Sola Scriptura: Romans 3:10-20; 9:24-29; 15:7-13

Sola Scriptura

Romans 3:10-20; 9:24-29; 15:7-13

As we have discussed in the previous studies in this series (on the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura), the Old Testament Scriptures continued to be authoritative for early Christians, but only in a secondary (not primary) sense. The principal purpose of the Scriptures was to support the Gospel preaching and the identification of Jesus as the Messiah. This was especially important within the context of the earliest mission. In order to convince their fellow Israelites and Jews of the Gospel, it was necessary for the early missionaries to demonstrate, from the Scriptures, that Jesus is the promised Messiah. In particular, the fact of Jesus’ suffering and death was so unusual and problematic for the Messianic identification, that it had to be explained. Moreover, Jesus departed to heaven without ever fulfilling many of things expected of the Messiah. Thus, for the purpose of the mission, it was vital to find every relevant Scripture that would support the Christian view. We can see this as a key point of emphasis throughout the book of Acts (3:18ff; 5:42; 8:26-40; 9:22; 17:2-3, 11; 18:5, 28; 24:14; 26:22ff; 28:23); and, according to the Gospel of Luke (24:25, 27, 32, 44-45ff), the process of locating the relevant Scriptures began with Jesus himself. It is fair to assume that the early missionaries had access to (written) collections of these Scripture references, for use in their preaching and teaching; it is possible that the ‘parchments’ mentioned in 2 Tim 4:13 functioned as a notebook, containing this kind of information.

We have already seen this use of Scripture by early Christians in the context of the apostolic preaching (the sermon-speeches) in the book of Acts (cf. the earlier study, and throughout the series “The Speeches of Acts”). In the longer speeches (i.e., Peter’s Pentecost speech [2:14-41], and Paul’s speech at Antioch [13:16-52]), we find a sequence of Scripture citations applied in support of the Gospel proclamation (kerygma). In several New Testament Writings, these sequences take a more precise and compact form—in a homiletical and literary genre known as a Scripture “chain” (catena), sometimes also referred to as the testimonia (testimonies) genre. In this format, Scripture verses are strung together, according to a common theme, or (more commonly), by way of “catchword-bonding”—that is, associations of verses, which may otherwise be entirely unrelated, based on the presence of shared words or phrases.

The Scripture-chain (Catena), as used in the New Testament, is a distinctly Jewish genre; and it is no coincidence that the two books in which Scripture-chains features most prominently—Romans and Hebrews (cf. also 1 Peter)—were written to Jewish Christians. The congregations at Rome seem to have included both Gentile and Jewish believers (cf. below), certainly much more so than the other Pauline churches in Greece, Macedonia, and Asia Minor to which he wrote. For Israelites and Jews, the Old Testament Scriptures had primary authority, and thus, in writing to Jewish believers, it was reasonable to make frequent use of the Scriptures, citing them even in a shorthand fashion.

An earlier contemporary example is known from Qumran—specifically, the “Testimonia” text from cave 4 (4Q175, also referred to as 4QTest[imonia]). We only have fragments of what presumably was a larger text; but what survives contains a series of Scripture quotations from passages that were given a Messianic interpretation—most notably, Deut 18:18-19 and Num 24:15-17, along with Deut 5:28-29; 33:8-11, and an interpretive expansion based on Josh 6:26.  The surviving portions of the “Florilegium” text (4Q174) have a similar character. Though more in the nature of a Midrashic commentary, 4Q174 contains a sequence of Scripture citations, interpreted in a Messianic (and eschatological) context. The earliest Christian Scripture-chains would have been used for much the same purpose—to show that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah promised by God, and that the things currently taking place among believers marked the beginning of the New (Messianic) Age.

However, in Romans, Paul’s use of the Scripture-chain device has a somewhat different focus. What the chains demonstrate, we may say, is Paul’s view of the implications of the Gospel for humankind. In particular, they relate to the important theme of Jewish-Gentile unity in Romans. The three Scripture-chains span the lengthy body of the letter and evince something of Paul’s development of his theme. We may summarize this as follows:

    • 3:9-20—Jews and Gentiles are equally in bondage to the power of sin (prior to receiving the Gospel)
    • 9:24-29—Through trust in Jesus, many Gentiles have come to be part of the new People of God, along a faithful remnant from Israel (with promise of a more widespread conversion)
    • 15:7-13—In Christ, Gentile and Jewish believers are united as the People of God

Let us examine briefly each of these Scripture chains.

