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

Acts 12:5, 12; 13:3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In verse 3 we read:

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

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

Notes on Prayer: Acts 9:11-12; 10:2-4

Acts 9:11-12; 10:2-4

Following the death of Stephen (cf. the previous study), and the onset of persecution against believers in Judea (8:1-3), a new division in the book of Acts begins at 8:4:

“So the(y), (hav)ing been scatted throughout, went throughout giving the good message of the account (of God)…”

The persecution in Judea forced many believers out into the surrounding regions, thus inaugurating the extension of early Christian mission beyond the confines of Jerusalem (and Judea). The division that begins with 8:4 and extends through the Council at Jerusalem (chap. 15), is based on two main lines of tradition—one focusing on the missionary work of Peter, and the other the first missionary journeys of Paul.

Peter’s missionary work dominates chapters 9-12, and represents the first narrative episodes in Acts related to the wider Christian mission. However, there is an important aspect to the way that the overall narrative is framed. The initial narration of the mission-work of Paul (9:19b-31) and Peter (9:32-43) is framed by two major conversion episodes: that of Paul (Saul) himself (9:1-19a) and Cornelius (chap. 10). These conversion accounts share certain features in common, and are instructive for how the author of Acts understands the nature of the early Christian mission.

We often think of conversion in terms of the Prodigal Son example: i.e., a person who repents from a sinful/wicked lifestyle and experiences a complete transformation (a ‘new birth’) as a Christian. However, while this aspect is certainly part of the Gospel message in Acts (2:38ff, etc), it does not feature prominently in the narrative. There really are no conversion-episodes that follow the Prodigal pattern. Instead, the focus is on pious and devout persons (both Jews and Gentiles) whose acceptance of the Gospel essentially represents a natural development of their righteous character. Paul and Cornelius, each in their own way, embody the devout Jew and Gentile who convert to the Christian faith.

Paul’s character as a devout Jew is well-established in early Christian tradition, and is confirmed by his own letters (Gal 2:14; Phil 3:5-6; cf. Acts 22:3). The evils he committed as a persecutor of believers are of a different sort, the product of misguided religious zeal. In this regard, Paul (Saul) is cut from the same cloth as the Jewish opponents of the Gospel in the early chapters of Acts; indeed, according to the narrative detail in 8:1a, he is among those for whom Stephen prays (7:60). On Paul’s role in persecuting believers, the authenticity of this historical tradition is established on objective grounds, being generally confirmed by Paul’s own letters (Gal 2:13; Phil 3:6).

After his revelatory experience (9:3-8), we read that Paul (“did not eat and did not drink”, v. 9). While this may be viewed as an effect of the revelation, parallel to his loss of sight, it is probable that such fasting may also reflect Paul’s genuine repentance for his attacks against Christians. His loss of physical sight symbolizes his blindness in not recognizing the truth of the Gospel (cp. John 9:39ff). Once he regains his sight, his righteousness is also restored; it is no longer simply the righteousness of the devout Jew, but a piety that has been transformed in the light of Christ.

During Paul’s time of fasting and repentance, his situation is communicated by vision to another believer (Ananias) in Damascus (vv. 10ff). Ananias is commanded to go to Paul and to minister to him, effecting his conversion (and restoration). Embedded in the message to Ananias is the detail that, at the very moment, Paul was in prayer (“for, see, he is speaking out toward [God] [proseu/xetai]”). In his prayer, Paul himself sees a corresponding vision of Ananias coming to minister to him (v. 12). This is another interesting example of the Lukan theme of prayer as a sign of the unity of believers.

While Paul was the prototype of the devout Jew (though with misguided religious zeal), Cornelius represents the devout Gentile. This is expressed by the narrative description of him in 10:2-3, which echoes, in certain respects, the description of the devout Israelites and Jews (Zechariah/Elizabeth, Joseph/Mary, Simeon/Anna) in the Lukan Infancy narratives. Cornelius is characterized as eu)sebh/$, which properly means something like “(one who shows) good reverence (to God)”; it is used only here (also v. 7) and in 2 Pet 2:9, though related words in the eu)seb– wordgroup are found elsewhere in the New Testament. Cornelius is also identified as “(one) fearing God” (fobou/meno$ to\n qeo/n), which is a more specific religious characteristic, though it is generally comparable in meaning to eu)sebh/$; indeed, a more common expression is sebo/meno$ to\n qeo/n (“[one] showing reverence [to] God”), cf. Acts 13:50; 16:14; 17:4, 17; 18:7. The Greek expression fobou/meno$ to\n qeo/n is derived from the LXX (cf. 115:11; 118:4; 135:20), and occurs again in Acts at 10:22, 35; 13:16, 26. It came to be applied specifically to non-Jews who revered the God of Israel or who were sympathetic to Jerusalem (cf. Josephus, Antiquities 14.110), thus recognized (and labeled) as “God-fearers”. Cf. Fitzmyer, pp. 449-50.

The devout and upright character of Cornelius is reflected by the positive moral and religious influence he exerted over his household, and specifically by the charitable acts (“[act]s of mercy”) he performed, and by his prayers to God (10:2). It is said that he always (dia\ panto/$, “through all [time]s, through all [thing]s”) prayed to God; in v. 2 the verb de/omai is used, meaning “make a request” (to God), but in v. 30 it is proseu/xomai (“speak out toward [God]”). This devout behavior (and character) of Cornelius anticipates his acceptance of the Gospel and conversion to Christianity. Indeed, in v. 4, his prayer is answered in a vision, affirming God’s acceptance of his prayers (as an offering to Him), along with providing instructions in preparation of Peter’s ministry to his house (vv. 5ff). The parallels with the earlier Paul episode are worth noting:

    • Both are praying when they receive their vision (implying that it is an answer to prayer)
    • The vision involves a believer (Ananias/Peter) who will come and minister to them
    • This believer, at the same time, receives a vision regarding the person to whom they are going to minister
    • The minister delivers a message which leads to the conversion of the individual (Paul/Cornelius)

Cornelius, in particular, become the examplar for the devout Gentile who will accept the Gospel message. Peter’s declaration in 10:35 essentially makes this point:

“…but in every nation the (one) fearing Him and (who is) working justice/righteousness, is received [i.e. accepted] by Him”

The Gentiles who accept the Gospel, are, on the whole, upright and devout, in a manner that is comparable to those upright Israelites and Jews who first responded to the Gospel. Before turning to the Gentiles, Paul’s mission focused on the synagogues—places where one would be likely to find devout ‘God-fearers’ responsive to the Gospel message. Even in the cities with smaller Jewish populations (as in Philippi), Paul and his fellow-missionaries continued to seek out pockets of devout Jews—and they, like Paul and Cornelius would regularly be engaged in prayer (cf. 16:13ff).

In conclusion, I would point out several ways that the mention of Cornelius’ prayers in 10:2-3ff develop certain key Lukan themes:

    • Continuity between the Old and New Covenants—As noted above, Cornelius was a “God-fearer” who worshiped the true God and who was sympathetic to Judaism. He thus establishes a point of continuity between the Old Covenant (i.e., the religious devotion of Israelites and Jews), and the New (i.e., believers, including both Jews and Gentiles). What follows in chapter 11, and which leads into the Jerusalem Council of chapter 15, represents a significant and pointed development of this theme. The Gospel message is no innovation, but represents the true fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel.
    • Prayer in place of sacrifice—Cornelius’ prayers are described in sacrificial terms, as something that rises up to God (like the smoke of the burnt offerings). The idea of his prayers as a memorial also reflects aspects of the sacrificial offerings (cf. Lev 2:2, 9, 16; 5:12; 6:15; Fitzmyer, p. 451). The time of the vision is also noteworthy, in that it corresponds with the time of the evening (afternoon) daily offering (cp. 3:1; Lk 1:10). Throughout Luke-Acts the role of the Temple has changed from a place of sacrificial offerings to being a “house of prayer (for all nations)” (Lk 19:46 par, citing Isa 56:7). For believers, the Temple is a locale for preaching, teaching, and prayer, rather than observance of the sacrificial ritual.
    • The establishment of the Kingdom of God is realized primarily through the proclamation of the Gospel, a mission that extends from Jerusalem all the way to the “ends of the earth”. This is established at the beginning of Acts through the declaration of Jesus (1:8), and then is developed throughout the narratives of the book. Cornelius is the first clear example of the Gospel message truly going out to the “nations” (in the sense of non-Jews), though the idea is very much anticipated in the Pentecost narrative of chapter 2, as well as Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian official (8:26-40). The other aspect of the Kingdom-theme—the coming of the Holy Spirit—also features in the Cornelius episode (10:44-45ff; 11:15ff).

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

Notes on Prayer: Acts 6:1-6; 7:59

Acts 6:1-6; 7:59

The next references to prayer in the book of Acts occur in the Stephen narrative (chaps. 6-7). Actually, this narrative block both begins and concludes with a prayer. Stephen is established through the introductory narrative in 6:1-6, which briefly narrates a practical conflict that emerged in the early Jerusalem Community—a conflict that necessitated an expansion of the leadership of the Community.

