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: Romans 1:8-10; 15:30-33

Romans 1:8-10; 15:30-33

In these studies on the references to prayer in the Pauline letters, we turn now to the letter to the Romans, that veritable compendium of Paul’s theology and teaching, in which he touches on virtually every important area of early Christian thought.

By contrast with Galatians (cf. the previous study), Romans follows the epistolary pattern of the Pauline letters, with positive references to prayer, occurring primarily in the introduction (thanksgiving) and closing exhortation sections. As we have seen, such references tend to emphasize two important aspects of Paul’s relationship to the congregations to which he is writing: (1) he prays for them, that they will continue growing in faith and virtue, in response to the Gospel; and (2) that they would pray for him, that he would be strengthened and continue to find success in his mission of proclaiming the Gospel.

Romans 1:8-10

The introduction (exordium) sections of Paul’s letters typically contain a thanksgiving portion, in which he publicly mentions giving thanks to God on behalf of his audience (in this case, the Christians in Rome). The situation in Romans is somewhat different, in that Paul did not play a key missionary (apostolic) role in founding the Christian congregations there. Even so, he addresses them in the thanksgiving section much as he does in the other letters:

“First, I give (thanks) to my God for (His) good favor, through Yeshua (the) Anointed, over all of you, that the news (of) your trust is given (all) around in the whole world.” (v. 8)

The positive prayer-references in the thanksgiving sections tend to be expressed in terms of praise for the faithfulness of his readers, with such praise being intended, in large part, to encourage them to continue acting and behaving in a faithful manner. Also typical is a statement by Paul that he repeatedly makes mention of the believers (and congregations), to whom he is writing, in his prayers to God:

“For God is my witness, to whom I perform service in my spirit in (proclaiming) the good message of His Son, how, without any interruption [a)dialei/ptw$], I make mention of you always, upon [i.e. at/during] my (time)s of speaking out toward (God)” (v. 9)

The noun proseuxh/ is, of course, the common noun for prayer (rel. to the verb proseu/xomai, “speak out toward [God]”), while the adverb a)dialei/ptw$ (“without any gap throughout”, i.e., without interruption, without ceasing) was used by Paul, in a similar context, in 1 Thessalonians (1:2; 2:13; 5:17). The focus of Paul’s prayers regarding the Roman Christians is unique, and reflects the fact that he was not a founding missionary (apostle) of those congregations. As verse 10 makes clear, Paul prays to God for the opportunity to visit those congregations in Rome, seeing them for the first time:

“…making request if, (some)how, sometime now I will be set well on the way, in [i.e. by] the wish of God, to come to you. For I long to see you…”

Even though Paul does not hold the same position (as an apostle) to the Roman Christians, he still wishes to extend to them something of that ministry, giving forth to them as well a “spiritual gift” (xa/risma pneumatiko/n). There is a special kind of poignancy in the humble way Paul states this wish of his in Romans.

Romans 15:30-33

At the close of the letter, Paul mentions again his desire to come to Rome, framing it in the wider context of his missionary work (15:22-29). A visit to Rome would, in his mind, be a fitting climax to his missionary labors (throughout much of the Roman empire). He mentions it specifically in connection with his intended journey to Jerusalem (vv. 25-26ff), to deliver the money for the poor that he has been collecting, through a major relief effort, among the churches of Greece and Macedonia (2 Cor 8-9, etc). This mission to Jerusalem informs Paul’s wider teaching on Jewish-Gentile unity throughout the body of the letter, and there can be no question that he saw the ‘collection for the saints’ as a concrete and symbolic expression of that unity. Once Paul has delivered the money, on his way for a possible missionary journey into Spain, he plans to stop at Rome to visit the Christians there (v. 28). Because of the significance (and spiritual value) of his relief effort, Paul is confident that he (and his fellow missionaries) will receive a special blessing on their way to Rome (v. 29).

In verse 30, Paul asks the Christians in Rome to pray for him regarding this journey:

“I call you alongside, [brothers,] through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, and through the love of the Spirit, to struggle together with me in (your moment)s of speaking out toward God over me.”

