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Archive for February, 2011

Scattered Thoughts on Acts: Part 2

See Part 1.

The Holy Spirit & Tongues

Many Pentecostals I have known over the years have used the book of Acts to argue that the initial sign one has received the Holy Spirit (which often in their reckoning occurs separately from salvation itself) is speaking in tongues.  In evidence of this they trot out Acts 2, Acts 10 (Cornelius & friends, which may be the name of my next fake band) and the folks in Ephesus in Acts 19.  In each case the Holy Spirit descends and people start speaking in tongues.

But what about the people in 4:31?  Or the Samaritans in 8:14-17?  Or Paul in 9:17-19?  Or even the 3000 who were saved in Acts 2?  There may even be more.  My point is that less than half the time the Holy Spirit shows up results in speaking on tongues.  For my money, I need a better percentage than that to convince me that Luke was trying to make that connection.

Now I know that some will argue, for instance, that Paul did speak in tongues; he says as much in 1 Corinthians 14.  But that’s not the issue.  All of these people could have ended up speaking in tongues.  The question is regarding Luke’s intent- was he trying to demonstrate that the initial sign of the reception of the Holy Spirit was speaking in tongues?  If that were his goal, I think we’d see a better “success rate.”

The Role of the Spirit in Acts

Now, the Holy Spirit plays an important role in the book of Acts, so much so that some have argued we should title the book “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” rather than “The Acts of the Apostles.”  Besides tongues, the Spirit gives direction for ministry (8:29, 13:2), inspires prophecy (11:28, 21:11) and even transports Phillip (8:39).  But the single biggest role of the Spirit is to empower people to witness (1:8).

Connected to this is the theme of boldness which comes through the Holy Spirit (why isn’t this the initial sign of the Spirit?), both explicitly stated (end of chapter 4) and implicitly (Stephen is quite bold in his speech).  The point is that the Spirit is the One who empowers God’s people to witness.  The Spirit drives the mission of the church in Acts. 

The Spread of the Gospel

Whatever else one says about the book of Acts, the main point of the book comes down to the spread of the gospel.  Pretty much everything else that happens feeds into this theme.  The Holy Spirit empowers witnesses to spread the gospel (1:8).  The miracles seen accompany the preaching of the gospel.  Persecution (as noted in Part 1) is a vehicle for spreading the gospel.  The conversion of Saul isn’t simply a cool story, but catipults the Gentile mission (Acts 9).  The Jerusalem Council validates what God is doing among the Gentiles (Acts 15), and endorses the spread of the gospel to all people.  Paul’s trials get him to Rome, where he shares the gospel.  Even the episode of Cornelius and friends speaking in tongues in Acts 10 serves to demonstrate that the gospel is spreading to the Gentiles.

So I think that you must read the book of Acts through the lens of the gospel reaching beyond the boundaries of the Jewish people.  I also think it’s instructive for us.  Whatever else might happen in our churches (the manifest power of the Spirit, life-giving community, contextualizing for the sake of other cultures, etc), the goal is to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and His kingdom.

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We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed. (1 Co 15:51)

The motto for a church nursery.  Love it.

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The biblical theologian who writes in the service of the church does so to elucidate the biblical worldview, not merely so that it can be studied but so that it can be adopted.

James Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, page 45.

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Note: file this in the “thinking out loud” category.

I’m not sure when this question, the title of this post, popped into my head, but I’ve been mulling it over a bit.  Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of complementarianism is rooting this view in the creation accounts.  Complementarians argue that Paul’s injunction against women teaching in church (1 Timothy 2:11-12) are binding today because they are rooted in creation (vv13-15) rather than cultural mores.   It can’t be seen as temporary because it’s very foundation is the God’s created order.

Let me state right now: the purpose of this post is not to evaluate the merits of this argument.  I am well aware that posts like this can be hijacked and turned into an argument between the “oppressive complementarians” and the “culture-capitulating egalitarians.” 

