June 1: Acts 28:31

The Note of the Day feature returns this summer beginning here in the month of June.

For the first daily note, I would like to look at the final word of the Book of Acts (28:31), which is also the final word of the two-volume work of Luke-Acts as a whole. This verse summarizes the missionary activity of the early believers—particularly Paul, whose missionary journeys climax with his arrival (under house arrest) in Rome. In this notice, the missionary work is described as consisting primarily of “proclaiming the Kingdom of God”. In this regard, the early Christian mission is a continuation of the disciples’ first mission (Lk 9:1-6; 10:1-12ff; see esp. 9:2, 60; 10:9, 11), which, in turn, is an extension of Jesus’ own mission (4:43; 8:1; 11:20). The disciples and early believers thus function as representatives of Jesus, performing his work and acting with his authority. In this same way, all believers, to varying degrees, are to serve as a)po/stoloi—those “sent forth” in his name, as his representatives, to proclaim the Kingdom.

The statement in Acts 28:31 also makes clear that proclaiming the Kingdom is essentially synonymous with proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. In particular, note the parallel wording between 28:31 and 1:3, at the very beginning of Acts:

    • “the (thing)s about [ta\ peri/] the kingdom of God” (1:3)
    • “the (thing)s about [ta\ peri/] the Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed”, in tandem with “the kingdom of God” (28:31)

By proclaiming and teaching about Jesus Christ, the disciples/believers are proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and working to establish it on earth. For this Lukan understanding of the Kingdom, see my recent study on Acts 1:6ff. In Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question about the coming of the Kingdom, their eschatological expectation is given a thorough re-interpretation, effectively defining the Kingdom (and its coming) according to two central themes:

    • the coming the Spirit upon believers (v. 8a), and
    • the proclamation of the Gospel (v. 8b)

This dual aspect of the Kingdom-theme is developed and expounded throughout the entire narrative of Acts, culminating with Paul’s activity in Rome. Here is that summary statement in 28:31:

“…proclaiming the kingdom of God, and teaching the (thing)s about the Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, with all outspokenness [parrhsi/a]…”

But then, a final word is added—the adverb a)kwlu/tw$. This word is a bit difficult to translate. The prefix a)– is privative, meaning “without”. The base adverb kwlutw$ is derived from the verb kwlu/w which essentially means “cut short, curtail” (cf. ko/lo$). The verb can take on the more general active meaning “cut off, block, hinder”, with the privative adverb having the comparable meaning “without hindrance, unimpeded”. The adverb a)kwlu/tw$ is relatively rare, occurring only here in the New Testament; nor does it occur in the LXX, with the related adjective (a)kw/luto$) only used once (in Wisdom 7:23).

The occurrence of a)kwlu/tw$ at the end of the verse, indicates that it has an emphatic position. Indeed, there is doubtless considerable significance for the author in having this word close the narrative of Acts (and Luke-Acts as a whole). It brings the work to a close on a victorious note, indicating that, even under house arrest, Paul’s missionary work was continuing unimpeded, “without (any) hindrance”. The Lukan author was presumably aware of Paul’s subsequent imprisonment (and death), and yet the author chose to end the account of the early Christian mission here, at this point. Paul’s martyrdom surely would have provided a poignant and powerful conclusion to the human drama; however, the author has chosen to focus on the success of the mission, rather than the fate of the missionary.

In another sense, the closing word of Acts serves as an ideal for believers throughout the generations, and a goal for which we, as Christians, should fervently pray—namely, that the proclamation of the Gospel would proceed and continue “without hindrance”. While recognizing that believers, in whatever ways they/we are serving as missionaries, will face opposition and persecution, we may still ask of God that obstacles and impediments be removed, so that people everywhere may hear and respond to the good message (eu)agge/lion) of Jesus Christ.

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Acts 1:3, 6)

“May your Kingdom come!”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

The Lukan handling of the Kingdom-theme, including the specific idea of the coming of the Kingdom of God, finds its ultimate realization in the Book of Acts. This is true, even though explicit references to the Kingdom are relatively rare. The entire narrative of Acts, from its introduction (1:1-5ff) to the closing words (28:31), reflects the author’s understanding of the Kingdom.

