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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Acts Overview

 

 


Introduction.

The Book of Acts is the second volume of a two part work of which the first volume is the Gospel of Luke. Both books are based on the same general plan. Luke’s claim is to ‘have traced all things accurately from the first’ (Luke 1:3) and to be concerned that his sources were both eyewitnesses and Christian teachers (Luke 1:2). This does indicate a determination to arrive at the facts, and to do it on the basis of what actually happened specifically from a Christian viewpoint. He is not therefore to be looked on as someone who just writes about things without taking the trouble to check his sources. He brings historical truth. But he does stress the fact that what he brings to light has the authority of leading Christian teachers behind it. Note the emphasis on the Apostolic witness. These men are witnesses to what they have ‘seen and heard’ (see Luke 7:22; Acts 4:20; Acts 22:15 compare John 3:32; 1 John 1:3).

The Gospel of Luke can be seen as basically divided into three:

· The birth and rise of Jesus and His going out as the Great Prophet full of the Holy Spirit to minister to Israel and proclaim the Good News (Luke 1:1 to Luke 9:50).

· The long ‘journey to Jerusalem’ followed by His triumphant entry into Jerusalem and revelation of Himself as God’s Son (Luke 9:51 to Luke 20:18)

· Jesus’ rejection, trial, crucifixion, resurrection and exaltation (Luke 20:19 to Luke 24:53).

The Book of Acts similarly divides into three:

· Ministry to the Jews. The birth and rise of the church and its going out full of the Holy Spirit to minister to the Jews and proclaim the Good News, and finally its application to the Gentiles. In this part Jesus commissions and empowers His Apostles from Jerusalem and they spread the word throughout Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria and Galilee, finally including Gentiles who live in Caesarea, leading up to Jerusalem’s second and final rejection of their Messiah (Acts 1:1 to Acts 12:24).

· Ministry to the Gentiles. The Spirit commissions and empowers Paul and his compatriots from Syrian Antioch and in two missionary journeys they spread the word, first throughout Cyprus and Asia Minor, and then throughout Europe (Acts 12:25 to Acts 18:22). Central to these ministries is the declaration of the freedom of the Gentiles from the Law (15). This section has a postscript with reference to ministry to the Disciples of John the Baptiser. In this postscript to this section a replacement is raised for Paul, as he begins his journey towards Jerusalem and Rome, the disciples of John the Baptiser are incorporated into the church, and we have a resume of the proclaiming of the Good News which is revealed as greater than that of John (Acts 18:23 to Acts 19:20).

· Paul commences a journey to Jerusalem which will lead to Rome (Acts 19:21), and which will finally result in his being arraigned before Caesar, but meanwhile results in his triumphant ministry before kings and rulers, and then in Rome itself (Acts 18:23 to Acts 28:31).

Each of these three sections of Acts follow a deliberate pattern:

SECTION 1. The Ministry to Israel and The Way Opened to the Gentiles: The Ministry Issues From Jerusalem Until Jerusalem Is Rejected (1:1-12:24).

This section is arranged on the following chiastic pattern:

a Jesus speaks of the things concerning the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 1:3). He is asked, ‘Lord will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? (Acts 1:6). His reply indicates that the present concern is to be the establishment of the Kingly Rule of God throughout the world in accordance with the teaching of Jesus, through the preaching of the word. Any other idea of a kingdom must be left with God.

b He declares the Great Commission - they are to be His witnesses and the Good News is to be taken to the uttermost parts of the world, and the resulting preparations for this are described (Acts 1:7-26).

c Through the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, life is given to the people of God at Pentecost. God is among His people (Acts 1:2).

d The lame man is made to leap like a deer indicating that Messianic expectation is being fulfilled (Acts 1:3).

e Persecution comes under the High Priest and its results are described (Acts 1:4-5).

f Within this scenario comes sin within the church - Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11).

g The ministry of the Hellenist Stephen (Acts 1:6).

h The pivotal speech of Stephen and his martyrdom (Acts 1:7).

g The ministry of the Hellenist Philip (Acts 1:8).

f Within this scenario comes sin within the church - Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:18-24).

e Persecution comes under the High Priest and its results are described (Acts 9:1-31).

d The paralysed man is made to walk (Acts 9:32-35).

c Through the resurrection, physical life is given to Tabitha - and spiritual life to Joppa - God is among His people (Acts 9:36-42).

b The Good News goes out to the Gentiles confirming that God has given to the Gentiles ‘repentance unto life’ (Acts 9:43 to Acts 11:30).

a Israel choose their last and final earthly king in Jerusalem who is destroyed because of blasphemy and because he has attacked the Kingly Rule of God. The kingdom is definitely not to be restored to Israel, and from now on Jerusalem virtually drops out of the frame as a factor in the expansion of the Kingly Rule of God. Peter ‘departs to another place’. (Acts 1:12).

It will be noted that in ‘a’ the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God is emphasised, with the instruction that they should ignore the idea of an earthly Kingdom, while in the parallel ‘a’ at the end the Kingly Rule of God is contrasted with an earthly Kingdom of Israel, a Kingdom whose king is brought into judgment and whose people are rejected. In ‘b’ the commission is given that they are to go as witnesses to the end of the earth and in the parallel the Good News is opened to Gentiles ready for the fulfilment of this task. In ‘c’ the dead bones of Israel receive new life, and in the parallel the dead are raised. The remaining parallels speak for themselves.

SECTION 2. Ministry to the Gentiles: The Spirit Commissions and Empowers Paul and His Compatriots from Syrian Antioch and They Spread the Word Throughout Cyprus, Asia Minor and Europe (12:25-18:22).

This also follows a chiastic pattern;

a Paul and Barnabas are sent forth from Antioch (Acts 12:25 to Acts 13:3).

b Ministry in Cyprus results in their being brought before the pro-consul Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:4-13).

c Ministry in Pisidian Antioch results in a major speech to the Jews with its consequences, including those who desire to hear him again (Acts 13:14-52).

d Successful ministry in Iconium results in the crowd being stirred up and their having to flee (Acts 14:1-6).

e A remarkable healing in Lystra results in false worship which is rejected and Paul’s stoning by the Jews, and leaving the city (Acts 14:7-20).

f Ministry in Derbe and a round trip confirming the churches and return to Antioch (Acts 14:21-28).

g The Gathering in Jerusalem of the Apostles and elders of Jerusalem, and the Antiochene representatives, resulting in acknowledgement that the Gentiles are not to be bound by the Law (15).

f Paul and Silas (and Barnabas and Mark) leave Antioch to go on a round trip confirming the churches (Acts 15:36 to Acts 16:5).

e A remarkable healing in Philippi results in true worship which is accepted (the Philippian jailer and his household) and Paul’s stripes being washed by the Roman jailer. The magistrates declare them innocent and Paul leaves the city (Acts 16:6-40).

d Successful ministries in Thessalonica and Berea result in the crowds being stirred up and their having to flee (Acts 17:1-14).

c Ministry in Athens results in a major speech to the Gentiles with its consequences, including those who desire to hear him again (Acts 17:15-34).

b Ministry in Corinth results in their being brought before the pro-consul Gallio (Acts 18:1-17).

a Paul returns to Antioch (Acts 18:18-22).

Ministry to the Disciples of John the Baptiser and Activity In Ephesus Which Emphasises that The Work Goes On Unfailingly (18:23-19:20).