My purpose in writing this is because I wonder how consistently this argument is applied to other areas, such as the Sabbath.  The observance of the Sabbath is rooted in the creation accounts.  God rested on the seventh day and set it apart as a special day (Genesis 2:1-3, the word normally translated “rest” or “cease [from working]” shares the same Hebrew root with “Sabbath”).  In the 10 Commandments, God instructs Israel to keep the Sabbath day holy (set it apart), “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.  Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11).

So if the Sabbath day is rooted in the created order, should we still observe it today?  Or, more specifically, if complementarians are standing on the creation accounts to support their position, should they also be sabbatarians? 

Perhaps the answer is as simple as arguing that the New Testament doesn’t repeat the Sabbath command, therefore it’s no longer binding to new covenant believers.  I still have questions regarding that approach, but I imagine it’s probably where most people in this camp land.  I welcome any insights our reader(s) might have.

Are non-sabbatarian complementarians inconsistently applying their hermeneutical principles?

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Scattered Thoughts on Acts: Part 1

I recently taught a short class on the book of Acts, something I rarely teach on.  I thought I would post some random thoughts that popped into my head, some (all?) of which will probably only interest me.

Herod, Agrippa, or Herod Agrippa

One of the potentially confusing aspects of the gospels and Acts is the use of “Herod,” which refers to 3 different men (unless I’m missing one).  The first is Herod the Great, who was alive when Jesus was born, but died soon after (see Matthew 2, where one of his sons, Archelaus, is also mentioned).  His son, Herod Antipas, is mentioned in the gospels as the one who had John the Baptist killed, as well as making an appearance in Jesus’ trial (Luke 23).  Then there’s Herod Agrippa, known as Agrippa I in non-biblical sources (“Agrippa the Great” in Josephus), who was responsible for the death of James, the brother of John and Son of Zebedee, and intended to have Peter killed as well.  He ultimately was stricken down (Acts 12).  All three of these men are referred to simply as “Herod” or “King Herod” in the Bible.

What I didn’t know was that the King Agrippa of Acts 25-26 is Agrippa II, the son of Agrippa I, the last in the line of the Herodian dynasty.  I wonder why Luke doesn’t simply refer to him as “Herod” like the rest of them.  The reason I find it interesting is that it seems the choice of the biblical writers to call the first 3 guys “Herod” was intentional and perhaps idiosyncratic, since extra-biblical sources generally refer to them using more distinct terminology.  So why wasn’t Agrippa II given the (dubious) honor of being called “Herod” like the rest of them?

Time & Dates

The narrative books of the Bible generally have an awkward way of portraying time elapsed.  That is, they will sometimes breeze over long stretches of time in a short amount of space, then dedicate a prolonged portion of the narrative to a shorter span of time.  I don’t have a problem with this, of course, because the authors have certain people and events they want to highlight and others they don’t.  It’s the author’s (or, you know… God’s) call.

Acts is no different.  The book as a whole covers nearly 30 years of history, ending around 62AD, but starting either 30AD or 33AD, depending on when you date Christ’s death & resurrection.  The first 9 chapters or so take up only 3 years or so (either 33 or 36).  Chapters 10-20 get us up to 58AD, give or take a little.  Then the final 8 chapters cover only a 4 year span. 

Persecution

It’s interesting to note that persecution in the book of Acts helps propel the spread of the gospel.  It’s after Stephen’s death that many were scattered and the gospel is spread outside of Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria (8:1).  Even Paul’s mission to Rome (representing the “uttermost parts”) is accomplished by his arrest and trial in Jerusalem and Caeserea.  What strikes me about all this is that the assumption held by the early Christians was that you share the gospel wherever you go.  Circumstances were secondary influencers (if they influenced decisions at all). 

We see this, of course, in Paul’s letters, too.  In Philippians, Paul mentions that the whole praetorium guard has heard the gospel (Philippians 1:13).  Why?  Because jail is simply a new church planting ground.  In the same way, Phillip didn’t hide or sulk when he had to escape Jerusalem in Acts 8.  He went with the plan to bring the gospel wherever he went- no matter the circumstances.

