20-23).
    2. Judas the Galilean, an even more dangerous revolutionary, who incited rebellion during the time of the census (of Quirinius), according to both Acts and Jos. Ant. 20.102, War 2.118. By all accounts, this census took place in 6-7 A.D., clearly some time prior to Theudas’ movement, and yet Gamaliel here indicates that Judas appears after Theudas.

These apparent discrepancies, if proven to be so, would provide an extremely strong argument that the speech of Gamaliel, at least, is fundamentally a Lukan creation. However, traditional-conservative commentators (and other interpreters assuming, or eager to defend, a particular view of Scriptural inspiration and/or inerrancy), naturally enough, have sought explanations which preserve the historicity of the speech. It has been suggested that there was another (earlier) “Theudas” (with a similar career), perhaps during the reign of Herod the Great, but this is rather unlikely; Acts and Josephus almost certainly are referring to the same person. A simpler explanation is that Gamaliel is counting backward, from Theudas to the earlier Judas; however, the normal sense of the Greek expression meta\ tou=ton (“after this”) speaks decidedly against this, and in any event it would only partially solve the problem. It is also possible that Acts preserves here advice given by Gamaliel at a later date (subsequent to Theudas’ appearance), but again at least a partial discrepancy would remain. Another possibility is that Josephus is himself mistaken about the date of Theudas, but this too seems somewhat unlikely. None of the aforementioned solutions are especially convincing.

Historical questions aside, the point of these examples (Theudas and Judas) in Gamaliel’s speech is clear enough; note the parallels used to describe them:

    • they both “stood up” (a)ne/sth), that is, “rose up, appeared”
    • by this is implied that they suddenly achieved some measure of prominence—of Theudas is added the detail that he “counted himself to be some(one)”
    • they both gained a devoted following:
      Theudas—about four hundred men “were bent/inclined toward” [i.e. joined with] him
      Judas—he caused people to “stand away” [i.e. go away], following after him
    • they both perished—Theudas (“was taken up”, i.e. killed), Judas (“went away to ruin”, i.e. destroyed himself)
    • both groups of followers are specified as those who were persuaded/convinced by (e)pei/qonto, i.e. obeyed) the false leader—foolishly and in vain (implied by the context)
    • the followers of Theudas were “loosed/dissolved throughout” (i.e. dispersed) and “came to be nothing”; the followers of Judas were “all scattered throughout”

The comparison with Jesus and his followers is readily apparent.

Concluding Exhortation (vv. 38-39)—this is in the form of an injunction (or direction) urging his fellow leaders to:

    • “stand away from” [a)po/sthte, the same verb used in v. 37] the Apostles (“these men”)—that is, refrain from any further hostile action, and
    • “release” [a&fete] them—i.e. leave them alone for now

There is an interesting parallel to Peter’s response in Acts 4:19; 5:29, where the choice is between obeying God or obeying men. See how this is framed in vv. 38b-39a:

    • If (the word and work of the Apostles) is of men (e)c a)nqrw/pwn)
      • it will be loosed down (kataluqh/setai)—i.e. it will dissolve (by itself)
    • If (the word and work) is of God (e)k qeou=)
      • you will not have power [i.e. be able] to loose it down (katalu=sai)—i.e. you cannot dissolve/destroy it

A final warning is added—if the work of the Apostles is truly of God, and the Sanhedrin leaders try to resist it, Gamaliel cautions:

mh/pote kai\ qeoma/xoi eu(reqh=te

which has to be understood in light of the conditional sentence in vv. 38-39, but also in the context of the entire speech (beginning with the imperative prose/xete in v. 35); in other words—

“take care… that you do not even find (yourselves) fighting God!”

The noun qeoma/xo$ (theomáchos) literally means “one fighting with (or against) God”. It is a relatively rare word, appearing only here in the New Testament, and most notably at 2 Macc 7:19 in the LXX (the spirits/shades of the dead [? <ya!p*r=] are also translated by qeoma/xoi in Job 26:5; Prov 9:18; 21:16). Use of the related verb qeomaxe/w in Greek literature (admittedly rare, cf. several instances in Euripides) suggests opposition to the will and forward march of the deity.