Here we have a summary demonstrating how all that has gone before continues, showing how God’s work advances, commencing with the work of John the Baptiser and proceeding to the present day. As a result men’s eyes are opened, and they are turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God (compare Acts 26:18)

a The ministry of the disciples of John through Apollos leads up to the full proclamation of Jesus (Acts 18:24-28).

b The disciples of John the Baptiser are incorporated into the church by the Holy Spirit coming on them (Acts 19:1-7).

c The Good News of Jesus is proclaimed to the Jews, who are revealed to be hardened (Acts 19:8-9 a), and then to the Gentiles in a continually successful ministry so that all in Asia heard ‘the word of the Lord’ (Acts 19:9-10).

d Great wonders and signs continue to be performed by God through Paul (whereas John did no miracle). Aprons and handkerchiefs (or headbands and leather belts) from his touch are God’s instruments in the performing of such signs and wonders (Acts 19:11-12).

c False witnesses (who are Jewish) are defeated, and the name of the Lord, Jesus is magnified (Acts 19:13-17).

b The books which are the instruments of Satan are burned (Acts 19:18-19).

a The word of the Lord grows mightily and prevails (Acts 19:20).

In ‘a’ the ministry of John develops into the ministry of Jesus, and in the parallel mightily grows the word of God and prevails. In ‘b’ the disciples of John are immersed in the Holy Spirit, in the parallel the books which are the instruments of Satan are dealt with by being immersed in fire. (‘He will immerse you in the Holy Spirit and in fire’). In ‘c’ the Jews as a whole are hardened and thus become false witnesses, while the Gentiles continually respond, and in the parallel the false witnesses who are Jews are defeated, while the name of the Lord Jesus is magnified. Central to all in ‘d’ are the signs and wonders which confirm Paul’s ministry to be of God and to be continuing what happened at Pentecost. The pattern set here parallels the opening chapters of both Luke and Acts, the witness of John, the coming of the Spirit (Luke 3:22; Luke 4:1) , the expansion of the word. See the commentary.

From this point on Paul purposes in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem on his way to Rome (Acts 18:21; Acts 20:16; Acts 20:22-23; Acts 21:10-13; Acts 21:17), and this will be followed by the Journey to Rome itself. The whole journey is seen by Luke deliberately to commence from the very centre of idolatry at Ephesus, where there is uproar and Paul is unable to preach, and deliberately to end in contrast with the triumph of a pure, unadulterated ministry in Rome. We can contrast how initially in Section 1 the commission commenced in a pure and unadulterated fashion in Jerusalem (Acts 1:3-9) and ended in idolatry in Caesarea (Acts 12:20-23).

Thus we could briefly summarise Acts as follows:

· The Great Commission is given in Jerusalem in the purity and triumph of Jesus’ resurrection and enthronement as King which results in Jerusalem’s rejection of Him and the false King’s idolatrous response and judgment (Acts 1-12).

· The triumphant ministry to the Dispersion and the Gentiles (Acts 13:1 to Acts 19:20).

· Paul’s journey to Rome commences amidst rampant idolatry and comes to completion with him triumphantly proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God from his own house in Rome (Acts 19:21 to Acts 28:31).

That being so this final section may be analysed as follows.

a Satan counterattacks against Paul’s too successful Ministry in Ephesus and throughout Asia Minor and causes uproar resulting in Paul’s ministry being unsuccessfully attacked by the worshippers of ‘Artemis (Diana) of the Ephesians’. This city, with its three ‘temple-keepers’ for the Temple of Artemis and the two Imperial Cult Temples, is symbolic of the political and religious alliance between idolatry and Rome which has nothing to offer but greed and verbosity. It expresses the essence of the kingly rule of Rome. And here God’s triumph in Asia over those Temples has been pictured in terms of wholesale desertion of the Temple of Artemis (mention of the emperor cult would have been foolish) by those who have become Christians (Acts 19:26) and will in the parallel below be contrasted and compared with Paul freely proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God in Rome (Acts 19:21-41).

b Paul’s progress towards Jerusalem is diverted because of further threats and he meets with disciples for seven days at Troas (Acts 20:1-6).

c The final voyage commences and a great sign is given of God’s presence with Paul. Eutychus is raised from the dead (Acts 20:7-12).

d Paul speaks to the elders from the church at Ephesus who meet him at Miletus and he gives warning of the dangers of spiritual catastrophe ahead and turns them to the word of His grace. If they obey Him all will be saved (Acts 20:13-38).

e A series of maritime stages and prophecy (Acts 21:4 and Acts 21:11) lead to Jerusalem follow (Acts 21:1-16).

f Paul proves his true dedication in Jerusalem and his conformity with the Law and does nothing that is worthy of death but the doors of the Temple are closed against him (Acts 21:17-30).

g Paul is arrested and gives his testimony of his commissioning by the risen Jesus (Acts 21:31 to Acts 22:29).

h Paul appears before the Sanhedrin and points to the hope of the resurrection (Acts 22:30 to Acts 23:9).

i He is rescued by the chief captain and is informed by the Lord that as he has testified in Jerusalem so he will testify in Rome (Acts 23:11).

j The Jews plan an ambush, which is thwarted by Paul’s nephew (Acts 23:12-25).

k Paul is sent to Felix, to Caesarea (Acts 23:26-35).

l Paul makes his defence before Felix stressing the hope of the resurrection (Acts 24:1-22).

k Paul is kept at Felix’ pleasure for two years (with opportunities in Caesarea) (Acts 24:23-27).

j The Jews plan to ambush Paul again, an attempt which is thwarted by Festus (Acts 25:1-5).

i Paul appears before Festus and appeals to Caesar. To Rome he will go (Acts 25:6-12).

h Paul is brought before Agrippa and gives his testimony stressing his hope in the resurrection (Acts 25:23 to Acts 26:8).

g Paul gives his testimony concerning his commissioning by the risen Jesus (Acts 26:9-23).

f Paul is declared to have done nothing worthy of death and thus to have conformed to the Law, but King Agrippa II closes his heart against his message (Acts 26:28-32).

e A series of maritime stages and prophecy (verses 10, 21-26) follow (27.l-26).

d Paul speaks to those at sea, warning of the dangers of physical catastrophe ahead unless they obey God’s words. If they obey Him all will be delivered (Acts 27:27-44).

c Paul is delivered from death through snakebite and Publius’ father and others are healed, which are the signs of God’s presence with him, and the voyage comes to an end after these great signs have been given (Acts 28:1-13).

b Paul meets with disciples for seven days at Puteoli and then at the Appii Forum (Acts 28:14-15).

a Paul commences his ministry in Rome where, living in peace and safety, he has clear course to proclaim the Kingly Rule of God to all (Acts 28:16-31).

Thus in ‘a’ the section commences at the very centre of idolatry which symbolises with its three temples (depicted in terms of the Temple of Artemis) the political and religious power of Rome, the kingly rule of Rome, which is being undermined by the Good News which has ‘almost spread throughout all Asia’ involving ‘much people’. It begins with uproar and an attempt to prevent the spread of the Good News and reveals the ultimate emptiness of that religion. All they can do is shout slogans including the name of Artemis, but though they shout it long and loud that name has no power and results in a rebuke from their ruler. In the parallel the section ends with quiet effectiveness and the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God being given free rein. This is in reverse to section 1 which commenced with the call to proclaim the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 1:3) and ended with the collapse of the kingly rule of Israel through pride and idolatry (Acts 12:20-23).