Implicit throughout the early chapters (1-5) is the leadership of the circle of Twelve, the importance of which was made clear in the opening narratives (esp. 1:15-26, cf. the prior study on 1:24). Now, due to the difficulties in providing food to all the members of the Community, it was deemed necessary to create a division of labor: the group of Twelve would continue to focus entirely on the preaching ministry, while an additional group (of seven) would take the leadership over the practical matters of providing food, etc.

However, the language used in the narrative makes clear that this was not simply a menial task: it genuinely represented an important leadership position in the Community. The men chosen were to be “full of (the) Spirit and wisdom” (plh/rh$ pneu/mato$ kai\ sofi/a$), as well as being persons for whom the rest of the Community could give witness (vb marture/w) regarding their character and ability. Once the seven men were chosen, the apostles prayed (vb proseuxe/w) and laid their hands on them (v. 4). The laying on of hands was a ritual gesture with ancient roots in Near Eastern tradition. It came to be a fundamental component of early Christian ritual within the Community, emphasizing both the identity of a person as part of the Community, as well as the unity and solidarity of the Community itself. It thus has certain aspects in common with the act of prayer.

Stephen is singled out in the narrative as a man “full of trust and (the) holy Spirit” (v. 5). It is again clear that the group of seven were leading ministers in their own right, whose abilities and gifts for ministry were not limited to the practical tasks of feeding the Community. We see how this is narrated in verse 8, where it is stated that Stephen “…full of (the) favor and power (of God), did wonders and great signs among the people”. He also taught and preached the Gospel message, much as the Twelve did. The distinction between the Seven and the Twelve only related to their primary roles within the Community. In all other respects, they were called equally (along with other believers) to act as missionaries, proclaiming the Gospel message to the people in Jerusalem.

Stephen’s preaching ministry brought him into conflict with the religious authorities in Jerusalem. This is one of three such conflict-episodes narrated in the early chapters of Acts (chaps. 3-4; 5:12-42; and here in 6:8-8:1). The prayer of the Community in 4:23-31 (cf. the previous study) was focused specifically on this rising conflict and opposition to the Gospel. The request was made to God for boldness (parrhsi/a) to continue to proclaim the message even in the face of such opposition (v. 29). An additional request was for God to continue working miracles through them (v. 30). In response to their prayer, the believers were collectively filled again with the Spirit, and, through this empowerment by the Spirit, “spoke the account of God with outspokenness [parrhsi/a]” (v. 31).

All of this relates specifically to the Stephen narrative. The boldness and power with which he preaches is an extension of the episode in 4:23-31, and, in its own way, a fulfillment of the promise spoken by Jesus in his teaching on prayer in Luke 11 (v. 13). Standing before the Council (Sanhedrin), vv. 12-14ff, Stephen delivers a long sermon-speech in the form of a summary of Israelite history. The Spirit-inspired character of the speech is suggested by the description of him in v. 15. The historical summary builds upon a number of important early Christian themes (cf. Parts 9-12 of the series “The Speeches of Acts”), which involve the fundamental issue of the religious identity of believers as the people of God. Those who reject Jesus (as the Messiah) fulfill the type-pattern of those Israelites of the Exodus who rebelled against Moses and perished in the desert. This is at the heart of the conflict-episodes in Acts: the choice of Israelites and Jews, whether they will accept or reject Jesus as the Messiah.

The author frames the Sanhedrin interrogation of Stephen so that it evokes the earlier scene (in the Gospel) of Jesus before the Council. Indeed, of the three major conflict-episodes, it is the Stephen narrative which most clearly follows the pattern of Jesus’ Passion. The parallels (some more precise than others) may be outlined as follows:

    • Stephen was “full of faith/trust and the Holy Spirit” and “full of the favor (of God) and power” (Acts 6:5, 8)
      —Jesus likewise, at the beginning of his ministry (Lk 4:1), was said to be “full of the Holy Spirit”; cf. also Lk 4:14 and Lk 1:15, 17; 2:40.
    • Stephen did “great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8)
      —Cf. especially the notice of Jesus’ miracles in Acts 2:22
    • It is stated that Stephen’s opponents “did not have strength to stand against the wisdom and the Spirit in which he spoke” (Acts 6:10)
      —Cf. Luke 20:26, etc; 21:15
    • The accusation of blasphemy (i.e. insult/slander against God) (Acts 6:11)
      —The declaration of the High Priest (Mark 14:64 par), implied in Lk 22:71
    • Stephen’s opponents “stirred together” the crowds etc. against him (Acts 6:12)
      —The Jewish authorities “shook up” the crowds against Jesus (Mark 15:11, not in Luke)
    • “They seized him and led him into the Sanhedrin” (Acts 6:12b)
      —Cf. Luke 22:52, 54, 66; 23:1, also the specific mention of “Elders and Scribes” (Lk 22:66)
    • False witnesses give testimony, involving the Temple (Acts 6:13)
      —False witnesses against Jesus rel. to the “Temple-saying” (Mark 14:57-59 par, not in Luke)
    • The claim that Jesus would destroy the Temple (Acts 6:14)
    • Stephen stands in the middle of the Council (cf. Luke 22:66)
    • The question by the High Priest regarding the truth of the accusations (Acts 7:1)
      —The specific question in Mark 14:60 par (not in Luke); cf. also Mk 14:61 par; Lk 22:67, 70
    • Stephen’s vision of the Son of Man (Acts 7:55-56)
      —Jesus’ answer to the Council regarding the Son of Man (Lk 22:69 par; in Matt/Mark, seeing the Son of Man)
    • The reaction of the Council (including tearing their garments) (Acts 7:52; Mark 14:63-64 par, cf. Lk 22:71)
    • Stephen is taken outside of the city to be put to death (Acts 7:58, cf. Lk 23:26, 33)
    • Stephen’s dying words: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59)
      —Jesus’ dying words: “Father, into your hands I place [i.e. give] along my spirit” (Lk 23:46)
    • Stephen asks God to forgive those putting him to death: “Do not hold up this sin against them” (Acts 7:60)
      —Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness on the cross (Lk 23:34 [not in some MSS])
    • After Stephen’s death “there came to be… a great persecution upon the Church” (Acts 8:1)
      —After Jesus’ death “there came to be darkness upon the whole land” (Luke 23:44)

From a narrative standpoint, these parallels illustrate vividly the disciple following in Jesus’ footsteps, even to the point of death (Lk 5:11, 27-28; 9:23, 57-62; 18:22, 28; 21:12-19; 22:39, 54; 23:27, 49 pars; cf. also Mk 10:38-40, etc).

Stephen’s dying words take the form of a prayer to God. This prayer is two-fold; let us consider it in terms of the parallel with Jesus’ death (cf. the outline above):

    • Stephen: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59)
      —Jesus: “Father, into your hands I place [i.e. give] along my spirit” (Lk 23:46)
    • Stephen: “Do not hold up this sin against them” (Acts 7:60)
      —Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness on the cross (Lk 23:34)

The first part of the prayer is on behalf of Stephen’s own soul; the second part is on behalf of those people responsible for putting him to death. Interestingly, the famous saying by Jesus on the cross is not found in a number of key manuscripts, and is considered to be an interpolation (a secondary addition) by many scholars. The Jesus-Stephen parallel could serve as an argument in favor of the authenticity of the verse; the parallels are certainly stronger if the cross-saying is included.

Even if the saying in Lk 23:34 is not part of the original text, Stephen’s prayer is fully in accord with Jesus’ teaching on prayer. In particular, we may note Jesus’ teaching regarding the love that must be shown by his disciples toward their enemies (Lk 6:27-36 par)—which includes praying for those who make false accusations against them (v. 28). Stephen’s faithfulness to Christ is illustrated over the full scope of the narrative—a narrative that begins with prayer and ends with prayer.

Notes on Prayer: Acts 4:23-31

Acts 4:23-31

The next reference to prayer in the book of Acts is the prayer-speech in 4:23-31. Though it follows the general pattern of the sermon-speeches in Acts (cf. below), it is properly not a speech, but a prayer to God. One might even make the claim that it is the earliest Christian prayer on record. Certainly, to the extent that what the author presents in these verses accurately reflects the historical situation, such a claim would be justified. The prayer-speech in 4:23-31 is, however, a literary work more than it is a stenographic record of what was said at the time. It takes the words, thoughts, and sentiments of the early Jerusalem Christians, and presents them as a single voice. This is appropriate, since the narrative in chapters 1-8 repeatedly emphasizes the unity of believers—how they were all of a single mind and purpose.

This focus on the unity of the early believers is certainly an important theme in the book of Acts, and one that is clearly emphasized in the prior references to prayer (cf. the previous studies on 1:14, 24, and 2:42ff). It is perhaps best expressed by the use of the term o(moqumado/n (“[with] one impulse”, i.e., with one heart, of one mind, in one accord, cf. 1:14; 2:46; 4:24; 5:12; 8:6). This unity of thought and purpose is reflected in the prayer of believers, as indeed it should be for us today.

