Acts - Part 2

Course: Introduction to the New Testament: Gospel and Acts

Lecture: Acts - Part 2

I. Review

(Note: Even though this is a continuation of the Gospels: an Introduction and survey, it is also listed as the second of the lectures & sound files used in conjunction with the textbook from Pentecost to Patmos as stated in the sound file, itself. According to the lecturer, it is taken from the course: Acts to Revelation by Craig Blomberg, the sequel to this course. The header of this lecture, however, is entitled: Acts Part 2, of which there are a total of five parts.)

In this lecture we look at the second and third panels of Part one of the Book of Acts as reflected in the slide that reviews the outline we have been following. Due to the stoning of Steven, all but the Apostles, perhaps for the economy of the most conservative Jewish Christians were persecuted and therefore fled from Jerusalem and took the Gospel with them. Thus we come to the segment that shows the Gospel moving out to other parts of Judea and Samaria and into Galilee in fulfillment of the second stage of Acts 1:8. The third panel after the second summary statement in 9:31 gives us even further advances in Palestine or Israel and north into Syria with a particular focus on the city of Antioch. It also combines with the account on the conversion of Saul of which the second panel ends to set the stage for part two when Saul as a Christian will be the protagonist and apostle to the gentiles. A map helps to view the location of some of these cities available from the slide (or usually from the back of any Bible). Early on in Acts 8, we have the account of Philip in Samaria and then down in the Gaza strip, bottom left hand corner of the slide or any map which you are viewing. In chapter 9, we find Peter making his way toward the coast at Jerusalem at such sites as Joppa.

The key events of chapters 10 and first part of 11, takes place with the conversion of Cornelius at Caesarea Maritima by the sea. Why is Stephen the first Christian mariner? Why does one of the seven deacons chosen in Acts 6 become such a threat that he is arrested and then stoned? There is a considerable divide amongst scholars as to the extent between the Grecian Jews as the NIV puts it and the Hebraic Jews. Is this merely a linguistic device, one group having Greek as their first language and the other having Aramaic or is it also a cultural device? The more one allows for the latter possibility, the more readily one can imagine Stephen becoming more liberal in his theological thinking over against his more conservative Jewish Christians compatriots and certainly over against the very conservative central of Judaism within Jerusalem.

II. Stephen's Breakthrough

The slide entitled ‘Stephen’s Breakthrough Acts 6-7’, reflects the fact that as Stephen gives what appears to be his defense speech, he in fact is pointing out three particular ways that Israel’s history went beyond the conservative thinking where leaders of the Sanhedrin or at least most of them had put their religion in the early first century. But in what at first glance appears like a rambling if not somewhat random discourse on Old Testament history. It turns out on closer inspection to focus on the themes of the land which was needed in the days of the patriarchs. It was promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his sons, but never enjoyed more than temporarily by them and yet these were individuals with their families that were said to please God.

The second segment deals with Moses, the Law giver and the repeated ways in which this man and the events of his life moved forward, which is summed up in a quotation in Deuteronomy chapter 18 and verse 15 of a promise of a prophet coming like Moses who would arise, was interpreted in Jewish history as the Messiah and whatever he said must be obeyed. And thirdly, Stephen points out how even the Temple, the holiest place and building of Jewish thought and experience was originally not even God’s plan A as it were but rather the Tabernacle which enabled God’s presence in this symbolic form to be recognized as must less confined to any single location as in fact his omnipresence suggest. If one filters these observations through teaching that Jesus had already enunciated in the four Gospels such as ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’, a re-application of Psalm 37:11 from the faithful Jew inheriting the land of Israel to the humble followers of Jesus inheriting the entire earth. One can see how Stephen might have generalized his understanding of promise of the land to the much more all-encompassing as well.

When we think about when Jesus spoke about coming to fulfill the law and sovereignly reinterpreting it, we realize that Christians are not under the Torah but under the New Testament ethics which include the continuation of the moral principles of the Old Testament, but not the civil, ceremonial or ritual laws except to the extent where the broader underlining principles carry over. And then one recalls as well a text like John 4:24 where it is no longer necessary to argue about worshiping on one mountain or another or any place. Within the context of worshiping God in spirit, does away with the context of a particular Holy Land or Holy building, different from all others. If the Sanhedrin recognized anything, even modestly close to these principles behind Stephen’s speech and whatever words Luke may have omitted in what doubtless was in abbreviation as with all of the speeches in Acts, then the stoning becomes much more understandable. As people disperse, Acts 8 is made up of the disproportionately sized passages of the evangelism of the Samaritans and then the briefer encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. What is the main theme in light of the larger outline of Acts, namely the progress if the Gospel moving out into less and less Jewish territory and in increasingly less Jewish categories.

