July 1: Acts 16:6-7

Acts 16:6-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 29: Acts 13:52; 15:28

Acts 13:52; 15:28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 24: Acts 10:44-48

Acts 10:44-48

There are three references to the Spirit in the Cornelius episode of chapter 10, and each of these reflects an aspect of the Spirit-theme in Luke-Acts.

In verse 19, the Spirit communicates a message to Peter, related to his activity as a missionary (and apostle). This is part of the wider theme of the Spirit guiding and directing the early Christian missionaries. This aspect was introduced in the Acts narratives at 8:29, 39, and will continue throughout the remainder of the book. I will be discussing it specifically in an upcoming note.

In verse 38, the Spirit is mentioned as part of the Gospel proclamation (kerygma) portion of Peter’s speech (on which, cf. Parts 13-14 of the series “The Speeches of Acts”). The reference is to the Baptism of Jesus, as presented in the Lukan Gospel (3:22). Luke presents the coming of the Spirit on Jesus at his baptism as an anointing, expressed in terms of the citation of Isa 61:1-2 (by Jesus) in the Nazareth episode, marking the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The wording here in v. 38 suggests that it is a Lukan adaptation of the early kerygma (as it would have been spoken by Peter). It is also possible that there is an allusion to the early Christian baptism ritual, where the presence of the Spirit was symbolized by the practice of chrism (anointing with oil).

This brings us to the references to the Spirit in vv. 44ff, which are closely connected with the baptism of converts, and raises the question of the relationship between the Spirit and baptism. That there was such a connection with the Spirit is well-established in early Christian tradition, going all the way back to the beginnings of the Gospel and the historical traditions surrounding John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus. The saying by the Baptist in Mark 1:8 par is unquestionably an old and authentic tradition:

“I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit”

It has been preserved in at least three separate lines of tradition—the Synoptic, the Johannine (Jn 1:33), and the versions of the saying here in the book of Acts. The version of the saying in Luke 3:16, like the parallel in Matt 3:11 represents an expanded form, with the declaration of the “one coming” being embedded in the middle of the saying. In the book of Acts, a version of this saying is part of the introduction to the book (1:1-5); the narration in this long introductory sentence leads into the saying, but framed as a saying by Jesus, rather than by the Baptist:

“…he gave along the message to them not to make space [i.e. depart] away from Yerushalaim, but to remain about (for) the e)paggeli/a of the Father, of which you (have) heard (from) me, (saying) that ‘Yohanan dunked in water, but you will be dunked in the holy Spirit after not many of these days’.” (vv. 4-5)

In the restatement of the Cornelius episode (by Peter) in chapter 11, this key tradition is specifically mentioned again, in connection with the coming of the Spirit upon the household of Cornelius:

“And, in my beginning to speak, the holy Spirit fell upon them, just as (it) also (did) upon us in (the) beginning; and I remembered the utterance of the Lord, how he related (to us): ‘Yohanan dunked in water, but you will be dunked in (the) holy Spirit’.” (vv. 15-16)

The close connection between the Spirit and baptism is thus given special emphasis. The coming of the Spirit in the Cornelius episode is first narrated in 10:44:

“(While the) Rock {Peter} was yet speaking these words, the holy Spirit fell upon (all) the (one)s hearing the account.”

Two points are significant with regard to the narrative context of the coming of the Spirit in this episode: (1) that the Spirit falls upon Gentiles (non-Jews), and (2) the Spirit comes prior to baptism. The first point is more important to the overall Lukan narrative, but the second point requires some comment as well.

In the earlier episode of 8:5-25, the Spirit does not come upon the (Samaritan) converts until Peter (and other apostles) arrive to lay hands upon them—that is, some time after they have been baptized (vv. 12-17). The implication is that the presence of an apostle is required for the Spirit to be conferred on believers. This very well may have been the procedure in the earliest Community, when the numbers were relatively small and limited to the confines of Jerusalem. It would have quickly become a practical impossibility once Christianity spread further abroad.

The first believers (including the core group of apostles) received the Spirit at the Pentecost event of 2:1-4ff, and it would be natural that believers subsequently would receive the Spirit through these apostles as intermediaries. Very soon, however, the coming of the Spirit had to be realized in a different way within the early congregations, and it was proper that the focus would be upon the baptism rite as the moment when this occurred.

The coming of the Spirit prior to baptism is most unusual, in the context of early Christianity. The most reasonable explanation, in the case of the Cornelius episode, is that the atypical sequence served to demonstrate (to the Jewish believers) that non-Jews (Gentiles) were deserving of baptism and inclusion into the Community. Verse 45 illustrates this clearly enough:

“And they stood out (of themselves) [i.e. were amazed], the (one)s (having) trusted out of (those having been) cut around [i.e. circumcised], as many as came with (the) Rock {Peter}, (in) that [i.e. because] the gift of the holy Spirit had been poured out even upon (those of) the nations.”

This issue becomes the focus of chapter 11, and reaches its culmination in the Jerusalem Council of chapter 15 (an episode that sits at the very heart of the book of Acts). The presence of the Spirit was manifested through ‘speaking in tongues’ (v. 46), much as in 2:4ff and (presumably) in 8:17-18. Peter addresses the possible concern of Jewish believers in v. 47:

“It is (surely) not possible (for) any(one) to cut off the water (so that) these (people) should not be dunked, (these) who received the holy Spirit (just) as we also (did)?”

The decisive point for Peter, and for the Jewish Christians who were convinced by his arguments, was that the Spirit came upon these Gentile converts. It was the presence of the Spirit which demonstrated unquestionably that the conversions were genuine, at that these non-Jewish believers had every right to be counted among the faithful and included within the early Christian Community—even before they had been baptized. Baptism and the coming of the Spirit were closely connected, but they remained separate events and distinct religious phenomena within early Christianity, even as they are (and should be so) for believers today.

 

June 23: Acts 8:6-7ff (Lk 11:20)

Acts 8:6-7ff (Luke 11:20)

The first episode in the second division of the book of Acts involves the ministry of Philip in Samaria (8:5-25). As the summary narration in vv. 5-7 indicates, he both (a) preached the Gospel (“proclaimed the Anointed [One]”), and (b) performed wondrous “signs” (shmei=a) that included healing miracles. The miracles are performed in support of the Gospel preaching, as an authentication of its truth. All of this corresponds precisely with the prayer of believers in 4:29-30 (and its answer by God, v. 31), which makes it absolutely certain that the author of the narrative (trad. Luke) understood Philip’s miracles as the product of the Spirit’s presence and work.