I have discussed the prayer-speech in 4:23-31 earlier in the series “The Speeches of Acts”. Here I will be focusing specifically on the aspect of prayer. In considering the context of the passage, it is worth considering the narrative structure of chapters 3 and 4, which I outline here below, dividing the overall arc into three distinct narrative sections, each of which contains a speech. 4:23-31 belongs to the third (final) section:

    • Introductory/Core Narrative—the healing Miracle (3:1-10)
    • First speech by Peter (3:12-26), with narrative introduction in v. 11 joining to v. 1-10
    • Narrative Summary (4:1-4)
    • Second Narrative (introduction)—Peter and John brought before the Sanhedrin (4:5-7)
    • Second speech by Peter (4:8-12)
    • Narrative Conclusion/Summary (4:13-22)
    • Third Narrative (introduction)—Disciples gather together (4:23)
    • Speech (Prayer) by the Disciples, addressed to God (4:24-30)
    • Narrative Summary (4:31)

Even if 4:23-31 is properly a prayer to God, it very much follows the same sermon-speech pattern that governs the other speeches in the book, as I have noted above. Here is how the pattern would be applied:

    • Narrative Introduction (v. 23)
    • Introductory Address, with kerygmatic detail (v. 24)
    • Citation from Scripture (vv. 25-26)
    • Exposition and Application (vv. 27-28)
    • Concluding Exhortation (vv. 29-30)
    • Narrative Summary (v. 31)

This confirms the literary character of the prayer-speech, and makes it unique and distinctive among the notable examples of early Christian prayer.

The narrative introduction (v. 23f) establishes the setting of the prayer. It is very much the same setting as for the earlier references in chapters 1-2. The group of believers is gathered together, in a room in Jerusalem—possibly the same room mentioned in 1:13 (also 2:1). Even though many more people have come to trust in Jesus through the initial Gospel preaching (recorded in chaps. 2-4), the episode here probably assumes the same core group of apostles and disciples of Jesus. They continue to be united in thought and purpose (o(moqumado/n), and this unity is manifested (and expressed) through prayer. The new element in this passage is that the prayer is more closely tied to the early Christian mission. The Gospel preaching in chaps. 3-4 (cf. the narrative outline above) led to opposition by the religious authorities in Jerusalem, and this conflict-motif features prominently in the narratives of Acts (especially in chaps. 1-8). Here is how the unity theme is applied to the context of the mission (and the conflict episodes of chaps. 3-4):

    • the disciples are loosed [i.e. set free] from (custody)—the opening participle a)poluqe/nte$
    • they go (return) to “th(eir) own (people)” [tou\$ i)di/ou$]—i.e. their fellow believers, gathered together (implied)
    • they give forth the message (a)ph/ggeilan) regarding what was said and done to them—part of the overall message/proclamation of the apostles

The prayer is introduced in verse 24 and follows the same narrative pattern used in v. 23:

    • “and being loosed from (custody), they went…and announced….” (v. 23)
    • “and (the ones) hearing,… they lifted up voice…” (v. 24)

Neither the verb proseuxe/w, nor the related noun proseuxh/, are used here (but cf. in verse 31), though they are clearly implied in the act of the believers lifting their voice “toward God” (pro\$ to\n qeo\n). When used in the religious context of prayer, proseuxe/w means “speak out toward (God)”, i.e. a prayer addressed to God. Again the keyword of unity, o(muqumado/n (homothymadón), is used— “of one impulse” (or, “of one mind, of one accord”). The bond of unity is only strengthened when the believer hear the report of what happened to the apostles:

“And the(y), (hav)ing heard (this), with one impulse [o(moqumado/n] they lifted (their) voice toward God and said…”

The singular fwnh/ (“voice”) is used, as if to reinforce the sense of unity and the common bond (koinwnia) among believers. There is a two-fold meaning to this single “voice”. On the one hand, the significance is literary: it establishes the basis for the prayer that follows, as if the people spoke it together in unison. At the historical level, of course, it would not have been spoken in unison; the deeper meaning is that the common “voice” reflects their unity in spirit and purpose. They all would have been in agreement with the prayer-speech as the author presents it.

Parallels to this prayer in Isaiah 37:16-20; 2 Kings 19:15-19 (Hezekiah’s prayer) have been noted (cf. also the prayer of Moses in Josephus’ Antiquities 4.40ff), and the author (or an underlying tradition) may have used the OT passage as a pattern; note also similarities of language in Psalm 146:6; Neh 9:6. The title despo/th$ (despót¢s), “master, ruler”, used in addressing God, is somewhat rare in the New Testament, though by no means uncommon (Lk 2:29; 1 Tim 6:1-2; 1 Pet 2:18, etc). For the use of this conventional, ritualistic language for God as Creator elsewhere in early Christian preaching, see esp. Acts 14:15.

This prayer follows the pattern of Jesus’ instruction in the famous Lord’s Prayer—that is to say, God is addressed and honored with praise and theological confession (Matt 6:9-10 par) before any requests for personal or communal needs are made (6:11-13 par). Here in the prayer-speech, the praise and honor to God occurs in vv. 24-28, corresponding to the first sections of the sermon-speech pattern:

    • Introductory Address, with kerygmatic detail (v. 24)
    • Citation from Scripture (vv. 25-26)
    • Exposition and Application (vv. 27-28)

Central to this is the citation from Scripture (vv. 25-26)—taken from Psalm 2 (vv. 1-2), one of the most popular and often-cited “messianic” Psalms in the early Church (see my earlier study on this Psalm), verse 7 being especially applied to Jesus (in Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5, and Luke 3:22b [v.l.]). But verses 1-2 also seem early on to have been related to Jesus’ suffering and death, in much the same way that they are interpreted here in Acts 4:25b-26. For more on the use of this Scripture here, cf. my study in the series “The Speeches of Acts”.

The exposition and application of the Scripture (vv. 27-28) echoes the kerygmatic statements in the earlier sermon-speeches (in Acts 3:13, etc). Another important theological point of emphasis, also expressed previously (cf. Acts 2:23), is the idea that the suffering and death of Jesus took place according to the sovereign will, foreknowledge and (predetermined) plan of God (v. 28). There seems to be a precise fulfillment for each of the four groups mentioned in Ps 2:1-2:

    1. The Nations [i.e. Gentiles/non-Jews] (e&qnh)—in v. 27 the e&qnh are principally the Romans (i.e. Roman government).
    2. The Peoples [laoi/], originally synonymous with e&qnh, but in v. 27 clarified as the “peoples [pl.] of Israel” (i.e. the Jewish people collectively, or generally).
    3. The Kings [oi( basilei=$]—here, king Herod (cf. Lk 23:6-12, otherwise Herod does not appear in the Passion accounts).
    4. The Chiefs/Rulers [oi( a&rxonte$]—i.e. the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who plays a key role in the Passion narrative and early kerygma.

This application of Psalm 2 is also fundamentally Christological, in that it affirms the identity of Jesus as the Messiah (the royal/Davidic figure-type). In this Messianic context, God promises to stand by the king and secure his rule. The king was anointed (v. 2) and, symbolically, was also God’s son (v. 7)—two titles and expressions which, of course, caused this Psalm to be applied to Jesus from the earliest time.

It is in the concluding exhortation of the prayer-speech (vv.  29-30) that the focus shifts to the needs of the Community. This need relates to the opposition and persecution that believers were beginning to experience (from the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem). As this speech is a prayer, the exhortation primarily takes the form of a request/petition to God: “And now [kai\ ta\ nu=n], Lord, look upon [e)pi/de]…” For the expression  kai\ ta\ nu=n, cf. 2 Kings 19:19 [LXX] and in Acts 5:38; 17:30; 20:32; 27:22; or a similar contextual parallel to the imperative e)pi/de, cf. Isa 37:17 [LXX]. There are two parts to the request:

    1. look upon [e)pi/de] their [i.e. the religious leaders’] threatening (words and action)s
    2. give [do/$] to believers [God’s slaves/servants] so that they are able, with all parrhsi/a… —to speak [lalei=n] God’s word (i.e. God speaking through the believers) —to stretch out [e)ktei/en] God’s hand, in order to bring about healing and for there to be “signs and wonders”

They clearly ask to be made instruments of God’s own work and power, with the emphasis that miracles come to be done “through the name” [dia\ tou= o)no/mato$] of Jesus (cf. Acts 2:21, 38; 3:6, 16; 4:7, 10, 12, 17-18). Note also the references again to Jesus as “holy” [a%gio$] and “child/servant” [pai=$], titles characteristic of early Gospel preaching in Acts.

Two other expressions are worthy of special notice:

    • the term parrhsi/a, “speaking out (with) all (freedom/boldness)”, i.e. “out-spokenness”—a key word in Acts (cf. 2:29; 4:13, 31, and again in the concluding verse 28:31); it implies speaking openly, in public.
    • “speak the word (of God)” [lalei=n to\n lo/gon]—a common theme and expression in the book, cf. Acts 4:29, 31; 8:25; 11:19f; 13:46; 14:1, 25; 16:6, 31; and similarly (with variation) in several dozen other verses. Lo/go$, typically translated “word” is perhaps better rendered “account”, as this emphasizes the descriptive and narrative element central to early Gospel preaching and proclamation.