Romans 3:9-20

This first chain marks the climax of the first major section of the letter (1:18-3:20), containing the opening lines of argument that prove the central proposition in 1:16-17. The upshot of this entire line of argument is summarized in 3:9, with Paul having made the claim for:

“both Yehudeans {Jews} and Greeks [i.e. Gentiles], all (of them), to be under sin”

The expression “under sin” (u(f’ a(marti/an) is a shorthand for “under the power of sin” (i.e., in bondage to sin), and refers to the condition of Jews and Gentiles—that is, all humankind—prior to receiving the Gospel of Christ. Paul’s arguments in chapters 2-4 are specifically directed to Israelites and Jews, making the principal point that a person is not made right (in God’s eyes) through obeying the regulations of the Law (Torah), but only through trust in Jesus. This relates to Paul’s view of the Torah that he expresses vigorously (and with more polemic) in Galatians. He repeats much of this same line of argument in Romans, but giving to it a wider scope and more expansive treatment. In particular, there is a profound theological development of the Pauline view in chapters 5-7. It is notable, however, that this first section in Romans closes with a pointed statement regarding the Law that matches what we find in Galatians:

“…since out of [i.e. by] works of (the) Law all flesh shall not be made right in His sight, for through (the) Law (comes) knowledge about sin.” (3:20)

Paul’s view of the main purpose of the Torah regulations runs contrary to the traditional Jewish view. Rather than leading to people being made right with God, what the Torah regulations ultimately do is to show that people are in bondage to sin. Paradoxically, the more faithfully and devoutly one attempts to fulfill the Torah regulations, the more vividly it is revealed that one is in bondage to sin (cf. Paul’s provocative discussion in chapter 7).

This fact is itself proved by the whole testimony of the Scriptures, and Paul draws upon the authority of the (Old Testament) Scriptures to make his point—which he does through the chain of references in vv. 10-18, beginning with the declaration “Just as it has been written…” (v. 10). With one or two exceptions, all the Scriptures Paul cites in the three chains come from the “Prophets” (i.e., the Psalms and Prophetic books).

The first Scripture citation apparently comes from Ecclesiastes 7:20, which is unusual, and suggests that the authoritative/inspired Scriptures for first-century Christians may have included the Wisdom books (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job), in addition to the Pentateuch and Prophets/Psalms. If Paul is citing Ecclesiastes here in v. 10, he does so loosely, as a simple declaration of his theme:

“There is not (anyone) right(eous), not even one”
ou)k e&stin di/kaio$ ou)de\ ei!$

The LXX, which more or less accurately renders the Hebrew, reads:

“there is not a right(eous) man on the earth, who will do good and will not sin”

Assuming it is a citation, Paul omits a&nqrwpo$ (“man”) and adds the phrase ou)de\ ei!$ (“not even one”). The Scriptures that follow essentially expound and flesh out this keynote verse:

    • Verse 11Psalm 14:2 (cf 53:1). Again the LXX accurately translates the Hebrew, and Paul’s wording represents an adaptation:
      “…to see if there is (one) putting things together [i.e. understanding] and seeking out God” (LXX)
      “there is not (any one) putting things together and seeking out God” (Paul)
    • Verse 12Psalm 14:3, a continuation of the same citation, here following the LXX more precisely
    • Verse 13Psalm 5:10, along with 140:4, again corresponding to the LXX
    • Verse 14Psalm 10:7 [LXX 9:28], Paul’s wording represents an abridgment, though essentially using the same words as the LXX
    • Verses 15-17Isaiah 59:7-8. It is possible that v. 15 could also allude to Prov 1:16, which would count as another citation from the Wisdom books (cf. above); more likely, however, the Isaiah passage is in view throughout. Again, Paul’s words represent a simplification or abridgment. Verse 16 quotes Isa 59:7b according to the LXX, as also v. 17 (of Isa 59:8), with only a slight difference.
    • Verse 18Psalm 36:2b, exactly according to the LXX. In many ways, this blunt declaration (“there is not [any] fear of God in front of their eyes”) provides an effective bookend to the initial statement in v. 10, and showing how the bondage to sin (of all humankind) leads to a more extreme and thorough kind of wickedness.
Romans 9:24-29