We can see this in the introduction, or prologue, to the work (1:1-5), a long and complex sentence which effectively summarizes the Gospel and transitions to the opening of the Acts narrative (in 1:6ff). The sentence moves from the author’s words (to Theophilus, v. 1) to Jesus’ own words (v. 5), directly addressing his disciples regarding a central theme of the book—the coming of the Holy Spirit. At the heart of the introductory sentence, is the author’s notice regarding the time Jesus’ spent with his disciples after his resurrection (v. 3). He was seen by them regularly over a period of forty days, during which time he would speak to them of “the (thing)s about the kingdom of God” (ta\ peri\ th=$ boulei/a$ tou= qeou=).

As was discussed in recent studies, the Gospel writer presents the period of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem (9:51-18:31) as a time of extensive teaching by Jesus, as he prepares his followers for what was to come in Jerusalem. At the same time, they were being prepared for the early Christian mission—the subject of the book of Acts, anticipated and prefigured at a number of points in the Gospel (most notably, the mission of the seventy[-two] disciples in 10:1-12ff). The period of instruction included a significant amount of teaching regarding the Kingdom of God—a fitting subject for instruction, given that proclamation of the Kingdom (and its coming) was central to the disciples’ mission (9:2, 60; 10:9, 11). In this regard, the disciples were simply continuing (and extending) Jesus’ own mission (4:43; 8:1).

According to the Lukan author, the Kingdom of God was also the focus of Jesus’ teaching during the forty days of his post-resurrection period with the disciples. Again, this teaching is in preparation for the coming mission. The early Christian mission is anticipated by Jesus’ words in verse 5, echoing the declaration by John the Baptist (3:16 par) and applying it directly to the disciples in the present. The promise is that the Holy Spirit would soon come upon them, immersing them with its presence and power, after which the disciples would be empowered to embark on their mission.

The narrative proper begins in vv. 6-8. Immediately preceding Jesus’ departure (ascension) into heaven (vv. 9-11), he gives one final bit of teaching to his disciples. Again, the teaching is in regard to the Kingdom of God, and it offers us important insight as to how the Kingdom is defined in Luke-Acts. Jesus’ words are prompted by a question from his disciples:

“in [i.e. at] this time are you (going to) re-establish the kingdom for Yisrael?” (v. 6)

The compound verb a)pokaqi/sthmi is somewhat difficult to translate. The basic meaning is “set down from”, specifically, set something down from what (or where) it was before—i.e., restore, re-establish. The Israelite kingdom that was lost (following the Exile) was expected to be restored at the end-time, in the Messianic Age. This was an important component of Jewish eschatological (and Messianic) expectation during the first centuries B.C./A.D. It is reflected in the crowds’ acclamation of Jesus at his entry into Jerusalem (19:38 par), being anticipated by the earlier notice in 19:11 (cf. 2:25, 38; 17:20; 23:51).

The disciples’ question suggests that they still understood the Kingdom in similar socio-political terms. As the Messiah, Jesus was expected to establish the Kingdom on earth, as a restoration (in the New Age) of the old Israelite kingdom. In the Gospel, the author radically reinterprets this expectation regarding the Kingdom. To a large extent, this reinterpretation of Jesus’ Kingship (and identity as the royal/Davidic Messiah) follows the Synoptic Tradition, as we discussed at length in recent studies. However, the Lukan author goes somewhat further in re-framing Jesus’ Kingship—and thus, also the Kingdom of God—in particular, through the important twin themes of (a) the proclamation of the Gospel, and (b) the coming of the Spirit.

While not entirely denying the validity of the disciples’ question, Jesus fundamentally redirects it (v. 7f), much as he does with the question regarding the Kingdom in 17:20-21 (cf. the earlier study on this passage). Ultimately, he presents his disciples with a very different understanding of the Kingdom (v. 8), defined in terms of the central (Lukan) themes mentioned above:

    1. the coming of the Spirit
      “but you shall receive power, (with) the holy Spirit (hav)ing come upon you…”
    2. the proclamation of the Gospel
      “…and you shall be my witnesses, both in Yerushalaim and in all Yehudah and Shomeron, and (even) unto the last (part) of the earth.”