His wording echoes that of 1:9 earlier (cf. above), only instead of his prayers to God (on behalf of the Romans), he asks for their prayers on his behalf. Even though Paul does not share the same kind of apostolic relationship with the Romans that he does with other Christians elsewhere the Empire, he and they still share the basic bond of unity as believers, which he expresses as twofold: (1) “through our Lord Jesus Christ”, and (2) “through the love of the Spirit”. On the important association of love and the Spirit, cf. 5:5 and the ethical teaching in 12:9-10; 13:8-10; 14:15 (in light of Gal 5:6, 13-15, 16ff).

Paul makes use of a rare compound verb (used only here in the New Testament), sunagwni/zomai, “struggle together with”. It expresses an important aspect of the role of prayer in missionary work. Believers across a wide geographic area (even around the entire world) are united together with missionaries, at a spiritual level, through prayer. Even when not physically present on the mission field, those praying labor together with the missionaries, and play no less an active and vital role in the work. Paul realized this keenly, and it is an important part of why he frames the prayer-references in his letters as he does (cf. above).

Believers praying to God contribute, in a real sense, to God’s response in aiding and helping the missionaries (in this case, Paul and his co-workers). This is part of a key New Testament teaching (and principle) regarding prayer: when one prays selflessly, for the needs of others (rather than focusing on one’s own needs), such prayer is certain to be answered by God. Paul recognized the danger he faced on his journeys—especially this last journey to Jerusalem (cf. Acts 20:22ff)—and so he calls on the Roman Christians to assist him (and his fellow missionaries) through their prayers:

“…that I might be rescued from the (one)s being without trust in Yehudah, and (that) my service to Yerushalaim would come to be well-received by the holy (one)s” (v. 31)

A successful completion of this mission will result in the opportunity for him to travel to Rome in joy and blessing (v. 32). As it happened, Paul’s journey to Rome turned out much different than he might have imagined, yet his prayer-wish was fulfilled, and he was able to visit the Christians in Rome, and to impart from his inspired gifts and experience, teaching and encouragement to them (Acts 28:15, 30-31).

Notes on Prayer: 2 Corinthians 1:10-11; 9:12-15; 13:7-9

As we continue in these Notes on Prayer for the Fall season, examining prayer in the letters of Paul, we now turn to the references in 2 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 1:10-11; 9:12-15; 13:7-9

There are three main references to prayer in 2 Corinthians, indicated by the heading above. Paul typically reserves his prayer-references to the introductory (thanksgiving) and concluding (exhortation) sections of his letters. This is also true here, though the situation regarding 2 Corinthians is complicated by certain signs, recognized by many commentators, that the 2 Corinthians may be a composite work—comprised of at least two distinct letters (or parts of letters). Perhaps most common among New Testament scholars is the recognition of 10:1-13:10 as representing a separate and distinct letter (the body of the letter), though some would also view chaps. 8-9 as stemming from a separate letter, and there are other more complex scenarios involving multiple letter-sources (not to mention the thorny question surrounding 6:14-7:1).

Fortunately, these critical theories regarding the composition, structure, and integrity of 2 Corinthians are only marginally relevant to our study on Paul’s references to prayer.

The first reference, in 1:10-11, comes at the close of the introduction (1:3-11), and is typical of the thanksgiving context we saw, for example, in the Thessalonian letters. There is a two-fold emphasis to Paul’s prayer references in this context: (1) the close relationship between Paul and the congregations, and (2) the success of his continued missionary work. In terms of both of these points of emphasis, there is a mutual duty of prayer, between Paul and the congregations.

On the one hand, he prays for them, that they will continue to respond to the Gospel (growing and becoming stronger in faith and virtue), even as they first responded in faith to the message proclaimed by him. And, on the other hand, they are to pray for him, that he will continue to be strengthened and protected in his missionary work of proclaiming the Gospel. It is the second aspect that is emphasized here in the introduction to 2 Corinthians—namely, his request that the Corinthian congregations continue to pray for him:

“…God, the (One) raising the dead, who, out of such a great death (also) rescued us, and will (continue to) rescue, in whom we have hoped [that] even yet He will rescue (us), indeed (with) your working together over us by making (urgent) request [deh/si$] (to God), that, out of many faces, (for) the favor (shown) to us, (and) through many, thanks may be given for (this) favor over us.”