The Martyrdom of Stephen

I jotted down some quick notes on Stephen’s trial and death, noting the similarities to Jesus’ trial and death.  Here’s a quick list I came up with, with references in Acts and Jesus’ life:

  • His opponents couldn’t stand up to his wisdom (6:10; Luke 20:26, 40- see also Luke 12:11-12, 21:15)
  • Trial before the High Priest and the Sanhedrin (6:12; Luke 22:66-71)
  • They produced false witnesses to testify against him (6:11-14; Mark 14:55-59)
  • Stephen was accused of speaking against Moses, the Temple, the Law and God (6:11-14, Matthew 26:57-65 & other places)
  • Stephen accuses the people of not truly following the Law, killing the prophets, etc (7:51-53; Matthew 21:33-46, 23:29-36)
  • “Son of Man at the right hand of the Father” echoes Jesus’ words (7:55-56; Luke 22:69)
  • Stephen gives up his spirit (7:59; Luke 23:46)
  • Stephen asks God not to hold their sin against them (7:60; Luke 23:34)

Anything I missed?

It should be no surprise that those who choose to follow Jesus really will have to follow Him (Luke 9:23).

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I’ve been around the internet for long enough, well before the days when “state-of-the-art” looked like this (flashing N, we hardly knew ye), so I’m not exactly surprised when I come across articles like Jennifer Wrist Knust’s latest opinion article, which dropped my jaw to levels previously reserved only for Dan Brown.  Says Knust about Biblical sexuality, “In Genesis, for example, it would seem that God’s original intention for humanity was androgyny, not sexual differentiation and heterosexuality.”  Where to begin?

While I thoroughly disagree with Knust’s methods, evidence and conclusions in myriad ways, I don’t want to just flippantly dismiss her.  The reason is because she attempts to thoughtfully engage with an issue (viz. homosexuality):  she actually employs (fallacious) methods, offers (shoddy) evidence, and draws (misguided) conclusions.  Discussion can thence proceed.

Not so with many of the “comments” posted after her article, and frankly just about any other comment on a widely read post that deals with the Bible, or Christianity.  I’ll paraphrase a few that typify the genre:

“The Bible is a bunch of bunk anyway, with not a shred of evidence to prove it.”

“Christianity: One small voice away from murdering your entire family.”

“When will Christians get over the fact that Jesus is a myth?  Get out of the dark ages.”

“Why do I care about what a book written 2,000 years ago on the other side of the world says about anything?”

These “comments” ought to irk and embarrass everyone, no matter their world view.  It seems that no world view is free of people who give their world view a bad name.  Christians certainly have their fair share.  Their contributions are noise at best, and the internet, for good or ill, is an amplifier with a very low signal to noise ratio.

It’s easy to recognize the internet as an amplifier of previously existing conditions. For example, there has been bullying in school since school existed.  The internet did not give rise to bullying, it has amplified it, indeed creating the whole new category of “cyber-bullying.”  There was pornography addiction in the days when the words “personal computer” would have been an oxymoron.  The internet didn’t create lust, it has amplified it.  So, it should not surprise me (though it still does) to see naked assertions with inflammatory intent following an article.  Incendiaries are no new phenomenon.

There is no desire for interaction or real discussion among those who comment.  Exchanges between two or more of these people are most often sets of monologues, with no appreciable purpose other than to deride others, and promote oneself; to be heard, regardless of whether there is anything worth listening to.

For some, it seems that their online personality, thanks in large part to the internet’s precious anonymity, is their id: that unrestricted, raw feeling that they might think, but never say to anyone face to face.  This just intensifies issues that are already controversial, and highly flammable.  The result is greater polarization on issues and less tolerance for opposing viewpoints.