In ‘b’ Paul meets with God’s people for ‘seven days, the divinely perfect period, at the commencement of his journey, and then in the parallel he again meets with the people of God for ‘seven days’ at the end of his journey. Wherever he goes, there are the people of God. There is a colony of Heaven.

In ‘c’ God reveals that His presence is with Paul by the raising of the dead, and in the parallel reveals His presence by protection from the Snake and the healing of Publius.

In ‘d’ we have a significant parallel between Paul’s warning of the need for the church at Ephesus to avoid spiritual catastrophe through ‘the word of His grace’ and in the parallel ‘d’ the experience of being saved from a great storm through His gracious word, but only if they are obedient to it, which results in deliverance for all.

In ‘e’ and its parallel we have Paul’s voyages, each accompanied by prophecy indicating God’s continuing concern for Paul as he journeys.

In ‘f’ Paul proves his dedication and that he is free from all charges that he is not unfaithful to the Law of Moses, and in the parallel Agrippa II confirms him to be free of all guilt.

In ‘g’ Paul give his testimony concerning receiving his commission from the risen Jesus, and in the parallel this testimony is repeated and the commission expanded.

In ‘h’ Paul proclaims the hope of the resurrection before the Sanhedrin, and in the parallel he proclaims the hope of the resurrection before Felix, Agrippa and the gathered Gentiles.

In ‘i’ the Lord tells him that he will testify at Rome, while in the parallel the procurator Festus declares that he will testify at Rome. God’s will is carried out by the Roman power.

In ‘ j’ a determined plan by the Jews to ambush Paul and kill him is thwarted, and in the parallel a further ambush two years later is thwarted. God is continually watching over Paul.

In ‘k’ Paul is sent to Felix, to Caesarea, the chief city of Palestine, and in the parallel spends two years there with access given to the ‘his friends’ so that he can freely minister.

In ‘l’ we have the central point around which all revolves. Paul declares to Felix and the elders of Jerusalem the hope of the resurrection of both the just and the unjust in accordance with the Scriptures.

It will be noted that the central part of this chiasmus is built around the hope of the resurrection which is mentioned three times, first in ‘h’, then centrally in ‘l’ and then again in ‘h’, and these are sandwiched between two descriptions of Paul’s commissioning by the risen Jesus (in ‘g’ and in the parallel ‘g’). The defeat of idolatry and the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God have as their central cause the hope of the resurrection and the revelation of the risen Jesus.

What is the Book About?

It is often stated that the book is misnamed because it concentrates on Peter and Paul and is not about the ‘Acts of the Apostles’. But that is not fully true. Luke is actually at pains to point out in the first chapters of the book that all the Apostles are acting as one. He certainly sees in this the ‘Acts of the Apostles’.

Consider for example:

· It was to all the Apostles that Jesus appeared when He called on them to go out to the uttermost parts of the earth with the Gospel (Acts 1:8).

· The Apostles stood with Peter on the day of Pentecost and partook in the incredible infusion and in the other tongues and stood with him as he spoke (Acts 2:1-14).

· The Apostles as a whole taught the early believers (Acts 2:41).

· It was through all the Apostles that wonders and signs were done (Acts 2:43).

· It was the Apostles and those who were with them who prayed that God would cause His word to be spoken boldly, accompanied by signs and wonders in the name of God’s holy Servant, Jesus (Acts 4:29-30).

· It was the Apostles who stood and preached in Solomon’s porch when none dared join with them, and were held in high honour by the people (Acts 5:12).

· It was the Apostles who were arrested and imprisoned, and who were released from prison by an angel during the night (Acts 5:18-19), and went back at daybreak to the Temple, boldly to continue their ministry (Acts 5:21).

· It was the Apostles who were set before the council and questioned (Acts 5:27), and who, when they were reminded that they had been charged not to preach in the name of Jesus, replied that they had no alternative but to do so (Acts 5:28-32).

· It was the Apostles who were beaten, and charged not to speak in the name of Jesus and who were let go, and who subsequently rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the Name, and continued preaching and teaching (Acts 5:40-42).

· It was the Apostles who insisted that no hindrance should be put on their teaching ministry (Acts 6:2) and who appointed the servers.

· It was the Apostles who remained in Jerusalem when persecution caused the believers to be scattered (Acts 8:1).

· It was the Apostles who determined to send Peter and John to oversee the ministry among the Samaritans (Acts 8:14). (Note how Peter is subject to the authority of all the Apostles).

· It was the Apostles who, with the elders, formed a part of the general assembly and made the decision to accept Gentiles without circumcision and not put on them the whole burden of the ceremonial Law (Acts 8:15).

Thus the first part of the book (Acts 1:1 to Acts 9:31) is clearly in Luke’s eyes the ‘Acts of the Apostles’, even though Peter is the leading spokesman. Peter’s sole ministry, along with some disciples, then comes into prominence in Acts 9:32 to Acts 11:18. And from then on the prominence falls on Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:1 to Acts 15:39), followed by Paul and Silas with Timothy (Acts 15:40 to Acts 21:26), because they go to the Gentiles, with the final chapters concentrated on Paul’s arrest and journey to Rome (Acts 21:27 to Acts 28:31).

In a very real sense then the book contains the Acts of the Apostles, first of all the Apostles, then of Peter, then of Paul and Barnabas, then of Paul and Silas and then finally of Paul in his captivity.

Can We Have Confidence In Luke’s Accuracy?

The first point that we do need to note is that Luke does claim to have taken great care to ensure the accuracy of the facts on which he based his history. He wanted it known that what he wrote was on the basis of carefully researched facts, and that he did so because so much had been written and he felt that it was necessary to sift what was true from what was not (Luke 1:1-4). If we are to be fair to him this is something that we must not overlook. We must accept that either he was a barefaced liar, or he did take great trouble to sift fact from fiction.

Furthermore, contributing to our confidence in what he wrote is the undoubted fact that the writer has been shown to be historically accurate in his use of terms. He clearly knew his way about very complicated structures of the Roman Empire. He knew that a proconsul was in charge of Cyprus at the time when Paul was there. He knew that the officials at Philippi were called strategoi. At Thessalonika he correctly refers to the politarchs. At Malta the chief man is correctly referred to as the primus. While at Ephesus he rightly calls the controllers of religious affairs Asiarchs. All these diverse titles have been confirmed archaeologically. He also knew that (at this period in history only) Iconium was not in Lycaonia. Thus we know that he was always precise and accurate in his use of such titles and place names in a world which was by no means straightforward. He has proved himself to be very competent, at least in this regard.

We also know that he reveals a good knowledge of Roman law and medical practise, and that his familiarity with geographical, political and territorial details in the areas of which he speaks is clear and verifiable. In the light of the complicated world of that day, all this can only be looked on as evidence that the writer gave careful consideration to the facts and knew what he was talking about. We are thus able to conclude that he was not just a hearer of stories. He was someone who looked carefully into what he wrote about.

The Spirit’s Work In Luke and Acts.