These verses are part of a typically long and grammatically complex sentence by Paul, such as we often find in the introductions to his letters. The thrust in verse 11 is on how the Corinthians believers, through their prayers, “work together” (vb sunupourge/w) with God to protect and rescue Paul in his time of need. It is also a sign of unity that they work together with each other—a unity reflected by the bond of prayer. Paul believes that the prayers by the congregations, on his behalf, play an important role in God’s saving and protecting work.

The noun used here for prayer is deh/si$, which denotes a request made (to God) for a particular need. Here, believers pray, not for their own needs, but for the needs of others—in this case, Paul and his fellow missionaries (“over us,” u(pe\r h(mw=n). It is this selfless and sacrificial quality that makes such prayers both efficacious (meaning God will answer) and meritorious (they result in reward/blessing for the one praying). The sense of blessing is indicated by the verb eu)xariste/w, which often is used for giving thanks to God for the “good favor” (eu) + xari$) that He shows; however, here, the emphasis is just as much on the favor that believers show to Paul by praying to God over him. Thus, as a result, the thanks for this favor falls upon the praying believers (as a blessing).

A similar sort of idea is expressed at the conclusion of chapter 9 (vv. 11-15), even though the focus of the passage is somewhat different. The focus in chapters 8-9 is on the ‘collection for the saints’, Paul’s fundraising campaign to provide much needed relief for the poor and suffering Christians in Judea. Paul mentions this campaign a number of times in his letters—and especially in 1 and 2 Corinthians. It was an important part of his missionary work, and one that was close to his heart, organized throughout all of the territorial congregations that he had helped to found. At the end of Romans (15:31), he mentions how he is taking this relief money to Jerusalem, indicating that the fundraising effort has been completed; but here in 2 Corinthians, it is still in progress.

As with the prayers for Paul by the Corinthians, their generosity in giving money to the relief campaign will result in blessing:

“In every (way) you are being enriched for all (this) single (purpose), which works fully through us (to bring) thanks to God (for His) favor, that the service of this work being performed not only is filling up the (thing)s lacking for the holy (one)s, but is also flowing over through many (expression)s of thanks to God (for His) favor.” (vv. 11-12)

The thanks that is given to God falls to the believers, for their selfless generosity, as well. Indeed, other Christians will give thanks and honor to God precisely because of the work that the Corinthians do in this regard (v. 13). Their single-minded willingness to provide for the needs of the Community (the expression a(plo/th$ th=$ koinwni/a$) is a powerful sign of unity among believers, and of faithful obedience to the Gospel of Christ. This leads other Christians to pray for them, just as they prayed for Paul in his ministry work (cf. above):

“…and (by) their urgent request [deh/si$] (to God) over you, (they are) longing upon you, through the overcasting favor of God upon you.” (v. 14)

Paul’s syntax here is a bit complex and contorted, but the logic of his statement is relatively simple:

    • Their prayers to God over your needs are a sign that they are longing for you (vb e)pipoqe/w)
    • At the same time, the act of praying only serves to increase and intensify this longing
    • This longing over the Corinthians mirrors the favor that God Himself spreads out over (vb u(perba/llw, “cast over”) the Corinthians, and the two actions—longing over (with prayer) and spreading over (with favor)—are related. As noted above, the fervent prayers of believers, for the needs of others, is tied to God’s response, working in tandem with it.

Indeed, it is, in large part, because of the generosity of the Corinthian believers, that Paul can proclaim: “Thanks to God for (his) favor, upon His indescribable gift!” (v. 15)

The final reference to prayer in 2 Corinthians is found at 13:7-9, the close of a major division of the letter (10:1-13:10) that is thought by many commentators to be so different (from the remainder of 2 Corinthians) as to stem from a separate letter entirely. Certainly, the tone and focus is very different in these chapters. The positive and exhortational emphasis gives way to a vigorous and harsh polemic. For commentators who would defend the unity of 2 Corinthians, it is difficult to explain just how chaps. 10-13 relate to the rest of the letter.

Paul’s harsh words in chaps. 10-13 are directed primarily against certain influential missionaries or church leaders whom he disparagingly (and sarcastically) refers to as people “much above (the other) apostles” (u(perli/an a)posto/lwn), 11:5; 12:11; elsewhere he calls them “false apostles” (11:13). Though Paul does not provide us with much specific detail, it appears that he regarded these people as opponents or rivals who were usurping his apostolic authority at Corinth, exerting an undue and negative influence on the Corinthian congregations. He also offers a stern rebuke to the Corinthians themselves for allowing themselves to be led astray by these ‘super-apostles’.

