Acts - Part 5

Course: Introduction to the New Testament: Gospel and Acts

Lecture: Acts - Part 5

I. Paul in Philippi

We start off with Paul’s second missionary journey in Acts through to the end of Luke’s narrative. He is visiting the churches he evangelized in southern Asia Minor, starting out form the city of Antioch. Then he moved on trying to enter such places as Afeniya and Mysia. The Holy Spirit prevented him in what ways, we are not told, until he got to the coastal city of Troas and a vision at night of the man from Macedonia, the northern part of the Greek peninsula, inviting him to come over to the continent of Europe. Following largely coastal roads and going through the major communities, he evangelized the better part of the eastern side of Greece, going as far south as Corinth and the nearby port city of Cenchrea, then stopping off at Ephesus only briefly because he was in a hurry to get back to Jerusalem for Pentecost, yet promising the Ephesians that he would return. Actually, Ephesus becomes his major stay on his third missionary journey.

II. The Rest of the 2nd Missionary Journey

Rather than commenting on every stop, for sake of time we focus on those that Luke narrates in greatest detail. We may mention in passing that Thessalonica is unique and uniquely commendable for growing rapidly despite Paul’s brief period of time there. It is 1st Thessalonians 2:13 that, at least in part, explain this rapid grown because they received the preached Word of God as the very divine Word that it was. Berea, southwest of Thessalonian, was best known for the nobler attitude of a significant number of Jews living there because they searched the Scriptures daily to see if the things that Paul was teaching were true. But it was Philippi where Paul stops long enough or at least Luke narrates enough detail that we may observe his use of his tri-cultural background, seeking to employ the pattern of Roman’s 1:16 of going to the Jews first and apparently discovering there wasn’t a synagogue, he goes to the riverside and finds a group of women praying and preaches, and leading, at least Lydia and her household to the Lord. Then the Greek slave girl with a spirit of divination in serving the god, Hyfone, is exorcised after her unwanted affirmation of knowledge of who Paul and his God was, because in spiritual warfare, knowing one’s opponent’s name was key in attempting to gain mastery over them.

Finally, Paul appears to his Roman citizenship to avoid further punishment in the Philippian jail and to be outwardly vindicated the morning after is miraculous escape from prison. Why not avoid prison altogether? The answer would appear to be that Paul always does that which appears to be in the best interest of Christianity more generally in a given community rather than just his own personal interest. High lights from the rest of second missionary journey remind us of what we have already commented on in respect to Thessalonica. We should add in respect to the people of Berea, searching the Scriptures; that this was done prior to them coming to Christ and it was done out of initial skepticism concerning Paul’s message. (As a side note: this is really another pre-text for a daily quiet time being a good idea.) As Paul moves on to Athens, perhaps the most important point to make about his very distinctive form of preaching on Mars Hill to the Areopagus (The Athenian Council) and despite his poor results, this remains a key model of contextualization, particularly to philosophical and intelligentsia and not a mistake. Luke’s model, scarcely allows us to drive that conclusion from it. And we must also remember that he has already been preaching in Astoria in the Agora so that the distinctive form of this message is probably not even intended to represent the way that he would have preached the Gospel in the entirety but rather explaining what he was doing as requested by the city council there.

The fact that several became believers was encouraging results and also that others were prepared to hear him again at a later date, but in the centers of such intelligentsia and power where all kinds of other factors gave humans the allusion that they didn’t need God or at least the Christian understanding of God. We probably should expect in other times and places that the Athenian model to be more than the exception. After all, we have had no accounts of anything along the lines of the size of the response in Jerusalem at Pentecost or shortly thereafter or any of the other places that Paul has preached. In fact, if one examples all of the speeches in Acts, one would see that contextualizing the Gospel for a distinctive audience and its circumstances is crucial as no two sermons Paul delivers are similar to another, say for the core kerygma that shines through focusing people onto Jesus and such themes as the resurrection and repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

III. Paul in Corinth

As we move on to Corinth, once again we can chart the influence of his providential preparation by three cultures. Again, the presentation to the Jews was rejected and then turns to the Greeks and has considerable success. He is encouraged by Jesus speaking to him from heaven, not to be discouraged because he has many people in this city; not that there’s any record of a previous Christian community but that God has ordained for at the very least knows that many will respond positively. The doctrine of election is always an incentive of evangelism, never a deterrent. Without God’s sovereign initiating the drawing of people to himself, none would respond. Eventually he is reined before the Roman leader Gallio, but the case is thrown out as being without merit and once again at this early date prior to the neurotic persecution, it is Rome who is seen as a favorable influence protecting the first Christians.