This ministry of Philip results in the conversion of a number of Samaritans, who were then baptized (vv. 12-13). However, these converts did not themselves receive the Spirit until Peter and other apostles (that is, members of the Twelve) arrived and laid hands on them (vv. 14-17). The relationship of the Spirit to the rite of baptism (and laying on of hands) will be discussed in the next note. The point I wish to highlight here is the supernatural (miraculous) character of the Spirit’s manifestation. The effect of the coming of the Spirit on new believers is to be counted among the “signs and wonders” performed by the early Christians through the power of the Spirit.

The effect, in this case, was such that a certain Simon was fascinated by it (v. 13). Almost certainly, the phenomenon of ‘speaking in tongues’ was involved (cp. 2:4ff; 10:45). Simon recognized that the power of the Spirit was conveyed through the action of the apostles, and, based on his misguided understanding of the matter, sought to buy this power (vv. 18-19). The exchange with Peter that follows (vv. 20-24) is similar to his earlier encounter with Ananias/Sapphira (5:3-10, cf. the discussion in the previous note). Peter’s condemnation of Simon is similarly harsh: “May your silver be with you unto (your) ruin!” In colloquial English, we would probably say something like “To hell with you and your money!” The principle that Peter states remains pertinent for all believers as a warning:

“…you thought to acquire the gift of God through xrh=ma

The term xrh=ma fundamental refers to “something that can be used” by another person, and which thus can tangibly be sold or acquired through a business or commercial exchange. The power of the Spirit is not like this—it is the gift of God, bestowed upon believers by God Himself. Simon seems to acknowledge his error and responds with repentance (v. 24), quite contrary to the later Christian portrait of him (cf. “Did You Know…?” below).

This power of the Spirit possessed by believers is an extension of the miracle-working power exhibited by Jesus’ disciples went he sent them out on missions during the time of his ministry in Galilee (Mk 3:14-15; 6:7-13a par; Lk 10:1-12). The authority to preach and work (healing) miracles was given to them by Jesus himself, so that they functioned as his representatives (the fundamental meaning of the term apostle, “[one] sent forth”). The role of the Spirit is not mentioned in this regard (in the Gospel tradition), but the author of Luke-Acts certainly would have understood it as obvious and implicit in the tradition. Jesus’ own preaching and miracle-working power was a product of his anointing by the Spirit (at the Baptism)—Lk 3:22; 4:1ff, 14, 18ff. The citation of Isa 61:1-2 follows the LXX, with its mention of the blind recovering their sight, giving to the prophecy a healing miracle aspect that is not present in the original Hebrew. This aspect is given even more emphasis, in connection with ministry of Jesus, in 7:21-22 par.

However, the only direct reference to the presence of the Spirit in the miracles of Jesus is the saying in Lk 11:20 par (a “Q” tradition):

“but if, with (the) finger of God, I cast out the daimons, then (surely) the kingdom of God has (already) arrived upon you.”

The version in Matthew 12:28 is identical, except that it has the expression “Spirit [pneu=ma] of God” instead of “finger [da/ktulo$] of God”. It is unquestionably the same saying, and in this case a facile harmonization, to the effect that Jesus said both “Spirit” and “finger” at the same time, can be ruled out. The best explanation is that Luke has the more original version of the saying, and that the Matthean version is an interpretive adaptation, essentially explaining what the expression “finger of God” means in context—i.e., that it refers to the Spirit of God. Certainly the Lukan author would completely agree with this explanation.

Indeed, the connection with the Spirit is rooted in the wider Synoptic tradition—namely, the Beelzebub episode (Mk 3:22-27 par) where the “Q” tradition is attached (in Matthew and Luke). Connected with this episode is the Synoptic saying regarding the insult (blasfhmi/a) against the Holy Spirit (Mk 3:28-29 par). The overall thrust of the episode is the fact that certain people—identified as religious leaders opposed to Jesus—were claiming that his healing (exorcism) miracles were the result of demonic influence over him. The Markan narrative explicitly connects the Spirit-saying in vv. 28-29 with such false and hostile claims against Jesus (v. 30)—i.e., that his miracle-working power came from “Beelzebul” rather than God’s holy Spirit.

Thus, implicit in the Synoptic tradition is the claim that Jesus’ miracles were due to the presence of Spirit working in him. This same power was given by Jesus to his disciples, and now, more fully, to the early believers in Jerusalem. As in Jesus’ own ministry, the role of the Spirit was present both in the preaching and miracles performed by believers; the miracles, indeed, has as their primary purpose confirmation of the truth of the Gospel.

Like the figure of Judas Iscariot, Simon Magus came to be viewed in a completely negative light in early Christianity—wicked and nefarious, an arch-heretic and ‘founder’ of Gnosticism (Justin First Apology §§26, 56; Irenaeus Against Heresies I.23; Tertullian On the Soul §34; Against All Heresies §1; Eusebius Church History II.13; Epiphanius Panarion 21.1-4, etc). In the Pseudo-Clementine literature, Simon becomes the chief adversary of Peter during his missionary journeys. This entire line of tradition is highly dubious, built upon little more than the details of the Acts narrative. While Simon’s behavior and attitude is clearly immature and misguided, there is no real indication in the text that his conversion and baptism were a sham or otherwise false (as the later tradition would essentially require).

June 22: Acts 5:3ff; 7:51

Acts 5:3ff; 7:51

In the previous note, we saw how the presence of the Spirit was tied to the believers’ experience of opposition to the Gospel. The initial experience of opposition and persecution (by the Jerusalem authorities) prompted their prayer in 4:23-31, which was answered by God, by giving to the believers a fresh empowerment with the Spirit (v. 31). The conflict episodes that follow in chapters 5-7 continue the development of this theme, adding to it the idea that opposition to the Gospel is essentially the same as opposing God Himself. This is expressed powerfully by Gamaliel in 5:39 where the possibility is raised that, by opposing the Christians, the authorities may end up being “fighters (against) God” (qeoma/xoi).