The first thing that we must draw attention to about both his books (Luke and Acts) is that they each commence with a great emphasis on the new work of the Spirit which was taking place in the days of which they write, which was then mainly assumed as going on in the remainder of each book, with but an occasional reminder necessary to confirm it. And while the happenings at Pentecost in Acts 2 in one sense open up a new era, they are seen as by no means the beginning of the work of the Spirit. The emphasis is rather on a second surge of the Spirit, following on the one which was the mainspring of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. But whereas the first resulted in a Spirit filled Jesus carrying forward a Spirit filled ministry, so that His disciples participated in the Spirit through Him (they were born from above and cast out evil spirits and healed), Acts reveals directly Spirit filled Apostles as carrying it on. In Luke the Holy Spirit descended visibly on Jesus. In Acts the Holy Spirit descends visibly on His Apostles.

The beginning of Luke’s Gospel laid great emphasis on the work of the Spirit. John the Baptiser was described as "filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb" (Luke 1:15). The word for ‘filled’ is pimplemi which always refers to a special gift for a particular occasion or ministry. In other words John was prepared from birth to be the instrument of God's sovereign work, working by the power of the Spirit. He would walk "in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17). But he would do no miracles (John 10:41). It was not yet the new age. The Spirit’s power was rather revealed in the success of his preaching. Notice in the prophecy of John's birth the contrast between strong drink and the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:15). Paul the Apostle also points out that the man who would be filled by the Spirit must avoid excess of wine (Ephesians 5:18).

The power within John as a result of the permanent fullness of the Spirit would be all the stimulation that he needed, and would enable him to "turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God" so as to prepare a people for the Lord's coming (Luke 1:14-17). As he grew the 'hand of the Lord' was 'with him' (Luke 1:66; compare Psalms 89:21, Acts 11:21). This would remind Luke's readers of Elijah (1 Kings 18:46) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:3 and often), although the preposition here is different signifying a more permanent, but less outwardly emphatic an experience.

It was not, however, only on John that the Spirit was depicted as coming. Luke seems at pains in his first chapters to stress the new activity of the Spirit. The coming age, the age of the Spirit, was seen as dawning. Elizabeth (Luke 1:41) and Zechariah (Luke 1:67), his mother and father, were also "filled (pimplemi) with Holy Spirit" and prophesied, while Simeon, an aged servant of God, was described as having Holy Spirit 'upon him' (Luke 2:25). Indeed the Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the coming king (Luke 2:26). It was in preparation for that King, that the Spirit was at work. And when the baby Jesus was taken to the Temple in accordance with God's law, Simeon was 'inspired by the Spirit' to go there. It is stressed that he was righteous and devout, and looking for ‘the consolation of Israel’ (Luke 2:25), as were Elizabeth and Zechariah (Luke 1:6) and a number of others in Jerusalem (Luke 1:38), including a godly prophetess (Luke 1:36-37). Thus in Luke the Spirit prepared for Jesus.

Being "filled with the Holy Spirit" is seen to be a temporary experience for Elizabeth and Zechariah, enabling them to prophesy the once, while it is a permanent experience for John, the specially chosen instrument of God's purpose. The fact that he is filled with the Spirit from birth demonstrates that in him God had begun the new work of the Spirit in Sovereign power without outside intervention, even from John. It was all God’s work. The same continuing idea of sovereign power carries on in Acts. The phrase "filled (Gk. pimplemi) with Holy Spirit" is clearly synonymous with the phrase "the Spirit of the Lord came upon --" in the Old Testament (e.g. in Judges). There also it was usually temporary, but could be permanent in certain cases, and was for those chosen out for special service, or for a special prophetic word.

This phrase is used in Acts in a similar way, thus identifying the experiences of Acts with those of the past. In this regard we must distinguish “being filled (pimplemi) with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4; Acts 4:8; Acts 4:31; Acts 13:9), which is limited to certain people, is always for some only, is for a specific purpose, and very often occurs in a particular circumstance, and is mainly with rare exceptions temporary, and “being filled (pleroo) (Acts 13:52) and therefore full (pleres) (Acts 6:3; Acts 6:5; Acts 7:55; Acts 11:24) of the Holy Spirit” which is a more general and continuing experience, is for all, and produces general spiritual benefit, the latter being in mind in Ephesians 5:18.

When Jesus was to be born Mary was told, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you. And the power of the Most High will overshadow you, Therefore the child who is to be born will be called holy, The Son of God.” (Luke 1:35). Thus it was through the Holy Spirit’s activity that Jesus came into the world.

John began his preparatory ministry with great success. People flocked to him from Jerusalem, Judaea and Galilee and he called them to change their ways in readiness for One who would come. He made it clear that he was only the preparer of the way. He had come to call men to turn from sin, and, as a sign of a changed heart and mind, to be baptised (drenched) in water for the forgiveness of sins, but with the promise that the Greater One who was coming “will baptise (drench) you with Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Luke 3:16 compare Matthew 3:11). The thought here is of comparison with the lifegiving rain and the fires of purification and judgment, two Old Testament themes. This will produce the harvest of wheat to be gathered in, while the fire will burn up the useless chaff (Luke 3:17). But he stressed that he was preparing for the coming of Jesus Who ‘will drench men in the Holy Spirit’. That is what his baptism pointed to. All this resulted from the fact that John the Baptiser had been filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb.

Furthermore we should note that Jesus made clear that the Kingly Rule of God (Heaven) was available through John’s preaching from the beginning. According to Him the tax collectors and prostitutes who heard John and repented went into the Kingly Rule of God, preceding any Pharisees who repented later (Matthew 21:31-32).

When Jesus went into the water to be baptised, as He came out “the Holy Spirit came down on him in a bodily shape like a dove” (Luke 3:22 compare Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10). At the same time a voice from Heaven said, “You are My son, My beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” This immediately linked Jesus with the kings of Israel/Judah who were crowned with the words, “You are my son --” (Psalms 2:7), along with the promise of eventual worldwide rule. Thus He is depicted as the king who is coming, upon whom will rest the Spirit of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2) resulting in wisdom and understanding. The final part of the sentence links with Isaiah 42:1, the promise of a coming Servant of God who will have God’s Spirit upon him and proclaim God’s justice to the nations of the world. (The final destiny of this Servant is found in Isaiah 53). So Jesus was from the commencement of His ministry seen as both King and Servant and endued with the Spirit of God.

Jesus returned from the Jordan ‘full (pleres) of the Holy Spirit’ (Luke 4:1), something which would carry Him through His ministry, and it was by the Holy Spirit that He was led into the wilderness (Luke 4:1) to face up to the temptations of Satan and the significance of His ministry. He began His ministry in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14) and immediately proclaimed Himself to be the anointed prophet on whom the Spirit of the Lord would rest as promised in Isaiah 61:1-2 (Luke 4:18-20). He declared, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are bruised and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”. This idea of the anointing of the Spirit on Jesus also appears in Luke 4:27; Luke 10:38. Luke then brought out how exactly Jesus was carrying out this ministry of the great prophet. He taught the people with authority (Luke 4:32), He released the captives of the demons (Luke 4:33-36), He delivered those oppressed with diseases (Luke 4:38-40) and He proclaimed the good news of the Kingly Rule of God (Luke 4:43 compare Matthew 11:4-6). The new age was commencing.

It is made quite clear then that His ministry was to be in the power of the Holy Spirit. But having abundantly and quite clearly established that the new work of the Spirit was taking place in a number of ways Luke now almost ceased to mention Him. In the remainder of Luke there is a remarkable silence about the Holy Spirit, especially in the last chapter. The reason for this can only be that having established the source of the power in Jesus’ ministry, Luke wanted all attention now to be turned on Jesus. Thus while he wants us to recognise that the Spirit’s work was going on through Jesus (‘full of Holy Spirit’) and in a continuing manner, at the same time he wants to put the focus on Jesus Himself, as the One Who has come uniquely from God and acts in God’s power so that He may go to Jerusalem and die, and rise again. Unlike all others His success comes from within Himself.