This is how the Lukan author presents the Kingdom-theme, as the theme unfolds throughout the book of Acts. The Kingdom comes, and is established on earth, as believers proclaim the Gospel, and through the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit.

As far as other explicit references to the Kingdom in the book of Acts, they generally follow the earlier references to the mission of the disciples (see above), and the central focus of that mission—viz., the proclamation of the Kingdom. The early Christian missionaries are engaged in a similar activity. Only proclamation of the Kingdom now means, precisely, the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. The first such reference to the Kingdom, in this context, is 8:12; later on, it is used on occasion to characterize the missionary activity of Paul (19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31; cf. also 14:22).

The book of Acts concludes, much as it began (see above), with an essential reference to the Kingdom (28:31). It summarizes Paul’s missionary work (in Rome), and, by extension, the entire early Christian mission narrated in Acts:

“proclaiming the kingdom of God, and teaching the (thing)s about the Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, with all outspokenness [parrhsi/a]…”

Note the parallel with the earlier expression “the (thing)s about [ta\ peri/] the kingdom of God” (1:3, see above). Here we have “the (thing)s about the Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed”, in tandem with “the kingdom of God”. This further confirms that, in Luke-Acts, proclaiming the Kingdom is virtually synonymous with proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. It is a mission that continues to the present day; as believers proclaim the Gospel, the Kingdom of God is established on earth, thus fulfilling the petition from the Lord’s Prayer.

In the next few studies, we will turn our attention to the Gospel of Matthew, and the Kingdom-petition of the Lord’s Prayer as it is presented and developed within the context of the Matthean Gospel.

Saturday Series: Acts 2:1-13

Acts 2:1-13

In the Pentecost narrative proper (Acts 2:1-13), the author of Acts begins to develop a number of important themes that will carry through the book. These were established in the opening sections, beginning with the prologue (1:1-5, see the prior study), and presented more clearly in the opening narrative of 1:6ff (see last week’s study). Indeed, the central theme of Acts is stated in 1:6-8, with the brief exchange between Jesus and his disciples. Through this exchange, and Jesus’ answer (vv. 7-8) to the disciples’ question (v. 6), the author introduces the idea that the kingdom of God on earth, previously identified with the kingdom of God’s people Israel, is now to be identified with the early Christian mission, realized through two main aspects: (1) the coming of the Holy Spirit on believers (v. 8a), and (2) the proclamation of the Gospel throughout the world (v. 8b).

Continuing this literary-critical study, let us consider how this theme is developed in the Pentecost narrative—the narrative of the sending of the Spirit during Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13), which inaugurates the Christian mission. I divide this section as follows:

    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.

Let us examine each of these in turn.

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

As I did for Acts 1:14 in the previous study, I break out the specific words of this short verse:

    • kaí (“and”)
    • en tœ¡ sumpl¢roústhai (“in the being filled up” [syn as intensive prefix, i.e. “filled completely”]—but here as a temporal clause = “when it was completely filled”)
    • t¢¡n h¢méran t¢¡s pentekost¢¡s (“the Fiftieth day”)
    • ¢¡san (“they [i.e. the Disciples] were”)
    • pántes (“all”—all of them, together)
    • homoú (“as one” or “at one”, i.e., together, the same; see the similar homothymadón [“of one impulse”] in 1:14)
    • epí tó autó (“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., û»mišlam š¹»û±ayy¹°), which is more intelligible]