Not surprisingly, in light of the Lukan Spirit-theme, this is also expressed in terms of opposing the Spirit of God. We find this in two of the conflict episodes, and, while the nature of the conflict may differ in each, the basic message regarding opposition to the Spirit is fundamentally the same.

In the Ananias/Sapphira episode (5:1-11), the conflict is internal, related to the unity of the Jerusalem believers, as expressed through the communalistic socio-economic structure adopted by the Community. The importance of this mode of existence, as a practical expression of unity, is clear from the summary narration in 2:42-47 (vv. 44-45) and 4:32-37. The latter passage is followed immediately by the Ananias/Sapphira episode. This Christian couple was apparently reluctant to give over all the proceeds from the sale of their property to the Community.

The way this is described in vv. 1-2, the implication is that Ananias and Sapphira presented the money to the Community as representing the full amount, while they actually kept back part of it for their own use. The sin, therefore, was not so much the failure to give over all the proceeds, but the deceitful way in which they handled the matter. This is certainly the thrust of Peter’s announcement of judgment against them (vv. 3-4, 9). It is not stated how Peter became aware of their deception, but the wording in the narrative allows for the possibility that it was revealed to him by the Spirit. What is most significant, from the standpoint of our study, is how their deception is framed as a crime against the Spirit:

To Ananias:
“Through what [i.e. how] did the Satan fill your heart (for) you to act falsely (toward) the holy Spirit…?” (v. 3)
To Sapphira:
“How (is it) that the voice came together in (the two of) you to test the Spirit of (the) Lord?” (v. 9)

Their sinful (deceitful) action is characterized by the verb yeu/domai (“act/speak falsely”) and peira/zw (“test, put to the test”), respectively.

The action by Ananias and Sapphira was opposed to the principle of unity among believers. This principle, in its own way, is fundamental to the preaching of the Gospel; on the theme of unity in relation to the Spirit, cf. the recent “Notes on Prayer” studies on 1:14 and 24.

In the conflict-episode of chaps. 6-7, the focus is on Jewish opposition to the Gospel. This opposition had been building through the episodes of chaps. 4-5, until it reached it climax with the interrogation and death of Stephen. I have discussed the speech of Stephen (and its framing narrative) at length in earlier articles (cf. Parts 912 of “The Speeches of Acts”). Here I will focus specifically on the reference to the Spirit in 7:51. This comes at the conclusion to the speech, where Stephen’s rhetoric becomes most forceful, directed against those interrogating him:

“(You) stiffnecked (one)s and (with) no cutting around [i.e. uncircumcised] in (your) heart and ears! You always fall (down) against the holy Spirit—(just) as your fathers (did), (so) also you!”

He can say that the Jerusalem authorities “always” (a)ei/) oppose the Spirit because they are following the historical pattern of those Israelites who opposed Moses during the time of the Exodus. Such persons have always opposed the word of God and the prophetic Spirit (epitomized in the inspired person of Moses). Now they are standing in opposition to the inspired (prophetic) message of the Gospel, being proclaimed by ministers such as Stephen. The Moses/Jesus parallel is absolutely clear in Stephen’s speech, and follows the message by Peter in 3:22-23 (cp. 7:37), where Jesus is identified as the ‘Prophet like Moses’ promised in Deut 18:15-19. In that passage, a terrible judgment will come upon those who refuse to listen to the words of this Prophet; and, since believers like Stephen are speaking in Jesus’ name, as his representatives, they have the same prophetic authority.

The inspired character of Stephen is specified in the introductory narrative. The seven men chosen to serve as adjunct leaders (to the Twelve) in the Community were expected to be people “full of (the) Spirit and wisdom” (6:3). Stephen clearly met this requirement, as it is said of him that he was “a man full of trust and the holy Spirit” (v. 5). Moreover, he exhibited in his ministry of preaching that he was “full of (the) favor and power (of God)”, manifested specifically through the working of miracles; the “power” (du/nami$) here certainly refers to the power of the Spirit (cf. 4:30f; also 1:4 [Lk 24:49], 8; 3:12; 4:7; 8:19; 10:38, etc). If there were any doubt about the inspired (prophetic) character of Stephen’s speech, this is indicated vividly by the description in 6:15.

The verb a)ntipi/ptw (lit. “fall against”) indicates a more agressive—even violent—form of opposition. In English, we would probably say “fall upon”, as in a mob of attackers who falls upon a person—which, indeed, is what happens to Stephen (7:57-58). Even though his speech is framed as part of a judicial proceeding, an interrogation before the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin), the action taken against seems more like the behavior of a lynch mob. In any case, the death of Stephen sets the stage for a period of persecution of believers in Judea (8:1b-3), that results in many of them being scattered into the surrounding regions. It is there that the proclamation of the Gospel ‘into all the nations’ will truly begin, and the Spirit will be present with the missionaries, guiding them and empowering them along the way. We will see how the author begins to develop that aspect of the Spirit-theme, in the next daily note.

 

June 21: Acts 4:31 (Lk 11:13)

Acts 4:31 (Luke 11:13)

The prayer-speech of the Jerusalem believers in Acts 4:23-31 follows the conflict-episode of 4:1-22, and comes in response to that episode. It is the first recorded instance of opposition to the Gospel message (by the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem). Both the content of the speech and the framing of it (vv. 24a, 31) make clear that it truly is a prayer to God:

“And, (hav)ing made their request (to God)…” (v. 31)

The verb de/omai is largely synonymous with the common verb for prayer, proseu/xomai (“speak out toward [God]”)—compare 10:2 and 30. In the introduction to the prayer-speech (v. 24a) it is said that the believers “lifted (their) voice toward God”. The specific request they make relates to their mission of proclaiming the Gospel; the petition is two-fold:

    • That they would be enabled to proclaim the Gospel (lit. the account [lo/go$] of God, “your account”) with all outspokenness (parrhsi/a, i.e. boldness) [v. 29]
    • That God would continue to perform miracles through them (like the healing of the crippled man in chap. 3) [v. 30]; this miracle-working power is intended to support the preaching of the Gospel:
      “…to speak your account with all outspokenness, in the stretching out of your hand to (perform) healing and signs and wonders…”