The second Scripture-chain is part of Paul’s discussion in chapters 9-11, regarding the relationship between Gentiles and Jews, in terms of the overall plan of God, as it is realized (from an eschatological standpoint) in the context of the early Christian mission. These chapters, in particular, are laced throughout with Scripture quotations and allusions; in every section one finds multiple references. The main reason for this lies, I think, in the nature of Paul’s subject matter. He addresses a complex and difficult question which must have burdened every thoughtful Jewish believer: why have so many (the vast majority) of Israelites and Jews (God’s people) rejected or been unwilling to accept the Gospel of Christ? In his three-part treatise here in chaps. 9-11, Paul attempts to provide an answer, one in keeping with his overall theme of Gentile-Jewish unity in Christ.

According to Paul’s line of argument, expounded in chapters 9-10, God has allowed the hearts of Israelites and Jews to be hardened (so as to be unable/unwilling to trust in Jesus) for the express purpose of facilitating the mission to the Gentiles. The Jewish rejection of the Gospel has opened the door for the message to be proclaimed to Gentiles throughout the Roman world—which just happens to be the focus of Paul’s own missionary work (as an ‘apostle to the Gentiles’). Once this mission to the Gentiles is complete, then Paul foresees a time ahead (relatively soon), at the return of Jesus (or just prior), when the hearts of Israelites and Jews (collectively) would finally turn to accept the truth of Christ. Paul discusses this eschatological process (and event) in chapter 11. For more this aspect of chaps. 9-11, cf. my earlier article in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

Paul’s overall theme of the unity between Jewish and Gentile believers is expressed well in 9:24, a statement that leads into his Scripture chain:

“(so) even (for) us whom He (has) called—not only out of (the) Yehudeans {Jews}, but also out of the nations [i.e. Gentiles]”

God has called Gentiles to join with that ‘faithful remnant’ of Israelites and Jews who have accepted the Gospel and trusted in Jesus. Paul cites a chain of four Scriptures (from the Prophets) in support of this statement: (1) Hosea 2:25 (v. 25), (2) Hosea 2:1 (v. 26), (3) Isaiah 10:22-23 [conflated with a form of Isa 28:22b] (vv. 27-28), and (4) Isaiah 1:9 (v. 29). Paul generally cites these Scriptures according to the text of the LXX, though the conflation of Isa 10:23 and 28:22 in v. 28 produces a notable difference. Also Isa 10:22 has been abridged and modified slightly, under the influence of the previously cited Hos 2:1. Similarly, the quotation of Hos 2:25 also diverges, due to the influence from the wording in Hos 1:9.

Paul applies the Hosea passages, which originally referred to the Israelite people, to the Gentiles and the context of the Gentile mission. Those who are not the people of God (“not my people”, i.e. the Gentiles) have now become His people. This is instructive for a proper understanding of the early Christian view of the authority of Scripture, and how it is subordinated to the higher revelation of the Gospel. There are many instances where the New Testament authors (and speakers) quote the Scripture quite out of context, even altering and modifying the text in various ways, in order to bring out the prophetic connection with the Gospel and the life-situation of early believers.

Interestingly, the setting here in chapters 9-11, would certainly allow for an interpretation of Hos 2:25, etc, in its original context—viz., as a promise of the future restoration of Israel, when they would return to faithfulness (according to the covenant) and become God’s people once again. Though there may currently be only a ‘remnant’ who trust in Jesus (the Isaian prophecies in vv. 27-29), Paul envisions a time in the not-too-distant future, before the end, when there would be a (miraculous) widespread conversion and acceptance of the Gospel (chap. 11).

Romans 15:7-13

The final Scripture chain comes at the close of the body of the letter, and at the end of the practical instruction and exhortation in 12:1-15:13. It is thus a fitting moment for Paul to re-emphasize his important theme of unity in Christ for all believers, Jews and Gentiles alike. He expresses this in a joyous manner, in vv. 7-9, as he leads into the Scripture citations (vv. 9-12). Again he emphasizes how the Gentiles’ acceptance of the Gospel has been prophesied beforehand in the Scriptures. The passages he cites are:

    • Verse 9Psalm 18:50 [= 2 Sam 22:50], corresponding to the LXX, which more or less accurately represents the Hebrew. The idea of the Psalmist acknowledging (and confessing) the greatness of God among the nations is certainly fitting as a prophetic foreshadowing of the missionary work of apostles like Paul himself, proclaiming the Gospel among the Gentiles.
    • Verses 10-11Deut 32:43, combined with Psalm 117:1. The Psalms reference largely matches the LXX, while the quotation from Deuteronomy differs from both the LXX and the Hebrew original. In some ways, Paul’s version is a conflation of the Hebrew and LXX (which reflects a variant Hebrew text, cf. 4QDeutq):
      “Cry out (for joy), O nations, with (regard to) His people…” (MT)
      “Rejoice, O heavens together with Him, and let all the sons of God give homage/worship to Him” (LXX)
      In Paul’s version, the nations praise God together with His people (Israel), thus making the passage a prophecy of Jewish and Gentile unity in Christ.
    • Verse 12Isaiah 11:10, in an abridged form of the LXX. This passage is a key Messianic prophecy recognized by Jews (and early Christians) in the first century. The idea of the Messiah’s rule over the nations, of course, takes on an entirely new significance in a Christian context.

Paul’s theme of Jewish-Gentile unity in Romans is informed, at least in part, by his project of collecting relief money (from the congregations in Greece and Macedonia) to bring to the poor and oppressed believers in Judea. This project (his ‘collection for the saints’) has just recently been completed, and he anticipates journeying to Jerusalem to deliver the money (vv. 25-29). This was a momentous occasion for Paul, and he viewed the collection as an important symbol of the unity (in Christ) between Jews and Gentiles.

Notes on Prayer: Philippians 1:3-11

Philippians 1:3-11

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, his references to prayer follow the familiar pattern we have noted in his other letters (esp. 1 Thessalonians). The focus on prayer is a prominent element of the introduction (exordium) portion, in which Paul offers thanks to God for the believers whom he is addressing (here, in Philippi):

“I give thanks to my God for (His) good favor upon every remembrance of you, (at) every time and in every need [de/hsi$] of mine (expressed to God) over all of you, with joy making the need [de/hsi$] (known)…” (vv. 3-4)

Prayer is defined here (as it frequently is by Paul) in terms of making one’s need (de/hsi$) known to God. As Paul does this, he makes mention (bringing to mind/memory, mnei/a) of the believers in the congregations where he has worked as a missionary (such as in Philippi). Indeed, many of the requests he makes to God are “over” (peri/, i.e., on behalf of) these believers. This is an important point of emphasis that we have noted repeatedly in these studies—how the focus of one’s prayers ought to be for the needs of others, at least much (or more) than for our own needs.

Part of Paul’s focus in prayer, and which features prominently in the letter-introductions, is that the believers for whom he prays will continue to grow in faith and Christian virtue. Just as they responded to his initial preaching of the Gospel, so he asks that they will continue to respond:

“…upon your common-bond in the good message, from the first day until now, having been persuaded of this very (thing), that the (One hav)ing begun in you a good work will complete (it) until (the) day of (the) Anointed Yeshua” (vv. 5-6)

As is typically the case, Paul frames this faithfulness of believers in eschatological terms. Given the fact that first-century Christians almost universally evinced an imminent eschatology, this is hardly surprising. The “day of Christ Jesus” —that is, the day when he will return to earth to usher in the Judgment—was expected to come very soon, within the life-time of believers.

In the expression e)pi\ th=| koinwni/a|, the preposition e)pi/ (“upon, about”) should probably be understood in a causal sense (i.e., because of); in English idiom, we might say, “on the grounds of”. The noun koinwni/a is a fundamental word used to express the unity (common-bond, community) of believers (cf. Acts 2:42; 1 Jn 1:3ff), and is used with some frequency by Paul (13 of the 19 NT occurrences are in the undisputed Pauline letters). This “common bond” is defined in terms of the Gospel (“good message, good news”). As is often the case in the New Testament, the noun eu)agge/lion is used in a comprehensive sense, extending from believers’ initial response to the Gospel preaching until the present moment (“from the first day until now”).

The “common bond” between believers can also be viewed in the specific (local) context of the relationship between Paul and the Philippian congregations. In this regard, Paul gives thanks for the Philippians’ continued support for his missionary work; this support certainly includes their prayers for him (v. 19). We have discussed this aspect of Paul’s prayer-references in the previous studies.

It is Paul himself who is persuaded (vb pei/qw) of the fact that God is faithful and will complete the work begun among the Philippian believers. As believers, we also have to do our part, remaining committed to the Gospel (and the common-bond of unity), following the example of Jesus (2:5-6ff), and allowing ourselves to be guided by the Spirit (2:1ff).