Narrative Summary (vv. 39-40)—the summary begins with the conclusion of verse 39 (“and they were persuaded [e)pei/sqhsan] by him”, or “they obeyed him”, i.e. they accepted his advice). This repeats the key verb pei/qw, used previously (or in compounds) in vv. 29, 32, 36-37. A variant reading (in the Byzantine Majority text) adds mh\ qeomaxw=men (“let us not fight [against] God”); for this verb, and the related noun (used earlier in v. 39), see above. Verse 40 narrates in succession that the Jewish leaders of the Sanhedrin (a) called the apostles back in, (b) had them flogged (lit. “skinned”, i.e. struck so as to remove skin), and (c) directed them again not to speak “upon the name of Yeshua/Jesus” (as in 4:18). After this, the Sanhedrin “loosed” the Apostles from custody (i.e. released, set them free).

The narrative summary continues in verse 41; however, I regard vv. 41-42 more properly as the conclusion to the entire narrative section beginning with vv. 12ff (or at least vv. 17ff). Verse 41 mentions two actions of the apostles, that:

    • they traveled (out away) from the “face” of the Sanhedrin
      • rejoicing that they were (indeed) considered worthy to be dishonored [i.e. treated with dishonor]
        • over [i.e. for the sake of] the name (of Yeshua)
    • they did not cease… in the sacred place [i.e. Temple] and according to house [i.e. from house to house]
      • teaching and giving the good message of [i.e. announcing/proclaiming]
        • the Anointed (One) Yeshua

In many ways this is parallel to the narrative section in 4:23-31—the Apostles leave the Sanhedrin Council precincts and return to their own (fellow believers). The outline above indicates a pair of triads:

  1. Location—Sanhedrin council (where they face trial/suffering) vs. Temple and private houses (where they teach and worship)
  2. Regular Activity—rejoicing (over their suffering) vs. teaching and preaching (“the words of life”, cf. 4:20)
  3. Central Focus—the name of Jesus (the cause of their suffering) vs. Jesus the Christ (the content of their teaching/preaching)

The Speeches of Acts, Part 7: Acts 5:27-32

Acts 5:27-32 is the sixth speech in the book of Acts (by my reckoning), and the fifth given by Peter. A careful study of the speeches in the book to this point reveals something of the way the author incorporates them into the overall structure, central to each major narrative section. For an outline of how this functions in chapters 3-4, see parts 5 and 6 of this series. In Acts 3-4 there are three main (connected) narrative sections, each of which contains a speech (following a basic sermon-speech pattern); here in chapter 5, there are two speeches set side-by-side within an extended narrative:

    • Narrative Summary (5:12-16), which follows upon the narrative in 5:1-11, and emphasizes healing miracles performed by Peter and the Apostles.
    • Main narrative (5:17-26), centered on the Apostles’ miraculous release from prison, and divided into two parts:
      (1) vv. 17-21: The arrest of the Apostles (miracle)—who are told (by the Messenger) to go and  preach in the Temple
      (2) vv. 22-26: Officials go to the prison (result/reaction)—told (by a messenger) to go to the Temple, where the Apostles are preaching
    • Speech of Peter (5:27-32) before the Sanhedrin
    • Narrative transition (5:33)
    • Speech of Gamaliel (5:34-40) to the Sanhedrin
    • Narrative Conclusion (5:41-42)

There are some significant parallels to the narrative in chs. 3-4:

    • Context of healing miracle(s)—3:1-10; 5:12, 15-16
    • The Temple setting—3:1ff; 5:20-21, 25-26
    • The Apostles (including Peter) are taken into custody by the religious/temple authorities—4:1-3; 5:17-18
    • The Apostles appear before the religious leaders (the Sanhedrin) and are interrogated—4:5ff; 5:27ff
    • Question/Address by the High Priest—4:7; 5:28
    • Response/Speech by Peter—4:8-12; 5:29-32
    • Peter’s response esp. in 4:19-20; 5:29
    • The Apostles are released (4:21; 5:40) and rejoice/worship together (4:23ff; 5:41-42)

There is clearly a narrative pattern at work here; critical scholars debate the extent to which this matches historical reality (two separate, but similar incidents) or is a literary doublet (based on a single historical incident or tradition). It has even been suggested that the Sanhedrin setting is a literary construct, patterned after Jesus’ ‘trial’ in the Passion narratives, and added for dramatic effect. This would possibly be more likely here in chapter 5, where vv. 26, 33 suggest something of a mob scene, with the ‘Sanhedrin’ setting of vv. 27ff conceivably inserted by the author (cf. the similar setting around Stephen’s speech in chapter 7). There are also literary/narrative parallels between 5:17-21 and Peter’s miraculous (Angelic) release from prison in Acts 12:6-11.