It is recognized that the power to work miracles comes “through the name” of Jesus—that is, believers acting in Jesus’ name, with his power and authority, as his representatives. This is an extension of the authority given to the disciples by Jesus during the period of his earthly ministry (Luke 9:1-6 par; 10:1-12). Only now, with the departure of Jesus to heaven, this authority comes through the direct presence of the Spirit, given to the believers by Jesus himself. And, in fact, God answers the prayer, by gifting the believers with a fresh empowerment by the Spirit:

“And, (hav)ing made their request (to God), the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they all were filled by the holy Spirit, and they spoke the account (of God) with outspokenness [parrhsi/a].” (v. 31)

This essentially repeats the manifestation of the Spirit in the earlier Pentecost scene (2:1-4ff), when, it may also be assumed, believers had been gathered together and united in prayer (1:14, 24). The coming of the Spirit, and the manifestation of its presence, is thus the answer to believers’ prayer. In this regard it is worth considering Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the Gospel (Lk 11:1-13), which includes the Lukan version of the Lord’s prayer. This teaching is distinctive in that it climaxes with a saying by Jesus that indicates that the true goal (and purpose) of the disciples’ prayer is the sending of the Spirit by God:

“So if you, beginning under [i.e. while you are] evil, have known (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring, how much more will the Father out of heaven give (the) holy Spirit to the (one)s asking him!” (11:13)

In the Matthean version of this “Q” tradition, the saying makes no mention of the Spirit:

“…how much more will your Father, the (One) in the heavens, give good (thing)s to the (one)s asking him!” (7:11)

This raises the strong possibility that the reference to the Spirit is a Lukan adaptation of the saying, interpreting (and explaining) the “good things” that God will give as referring primarily to the Spirit. This is consonant with the Spirit-theme of Luke-Acts, and, in my view, there is little doubt that the author is here anticipating the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in the early chapters of Acts.

In this regard, mention should be made of the interesting variant reading in the Lukan version of the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer (11:2). In a handful of manuscripts and textual witnesses, in place of the request for the coming of the Kingdom (“may your Kingdom come”, we have a request for the coming of the Spirit; in minuscule MS 700 this reads:

“May your holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us”
e)lqe/tw to\ pneu=ma sou to\ a%gion e)f’ h(ma=$ kai\ kaqarisa/tw h(ma=$

While this reading almost certainly is secondary (and not original), it is fully in accord with the Lukan understanding of the true nature of God’s Kingdom. The key declaration by Jesus in Acts 1:8 serves as the primary theme for the entire book, and it defines the Kingdom according to the two-fold aspect of: (a) the presence of the Spirit, and (b) the proclamation of the Gospel (into all the nations). The answer to the believers’ prayer in 4:31 clearly encapsulates both of these aspects.

June 17: Acts 2:1-4ff

Acts 2:1-4ff

The Pentecost narrative in Acts 2:1-13 is the centerpiece of the early chapters of Acts. From the standpoint of the Lukan Spirit-theme, the opening chapters of Acts parallel those of the Gospel. Note the parallelism:

    • Announcement that the Spirit will “come upon” (e)pe/rxomai) Mary (Lk 1:35)
      Announcement that the Spirit will “come upon” (e)pe/rxomai) the disciples (Acts 1:8)
    • The Spirit descends upon Jesus at the Baptism (Lk 3:22)
      The Spirit descends upon believers in the Pentecost scene (Acts 2:3)
    • Jesus is filled with the Spirit (Lk 4:1)
      The believers are filled with the Spirit (Acts 2:4)
    • Jesus proclaims the coming of the Spirit as the fulfillment of Prophecy (Isa 61:1-2, Lk 4:17-19ff)
      The believers (Peter) proclaim the coming of the Spirit as the fulfillment of Prophecy (Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:16-21)
    • The coming of the Spirit is connected with the proclamation of the Gospel, marking the beginning of the New Age (Lk 4:18, 21; Acts 2:16-21ff, 41)

From a literary standpoint, the Spirit-theme is related to the Kingdom-theme of the narrative in chaps. 1-2 (1:3, 6-8, cf. the discussion in the previous note). An outline of the Pentecost scene illustrates how these themes are developed.

    1. Introductory statement (unity of the Disciples), verse 1.
    2. Manifestation of the Spirit, verses 2-4.
    3. Reaction of Jews in Jerusalem (united voice of the crowds), verses 5-13.

I will briefly discuss each of these in turn.

1. Introductory statement (unity of the Disciples), Acts 2:1:

To see how this theme of unity is expressed, it is worth breaking out the specific words of this short verse:

    • kai\ (“and”)
    • e)n tw=| sumplhrou=sqai (“in the being filled up” [su/n as intensive prefix, i.e. “filled completely”]—but here as a temporal clause = “when it was completely filled”)
    • th\n h(me/ran th=$ pentekosth=$ (“the Fiftieth day”)
    • h@san (“they [i.e. the Disciples] were”)
    • pa/nte$ (“all”—all of them, together)
    • o(mou= (“as one” or “at one”, i.e., together, the same; see the similar o(moqumado\n [“of one impulse”] in 1:14)
    • e)pi\ to\ au)to/ (“upon the [same] thing” —this phrase occurs repeatedly in the early chapters of Acts, though somewhat obscured by conventional translations; it is indicative of the unity of the believers)

Here is the verse in literal translation:

“And in the Fiftieth day’s being filled completely, they were all at one upon the (same) thing [or, place]”

And in a more conventional translation:

“And when the Fiftieth day had been fufilled, they were all together in the same place.”
[As C. C. Torrey and other scholars have noted, the Greek may reflect an Aramaic expression “when the Weeks had been fulfilled” (e.g., aY`u^Wbv* <l^v=m!b=W), which is more intelligible]

The “Fiftieth” day (usually transliterated as “Pentecost”), is the festival of Weeks (toub%v*) in Israelite and Jewish tradition (cf. Lev. 23:9-22; Deut. 16:9-12). Fifty days (seven weeks) are counted from the offering of the firstfruit sheaf of grain at the time of Passover. Traditionally, it was also the time associated with the Sinai theophany and giving of the Law (Ex. 19:1ff). In the Exodus narrative, the entire camp of Israel was gathered together beneath the mountain “to meet God” (Ex. 19:17). Here, the disciples, too are gathered together in the same place and will “meet God”. Elements of the Sinai theophany also have their parallel in the manifestation of the Spirit, as we shall see.