Both of these details appear together again at the end of verse 31 (the concluding narrative summary):

“And (on) making their need (known) [i.e. making their request], the place in which they were brought together was shaken, and they all were filled (full) of the holy Spirit and spoke the word/account [e)la/loun to\n lo/gon] of God with all (freedom/boldness) of speech [parrhsi/a$].”

This verse echoes the earlier manifestation of the Spirit in the Pentecost narrative (Acts 2:1-4); the common elements are:

    • The disciples are all together (in one place) [2:1, the expression e)pi\ to\ au)to/]
    • The manifestation of the Spirit is accompanied by theophanous elements—in 2:2 there is the sound of a mighty wind and appearance of fire; in 4:31 there is shaking (saleu/w), as of an earthquake.
    • The disciples are all filled with the holy Spirit (2:4)

Clearly, God responds to the believers’ prayer. Apart from historical considerations, this response touches upon two key Lukan themes: (1) the centrality of the Spirit to the Christian mission, and (2) the coming of the Spirit as the ultimate purpose and goal of prayer. The latter point is made quite clear in the section of Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Luke 11 (which includes the Lord’s Prayer, vv. 2-4). The climax of this instruction is the saying in v. 13, where Jesus indicates that it is the Spirit that God the Father will give as the principal response to the disciples’ prayers. In some ways v. 31 here represents a fulfillment of that promise. The Spirit comes (again) upon the believers, strengthening and inspiring them for the task of proclaiming the Gospel.

Indeed, the presence and work of the Spirit goes hand in hand with the proclamation of the Gospel—and both of these, together, are the central components of the Christian mission. Jesus declares this to his disciples, in no uncertain terms, in 1:8, forming a statement that essentially defines the nature of the Kingdom of God on earth (v. 6). That verse also can be viewed as the central thematic statement of the entire book of Acts—a theme that is developed in all of the missionary narratives that follow. Here, in the prayer-speech of 4:23-31, the prayer of believers focuses not only on their unity, but also upon their mission. Indeed, their mission—which is also our mission—of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ and living as inspired vessels of the Holy Spirit, is a fundamental expression of Christian unity.

Notes on Prayer: Acts 2:42-46; 3:1

Acts 2:42-46; 3:1

Following the coming of the Spirit upon the disciples (Acts 2:1-4ff) and Peter’s sermon expounding this event (2:14-40), we find another notice regarding the unity of the first Christians (vv. 42-46). This is very much parallel to the initial narrative summary in 1:12-14 (cf. the prior study on v. 14). Many of the same points and themes are re-stated, but other important details are introduced as well. Here is the main statement in v. 42:

“And they were remaining strong toward the teaching of the (one)s sent forth, and (to) the common (bond), in the breaking of bread and the speaking out toward (God).”

The same verb (proskartere/w) and participle form was used in 1:14, and is a key term for expressing the unity of the early believers. They were “strong toward” each other, being at the same time “strong toward” those very things which are signs and marks of that unity. Foremost of these, in 1:14, was prayer (proseuxh/), literally the “speaking out toward (God)”. Prayer is again mentioned here in 2:42, but in the plural (proseuxai/), implying repeated instances of the Community praying together.

However, the first mark of unity mentioned in v. 42 is attention to the teaching (didaxh/) of the apostles (lit. the ones “sent forth” [by Jesus as his representatives]). The plural a)po/stoloi refers primarily to the circle of the Twelve. As noted in the previous study, the symbolism of the twelve is essential to the early narratives of Acts, as expressed by the key episode of the restoration of the Twelve (1:15-26), which symbolizes the eschatological concept of the restoration of Israel (i.e., the Twelve tribes). This restoration was realized for the author of Acts by the early Christian Community (in Jerusalem) and its missionary outreach into the Nations. The presence and work of the Spirit, along with the proclamation of the Gospel, represent the true fulfillment of the promise of the Kingdom for Israel (1:6-8).

The teaching by the apostles is centered on the proclamation of the Gospel, but also extends beyond it to include instruction for different areas of Christian life and belief. Apostolic teaching also touched upon issues of leadership and management of the Community. Paul’s letters represent an expanded form of this mode of teaching, whereas we have only small pieces of it contained within the narratives of Acts.

Parallel with the teaching (= preaching/proclamation of the Gospel) are the other aspects of unity summarized by the keyword koinwni/a, which is sometimes translated blandly as “fellowship”, but which in the New Testament more properly refers to the “common bond” between believers. The noun is only used here in the book of Acts, even though what it signifies pervades the entire book (especially the early chapters), and may rightly be highlighted as a central theme. The term is used relatively frequently by Paul in his letters (13 times, out of 19 NT occurrences), and 4 times in 1 John (1:3, 6-7). The common-bond between believers is further manifest, in daily life and practice, by two primary activities:

    • “the breaking of bread” —the expression refers to a common meal shared by the Community, but also alludes, most likely, to celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The eucharistic symbolism of the “breaking of bread” is well-rooted in the early tradition (Mk 14:22 par; Lk 24:30, 35; 1 Cor 10:16-17; 11:23ff).
    • “the speaking out toward (God)” —as noted above, the use of the plural here refers to regular times of prayer by the Community, when they are gathered together.

Verses 44-45 describe still another manifestation of the “common bond” (koinwni/a) between believers. The early Jerusalem Christians lived in a communal manner, holding property and assets in common. Land and possessions were sold, with the profits from the sale placed into a common fund. In many ways, this is a continuation of the lifestyle practiced by Jesus and his followers (Jn 12:5-6; 13:29; Lk 8:2-3). The importance of commitment to this communal approach is illustrated by the episode in 5:1-11. While this communalistic ideal was not maintained for long, nor was it continued to any great degree as Christianity spread out of Jerusalem, many believers have recognized the value of the ideal as a sign of Christian unity and mutual love.

Verse 46 repeats the thematic wording from v. 42 (and 1:14), combining the key terms proskarterou=nte$ (“[remain]ing strong toward”) and o(moqumado/n (“with one impulse,” i.e., with one heart, of one accord):

“and according to (each) day, remaining strong toward (each other), with one impulse, in the sacred (place), and breaking bread according to (each) house (where they dwelt), they took nourishment together in joyfulness and without a stone in (the) heart…”

Expressions of the united spirit of the Community here frame the summary description of the places where the Community gathers; this can be outlined, thematically, as follows:

      • “remaining strong toward (each other), with one impulse”
        • “in the sacred (place)” [i.e., the Temple precincts]
        • “according to (each) house” [i.e., the individual houses of believers]
      • “in joyfulness and smoothness [lit. without a stone] of heart”

The breaking of bread (communal meal and celebration of the Lord’s Supper) takes place in believers’ homes (early form of ‘house churches’), while the Temple continued as an important location for prayer and worship (and teaching) by the Jerusalem Community (cf. the concluding words of the Gospel of Luke, 24:53).

In particular, the reference to the Temple here prepares the way for the episode that follows in chapter 3, as does the statement regarding the miracles performed by the apostles (v. 43). Here is how the episode is introduced in 3:1:

“And (the) Rock {Peter} and Yohanan stepped up into the sacred place [i.e. Temple] upon the hour of speaking out toward (God) [proseuxh/], the ninth (hour).”

Two details are most significant: (1) the location of the Temple precincts, and the fact that the early believers are coming to this location; and (2) the time of the episode, identified as “the hour of prayer”. The association with prayer (proseuxh/) is clearly important, relating to the prayer-references we have been examining (in 1:14, 24 and 2:42). From the standpoint of the Temple ritual, the ninth hour (comparable to 3:00 pm) is the time of the evening (afternoon) sacrifice (cf. Exod 29:39; Num 28:3-4, 8; Ezek 46:13-15; Dan 9:21; Josephus, Antiquities 14.65), when many Israelites and Jews would traditionally devote themselves to prayer.

This is the same time (and general locale) for the Angelic announcement to Zechariah in the Lukan Infancy narrative (Lk 1:8-10ff). Indeed, the Jerusalem Temple serves as an important symbolic location in Luke-Acts. While there was little opportunity for the author to develop this theme within the Synoptic Tradition proper, it features prominently in the Infancy narratives, which are thoroughly Lukan in composition. The Temple-setting features in three different narrative episodes: (1) the annunciation of John’s birth (1:8-23), (2) the revelation by Simeon (and Anna) regarding Jesus’ destiny and identity as the promised Messiah (2:23-38), and (3) the episode of the child Jesus in the Temple (2:41-51), with its climactic declaration (by Jesus) in v. 49.

As most commentators recognize, for the author of Luke-Acts, the Temple serves as an important point of contact (and continuity) between the Old and New Covenant. The old form is filled with new meaning—that is, by the revelation of Jesus (as the Messiah). While the Temple continues to be frequented by the Jerusalem Christians, it is given an entirely new emphasis (and role) for believers. In particular, the importance of the sacrificial ritual is replaced, almost exclusively, by the emphasis on teaching and prayer. This is established in Luke-Acts by the description of Jesus’ activity in the Temple (Lk 19:47; 20:1; 21:37-38 [cf. also the parable in 18:10ff]), and continues with the behavior of believers (Lk 24:53; Acts 2:46, etc). For more on the subject, cf. my article “The Law in Luke-Acts” (Part 1).