As part of the warning he gives in 12:14ff, Paul also mentions immoral and unworthy behavior among the Corinthians (vv. 20-21), but it is not entirely clear how this might relate to the influence of the ‘super-apostles’. It may simply be mentioned as a way of adding to the rebuke—i.e., not only have the Corinthians turned away from Paul (in favor of other leaders), but, at the same time, they have allowed immorality to take root within the congregations.

Paul repeats much the same warning in the closing section (13:1-10), mentioning again instances of blatant sinning among the Corinthians. It is in this context that we find the reference to prayer (vv. 7-9); and here the focus of prayer is on the restoration of unity within the Corinthian congregations, and between Paul and the Corinthians. This restoration will only be possible if the Corinthians examine themselves and repent of any misconduct or attitudes that have damaged the bond of unity among them (verse 5). His prayer for the Corinthians is that the relationship will be restored and that their behavior will be reformed:

“But we speak out toward God (for) you not to do anything bad–not (so) that we would shine forth as accepted (by God), but (so) that you would do the beautiful (thing), even (if) we might be (seen) as without acceptance.” (v. 7)

Here the expression for prayer is the verb eu&xomai + pro$, equivalent to the compound verb proseu/xomai (“speak out toward [God]”) that is regularly used to express the idea of prayer. Paul makes clear that his desire for them to do good (“the beautiful [kalo/$] thing”), and to avoid evil (“anything bad [kako/$]”), is for their own sake, and for the sake of truth (v. 8), regardless of how it makes himself look. This selfless (and sacrificial) mindset represents prayer in it purest form, expressed by Paul most poignantly in verse 9:

“For we rejoice when we should be without strength, but (when) you should be powerful; and (indeed) this (is what) we speak out (to God for): your being made fit.”

The noun kata/rtisi$ is difficult to translate concisely; the related verb (katarti/zw) means something like “make completely fit, put (completely) in order”. Here it is related to the idea of the Corinthians being “powerful” (dunato/$). Paul would rather give of himself and become weak (“be without strength,” vb a)sqene/w) if it meant that the Corinthians would become strong. This strength can only be achieved through turning away from sin (repentance) and the restoration of unity within the congregation. This, indeed, is the focus of Paul’s prayer. As noted above, such selfless prayer, praying for the needs of the others (rather than one’s own needs) is assured of being answered by God, and will result in much joy and blessing.

 

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.

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.

 

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.

The Speeches of Acts, Part 22: Acts 19:23-41

The previous articles of this series covered the speeches in the book of Acts, through the Areopagus Speech of Paul in Acts 17 (cf. Parts 20 & 21). I will now be examining the remaining speeches in the book, which may be outlined as:

    • The twin speeches of Demetrius and the Ephesian official (19:23-41)
    • Paul’s address to the Elders of Ephesus/Asia (20:17-38)
    • Paul’s address to the people upon his arrest in Jerusalem (21:37-22:21ff)
    • The speeches of Tertullus and Paul before Felix (24:1-21)
    • Paul’s speech before Agrippa (26:1-29ff)
    • Paul’s address to Jews in Rome (28:23-28)

This article will deal with the first of these—the twin speeches (both by non-Christians) in chapter 19. Before preceding, it may be worth reminding the reader of the basic sermon-speech pattern I am utilizing, and which can be discerned (with some variation) in most, if not all, of the speeches in Acts:

    • Narrative introduction—this may be a simple introduction or include an extended narrative
    • The speech itself:
      • Introductory address, often with kerygmatic elements, leading into the Scripture passage
      • Citation from Scripture
      • Exposition and Gospel kerygma
      • Concluding exhortation
    • Narrative summary

Acts 19:23-41

Chapter 19 records Paul’s missionary work in Ephesus, chief city of Roman Asia. Within the overall narrative of Acts, this work in Ephesus represents the climactic point of Paul’s missionary journeys in the Greco-Roman world. Beginning with chapter 20, the arc of the narrative shifts to his return to Jerusalem, arrest, and (final) journey to Rome. There are actually four main episodes in this Ephesian section of the missionary narratives, which I outline (in two parts) 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