The third missionary journey looks very much like the second, revisiting now for a third time, those in Southern Galatia but this time continuing west in a more southwesterly direction to complete Paul’s promise of coming to Ephesus for a prolonged period of time which he does for nearly three years and then heading around the Aegean Sea to re-visit the places he went on the previous missionary journey including Macedonia and Achaia, leaving the Ephesian elders at Miletus and boarding a ship to the Syrian coast.

IV. Acts 2:38, 8:4-25, 10:44-48 and 19:1-7

In Acts 19, as Paul comes to Ephesus, we come to the third and final apparent exception to the Pentecostal package of belief, baptism and receipt of the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins, all being understood together. We’ve already seen ways that apparent exception to Acts 8 and Acts 10, in fact, are precisely the fact that they really do on closer inspection collapse back into the model of Acts 2:38 and we do that again in Acts 19:1-7. This is the easiest passage to so collapse. Disciples of John the Baptist appear a long way from where John ministered and although Luke describes them as disciples in Acts 19:1. This apparently is a non-logical method in the way they presented themselves. As it turns out some things seemingly was insufficient which caused Paul to ask, ‘did you receive the holy spirit when you believe?’ And if anyone doesn’t find their answer shocking have not yet fully amerced themselves in 1st century historical cultural backgrounds so as to fully grasp what was going on. No, they replied, in verse two, we have not even heard that there was a Holy Spirit. How can this be? These cannot be Jews. God’s spirit is all over the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures. If they are pagans who have heard something about John and able to say in the next verse that they have received John’s baptism, then they did not appear to know very much about John’s message; because although it was the Baptism of Repentance leading to the forgiveness of sins which John in the synoptic Gospels preached as the core of his message. His water baptism will give way to much more profound spiritual baptism of the one who comes after him, Jesus the Messiah. Who knows if this group knew much about Jesus and so here it seems very likely that what is described as if these disciples already had belief must be seen as superficial and inadequate truncated and a deficient belief that is only upon further proclamation of the full knowledge of the Gospel that they had the kind of belief that leads to saving faith that represents saving faith and they are baptized at the point into the Holy Spirit.

V. Exegetical Notes on Acts 19-21

So for a third and final time, we can argue that there really is only one model in the Book of Acts, illustrated clearly in Acts 2:38. And on closer inspection, also represented in the apparent exception of Acts 8:10-19 with additional exegetical notes on Acts 19-21. The rest of Paul’s time in Ephesus includes his contrast with the occult, spiritual warfare, a key theme in the Book of Ephesians, despite many claiming that the topics are abstract and general as to question Pauline authorship, at least for a letter to a community where he stayed for nearly three years. Here we have the first scroll burning ceremony as the max coperpyri as we discussed so many lectures back. These are thrown to the flames as people become Christians, costing them huge amount of money in so doing. And then the spirit’s battle with the forces of idolatry as Demetrius the silversmith trying to couch his concerns in religious terms but making plain that it’s the loss of money to the silversmith union that’s causing them to riot. Would that Christians today would in fact distant themselves from spending money on those industries that promote sins that the non-Christian world complain that they were losing profit. In a language that many have seen as a kind of parallel in Acts to the central section of Luke9:51 to the middle of chapter 18.

Paul is ready to head back to Jerusalem and in Acts 19:21, Luke writes, ‘when all this had happened, Paul declared,’ he decided to go to Jerusalem passing through Macedonia and Achaia and for the next nine chapters, with Paul being a arrested and going through trials. The only difference is at least where Acts narrative ends off; he has not yet been executed. In chapter 20, Friends had gone ahead to meet him at Troas. On the Sunday (Verse 7, a reference as to Sunday services), he preached to late in the night for he was to sail the next day. It’s not certain whether he was referring to the Jewish day or the Greco-Roman day but regardless, it wasn’t a day for people and yet they were willing to commit the time when they undoubtedly were quite tired as shown by a young man, Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, sank into a deep sleep and fell down from the third story and considered dead. It appears that we are meant to see Paul bringing him back to life, similar to the resurrection that Peter performed in Acts chapter 9 on Tabitha. Just one of the many parallels Luke calls attention to between the ministries of Peter and Paul as well as between them and also Jesus.