The Temple precincts serve as the locale for three important episodes in Acts: (i) the miracle and sermon-speech by Peter in chapter 3; (ii) the following conflict-encounter and speech in 4:1-22; and (iii) and the similar conflict episode in 5:12-42. The Temple also features prominently in the Stephen episode (narrative and speech) in chaps. 6-7. The old form of the Temple is filled by the new message of Christ, manifest through the presence/work of the Spirit (healing miracles, etc) and the proclamation of the Gospel.

The central activity of prayer thus relates not only to the unity of early believers, but also to the early Christian mission. This will be discussed further in the next study, which will focus on the prayer-speech—a variation of the sermon-speech format in Acts—in 4:23-31.

Notes on Prayer: Acts 1:24

Acts 1:24

In the previous study, we looked at the place of prayer in the depiction of the earliest Christian community in Jerusalem. The unity of these first believers was manifest and expressed through prayer (1:14). The setting of this episode—marking the real beginning of the Acts narrative—was the “upper room” in Jerusalem, where the believers were gathered together following Jesus’ departure (ascension) into heaven.

This first community was comprised of Jesus’ closest male disciples (the Twelve), along with a group of his close female followers (cf. Lk 8:1-3), as well as members of Jesus’ family (his mother and brothers, cp. Lk 8:19-21). These believers were united in location (in one room, in Jerusalem), in purpose (o(moqumado/n, “with one impulse”), and in their activity (prayer). The same narrative setting continues in the next episode (vv. 15-26). The community is still gathered together in one place (presumably the same “upper room”), now numbered at around 120 people (v. 15). This number has a vital symbolic importance for the Acts narrative, since 120 = 12 x 10, and so is tied to the concept of the twelve.

We may ask why the author chooses to include the episode in vv. 15-26, devoting attention to the selection of an apostle to take Judas’ place, introducing a person (Matthias) who is never mentioned again in the book of Acts. There are two reasons why the episode is important for the author, and they relate to the symbolism of the Twelve. First is the theme of the unity of believers. This sense of unity requires that the Community be made whole, and this cannot happen until the circle of the Twelve is restored.

The second reason involves the key eschatological theme of the restoration of Israel. There is a clear and unquestionable parallel between the twelve apostles and the twelve tribes of Israel. It is quite possible that Twelve were chosen (by Jesus himself) to represent, at least in part, the tribes of Israel. This is not stated directly, but note Matthew 19:28 (and the Lukan parallel 22:30) and the sending out of the Twelve in Matthew 10:5f. It is possible too, at least in early Christian tradition, that the twelve baskets in the miraculous feeding came to be thought of as symbolic of Israel re-gathered, as well as an image of Church unity (see Didache 9:4 on the Eucharist). In the book of Revelation 21:12-14, the twelve apostles are also identified in terms of the twelve tribes.

Based on this symbolism, the restoration of the Twelve represents the idea of the restoration of Israel (the Twelve Tribes). From the standpoint of the book of Acts, the restoration of Israel is realized through the early Christian mission—the proclamation of the Gospel and the manifestation/work of the Spirit among believers. This is made abundantly clear in the answer given by Jesus to the disciples’ (eschatological) question regarding the establishment of the Kingdom (vv. 6-8). Consider also this theme of restoration in light of the Pentecost narrative that follows in chapter 2:

    • The disciples have returned (turned back) to Jerusalem
      • The Twelve have been reconstituted and are gathered together (in Jerusalem) in one place
        • Jews from all nations (the Dispersion) also are gathered together in Jerusalem
      • They again hear the voice (word of God) in the languages of the nations, spoken by the Twelve and other disciples (echo of the Sinai theophany)
    • The disciples go out from Jerusalem into the nations (even to the Gentiles)

Let us now consider the episode in vv. 15-26 and the place of prayer in it. Here is an outline of the episode:

    • Narrative introduction (v. 15)
    • Speech by Peter (vv. 16-22), which the central Scripture citation of Psalm 69:25 (and 109:8)
    • Selection of Matthias to restore the Twelve (vv. 23-26):
      • Presentation of the two candidates (v. 23)
      • Prayer regarding the selection (v. 24-25)
      • Selection of Matthias [by lot] (v. 26)

The importance (and symbolic significance) of the selection of this apostle, to complete/restore the Twelve, made it an occasion for praying to God. In this regard, the mention of prayer in v. 24 continues the thematic association between prayer and the unity of the early Community of believers. They are specifically praying for Divine guidance in establishing (and confirming) this unity. Here is how this is expressed in verse 24:

“And, speaking out toward (God), they said: ‘You Lord, (the) heart-knower of all, may you show (clearly for us) which one you (have) gathered [i.e. chosen] out of these two'”

This is the first occurrence in Acts of the verb proseu/xomai (“speak [out] toward [God],” i.e., pray); the related noun proseuxh/ was used in v. 14. The prayer acknowledges that the actual choice belongs to God, and that essentially He has already made the choice. As the One who ‘knows the heart’ of all people (and all things), God knows who is best suited to fill the apostolic role. The statement is also an acknowledgement that God is already aware of the needs and concerns of the Community, and of the reason why they are praying to him—a point Jesus makes in his teaching on prayer (Matt 6:8). The title kardiognw/sth$ (lit. “heart-knower”) may have been coined by Christians; in any case, it is only found in early Christian writings (Acts 15:8; Hermas Commandments 4.3.4; Clementine Homilies 10:13; Acts of Paul and Thecla 24; cf. Fitzmyer, p. 227), though the underlying idea is expressed in the Old Testament (Deut 8:2; 1 Sam 16:7; 1 Kings 8:39; Psalm 44:22, etc).

Verse 25 emphasizes again the importance of filling the place vacated by Judas, as thus restoring the Twelve and creating a fully unified Community:

“… ‘to take the place of this service [diakoni/a] and being sent forth [a)postolh/], from which Yehudah stepped alongside to travel into his own place’.”

English translations do not always capture the point that is being stressed here: Judas stepped away from his place among the Twelve, going instead to his own place (the adjective i&dio$, “[his] own”, being in emphatic position). This has a double-meaning: (a) it refers simply to the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, by which he departed from his place among Jesus’ circle of disciples, and (b) it also alludes to Judas’ ultimate fate—viz., his death and condemnation (see the parenthetical statement by the author in vv. 18-19).

I have translated the noun a)postolh/ according to its basic meaning of “being sent away” (or sent forth) by someone. It is, of course, related to the noun a)posto/lo$, which is typically transliterated in English as “apostle”. Thus the place that Judas abandoned (and will be filled by Matthias), and the service (diakoni/a) he had performed, was that of an apostle—one sent forth by Jesus to act as his representative and to proclaim the Gospel.

Prayer, as it is depicted in this episode, has special significance, not simply in relation to deciding on leadership roles within the Community (though that is of genuine importance); rather, the specific context of restoring the circle of the Twelve apostles means that it ultimately is tied to the central themes of Christian unity and the mission of believers (to proclaim the Gospel and act as Jesus’ representatives). These two themes remain fundamental to our identity as believers even today, and ought to be, also for us, the focus of our prayers.

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

Notes on Prayer: Acts 1:14

Acts 1:14

For the remainder of this Spring and Summer, the Monday Notes on Prayer feature will focus on references to prayer in the Book of Acts and the Pauline Letters. We begin with the first reference in Acts, which immediately follows the departure (ascension) of Jesus into heaven (1:9-11). In many ways, the ascension marks the beginning of the book of Acts proper, with 1:1-11 serving as the narrative introduction.

The main narrative of Acts truly begins with the return of the disciples to Jerusalem:

“Then they turned back into Yerushalaim from the hill called (the mount) of Olives, which is near (to) Yerushalaim holding a Sabbath (day’s) journey (away).” (v. 12)

They return to the house and room in the city which the disciples had been using as a gathering place. It is presumably the same place where they were gathered after Jesus’ death and was the locale of his resurrection appearance (Lk 24:33-49; cp. John 20:19ff). It is an upper story (or rooftop) room, much like the one used to celebrate the Passover (Lk 22:12 par). It may be located in the house of Mary the mother of John Mark (12:12). The importance of the location is emphasized in the narrative summary here:

“And when they came in, they stepped up into the room over(head), in which they were remaining [i.e. dwelling]…” (v. 13)

The remainder of verse 13 is a list of the twelve men who made up Jesus’ closest circle of disciples—that is the eleven who remain out of the twelve (minus Judas Iscariot). The list corresponds with the Synoptic tradition in Mk 3:13-19 par [Lk 6:12-16]. However, this is no mere incidental detail. The symbolism of the twelve is of vital importance for the narrative of Acts, and for the author’s portrayal of the early Christian Community and its mission. The early Christian mission cannot begin until the twelve are reconstituted. This relates symbolically to the eschatological idea of the restoration of Israel—i.e., the twelve tribes (= the twelve apostles).