Following the thanksgiving of vv. 3-6, Paul shifts to address the Philippian congregations directly in vv. 7-8:

“Even so it is right for me to have this mind-set over all of you, through my holding you in the heart—both in my bonds and in the account (I give) and (the) confirmation of the good message—all of you being my common partners of the favor (of God). For God (is) my witness, how I long after all of you with (the) inner organs [spla/gxna] of (the) Anointed Yeshua.”

Paul says that it is right (di/kaio$) and proper for him to hold this view regarding the Philippians, because they have already demonstrated their faith and commitment to the Gospel. Indeed, they continue to support Paul through the difficulties and travails of his mission-work, even to the point where he has been imprisoned (“in my bonds”). The noun sugkoinwno/$ (“common [partner] together”) is, of course, related to koinwni/a, and reflects a more active and direct manifestation of the “common bond” of Christian unity—in terms of participation and cooperation in the Christian mission. The bond of unity is also an emotional bond, as Paul describes how he “longs for” the Philippian believers, with a longing that reflects the very “inner organs” (spec. intestines, as the seat of emotion) of Christ himself. This longing is further manifest in Paul’s prayers for the Philippians:

“And this I speak out toward (God) [proseu/xomai]: that your love still more and more would abound, with (full) knowledge and all perception, unto your giving consideration (to) the (thing)s carrying through (as pleasing to God), (so) that you would be shining like the sun, and without striking (your foot) against (a stone), until (the) day of (the) Anointed” (vv. 9-10)

Paul essentially repeats his confident hope (and wish) from verse 6 (cf. above), regarding the Philippians being ‘made complete’ in anticipation of the return of Christ (“the day of [the] Anointed”). The Christian growth in virtue is understood in relation to the fundamental ethical principle of love (a)ga/ph), and it is  this ‘love principle’ (or ‘love command,’ cf. Rom 13:8-10, etc) that informs Paul’s ethical instruction and exhortation in the body of the letter (beginning at 2:1ff). If the love of Christians continues to grow and abound (vb perisseu/w), then all other important aspects of Christian life will follow. The ultimate goal of this growth is expressed through the rather colorful pair of adjectives: ei)likrinh/$ (“shining like the sun”) and a)pro/skopo$. The latter term literally means something like “without striking/dashing against,” which, as an idiom, relates to the idea of striking one’s foot against a stone (and thus falling); in simpler English, we would say “without stumbling”. The promise of being made complete in Christ is summarized more succinctly in verse 11 as “having been filled (with the) fruit of righteousness”. How often do make such a prayer—that our fellow believers would be “filled with the fruit of righteousness”?

This interrelationship between Paul and the Philippian congregations continues to be a key point of emphasis throughout the remainder of the exordium. Paul prays for the Philippians’ continued growth in the Gospel, while they are to pray for him in his continued mission-work of preaching the Gospel. The latter is the focus in vv. 19-26, while the former is emphasized in vv. 27-30. His prayer for the Philippians is expressed as an exhortation to them, marking a transition to the ethical instruction in chapters 2-4:

“Only as it comes up (to the level) of the good message of the Anointed, may you live as a citizen…” (v. 27)

The verb politeu/omai (lit. something like “live as a citizen”) refers, in a comprehensive sense, to a person’s daily life and conduct. The exhortation means that this does not happen automatically for believers—it requires commitment and attention on our behalf. The power to achieve this measure of growth, and to realize the ideal of unity, does, however, come from God (and His Spirit); if we are faithful, and allow God’s work to proceed in our hearts and lives, then we will be made complete. Indeed, Paul’s prayer is that the Philippians would be faithful in this regard; let us, too, make such prayer on behalf of our fellow believers, asking (together with Paul):

“…that you stand in one spirit, with a single soul striving together in the trust of the Gospel”

 

Notes on Prayer: Romans 8:26-27; 10:1; 12:12

In our survey of the references to prayer in the Pauline letters, there are three remaining references in Romans to be considered briefly:

    • Romans 8:26-27
    • Romans 10:1
    • Romans 12:12

Romans 8:26-27

“And even so, the Spirit also takes hold opposite together with (us), in our lack of strength; for th(at for) wh(ich) we should speak out toward (God), according to (what) is necessary, we have not seen [i.e. we do not know], but the Spirit it(self) hits on it over (us), with speechless groanings; and the (One) searching the hearts has seen [i.e. knows] what the mind(-set) of the Spirit (is), (in) that [i.e. because] he hits upon it over (the) holy (one)s according to God.”

