Acts of the Apostles
III. Synopsis and Commentary: Acts
G. Step D2. Ascension (A 1:1–11)
1. Theophilius Prologue (Acts 1:1-2)
Chapter one began with a prologue that paralleled that found in Lk 1:1-4. It addressed Theophilius, the enigmatic recipient.
2. The Ascension (Acts 1:3-11)
Luke quickly turned his attention to Jesus' final instructions to the apostles (Acts 1:4-8). Notice in 1:4-5,8, the Lord stressed the fulfillment of the Baptist's prophecy:
Indeed, I baptize you in water. But, One greater than me is coming, of whom I am not fit to unloosen the straps of his sandals. He himself will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire. (Lk 3:16)
However, in Acts 1:6-8, also notice Jesus pushed back on the apostles' eagerness for the Second Coming that the Baptist encouraged:
(The expected One had) in his hand the winnowing shovel in order to clear his threshing floor and in order to gather the grain into his barn. He will, however, burn the chaff up in an unquenchable fire. (Lk 3:17)
In other words, the baptism of the Spirit trumped Christ's return in glory. God's power would continued the Messianic in-gathering of the faithful that was necessary before the end of the age.
After Jesus gave his instructions, he ascended (Acts 1:9). Two messengers in white (either angels or symbolic neophytes) reassured the disciples the Lord would return in time (Acts 1:10-11).
The text mentioned the gift of the Spirit, once in the prologue (Acts 1:2) and three times in the dialogue between Jesus and his disciples (Acts 1:4-5, Acts 1:8). Jesus' stress on the Spirit set up the tone and the details for the rest of Acts.
H. Step C2. Jerusalem (1:12–8:3)
1. The replacement of Judas (Acts 1:12-26)
After the Ascension, Luke turned his attention to restoring the Apostles to full strength. After the return to Jerusalem (Acts 1:12), he listed the Eleven (Acts 1:13) and noted their harmony along with the other disciples and women, even "Mary, the mother of Jesus" (Acts 1:13-14). Then, he turned to the task of appointing another to replace Judas Iscariot. Peter stated the traitor fulfilled Scripture (echoing Jesus in Lk 24:27, Lk 24:44-45; Acts 1:15-16), described Judas' end and its consequences (Acts 1:17-19) then quoted Psa 69:25 and Psa 109:8 to justify his utterance (Acts 1:20), finally listing the need and qualifications for the new Apostle (Acts 1:21-22). After identifying two candidates and praying over them (Acts 1:23-26), Matthias replaced Judas Iscariot by the draw of lots (Acts 1:26).
2. Pentecost (2:1-47)
a. Charism: Tongues/Prophecy (Acts 2:4)
b. Kerygma: Peter's speech to the crowd (Acts 2:14-36)
c. Positive Reaction: Three thousand joined (Acts 2:41) and idyllic life in community (Acts 2:45-47).
d. Negative Reaction: Claims of drunkenness (Acts 2:13).
by El Greco
Luke introduced the Spirit as the driving force of the community. It appeared as a great wind, reminiscent of the wind God breathed over the waters in Gen 1:2; then it spread out like tongues of fire, echoing the flaming torch in Abraham's vision (Gen 15:17) and the burning bush in Exo 3:2 (Acts 21-3). In those two images, the Spirit renewed the followers (the wind) and revealed God's will to them (the flames).
The followers reacted with the charisms of tongues and prophecy (Acts 2:4). In fact, think of this phenomena as a hybrid charism, a manifestation of tongues with prophetic meaning the audience could understand. In 1 Cor 15:1-25, St. Paul stressed the importance of prophecy that interpreted tongues; this charism revealed the message of the tongues and edified its audience. In this case, the charism evangelized those gathered for Pentecost in the city who represented pilgrims from every nation on earth (Acts 2:5-12).
Peter proclaimed the Good News in three steps. First, he responded to the complaints of some in the crowd (Acts 2:13-15) with a quote from Joel 2:28-32 (Acts 2:16-21), but shifted the prophet's words to the end times by adding the phrase "...in these last days..." (Acts 1:17) With this subtle addition, the apostle pointed to the gifts of the Spirit as proof that the time of judgment was near.
Then, Peter connected the charisms on display to the death and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2:22-24). He backed up his assertion with quotes from the Psa 16:8-11 and Psa 110:1, which he attributed to King David (Acts 2:25-28; Acts 2:34-35). So, the paradigm regent of the nation, acting as a prophet, foresaw his descendant rising from the dead and that heir ascending to heavenly glory (Acts 2:29-31). He added to the personal witness of his fellow apostles to the selected words of the Psalms (Acts 2:32-33).
Lastly, Peter concluded with the statement that the crucified Jesus was Christ and Lord, a title Jews reserved to YHWH alone (Acts 2:36).
Kerygma disrupted the lives of its audience (Acts 2:37). Proclamation of the Good News demanded a response, hence Peter urged his listeners to repent and join the community (Acts 2:38-40). In the end, the evangelist described the results of the charism/kerygma as the faith-filled community living an ideal life (Acts 2:41-47).
3. First trial before the Sanhedrin and Aftermath (3:1-5:11)
a. Charism: Peter and John heal lame man at Temple gate (Acts 3:1-10)
Peter's speech in front of the Temple (Acts 3:11-26).
Peter's speech to the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:8-12).
c. Positive Reaction:
Many in the Temple audience believed (Acts 4:4).
Praise for Spirit overcoming human opposition (Acts 4:23-30).
Idyllic life in community (Acts 4:32-37).
d. Negative Reaction:
Peter and John arrested for preaching (Acts 4:1-3).
The deception of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11).
Luke introduced a negative reaction to the Good News, one that would only grow and stiffen. Again, the action began by a work of the Spirit, the healing of the lame man just outside the Temple (Acts 3:1-8) and the ecstatic reaction of the witnesses (Acts 3:9-11). Like Jesus in the Temple, Peter proclaimed kerygma. He pointed all glory to the Jesus the citizens of the city had crucified (Acts 3:12-16). He partially mitigated their guilt and claimed the Nazarene's death fulfilled Scripture (Acts 3:17-18) then challenged them to repent in the face of the prophesied end times (Acts 3:19-21). He backed up his call with two quotes from Scripture. First, he cited Deu 18:15 and Deu 18:18-19 to defend the notion of the Messiah and the power of his words (Act 3:22-23). Second, he cited Gen 22:18 and Gen 26:4 to assert Jesus fulfilled the promise God made to Abraham (Acts 3:24-25). He implied that his audience needed to repent in order to fully realize God's blessing (Acts 3:26).
Because of the uproar inside the Temple and the content of Peter's preaching, the religious leaders sent the guard to detain Peter and his companions for questioning (Acts 4:1-3). Nonetheless, Peter's kerygma had a positive effect; a large number of witnesses believed (Acts 4:4).
The next morning, Annas the high priest, along with members of his clan and other leaders, gathered and questioned Peter directly: "By what power, or in what name, have you done this?" (Acts 4:5-7). Peter responded with kerygma. He healed the lame man In the name of Jesus whom the leadership had crucified and whom God raised from the dead (Acts 4:8-10). He quoted Psa 118:22 to back up his claim (Acts 4:11) and finished with the assertion that salvation only came in the name of the Nazarene (Acts 4:12).
When Peter proclaimed the name of Jesus, he called upon the power and presence of the Risen Lord. In other words, the leader of the Apostles acted as a conduit for the Christ. He implied Jesus himself healed the lame man; he merely acted "in persona Christi."
The leaders reacted in awe of the ignorant Galileans posing such arguments with boldness. They also feared the irrefutable evidence standing before them that proved the disciple's assertions (Acts 4:13-14); in his forties, the healed man demanded the respect of an elder (Acts 4:22). In closed session, they decided that they could not dispute the healing due to the large numbers of witnesses (Acts 4:15-16). However, they needed to contain the charges Peter and the others made against them concerning the Crucifixion (Acts 4:17). So they commanded the disciples to remain silent which, of course Peter rejected (Acts 4:18-20). Yet, the leader's hands were tied; they made vague threats and released the head Apostle and his companions (Acts 4:21).
When the community heard the news, they praised God (Acts 4:23-24) by quoting Psa 2:1-2 (Acts 4:25-26). Then, they proclaimed a short credal statement about the death of Jesus (Acts 4:27-28). They ended with a prayer for boldness in preaching, for the ability to be divine conduits in healing and for "signs and wonders to be done in the name of...Jesus" (Acts 4:29-30).
As they prayed, the Spirit rushed upon them to speak the word of God, not unlike the Pentecost scene (see Acts 2:1-4; Acts 4:31). The charism-kerygma resulted in peaceful, communal living under the Apostles (Acts 4:32, Acts 4:34-37) and increased proclamation by the leadership (Acts 4:33). Acts 4:36 introduced Barnabas.
Just as the work of the Spirit in charism and kerygma received a positive reaction, it also created opposition, this time within the community. The story of Ananias and Sapphira was a case in point. Both sold a piece of property but, instead of donating all the profits to the community as they implicitly promised, they kept a portion for themselves and tried to deceive the leadership (Acts 5:1-2). Peter saw through their deceit and accused the couple of breaking a divine vow (Acts 5:3-4, Acts 5:7-9). For their sin, they fell dead (Acts 5:5-6, Acts 5:10). The community reacted in awe (Acts 5:11).
4. Second trial before the Sanhedrin and Aftermath (5:12-6:7)
Apostles healing in Temple (Acts 5:12-16).
Apostles miraculous freed from jail to proclaim Good News (Acts 5:19-21).
b. Kerygma: Peter's statement to Sanhedrin (Acts 5:29 -32).
c. Positive Reaction:
Peter and others continue to preach Good News (Acts 5:42).
Appointment of the Deacons (Acts 6:1-6).
Growth of church within Temple leadership (Acts 6:7).
d. Negative Reaction:
Peter and others jailed (Acts 5:17-18).
Peter and others brought before the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:26).
Gamaliel calmed angry leaders; apostles ordered not to preach, beaten, then released (Acts 5:33-40).
Much of 5:12-42 paralleled the themes of Acts chapters 3-4: Spirit's activity in healing, arrest of the Apostles, their kerygma before Temple leaders and their release from arrest.
5:12-20 summarized these themes. The Apostles exercised their charisms, both at their gathering area just within the Temple (Solomon's Porch; Acts 5:12) and on the streets (Acts 5:15-16). On the positive side, their ministry increased their reputation (Acts 5:13) and their numbers (Acts 5:14). On the negative side, the Temple leadership became jealous and arrested the apostles (Acts 5:17-18). But, through divine intervention, they gained their freedom and returned to minister in the Temple (see Acts 12:4-10; Acts 5:19-20).
The leaders ordered the Apostles brought before the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:21) but were amazed when the guards reported they had escaped and returned to the Temple (Acts 5:22-25). The leaders again commanded the guards to bring the Apostles before the Council (Acts 5:26). There, the leaders reminded the disciples not to preach about Jesus and blame his death on the city's elite (Acts 5:28). Peter responded, placing his duty on a higher plane, summarizing the Good News and appealing both to their personal witness and the power of the Spirit as proof of their righteousness (Acts 5:28-32). His kerygma inflamed the leaders' anger (Acts 5:33). But, in closed session, the respected teacher Gamaliel (see Acts 22:3) cooled their rhetoric by comparing nascent Christianity to failed movements of false Messiahs; instead of a proactive engagement, he urged patience to see if the new faith would fade away or gain strength (Acts 5:38-39). So, the leaders again ordered them not to preach and had them beaten (Acts 5:40). The Apostles, however, praised God for their suffering and returned to their daily routine of evangelizing in the Temple (Acts 5:41-42).
Notice, while Luke repeated the themes of charism, kerygma and reactions, he escalated the action from verbal warning to physical abuse. Soon, he would write of persecution and martyrdom.
Another controversy arose within the community, this time over the allocation of food to the poor (Acts 6:1). Since the community grew in numbers, leadership determined it needed to grow ministry to address internal needs. Hence, the apostles created the office of deacon to serve the expanding needs of widows and their children (Acts 6:2-4).