The two speeches are part of this last section, describing/illustrating the effect of Paul’s mission work on the (pagan) population of Ephesus (and the surrounding area). In tone and subject matter, it resembles the earlier episode in Philippi (16:16-24ff), in which the Gospel preaching of Paul and his fellow missionaries (Silas) had a negative (commercial) impact on the religious culture of the city (vv. 16, 19), provoking a hostile response (vv. 19ff). The Ephesian episode is all the more striking in that Paul himself scarcely appears in it at all (vv. 29b-30), and says nothing. The speeches are made by non-Christians, and reflect two different aspects of the pagan response. The only other speech by a non-believer that is at all comparable is that of Gamaliel in 5:34-40 (discussed in Part 8); indeed, as we shall see, there are definite parallels between that speech and the one given by the Ephesian official in 19:35-40.

Here is an outline of the passage as a whole:

    • Introduction—v. 23
    • Speech #1 (Demetrius)—vv. 24-27
    • Response: “Great is Artemis…” —vv. 28-34
      • Outcry 1 (v. 28)
        • Chaos/Confusion (vv. 29-33), affecting:
          —Paul & his Disciples
          —Alexander & his fellow Jews
          neither is able to speak and address the crowd
      • Outcry 2 (v. 34)
    • Speech #2 (Ephesian official)—vv. 35-40a
    • Conclusion—v. 40b

We can see how the two speeches bracket the central scene of tumult and confusion among the people (vv. 28-34)—in this pagan uproar, neither Christian (Paul & his companions) nor Jew (Alexander) is able to do anything about it.

Introduction (verse 23)

This sense of conflict, coming as a result of the Pauline ministry, is expressed clearly in the opening narration, referring to it as disturbance (“stirring”, ta/raxo$) about “the Way” (h( o%do$): “And down (around) th(at) time there came to be no little disturbance about the Way”. For other instances in the book of Acts where the early Christian movement was called “the Way”, cf. 9:2; 19:9; 22:4; 24:14, 22; note also 16:17; 18:25-26. This agitation among the people is to be understood essentially as the result of the dramatic episodes described previously in vv. 11-20; the public burning of expensive pagan (‘magical’) writings, in particular, would have been most striking (v. 19).

First Speech (Demetrius, verses 24-27)

Narrative Introduction (vv. 24-25)

The “disturbance” mentioned in verse 23 is clearly presented by the author as representative of the conflict between early Christianity and the (pagan) religion of the Greco-Roman world (here, Roman Asia). This conflict both defines, and is expressed by, the speech of Demetrius, a “beater/hammerer of silver” (a)rguroko/po$). The significance of this detail must be understood in the light of earlier episodes—in Lystra (14:11-18), Philippi (16:16-21ff), and Athens (17:16-31)—involving pagan deities and their images, etc. Especially important in this regard is the wording used by Paul in his Areopagus speech (17:24), where he contrasts the true God (and Creator of all) with those (pagan) deities thought to dwell in shrines “made by (human) hands” (xeiropoih/to$). A bit later in the speech (v. 29), he contrasts the true God with the images of these other deities, made, for example, of gold and silver (a&rguro$), and carved/marked by human production (te/xnh) and (artistic) impulse. Demetrius is just such an artisan/producer (texni/th$), and addresses a group of his fellow workers in his speech (v. 24-25a):

“For (there was) a certain (man), Belonging-to-Demeter {Demetrios} by name, a beater of silver making silver shrines for Artemis, (who) held alongside for the (other) producers no little work (to profit by), (and) whom he (now) gathered together, and (also) the workers about [i.e. associated with] these (men), (and) said (to them):”

Thus he addresses a significant group of artisans and workers involved in production of images, etc, related to the cult of Artemis—a major industry in Ephesus and Roman Asia.

Address (v. 25b)

According to the speech-pattern in Acts, the introductory address typically leads into a central citation from Scripture. Clearly, this would not be part of the speech by a (pagan) non-believer such as Demetrius, and there is nothing corresponding to it. Even so, the address, follows the pattern of earlier speeches, beginning with the vocative a&ndre$ (“Men…”, cf. 2:5, 14, 22, 29; 3:12; 5:35, et al.). The principal statement of his address defines the situation more clearly:

“Men, you (may) stand (your mind) upon (it) [i.e. understand], that out of this work is our good way (of liv)ing”

As in the episode at Philippi (16:16, 19), the early Christian mission in the Greco-Roman world has (or may have) a detrimental economic effect on segments of society dependent upon the pagan religious culture. The response of these artisans is practical, rather than purely based on religious concerns.

