Saturday Series: Acts 1:1-2ff

After a brief hiatus this Spring, the Saturday Series returns. Beginning here with the weekend of Pentecost, I will be presenting a series of studies dealing with some important critical issues in the Book of Acts, focusing especially on passages dealing with the Holy Spirit.

One cannot conduct a critical analysis of the Book of Acts without having to grapple with the two different versions, or recensions, that exist for this work. On the one hand, there is the Majority version, reflected in most critical editions of the Greek text, as well as nearly all English translations. The Majority version, in its ancient form, is represented by the Papyri 45 and 74 (Ë45 Ë74), the uncial manuscripts a A B C Y, and the minuscules 33 81 104 326 1175. It is typically referred to as the Alexandrian version. Then, on the other hand, there is the minority or ‘Western’ version, represented principally by the Codex Bezae (D), the fragmentary Papyri Ë29 Ë38 Ë48, the Old Latin MS h, the marked/marginal readings of the Harclean Syriac version, and by quotations in the Latin authors Cyprian and Augustine. For a good introduction, see Metzger, pp. 222-236.

Acts 1:1-2ff

As an example of the different recensions of the text of Acts, we can consider the prologue/introduction in 1:1-5. There is no real difference in the opening verse, but there are noticeable differences in verse 2. Here is a translation of the Alexandrian/Majority version, as reprented by the Nestle-Aland (NA) critical text:

1The first account I made (was) about all (the) things, O Friend-of-God, which Yeshua began to do and also to teach, 2until which day, (hav)ing laid a duty to complete on the (one)s sent forth [i.e. apostles], through the holy Spirit, (those) whom he (had) gathered out [i.e. chosen], he was taken up

Here is the Greek of verse 2 (including transliteration):

a&xri h!$ h(me/ra$ e)nteila/meno$ toi=$ a)posto/loi$ dia\ pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou ou^$ e)cele/cato a)nelh/mfqh
áchri h¢¡s h¢méras enteilámenos toís apostólois diá pneúmatos hagíou hoús exeléxato anel¢¡mphth¢

Now, here is a translation of vv. 1-2 in the Codex Bezae (D):

1The first account I made (was) about all (the) things, O Friend-of-God, which Yeshua began to do and also to teach, 2until which day he was taken up, (hav)ing laid a duty to complete on the (one)s sent forth [i.e. apostles], through the holy Spirit, (those) whom he (had) gathered out [i.e. chosen], and ordered (them) to proclaim the good message

The points of difference with the Alexandrian/Majority version are indicated in italics above: (1) the verb form a)nelh/mfqh (anel¢¡mphth¢, “he was taken up”) occurs at an earlier point in the verse, making for a somewhat smoother syntax, and (2) the inclusion of an additional clause:

kai\ e)ke/leuse khru/ssein to\ eu)agge/lion
kaí ekéleuse k¢rýssein tó euangélion
“and ordered (them) to proclaim the good message”

Both of the points of difference can be explained as improvements to the text, and thus would argue in favor of the Alexandrian version as being more original (based on the principle lectio difficilor potior, “the more difficult reading is to be preferred”). As mentioned above, the placement of “he was taken up” (anel¢¡mphth¢) in that earlier position makes for a smoother (and less awkward) syntax. As for the additional clause, it serves to clarify the charge/duty Jesus laid on the disciples (vb entéllomai)—namely, that it was to proclaim the Gospel. While this, of course, is central to the narrative of Acts (Acts 1:8; see Lk 24:47), it is worth noting that the noun euaggélion (“good message,” i.e. Gospel) is actually quite rare in Luke-Acts, never being used in the Gospel of Luke and only twice in Acts (15:7; 20:24); see Fitzmyer, p. 197. These factors tend to confirm the secondary character of the ‘Western’ version.

In several ‘Western’ witnesses (gig, quotations in Augustine and Vigilius), there is no reference to the ascension of Jesus in v. 2, with the Latin equivalent of anel¢¡mphth¢ (“he was taken up”) being absent (or omitted). It is possible that the word was omitted to avoid any possible contradiction with Luke 24:51, where it seems that Jesus ascends on the same day as his resurrection appearance. As it happens, the words kaí anephéreto eis tón ouranón (“and he was carried up into the heaven”) are also absent from some key Western manuscripts (D, Old Latin a b d e ff2 l, and the Sinaitic Syriac); the shorter reading is also found in the Georgian version (group 1) and the original hand of Codex Sinaiticus (a*). For further discussion on this particular textual issue, see my earlier article “Where Did Jesus Go? Critical Notes on the Ascension”.