John’s Gospel in fact makes clear the continual nature of the Spirit’s work throughout (John 3:1-11; John 4:1-26 based on the fact that God is Spirit; John 6:63; John 7:37-39), and stresses that the Spirit is given to Jesus in full measure with no restriction (John 3:34). Luke, however presents things differently. In Luke Jesus does later rejoice over the fact that God has revealed His truths to the lowly, He does describe Him as rejoicing “in Spirit” (Luke 10:21), and we are probably justified in seeing here the idea of the joy-giving work of the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-19). Luke also tells us that He promises his disciples that when they are dragged before accusing judges the Holy Spirit will teach them what to say (Luke 12:12; compare Matthew 10:20), and this must in context be seen as including while Jesus Christ was on earth. The Spirit is thus seen still to be there and active. But on the whole it cannot really be doubted that He is kept in the background by Luke from chapter 5 onwards.

That it is probably fair to say that there is in Luke’s Gospel from chapter 5 onwards a studied absence of mention of the Holy Spirit, comes out in that he deliberately translated the Aramaic as ‘the finger of God’ (Luke 11:20) where Matthew uses ‘the Spirit of God’ (Matthew 12:28) and even more emphatic is the fact that while pointing to the coming pouring out of power from above during Jesus’ resurrection appearances he seems specifically and deliberately to refrain from mentioning the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49). In view of Acts 1 this can surely not be accidental. It would seem to us that the reason for this is twofold. Firstly, it is in order that, once he has established the new working of the Spirit, and has made clear that Jesus Himself is full of the same Holy Spirit, he might then concentrate all the attention on Jesus. Thus his Gospel from Acts 4:1 onwards majors on Jesus and Jesus only. But secondly it is in order to allow for the greater impact on the reader of the second great surge of the Holy Spirit in Acts when His manifestation in power occurs as a new climactic event. The rather vague ‘power from on high’ with which the Gospel finishes is introduced in Acts as resulting from the powerful and effective drenching of the Holy Spirit. So much so that popular opinion often incorrectly sees Acts as when the Spirit commenced His work.

Acts can then overall at first be said to follow a similar pattern to Luke. Like Luke it commences by emphasising the drenching of the Holy Spirit connected with John the Baptiser’s ministry (Acts 1:5) and stresses that it will occur through Jesus’ activity (‘He will drench you in the Holy Spirit’), and he also emphasises that the Holy Spirit spoke through Jesus’ ministry (Acts 1:2). Then he explains that the power from on high mentioned previously in the Gospel (Luke 24:49) will be because the Holy Spirit comes on His disciples (Acts 1:8), which then results in an epoch-making experience of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. But then after that Acts follows up with abundant references to the Holy Spirit over a number of chapters (44 times in the first thirteen chapters). In these chapters the Holy Spirit is emphasised as working everywhere.

Reference to the Holy Spirit becomes less in the middle chapters (12 times in chapters 14-21), although still frequent enough to draw attention to His continued presence, and then after that there is no further reference to the Holy Spirit at all until we arrive in chapter 28, and there the reference is simply to the Holy Spirit as speaking through the Scriptures. Again this must be seen as significant, especially so as Paul’s being brought before governors for the sake of Christ is undoubtedly one scenario where we might have expected mention of the Holy Spirit. For Luke 12:12 makes clear that it is in precisely such circumstance that the Holy Spirit will step in on behalf of His people.

This might to some extent be seen as due to his sources, but unless we accuse Luke of merely being an editor, which he most decidedly was not, that cannot be seen as sufficient explanation for the phenomenon. Nor does it explain why in chapter 19 there is a momentary reversal back to the experiences of the first chapters of Acts. The main reason, therefore would seem to be the impression that Luke is seeking to give. In the first part of Acts up to chapter 13 he places all attention on the powerful, direct activity of the Holy Spirit, as He sweeps on in reaching out first to Jerusalem, then to Judaea and Samaria, then to the Gentiles as represented by Cornelius, and then in the commencement of the ministry of Paul. We are intended to see here the Holy Spirit working in irresistible and unceasing power. Nothing can prevent His activity. We are reminded of Isaiah’s words, ‘He will come like a rushing stream which the wind of the Lord drives’ (Isaiah 59:19 RV RSV).

But then in the second part from chapter 14 onwards, while he intends us to see that the Holy Spirit is still active in guiding God’s people, it is in a more gentle and controlled fashion (Acts 16:7, compare Acts 13:2). Having irresistibly driven His people to recognise that Jew, Samaritan and Gentile must all be included in His saving work, and having brought it about by His powerful activity, and having filled both Paul and His people ready for the next stage, He is seen as consolidating His work among the Gentiles, still effectively, but more quietly. His message goes out to peoples and nations through Paul and his associates, and the Holy Spirit guides the church to a wise solution with regard to Gentile participation in the church (chapter 15), but it is only in Acts 19:1-6 that we again sense the atmosphere of the early part of Acts.

Then in the last part of Acts, while God is still clearly in control and working out His sovereign purpose, the emphasis is no longer on the Holy Spirit but on man’s activity (but always under God’s control) in dragging Paul to Rome. It is that which is stressed and the Holy Spirit is not mentioned at all. (Satan is seen to be doing God’s work for Him as he did in the crucifixion of Christ). The Holy Spirit could in fact have been mentioned a number of times, for Paul is brought before governors for Christ’s sake (compare Luke 12:12), but Luke’s silence deliberately brings out that it is men, not the Holy Spirit, who, having taken charge, are forced to bring about God’s will in bringing Paul to Rome where he can proclaim the Kingly Rule of God. In these chapters Paul still speaks powerfully, and surely by the Holy Spirit, but that is no longer Luke’s emphasis. His emphasis is now on man’s sinfulness and brutality and on God’s sovereignty. Man is seeking to direct God’s affairs, but God overrules.

Having said this, throughout Acts the Spirit is seen as paralleling Jesus’ ministry in teaching the people with authority (Acts 1:8; Acts 2:4; Acts 4:8; Acts 4:31-33; Acts 5:32 etc), releasing the captives of evil spirits (Acts 8:7; Acts 16:18; Acts 19:12), delivering those oppressed with diseases (Acts 3:1-11; Acts 6:5-8; Acts 19:12) and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom (Acts 8:12; Acts 14:22; Acts 19:8; Acts 20:25; Acts 28:23). The prophetic ministry of Jesus is thus clearly being carried on by the Apostles in the power of the Spirit. The Servant’s work continues (Acts 13:47).

This all confirms that He wants us to concentrate on the work of the Holy Spirit as being that of carrying forward the movement from Jerusalem to Rome, with a kind of hiatus occurring once Paul has been arrested. It is as though Luke sees Paul’s arrest as having somehow interfered with that process, while at the same time being part of it.

The hiatus is powerful. It is not that he doubts that Paul’s arrest is within God’s purposes, only that he sees it as an indication of an interruption in the forward flow of the preaching of the Gospel, which God turns to His own account, and indeed He is behind it all the time. Although we may also be intended to see here an indication that Satan’s hand is at work (Acts 26:18) but as one who is defeated (Acts 27:5)..