One way that this theme of restoration is expressed in Acts is through the ideal of unity among the earliest believers. Not only were they together in Jerusalem, but they were gathered in the same room. Here is how this is introduced in verse 14:

“These all were being strong toward (each other) with one impulse…”
ou!toi pa/nte$ h@san proskarterou=nte$ o(moqumado\n

ou!toi pa/nte$ (“these all”)—that is, all of the apostles, along with the other believers who are with them (cf. below). The key word here is the adjective pa=$ (“all”). Fundamental to the ideal of early Christian unity is the requirement that all believers are joined together as one.

proskarterou=nte$—this participle is of the verb proskartere/w, which literally means “be strong toward” (someone or something). This emphasizes the strength of the bond between the first believers. The participial form here indicates something active, and which is occurring continuously.

o(moqumado/n—this adverb literally means something like “(with) one impulse”; in English idiom, we would probably say “with one heart” or “with one mind”. It is an important term throughout the book of Acts, being used repeatedly as a characteristic of early Christian unity. It is used again at 2:46; 4:24; 5:12; 8:6; 15:25; and, in a negative sense, for people being united in hostility/opposition against the believers, at 7:57; 18:12; 19:29.

The apostles in the ‘upper room’ are joined with a group of female believers, along with members of Jesus’ family (Mary his mother, and his brothers). This relates to the Synoptic episode of Mark 3:31-35 par, which, in Luke’s version (8:19-21) has a special significance. Mary and Jesus’ brothers wish to see Jesus, but are unable to come into the room where he and his followers were gathered. In the core Synoptic tradition, this reflects a pointed contrast between Jesus’ biological family and his true family (that is, his disciples). Luke gives to this episode a different meaning: Jesus’ mother and brothers are part of his true family (disciples/believers), only they are not yet able to come into the room to join with his disciples.

Now, however, the situation has changed, and we do see them in the same room with Jesus’ close disciples. Among these disciples are a number of women, which is also something that Luke particularly emphasizes (8:1-4, etc). It goes without saying, of course, that Mary (Jesus’ mother) has a special place in Luke’s Gospel as a female follower and believer in Jesus. There are a number of key references to this in the Infancy narratives (1:35-38, 45; 2:19, 34-35, 39, 51).

At the heart of the Christian unity described in verse 14 is prayer. The central wording is:

“…being strong toward (each other) with one impulse in speaking out toward (God) [th=| proseuxh/|]”

This can also be rendered in the sense that the believers were being strong together toward (pro$) their activity of prayer. In conventional English, we might say they were devoted to prayer.

I translate the noun proseuxh/ here quite literally as “speak (out) toward”; the Greek word is frequently used in the religious sense of speaking out toward God—that is, speaking to God in prayer. The unity of the early believers was expressed in prayer.

We tend to think of prayer in terms of specific requests we make to God, and of his answer to our requests. Our prayers thus tend to be goal and outcome oriented. Here in Acts, however, the focus is rather different. The emphasis is on prayer as a manifestation of our bond of unity as believers. Our prayer (together) thus reflects this bond, but it also serves to reinforce the bond. It is part of our continuing to “be strong toward (each other)” (vb proskartere/w). This bond is also directed toward our identity as believers, and our relationship to God (through Christ). It is also part of our “common impulse” (o(moqumado/n, cf. above), what drives us to act, speak, and feel as believers.

May the strength of our bond, and our driving impulse, with each other likewise be rooted in the act (and spirit) of prayer.

 

 

Notes on Prayer: The Last Discourse (Summary)

Conclusion

As a way of bringing to close our study of prayer in the Last Discourse, it is necessary to address several key points.

First, the nature of the requests that believers will make to the Father—that is, the requests made “in Jesus’ name”, which are promised to be answered. These requests are referenced in a comprehensive and open ended manner—i.e., “whatever you would request”. The implication is that every prayer will be answered. This may be affirmed as correct, but only in the qualified sense required by the theological context of the Last Discourse.

In this regard, it may be noted that, in the Gospel of John, there is little or no practical teaching regarding prayer, such as we see at various points in the Synoptic Gospels (the Lord’s Prayer, etc). There is virtually nothing said regarding prayer for the practical necessities of daily life—food and drink, healing from illness, release from suffering, deliverance from persecution and temptation, etc. In fact, if anything, Jesus seems to draw a clear contrast between ordinary food and drink, etc, and the true spiritual nourishment that he provides for believers (4:7-14; 6:22-59; 7:37-39). Even in the Synoptic tradition, in the Lord’s Prayer, personal requests to meet daily needs are clearly subordinated to petitions related to God and His Kingdom.

The focus of the requests in the Last Discourse is defined by the thematic emphases that run through the Discourse-complex; of these, we may draw particular attention to:

    • Understanding of who Jesus is, and his relation to the Father
    • Jesus (the Son) as the one sent by God the Father, who makes known, through word and action, the truth of the Father; believers, in turn, are sent by Jesus to do the same—i.e., make known the truth of God the Father and Jesus the Son
    • The bond of love that unites believers to Father and Son; it is the same bond that unites believers with one another (including those chosen ones who have not yet come to faith)
    • The presence of the Spirit, uniting believers with Father and Son (and each other); through the ministry of believers, the Spirit is communicated to others, even as Jesus communicated it to the first disciples (20:22)

Second, the significance of prayer in Jesus’ name. As previously noted, this cannot be limited to a facile inclusion of the phrase “in Jesus’ name” as part of prayers (though early Christians did adopt this practice). Rather, the phrase is a fundamental mark of identity—that is, those who are true believers in Christ. From the standpoint of Johannine theology, this especially refers to the union of believers with Christ, and of his personal presence abiding in and among them. This emphasis is scarcely unique to the Johannine tradition; it was part of the wider early Christian tradition, including the baptism ritual. Even in the Synoptic Gospels, we find a saying such as in Matt 18:20, where the phrase (“in my name”) clearly indicates the personal (spiritual) presence of Jesus (cf. also Mk 9:37 par).

The Johannine writings go much further in developing the early tradition, especially here in the Last Discourse, where Jesus’ teaching to his disciples is expressed, overwhelmingly, in terms of the Johannine idiom (cp. the language and manner of expression in First John). In the Last Discourse, the abiding presence of Jesus (= “in Jesus’ name”) is defined primarily in terms of: (a) love, and (b) the Spirit. These are addressed in the final two points.

Third, prayer involves fulfillment of the ‘love command’ and is focused on the extension of the bond of love. When one keeps the ‘command(s)’ of Jesus (and of God the Father), the meaning, in the Johannine context, is two-fold. The ‘command’ (or duty) begins with a true trust in Jesus—that is, who he is as the Son of God—and continues (and is completed) as believers love each other, according to the example and teaching of Jesus himself. Jesus’ ultimate prayer (chap. 17) to God the Father was that believers would be united through the bond of love, and this is to be the overriding focus of our prayers, as believers, as well (cf. especially the closing verses 20-26). The mission and ministry of believers, preaching the Gospel and following the example of Jesus in our actions, is a basic sign of love—even to those elect/chosen ones of God who have yet to become believers.

Finally, prayer is centered in the presence and work of the Spirit. The coming of the Spirit is central to the Last Discourse. There are key statements regarding the Spirit in all three of the main divisions of the Discourse-complex: in 14:16-17, 26, in 15:26, and in 16:7ff, 13-15. The Spirit is also called by the descriptive title para/klhto$ (parákl¢tos), “(one who is) called alongside” to give help and assistance.

The references to the Spirit are most notable in the first and third divisions which emphasize the impending departure of Jesus (back to the Father). When Jesus departs, and is no longer physically present with his disciples, the Spirit will be sent to take his place. This is abundantly clear in terms of the framework of the first division, and it is equally clear how closely connected prayer is to the coming of the Spirit. Note the sequence:

    • V. 12: Jesus’ departure (“I am going away”)
    • Vv. 13-14: Prayer/request in Jesus’ name
    • V. 15: Believer’s fulfilling the duty/command of love
    • V. 16: The sending of the Spirit (called “another” para/klhto$, implying that Jesus was the first para/klhto$ [1 Jn 2:1])
    • Vv. 17ff: The Spirit will abide (“remain”, vb me/nw) in and with believers, continuing the presence of Jesus (the Son), and uniting believers with Father and Son

This same sequence is restated in verses 21-27ff (note the context of prayer in vv. 23-24).

In a very real sense, the Spirit is the answer to our prayer. The teaching of Jesus on prayer in Luke 11:1-13 has much the same focus, climaxing with a declaration on God sending the Spirit in answer to his disciples’ prayer (v. 13). The variant reading of the Kingdom-petition in the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer (verse 2b [v.l.]) explicitly interprets the coming of God’s Kingdom with the coming of the Spirit. And, indeed, the Spirit is identified with the Kingdom of God, both in the narrative of Luke-Acts and elsewhere in the New Testament (cf. Acts 1:6-7; Rom 14:17; 1 Cor 4:20; 15:50; Gal 5:21ff). As Jesus’ teaching in Luke 12:22-31 par makes clear, our prayer/requests should focus on the Kingdom of God, rather than on our daily needs, etc.