Several scholars (e.g., F. Blass, J. H. Ropes) have, in the past, attempted to reconstruct an original Greek version that underlies the Latin variants of the ‘Western’ text of verse 2. The following has been proposed (see Metzger, p. 238):

e)n th=| h(me/ra| tou\$ a)posto/lou$ e)cele/cato dia\ pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou kai\ e)ke/leusen khru/ssein to\ eu)agge/lion
“…on the day (when) he gathered out [i.e. chose] the (one)s sent forth [i.e. apostles] through the holy Spirit, and ordered (them) to proclaim the good message”

In many ways, this syntax is far superior to that of the Alexandrian/Majority version, being much clearer and more straightforward. In this case, the phrase “through the holy Spirit” refers to Jesus’ choosing of the apostles, rather than his instruction of them. The place of the same phrase in the Alexandrian/Majority version is less clear. Given the thematic role of the Spirit in Luke-Acts, we would perhaps expect that the phrase is to be connected here specifically with the verb entéllomai, and the duty/mission of the apostles (to preach the Gospel), i.e., “(hav)ing laid on (them) a duty to complete…through the holy Spirit” (see verse 8).

The textual and syntactical issues surrounding verse 2 are further complicated by the fact that verses 1-5 essentially read as a single long sentence (compare the Gospel prologue, 1:1-4). The placement of the verb anel¢¡mphth¢ (“he was taken up”) at an earlier point in the verse certainly helps to alleviate the cumbersome syntax. Below, I continue the translation of the Alexandrian/Majority version, but with the ‘Western’ modification of the repositioned anel¢¡mphth¢:

1The first account I made (was) about all (the) things, O Friend-of-God, which Yeshua began to do and also to teach, 2until which day he was taken up, (hav)ing laid a duty to complete on the (one)s sent forth [i.e. apostles], through the holy Spirit, (those) whom he (had) gathered out [i.e. chosen], 3to whom also he stood [i.e. presented] himself alongside, living, after his suffering, with many (sure) marks, (hav)ing been seen by them through(out) forty days, and giving account (of) the (thing)s about the kingdom of God; 4and, being gathered with (them), he gave along a message to them (that they were) not to make space away from Yerushalaim, but (were) to “remain about (for) the announced (promise) of the Father, which you (have) heard of [i.e. from] me, 5(how) that Yohanan dunked in water, but you will be dunked in (the) holy Spirit (after) not many (of) these days”.

Most English translations naturally break up vv. 1-5 into a number of shorter sentences. However, I think it is worth retaining a sense of the continuity of narration intended by the author. Note, in particular, the way that he shifts from the opening point of the prologue-sentence, where he (the author) is speaking to Theophilus (“Friend-of-God”, “Dear-to-God”), to the end point, where Jesus is now speaking to his disciples. In its own way, the shift is a deft and clever literary achievement.

With the prologue still firmly in mind, next week we will turn to consider the place of verses 6-8 as marking the beginning of the Book of Acts proper. There are a number of significant historical and literary-critical issues that must be discussed. I hope that you will join me in this study next Saturday.

 

Notes on Prayer: Acts 14:23; 20:36

Acts 14:23; 20:36

The importance of prayer in establishing congregations, in places where the Gospel was preached by the early Christian missionaries, can be seen in two key references from the Pauline missionary narratives of Acts. The first reference comes from the first missionary journey of Paul (and Barnabas), narrated in chapters 13-14. Toward the close of that narrative, as Paul and Barnabas travel back through the parts of Asia Minor where they had worked, their message to the groups (congregations) of new believers is presented in summary form (in indirect speech):

“…placing on firm (ground) the souls of the learners [i.e. disciples], calling (them) alongside to remain in the(ir) trust and (telling them) that ‘through many (moment)s of distress, it is necessary (for us) to come into the kingdom of God’.” (14:22)

Following this, we have this summary narration:

“And, (hav)ing raised the hand for them, according to (each) called-out (gathering), (to select) elders, (and hav)ing spoken out toward (God), with fasting, they set them alongside the Lord, into whom they had trusted.” (v. 23)

Throughout the first half of the book of Acts, Christian elders are mentioned, but always in relation to the main Community in Jerusalem (11:30; 15:2, 4, 6, 22-23; 16:4; cf. also 21:18). This is the first instance where we hear of elders being similarly selected/appointed for the local communities (congregations) of believers outside of Jerusalem—namely, in the cities of Asia Minor, where Paul and Barnabas had been doing their mission-work. The selection process is described by way of a distinct idiom, using the verb xeirotone/w (lit. “stretch [i.e. raise] the hand”); the background of this term indicates a vote of hands, though it may be used in a more general sense here.