Luke placed the diaconate and the choice of men in this ministry (especially Stephen; Acts 6:5-6) as a transition from abuse to martyrdom. To heighten the drama, he hit the "beat" of faith growth, even within the priesthood of the Temple (Acts 6:7).
5. Martyrdom of Stephen and Introduction of Saul (6:8-8:3)
a. Charism: Stephen preached in the Spirit and performed miraculous signs (Acts 6:8)
Stephen debated against Diaspora Jews over Jesus (6:9-10).
His speech before the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:2-53).
c. Negative Reaction:
Stephen arrested on trumped up charges and put on trial (Acts 6:11-14).
Mob stoned him (Acts 7:54-60).
Saul appeared and persecution began; the community was dispersed (Acts 8:1-4).
Martyrdom of St. Stephen
Opposition shifted from the Temple to a synagogue of Diaspora-born Jews, foreshadowing resistance missionaries would face on the road. Stephen displayed charisms (Acts 6:8). But some from a "free men" synagogue (possibly comprised of former slaves from Alexandria, Egypt and Cyrene, a region in Tunisia) engaged him in a losing debate (Acts 6:9-10), so they recruited false witnesses (Acts 6:11). Stirring up the crowd, opponents dragged the Spirit-filled Stephen before the council for judgment (Acts 6:12). The false witnesses accused him of following a man who would destroy the Temple and radically change Judaism (Acts 6:13-14). Then, the council waited for his response (Acts 6:15, Acts 7:1).
Notice the scene echoed Jesus' trial before the Sanhedrin (Lk 23:63-71) even down to the charge Jesus would destroy the Temple (Mt 26:61, Mk 14:58, Jn 2:19; Acts 6:15).
As a response, Stephen's kerygma became an attack on his accusers, again foreshadowing the polemics employed later in the apostolic era. To understand his reasoning, let's begin at the end, his argument against the leadership. It contained three premises:
a) Christians stood within the Tradition (implied). Stephen argued against the charge that Christianity would radically alter, even nullify, Jewish tradition by evoking the memories of Abraham, Joseph and Moses. He began with the narrative of Abraham and the divine promise he received (Gen 12:1; Acts 7:2-3, Acts 7:5), his journey from Ur to Canaan (Acts 7:4), his descendants' enslavement (Gen 15:13-14) and the sign of his covenant with God, circumcision of his heirs (Acts 7:8).
Stephen continued with the Egypt sojourn of Joseph, Moses and the Exodus. Joseph moved his extended family to Egypt (Acts 7:9-16), but, over time his family grew into a people whom the Egyptians enslaved (Acts 7:17-19). In this morass, Moses arose, first as a member of the royal family (Acts 7:20-22), then as a misunderstood rebel (Acts 7:23-29) and finally as a savior appointed by God (see Exo 3:5-10; Acts 7:30-34). He faced opposition from both the Egyptians and the Hebrews, yet he succeeded in freeing the people with "signs and wonders" (Acts 7:35-36).
Stephen then introduced Deu 18:15 that famously prophesied The Prophet would had the power of Moses (Acts 7:37), then related the idolatrous intransigence of the Hebrews (see Exo 32:1; Acts 7:38-42) which foretold the feckless impiety of the population before the Babylonian Exile (Amos 5:25-27; Acts 7:42-43). Notice he set Moses' prediction for The Prophet and the people's worship in opposition. He flipped the order of his argument by stating that, yes, YHWH did will for a tabernacle, then Temple (Acts 7:44-47) but implied The Prophet took precedent over Temple cult, just as Moses had authority over his brother and chief priest, Aaron.
b) "Resisting the Spirit." In Acts 7:49-50, Stephen quoted Isa 66:1-2, reminding the leaders of the Temple that the edifice could not contain the divine presence. While in concept, the leadership acknowledged that fact, in practice they acted as if the presence was confined to that space by creating a web of rules and regulations for the Temple. Further, he implicitly equated the presence of God with the Spirit (Acts 7:51) and, so, indicted them for rejecting that same divine force at work in the Christian community. His arrest was proof of the charge.
c) Murder of the prophets and the Righteous One. Stephen accused the leaders of killing the Righteous One (The Prophet of Deu 18:15) in the same way their ancestors martyred the prophets who foresaw the coming Messiah (Acts 7:51-52). He implied that, since they persecuted Jesus and his followers to protect their status in the same way Judean leadership had killed the prophets who embodied fidelity to the Law, they were not faithful it (Acts 7:53).
Ergo, the leadership, not the Christians, broke the Law.
In the end, his audience could not hear anymore (Acts 7:54), they dragged Stephen outside to stone him (Acts 7:57-58). In his final words, he repeated three phrases Jesus spoke at the Passion: sight of the Son of Man in glory (Lk 24:69 ; Acts 7:55-56), offering his spirit to God (Lk 24:46; Acts 7:59) and forgiveness of opponents (Lk 24:34; Acts 7:60). In this scene, however, the work of the Spirit ended in martyrdom; opposition increased from arrest, then beating and, finally, execution.
In elegant style, Luke used a parallel construction to close out the story of Stephen and introduce two new story lines: ministry in outlying areas where many disciples fled and the figure of and early opponent, Saul (Acts 8:1-3).
I. Step B2. Judea and Samaria (A 8:3–12:25)
1. Simon Magus and the Ministry of Philip (8:4-40)
Philip healed and preached in Samaria (Acts 8:4-8).
Peter and John arrived and laid hands of the neophytes who received the Spirit (Acts 8:14-17).
Through a divine message, Philip traveled to Gaza and met the eunuch (Acts 8:26-29).
b. Kerygma: Eunuch and Philip discussed Isa 53:7-8 and Philip preached to eunuch (Acts 8:30-35).
c. Positive Reaction:
Many Samaritans were baptized, even overshadowing Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-13).
Philip baptized the eunuch (Acts 8:36-39).
d. Negative Reaction: Simon Magus offered money for the power of the Spirit; Peter condemned him (Acts 8:18-23).
Luke shifted curse of a scattered community into an opportunity for evangelization. The ministry of Philip created a quasi-chiasmus with the disciple's activities as the A Step (8:5-8; 8:40) and the controversy Simon Magus caused as the B Step (8:9-25).
Luke began with the ministry of Philip to the Samaritans, a group faithful Jews considered apostates. Philip proclaimed Christ (Acts 8:5) and performed signs in the Savior's name (Acts 8:6-7). The people listened attentively (Acts 8:7) and rejoiced (Acts 8:8).
Then, Luke introduced another controversy the early Church faced viz-a-viz the general culture: competing spiritual powers. A self-important practitioner of the magical arts, Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-11), heard Philip preach and awed at the disciple's charisms that drew people away from Simon. Many were baptized, even the magician himself (Acts 8:12-13).
The success of Philip's ministry impressed the leadership in Jerusalem, so Peter and John traveled to the region. There, they laid hands on the neophytes and empowered these new Christians to exercise the same charisms as Philip had (Acts 8:14-17).
At this point, let's pause and discuss spiritual power in ancient societies. Pagan culture prized those with "spiritual" abilities. Practitioners of these "arts," like Simon, saw these powers in monetary terms simply because they controlled them through the use of magic incantations or rituals. Such knowledge could be brought and sold. So, no wonder Simon wanted to buy the gifts of the Spirit (Acts 8:18-19). But he mistook God's power for something people could manipulate. So, he was rebuked (Acts 8:20-23). Stung, Simon asked for prayers (Acts 8:24) Notice again the initiative of the Spirit resulted in the growth of the Church; people like Philip were mere conduits (Acts 8:25).
Philip Baptized the Eunuch
Luke finished this section with the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch; this passage acted as a prelude to the conversion of Saul. In typical fashion, Luke portrayed the Spirit as the force behind the story, guiding Philip, his keygma and the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. Philip received a divine message to go south along the coastal road to Gaza (Acts 8:26) where he encountered the "minister of finance" to the queen of Ethiopia; he was a righteous, educated Gentile who worshiped YHWH (Acts 8:27) and read the prophet Isaiah on his way home from a pilgrimage (Acts 8:28).
We should pause here to consider two issues: 1) the status of eunuchs in Judaism and 2) the reason an Ethiopian would make a pilgrimage to the Temple. First, according to Deu 23:1-2, a castrated male could not enter the assembly of YHWH or marry into an Israelite family. Such men did serve in the royal household as prized servants since they could not father children and, thus have split priorities between family and king. But they could not enjoy equality within the Chosen People. Like the Samaritans Philip evangelized, the eunuch was an outsider.
Second, from ancient times until the twentieth century, a scattered Jewish community lived in Ethiopia. The Diaspora group there (also known as "Beta Israel") explained their existence with many different legends. According to one tradition, Menelik, son of King Solomon and Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:1-13, 2 Chron 9:1-12) led a group of Israelites to Ethiopia to settle the land; another story held their people descended from the tribe of Dan. In any case, Jews did live in the area and adhered to the Torah; the pilgrimage of the eunuch simply reflected that fact.
Let's return to the passage. The Spirit told Philip to approach the eunuch (Acts 8:29) when he heard the Ethiopian reading from the Suffering Servant Song (Isa 53:7-8). He struck up a conversation with the inquisitive eunuch over the meaning of the passage (Acts 8:30-34); this gave way to Philip's evangelization through he exposition of Scripture (Acts 8:35). Convinced by the disciple's kerygma, the eunuch asked for and received baptism, then went merrily on his way (Acts 8:36-39).
Notice the parallel between this narrative and that of the Road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-32). In both stories, men traveled a road away from Jerusalem, burdened with questions. A stranger approached them, explained Scripture to them and evangelized them. The men in question partook in a sacrament of the community (Eucharist for those going to Emmaus, baptism for the Ethiopian). With the sacrament complete, the stranger left the scene. In both cases, questioning gave way to faith, and to joy.
Luke ended Philip's ministry in Acts with a transitional sentence noting the end of his mission at Caesarea (Acts 8:40).
2. 9:1-31 Saul's Conversion
Saul's vision of Jesus and resulting blindness (Acts 9:3-9).
Ananias' vision to visit him (Acts 9:10-16).
Ananias prayed over him to regain sight and receive the Spirit (Acts 9:17).
Paul regained sight (Acts 9:18-19).
Saul preached about Jesus (Acts 9:20).
He debated Diaspora Jews about Jesus in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-29).
c. Positive Reaction:
Saul's preaching caused wonder (Acts 9:21).
After he left for Tarsus, the Church in Palestine grew (Acts 9:31).
d. Negative Reaction:
Saul obtains credentials to arrest Christians (Acts 9:1-2).
His preaching caused turmoil among the leadership in the Damascus synagogue, so the leaders plotted to kill him (Acts 9:22-23).
Diaspora Jews in Jerusalem plotted to kill him (Acts 9:29).
Conversion of Saul
In the previous passage, the eunuch who could never join Judaism as a full member now had an equal place with other Christians; now a fierce opponent would join the Church. Saul sought to expand his persecution to Damascus in order to suppress the spread of the new faith and bring disciples back to Jerusalem to face punishment (Acts 9:1-2). On the way, he encountered a blind light and the voice of Jesus: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9:3-4). Saul inquired as to the identity of the voice and the voice replied, "I AM Jesus, the one you are persecuting" (Acts 9:5). Then Jesus commanded him to rise up and go to city where he would receive his mission (Acts 9:6). Struck blind, he rose and went on to Damascus where he fasted for three days (notice the parallel with the length of time the crucified Jesus lay entombed; Acts 9:7-9).
Note the parallel with this scene on the road to Damascus and the scene of the burning bush in Exodus chapter three. Both Moses and Saul asked the name of the divine voice. God said to Moses "I AM WHO AM" (Exo 3:14). The phrase "I AM" denoted divinity. The voice said to Saul "I AM Jesus" (Acts 9:5); here, Luke fused divine identity with the Nazarene. In both scenes, Moses and Saul were given missions that required spiritual power in order to care their charges out.
Luke shifted the scene to disciple in Damascus named Ananias. In a vision, he received the divine command to visit Saul and minister to him; he was also informed Saul knew of his visit (Acts 9:10-12). While he initially objected, the vision reassured him and previewed the convert's missionary work (Acts 9:13-16).