Depending on when Luke wrote this could well have been helpful to his readers. By then the first exciting years had passed and they were having to face a world where the Holy Spirit was not quite so openly active, a world which was resistant to them, as it was to Paul in those final chapters. The sense that God was at work, even in the bleakest of circumstances, would have been a great encouragement to them.

So we may argue that Luke wants us to see that Paul’s final journey to Rome, while being in God’s purposes (Acts 23:11), was not a matter of being borne along by the Holy Spirit but of seemingly being borne along by the hand of men, although finally being something which God would turn to His own account. He is saying that while men might have appeared at this time to have taken over control so as to stem the onward moving work of the Spirit, God turned it to His own purposes. For in the end he makes it quite clear that all was in God’s hands, and that it resulted in His sovereignty prevailing, with Paul being firmly established in Rome and able freely to proclaim the Kingly Rule of God at the very heart of the Roman Empire. Here again the Holy Spirit is mentioned (Acts 28:25), and he is seen as established for the purpose of proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God in Rome.

So what happened did not prevent God’s work continuing. Witness was made to governors and kings, people were converted. There was thus still evidence of God’s power. But what he wants us to see was that in general it was not God’s positive purpose, but was brought about by man under God’s sovereignty, with Him turning their evil purposes to good. It revealed that Paul was in his own way delivered out of the power of Satan to God (Acts 26:18).

We may compare this part of his life with the last days of Jesus, when Satan was active (Luke 22:3) in doing all that he could to destroy Him. But he makes clear that both Jesus and Paul triumphed in the end. God was in the experiences of both. We may also note that after the journey to Jerusalem in Luke Jesus’ enemies were thwarted by the resurrection, while after Paul’s journey to Rome they were thwarted by Paul’s being able to live in his own house and declare the Kingly Rule of God to both Jews and Gentiles.

These silent chapters at the end of the book demonstrate that while revealing the work of the Holy Spirit must be seen as one of Luke’s main purposes in Acts it cannot be seen as the one central one, otherwise He would have been mentioned in these final chapters in places where mention of Him might be expected. The Holy Spirit’s work is to be seen as only one aspect of the book, not its major theme.

The Language of Luke and Acts.

Interestingly the same general picture of a change between two part of each book also applies to the language of both books, but with the split being very different. Speaking generally, in Luke’s Gospel the first two chapters,although not the opening words of introduction, are suffused with Aramaic Greek, followed by the remainder in more general Greek. In Acts the first fifteen chapters can be said to give strong suggestions of Aramaic Greek while the remainder may again be said to be in more general Greek. To some extent this may well be seen as due to his sources, whether written or oral, (for parts of Acts 1-15 would mainly tend to come from witnesses who used Aramaic Greek, as would Luke 1-3), and to the use of the Septuagint and other Greek texts for the benefit of his readers (for both include much quotation from Greek texts). This would then suggest the careful way in which Luke did not alter his sources overmuch, while considering his readers. But that could be said to be equally true of the whole of Luke’s Gospel, and yet that did not prevent Luke from putting it in more general Greek. It must be seen therefore as quite probable that Luke wanted chapters 1-2 to reflect the Old Testament prior to the commencement of Jesus’ ministry, while feeling more at home in general Greek, and that he wanted parts of Acts 1-15 to reflect the mainly Jewish Christian background of that section of Acts, changing to more general Greek in Acts 16 onwards once the Jew-Gentile Christian conflict was officially resolved. It suggests that he was no mean author. He wanted us to recognise the source from which the church sprang, while at the same time emphasising that it eventually became universal.

The Significance of Jerusalem in Acts.

Luke has carefully constructed Acts in order to portray how Jerusalem fits into the purposes of God. He commences with it as the centre from which the witness of the Good News will go out, ever more widely, to the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8). For a while it is then the centre of all activity. From Acts 1:8 to Acts 6:7 all is Jerusalem, and from Acts 6:8 to Acts 11:30 the Word of the Lord goes forth from Jerusalem and is overseen by Jerusalem.

But meanwhile the leaders of Jerusalem first reluctantly tolerate (Acts 4:13-23; Acts 5:33-41) and then oppose the word and God’s people (Acts 6:12; Acts 8:1-3; Acts 9:1-2), along with the Jews (Acts 6:9-13; Acts 9:23; Acts 9:29), until in chapter 12 Jerusalem as a whole finally rejects its Messiah and His people and chooses a false Messiah who is finally doomed for his blasphemy. It is significant that at this point, James the apostle having been martyred, Peter, seemingly the last of the Apostles in Jerusalem, ‘went to another place’ (Acts 12:17) and all evangelistic activity from Jerusalem ceases.

From this point on Syrian Antioch becomes the major centre for the mission of the Holy Spirit and the sending out of the word of the Lord. It is true that the church in Jerusalem (not Jerusalem itself which has been rejected) is called in. But this time it is not as the Jerusalem church overseeing the work, it is as the Apostles and elders advising what they consider to be the mind of God. And significantly it advises only in order to pronounce its own demise (15). The decision made here releases the Gentiles from any tie with Jerusalem and its Temple (but not the tie with the Jerusalem church).

And from this point on Luke only brings in Jerusalem in order to demonstrate that Paul, rejected by Jerusalem, with the gates of the Temple closed against him, goes from Jerusalem to Rome, (although he still stresses that the work of the church in Jerusalem and Judaea still prospers (Acts 21:20).

We may portray this in more depth as follows:

1). Jerusalem Is Blessed And Offered Its Messiah (1:8-6:7).

· The Spirit comes from above (Acts 2:1-4; Acts 4:31).

· The world has come to Jerusalem (Acts 2:5-11).

· The Apostles proclaim the word to the Jewish world in Jerusalem (Acts 2:15-36; Acts 3:12-26).

· The Apostles perform great signs and wonders in Jerusalem (Acts 2:43; Acts 5:12).

· Jerusalem is the great centre of healing as people come from all parts (Acts 5:16).

· The Messianic signs are being fulfilled - the pouring out of the Spirit (Acts 2:1-4); - the Messianic banquet (Acts 2:46; Acts 4:35; Acts 6:1-6); - the Messianic signs (Acts 3:1-10; Acts 4:30).

· The Sanhedrin itself is challenged with the Good News (Acts 4:8-12; Acts 5:29-32)

· The ‘church’ (the assembly of God’s people) is being firmly established in Jerusalem and growing rapidly and spreading (Acts 2:37-47; Acts 4:32; Acts 6:7).

· A Messianic judgment takes place (Acts 5:1-11).

All the prophecies concerning Jerusalem are thus being fulfilled.

2). The Word of the Lord Goes Out From Jerusalem (6:8-11:30).

The martyrdom of Stephen is then the signal for the word to go forth from Jerusalem as promised in Isaiah 2:2-4, as further prophecies are fulfilled. It goes out to Samaria (Acts 8:4-25), to Ethiopia (Acts 8:26-39), to the cities along the coast (Acts 8:40; Acts 9:32-43), to Damascus (Acts 9:19-25). Churches are established and prosper throughout Judaea, Galilee and Samaria (Acts 9:31). And then finally the word goes to the Gentiles (Acts 10:1-48; Acts 11:19-30).

3). Jerusalem Rejects Its Messiah For A False Messiah (12).