Exposition and ‘Kerygma’ (v. 26)

Instead of the Christian kerygma, or gospel proclamation, of the sermon-speech pattern (see above), here we have a description or characterization of it from a hostile (pagan) standpoint:

“and you (can) look upon (it) and hear (it), that not only (in) Efesos, but (in) nearly all of Asia (has) this Paulus been persuading an ample throng (of people), and made (them) stand over (with him), saying that ‘they are not gods’ th(ese thing)s coming to be (made) through (our) hands!”

The expression “this [ou!to$] Paulus” and the verb pei/qw (“persuade”), in particular, echo and summarize the proclamation (kerygma) of the Gospel as the central activity and purpose of the Pauline mission. The phrase “coming to be (made) through (our) hands” (dia\ xeirw=n gino/menoi) again reflects the important wording in 17:24-25 (also 7:41, 48; cf. above), and the contrast between the true God (proclaimed by early Christians) and the images/temples of the pagan ‘deities’.

Exhortation (implied, v. 27)

This is a different sort of exhortation than what we find in the sermon-speeches by Christians; rather, it is intended to spur the people (Demetrius’ fellow artisans) to take action in response to Paul’s missionary work. The urgency to act is indicated by the verb kinduneu/w (“be in danger/peril”):

“And not only this, our portion (in this work) is in danger (of) coming into (complete) disgrace, but also the sacred place of the great goddess Artemis being counted unto [i.e. as] nothing, and even the greatness of her whom the whole (of) Asia and the inhabited (world) reveres (may) be about to be taken down!”

The Greek deity Artemis (syncretized with Roman Diana) was the chief deity worshiped in Ephesus, reflecting a high Goddess conception that likely stretches back into the Anatolian Bronze Age and Neolithic period. Her lavish cult—including temples, festivals, images, processions, and celebrations of various sorts—in Ephesus and the surrounding region was well known, and certainly a source of both economic activity and civic pride for the city. Thus, Demetrius’ warning stems from more than just a concern for the livelihood of his fellow artisans—the early Christian mission threatens the very existence of the religious culture that defines and governs the city. The three clauses show this progression of “danger”:

    • production of images and shrines will come into disrepute
    • the great sacred place (temple) of Artemis itself will be counted as nothing
    • the greatness of the goddess Artemis herself will be diminished

This effectively serves to summarize the entire Greco-Roman religious establishment: (1) images and popular devotion, (2) temple and cult/priesthood, and (3) the conception/recognition of the deity.

Response by the Crowd (verses 28-34)

In the structure of the narrative, the response by Demetrius’ audience (fellow artisan/workers) is apparently picked up more widely by the crowds, spreading through the city (v. 29a). This results in an extended scene of confusion and chaos, moving from Demetrius’ audience to a crowd of thousands filling the great theater of Ephesus (v. 29b). The scene is framed by the people/crowds shouting “Great (is) Artemis of the Ephesians!” (mega/lh h(  &Artemi$  )Efesi/wn, vv. 28, 34). This represents the voice of the pagan world rising up in response (opposition) to the early Christian (Pauline) mission. Note the clear structure of this section:

    • Outcry 1: “Great (is) Artemis of the Ephesians” (v. 28)
    • Chaos/Confusion among the People—in the city and the theater (vv. 29-33)
      • Confusion in the city (vv. 29-31): Paul & his companions
      • Confusion in the theater (vv. 32-33): Alexander & his fellow Jews
    • Outcry 2: “Great (is) Artemis of the Ephesians” (v. 34)