Notice the means of divine activity in this chapter shifted to visions. God revealed his will to Saul in his encounter with Jesus, then to Ananias with his command to visit the blind Pharisee. When Ananias visited Saul, he came not only to relieve the lack of sight (code word for unbelief) but to implicitly lay hands so Saul could receive the Spirit (Acts 9:17). As a result, the former persecutor joined the community though baptism (Acts 9:19) and gained strength with food in the midst of believers (implicitly Eucharist; Acts 9:20).
Saul caused controversy by proclaiming his new faith, confusing believers and confounding his former Pharisaical partners (Acts 9:20-22). He enraged the later to the extend them plotted to kill him (Acts 9:23). Saul and the Christians learned of their enemies' intentions, so arranged for him to escape the city (Acts 9:24-25). At Jerusalem, he tried to join in fellowship with community there but met with resistance until Barnabas befriended him and vouched for his conversion story (Acts 9:27-28). After entering the city, he again proclaimed his kerygma to the Hellenic Jews (from the Mediterranean Diaspora) and again he faced murderous opposition, so he had to escape to Caesarea and eventually home to Tarsus (Acts 9:28-30). With Saul out of the picture, passage ended on a happy note with the growth of the Church (Acts 9:31).
Luke began a cycle of proclamation and resistance that would play out over the ministry of Paul.
3. The Conversion of the Gentiles (9:32-11:30)
Peter healed Aeneas (Acts 9:32-34).
He raised Tabitha from the dead (Acts 9:36-41).
Cornelius received a vision to fetch him (Acts 10:3-6).
His vision of unclean animals and command to eat (Acts 10:10-16).
Peter's speech about the worthiness of Gentiles and life of Jesus (Acts 10:34-43)
His defense of accepting Cornelius by baptism (Acts 10:4-17)
Missionaries spontaneously begin to evangelize Gentiles in the eastern Mediterranean basin (Acts 11:19-21).
c. Positive Reaction:
Healing of Aeneas caused conversions (Acts 9:35).
Raising of Tabitha caused many to believe (Acts 9:42)
The Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his household.
Peter ordered them baptized (Acts 10:44-48).
The acceptance of Peter's action by the Jerusalem church (Acts 10:18).
d. Negative Reaction: Jewish Christians took issue with Peter over baptism of Cornelius (Acts 11:1-3).
In 9:32-43, Luke shifted back to Peter with two miracle stories. In the first, the Apostle raised up Aeneas, the paralytic at Lydda (echoing the Lk 5:17-26; Acts 9:32-35). In the second, he raised a righteous woman from the dead (reminiscent of Jesus raising Jarius' daughter in Lk 8:49-56). At Joppa, she had been prepared for burial (Acts 9:36-37) when disciples called for Peter for help (Acts 9:38). Even though they mourned, he turned them out, prayed over her, bid her to rise up and restore her to the community ("saints and widow"; Acts 9:39-41). In case of both miracles, many in the locale joined the Church (Acts 9:35, Acts 9:42). Luke transitioned to the next passage with a comment that Peter stayed with Simon the tanner (Acts 9:43).
Then, in 10:1-43, Luke prepared for the conversion of the Gentiles with the story of Cornelius. The evangelist portrayed the officer as a contradiction to the Jewish community. On the one hand, he represented an enemy to the Chosen People, a commander in an occupying, oppressive force, living in a Gentile city (the port of Caesarea) planted on the soil of that people (Acts 10:1). On the other hand, he had a deep devotion to YHWH, possessed a family that shared his faith and performed acts of charity for the Jews of the area (Acts 10:2). If he did not have a commission in the Roman army, he might have converted. About three o'clock in the afternoon ("ninth hour"), the centurion received a divine vision, assuring him that God would answer his prayers and commanding him to send for Peter, which he did (Acts 10:3-8).
At noon the next day, a hungry Peter prayed on Simon's rooftop when he beheld a vision of non-kosher animals lowered to his view on a large sheet (Acts 10:9-12). A heavenly voice commanded him to "rise, kill and eat" (Acts 10:13). The message stunned him since the it contradicted Torah duties (Acts 10:14). But the voice repeatedly assured him that "What God has cleansed, you must not call unclean." Then, the vision ended (Acts 10:15-16). This left Peter confused but, then, the messengers from Cornelius arrived and called for the Apostle (Acts 10:17-18).
Inspired by the Spirit, Peter received the messengers, heard their request and traveled with them to Caesarea (Acts 10:19-23). When Peter entered the home of the centurion, Cornelius, surrounded by family and friends, prostrated himself before the Apostle (Acts 10:24-25), but Peter objected to such honor and raised the soldier up (Acts 10:26-27). Then, the Apostle recognized the Law called for adherents to live separate, "holy" lives (see Lev 11:44-45) but the calling of the Spirit superseded Torah duties (Acts 10:28-29). Cornelius confirmed the work of the Spirit in his vision that led to Peter's visit (Acts 10:30-33). The Apostle responded with his kerygma. He recognized the universality of salvation from the God of all (Acts 10:34-36). He personally attested to the baptism, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 10:37-41). And he related the commission to evangelize others about the Lordship of the Christ and the forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:42-43).
During Peter's keygma, the Spirit poured out his charisms upon the Apostle's Gentile audience, to the surprise of his fellow Jews (Acts 10:44-46). Since Peter saw Cornelius and his family had received the Spirit at the very moment of his kerygma, he could find no reason to deny them full fellowship in the believing community. So he ordered them baptized (Acts 10:47-48).
Notice the manifestation of the Spirit in this passage. Luke paralleled the narrative of Cornelius with that of Saul's conversion through the use of visions. The apostles, Paul (then, Saul in Acts 9:3-9) and Peter received direct revelations from God, while the minor characters (like Cornelius) saw intermediaries (angels; see Acts 9:10-16) with individual messages. In later case, the angle proclaiming the Good News went to the person who would become a believer. When a disciple proclaimed the Gospel, the recipients indicated faith by speaking in tongues and praising God. The Spirit moved both in the missionary and in his audience.
So, the power of the Spirit manifest itself in growing circles: a eunuch, a zealous Jewish opponent, then in an officer in the Roman power structure. The Spirit would push the apostles to look beyond their own parochial vision and see the Gentiles as a field rich for an evangelical harvest.
In Acts 11:1-3, Peter returned to Jerusalem to face a backlash of Jewish-Christians who held salvation was for Israel only. Peter recounted his vision of the divine command to consume unclean animals (Acts 11:4-10), the urging of the Spirit to accompany the messengers from Cornelius to visit the centurion (Acts 11:11-12), Cornelius' vision (Acts 11:13-14), the Apostle's kerygma and the manifestation of charisms among his audience (Acts 11:15-16). His report temporarily resolved the matter (Acts 11:17), but it would resurface in Paul's ministry in Acts 15:1-31.
In 11:19-21, Luke related the dispersion of believers after Stephen's death. These disciples traveled north and west. Some evangelized their fellow Jews. Others in Cyrus and Cyrene evangelized Gentiles ("Hellenists") at random and had great success. Leaders in the Jerusalem Church sent the highly regarded Barnabas (Acts 11:24) to investigate (Acts 11:22). The enthusiasm of the neophytes heartened him, so he encouraged them in their new faith (Acts 11:23). Later, he sought Saul and stayed to Antioch for a year; here, believers gained their "Christian" moniker (Acts 11:25-26).
After the Christian prophet Agabus predicted a "world-wide" famine, well-to-do disciples gathered a collection which they entrusted to Barnabas and Saul. They returned to the Judean capital with charitable donations (Acts 11:27-30), foreshadowing of the ministry Paul would later undertake in the communities he established (see 1 Cor 16:1–4;,2 Cor 8:1–9:15, Rom 15:14–32).
4. Persecution of Jerusalem Church (12:1-25)
a. Charism: An angel killed Herod for the blasphemy (Acts 12:23).
b. Positive Reaction:
On the night before Peter's trial and execution, an angel appeared, freed him and led him out to freedom on the streets (Acts 12:6-10).
Church continued to grow (Acts 12:24).
c. Negative Reaction:
Herod moved against the Jerusalem church, executed James (Acts 12:1-2).
Peter arrested and held by multiple guards; community prayed for him (Acts 12:3-5).
This transitional passage twice mentioned Herod Agrippa (11BCE- 44CE), grandson of Herod the Great. Early in life, he was sent to Rome to live in the Imperial court and receive his education. His fortunes were intertwined with the political machinations of imperial politics and the rise of emperors Caligula, then Claudius. Through his acumen, he gained control over Judea and Samaria and ruled as a vassal king between 41-44 CE. According to tradition, he favored Jews over other groups in the kingdom, including Christians.
Each narrative that mentioned Herod involved divine intervention. First, in order to gain favor with the Jerusalem elite during Passover, he moved against the Church leadership, martyring James and arresting Peter (Acts 12:1-3). Herod placed the Apostle under heavy guard and intended to execute him after the festival (Acts 12:4-6). During the night, a divine messenger freed Peter, passing by two sets of guards (Acts 12:7-10). Peter visited the praying community who gathered at the home of John Mark's mother; at first, they were incredulous but then rejoiced (Acts 12:11-16). He told of his rescue to the faithful as an answer to their prayers (Acts 12:5, Acts 12:12-17). Infuriated at the report of Peter's escape, Herod had the guards executed (Acts 12:18-19).
In the second case, Herod attempted to intervene in Roman affairs by quietly negotiating with neighboring territories over food supplies (Acts 12:19-20). During a celebration, he gave a speech; the audience responded with praise comparing his words with that of a god (Acts 12:21-22). At this, he fell with deep abdominal pains and died shortly there after; the author of Acts attributed his death to the act of an angel when the king did not reject the blasphemous adulation (Acts 12:23). This account had a parallel in Josephus' Antiquities 19.8.2 343-361. We must note inter-province politics did occur under Roman rule. And, in their praise, the pagan visitors in the Herod's court would naturally compare his words to that of the gods; the Hellenistic culture in eastern Mediterranean basin had a tradition of deifying their rulers. In both Acts and Josephus, Herod sinned when he did not immediately reject such praise as blasphemous. After the despot died, the Church grew (Acts 12:24)
The passage ended with the return of Saul and Barnabas, along with John (Mark) to Jerusalem (Acts 12:25), thus setting up their travels to Gentile territories and closing out the narrative on Peter.
J. Step A2. To the ends of the earth (A 13:1–28:31)
1. Paul's First Journey (13:1-14:28)
a. At Cyrus (13:1-12)
At Antioch, Barnabas and Saul are chosen through prayer and prophecy (Acts 13:1-3).
Saul (now called "Paul") curses bar-Jesus (Acts 13:9-11).
2) Kerygma: Barnabas and Paul preached to pro-consul and against false prophet, bar Jesus ("Elymus" in Greek; Acts 13:6-8).
3) Positive Reaction: In response to the curse, the pro-consul believed (Acts 13:12).
In Antioch, Christian prophets of note chose Saul and Barnabas for missionary work (Acts 13:1-4). The men, accompanied by John Mark, traveled to the island of Cyprus to preach in the synagogues there (Acts 13:5). Then, they traveled to to the island of Paphos where they encountered bar Jesus, a Jewish magician in the court of the pro-consul, Sergius Paulus. The pro-consul wished to hear the missionaries message, but bar Jesus opposed them (Acts 13:6-8). In reality, the occasion provided an area for spiritual battle, the power of the Spirit vs. the powers held by bar-Jesus. Those who vanquished their opponent would win the day. The pro-consul believed simply because Paul cursed bar-Jesus with blindness (Acts 13:9-12). The Spirit was victorious (see Acts 8:9-24, the story of Simon Magus).
Note that at Acts 13:9, the author marked a turning point; the Hebrew name "Saul" became the Greek equivalent "Paul." From now on, he would use the Greek name.
1) Kerygma: Paul's speech in the synagogue (Acts 13:16-41).
2) Positive Reaction:
Many wanted to hear more from Paul on the next Sabbath (Acts 13:42-43).
Facing opposition, Paul and Barnabas preach to the Gentiles (allusion to Isaiah 42:6, 49:6) who eagerly accepted the message (Acts 13:46-49).
Despite opposition to Paul and Barnabas, the disciples rejoiced (Acts 13:52).