Paul’s syntax is a bit tricky to translate literally, but I have attempted to do so above, as cumbersome as it might seem in modern English. I have provided exegetical notes, along with an examination of the passage within the overall context of Romans, in an earlier study, which you should consult. This is one of the key Pauline passages on prayer, and the aforementioned study discusses it in detail.

Romans 10:1

“Brothers, the good consideration of my heart, and (my) need [de/hsi$] (expressed) toward God over them, (is) for (their) salvation”

This verse marks the beginning of chapter 10, which is at the midpoint of chapters 9-11. These famous chapters, which I discuss in the earlier series “Paul’s View of the Law” and “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”, need to be understood within the overall framework of the letter. In some ways there is a parallel between chapters 9-11 and 2-4; certainly there is an interesting symmetry and balance of presentation:

    • Rom 2-4—addressed primarily to Jews, emphasizing that Gentiles are on an equal footing before God with regard to both judgment and salvation
    • Rom 9-11—addressed primarily to Gentiles, emphasizing the (future) salvation of Israelites/Jews and their inclusion into the body of Christ

In between (Rom 5-8) Paul presents a kind of “salvation history”, an exposition of the Gospel message for all human beings—Jews and Gentiles alike. Chapters 9-11 actually have the character of a personal appeal or confession—indeed, this characterizes each of the sections (matching the numbered chapters):

The opening verses of each section, with their personal and moving tone, lead into a presentation of arguments. The main issue at hand is how the Israelite/Jewish people relate to the new Christian identity. As a missionary and representative (apostle) of Christ, Paul saw how many of his fellow Israelites and Jews had been unwilling to accept the Gospel, some even being openly hostile to his missionary work (as narrated repeatedly in the book of Acts, cf. also 1 Thess 2:14-16, etc). Even Jewish believers could be opposed to his presentation of the Gospel, especially his unique view of the Law and his missionary approach to the Gentiles, as seen in Acts 15:1ff and throughout Galatians. At some level, this must have been traumatic for Paul, and difficult to understand—how could so many of God’s elect people, Israel, fail to trust in Christ? While he never really addresses this directly in his other surviving letters, it is clear that he had thought about it a good deal. The result is the wonderful, if somewhat enigmatic, exposition in Romans 9-11.

Chapter 10 is the second of the three main sections; it may be outlined as follows:

    • Rom 10:1-4—Paul’s personal address: The Law and justice/righteousness (vv. 3-4)
    • Rom 10:5-13—Argument: Justice/righteousness is realized in Christ.
    • Rom 10:14-21—Exposition: The Proclamation of the Gospel, and Israel’s response to it, in three parts:

As noted above, each of the chapters begins with a personal address by Paul. In chapter 10, the theme of the personal address (vv. 1-4) is: The Law and justice/righteousness (vv. 3-4). The reference to prayer in verse 1 thus must be understood within this context. Paul expresses his heartfelt desire that his fellow Israelites and Jews would trust in Christ and be saved:

“(my) need (expressed) [de/hsi$] toward God over them (is) for (their) salvation” (v. 1b).

The noun de/hsi$ is something of a Pauline term; of the 18 New Testament occurrences, 12 are in the Pauline letters, including including 7 in the undisputed letters—in addition to its use here, it also occurs in 2 Cor 1:11; 9:14; Phil 1:4 [twice], 19; 4:6. The related verb de/omai is also used in Rom 1:10; 2 Cor 5:20; 8:4; 10:2; Gal 4:12; 1 Thess 3:10. The fundamental meaning of the verb is to be in need; in the context of prayer to God, it denotes making one’s need known (to God). The noun has a similar meaning, as it is used here, for example. It is a need for Paul because it is a burden on his heart, and so he expresses it to God.

In verses 2-3 he offers his diagnosis regarding Israel’s current situation:

“For I witness regarding them that they hold a fervent desire of God, but not according to (true) knowledge upon (Him); for, lacking knowledge of the justice/righteousness of God, and seeking to stand (up) th(eir) own [justice/righteousness], they did not put themselves (in order) under the justice/righteousness of God.”