The “Fiftieth” day (usually transliterated as “Pentecost”), is the festival of Weeks (š¹»¥±ô¾) 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)
    • The sound (lit. “voice”) of a horn (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” rûaµ = Grk pneúma) which swept through and tore at the mountain
    • An earthquake (“quaking”, “shaking” ra±aš)
    • Fire (°¢š)

all of which occur as God (YHWH) is “passing over” (or “passing by” ±œ»¢r), 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 [pno¢¡] 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 [pneúma] 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” [glœ¡ssai hœseí pyrós] anticipating “with other tongues” [hetérais glœ¡ssais] 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 [blšwnwt °š]; 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” (Ioudaíoi) 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 katoikéœ 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” (t¢¡ phœn¢¡), again Jews, symbolized as a specific crowd (pl¢¡thos), “come together” (sunérchomai) in confusion (being “stirred together” [sungchéœ]). 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” (Galilaíoi), 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” (t¢¡ idía dialéktœ h¢mœ¡n, v. 8, see also v. 6) and “in our tongues” (taís h¢metérais glœ¡ssais, 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” [en h¢¡ egenn¢¡th¢men]
      (2) V. 11: “(hear speaking) in our tongues the great (work)s of God” [tá megaleía toú Theoú]
      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, much of the difficulty disappears when its literary nature is recognized, rather than simply being a list rattled off by someone in the crowd. The inclusion of “Judea” has seemed strange (since Jews are speaking, and they are already in Judea!) as well as its position, leading to many suggested 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 (the final two, Cretans and Arabs, don’t fit in order as well) 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 exíst¢mi, lit. “stand out of [one’s mind]” v. 7) and “thoroughly at a loss” (diaporéœ). Their summary response is: tí thélei toúto eínai; (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” (pl¢¡thœ) with the Spirit (v. 4), rather than “filled” (mestóœ, 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)

Saturday Series: Acts 1:6-11ff

The first two chapters of the book of Acts are important for establishing all of the main themes that will be developed throughout the narrative. These sections also illustrate the distinctive way that the author develops the historical traditions related to the early Christian mission. There is thus much to explore in these chapters from a literary-critical and historical-critical standpoint. In this particular study, I will be focusing on the literary-critical aspects.

The role of the Spirit is central to this narrative, beginning with the prologue (see the discussion in last week’s study), and continuing through the Pentecost narrative of chapter 2. In order to gain a proper sense of the way that the themes are established, and the traditions utilized, in the Pentecost narrative, it is most helpful 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)
      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)

Each of sections 1-4 (which make up Acts 1) is important thematically for an understanding of the Pentecost Narrative. Here I summarize some key notes:

Section 1: Lukan Introduction (Acts 1:1-5):

  • The historical summary (vv. 2-4a), we we looked in the previous study, has at its heart the double phrase:
    hoís kaí parést¢sen heautón zœ¡nta metá tó patheín autón en polloís tekm¢ríois, di’ h¢merœ¡n tesserákonta optanómenos autoís kaí légœn tá perí t¢¡s basileías toú theoú
    “…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 dunked in water, but (on the other hand), you will be dunked in the Holy Spirit after not many (of) these days”

Section 2: The Ascension (Acts 1:6-11):

Note again how one can break this passage down chiastically:

    • 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 have discussed it in some detail in earlier notes and articles. One can, I think, outline 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:

Kýrie, ei en tœ¡ chronœ¡ toútœ apokathistáneis t¢¡n basileían tœ¡ Isra¢¡l;
“Lord, in this time will you set down again the kingdom to Israel?”

A more literal rendering of apokathist¢¡nai would indicate setting the Kingdom down from (apó) 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 exousía

The word exousía (from éxestin), 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.

Section 3: Summary narrative (1:12-14):

I have already mentioned a couple of themes found in this short passage; but, to reiterate, in light of the above comments:

    • 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:
      • hoútoi (“these” —the twelve, along with the other disciples)
      • pántes (“all” —that is, all of them, together)
      • ¢¡san proskarteroúntes (“were being strong” [sense of “endurance”, “patience”] “toward” their purpose/goal)
      • homothymadón (“with one impulse” —a key phrase that occurs throughout Acts, cf. 2:46; 4:24, et al. thymós 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”)
      • t¢¡ proseuch¢¡ (“in prayer”)

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

Section 4: The Reconstitution of the Twelve (1:15-26):

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.

This sets the stage for the Pentecost narrative (Acts 2:1-14ff) which I will discuss in detail next week, continuing our literary-critical study of the early chapters of the book of Acts.

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.