2. Manifestation of the Spirit, Acts 2:2-4:

Here the manifestation of the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of God) is recorded in dramatic fashion, in the language and imagery of Theophany. Since the manifestation of God at Sinai (occurring at Pentecost, by tradition) was mentioned above, it is worth looking at elements of that theophany:

    • Thunders (lit. “voices”) and lightnings (19:16)
    • A thick cloud
    • Fire went down upon the mountain; smoke (as of a furnace) went up from it (19:18), perhaps parallel to the cloud in v. 16.
    • The mountain “trembled” (or “quaked”); in v. 16 it is said the people trembled (same verb, drj)
    • The sound (lit. “voice”) of a horn (rp*ov, shofar) (19:19, also mentioned in v. 16), which sounded long and grew louder

Consider also the theophany to Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-12):

    • A great and strong wind (or “breath”, “spirit” j^Wr = pneu=ma) which swept through and tore at the mountain
    • An earthquake (“quaking”, “shaking” vu^r^)
    • Fire (va@)

all of which occur as God (hwhy) is “passing over” (or “passing by” rb@u)), but God Himself is not in (b) the wind, quaking or fire. Then comes a quiet, thin voice.

Here is the manifestation of the Spirit as recorded in Acts (note the theophanic details in italics, with specific parallels in bold):

    1. “And suddenly there came to be out of the heaven a sound as of a violent wind [pnoh/] being carried (along) and it filled the whole house (in) which they were sitting” (2:2)
    2. “And there was seen [i.e. appeared] unto them tongues as if of fire divided through(out), and it sat upon each one of them” (2:3)
    3. “And they all were filled of/by (the) holy Spirit [pneu=ma] and began to speak in other tongues even as the Spirit gave (to) them to utter forth” (2:4)

Clearly, there is wordplay with “tongues (as if) of fire” [glw=ssai w(sei\ puro/$] anticipating “with other tongues” [e(te/rai$ glw/ssai$] in v. 4. There is at least one other occurrence of the phrase “tongues of fire” from roughly the same period in a Qumran text (represented by fragments of 1Q29 and 4Q376: these with 4Q375 and 1Q22 may all be part of the same work). 1Q29 fragment 1 can be restored on the basis of 4Q376 (ellipses indicate gaps [lacunae] in the text):

“…the stone, like… they will provide you with light and he will go out with it with tongues of fire [va twnwvlb]; the stone which is at its left side will shine to the eyes of all the assembly until the priest finishes speaking. And after it [the cloud?] has been removed… and you shall keep and do all that he tells you. And the prophet … … who speaks apostasy … … YHWH, God of …”

Another tiny fragment reads: “… the right stone when the priest leaves … … three tongues of fire … … And after he shall go up and remove his shoes ….” (translations taken from García Martínez & Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, Brill/Eerdmans 1997/2000, vol. 1 pp. 108-9). The words (possibly spoken by Moses) refer to an anointed Priest; the stones on the right and left (urim and thummim?) are associated both with light and the voice of the Priest as he addresses the assembly. It is possible the “three tongues” are also “divided out”, one over each stone, and one directly over the Priest in the middle.

There is some uncertainty whether the “other tongues” refer to an ecstatic ‘heavenly’ language or ‘earthly’ foreign languages. Other New Testament references (Acts 10:46; 19:6, and those in 1 Cor. 12-14) suggest the former, while the context here (cf. Acts 2:11) indicates the latter. Perhaps the ambiguity is intentional, in order to reflect both: (a) heavenly origin, and (b) the languages of the nations. Returning to the Sinai theophany, there is an old Jewish tradition that as the Torah (each word of God) went forth it was split into the seventy languages of the nations (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbath 88b); that is, each nation could hear the voice of God (the “thunderings”) in its own language (cf. Exodus Rabbah V.9). A tradition along these lines seems to be at least as old as Philo of Alexandria (On the Decalogue §46), and so nearly contemporary with the book of Acts.

3. Reaction of Jews in Jerusalem (united voice of the Crowd), Acts 2:5-13:

The following outline indicates the main elements of this section:

    • Jews “come together” in Jerusalem (v. 5, 6a)
    • Response of the crowd (vv. 6b-11) in two aspects:
      1) Each person hears in his/her own language
      2) Nations respond in a (symbolic) united voice
    • Confusion (v. 12, see also in vv. 6-7)—”What does this wish to be?”

The mocking retort in v. 13 serves as a lead-in to Peter’s address in vv. 14-40. Let us look at each element in a little more detail:

a. Jews “come together” in Jerusalem (v. 5, 6a)

The mention of “Jews” ( )Ioudai=oi) being in Jerusalem may seem unnecessary, but it is significant for at least two reasons: (1) to emphasize the underlying religious and cultural unity of the ‘nations’ present in the city, and (2) it draws attention to the (post-exilic) reality of the current situation. When Israel, and particularly the southern kingdom of Judah (centered at Jerusalem), was taken into exile, the people were dispersed among the nations; and it was in the “dispersion” (diaspora) that a distinctly Jewish identity developed. It is generally assumed that these Jews are sojourning in Jerusalem for the festival of Weeks (Pentecost); the verb katoike/w often implies a more permanent residence, but here may simply mean generally “to dwell”. These Jews are “from every nation under heaven”, and have come together in the city (for the festival). At the coming-to-be of “this voice” (th/ fwnh/), again Jews, symbolized as a specific crowd (plh=qo$), “come together” (sune/rxomai) in confusion (being “stirred together” [sugxe/w]). It is interesting that, just in the tradition regarding the Sinai theophany, the multitudes are hearing different languages but one voice.

b. Response of the Crowd (v. 6b-11)

V. 6b and 7a reprise the confusion—they “stood out of (their minds)” and “wondered” in amazement as they heard the disciples speaking. It is unnecessary to ask just how, when, or where these people heard the disciples—and altogether beside the point. The author has crafted a marvelous dramatic scene, with events (at the historical level) certainly having been compressed together into a single moment. Similarly, it is rather unlikely that a single person or group of persons in the crowd would have said precisely what the crowd is recorded as saying here. Instead, various reactions and responses are represented by one voice. This is important thematically, and, one might say, theologically as well. Often a creative literary device conveys far more truth than a ‘sober’ record of events. Consider several of the themes inherent in the crowd’s response:

    • The reference to the disciples as “Galileans” (Galilai=oi), while serving to emphasize the wonder of the situation, also creates a subtle shift stressing ethnic (and geographic) identity. Most of the disciples, and certainly the Twelve were Galileans (“men of Galilee”, 1:11). The early Christian mission began in Galilee (cf. 1:1-2), is centered in Jerusalem (by the united community of the Disciples), and will spread from there into all nations (1:8).
    • Two key references to hearing the voices speaking “in our own language” (v. 8, cf. also v. 6) and “in our tongues” (v. 11) bracket the list of nations in vv. 9-11a. The importance of this description should by now be apparent. It may be useful to consider the qualifying phrase accompanying each reference: (1) V. 8: “in our own language in which we came to be born” [e)n h! e)gennh/qhmen] (2) V. 11: “(hear speaking) in our tongues the great (work)s of God” [ta\ megalei=a tou= qeou=] The first phrase clearly indicates ethnic sense; the second echoes Old Testament language whereby news of the great and glorious deeds of God is spread into the surrounding nations (cf. Ex. 15:11ff, and many others)—geographic sense.
    • The list of nations (vv. 9-11) has been a source of some confusion, as indicated by the number of textual variants and proposed emendations; however, as a separate geographical list it actually makes sense—moving from East (Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamia) to West (Anatolian/Asian provinces, Egypt, Lybia, Cyrene and Italy) with Judea in the middle. While still a bit uneven and not without difficulties, its significance as a list of the (known and relevant) surrounding nations is obvious.
c. Confusion (v. 12, cf. also vv. 6-7)

The confusion of the crowd is re-iterated, stating that they all were beside themselves (again e)ci/sthmi, lit. “stand out of [one’s mind]” v. 7) and “thoroughly at a loss” (diapore/w). Their summary response is: ti/ qe/lei tou=to ei@nai; (literally “what does this wish to be?”), often translated more conventionally as “what does this mean?”—however a more literal rendering preserves better a sense of the strange, dynamic nature of the situation in which the crowd finds itself: events almost seem to have a will of their own! The ironic, mocking retort that closes the crowd’s response (“they are filled with sweet [wine]!”), of course, serves to lead into Peter’s great Pentecost speech (vv. 14-40). The disciples are indeed “filled” (plh/qw) with the Spirit (v. 4), rather than “filled” (mesto/w, a somewhat cruder verb which can indicate “stuffed”, “intoxicated”) with ordinary wine.

In conclusion, it is perhaps worth considering again the theme of the “restoration of Israel” in light of the Pentecost narrative:

    • 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)

Peter’s sermon-speech that follows (vv. 14-40, Parts 2 and 3 in the series “The Speeches of Acts”) serves as an exposition of the Pentecost scene. It also effectively expounds the key statement by Jesus in 1:8, identifying the end-time Kingdom of God on earth with the presence of the Spirit and the proclamation of the Gospel. Peter’s declaration in v. 33 essentially restates the words of Jesus in Lk 24:49 and Acts 1:4, identifying the coming of the Spirit as the fulfillment of God’s promise (e)paggeli/a) to His people (for more on this, cf. the discussion in the prior note).

June 16: Acts 1:8 (continued)

Acts 1:8, continued

As we turn toward the Pentecost narrative in Acts, it is most useful to keep in mind the context and structure of the early chapters, which I outline as follows:

    1. Lukan Introduction (1:1-5)—a long, complex and difficult sentence (cf. Luke 1:1-4), which turns into an historical summary (vv. 2-4a) and concludes with a direct address of Jesus to his disciples (vv. 4b-5).
    2. The Ascension (1:6-11), comprising:
      (a) the question regarding the Kingdom and Jesus’ reply to his disciples(vv. 6-8),
      (b) the visible ascension with theophanic/apocalyptic imagery (v. 9),
      (c) appearance of the (Heavenly) men and their address to the disciples
    3. A summary narrative (1:12-14) recording the return of the disciples to Jerusalem, and their united presence in the Upper Room (the Twelve [minus Judas Iscariot], some women, Jesus’ mother Mary and his brothers). This summary parallels Luke 24:52-53, and is an important bridge between the Ascension and the following narrative.
    4. The Reconstitution of the Twelve (1:15-26)—two key parts, both of which act as seminal motifs for the remainder of the book:
      a) Peter’s speech (vv. 15-22)—the first of many such speeches in Acts, centering on quotation/interpretation of Scripture (a tradition regarding Judas Iscariot has been inserted parenthetically, vv. 18-19)
      b) The selection/commission of a disciple (Matthias) for (apostolic) ministry (vv. 23-26)
    5. The Pentecost Narrative (chapter 2)
      5a. Narrative of the coming of the Spirit (2:1-13: a detailed outline will be given in Part 2)
      5b. Peter’s Speech (2:14-40), again centered on quotation/interpretation of Scripture.
      5c. Historical/editorial summary (2:41-47).

This same structure will be carried out through much of Acts; for example, in the next two chapters:

    • Main historical narrative, including notable ministry work, miracles, etc. (“Acts”) of the Apostles (3:1-11; 4:1-22)
    • Speech (or intercourse), centered on a passage (or passages) of Scripture, and containing early Gospel proclamation (kerygma) (3:12-26; 4:23-30)
    • Historical/editorial summary (none in ch. 3; 4:31)

Let us consider the sections immediately surrounding the exchange between Jesus and his disciples in 1:6-8. We begin with the Lukan introduction (1:1-5); the historical summary (vv. 2-4a) has, at its heart, the double phrase:
oi!$ kai\ pare/sthsen e(auto\n zw=nta meta\ to\ paqei=n au)to\n e)n polloi=$ tekmhri/oi$,
di’ h(merw=n tessera/konta o)ptano/meno$ au)toi=$ kai\ le/gwn ta\ peri\ th=$ basilei/a$ tou= qeou=
“…and to whom [i.e. the disciples] he stood himself alongside [i.e. presented himself] alive after his suffering in many fixed marks [i.e. signs/proofs],
through forty days being seen by them and recounting/relating the (things) about the kingdom of God”
We can break down chiastically the elements of this phrase:

    • Living presence of God/Christ in his disciples
      [to whom he stood himself alongside alive…]
      • Demonstration that He is the Messiah and Son of the Living God
        […after his suffering in many fixed marks/signs]
      • Ministry and proclamation
        [through days being seen by them and recounting/relating…]
    • The Kingdom of God
      […the things about the Kingdom of God]