At the same time, the Spirit guides the prayer of believers. This is implied by the description in the Last Discourse of the Spirit’s work, and of the basic idea of the Spirit as “one called alongside [para/klhto$]” to help and assist us. Throughout the book of Acts, the Spirit is depicted as guiding and directing believers in all aspects of their life and ministry, and we may fairly assume that this includes their prayers as well. Paul makes this connection more specific at several points in his letters (cf. Rom 8:26-27, etc). The principle expressed in Rom 8:5 is worth nothing:

“the (one)s (who are) [i.e. who live] according to the Spirit (have their mind on) the (thing)s of the Spirit”

In other words, our thought and intention will (and should) be focused on the Spirit. The clear implication is that our prayer should be focused on the Spirit—its presence, work, and communication to others—as well.

 

Notes on Prayer: John 15:16; 16:23-26

John 15:16; 16:23-26

John 15:16

The second of the two declarations regarding prayer in 15:7-17 occurs at the close of the section, and is parallel to the declaration at the beginning of the section (v. 7):

“If you would remain in me, and my words remain in you, then request what ever you would wish (for), and it will come to be (so) for you.” (v. 7)
“…(that) you should bear fruit, and (that) your fruit should remain, (so) that what ever you would request (from) the Father in my name, He would give (it) to you.” (v. 16)

In the previous study, we saw how the “words” that remain in believers are to be understood in the context of two key themes central to the Last Discourse: (1) Love as the bond (and binding commandment) for believers, and (2) the presence of the Spirit. The first of these is emphasized especially in the exposition portion of this section (vv. 9-15), but the presence of the Spirit is very much in view as well. Much the same may be said regarding the “fruit” that remains (v. 16).

The motif of fruit (karpo/$), of course, follows upon the Vine illustration of verses 1-3ff. This imagery is also central to the use of the key verb me/nw, since the vine image effectively illustrates the theological significance of the verb. The principle involved is two-fold: (1) if the branches (believers) remain in the vine (Jesus), they will bear fruit; yet, at the same time, (2) if they do not bear fruit, then they will be ‘cut off’ and will no longer remain in the vine. This seems to create a paradox: on the one hand, bearing fruit depends on remaining in the vine, but, on the other hand, remaining in the vine depends on bearing fruit.

What does the fruit signify, and what does it mean for Jesus’ disciples to “bear fruit” (v. 8)? Here, we must keep in mind the two central themes of the Discourse: Love and the Spirit. Based on the immediate context of the exposition in vv. 9-12ff, we may fairly interpret “bearing fruit” as manifesting the divine Love. We do this by fulfilling the “love command” —that is, demonstrating true and abiding love towards fellow believers, in accordance with the teaching and example of Jesus (13:1, 12-15, 34-35, etc). It is especially the sacrificial aspect of this love that is emphasized in the Last Discourse, set as the Discourse is in the narrative context of Jesus’ impending death (cf. verse 13, and the saying in 12:24). One should be willing to offer one’s own life for another believer.

When we turn to the theme of the Spirit, one is immediately reminded of Paul’s famous reference to the “fruit of the Spirit” (o( karpo\$ tou= pneu/mato$) in Galatians 5:22ff. There is a strong ethical/moral aspect to this teaching, and, elsewhere in the Pauline letters, the idiom of “fruit” certainly relates to the idea of righteous or upright behavior and “good works” (cf. Rom 6:21-22; 7:4-5; Phil 1:11; Col 1:10; also Eph 5:9). For believers in Christ, this “fruit” is in direct contrast to the sinful passions at work in the “flesh” (Gal 5:16-21).

However valid this Pauline association between “fruit” and the Spirit may be, the Johannine emphasis is rather different. The focus is not ethical, but Christological. The Spirit represents the abiding presence of Jesus (the Son) in and among believers; and it is through him that we are also united with God the Father and experience His presence. Thus, from this standpoint, “bearing fruit” must be understood in terms of communicating the Spirit to others—that is, to other believers (i.e., those who will become believers).

For the first disciples, the Spirit was communicated through the personal presence of Jesus after his resurrection (20:22); however, with Jesus’ departure to the Father, this now occurs through the work of the Spirit in the ministry of his disciples (believers). This involves proclaiming and exemplifying the Gospel message regarding the person and work of Jesus, summarized, within the Johannine idiom, as fulfilling the two-fold duty of trust and love (1 Jn 3:23-24). Love is the uniting bond, and the Spirit is the uniting presence—and both of these, manifest in the life and action of believers, are communicated to others. This basic understanding informs the entire Last Discourse, but is especially prominent in the later portions (cf. below), and in the great Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17 (esp. the closing verses 20-26).

The missionary aspect is emphasized by the wording here in verse 16, serving to introduce the principal declaration:

“…I gathered you out and set you (so) that you should go away and bear fruit…”

The verb rendered conventionally as “go away”, u(pa/gw, literally means “lead (oneself) under”, i.e. make oneself hidden, going out of sight. The primary significance in the more generalized usage is of leaving the immediate vicinity and going away. The implication is that there is a mission field, away from where we currently are, however near or far that may be, and that other chosen ones (those belonging to God) are to be found there, waiting to become believers (cf. 4:35-38).

John 16:23-26

The other references to prayer in the Last Discourse are found in the final division (16:4b-28). It may be worth summarizing again the basic structure of the entire Discourse-complex:

    • 13:31-38Introduction to the Discourse (cf. above)
    • 14:1-31Discourse/division 1Jesus’ departure
      • The relationship between Jesus and the Father (vv. 1-14)
      • Jesus’ Words for His Disciples (vv. 15-31)
    • 15:1-16:4aDiscourse/division 2—The Disciples in the World
      • Illustration of the Vine and Branches: Jesus and the Disciples (vv. 1-17)
      • Instruction and Exhortation: The Disciples and the World (15:18-16:4a)
    • 16:4b-28Discourse/division 3—Jesus’ departure (farewell)
      • The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 4b-15)
      • Jesus’ Departure and Return (vv. 16-24)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 25-28)
    • 16:29-33Conclusion to the Discourse

The third division is parallel to the first, and deals primarily with the theme of Jesus’ departure to the Father. This departure, and the related idea of the disciples seeing Jesus again, can be understood at the level of the historical tradition in two ways: (1) Jesus’ death and post-resurrection appearance, or (2) his ‘ascension’ to the Father and future return. However, from the standpoint of the Johannine theology, the paradigm is properly understood in terms of the giving of the Spirit. It is only after receiving the Spirit that the disciples truly see (that is, know and experience) Jesus—the presence and life-giving power of his person. Following his death and resurrection, Jesus ‘ascends’ (i.e., departs) back to his Father (20:17), and then returns to his disciples (vv. 19-23)—an appearance that culminates with Jesus giving them the Spirit.

Indeed, it is the promise of the Spirit (the one “called alongside,” para/klhto$) that is the focus of the first part of this Discourse-division (vv. 4b-15), and the references to Jesus’ departure and return (vv. 16-24) must be understood in this light. The context of the Spirit (cf. above) also informs the statements regarding prayer in vv. 23-26. As in the case of 15:7-17, the section is bracketed by two parallel statements:

“And, in that day, you will not ask anything (from) me. Amen, amen, I say to you, (that) whatever you would request (from) the Father in my name, He will give (it) to you.” (v. 23)
“In that day you will request in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask (it of) the Father about you” (v. 26)

Both of these statements refer to “that day” (“in that day,” e)n e)kei/nh| th=| h(me/ra|), an expression that relates to “the hour” (w%ra) that is to come (v. 25). This term w%ra (“hour”), in the theological context of the Johannine narrative, signifies the entire compass of Jesus’ Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Return to the Father. From this standpoint, “that day” is the moment when Jesus appears again to his disciples and gives the Spirit to them. This “day” motif was introduced in the first portion of the Gospel narrative (1:19-51), which is divided into four successive ‘days’ (note the repeated use of the expression “upon the morrow” [th=| e)pau/rion], i.e., ‘on the next day,’ in vv. 29, 35, 43). Each ‘day’ involves a chain of witness, attesting to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah and Son of God. On the first ‘day’ (1:19-28), John the Baptist denies this identity for himself; on the second ‘day’ (1:29-34) he affirms it of Jesus (in the context of Jesus’ baptism); on the third ‘day’ (1:35-42) the Baptist’s witness leads to the first disciples following Jesus; and, finally, on the fourth ‘day’ (1:43-51) these disciples (the first believers) give this witness to others.

The nature of this witness changes with the coming of the Spirit. Now, believers can truly see Jesus (the Son of God), through his abiding presence in the Spirit. It also changes how believers relate to God the Father. Jesus explains this here in vv. 23-26, as he tells his disciples of the ramifications of what will happen on “that day”. The difference is two-fold, reflected in the statements of vv. 23 and 26:

    • V. 23: They will no longer need to ask questions of Jesus (vb e)rwta/w), regarding who he is, his relationship to the Father, etc. The reason for this is that Jesus will be present with them (and united with them) through the Spirit, and they will suddenly have a new (and far deeper) awareness of things.
    • V. 26: Jesus will no longer have to ask of the Father on their behalf, i.e., interceding for them in their (prayer) requests (vb ai)te/w), etc. Again, the reason for this is the presence of the Spirit. Being united with the Son (Jesus) means that believers are also united with the Father, and so are able to communicate with Him directly.