The hailing of a false Messiah and rejection of the true Messiah is clearly portrayed in chapter 12. (We are dealing here with Luke’s portrayal making use of the historical facts). ‘Herod the King’ as the people pleaser attacks the Apostles, is hailed by the people (they approve his persecution of the Apostles) and he then allows himself to be exalted as a god. But the inevitable consequence is that he is judged and his judgment is final. Here we have the anti-Messiah (one who sets himself up in place of the Messiah) who worshipped Satan in order to receive his kingdom (Luke 4:6). What folly it proved to be. The only reason that Luke can have for bringing this in here, especially in view of the fact that Jerusalem now drops out of the reckoning, is in order to demonstrate that Jerusalem has forfeited its final opportunity by rejecting the Messiah and choosing the anti-Messiah. From now on the word of the Lord will go to the world and it will go from Antioch.

There is, however, a rather touching picture here of God’s care for His people. Surrounding this description of affairs in Jerusalem in chapter 12, as Jerusalem loses its significance under God, is the description of the love and care of the church at Antioch for the church of Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30; Acts 12:25). It is as though the people of God in Jerusalem and Judaea are cocooned in their love. God has not forgotten them.

4). The Church of Jerusalem Pronounces Its Own Demise (15).

While they were probably not aware of it at the time, the gathering at Jerusalem of the Apostles and the elders with the representatives from Antioch in chapter 15 would release the tie that bound the world to Jerusalem. From this point on universally speaking even the church in Jerusalem was mainly redundant. It no longer had any purpose. Having given the world the Messiah they had nothing further to give. From this point on they just fade into the background, until finally historically they disappear into the wilderness to linger on as nonentities (except to God) as the destruction of Jerusalem approaches.

Paul Sets His Face Towards Jerusalem and the Temple Closes Its Doors Against Him and Jerusalem Despatches Paul To Rome (19:21;20:16, 22; 21:4, 11-14, 17-26).

Considering these verses it is difficult to avoid the conclusion, firstly that Paul’s ‘journey to Jerusalem’ (Acts 19:21;Acts 20:16; Acts 20:22; Acts 21:4; Acts 21:11-14) in defiance of all warnings, in some way parallels that of Jesus Himself as portrayed in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 9:51). Paul too is driven on by a compulsion that he cannot refuse, and yet not in his case to be present at the Passover, but in order to be present at Pentecost. Jesus was anticipating His sacrificial death, Paul was anticipating renewal of the Holy Spirit. And that secondly it is in order to portray the end of Jerusalem’s influence. He arrives in Jerusalem and the Temple closes its doors against him (Acts 21:30) only for God (not Jerusalem) to despatch him to Rome in order that the word of the Lord and the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God might go forth in Rome to both Jew and Gentile.

The whole situation is tense. He was clearly warned by the Spirit against going to Jerusalem (Acts 21:4; Acts 21:11-12), and yet he insisted on going (Acts 21:13-14), and even ‘purposed it in spirit’ (or ‘in the Spirit?) - Acts 19:21), and declared that the Holy Spirit had him in bonds (Acts 20:22). He was seemingly driven on by an urge that he could not deny, his purpose being in order to participate in the anniversary of the day of Pentecost (Acts 20:16). We can only assume that his desire was to enjoy the celebrations of the anniversary of Pentecost with his fellow-believers in Jerusalem (as well as to deliver the Collection). And as we know, humanly speaking it ended up disastrously, with the lesson given that Jerusalem had nothing more to offer of the Holy Spirit and that the Temple closed its doors on God’s messenger. However, as so often, God overruled what happened for good, and he ended up proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God in Rome.

The seeming purpose of Luke’s detailed description of this can only surely be in order once and for all to stress the cessation of the importance of Jerusalem except as a place which rejects God’s people because of its own fixations, while underlining the fact that the witness has gone from Jerusalem to Rome. Possibly also it was a warning to all Christian Jews of the danger of nostalgia for the past in view of what it did for Paul, the message being, ‘let go of Jerusalem, otherwise it will be an albatross around your neck’. If this is so it would confirm that Acts was written before the destruction of Jerusalem when such a message would become almost irrelevant. The result would be that when that destruction came it caused hardly a ripple for the Christian church (except that it did then throw them more into the limelight as being non-Jews and therefore an illicit religion).

Luke’s Aim In Producing Acts.

Apart from wanting to report on the doings of the early church, and the advance of the Spirit, we may ask, what were Luke’s purposes in writing Acts? While we must not reduce Luke’s purpose to only one specific aim, for he is not to be so limited, there would certainly seem to be good grounds for seeing one main aim as being expressed in the words of the risen Jesus in Acts 1:8, “But you shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come on you: and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth.” He wanted the world to know that Jesus’ words and God’s purposes were being fulfilled. For there is no question but that the book of Acts does portray the witness about Jesus Christ being proclaimed in Jerusalem (1-7), moving to ‘Judaea and Samaria’ (Acts 8:1), with the ministry to Samaria then being overseen by Apostles (Acts 8:14-25), and finally going out into the Roman world, first through Peter with Cornelius (10-11), then with Paul’s missionary journeys (13-21), then before kings and governors (21-27) and finally with the presence of an Apostle in Rome, dwelling there and proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 28:31). And this is confirmed by Acts 23:11, ‘as you have borne witness concerning me at Jerusalem, so must you bear witness also at Rome’. God saw it as important that Testimony be given concerning His purposes in Jesus firstly at the centre of the Jewish world, and then at the centre of the Gentile world, and he wants us to see that the movement from the one to the other was with the approval of God. Indeed it is made clear that it was God Who made absolutely sure that Paul arrived in Rome.

We can compare here how in Luke the author laid great emphasis on the journey to Jerusalem. It was there that God would manifest His glory and provide the springboard for the future. In Acts the concentration is on movement from Jerusalem towards Rome, not in order to glorify Rome, but because Rome was the hub of the world, and while it must be recognised that the information given about the Samaritan ministry fits in badly with other aims, it does fit in with this one.

Furthermore the book makes clear that all this was due to the sovereign power of God. It is seen not to be a humanly planned scenario, but one forced on men by the power of God. Necessity forced the appointment of the Hellenistic Jews as ministers, one of whom began to preach to the Samaritans. Persecution drove the Christians out of Jerusalem, when they were settling down snugly to form their own Utopia. The angel of the Lord forcibly directed Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch. Paul was converted by the direct, enforced and unexpected appearance of Jesus to him. Two visions were responsible for Peter being called to meet Cornelius. The Holy Spirit called on the Antioch church to send out Barnabas and Paul. A vision of a man from Macedonia called Paul over to Macedonia. Circumstances beyond his control, then stated to be of God (Acts 23:11), sent Paul to proclaim the Gospel before kings and governors, and then finally in Rome. It was all to be seen as of God.

But Acts not only speaks of the spread of the message concerning the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 1:3; Acts 8:12; Acts 14:22; Acts 19:8; Acts 20:25; Acts 28:23; Acts 28:31) over a wide area, it also stresses its growing impact within those areas. Thus it declares boldly that, "The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47). "The number of the disciples was multiplied" (Acts 6:1). "The word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem" (Acts 6:7). "Walking in the fear of the Lord and in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it was multiplied" (Acts 9:31). "The word of God grew and multiplied" (Acts 12:24). "So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily" (Acts 16:5). "So the word of the Lord grew and prevailed mightily" (Acts 19:20). And it speaks of "the multitude of those who believed" (Acts 4:32). "The multitude of the disciples" (Acts 6:2). "Many believed in the Lord" (Acts 9:42). "Almost the whole city (Pisidian Antioch) came together to hear the word of God" (Acts 13:44). "The word of the Lord was spread abroad throughout all the region" (Acts 13:49). "All those who were in Asia (Minor) heard the word of the Lord" (Acts 19:10). So part of the emphasis of the book is undoubtedly on the fact that the word spread widely and was powerfully effective in all the areas which it reached.