The presence of Paul and Alexander (an otherwise unknown Jew in Ephesus) in the middle of this scene is curious—why are they mentioned when they do not feature in what follows, and are not even able to speak or address the crowd? In particular, one would expect Paul to have a more prominent role in the narrative here. One critical view would be that, in the original Ephesian tradition underlying vv. 23-41, Paul really did not feature at all, but was introduced (only to suddenly disappear) in vv. 29-30 in order to integrate the episode within the wider setting of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. It may also simply be that, at the historical level, Paul was not able to participate in the proceedings. However, the careful structure suggests a literary shaping with a clear (and most interesting) purpose: to illustrate the power of the pagan religious culture of the Greco-Roman world, which threatens both Christianity (Paul & his companions) and Judaism (Alexander & fellow Jews). The unified voice of the Ephesian crowd (with their confession of Artemis) serves as a intentional contrast to the unity of early Christians with their proclamation of Jesus and the one true God (YHWH). The word o(moqumado/n (“[with] one impulse”), describing the crowd in v. 29, was used repeatedly to describe the early Christian community in Jerusalem (1:14; 2:46; 4:24; 5:12). Only here, the unified response of the (pagan) crowd results in confusion and violent action:

“And the city was full of the pouring together [sugxu/sew$] (of people), and they rushed [w%rmhsan] with one impulse [o(moqumado/n] into the place of (public) viewing [i.e. theater], (hav)ing seized hold of [sunarpa/sante$] Gaius and Aristarchos together…” (v. 29)

Their action is similar to that of the Jewish crowd that rushed [w%rmhsan] upon Stephen with one impulse [o(moqumadon] (7:57); the parallel between Jewish and Pagan hostility to Christianity is strengthened when we consider the similarity between the speech in vv. 35ff and that of Gamaliel (cf. below). The structure of the narrative in vv. 29ff is more precise than a casual reading might suggest:

    • Confusion in the city (v. 29a)
      • Paul’s companions [Gaius & Aristarchos] (v. 29b)
        • Paul comes forward to address the crowd, but is prevented (v. 30)
          • Presence of the Ephesians officials [Asiarchs] (v. 31)
    • Confusion in the theater (v. 32)
      • Jews in the crowd [companions of Alexander] (v. 33a)
        • Alexander comes forward to address the crowd, and is prevented (v. 33b-34a)
          • Presence of an Ephesian official (v. 35)

The first Ephesian officials are called by the title  )Asia/rxh$ (“chief of Asia”), which can be understood in several ways. The simplest explanation is that it refers to a person who belonged to the public assembly for the Roman province of Asia, which met regularly in Ephesus. It is said here that several of these men, present in the city, were friendly toward Paul (lit. “[one]s fond of [him]”, fi/loi); and it is they who ultimately persuade him not to attempt to enter the theatre (v. 31). The second Ephesian official is referred to by the term grammateu/$ (“writer”), indicating, in particular, someone with a good understanding of the written law. It is he who addresses the crowd (in the theater), with the second speech.

Second Speech (verses 35-41)

Narrative Introduction & Address (vv. 35-36)

The brief narrative introduction (v. 35a) simply states that this literate official (grammateu/$) “set(tled) down” (vb. kataste/llw) the crowd. It was neither Paul (a Christian) or Alexander (a Jew) who quiets the crowd, but a thoughtful and reasonable pagan; this point is significant, and will be touched on below. The address (vv. 35b-36) begins just as in the first speech, with a vocative a&ndre$ (“Men…”, cf. above):

“Men, Efesians, what (person) is (there) of (you) men that does not know the city of the Efesians (as) being (the) shrine-sweeper of the great Artemis and of th(at which) fell from (the realm of) Dis? So (then), these (thing)s being without (any) utterance against (them), it is necessary for you to begin (to be) settled down, and to act (doing) nothing falling forward.”

The formal (and technical) language here sounds rather awkward when rendered literally, as I have done. By speaking of what the people know, this official is utilizing a well-known rhetorical technique intended to assuage the audience (captatio benevolentiae, “capture of good will”), as well as to establish a point of agreement upon which to build. The word newko/ro$, lit. “shrine sweeper”, means someone who takes care of a religious shrine, and refers to Ephesus as the location of the great temple of Artemis. The adjective diopeth/$, literally means something which “fell from (the realm) of Zeus [Di$]”, but as an idiom simply “fallen from the sky“. It probably refers to a meteorite which took on sacred status as a divine image/manifestation (of Artemis). The purpose of this reaffirmation of the Artemis cult in Ephesus is to convince the people that, contrary to Demetrius’ warnings, there is no real threat to it at present. Therefore, they ought to settle down and not take any rash action (indicated by the adjective propeth/$, “falling/stumbling forward”).