They board the ship and stop at Mitylene and then at arrived at Chios and then approached the coast of Samos the next day and after that they arrived at Miletus where he sent word ahead for the Ephesian elders to meet him there. Noteworthy is Luke’s reference to Paul sharing his concerns with the elders in Acts 20:27. An application for today would surely include major sections and topics of Scripture increasing teaching in Christian circles. We also see the early church organization in which the terms for elders, pastors and overseers are apparently equated. The Elders, because in verse 17, of whom Paul summoned and then in verse 28, Paul refers to ‘overseers’ and the church as a flock and shows that these overseers (Elsewhere overseers are rendered Bishops) are the Elders themselves. On leaving they sailed to Cos and then Rhodes and then to Patara finally stopping in Tyre and spending seven days with the disciples there. They urged Paul (through the Spirit – Luke used this saying in 11:28 referring to the ministry of Agabus) not to go on to Jerusalem. Surely Paul would have obeyed this divine prophecy but when their time was up, we read in the next verse, they left and continued on their way! The journey took them to Tyre and then finally to Ptolemais where Agabus, a prophet shows up again. In verse 11, he declares through the Holy Spirit how Paul would be tied up with a belt and given over to the gentiles. Not surprisingly, the fellow believers pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem, but Paul tells them to stop, that he is ready to be bound and even die in Jerusalem for the Name of the Lord Jesus. Then in verse 14 because he could not be persuaded, we said no more except, ‘The Lord’s will be done.’

They thus concluded that it was God’s will for Paul to go to Jerusalem and as the story continued; it becomes very clear that it was God’s will. So what was going on in Acts 21:4? Perhaps the believers in Tyre were given the identical word from the Lord that Agabus received but notice the subtle difference, when Agabus directly quotes the Holy Spirit, he contributes to God’s spirit on the prophecy that, ‘if Paul continues to Jerusalem, here is the fate that will wait him there.’ If that’s what the believers in Tyre heard, one can understand how they could have concluded but errantly so that it was God’s will for Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. This is not to say that the kind of prophecy that was inspired so as to be written was not inerrant. Prophecy as a New Testament gift, along with all the other gifts that Paul himself would list in such passages like 1st Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4 were surely errant because humans exercising the gifts of the spirit were and are errant. Teachers make mistakes, givers make mistakes, people exercise mercy, and some fail to do so in proper ways. If a person claims to have a certain spiritual gift regularly and appears to mishandle it, then you have every reason to call into question whether indeed they have that spiritual gift or not. But if we do not demand a hundred percent perfection of a missionary, an apostle, a church planter, whatever term we want to use, an administrator, we dare not hold up that standard for those claiming to preach or proclaim God’s word either. Even as those attempting to exercise the gifts should hold themselves to the highest possible standard of getting as right as they possibly can to the best of their ability to understand it.

VI. Paul in Jerusalem

We finally have Paul returning to Jerusalem as we discussed back in our introduction to Acts, the puzzle of the ploy to support those who completing a vow offering sacrifices. Perhaps a sign that Paul had gone one step too far in attempting to contextualize the Gospel here but we don’t know that for sure. But what we do discovery is that as the crowd riots, once again, it is Rome that comes to the rescue. Paul speaks to what he recognizes to be a solider from the eastern half of the empire and therefore he speaks in Greek, the lingua franca of the empire. But when he receives permission to address the crowd, he succeeds in quieting them and then maintains their attention before a considerable time by speaking to them to their surprise in Aramaic, the indigenous language of Jews in Israel which because of the exaggerated rumors floating about Paul’s ministry in gentile territory, they do not expect him to be able to. And then to avoid unnecessary flogging and punishment, he again appeals to his Roman citizenship as the soldier’s barracks become not only his holding tank, but his protection from the crowd for the time being. Paul anguishes in prison under Felix and Festus and eventually appeals to the emperor in Rome, the supreme court of one in the Roman Empire. The map of Paul’s journey to Rome is a different one than we’ve seen before with more cities on it and perhaps it looks a bit clearer. Pauline’s parallel perils, rather from Jerusalem to Rome, first he is brought for a hearing before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court in Jerusalem.