3) Negative Reaction:
On the following Sabbath, the city gathered to hear Paul and Barnabas, but the missionaries faced opposition from many Jews (Acts 13:44-45).
Mounting opposition forced them from the area; they went to Iconium (Acts 13:50-51).
Luke presented the next paradigm scene: kerygma in a synagogue. Here, Paul and Barnabas sailed from the islands to southern Anatolia (but john Mark left for Jerusalem; Acts 13:13) where the Apostle to the Gentiles preached to a mixed audience of Jews ("men of Israel") and Gentiles who worshiped YHWH ("you who fear God"; Acts 13:16). The scene described an early synagogue service where readings from the law and the prophets were publicly read, then someone in the community would comment. In this case, the synagogue leader the visitor (Paul) to speak (Acts 13:14-15).
Paul presented his kerygma in three steps: history, proclamation and exhortation. First, the apostle summarized the story of Israel. He began with the Exodus (Acts 13:17-19) and moved quickly to King David (Acts 13:20-22) where he honored the great monarch with a phrase that combined Psa 89:20 and 1 Sam 13:14 with an allusion to Isa 44:28. Then he jumped to the Promised One as a descendant of David (Acts 13:23) and discounted any claims people made for the Baptist as the Messiah see (Acts 19:1-7) by quoting John (see Mt 3:11, Mk 1:7, Lk 3:16, Jn 1:19-27; Acts 13:24-25).
Next, he proclaimed salvation to his audience of Jews and righteous Gentiles (Acts 13:26) by recounting the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus, asserting these events fulfilled Scripture (Acts 13:27-32). He defended the notion of the Resurrection by quoting Scripture (Psa 2:7 in Acts 13:33; Isa 55:3 in Acts 13:34; Psa 16:10 in Acts 13:35) and, through these verses, presented Risen Christ as superior to the deceased David (Acts 13:36-37).
Finally, he proclaimed forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus and warned those in the synagogue who rejected the message (Hab 1:5; Acts 13:38-41).
As mentioned above, Paul's kerygma produced positive and negative results. Some listeners were intrigued and eventually believed (Acts 13:42-44, Acts 13:48-49). But many others became so hostile (Acts 13:45, Acts 13:50) that Paul and Barnabas turned to the Gentiles as a field of evangelical harvest (Isa 49:6; Acts 13:46-47). In the end, the pair moved on to Iconium in protest (Acts 13:51), yet the inspired believers they left behind rejoiced for receiving the Good News (Acts 13:52). This mixed reception of kerygma foreshadowed events that would follow. Some would believe, others would oppose.
Note Paul's kerygma and its aftermath implicitly were the work of the Spirit: the apostle's commission as a missionary (13:1-3), his preaching in the synagogue (13:14b-41) and the followup where the faith grew despite opposition (13:42-52).
c. At Lystra and Return to Antioch (14:1-28)
1) Charism: As Paul preached in Lystra, he saw and healed a lame man (Acts 14:8-10).
Paul and Barnabas preached at synagogue in Iconium with some resistance, preaching and healing (Acts 14:1-3).
They used the commotion as an opportunity to evangelize, but their words failed to persuade the crowd (Acts 14:14-18).
3) Positive Reaction:
Paul and Barnabas returned to the cities they evangelized (Lystra, Iconium, Pisidian Antioch), encouraged the faithful and appointed leadership for the new church communities (Acts 14:21-23).
They came back to the coast, evangelized, then sailed home to Antioch (Acts 14:24-26).
They reported their gains among the Gentiles on their journey (Acts 14:27-28).
4) Negative Reaction:
Opponents in the divided city moved against Paul and Barnabas, so they fled to Lystra to evangelize (Acts 14:4-7).
The people in Lystra saw Paul's healing of the lame man as a divine sign of Zeus (Barnabas) and Hermes (Paul); they prepared to offer them sacrifice (Acts 14:11-13).
Jews from the cities Paul and Barnabas had visited came to Lystra and turned the crowd against the missionaries; they stoned Paul but he revived the next day and went to Derbe (Acts 14:19-20).
Acts 14 continued the cycle detailed in chapter 13. First, Paul and Barnabas preached (especially in the local synagogue) to Jews and Gentiles (Acts 14:1, Acts 14:3). Next, they received a divided reaction with some believing (Acts 14:1), others opposing (Acts 14:2). Finally, they faced mounting pressure to leave town (Acts 14:4-6). But they continued to proclaim the Good News (Acts 14:7).
In Acts 14:8-20, the healing charism of Paul and Barnabas clashed with the pagan piety of Lystra. When the townsfolk saw preaching Paul heal a lame man (Acts 14:8-10), the people interpreted the sign as divine visitation (Barnabas as Jupiter and Paul as Mercury the messenger; Acts 14:11-12) and mounted sacrifices to the men as a citywide festival (Acts 14:13). The missionaries struggled to use the moment as an opportunity to proclaim Jewish monotheism; they spoke to the "Living God" in Acts 14:15 who created all things, including the conditions for a good harvest (Acts 14:14-17), But, their efforts were in vain (Acts 14:18). Acts 14:19 does not tell us whether the crowd spontaneously turned against the men upon the urging of Jewish opponents or the tide turned over time. Nonetheless, the mob ejected Paul and Barnabas, leaving the former for dead. Of course, this fact didn't deter the missionaries who pushed on to Derbe (Acts 14:20).
In Acts 14:21-25, Paul and Barnabas returned to the cities they evangelized to encourage the neophytes and appoint leadership. Then, the two returned home to Antioch where they reported their success (Acts 14:26-28).
2. Jerusalem Council (15:1-35)
1. Charism: Agreement with the Spirit and the leadership in Jerusalem to the compromise for the Gentile converts (Acts 15:28)
James proposed a solution to the problem of Gentiles joining the Church (Acts 15:13-21).
The letter of the council that embodied James' solution (Acts 15:23-30).
3. Positive Reaction:
Antioch church sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem for ruling on Gentiles joining the movement (Acts 15:2b-4).
Peter testified about the Spirit coming upon Cornelius and his household, implying God's initiative trumps the rulings of men (Acts 15:7-11).
Paul and Barnabas explain their ministry to the Gentiles (Acts 15:12).
The pair, along with representatives from Jerusalem arrive at Antioch and explain the compromise; the faithful there receive the ruling with joy (Acts 15:30-31).
4. Negative Reaction:
Debate between Paul and Judaizers (Acts 15:1-2).
Pharisaic Christians insist Gentiles must convert to Judaism before they can join the community (Acts 15:5).
In Acts, Paul and his companions faced opposition not only from the outside (pagans and non-believing Jews) but from the inside as the controversy over Gentile converts came to a head. Jewish Christians who adhered to the philosophy of the Pharisees ("Judaizers"), insisted Gentiles had to convert to Judaism in order to become followers of Jesus (Acts 15:1, Acts 15:5). Paul and Barnabas (along with other missionaries) had evangelized non-Jews with great success, but did not impose the duties of the Law upon these neophytes. In Acts 15:2, a nasty struggle broke out between the two camps (indeed, Paul dedicated the majority of his letter to the Galatians to attack his opponents and defend his position).
The church community in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas to represent their Gentile brethren before the leaders in the mother Church at Jerusalem (Acts 15:2-3). That assembly heard about and discussed the spontaneous growth of the faith among the Gentiles (Acts 15:4, Acts 15:6, Acts 15:12). Even Peter supported both the evangelization efforts among the Gentiles (Acts 15:7-8) and their equality within the believing community (Acts 15:9-11). James, the leader of the Jerusalem church, recognized the missionary success by quoting Amos 9:11-12 (Acts 15:14-18). Then, he proposed a compromise that maintained the freedom and equality of the Gentiles, but would not give offense to Jewish Christians. The Gentiles were to abstain from sexual immorality (attending worship rites of fertility gods, as well as adultery), meats sacrificed at pagan religious festivals then distributed to the people (a source of protein especially for the poor), the blood of animals (forbade in Genesis 9:4-5 and Leviticus 17:13-14) and the meat of strangled animals (considered to be animal cruelty by Jews, but pagans thought such meat a delicacy; Acts 15:20). Notice, as a Jew, James encapsulated the compromise within the context of the Law (Acts 15:21) and the Prophets (Acts 15:16-17). In other words, he made a halakhic declaration (see the commentary on Galatians for more context).
The community approved the compromise by consensus and chose a party of witnesses (Silas and Judas Barsabbas) along with Paul and Barnabas to report back to the community at Antioch (Acts 15:22; Acts 15:25-27). They composed a letter laying out the controversy (Acts 15:23-24) and explaining their joint ruling that insured their equality within the community and respected fellow Jewish believers (Acts 15:28-29). The churches in Antioch and the surrounding region received the news with joy (Acts 15:30-31) and shared fellowship with the witnesses (Acts 15:32-35).
Scholars have debated the impact of the food restrictions on the Gentile Christians, since the majority of the population was poor; they basically ate a vegetarian diet with meat consumed on rare occasion. However, we cannot deny the social impact these converts faced. In the ancient world, meals were the prime social events in cities with certain unwritten rules and expectations of behavior. Gentile Christians isolated themselves from pagan communities that shared city-wide common meals during regularly held religious festivals; such meals served meats sacrificed to the gods, so they were communion with false deities. As a result, prejudice against Christians quickly grew among the pagans.
3. Paul's Second Journey (15:36-18:22)
a. Paul and Silas begin their Journey (15:36-16:5).
1) Positive Reaction: Retracing his steps from his first journey, Paul passed the decree of the Jerusalem council onto all the churches in the area; the churches grew (Acts 16:4-5).
At the beginning of his second missionary journey, Paul broke ranks with Barnabas over John Mark. The apostle wanted to retrace his steps in Anatolia (Acts 15:36). Barnabas wanted to include the young man on their journey (Acts 15:37). But, Paul rejected the idea; he interpreted Mark's departure early on in their first journey as an act of cowardice (see Acts 13:13; Acts 15:38). The two went their separate ways (Acts 15:39).
At Lystra, Paul chose Timothy as a traveling companion, along with Silas from Antioch (Acts 15:40-41). Well thought of in the community as a believer, Timothy had a Greek pagan father and a Jewish mother (Acts 16:1-2). The apostle had the young man circumcised so they could freely pass between Jewish and Gentile audiences without giving offense to the former (Acts 16:3). Of course, Timothy freely chose to follow the Law in order to evangelize; his and Paul's effort bore fruit (Acts 16:4-5).
b. Paul and Silas at Philippi (16:6-40)
The Holy Spirit prevented Paul to evangelize in the interior of Anatolia, so they went to Troas on the coast of the Aegean Sea (Acts 16:6-8)
He received a vision of a Macedonian man who begged the apostle to visit his area; the apostle took this as a sign (Acts 16-9-10)
He exorcised a slave girl who served as a fortune teller; she proclaimed his mission (Acts 16:16-18).
While Paul and Silas prayed in jail, an earthquake shook the building and loosen the prisoner's bonds (Acts 16:25-26).
Outside the Philippi, Paul converts a rich, "God-fearing" Gentile woman, Lydia; she invited them to stay at her house (Acts 16:13-15).
Paul and Silas evangelized the jailer (Acts 16:31-32).
3) Positive Reaction:
At the sight, the jailer on duty assumed all escaped and prepared to commit suicide; Paul and Silas called out and reassured him all were present; the jailer fell at the feet of the missionaries (Acts 16:27-29).
The jailer asked how he could be saved. After he was evangelized, he and his household were baptized; then he hosted a meal for the missionaries (Acts 16:30, Acts 16:33-34).
City officials sent soldiers to announce the release of Paul and Silas (Acts 16:35-36).
The missionaries objected, stating they were Roman citizens. When the city officials heard this, they personally escorted them out of jail and pleaded with them to leave the city. After staying for a short while at Lydia's house, they left (Acts 16:37-40).
4) Negative Reaction:
Seeing their source of income gone, the slave girl's owners dragged Paul and his party to court and charged them with disrupting the peace (Acts 16:19-21).
The judges had the missionaries beaten with rods and imprisoned in a secure cell and placed in stocks (Acts 16:22-24).