The last point is made clear by the explanation in verse 27: “for the Father Him(self) considers you dear [vb. file/w] (to Him)”. The use of the verb file/w (par. with a)gapa/w) is another way of referring to the bond of love (a)ga/ph) that unites believers with Father and Son. In this dynamic, the requests made by believers to the Father will be answered. This is stated as a promise, as in all of these prayer-statements that occur in the Last Discourse. The contrast between this and the current situation (before “that day” occurs) is explained in verse 25:

“until now you (have) not requested anything in my name—request (it)! and you will receive (it), (so) that your joy may be fulfilled”

They have not yet made their requests “in Jesus’ name” since they have not yet been united with him through the Spirit. Clearly, this is far more significant than simply including the phrase “in Jesus’ name” as part of one’s prayers (though early Christians certainly did adopt this practice); the emphasis in the Gospel of John is fundamentally theological and Christological: to be “in his name” means to be united with him through the Spirit, and through the bond of love. The early Christian baptism ritual alludes to this very dynamic, at the traditional level. Authors such as Paul gave to the ritual symbolism a deeper theological meaning, in reference to our union with Christ through the Spirit (Rom 6:3-4 [cp. 8:11ff]; 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:27; 4:6); and the Johannine Tradition certainly did the same.

As a way of bringing to close our study of prayer in the Last Discourse, it is necessary to address several key points. However, since this requires more than a cursory treatment, and space is needed to draw together all of the strands, this analysis will be saved for next week’s study.

 

Notes on Prayer: John 15:7, 16 (continued)

John 15:7-17, continued

The condition for the promise of answered prayer is stated two ways—in verses 7 and 16, respectively. The first involves the verb me/nw (“remain”), which is used repeatedly throughout the Vine illustration and its exposition (vv. 1-16). The importance (and significance) of this Johannine keyword was discussed in last week’s study. The condition requires that the believer “remains” connected and united with Jesus, by a bond that runs in two directions:

    • The believer “remains” in Jesus— “if you would remain in me…”
    • Jesus’ words “remain” in the believer— “…and my words [r(h/mata] would remain in you”

The conditional aspect of this two-fold clause is indicated by the use of the subjunctive, along with the governing particle e)a/n (“if”)— “if you would…”. On the surface, the idea that Jesus’ words remain in the believer would seem to refer, rather simply, to observance of Jesus’ various teachings, keeping them in one’s mind and heart. However, while not entirely invalid, such an interpretation is off the mark in terms of the Johannine theology and the context of Last Discourse. It might seem to be confirmed by the parallel, in the central exposition of vv. 9-14, with the statements regarding the ‘commandments’ (e)ntolai/) of Jesus, as though this referred to specific teachings given by Jesus to his disciples. But, again, I would maintain that this is incorrect.

The disciple will, of course, pay special attention to all that Jesus said and did, following both his teaching and his example. But the emphasis here in the Last Discourse is actually quite different. A proper understanding depends on the significance of the term e)ntolh/, as it is used in the Johannine writings. As I have previously discussed, while e)ntolh/ is typically translated as “command(ment)”, it more properly denotes a duty placed on a person—something that the person is obligated to fulfill or complete. While it can be used in reference to the requirements and regulations in the Torah, it gradually ceased to have this meaning for believers. Some early Christians sought to substitute a collection of teachings by Jesus (such as in the Sermon on the Mount), resulting in a new kind of Torah, but even this came to be at odds with the early Christian religious worldview—at least as it is expressed at key points in the New Testament Scriptures.

To understand the Johannine view of the term e)ntolh/, our best (and clearest) guide is the declaration in 1 John 3:23-24:

“And this is His e)ntolh/: that we should trust in the name of His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed), and (that) we should love each other, even as he gave us (this) e)ntolh/.”

It is a single duty (or ‘command’), which is also two-fold—that is, it has two components (trust and love), each of which is binding for believers. It may be said fairly that this dual charge is the only binding ‘commandment’ for believers in Christ—and that all other right moral and religious behavior stems from this one dual command. The interchangeability of the singular e)ntolh/ and plural e)ntolai/ in the Johannine writings tends to confirm this point.

The Love Command

Here in the Last Discourse, it is the love-component that is emphasized, reflecting a view of the so-called “love command” that was widely held among early Christians. This “love command” derives primarily from Jesus’ own teaching, exemplified in the Synoptic tradition by the famous saying of Jesus in Mark 12:30-31 par (cp. the ‘Golden Rule’ in Matt 7:12 par). Early Christians came to view this “love command” as effectively summarizing the entirety of the Old Testament Law (Torah), with the single command, as an expression of the way in which believers are committed to following the teaching and example of Jesus himself, coming to take the place of the myriad of Torah regulations. We see this tendency (and principle) stated in several different lines of early Christian tradition: in the writings of Paul (Gal 5:6, 13-14; Rom 13:8-10; 1 Cor 13; 16:14, etc), the letter of James (2:8ff, cf. also 1:25ff), and in the Johannine writings.

In the Gospel of John, the “love command” is presented as a direct, precise command (e)ntolh/) given by Jesus to his disciples—it introduces the Last Discourse (13:34-35), and runs throughout the Discourse as a central theme. Consider how it is emphasized here in 15:7-17, especially in the middle expository portion covering vv. 9-15:

    • Verses 9-12: Love (a)ga/ph), the significance of the “love command” —as the bond between believers and Jesus (and with God the Father)
    • Verse 13: The example of love in the person of Jesus
    • Verses 14-15: Those who follow Jesus’ example are beloved (“dear ones,” filoi) to him (and to God the Father)

The fundamental importance of the “love command” is illustrated by the careful thematic structure found in verses 9-10, which takes the form of a chiastic outline:

    • The Father has loved me (Jesus, the Son)
      • I have loved you (believers) in turn
        • e)ntolh/: “remain in my love”
          • you will remain in my love if
        • you keep my e)ntolai/ (love)
      • as I have kept my Father’s e)ntolai/ (love)
    • I remain in His (the Father’s) love

The ‘command’ —indeed, the ‘commandments’ [plural], and the “words” of Jesus (v. 7)—are all contained and embodied in the single comprehensive dynamic of love. This is not simply a command to love, though it may be expressed that way; rather, it is the very love that unites Jesus (the Son) with God the Father. The Father loves the Son, and the Son, in turn, loves the other “offspring” (children) of God—those believers who come to trust in Jesus as God’s Son. It is through the bond of love that we are united with Jesus, abiding and “remaining” in him, even as he “remains” in us. Since Jesus, as the Son, also abides in the bond of love with God the Father, when we “remain” in the Son, we “remain” in the Father as well (and He in us). This is the essence of the Johannine theology, particularly as it is expressed and expounded in the Last Discourse.

The Spirit

If the bond that unites with Father and Son is defined in terms of love, it may equally be understood in terms of the Spirit—the presence of the Holy Spirit in and among believers. It may be better to keep the idea of a bond associated specifically with love, since love (a)ga/ph) is expressed repeatedly as a binding requirement (e)ntolh/) in a way that the Spirit is not. The Spirit instead is a presence—the abiding presence of Jesus the Son, and, through the Son, the presence of God the Father as well. Through the Spirit, Jesus continues to speak and instruct his disciples. This is another way to understand the words of Jesus “remaining” in his disciples: through the Spirit who “remains” (that is, abides) in us (14:17). It is not simply a matter of the Spirit enabling Jesus’ disciples to recall and retain the things he said during his earthly ministry, though that is part of the picture (14:26). Rather,—and this must be emphasized—Jesus continues to speak to believers through the Spirit. Insofar as the Spirit “remains” in us, Jesus’ words—especially the ‘command’ to love—remain in us as well.

The identification of Jesus’ words with the Spirit of God is made clearly, and directly, in the statement of 6:63b: “the words [r(h/mata] that I have spoken to you are (the) Spirit and are (the) Life”. The term used here, as in 15:7, is r(h=ma, which properly means “utterance” (i.e., something spoken). However, it can also be used in a more general sense, and, in the Johannine writings, the noun r(h=ma is largely interchangeable with lo/go$. The “utterances” (r(h/mata) of Jesus cannot be reduced simply to a specific set of teachings, things he said during his earthly ministry; they are also a living word (r(h=ma), even as Jesus himself is the living Word (lo/go$) of God. And it is this living Word—which includes all of his “words” —that “remains” in us through the presence of the Spirit.

The role of the Spirit, in terms of the references to prayer in the Last Discourse, will be discussed further in the concluding study in this set. Next week, our study will cover three areas:

    • An examination of the closing reference to prayer here in verse 16
    • A survey of the remaining references to prayer in the Last Discourse, and
    • A consideration of how the various conditional statements relate to the promise of our requests (prayers) being answered by God

(For further study on the New Testament view of the Old Testament Law [Torah], and its significance for believers in Christ, you may wish to consult my earlier series “The Law and the New Testament” —especially the articles and notes on “Jesus and the Law” and “Paul’s View of the Law”.)