III. Acts 2:38, 8:4-25, and 10:44-48

In the case of the second two points, the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch, it is easy to get distracted by the questions surrounding baptism and miss the larger issue that this was a eunuch, a man castrated as he could serve with impunity in the royal harem in Ethiopia. According to Old Testament law, such an individual was cursed and had he already had children prior to his castration, such curse would fall up to ten subsequent generations. The first part of Acts 8 raises all kinds of questions about the role of the Holy Spirit which like those about the importance of baptism; they will be addressed but let us not lose sight of the most significant observation and that is the Samaritan coming to faith in Jesus, a despised half-breed descendant form the unlawful marriage of Jews and gentiles beginning centuries earlier in Israelite history. We did, however, observe when we looked at the Pentecostal package and our diagram of various circles. It appeared that the Holy Spirit in Acts 8 did not come when the Samaritans who were evangelized by Philip and baptized. There have been four major approaches throughout church history to this apparent delayed arrival of the Holy Spirit in churches such as Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches. To a certain degree, even in the Presbyterian Church in the later development of infant baptism followed by a teenage confirmation service often sought as a pretext passage like this to demonstrate the gap between initial exposure and baptism into Christianity and truly owning one’s faith for one’s own self. But clearly, we are not talking about infants in this text nor is there a gap of years or even months between the two experiences in question.

IV. The "Delayed" Arrival of the Holy Spirit

Perhaps the most common protestant can certainly or the most evangelical protestant explanation of the gap is that this was an exceptional situation. Exceptions make bad case laws, they don’t relate as the fairly consistent patterns elsewhere, but because this was such a special situation in which Samaritans coming to Christ would by no means be immediately welcomed by Jewish Christians. Because of the historic animosity, the Spirit waiting for Peter and John represented the twelve, the Apostles, the Hebraic Jews, rather than Philip, the deacon, the evangelist and the Hellenistic Jew in order to confirm and authenticate the reality of their conversion in a way that would hopefully foster Jew and Samaritan unity within the church. The charismatic and Pentecostal wings, almost all of which are limited to the last century of the church has often been seen as normative making the exception the norm as it were. To say that one must have a second baptism in the Holy Spirit that is the true empowerment for Godly Christian living, even when one may be saved and baptized in water at an earlier date. Or more modestly amongst more thoughtful charismatic and Pentecostal where the conclusion is that the Spirit is sovereign and does what he wishes when he wishes so we are not to derive any consistent pattern at all.

A forth view is admittedly the least known and therefore perhaps for that reason should be scrutinized very carefully before it is accepted. Our textbook flushes the rationale behind this out in more detail. And that is: initially, there was a superficial response, just as the Samaritans had been astonished or amazed at Simon the magician, the same verb is used in the Greek as their response to Philip which did not necessarily inspire confidence that we are speaking of full-fledged Christian faith. When one’s term for faith does appear, it’s faith in Philip or to Philip and not in Christ so consistently elsewhere in Acts and the New Testament. When Simon Magist who believed and was apparently baptized is confronted by Peter over his request to buy the power of the Holy Spirit, the harsh language, ‘may you and your money go to hell’, really, ‘you have no lot in this matter’ suggests that Peter sees Simon as never having been saved in the first place which may be the tipoff to the state of the other Samaritans until Peter and John came and gave them further revelation and additional baptism that is described.

V. Paul in Jerusalem

At this point, we are ready to talk about the conversion of Saul, fore-shadowing the major role he was to play in the second half of Acts. Although the dates are much more speculative; we can piece together what is said about him: when he was a young man, an old man, length of time and different places and that he was born somewhere between AD 5 and 10, perhaps closer to AD 10 would be his birthdate in Tarus of Cilicia. Like other Jews of his day, even in the Diasporas, in the larger cities of which Tarus certainly qualified. He would have had the elementary educational experience from age’s five to twelve. Because rabbis except in very unusual circumstances were not permitted to receive money for ministry, he had to learn a trade to support himself so that his work as a rabbi would be bi-vocational. We know that he became a tentmaker and this apprenticeship often followed for a young man upon completion of elementary education. The elite few who got to study with revered rabbis to become rabbis themselves with advanced training in the Scriptures or the Oral tradition and in the practices and liturgy in the synagogue may have come over the second half of Saul’s teenage years, culminating around the age of eighteen when seminary for Jewish boys ended and become ordained. It’s unclear whether he was ever formally ordained, perhaps because of the events that quickly lead to his conversion experience. The later his birthdate, the fewer years there are between the earliest possible end time of his education and his conversion. In a different perspective, the great zeal which seems uncharacteristic of Gamaliel, one of the most noted rabbis in history, and very much characteristic of the pre-Christian Saul. It has been suggested to a few commentators that perhaps Saul had an explicit falling out with Gamaliel which in turn could have short circuited the process to rabbinic ordination. All of this is simply, speculative as we honestly don’t know for sure what all of his education involved.