Paul and his companions traveled through the interior of modern-day Turkey, but had little success in evangelizing the area (Acts 16:6-8). They came to Troas on the Aegean coast where Paul had another sign of the Spirit, a vision, urging the entourage to visit Philippi in Macedonia (Acts 16:9-10). When they arrived (Acts 16:11-12), the apostle evangelized, then baptized a rich merchant woman, Lydia, who was a righteous Gentile and a gracious host (Acts 16:13-15). She was the first of many rich women who sponsored the missionaries along their journeys.
Acts 16:10 marked the beginning of the "we" verses. At this point, the subject shifted from third person ("they") to first person ("we"). In other words, the narrative included the author's first hand experience. These verses would continue to Acts 16:17.
In Acts 16:16-18, Paul again clashed with pagan spiritual powers. In this case, a slave girl possessed by a fortune telling spirit harassed the missionaries by constantly shouting their purpose to all who met them. Finally, Paul ordered the spirit to leave her. The girl's owners, realizing the could not make money from her, dragged Paul and his entourage into court (Acts 16:19-21).
Notice two things about the passage. First, the scene presented a battle of the spirits; the Spirit through Paul controlled a lesser spirit (Acts 16:18). Second, since the owners could no longer monetize the advantages that lesser spirit offered, they pressed charges against the missionaries based upon their message and their customs (Acts 16:19). Since the faith stood antithetical to pagan customs, they claimed it was anti-social (Acts 16:20). As a result of the Spirit's activity, Paul and his friends suffered punishment and imprisonment (Acts 16:22-23)
In the next scene (Acts 16:23-34), and earthquake stuck the jail and the jailer despaired. Many people read this section and wonder why the jailer reacted in this manner. We moderns forget the ancients saw every event as an interaction between the gods and humans.
The authorities had Paul and Silas roundly beat, then placed into the most secure accommodation they could, in an inner cell, in stocks (Acts 16:24). This heightened the miracle of the earthquake (Acts 16:25-26). After the event, the jailer assumed the prisoners escaped. His fear was not misplaced. He would have been blamed for his lack diligence by his superiors; he faced torture and execution. But his fear ran deeper. In his mind, the earthquake and the loosened bonds proved the divine displeasure. The jailer despaired not only over human judgment, but over divine condemnation. No wonder he prepared for suicide (Acts 16:27) until Paul calmed his fears (Acts 16:28).
In this light, his question about salvation made sense (Acts 16:29-30). With the prisoners secure, he turned his focus on the greater question: how could he make himself right with a higher power? This opened the door to his evangelization by Paul and Silas (Acts 16:31-32). The baptism of the jailer and his household marked a reconciliation. The jailer was not only right with his superiors, but with God himself (Acts 16:33-34).
in Acts 16:35-36, the city officials released Paul and Silas for expedient reasons. With the men gone, the city's atmosphere would return to normal. While they hoped the missionaries would leave quietly, they did not consider these men might be Roman citizens. While the officials could treat commoners with impunity, they had to address the treatment of those with Roman citizenship.
Paul and Silas realized their rights had been violated and they made sure they would not face the same treatment again in Philippi. When they were escorted by the city officials out of jail, they put those officials directly in sight of the public, shaming this men for their misjudgment (Acts 16:37-39). In essence, they flipped their mistreatment back on the officials.
Enjoying the hospitality of the rich patroness, Lydia, for a short time, Paul and Silas eventually left on their mission (Acts 16:40).
c. Paul and Silas at Thessalonica and Beroea (17:1-15)
In Thessalonica, Paul preached at the local synagogue on three Sabbaths (Acts 17:1-3).
He preached in the synagogue at Beroea to a more open-minded audience (Acts 17:10-11).
2) Positive Reaction:
At Thessalonica, many believed after Paul preached (Acts 17:4)
At Beroea, many in the synagogue Paul preached to, along with leading Gentiles, believed (Acts 17:12).
3) Negative Reaction:
At Thessalonica, opponents formed a mob and attacked Jason's (?) house when they sought Paul and Silas there. They dragged Jason and some fellow Christians before the courts and accused them of disrupting the peace and teaching treason (Jesus as a king);. The believers were jailed, but then freed after bail was posted (Acts 17:5-9)
Opponents from Thessalonica arrived to rile up opposition to Paul (Acts 17:13-14).
Moving south along the Aegean coast, Paul and his companions (including Silas) came to Thessoalonica where he preached in the synagogue on three Sabbaths (Acts 17:1-3). Some believed (Acts 17:4) while others played mob politics and moved against the apostle (Acts 17:5). When the crowd didn't find Paul or Silas, they dragged Jason, the apostle's host, and other disciples to court. In the presence of city officials, they charged their prisoners and the Jesus movement itself of treason against Caesar (Acts 17:6-7). Jason and his companions posted bail (in reality, a bribe) to city officials in order to calm civic fears (Acts 17:8-9).
The attack upon Jason and the others formed a pattern of persecution that would be repeated. Opponents of the faith would form a mob, even bribing the local rift-raft to join the protest. They would drag believers before the court and demand condemnation. The sight of a large group put pressure on the magistrates to deliver a favorable verdict. In this case, the courts jailed Jason and his companions until their family and friends raised money for the fines.
Paul and his entourage made their way to Beroea where, again, Paul preached in the synagogue (Acts 17:10). At first, he received a warmer welcome since the Jews in assembly had a more open-mind; many became believers, along with rich Greek women (Acts 17:11-12). But a delegate from the synagogue in Thessalonica arrived to stir up trouble for Paul (Acts 17:13). Paul moved on to the sea, while Silas and Timothy remained behind (Acts 17:14-15).
d. Paul in Athens (17:16-34)
1) Kerygma: Paul's preaching to the Athenians (Acts 17:22-31).
2) Positive Reaction: Some who heard Paul preach converted (Acts 17:34)
3) Negative Reaction: Those who heard Paul scoffed and dismissed him (Acts 17:32).
Paul Preaching in Athens
The scene at the Aeropagus in Athens marked a different kind of kerygma, one without a single Scripture quote.
In Roman times, Athens made claims as the keeper of Greek culture, both in its polytheistic traditions and in its philosophic schools. Platonism dominated the city's outlook; at the time, Athens still housed the institution Plato began in the sixth century BCE. The spirituality of Platonism held that a single divine entity, the "One," stood as the ultimate reality; all things emanated from the "One." So, how did this belief in one god square with polytheism? Analogous to Hinduism, the idols were faces that revealed different facets of the "One." This way, the intelligentsia could contemplate true reality through philosophy while commoners could maintain their devotions to the many gods.
Of course, other schools of philosophy existed in Athens, including Stoicism began by Zeno in the city around the third century BCE. Stoics held to a pantheistic theology; the single god was nature and the faces of the "gods" were nothing more than windows into nature. As the founder of the philosophy that borne his name, Epicurus taught in Athens. He proposed a way of life that prized a lack of suffering in the face of divine indifference; while the gods existed, they took no interest in the affairs of humanity. Acts 17:18 mentioned the two later schools.
After preaching in the Athenian synagogue, Paul was troubled to see a city so full of idols (Acts 17:16). Soon, he found himself debating with a few of the city's many philosophers (Acts 17:17-18). These free-thinkers brought him to the Aeropagus, a court north west of the Acropolis (Acts 17:19). There, he first appealed to the notion of the unknown God, a thought that would appeal to the Platonists and would resonate with the Stoics (Acts 17:22-23). Next, however, he rejected polytheism (Acts 17:24-25), a move that his audience might expect from a Jew but would cause a few raised eye brows. Third, he held his Deity created everyone and everything (Acts 17:26-29), even quoting from the poet Aratus (310-245 BCE). Finally, he concluded with a turn to morality; a universal God called for universal repentance (Acts 17:30-31). While ancient philosophy addressed morals on some level, pagan piety did not. Only Judaism tightly integrated faith and morality. So, any divine command to moral change sounded unusual to pagan ears.
But if any claim Paul made caused controversy, it would be his coda about the Resurrection (Acts 17:31). Ancient philosophy either encouraged a spirituality that emphasized contemplation over bodily needs (Platonism), a detachment from suffering (Stoicism) or fatalism (Epicureanism). None could not fathom the notion of a person returning from the dead, much less that person transcending death. Hence, the audience dismissively ended Paul's message (Acts 17:32) but a few believed (Acts 17:32-33).
Paul's kerygma in Athens showed the flexibility of the message. Along with other examples found in Acts, the one proclaiming Good News began with an item that created a bridge between speaker and listener, then proceeded to the message of guilt/repentance and faith in Christ.
e. Paul in Corinth (18:1-22)
1) Charism: Paul had a vision that assured him of his safety in Corinth (Acts 18:9-10).
2) Kerygma: Paul preached in the synagogue (Acts 18:4-5).
3) Positive Reaction: The synagogue leader in Corinth and many others believed (Acts 18:8).
4) Negative Reaction:
Some Corinthian Jews opposed Paul (Acts 18:6).
Paul's opponents in Corinth dragged him and other followers into court; since they did not receive any satisfaction from the Roman proconsul, they beat a Christian in the official's presence (Acts 18:12-13, Acts 18:17).
Acts 18:1-17 dovetailed details of Paul's life with events and people recorded in pagan sources. After he moved from Athens to Corinth (Acts 18:1), he met Aquila and Priscilla (1 Cor 16:19, Rom 16:3) who emigrated from Rome to Corinth because of Claudius' edict (Acts 18:2-3). The historian Suetonius (69-122 CE) recorded the expulsion of Jews from Rome in his Divus Claudius 25 (49 CE?); he noted local synagogues fought over a person named "Chrestus." In his Roman History 60.6.6-7, Cassius Dio (155-235 CE) merely pointed to the emperor's ban on synagogue meetings in the capital. In either case, imperial officials distrusted the gathering of Jews in Rome, for they feared these gatherings could lead to disturbances. So, the Jewish tent maker and his wife left Rome for Corinth.
As was his custom, Paul preached in the local synagogue with some results (Acts 18:4). Yet, after Silas and Timothy rejoined him in Corinth, he faced such fierce opposition that he cursed his opponents and dedicated his efforts towards the evangelization of the Gentiles (Acts 18:5-6).
Paul visited Justus, a neighbor of the synagogue, and Cripus, the synagogue leader (the person who maintained the compound, not a rabbi). Because of their belief, many others converted (Acts 18:7-8). At this point Paul received a vision that assured his safety (Acts 18:9-10), so he continued his evangelizing activities (Acts 18:11).
After a year and a half, Jewish opponents moved against Paul. They dragged him before the magistrate Gallio to charge him with violating the Jewish Law (Acts 18:11-13). But, the Roman official would have none of their internal religious squabbles and drove them away (Acts 18:14-16). When a pagan mob moved against the synagogue leader Sosthenes even in the official's presence, Gallio did nothing (Acts 18:17).
the Delphi Inscription
18:12-17 described the inaction of the Roman official Gallio (5 BCE-59 CE). He was proconsul in Acacia (the Corinthian isthmus and lower Greece) between 51-52 CE (?). As the son of Seneca the Elder and the brother of Seneca the Younger, he was well connected in Roman society. His brother penned an ode to the official's character. During the 26th acclamation as Caesar (spring 52 CE), the emperor Claudius wrote a letter to him, calling him a "friend" (the Delphi inscription).
Note, however, some flexibility exists for the dating above. Some scholars argue that Luke conflated various events into these few verses. Others argue for an earlier time frame, since Gallio took ill and retired from his post, possibly in 51 CE. Nonetheless, if we take the author at his word, we can reasonably date Paul' stay in Corinth between 50-52 CE.
We do not know if Crispus and Sosthenes were the same person (Acts 18:8, Acts 18:17). Paul did identify a man named Sosthenes as a missionary companion in 1 Cor 1:1. Again, we do not know if the man listed by Paul in his letter and the synagogue leader in 18:17 were one and the same.
Before Paul left Corinth for Syria (accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila), he shaved his head at Cenchreae (port of Corinth) because of a vow he took (Acts 18:18). The type of vow (possibly Nazarite outlined in Num 6:1-21) the reason for the vow remain a subject of discussion. He did intend to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem after a stopover in Ephesus (where he evangelized in a synagogue with some success; Acts 18:19-21), so made his way to the Palestinian port of Caesarea and met with the mother church in Jerusalem. Afterwards, he returned to Antioch (Acts 18:22).