The reference to the Artemis cult, etc, in verse 35 functions as a citation from history, essentially taking the place of the citation from Scripture in the sermon-speech pattern (see above). It is worth comparing with the speech of Gamaliel in Acts 5:35-40 (Part 8 of this series), for which I have given the following outline:

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

Exposition / ‘Kerygma’ (v. 37)

As in the speech of Demetrius, there is no Gospel proclamation (kerygma) as such, but, rather, a reference to the preaching/missionary activity of Paul and his colleagues. Only, the description here is presented in a more positive light, regarding the conduct of these Christians:

“For you brought these men (forward), and (yet they are) not strippers [i.e. robbers] of sacred (places), and are not insulting our Deity.”

This statement affirms the prior notice that Paul and his associates pose no threat to the Artemis cult, in the sense that they are not acting violently against the sacred things/places, nor are they speaking abusively against the goddess herself. This is an important emphasis, one made repeatedly in the book of Acts: that the Christian Community and its missionaries do not constitute a danger to the order of society, neither in the Jewish nor Greco-Roman world. Here it is entirely the latter (Greco-Roman), since the Jews (Alexander and his fellows) are isolated and play no role in the scene; the hostile crowd, for the first time in the Acts narratives, is entirely pagan.

Exhortation (vv. 38-40)

The advice given by the Ephesian official to the crowd is similar to that given by Gamaliel (5:38-39) to his fellow Jews—they should take care how they act toward these Christians. Being a grammateu/$, he naturally makes a point of following the (written) law, rather than resorting to exacting justice through mob violence. There is an established public (a)gorai=o$) forum for resolving disputes, and there are government officials presiding over them—note the use of the term a)nqu/pato$ here, which could also refer to the highest official, the Roman proconsul (Asia being a senatorial province). The importance of following the law is stated most clearly in verse 39:

“And if you seek (any) further (action) on (this), resolution about (it) will be (made) in the law(ful) assembly [e)kklhsi/a].”

There is, of course, a play on words here—e)kklhsi/a, lit. those “called out” to assemble, which elsewhere is typically used for the gatherings of believers. There is another play on words in v. 40, where the official uses the same verb (kinduneu/w, “be in danger”) as Demetrius did in his speech. The irony is that, while there is no danger to society from the Christian mission, the people are in peril by their own hostile/violent reaction to it; indeed, the crowd’s uproar represents the real danger to the city. They are warned that, if they act rashly, they will be called to give account (lo/go$) for it before the authorities, much as Gamaliel warns his fellow Jews that they will be held responsible by God.

Narrative Conclusion (v. 41)

The brief conclusion to the speech, which also serves as the conclusion to the entire Ephesus narrative, is parallel to the opening:

“And having settled down the crowd, the grammateu/$ said…”
“And having said these (thing)s, he released the assembly.”

Again, the word e)kklhsi/a is used (here translated “assembly”), parallel with o&xlo$ (“throng [of people], crowd”). Also the official’s speech governs the twin actions, showing its effect in calming the people and resolving the conflict:

    • kataste/llw (“set(tle) down”)—even before he speaks, the presence of this official settles and quiets the crowd
    • a)polu/w (“loose[n] from”)—in context this verb can mean that the official, after his speech, dismisses or “releases” the crowd; however, the literal sense may be at work as well: through his speech, he has “loosed” the people from their hostile intent (toward Paul)

What is most remarkable about this episode is that it is not Paul (nor any other Christian) who calms the crowd and resolves the conflict through his speech, but a pagan city official! The attention the author gives to this is surely significant in the context of his overall narrative. Again, the parallel with Gamaliel is important to note. Gamaliel is a leading Jewish official who, speaking in a reasoned manner, advises the people not to act rashly, implying that the Christians may not pose any real threat to the order and good of society. Now, a leading pagan (Roman/Asian) official does much the same, even more pointedly, from the standpoint of Roman (provincial) society, emphasizing that Paul and his associates have neither broken any laws nor acted abusively even towards the pagan religious culture of the city. We may, perhaps, draw two (practical) conclusions from these thematic strands in the book of Acts:

    • Christians act, and are to act, in a responsible and lawful way within society, and that
    • Societal change (including change of religious views) is to come about through the preaching/proclamation of the Gospel, and not through fomenting social unrest and violence; indeed, such unrest is fundamentally anti-Christian, i.e. hostile to the Gospel, as indicated in this very episode.