These are all seminal themes and motifs of the Book of Acts, and, one might say, form the core of the Gospel message. The narration continues in v. 4a and blends into an address (in direct speech) of Jesus to his disciples. Again note the key elements:

a. Stay in (do not depart from) Jerusalem (see Luke 24:52; Acts 1:12)
b. Remain about (i.e. wait) for the promise of the Father (Luke 24:49) which you have heard from me (see Acts 1:13-14, also Luke 24:53)
c. Reprise of John’s testimony:
“(On the one hand), John dipped/dunked in/with water, but (on the other hand), you will be dipped/dunked in the Holy Spirit after not many (of) these days”

The ascension of Jesus is narrated in vv. 9-11. We can see how vv. 6-8 fit into the immediate narrative structure:

    • Question regarding the Kingdom of God with Jesus’ reply, including a reiteration of the promise of the Holy Spirit (vv. 6-8)
      • The Ascension of Jesus (v. 9)
        • At their seeing/looking
          — He was raised up(on)
          — A cloud took him under
        • Away from their eyes
    • Angelic appearance and eschatological announcement about Christ’s return (vv. 10-11)

The theme of the Kingdom—shorthand for “Kingdom of God (or Heaven)”—is most significant; I will have discussed it in detail in an earlier article. Here is a summary outline of the four principal ways of understanding the phrase:

    1. As the Eternal rule of God (in Heaven)
    2. As an eschatological (Messianic) Kingdom, on earth, the establishment of which will involve:
      (a) judgment/defeat of the nations and enemies of God, and
      (b) restoration of the Davidic inheritance to Israel.
    3. In the person and work of Jesus—the miracles, teaching, foundation of the church, atoning death and resurrection, etc.
    4. As the (spiritual) presence and power of God in the heart, mind, and lives of believers.

Other interpretations are possible, but they likely will end up being a variation on one of the above. These four meanings can be found in the New Testament—even, I think, in Jesus’ own teaching on the Kingdom—but probably #1 and 4 are most common. The thorniest question scholars raise is to what extent #2 is part of Jesus’ teaching. It is likely that his proclamation “the Kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15 par.) would have been understood in this manner—of eschatological/Messianic expectation—by his contemporaries; and this certainly seems to be what the disciples have in mind here at Acts 1:6.

Let us briefly examine the disciples’ question:

ku/rie, ei) e)n tw=| xronw=| tou/tw| a)pokaqista/nei$ th\n basilei/an tw=| )Israh/l;
“Lord, (if) in this time will you set down again the kingdom to Israel?”

A more literal rendering of a)pokaqisth/nai would indicate setting the Kingdom down from (a)po/) where it is currently, back to its former condition; conventionally, we could translate “reconstitute” or “restore”.

Jesus’ reply comes in two parts: first—

“It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has set in (his) own e)cousi/a

e)cousi/a (from e&cestin), almost impossible to translate literally, has the sense of “ability” or “authority” to do something. Jesus effectively dispenses with their question, without necessarily denying its validity—however, the brusque response may suggest a misunderstanding on their part. Earlier it is stated that Jesus, during the days following his resurrection, related to his disciples “the things concerning the Kingdom of God” (v. 3). Almost certainly this involved more than the sort of eschatological Messianic kingdom (meaning #2 above) common in popular religious thought. Yet this is what they ask about here. If the first part of Jesus’ reply does away with their question, the second part, in some sense re-establishes it:

“But you shall receive (the) power of the holy Spirit (which is) coming upon you, and you shall be my witnesses (both) in Jerusalem, and [in] all Judea and Samaria, and unto the end of the earth.”

Indeed, I would maintain that the idea of the “restoration of the kingdom”, or, one may say, the “restoration of Israel” is an important idea both in Jesus’ teaching and in the book of Acts. Most importantly, Jesus effectively defines the Kingdom for his disciples as two-fold, according to two fundamental aspects:

    • The empowering presence of the Spirit (“you shall receive [the] power of the holy Spirit…”)
    • The proclamation of the Gospel (“you shall be my witnesses…”)

Thus, the missionary work of the early believers, following the coming of the Spirit upon them (2:1-4ff), represents the establishment of the Kingdom in this New Age (New Covenant) for the people of God. In this regard, it is worth considering the fascinating textual variant in the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer, the petition for the coming of the Kingdom (11:2, e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou, “my your kingdom come”). In several texual witnesses, this petition is replaced by a request for the coming of the Spirit. In minuscule MS 700, this reads: e)lqe/tw to\ pneu=ma sou to\ a%gion e)f’ h(ma=$ kai\ kaqrisa/tw h(ma=$ (“may your holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us”). This will be discussed further in an upcoming note.

The two episodes that follow the Ascension, continue the development of this Kingdom-theme, preparing the ground for the Pentecost scene in chapter 2. First we have the transitional narrative summary in vv. 12-14; note the key motifs:

    • The disciples “return (or turn back) into Jerusalem”, v. 12. On the surface this is a simple description; however, consider the language in light of the implied motif of the “restoration” of Israel:
      a) The dispersed Israelites will return to the land, and to Jerusalem
      b) The restoration of Israel is often tied to repentance (turning back)
    • The Twelve disciples are gathered together in one place (upper room), v. 13. If the Twelve represent Israel (see below), then here we also have an image of the twelve tribes gathered together again.
    • The initial words of v. 14 contain a number of related, seminal motifs:
      • ou!toi (“these”—the twelve, along with the other disciples)
      • pa/nte$ (“all”—that is, all of them, together)
      • h@san proskarterou=nte$ (“were being strong” [sense of “endurance”, “patience”] “toward” their purpose/goal)
      • o(moqumado\n (“with one impulse”—a key phrase that occurs throughout Acts, cf. 2:46; 4:24, et al. qumo/$ is often translated as “soul”, “mind” [“with one mind”], but also as “passion”, “desire”; the primal sense of the word was something like a “[violent] stirring”)
      • th=| proseuxh=| (“in prayer”)

Does this not seem a beautiful, concise image of what one might call the “kingdom of God” on earth?