Then follows, by way of contrast, the famous statement in verse 4, functioning as a concise (and controversial) summary of the Gospel:

“For (the) Anointed (One) is (the) completion [te/lo$] of the Law unto justice/righteousness for every (one) th(at) is trusting.”

For more on this verse, cf. my earlier note. Salvation is to be found, not through observing the Torah regulations, but through trust in Christ. His desire is for Israel to be saved, and he believes that this will yet take place, however unlikely it may seem from his current vantage point. Chapters 9-11 represent a complex and powerful treatise on Israel’s ultimate conversion within the framework of early Christian eschatology (cf. the article in the earlier series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament). Paul’s thoughts on this subject also relate to his current missionary efforts, which include his journey to Jerusalem with the “collection for the saints”, which, in his mind, symbolized the unity between Jewish and Gentile believers. Chapters 9-11, including his prayer-wish in 10:1, also reflect this same hope for unity.

Romans 12:12

“…rejoicing in hope, remaining under in distress, being strong toward speaking out toward (God)”

Chapters 12-15 comprise a new section in Romans, in which Paul offers a range of ethical and practical instruction. If the theme of justification (i.e., being made right before God) by faith is a central theme of the letter in the earlier chapters, then chaps. 12-15 could be described as “a paraenetic development of the consequences of justification” (Fitzmyer, p. 637), illustrating how the justified believer should live. The basis of this instruction is found in the opening verses—the declaration in verse 1 that believers are to present their bodies as “living sacrifices” to God, followed by the directive in verse 2:

“and do not be conformed to the (pattern of) this Age, but be changed in form [i.e. transformed] by the renewing of the mind, unto the considering (acceptable) by you what the wish of God (is)—the good and well-pleasing and complete (thing).”

Justification leads to the transformation of the believer—a change in his/her entire way of thinking and acting; only this requires a certain willingness of the believer to be guided by the Spirit, as well as by the teaching and example of Jesus (embodied in the love principle). In verses 3-8, Paul goes on to emphasize the extent to which this new way of life takes place with the community of believers. In Romans, no less than in the Corinthian letters, Paul strongly emphasizes the ideal of the unity of believers.

This brings us to the instruction in verses 9-21, which, indeed, begins with the love principle (v. 9, cf. 13:8-10). This entire paraenesis follows a distinctive syntactical pattern, with an object noun (or phrase) in the dative followed by a participle that possesses the force of an imperative. This chain of habitual actions and attributes begins with the injunction in verse 9:

“…hating (thoroughly) the evil, (and) being joined [lit. glued] to the good”

The dualistic command has its roots in Old Testament tradition (Amos 5:15; Psalm 97:10), and was developed as an ethical principle within Judaism (e.g., 1QS 1:4-5); Paul’s wording resembles that in Testament of Benjamin 8:1 (cf. Fitzmyer, p. 653). The chain of injunctions that follows, utilizing the same grammatical pattern, illustrates what it means to “hate the evil and be joined to the good”. Prayer is just one of these attributes for believers, albeit an important one:

“…being strong/firm toward speaking out toward (God) [proseuxh/]” (v. 12)

The verb proskartere/w, which I translate literally above as “be strong/firm toward (something),” occurs primarily in the book of Acts where it functions as a key term expressing the unity of the early believers in Jerusalem (1:14; 2:42, 46; 6:4; 8:13). Paul uses it again in Rom 13:6, and in Col 4:2 it is used in virtually the same context as here (emphasizing the importance of being devoted to prayer). This verb signifies the active nature of believers’ prayers—the strength/firmness reflecting both their faith and devotion to God, but also their commitment to Christian unity (cf. above), since prayer is made over the needs of others as much as (or more than) it is made for one’s own needs. Certainly also implied is the idea of continual prayer, that believers are constantly engaged in prayer to God, which elsewhere Paul expresses by the adverb a)dialei/ptw$ (“without [any] gap [i.e. interruption],” cf. 1:9; 1 Thess 1:2; 5:17).

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Romans, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 33 (Doubleday / Yale: 1993).

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: 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.

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 22: Acts 5:3ff; 7:51

Acts 5:3ff; 7:51

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Notes on Prayer: Acts 4:23-31

Acts 4:23-31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two other expressions are worthy of special notice:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes on Prayer: Acts 1:24

Acts 1:24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes on Prayer: Acts 1:14

Acts 1:14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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