VII. The Pauline Perils (from Jerusalem to Rome)

There is a very problematic passage when Paul declares his guiltlessness, then the High Priest Ananias orders him struck in the mouth beginning with chapter 23, to which Paul responds, God will strike you, you white washed wall. You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you, yourself, violate the law by commanding that I be struck. The response to the high priest and surprisingly those standing near Paul, said, ‘he dare insult God’s high priest?’ It would be so nice if we had the Bible preserved on video tape but at least audio to hear the tone which verse 5 was uttered. Many argue that this is apologies but how could Paul not realize that Ananias wasn’t the high priest. Yes, he’s been away from Jerusalem for a while but the high priest wore distinctive robes. If this was a lessor fully formal meeting, perhaps hurriedly put together, maybe he was not in distinctive garb but he still would have been the one in charge of the proceedings. It may be that we are meant to see this bitter irony but Paul replies in innocence, ‘I did not realize that somebody that would act so unjustly toward me could possibly be the High Priest.’ In which case, we have to see verse 5a as a bit of a parentheses and a quotation ending that part of Luke narrative, then resuming and explaining the allegation in verse 4, ‘for it is written do not speak evil about the law of your people.’ Paul gets nowhere with the Sanhedrin. He learns of a plot to kill him and through a nephew, sends word to the Roman commander who prepares an escort to take him to Caesarea Maritima and the primary headquarters of Governor Felix. Once again, providential circumstances are at work. During the two years from 57-59, Paul comes and goes speaking with Felix who finds something attractive, perhaps pricking his conscience about Paul’s preaching but also hoping for a bribe, which he never receives and so anguishes in prison. The Roman justice system was the best the world had ever seen but still significantly corrupt.

When Felix is succeeded by Festus, Paul has another hearing and then Herod Agrippa II who comes to town, wants to have an audience with him as well. Seeing that he is getting nowhere with these events, these opportunities, Paul appeals to the Emperor in Rome, verses 25:10-12. And only afterwards with the hearing with Agrippa, goose bumps could go through one’s person as one reads how the outcome of that hearing leads Agrippa to tell Festus at the end of Chapter 26, ‘this man could have been set free, if he had not appealed to Caesar.’ But God had already told Paul that he had to testify to the Gospel before the emperor in Rome. And all the way back in chapter 23:11, even before Paul appealed to Rome, Paul did not abuse God’s ordained promises. It’s an excuse for inaction but is an encouragement to act on. And then chapter 27 narrates the voyage and shipwreck and rescue. The climax of Luke’s literary artistry narrating the Acts of the Apostles in chapter 28 can be summarized in one line. At last, he came to Rome.

Once again, even under house arrest, Paul meets with Jews and receives a fair amount of rejection from them. Now, as the book comes to a close in Acts 28:28, it says, ‘therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the gentiles and they will listen. Another narrative climax of similar hostility is shown but is not to be interpreted as one of absolute rejection by the Jews any more than any other time in the book or when Paul talks about something similar. In every city, Paul had always turned to the Jews first. Verses 30-31 completes the book, whether or not, it is because we are up to date chronologically with the time which Luke was writing these words for a fitting climax in ways that modern readers had not always realized. For two whole years, Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came into see him, boldly and without hindrance. Amazing! Without hindrance other than being loosely chained to the soldiers who were rotated, perhaps as often as every four hours; he preached the Kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. But of course, that means many soldiers heard the Gospel. Philippians 1 will describe how Word went out through the entire Praetorian Guard numbering, perhaps into the thousands, not to mention the visitors, including those that his friends and followers brought. And least we thought the message of the Kingdom so central had been lost sight of. Here it is at the end of Acts, but it is God’s Kingdom as uniquely revealed in Jesus of Nazareth who is both Lord and Master, and God and Christ, Messiah and Saviour and Liberator to whom be all the glory, Amen and Amen.