4. Paul's Third Journey (18:23-21:15)
a. Apollos (18:24-28)
Apollos from Alexandria arrived at Ephesus; the verse indicated he had a background in rhetoric and in the Scriptures; he proclaimed the Good News "fervently and accurately" (Acts 18:24-25).
Apollos went to the region of Achaia across the Aegean Sea with letters of recommendation; there, he argued with non-Christian Jews about Jesus as the Christ; he was assisted by those who believed "by grace" (Acts 18:27-28).
Luke quickly tracked Paul from Antioch in southeast Anatolia to the northwestern corner of the modern day Turkey (Acts 18:23). Then, he introduced the figure of Apollos at Ephesus. As a Jewish native of Alexandria, he could have been steeped in that city's learned traditions, including such known Jewish luminaries as the philosopher Philo. No doubt, he had a classical education which emphasized rhetoric; he applied his learning when he studied about Jesus (Acts 18:24). Despite his fearless and intellectual defense of Christ, he was unfamiliar with the charismatic life of the Ephesian and Corinthian churches; he only knew about the "baptism of John" (Acts 18:25). In other words, he enthusiastically promoted the message of repentance in the light of the Resurrection, but had little familiarity with the promised gift of the Spirit. Here, Aquila and Priscilla at Ephesus filled out his theology with experience of the Spirit's charisms (Acts 18:26). He applied that knowledge and experience when he assisted the "brothers" in Achaia (Acts 18:27-28).
Apollos stood as respected missionary in Achaia and Asia Minor. In 1 Corinthians, Paul mentioned his missionary activity (1 Cor 3:6), invoked his name as a rhetorical device in the internal divisions tearing at the church (1 Cor 1:10-13) and implored him to return to Corinth (1 Cor 16:12). In many ways, Paul considered Apollos an equal in ministry.
b. Paul encountered followers of John the Baptist at Ephesus (19:1-10)
1) Charism: After Paul baptized the men in the name of Jesus, he laid hands on them; they received the charisms of tongues and prophecy (Acts 19:5-7).
While Apollos ministered in Corinth, Paul found seven followers of the Baptist; they experienced an immersion of repentance, but not of the Spirit; he shared the Good News with them (Acts 19:1-4).
Paul continued his routine of preaching in the synagogue, but soon moved to the school hall of Tyrannus; he preach for two years there (Acts 19:8-10).
The appearance of Apollos and the Baptist's disciples (Acts 19:1) implied the popularity of the repentance message and its apocalyptic view. Despite the death of John twenty five years before, groups formed in his name and continued his ministry of baptism, even hundreds of miles from the Jordan (Acts 19:2-3). Apollos seemed to pass along that message, just as Jesus did after the death of the Baptist. As mentioned in the comment for Apollos above, the call to reform lacked the gift of charisms (imagine a Christian theology that emphasized the moral without any theology of grace). Paul completed the evangelization when he connected John to Jesus (Acts 18:4). With a baptism in the name of Christ and a laying of hands, the Spirit rushed upon the seven men (Acts 19:5-7).
Paul continued his missionary work in his usual way, at first in the local synagogue (Acts 19:8), but, when facing fierce opposition, exclusively with Gentile believers (Act 19:9-10).
c. In Ephesus, non-believers exorcise in the name of Jesus (19:11-20).
1) Charism: Paul performs extraordinary miracles (19:11-12)
2) Positive Reaction:
The seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish high priest in the city, tried to exorcise in the name of Jesus (Acts 19:13-14).
Reports of the incident caused awe among Jews and Gentiles alike; the people held the name of Jesus in high esteem (Acts 19:17).
Because of what happened, many Christians in the city confessed to their involvement in "magic"; books worth 50,000 silver pieces were burned in public; the Good News gained power and many more converts (Acts 19:18-20).
3) Negative Reaction: The demon that the sons of Sceva tried to exorcise acknowledged the power of the name, even through Paul, but denied their authority. It viciously attacked them to the point of shaming them (Acts 19:15-16).
Like the other incidents that pitted Christian spirituality vs. pagan piety, Luke not only envisioned an ongoing battle of spirits, but also a struggle of world views. Christians rooted their faith in the notion of grace, pagans held onto the notion of reciprocity. In this case, Paul demonstrated the healing power of Jesus' name (Acts 19:11-12). But the seven sons of Sceva assumed that, by invoking his name like any other magic spell, they could exorcise demons (Acts 19:13-14). They found out otherwise (Acts 19:15-16). Their shameful failure gave the message of grace the upper hand. The power of the name and the Spirit behind it was pure gift. But, that gracious gift caused great personal change, to the extent that people repented and burnt books of spells worth thousands of dollars (in today's currency; Acts 19:17-19).
Notice, Luke slyly continued his theology of grace. Apollos and the seven disciples of the Baptist received a piety based upon God's gift in the Spirit. Now, he pitted that theology against the popular notion that the spiritual world could be manipulated by the right word. In both cases, the author subtly pushed forward the work of the Spirit in the life of believers (Acts 19:20).
Paul sent Timothy and Erastus northward and remained in Asia Minor (Acts 19:22).
d. 19:23-41 Riot by the Ephesian pagans against the Way.
1) Negative Reaction:
In Ephesus, the silversmith, Demetris, spoke to his guild about their trade in idols and made charges against Paul of impiety against the gods, especially against Artemis, the patron goddess of the city (Acts 19:23-27).
The mob Demetris inspired dragged two companions of Paul to the city's amphitheater (Acts 19:28-29)
Friends and allies of Paul prevented him from addressing the gathering (Acts 19:30-31).
Confusion reigned in the assembly. The non-believing Jews pushed Alexander to the front to speak, but was shouted down. For two hours, the mob yelled patriotic chants (Acts 19:32-34).
The city secretary spoke to the crowd. He asserted the veracity of the city's piety, then warned them against rash action that could incur the wrath of the Romans. He declared those in the mob's control innocent and addressed the legal remedies the silversmiths had through the courts. Finally, he reminded the crowd of penalty for civic disturbance and dismissed them (Acts 19:35-41).
Statue of Artemis
In Luke's narrative, the work of the Spirit always met resistance. In this case, the renunciation of pagan reciprocity (the burning of "magic" books in Acts 19:17-19) was followed by city wide rejection. As the popularity of the Christian message grew, its message of monotheism cut into the religious tourism that enriched Ephesus. The temple to Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world; pilgrimage to the site added greatly to the city's prosperity. The silversmith Demetris gathered his fellow craftsmen to push back against Paul and his message, for they were losing business in their trade of idols (Acts 19:23-27).
Demetris appealed to civic pride (Acts 19:28, Acts 19:34). Devotion to Artemis, the patron goddess of Ephesus, closely matched the rabid fan base many sports teams have in the Western world. If one critiqued the devotion, he showed disrespect for the city. So, the crowd took the ones accused to the city's assembly point, its amphitheater, to proceed with mob justice (Acts 19:29). Disciples in the city restrained Paul from getting involved (Acts 19:30-31). For, Demetris, however, the affair got out of hand; even a Jew named Alexander could not gain the crowd's attention (Acts 19:32-33). Many were swept up into the heat of the moment, not knowing why. So, the assembly morphed into an out-of-control "pep rally," where the crowd kept shouting chants to Artemis (Acts 19:34).
Finally, the city secretary addressed the crowd (Acts 19:35-40). He acknowledged the rightness of the city's devotion to the goddess without admitting impiety on the part of the Christians. He chided Demetris and his co-workers for taking the wrong road of act and implicitly reminded the citizens about the ruthless wrath of the Romans. Their foreign rulers prized peace and order above all; any perceived challenge to that state would meet with a swift and sure response.
This incident was a snapshot of the pagan resistance early Christians faced. Non-believers not only shunned followers of the Way on a social level, many times they dragged Christians into court on charges of impiety and even treason against the emperor. Pagans felt threatened by the monotheistic message of Christians; in a few instances, those fears fueled persecution.
e. Paul traveled to Caesarea (20:1-21:15)
On the day after the Sabbath, the disciples broke bread. Paul talked well into the night in a third story room. A young man named Eutychus fell asleep in a window sill and fell to the ground. Everyone presumed he was dead, but Paul revived him. The apostle continued to speak until dawn, then left. (Acts 20:7-12)
Paul, Luke and their companions stayed at the house of Philip. The prophet Arabus warned of coming suffering. Paul reasserted his intent to go to the capital (Acts 21:8-15).
2) Kerygma: Paul's farewell to the leadership of Ephesus (Acts 20:18-35).
Paul traveled from Ephesus, through Macedonia and into Greece, then, facing threats on his life, he retraced his steps back to Asia Minor (Acts 20:1-4). The author we call Luke traveled from Philippi and rejoined Paul (Acts 20:5-6). This was the second of four sections where the subject shifted from third person singular ("Paul" ) to first person plural ("we"). Compared to the first instance of "we" in Acts 16:10-17, Luke appeared to live in Macedonia region at the time.
The rest of the passage (Acts 20:7-12) gave a glimpse into life in the assembly, meeting on the first day of the week (Resurrection reference) to break bread (Eucharistic reference), celebrating the charism of healing (reviving the young man).
While Paul intended to return to Jerusalem (Acts 20:13-16), now he made those plans tangible, sailing from port to port down the Anatolian coast. At Miletus, he called together the Ephesian elders to bid them farewell (Acts 20:17), reminding them of his tireless efforts to spread the Good News (Acts 20:18-21).
Notice the work of the Spirit in his life. It warned him of danger, yet drove him to meet his fate (Acts 20:22-23; Acts 21:4; Acts 21:8-11). While he discounted his sufferings for the sake of evangelization, he did act in clear conscience (Acts 20:24-27). Just as he acted in good faith, so should the elders of the community; the Spirit tasked them to defend the faithful against false teachers (Acts 20:28-30). Previously, he built up the community, even through his tears; now he placed them in the hands of God and his life-changing Word (Acts 20:31-32). He set himself as an example of a self-sustaining missionary, not dependent on the community for financial support (Acts 20:33-34), so he could encourage the community to focus their riches on the poor. He closed with the proverb: "It is better to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). Understandably, the elders mourned his goodbye (Acts 20:36-38). The speech to the elders from Ephesus closed off a chapter in his life; his missionary days were ending.
Paul and his companions made their way from Asia Minor to the coast of Phoenicia via isles of Rhodes and Cyrus, landing at Tyre to offload cargo (Acts 21:1-3). After a bitter-sweet stay with the local community (Acts 21:4-6), they arrived in Palestine and made their way to Caesarea, the province capital of Judea (Acts 21:7). Here, he met the family of Philip the missionary and his four daughters, along with Agabus who prophesied Paul's imprisonment; in light of this message, the apostle's companions resisted his plans but finally relented (Acts 21:8-14). Finally, Paul arrived at Jerusalem (Acts 21:15-16).
5. Paul's Arrest and Hearing in Jerusalem (21:17-23:10)
At the Temple, Paul had a vision ordering him to preach to the Gentiles (Acts 22:18-21).
The night of his arrest in Jerusalem, Paul had a vision insuring his testimony in Rome (Acts 23:10-11).
Paul's Apologia to the mob at the Temple (Acts 21:39-22:23).
Paul split the Pharisees from the Sadducees He sided in the belief of the former in the resurrection of the just against the denial of the later in any afterlife (Acts 23:6).
c. Negative Reaction:
Jews from the Diaspora recognized Paul in the Temple and moved against him for two reasons: 1) his rumored heresy (Acts 21:21) and 2) the perceived notion that he would bring a known Gentile Christian into the Temple (Acts 21:29; Acts 21:27-29).
Many in the city joined in the riot, dragging Paul out of the Temple (Acts 21:30).
Riot ensued when Paul announced his mission to the Gentiles (Acts 22:22-23).
At Jerusalem, Paul reported his missionary success among the Gentiles to the leadership of the mother Church (Acts 21:17-19). Yet, due to popular rumors he taught Jews to abandon the Law (Acts 21:18-22), they urged him to take four witnesses who had taken a vow to vouch for Paul's veracity and pay for their expenses to publicly shave their heads. He, along with them, would publicly purify themselves thus demonstrating to all his adherence to the Torah (Acts 21:23-24). They also distanced themselves from Paul's teaching by hewing to their halakhic ruling concerning the Gentiles (see Acts 15:19-20; Acts 21:25).