This selection of elders was intended to provide leadership for the nascent communities that would remain in place after Paul and Barnabas (with their special apostolic leadership) departed. It was only part of the care shown to these groups of believers. Along with the selection/appointment of elders, there was a period of prayer and fasting—lit. “speaking out toward (God), with fasting”. Here the common verb for prayer, proseu/xomai is used. The prayer and fasting mentioned here may have been specifically related to the appointment of elders, but it seems better to understand it in the wider context of the congregation coming together with Paul and Barnabas prior to their departure. Ultimately, the purpose of their prayer relates to the final clause of the verse:

“they set them alongside the Lord, into whom they had trusted”

The verb parati/qhmi means “set/place alongside”, often in the sense of entrusting something to another person (for safe-keeping). In this case, Paul and Barnabas entrust each community/congregation of believers to the Lord. This shows again how prayer, in the book of Acts, is closely connected to the idea of the unity of believers—Christians united with each other, but also, and more importantly, united to the person of Christ. Though it is not stated here directly, this presence of Christ (the Lord), in and among believers, must be understood in terms of the Spirit. The fundamental association between prayer and the Holy Spirit has been mentioned a number of times in these studies, and it is important to keep it mind here as well.

The sense of unity is further emphasized in v. 27, when, after Paul and Barnabas have returned to Antioch, they gathered together the entire Community (i.e., all the local congregations, or house-churches, in Antioch) to tell them all the things that took place on their journeys, thus uniting, in a symbolic way, the new congregations of Asia Minor with the ‘parent’ church in Antioch.

Toward the end of Paul’s third missionary journey, again on his return trip home, we find a similar mention of the elders appointed by Paul and his co-workers. It is, in fact, the only other direct reference to Christian elders, outside of the Jerusalem Community, in the book of Acts. Thus it is proper to study it in light of the earlier reference in 14:23 (above).

When Paul had reached Miletus on his return trip, it is said that he sent a messenger to Ephesus and called the elders of the congregations in that city to come to him (20:17). This serves as the narrative introduction to Paul’s speech in vv. 28-35. I will be discussing the speech itself in detail in an upcoming study (in the series “The Speeches of Acts”), and I have already discussed it in relation to the references to the Holy Spirit in vv. 22-23). As it happens, there is a subsequent reference to the Spirit in v. 28, which is worth mentioning here:

“Hold (your mind) toward yourselves, and (toward) all the herd [i.e. flock] in which the holy Spirit set you as overseers, to herd the called-out (community) of God, which He made (to be) around (Him) through His own blood.”
[Note: the last phrase could also be read as “…through the blood of His own (Son)”]

Even though Paul and his fellow missionaries had worked to appoint these elders, it is properly the Spirit (of God and Christ) who placed them in their positions of leadership, to oversee (noun e)pi/skopo$, “looking over, [one who] looks [things] over”) a particular congregation. Thus, there is here an implicit connection, again, between the Holy Spirit and prayer.

The prayer-aspect comes into view more clearly at the conclusion of Paul’s speech. The elders realize that they will likely never see Paul again, which makes his impending departure all the more heart-felt and moving (vv. 37-38). The import of the moment is introduced and narrated with the utmost simplicity:

“And, (hav)ing said these (thing)s, (and) setting down his knees, together with them all he spoke out toward (God).” (v. 36)

The theme of unity is expressed clearly, and beautifully, by the closing phrase, “together with them all [su\n pa=sin au)toi=$] he spoke out toward (God) [proshu/cato]”.

A similar scene of farewell is recorded in 21:5-6, after Paul had spent seven days with a group of believers in Tyre. It is emphasized again how Paul was determined to continue on to Jerusalem, even though suffering and arrest awaited him there, and how the other believers were troubled by this and urged him not to complete the journey (cf. my recent note discussing v. 4). The description of the moment of farewell, though briefer, closely resembles that of 20:36:

“…and, (hav)ing set our knees (down) upon the sea-shore, (and hav)ing spoken out toward (God), we took leave of each other…” (vv. 5-6)

This is one of the very last references to prayer in the book of Acts. Only three others remain, which will be discussed briefly in our next study, with the focus being on the reference in 22:17.

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

Due the length and complexity of the speech of Stephen (Acts 7:1-53ff), I have discussed it over three prior Saturday Series studies (#1, 2, 3); here I will address several key critical and interpretive issues which have thus far been mentioned only in passing:

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

1. The Narrative framework—the Sanhedrin trial setting

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

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

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

2. The Speech in relation to the charges against Stephen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. The View of the Temple in the Speech

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

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

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

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

4. The Speech in the overall Context of Acts

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

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

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

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

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

July 6: Acts 28:25

Acts 28:25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

July 4: Acts 19:1-7

Acts 19:1-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Acts 6:1-8:4, continued

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

Citation from Scripture (vv. 42b-43)

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

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

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

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

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

Exposition and Application (vv. 44-50)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concluding Exhortation (vv. 51-53)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 1: Acts 16:6-7

Acts 16:6-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 29: Acts 13:52; 15:28

Acts 13:52; 15:28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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