VI. Paul in Galatians

Then after his conversion in AD 32, if we date the crucifixion to AD 30 or to AD 35, if we date the crucifixion to AD33, he received his call and commission as well which involved evangelism except for one trip to Jerusalem three years after his conversion according to Galatians 1. We hear nothing of his work during these years until he appears in Acts 13 in his first missionary journey in the late forties. Although there has been a romantic theory of him spending three years in the Arabian Desert communing with Jesus making up not having spent three years with Jesus in his earthly life like the twelve did. The only actual evidence we have from either Acts or the Epistles is that he is involved in ministry around Damascus immediately after his conversion. He is involved in ministry when he shows up in Jerusalem and then in Tarus when Barnabas years later brings him to Antioch and so more recent scholars have tended to limit their speculation to the idea that he simply was involved in ministry throughout this entire period. Especially, if one realizes that Arabia did not refer to the Arabian Desert as such but included the semi-arable land just to the east and south. An issue that has beguiled commentators in both Acts and Galatians is how to humanize the account in both texts of Paul’s early years, if it is possible at all. In more liberal circles, it remains a commonly held view that because of their superficial similarities, Acts 15 and the Jerusalem Council is to be matched with the church in Jerusalem as described in Galatians 2:1-10. At which point, several contradictions emerge between the two books. The chart shown on the PowerPoint slide (if available) is the most common evangelical approach and in our accompanying sound file series, the sequel to this course, much more detail is given.

We come now to Acts chapter ten and the conversion of Cornelius and a few other things that could be re-enforced from our notes in the textbook. We return to the problem of the Pentecostal package and the apparent gap; in this case, the apparent arrival of the Holy Spirit and an explicit reference to belief and baptism. But when one reads the text carefully and discovers that Acts 10 describing Peter’s sermon, gets as far as verse 43 in which Peter has just declared that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sin in his name and while Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. It seems quite reasonable to envision them as believing in what Peter said and thus receiving the spirit and forgiveness of sin at that point. Even if there still were logistics that needed to be explained before an actual baptismal service could take place. Even if it was not until Peter had returned to Jerusalem and retold the story and explicitly mention the belief of Cornelius and his companions.

VII. Exegetical Notes on Acts 11-12

Acts 11 to 12, then in addition of this retelling of events at Caesarea by the Sea, contain a certain group of material in the book of Acts, events surrounding the events in Syria and Antioch. The first location where the term Christian was used, perhaps in a somewhat derogatory way by outsiders at first and also what would become the center for Paul’s expanding missionary journeys. Chapter 12 is united in the theme of the figure of Herod Agrippa; the first of which we recall our early introductory lectures to the historical background to the New Testament. The first episode involved Herod pleasing the non-Christian Jews by executing James, the apostle, in front of Zebedee, the brother of John and imprisoning Peter. Peter, however, is miraculously rescued as he had been once before and from that point on we are told he leaves Jerusalem. Intriguingly, the disciples are praying throughout it all, but one apostle was not rescued but one was, a reminder of God’s sovereign hand over such affairs often unrelated to the faithful or faithlessness of his people. A second contrast from chapter 12 involves the first and second halves of the chapter in which Herod initially gets away with his persecuting activities but then when he receives acknowledgement as a god, he is struck by an angel and smitten by worms and quickly dies, an event interestingly attested by Josephus as well. Herod receives no punishment and subsequently does receive punishment even though he has been disobeying God’s laws and theological principles in both cases. Again, a reminder of God’s sovereign choice with respect to the time of punishment as well as to salvation, and through both chapters God not only remains sovereign but the church continues to grow. This is a further testimony that this is not a random or bizarre behavior either on the part of individuals or of God, but his Spirit is in charge and working out his plan for the ultimately good of the Kingdom.