In vv. 15-26 we have a narrative episode that may be entitled “The Reconstitution of the Twelve.” Here it is important to emphasis again the theme of the Twelve. On purely objective grounds, the Twelve represent one of the earliest Christian traditions—a fixed tradition and symbol, separate, it would seem, from much of the actual historical detail. This appears clearly enough from passages such as 1 Cor. 15:5 and Matthew 19:28, where “the Twelve” are mentioned, even though only eleven disciples could be involved (Judas being dead or disqualified). Also, note the variant lists of the Twelve (Matt. 10:1-14; Mark 3:14-19; and Luke 6:13-16 / Acts 1:13). Most likely the Twelve were chosen (by Jesus) in part to represent 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.

So here, in Acts, the choosing of a twelfth apostle, to take the place of Judas Iscariot, takes on great significance. According to the logic of the narrative, Israel (the Twelve tribes) cannot be restored until the Twelve are reconstituted. This may seem strange to modern thinking, but the symbolism was powerful indeed to early Christians, for whom Israel and “the Church” were closely connected.

At the close of the chapter, things are prepared for the coming of the Spirit upon the believers. The Twelve have been restored, the believers are all gathered together, in Jerusalem, in one place; and they are similarly united in spirit, being “of one impulse” (o(moqumado/n, i.e., “of one mind, with one purpose”), being especially united in prayer (cf. my recent study in the “Monday Notes on Prayer”). What follows in chapter 2 represents the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in Acts 1:8 (also v. 4 and Lk 24:49). This we will examine in the next note.

June 14: Acts 1:8 (Luke 24:49)

Acts 1:8 (Lk 24:49)

These daily notes on the Lukan Spirit-theme will now focus on the book of Acts. The remaining references to the Spirit in the Gospel will be examined in light of the corresponding development of the Spirit-theme in Acts.

The first reference to the Spirit is found in the introduction to the book (1:1-5), a long and complex sentence, the syntax of which is most difficult and involves detailed textual questions that are beyond the scope of this note. The main point involves the character of vv. 1-5 as a summary of the Gospel (the first volume of the 2-volume work). Jesus’ ministry—especially his teaching to his disciples—took place “through the holy Spirit” (dia\ pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou). In the previous note, we saw how, in the Lukan narrative, the presence of the Spirit was central to the description of Jesus’ ministry from the beginning:

    • The Spirit comes upon Jesus at the Baptism (3:22)
    • Jesus is filled and guided by the Spirit as he is led into the desert (4:1)
    • The presence of the Spirit enables Jesus to overcome the Devil and come through the period of testing (implicit in the narrative)
    • Jesus returns “in the power of the Spirit” (4:14) to begin his ministry
    • In the synagogue at Nazareth he quotes Isa 61:1-2 (4:18-19ff), identifying himself as the Messianic figure of the prophecy, one who has been anointed by the Spirit.

The reference to the Spirit here in Acts 1:2 suggests that the Holy Spirit has remained upon Jesus throughout the entire course of his earthly ministry. Now, the time of his ministry has reached its end, and he is about to depart from his disciples (his ascension to heaven, vv. 9-11, cf. also Lk 24:51 [v.l.]). Much like the prophet Elijah, upon his departure to heaven (2 Kings 2:1, 11-12), who gave his prophetic spirit over to his disciple (Elisha, vv. 9-10), Jesus does the same for his disciples (on the connection between Jesus and Elijah, cf. the previous note and Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The Spirit will come upon them, in a manner similar to the way it came upon Jesus (at the Baptism). This coming of the Spirit upon Jesus was described as an anointing (vb xri/w) in Lk 4:18 (Isa 61:1), and it would be fair to say that this anointed (i.e. Messianic) aspect extends to the disciples of Jesus (believers) as well. Certainly this is suggested by the Elijah/Elisha parallel, since the giving of the prophetic spirit to Elisha is connected with the idea of a prophetic anointing (1 Kings 19:16).

At the close of the Gospel, Jesus promised that the Spirit would come upon his disciples:

“And, see! I send forth the e)paggeli/a of my Father; but you must sit in the city, until the (moment) at which you should be put in(to) [i.e. clothed in] power out of (the) height(s).” (24:49)

The noun e)paggeli/a is etymologically related to eu)agge/lion (“good message”). It literally means a message about (e)pi/) something, or upon a certain subject. Often it is used in the sense of a promise—i.e., that a person will do something; in a religious context, it typically refers to something that God has promised He will do. This is an important theme that is developed in the book of Acts, identifying the person of Jesus (the Messiah) and his presence (through the Spirit) as the ultimate realization of the covenant promises God has made to Israel (2:39; 13:23, 32; 26:6; cf. also 7:17).

We know that the e)paggeli/a in Lk 24:49 is a reference to the Spirit, because this is made explicit in Acts 1:4, and again in Peter’s Pentecost speech (2:33):

“… he gave along the message to them not to make space [i.e. move] away from Yerushalaim, but to remain about (for) the e)paggeli/a of the Father, of which you have heard (from) me.” (1:4)

“…so, (hav)ing been lifted high to the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of God, and (hav)ing received the e)paggeli/a of the holy Spirit (from) alongside the Father, he poured this out, [even] (as) you (have) seen and heard.” (2:33)

The Christological portrait in Luke-Acts accords with the Johannine tradition: the exalted Jesus receives the Spirit from God the Father, and then gives it, in  turn, to his disciples.

The restatement of this promise of the Spirit (by Jesus) in Acts 1:8 represents the keynote message and theme of the entire book:

“…but you will receive power, (with the) coming of the holy Spirit upon you, and you will be my witnesses, (both) in Yerushalaim and [in] all Yehudah and Shimron, and even unto (the) last (parts) of the earth.”

On the important association of the Spirit with power (du/nami$), cf. Lk 1:17, 35; 4:14; 8:19; 10:38; cp. in Paul’s letters, Rom 1:4; 15:13, 19; 1 Cor 2:4; 1 Thess 1:5, etc. The use of the verb e)pe/rxomai (“come upon”) reflects the Spirit-theme in Luke-Acts (Lk 1:35); it is a distinctly Lukan verb, as seven of the nine NT occurrences are in Luke-Acts. Even as the Spirit comes upon Mary—who, in some ways, represents the first believer in the narrative—so also it will come upon all the believers as they are gathered now in Jerusalem (2:1-4).

In the next note, we will explore the context of the statement in Acts 1:8 a bit further, particularly in relation to the Pentecost scene that follows in chap. 2.