Here is an outline of Peter’s speech in Acts 5:27-32:

    • Narrative Introduction (vv. 27-28), including a question/address by the High Priest (par. to 4:8).
    • Introductory Address (v. 29)
    • {Citation from Scripture} (vv. 30-31)—instead of a direct Scripture citation, there is a central kerygmatic statement, with an allusion to Deut 21:22-23 in v. 30b.
    • Concluding Exhortation (v. 32), with the conclusion of the kerygma and an application to the current situation.
    • {Narrative Summary}—v.33 is a narrative transition to the speech of Gamaliel in vv. 34ff.

Narrative Introduction (vv. 27-28)—this is parallel to Acts 4:5-7, but told in abbreviated form. Here they are simply brought before the “Sanhedrin” (sune/drion, “sitting together”), i.e. the council of Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Again they are questioned/interrogated (e)perwta/w, the vb. punqa/nomai in 4:7) by the High Priest, who is not named (Annas and Caiaphas are listed among the Chief Priests who question the Apostles in 4:5-7). It is not clear that verse 28 is actually a question; many of the best manuscripts read:

“We gave along the message to you not to teach upon this name [i.e. of Jesus]…”

Some MSS include the negative particle ou) which would more properly make it a question: “Did we not give along the message to you…?”; however, the negative particle is probably a (scribal) addition to better fit the context of v. 27. The Greek paraggeli/a| parhggei/lamen—literally, “we gave along (as a) message a message given along”—highly redundant in English, reflects Hebrew syntax, with the duplication (using an infinitive absolute form) serving to intensify the main verb; i.e. in English, “we clearly/certainly gave you the message not to teach…!” The verb paragge/llw (parangéllœ, “give/pass along a message”) often has the meaning “pass on an order”, and so generally, “order, command, enjoin,” etc.

The High Priest’s address continues in dramatic fashion:

“…and see!—you have filled Yerushalaim (full) of your teaching, and you wish to bring upon us the blood of this man!”

The last statement is a bit harsh and troubling for those familiar with the Gospels (and sensitive to Jewish-Christian relations); it is a response to the accusation implicit in statements such as those of Peter in Acts 2:23, 36; 3:13-15; 4:10-11. We would be inclined to regard it as an exaggeration and distortion by the High Priest, however it matches words spoken by the Jewish crowd in at least one version of the Passion narrative (Matt 27:25). Christians today are extremely cautious about attributing to the “Jews” (in the ethnic-religious sense) responsibility for the death of Jesus. The situation was somewhat different in the early Church, where believers (primarily Jewish Christians) were often at odds (and in conflict) with their own countrymen (sometimes simply referred to as “the Judeans/Jews”).

Introductory Address (verse 29)—Peter (along with the [other] Apostles) respond with a declaratory statement:

“It is necessary (for us) to obey God more than [i.e. rather than] men”

The verb translated “obey” (peiqarxe/w) is somewhat difficult to render literally—it has the fundamental meaning “persuade [or be persuaded] by [i.e. submitting to] (that which is) chief [i.e. ruling]”, especially in the sense of submitting to the rule of law or government. One might render the statement as—

“It is necessary for us to submit to [or trust in] the rule of God rather than (the rule of) men”

or something similar. This declaration reiterates the words of Peter (and John) in 4:19-20:

 “If it is just in the eyes of God to hear [i.e. listen to] you more [i.e. rather] than God, you (be the) judge;
we are not able (but) to speak the (thing)s we have seen and heard”

They are responding to the directive (or threat) by the Jewish leaders in 4:17-18, which the High Priest makes reference to here in 5:27. The use of peiqarxe/w (a component of which is the verb pei/qw), introduces the theme of obedience (i.e. being persuaded by, obeying) which become prominent in vv. 32, 36-37, 39b.