Paul's entry into the Temple marked a pivotal moment in his life. He and the leadership in Jerusalem attempted an advertising campaign to deny innuendo and rumors about Paul; Paul and his witnesses ritual cleansed themselves and had sacrifices offered to prove his fidelity to the Law (Acts 21:26-27). But the opposition proved to be too much.
Paul's opponents charged him with heresy and sacrilege (Acts 21:27-28). First, they held he taught that Jewish Christians were free from the dictates of the Law (Acts 21:21) Second, they assumed that, because he taught Gentiles held equal status with Jews in the Christian community, he would demonstrate that equality in the Temple itself. (Acts 21:29) They thought he would pollute holy ground by accompanying a Gentile into God's house. So, they moved to kill Paul outside.
Notice they based their assumptions on misunderstandings of Paul's teaching. Yes, he did teach an equality among members in the community. Yes, he did assert that equality extended to the worship before YHWH within the community. But he was practical enough to recognize unique status of the Chosen People in salvation history and their duties to the covenant they had with God. His opponents, however, ignored his caveats and pushed his logic to its extreme. They assumed he taught heresy and would prove it by desecrating the Temple; they assumed the later charge simply by association (Acts 21:29). Thus, they dragged out of the Temple (Acts 21:30).
From the pretorium next to the Temple (the former palace of David), the Roman commander of the city moved his troops into the fray in order to quell the riot; at the sight of the leader and his imperial troops, those who harmed Paul ceased (Acts 21:31-32). Assuming Paul caused the commotion, the commander arrested the apostle and bound him in chains, then began questioning him but to no avail, due to the crowd noise. So the leader ordered Paul inside (Acts 21:33-34).
The apostle asked to speak to the commander from the steps that led to the barracks (Acts 21:35-37). The question surprised the commander for two reasons. First, Paul inquired in an intelligible, even cosmopolitan Greek, not like the mixed local dialects the military leader probably heard in Judea. Second, the commander assumed Paul might be "The Egyptian," a warlord revolutionary that led four thousand "Assassins, "in Greek "Sicarii" (Acts 21:38); Josephus identified such a figure and his army in The Jewish War, II, 254-263 [xiii, 3-5]. Paul identified himself as native of Tarsus in southern Anatolia and asked to speak to the crowd (Acts 21:39); we can only assume Paul's speech and demeanor impressed the commander since he allowed the apostle to address those gathered (Acts 21:40).
Paul gained the attention of the crowd by addressing them, not in Aramaic mixed with Greek (probably the Palestinian tongue) but in Hebrew, thus showing his education (Acts 21:40-22:3). Relating his life story, he stated that he was rabidly anti-Christian (Acts 22:3-5) until his conversion (see Gal 1:11-24, Acts 9:1-22, Acts 22:3-16, Acts 26:9-20; Acts 22:6-16), but added a new detail in his Temple vision (see Acts 7:54-60; Acts 22:18-21), similar to Zechariah's (Luke 1:11-20). Notice the sudden turn of the crowd. They erupted with the command to go the Gentiles (Acts 22:21). Up to this point, they had no objection to Paul evangelizing other Jews; indeed, many in the crowd could have admired Jesus or even held to the school of "Judaizers." Paul's ministry to non-Jews was the point of contention. It denied the privileged place those in the mob assumed they had before God as Jews and that could not be tolerated. They demanded Paul's death (Acts 22:22-23).
Now, the commander ordered his men to bring Paul into the barracks and interrogate him with torture, a standard Roman practice for prisoners without Roman citizenship (Acts 22:24). However, an imperial citizen had the right to stand before a judge to defend himself before he was condemned and punished (Acts 22:25-26). When the commander discussed the matter of citizenship with Paul, the apostle "one upped" the military leader. The commander paid a steep fee for his status. Paul received his by birthright (Acts 22:27-28). So, fearing possible political connections Paul might have and repercussions from improper protocol, the commander released the apostle from bondage and arranged a hearing for Paul in front of the Sanhedrin, for this was a religious matter, not strictly an imperial one (Acts 22:29-30).
Before the council, Paul claimed a clear conscience, but Ananius, the high priest, struck him because the priest assumed the apostle's guilt (Acts 23:1-2). Paul insulted the high priest but backtracted when he discovered the priest's status (see Exo 22:28; Acts 23:3-5). Then, he split the Sanhedrin by siding with the Pharisees (Acts 23:6-7). That group believed in the resurrection of the just on the Day of YHWH; the opposing Sadduccees rejected the apocalyptic world and its afterlife rewards (Acts 23:8). Instead of proclaiming THE Resurrection, he only appealed to the resurrection of all peoples. In other words, he simply stood with his brother Pharisees who willingly came to his defense (Acts 23:9).
Fearing another riot, even in the council, the commander intervened and brought Paul back to the barracks (Acts 23:10).
6. Paul in Caesarea (23:11-26:32)
a. Plot against Paul and his rescue (23:11-35)
1) Charism: Paul received a vision stating his evangelization in Rome (Acts 23:11).
2) Positive Reaction:
The captain ordered two centuries of foot soldiers (200 men), two centuries of spear bearing soldiers (200 men) and a portion of the cavalry (70 horsemen) to escort Paul to Caesarea when the governor Felix held court (Acts 23:23-24).
After a day's march, the 400 soldiers returned to the Jerusalem barracks; the horsemen rode to Caesarea with Paul (Acts 23:31-33).
3) Negative Reaction: Forty men solemnly vow to kill Paul; their plans were reported to the chief priests and elders (23:12-15).
In the barracks at Jerusalem, Paul received a vision that insured his safety until he witnessed in Rome (Acts 23:11). Yet, he still faced danger. What his enemies could not achieve legally, they would attempt covertly. Forty men took a vow to kill the apostle and presented their plan to the high priest and leading Sadducees (Acts 23:12-14). The leaders would call for another session in order to judge Paul, but the assassins would attack when the apostle was in transit (Acts 23:15). However, Paul's nephew overheard the plot and reported it to the apostle, who, in turn, had the young man repeat the message to the Roman commander (Acts 23:16-22).
In response, the military officer planned a show of force (Acts 23:22-24). On the surface, the size of Paul escort seemed excessive. Why would the captain order a large part of the Roman contingent in Jerusalem to guard one man out of town? To answer that question, we must consider two facts about life in the Empire, especially in first century Palestine. First, the Romans controlled an area through the control of its urban centers; the city might be secure, but the wilderness between cities might be lawless. Second, only 250,000 soldiers kept order among 70 million people in the Empire at the time; too few soldiers to control such a great number. So, a response to any threat posed required a creative strategy.
Forty men vowed to kill one man. Some of them were Sadduccees who saw that man, Paul, as a significant threat to their power; he had embarrassed them before their co-religionists, the Pharisees. Now, these assassins, with the blessing of the high priest and elders in Jerusalem wanted to move against that threat. But, the size of the killing party posed a greater challenge to the "pax Romana." While Roman officials might have a hands-off attitude towards local religious affairs, such a large plot opposed a threat against the social (hence, political) order of a Roman controlled territory. Hence, the captain planned accordingly. He wrote Felix the governor a transfer letter stating Paul's status as a Roman citizen, the apostle's innocence viz-a-viz imperial law and the plot to assassinate him (Acts 23:25-30). For the first day, he ordered slow travel with a demonstrative display of power (Acts 23:31); the next day, he would rely on the speed of horseback riders to deliver Paul to the governor (Acts 23:32).
Luke might have exaggerated the threat against Paul and the response, but he did reveal the probable logic behind the captain's actions. The soldier understood that one man could cause a riot in the Temple, the man in question was a Roman citizen with rights to due process and the fate of that man could pose a threat to the order of the region in his care. So, he erred on the safe side.
1) Kerygma: Paul's defense before the governor Felix in Caesarea (Acts 24:10-21).
2) Negative reaction:
At Caesarea, the high priest and elders, through an attorney named Tertullus, presented charges against Paul of disrupting public order though out parts of the Empire as a Christian leader and of desecrating the Temple (Acts 24:1-9).
Festus met with the leaders in Jerusalem who requested Paul's presence in the capital to face charges. Many still intended to kill him on the way to the city. Festus ordered them to press charges against the apostle in Caesarea (Acts 25:1-5).
When Felix received the prisoner from the soldiers, he asked the apostle of his place origin, then ordered Paul to be held in Herod's palace while he awaited the arrival of the high priest and his entourage for another hearing (Acts 23:33-35).
When they arrived, the chief priests and elders shifted tactics; they employed a lawyer with a Latin name to argue their case (24:1). In ancient time, a lawyer was a professional rhetorician, one steeped in a formal education emphasizing public speaking. We do not know whether Tertullus was Jewish or not, but he used his name to identify with the Latin governor and his skills on the behalf of his clients to impress Felix with an important case. After Tertullius made his opening flourish, he argued Paul instigated unrest as a leader of the Nazarenes, even to the point of profaning the Temple (Acts 24:2-7); in other words, he presented Paul's case as one of civic unrest and an implicit danger Roman social order, not one of internal religious dispute that the governor could clearly see (Acts 24:8). Other accusers chimed in (Acts 24:9).
In 24:10-21, Paul countered the lawyer's presentation with a two prong defense. First, he simply laid out his case as a peaceful, observant Jew who ritually prepared to worthily worship in the Temple (Acts 24:11-13, Acts 24:18). Yes, he was a Christian who held to Jewish Law and believed in the resurrection of the dead (Acts 24:14-15) but was innocent (Acts 24:16). Then, he added to his innocence with one of the reasons he visited the city, to deliver charitable donations to the poor (24:17).
Second, he pointed to his true accusers, Jewish opponents from the Diaspora. Implicitly, he charged those men with creating the riot, for he had worshiped in the Temple for several days without incident (Acts 24:18). He also implied that the chief priest and elders did not have standing in court to press charges against him; only the absent opponents at the Temple had that right (Acts 24:19). In other words, he was the victim, his true accusers did not have the courage to be present at his hearings and his present opponents had no right to make accusations against him. Finally, the only charge the leadership could make against him was his belief in the resurrection of the dead (Acts 24:20-21) which the Pharisees in the leadership also held (24:15).
However, Paul did have a weakness in his argument. The leadership implicitly claimed to act on behalf of not only the Diaspora Jews but for all Judaism. They pressed their case against him based upon the disruptive nature of kerygma. Proclaiming the Good News divided people, even to the point of violence. By charging him with disturbing the social contract between pagans and Jews, with upending the social order in a new religious movement, they attacked not only him, but the Way itself. In his defense, he did not address them or their concerns directly.
In the end, Felix postponed any judgment upon hearing further testimony (Acts 24:22), but, like a good politician, he kept his options open. He allowed Paul some latitude while he sat in prison (Acts 24:23), even to the point of allowing the apostle to witness to him and his Jewish wife at times (Acts 24:23-25). The governor actually hoped Paul and his followers would bribe him for the apostle's release but none arrived (Acts 24:26). After two years, Festus, who curried favor with the Jewish population, succeeded Felix (Acts 24:27).
In Jerusalem, the new governor met with religious leaders who requested Paul's transfer back to the city, but he insisted they try him in Caesarea (Acts 25:1-5). In turn, when the new governor asked Paul whether he would travel to Jerusalem for trial, the apostle claimed his innocence and stated the religious leadership had no jurisdiction (Acts 25:6-9).
Luke implicitly paralleled the judgment of Paul with that of Jesus. Jewish leaders wanted to condemn them both, but did not have the power to carry out their judgment. Only Rome could make the final decision. But, the question of citizenship made the difference. Jesus had no standing before Pilate. As a Roman citizen, Paul did have legal standing before Festus. So, the apostle appealed to Caesar and to Caesar he would go (25:10-12).