As a Christian, it is disheartening for me to read much of the religious discourse on the internet, especially in the blog-scape.  I come away with a (sinful?) feeling of hopelessness: Where to begin?  How in the world could I hope to reach people with Christ if this is indicative of their posture towards Him?  Despite God’s Word, which reminds me how capable He is of reaching the hardest of hearts (e.g., Paul), I can also take solace in the fact that if I were to turn off the amplifier in between the brazen comment and the commenter, more often than not I’d find a person just as broken and needy as anyone else in the world, one whose company I would probably enjoy, and certainly one who needs redemption just as much as I do.

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1 Corinthians & Acts

As I’m studying the BIble, I find it helpful to tie together different sections of the Bible to show how the writings complement each other. With Paul, it’s good to go back to Acts as you read his letters and see if there may be any helpful information that Acts provides. So, in Luke’s account of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19), you learn that Ephesus has a strong community dedicated to the cult and magic. When you read Ephesians, you notice that Paul, more than any other letter of his, uses language of our victory in Christ in the “heavenlies” and strong language of “spiritual warfare” (Eph 6:12-20). No coincidence. 

I’ve noticed a few parallels between its account of Paul’s ministry in Corinth (Acts 18) and Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians, some are minor, some helpful.

1. Acts 18:3 says that Paul worked in Corinth as a tentmaker, which fits with his account that he worked rather than have the Corinthians “pay his way” (1 Cor 4:12; 9:6, 18- see also 1 Thess 2:9- this seems to have been Paul’s modus operandi).

2. Acts 18:5-6 notes that Paul’s ministry to the Jews in the synagogues was largely unsuccessful, so much so that he declared “from now on I will go to the Gentiles.” Sure enough, it seems reasonably obvious that Paul’s Corinthian audience is mostly Gentile.

3. Luke tells us that “Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized” (18:8). Paul mentions baptizing Crispus in 1 Cor 1:14.

4. While Paul was in Corinth, “the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attach and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10). It isn’t a stretch to assume, then, that Paul was afraid. In Paul’s own words, “I came to you in weakness with great and trembling” (1 Cor 2:3).

5. Luke also records the beating of Sosthenes, another synagogue leader, at the hands of an angry mob (18:17). He was, presumably, a believer, and eventual “cowriter” (using that term loosely) of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1:1- I wonder if he left Corinth because of the beating?).

6. Finally, after they all leave Corinth, Priscilla and Aquilla, Paul’s coworkers, meet Apollos in Ephesus. Luke tells us “He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures…and he spoke with great fervor” (Acts 18:24-25), who was then taught more thoroughly by Priscilla and Aquilla. After this, Apollos ministered in Achaia and Corinth (Achaia is the overall region where Corinth was located) and “vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate” (18:28).

Interestingly, this seems to have caused some unintended problems within the church at Corinth. We learn that some chose to follow Apollos, while some chose to follow others (1 Cor 1:12). It seems that some of the Corinthians had rejected Paul on the basis of his lack of “wisdom” and “eloquence” (1 Cor 1:18-2:16; see also 2 Cor 10:10). Could it be that after experiencing Apollos’ rhetorical abilities and his knowledge that some had placed Apollos higher on the “spiritual” scale than Paul? It would seem that their love for wisdom and persuasive rhetoric would certainly make this possible, if not probable (1 Cor 1:22; 2:1-5). Of course, Paul doesn’t blame Apollos; he was, after all, doing his job of watering the seed that Paul had laid down (3:6). And it’s clear that Apollos was no longer in Corinth when this letter was written (16:12), so the divisions probably happened after his departure.

None of these 6 points, mind you, are necessarily crucial to understanding Paul’s letter. In fact, it seems to me that numbers 3 and 5 are purely incidental, number 1 confirms what we already know in other letters, number 2 gives us a good understanding why Paul’s audience in this letter seems so Gentile (and also confirms what we know from other letters- he was the apostle to the Gentiles, after all), and numbers 4 (on Paul’s fear) and 6 (on Apollos’ abilities) give us some interesting background that proves to be more helpful- especially the last point.

Note: this is a slightly revisted version of an older post.

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