Citation from Scripture (vv. 30-31)—instead of a Scripture citation, we have here a kerygmatic statement (with a Scriptural allusion, cf. below), elements of which can be found in the prior sermon-speeches of Acts:

“The God of our Fathers raised (up) Yeshua, whom you took thoroughly in hand [i.e. to kill], hanging (him) upon (a piece of) wood [i.e. tree]—this one [i.e. Jesus] God lifted high to his giving [i.e. right] hand (as) a leader and savior, to give a change of mind [i.e. repentance] to Yisrael and release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins”

    • o( qeo\$ tw=n pate/rwn (“the God of our Fathers”)—cf. 3:13, and (possibly) underlying the apparent corruption in 5:25a.
    • h&geiren  )Ihsou=n (“raised Yeshua/Jesus [from the dead]”)—cf. 3:15; 4:10; also 2:24, 32.
    • o^n u(mei=$ diexeiri/sasqe krema/sante$ e)pi\ cu/lou—the language is different here, but the same idea (that they took and crucified Jesus) is found in 2:23, 36; 4:10.
    • o( qeo\$ . . . u%ywsen th=| decia=| au)tou= (“God … lifted high to his right hand”)—cf. 2:33-34 (and note esp. 7:55-56).
    • a)rxh=gon kai\ swth=ra (“[as] a chief/leader and savior”)—cf. 3:15-16; 4:12; for a similar combination, see Hebrews 2:10.
    • dou=nai meta/noian . . . kai\ a&fesin a(martiw=n (“to give change of mind/understanding … and release of sins”)—cf. 2:38; also 3:19, 26.

Somewhat contrary to the (critical) view that the speeches of Acts are largely the product of the author (trad. Luke), such phrases and expressions almost certainly preserve pieces of early Gospel preaching and proclamation (kerygma). There are two distinctive details added here:

    1. The verb diaxeiri/zw—”handle throughout/thoroughly, take thoroughly in hand”, or “lay hands (forcefully) on”, that is, in order to “put to death, kill”; elsewhere in the New Testament it is used only in Acts 26:21.
    2. Instead of the verb stauro/w (“put to the stake”, i.e. crucify), we have the expression krema/sante$ e)pi\ cu/lou, “hanging (him) upon (a piece of) wood [i.e. tree]”. We find the same expression in Acts 10:39.

The description of crucifixion as “hanging upon a tree”, and the Greek wording in particular, are derived largely from Deuteronomy 21:22-23 (LXX). The original context is the regulation that a criminal hung to death on a tree not be left there overnight—otherwise the dead body of such a person (“cursed by God”) would defile the land. By the time of the New Testament, however, the expression came to be a euphemism for crucifixion—cf. the Qumran texts 4QpNah i 6-8 (alluding to those crucified by Alexander Jannaeus, cf. Jos. Ant. 13.379-80, War 1.93-98) and 11QTemple 64.7-12. Paul famously applies the same Old Testament reference to Jesus in Galatians 3:13.

Concluding Exhortation (v. 32)—properly the declaration in this verse serves to conclude the kerygma of vv. 30-31 and apply it to the current situation:

“And we are witnesses of these things (I have) uttered, and (also) the holy Spirit which God has given to the (ones) obeying him”

The theme of the Apostles as witnesses (esp. to Jesus’ resurrection) is an important one in Acts (cf. already in 1:8, 22; 2:32; 3:15), as is God’s sending/giving the Spirit (Acts 1:5, 8; 2:17-28, 33, 38; 4:31, and of course the Pentecost narrative of 2:1-4ff). An exhortation is embedded in the last words of the verse (“to the ones obeying him”)—the verb translated “obey(ing)” is the same used in verse 29 (peiqarxe/w, see above).

Narrative Summary (v. 33)—as indicated above, this verse serves as a narrative transition between the speeches of Peter and Gamaliel:

“And (at this) the (one)s hearing were cut [lit. sawn] through and wished to take them up [i.e. do away with them, kill them]”

The same verb diapri/w (“saw/cut through”) is used in Acts 7:54 for a similar reaction to Stephen’s speech; only we find a dramatic progression—here the crowd (i.e. the Jewish leaders) wants to kill Peter and the apostles but are kept from doing so, there they carry through and execute Stephen (7:58). Critical scholars have noted that both episodes seem to better fit a (public) mob scene than a private Sanhedrin session, leading to the theory that the setting of the Sanhedrin is a literary construct by the author (drawing upon the ‘trial’ of Jesus in the Gospels) added to heighten the dramatic effect. The argument is, I think, perhaps stronger in the case of Stephen’s speech, which I will be discussing in turn.