1) Kerygma: Paul's defense and kerygma to Agrippa at Caesarea (Acts 26:2-23, Acts 26:25-27, Acts 26:29)
King Herod Agrippa II was the last in the Herodian line. We can assume he received a Greco-Roman education but was nominally a Jew, like his father, Herod Agrippa; so, he moved comfortable between pagan and Jewish cultures. After his father died (Acts 12:1-32), he inherited a small portion of his father's realm, first a region in southern Syria, later the Galilee. He was also named guardian of the Temple in Jerusalem with the power to name the high priest. His connection with Jerusalem could have been one of the reasons Festus deferred to him in the matter of Paul.
Since Festus recently arrived in Judea, he demurred to Agrippa's judgment over a matter of civic instability vs. intra-religious controversy (Acts 25:13-22); the governor considered Paul innocent, lacking any substantial charges (Acts 25:23-27). So, in essence, the king held court to determine Paul's fate. Given a chance to defend himself (Acts 26:1), Paul recognized Agrippa's knowledge of Jewish matters (Acts 26:2-3), asserted his imprisonment was due to his belief in the resurrection of the dead (Acts 26:6-8), gave a brief outline of his life (Acts 26:4-5, Acts 26:9-11), especially his vision/commission (Acts 26:12-20), then stated the reason for the disturbance in the Temple lie in his obedience to that commission (Acts 26:21-23). Despite an interlude with Festus (Acts 26:24), Paul presented Agrippa with the question of faith (Acts 26:25-29). At this point, the trial broke up. Paul's appeal to Rome superseded any acquittal in his case (Acts 26:30-32).
In his scene, Luke also included the sister of Agrippa, the infamous Queen Bernice (also known as Berenice, 28-81? CE). According to Josephus, she was twice widowed, then went to live with her brother. Rumors swirled about an incestuous relationship she had with Agrippa (reported by the poet Juvenal in his sixth satire). The fact Agrippa never married only magnified the slander. To deny the rumors, she married a minor puppet king within the Empire, but quickly abandoned him and returned to her brother's side.
In the approaching Jewish War (66-70 CE), Bernice tried to intervene on the people's behalf with Florus, the procurator of Judea, but was turned away. Then at the side of Agrippa, both regents tried to calm the citizens of their province, but in vain. Fleeing the revolt of their subjects, she and her brother surrendered to the Roman authorities. Around 69 CE, she began an affair with the much younger Titus, the son of the emperor Vespasian and the general in charge of the siege at Jerusalem. In the late 70's, she lived in Rome as the general's mistress with power and a reputation that the elite resented. When Titus became emperor, he sent her away, possibly for political reasons. And she slipped into obscurity.
Luke most likely listed her in Acts 26 because of her status as Agrippa's equal and because of her reputation as social climber.
7. Paul's Journey and Stay in Rome (27:1-28:31)
a. From Caesarea to Rome (27:6-28:10)
During the storm that drove the ship westward, Paul related a divine vision that guaranteed the safety of the crew, urged them to stay strong and ordered them to run aground on an island (Acts 27:21-26).
Paul bitten by viper as he sat by a campfire, but shook it off (Acts 28:3, Acts 28:5).
Paul healed the father of the landowner who hosted the apostle, his guards and companions. He healed others on the island (Acts 28:7-10).
2) Positive Reaction:
At dawn, the crew beached the ship in a bay on Malta; crosscurrents broke the ship apart but all made it to shore. To save Paul's life, the centurion prevented the soldiers from killing the prisoners (Acts 27:39-44).
Paul's hosts were amazed he was unharmed from the viper's bite, thinking he had divine power (Acts 28:4, Acts 28:6).
3) Negative Reaction:
The ship that was transporting Paul from Myra to Rome was caught in storm. The crew hoped to winter in Phoenix on Crete. However, a westward gale caught the ship. Not able to gain control for several days, the crew despaired (Acts 27:12-20).
In Acts 27:1-5, Luke wrote that Paul was placed into the care of a centurion named Julius. They booked passage on a ship that sailed north, then west along the Anatolian coast and made port in Myra where they transferred to an Alexandrian vessel on its way to Italy (Acts 27:6). (The "we: passages return and continue to the end of Acts.)
In the following verses, Luke described a large merchant vessel that carried primarily a cargo of wheat from Alexandria, Egypt to Rome. From the end of the Republic until the fifth century CE, the imperial city housed a million people and, so, required vast qualities of imported wheat to feed its inhabitants. As the bread basket of the Empire, Egypt supplied a major portion of that grain. So, with the support of the Imperial government, an entire industry developed to transport wheat. From Egypt. it was transferred from the farmers, up the Nile on barges to Alexandria (where it was inspected for quality) and loaded on large merchant ships; these vessels set sail first for Crete, journeyed across 550 miles in open sea to Malta, then made their way around Sicily and up the Italian boot to Ostia, the port of ancient Rome. They carried as much as 1300 metric tons of cargo. While the trip from Rome to Alexandria took only ten days to two weeks (as ships sailed with prevailing winds), the return trip took over two months (as ships sailed into the winds). Hence, merchant ships sailed only once a year from Alexandria to Rome and back.
The centurion and Paul booked passage on a large merchant ship en route to Rome (passengers and crew numbered 276; Acts 27:37). Because of early autumn storms (after the "Fast" or Day of Atonement; Acts 27:9), they found making headway difficult, so they sailed on the southern shore of Crete, landing at the fishing village of Fair Havens (Acts 27:7-8). Despite Paul's apprehension (Acts 27:10), the ship's owner pushed on, hoping to lodge for the winter in the port of Phoenix, Crete (Acts 27:11-13) when Mediterranean shipping shut down. The owner miscalculated conditions when a strong, cyclonic wind storm, called a Euroclydon, blew down from the Cretan heights and pushed the ship into open seas (Acts 27:14). Instead of fighting the wind, the sailors decided to lean into the storm (Acts 27:15), then made repairs on the small island of Clauda, just south of Crete (Acts 27:16). Since they could not sail north for Phoenix, they implicitly made a run for Malta, but feared beaching upon the Syrtis sand bars, a shifting shallows some distance from the north African coast (Acts 27:17). The storm bore down on them, so they threw unnecessary cargo overboard (Acts 27:18-19). Calm conditions in fog replaced the wind and did not allow the sailors to get their bearings, so they lost heart (Acts 27:20).
In the face of dire conditions, Luke portrayed Paul as the person closest to God, for he had confidence in a dangerous situation (Acts 27:10, Acts 27:21-26), not unlike Jesus in the storm (Luke 8:22-25). He warned against proceeding in the face of the storm season (27:10). He had visions of safety for the passengers and crew (Acts 27:23-24). He urged courage and directed action when others despaired (Acts 27:22, Acts 27:25).
Still, the crew approached sailing with caution. On the fourteenth night of their journey, some feared they drifted towards a rocky shore line, so they took soundings that grew shallower (Acts 27:27-28). They again tried to lighten the load by cutting four anchors (Acts 27:29). Some panicked and tried to escape (Acts 27:30), but the centurion prevented their efforts, based upon Paul's admonition (Acts 27:31-32). Note the officer took the apostle at his word, thus implicitly putting his faith in Paul.
After dawn, Paul urged passengers and crew to eat, reassuring both groups of their safety (Acts 27:33-34). Then he blessed bread and shared it in fellowship (notice the Eucharistic overtones; Acts 27:35-36). After all had eaten their fill, they threw the rest of the wheat cargo overboard (Acts 27:38). They made one last effort to save the crew, cutting loose their anchors and rudder, driving the boat onto a beach (Acts 27:39-40). But, because the winds drove them to intersection of two opposing sea currents, the force of the water torn the ship apart (Acts 27:41).
Military protocol required soldiers to kill prisoners who might escape (Acts 27:42), but the centurion dissuaded his men in order to spare Paul, then gave the order to either swim or ride a plank of wood to shore (Acts 27:43-44). In the end, all were accounted for on the beach.
In the cold and rain, the Maltese welcomed the passengers and crew as guests around their shore fires (Acts 28:1-2). As Paul gathered kindling for the fire, a poisonous viper bit him (Acts 28:3). The locals expected certain death but he simply shook the snake into the fire, to the amazement of onlookers who considered his survival as divine activity (Acts 28:4-6).
The island's spirit of hospitality extended to Publius, the Maltese magistrate who hosted the visitors for three days (Acts 28:7). When the leader's father fell ill, Paul prayed over him and was healed; this led to others seeking physical relief through the apostle's charisms (Acts 28:8-9). In response, the locals honored Paul and his companions with praise and needed supplies for the last leg of their journey (Acts 28:10).
Throughout the journey, Luke portrayed Paul as Spirit-driven, even in face of evil. While sea travel was expedient, it remained dangerous. Despite the size of the ships, storms damaged and sank vessels on a regular basis. (As an aside, marine archaeologists provide proof of economic growth in ancient times by dating numerous ship wrecks on the Mediterranean sea floor.) Because of the high casualty rate and the economic loss due to uncertain sea conditions, many ancient people considered deep water as the home of chaotic evil (see Prov 8:27-29, Psa 69:14-15, Psa 144:7). Jews held YHWH controlled such malevolence (Psa 93:3-4, Psa 29:3-10, Job 38:8-11, Psa 104:6-9, Hab 3:8-15, Nah 1:4). Note Paul's prophetic faith stood in stark contrast to the uncertainty of the crew; since the Spirit promised the apostle's safe journey to Rome (Acts 23:11), the passengers and crew would enjoy divine protections despite sailing conditions. In the same way, the passage of the viper bite indicated the Spirit's protection over poisonous serpents, the sign of the devil (Gen 3:1-15). Read from an analogous point of view, Luke inferred the Spirit protected the followers of Jesus in spite of natural evils or persecution.
In the early spring, Paul, his guard and companions boarded "The Twin Brothers," another merchant ship from Alexandria, (Acts 28:11) and set sail for Rome. They first stopped in Syracuse, Sicily, then made their way up the Italian boot; news among the followers spread (Acts 28:12-15). At Rome, the centurion turned over Paul to the captain of the guard, but the apostle enjoyed some freedoms under house arrest (Acts 28:16).
b. Paul in Rome (28:17-31)
Speaking the Jewish leadership in Rome, Paul began with a defense for his present condition as a prisoner. He included the desire of the Roman officials to acquit him, the Jerusalem leaders' objections and his appeal to Caesar. He implied his belief that he was imprisoned because of his faith in the resurrection (Acts 28:17-20).
Paul evangelized the Jewish leaders in Rome (Acts 28:23).
2) Positive Reaction: Some of the leadership believed Paul (Acts 28:24).
3) Negative Reaction: Other leaders did not believe Paul (Acts 28:24).
Acts came to a close by looping back and summarizing chapters 2-3. Paul first gathered the leaders of local synagogue together, introduced himself and gave a brief apologia (Acts 28:17-20). Then, like Peter (Acts 2:22-36, Acts 3:12-26), Paul proclaimed the Good News to the Jewish community (Acts 28:21-23); some accepted, others rejected and the community was torn apart (28:24). So, in Acts 28:25-27, Paul condemned the unbelief of those who rejected him by quoting Isa 6:9-10. Unlike the first time evangelist quoted the prophet in Luke 8:10 ("'seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand"), he finished the quote ("For this people's heart has grown callous. Their ears are dull of hearing. Their eyes they have closed. Lest they should see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart, and would turn again, then I would heal them.") Then he turned his attention to the Gentiles (Acts 28:28).
The book's end (Acts 28:30-31) fulfilled the command of Jesus at the end of Luke's gospel. In Luke 24:46-48, we read:
"It has been written thus: for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and, to be preached in his name, for repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses to these events "
Acts 28:31 showed that command was fulfilled. In Rome, the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-language capital of the Empire, Paul was a witness to all the nations, "proclaiming (kerygma) the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ boldly and freely." In essence, the activity of Spirit continued, through Peter, then Paul, and beyond both.
Pentecost. El Greco [Public domain}
Martyrdom of St. Stephen. Lucini [Public domain}
Baptism of the Eunuch. Rembrandt [Public domain}
Conversion of Saul. Caravaggio [Public domain}
Peter's Vision. Fetti [Public domain]
Paul Preaching in Athens. Raphael [Public domain]
Fragment of Delphi Inscription. Gérard [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
Statue of Artemis. David Stanley from Nanaimo, Canada [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]