Another parallel aim, although very similar, was equally certainly in order to portray that the proclamation of the new Kingly rule of God began with Jesus Christ, continued with the Apostolic ministry, with the first outreach being by the Jewish Christian Apostles to Jews, including the Jews of the Dispersion (Acts 2). Then under Jewish Christian Apostolic authority the witness is seen as expanding to Samaritans, and then finally to Gentiles, at which point the important decision was reached that those who united with the new Israel did not need to be circumcised or keep the ritual law. The proclamation of the Good News then expanded outwards among Gentiles until it was being successfully proclaimed by an Apostle in Rome on a continual basis to both Jew and Gentile. The Kingly Rule of God was being established in Rome.

Alongside this was emphasised the fact that to begin with in every city the ministry was to Jews first, which was a sensible procedure as it was in the synagogues that Jews could be found whose background had prepared them for the message, and there also God-fearers could be found, Gentiles who had been attracted by the monotheism and morality of the Jewish teachings but had not become proselytes, who were ripe for the Christian message of the fulfilment of Old Testament teaching in Jesus but without the need for circumcision. But eventually the Jews disqualified themselves from special treatment by their behaviour, so that the Gospel became more freely available on equal terms to all. The old Israel having been given its opportunity the new Israel became separated from the old, although firmly founded on the Jewish Apostles (Ephesians 2:11-22) and in the end was freed from its grip and became the true Israel. Thus is emphasised Paul’s injunction, ‘to the Jew first and also to the Greek’ (Romans 1:16). But the book ends with Paul emphasising that the fulfilment of Judaism is found in Christianity. Anything else is redundant.

This in fact paralleled the ministry of Jesus which was first for the Jews (Matthew 10:5-6; Matthew 15:24), but then after the incident of the Syrophoenician woman (Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30) began to also include on its periphery Gentiles, although strangely enough this is stressed in Matthew and Mark rather than in Luke.

A third subsidiary aim would appear to have been in order to vindicate the Apostleship of Paul, that is to say, to demonstrate that Peter and Paul operated on equal terms and that Paul was approved by the Apostolate, for the first part of Acts largely centres on Peter, with Paul then taking over the centre stage with the approval of the Apostles, and parallels are clearly drawn in order to demonstrate that Peter and Paul performed the same ministry. But Acts cannot rightly be described as a life of Peter and Paul, for Peter drops from view after the Jerusalem Council. And while it is Peter who first goes as an Apostle to Judaea, Samaria and then to the Gentiles, it is Paul who goes extensively among the Gentiles, and finally goes as an Apostle to Rome.

Examples of parallels demonstrating their equal effectiveness are as follows:

· Both begin with the healing of a man lame from birth (Acts 3:2; Acts 14:8)

· Both heal another man who has been ill for a long time (Acts 9:33 ff. (long time palsied); Acts 28:8 (a fever and bloody flux)

· Both heal many men at once, both directly (Acts 5:16; Acts 28:9) and through different mediums (Acts 5:15 (by shadow) compare Acts 19:12 (by handkerchiefs).

· Both perform signs and wonders generally (Acts 2:43 Acts 5:12; compare Acts 14:3; Acts 15:12; Acts 19:11).

· Both have encounters with sorcerers (Acts 8:18; Acts 13:6).

· Both bring a dead person to life (9. 36-42; Acts 20:9-12).

· Both perform a miracle revealing God’s judgment (Acts 5:1-10 (died); Acts 13:6-11 (blinded)).

· Both, by the laying-on of hands, confer the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17; Acts 19:1-7).

· Both bring about speaking in tongues (Acts 10:44-46 (while speaking); Acts 19:6 (by laying on of hands).

· Both have a vision which coincides with one experienced by another man (Acts 10:1-22; Acts 9:3-16).

· Both are miraculously delivered from prison (Acts 5:17-23; Acts 12:3-11 (by angels secretly); compare Acts 16:23-34 (by an earthquake).

· Both are scourged (Acts 5:40; Acts 16:23).

· Both decline to be honoured/worshipped, and do so in fairly similar words (Acts 10:25 f; Acts 14:11-18).

The list appears to be impressive. On the whole, however, most of the above are what might be expected from men gifted and chosen as they were, operating in the circumstances of the day, and we should note the differences. Apart from the differences above we should note that he has not, for example, introduced in the case of Peter, as compared with Paul, a stoning (Acts 14:19), or threats against life (Acts 9:23-29; Acts 14:5), or an exorcism (Acts 16:16-18), or in the case of Paul, as compared with Peter, that the Holy Spirit aided his defence against rulers (contrast Acts 4:8) even though in the latter case he could have. Thus we must recognise that while he probably does select from the facts, he does not invent them or alter them in order to achieve his purpose.

Similarly, in respect of Paul, we should note that many of the items enumerated in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27; 2 Corinthians 12:12 are omitted. This last may be explained, at least in part, by the supposition that the writer had no definite knowledge about them. It would seem that he has, in fact, confined himself to matters genuinely preserved by tradition of which he was made aware by witnesses, and has not invented events or spoken by general hearsay. He has merely made a selection of what he did receive and put them into reasonable shape. But it also suggests that he was not interested in writing a complete life of Paul. For he could have obtained the information from Paul. What he was more interested in was the advance of the Gospel and the revelation of the power of God, first through Peter and then through Paul, until Apostolic ministry was established in Rome.

A fourth subsidiary aim was clearly in order to demonstrate that, while the unbelieving Jews were antagonistic to the church, and sought to bring it into disrepute, which explained why there were so many seemingly questionable incidents, (although this did not apply to all), the Roman authorities continually looked with favour on the church, rejected accusations against it and made its decisions in its favour, looking on it with general approval.

For example, in the third Gospel we have already found Pilate, a Roman governor, declaring that he found no fault in Jesus, a judgment confirmed by Herod, a Roman appointee, who in the other Gospels is not mentioned at all in connection with the examination of Jesus. Pilate then declares three times that he will release Jesus, and is prevailed on to pass adverse sentence only by the insistence of the Jews (Luke 23:1-25). In Acts, which has even been regarded by some as an apology for Christianity intended to be laid before Gentiles in Paul’s defence, or as a general defence of Christianity before the authorities, Pilate is again seen as having been determined to let Jesus go (Acts 3:13), the first converts of Peter and Paul are Roman officers (Acts 10:1;Acts 13:7), while it is the civil authorities who continually and definitely declare Paul not to be a political criminal in spite of the insistence of the Jews (Acts 18:14 f: Acts 19:37; Acts 23:29; Acts 25:18 ff; Acts 26:31 ff) ; it is also by them that he is protected, in more than one instance, from conspiracies (Acts 18:12-17; Acts 19:31; Acts 21:31-36; Acts 23:10; Acts 23:22-33; Acts 25:2-4), and it is made quite clear that he was welcome in Rome and was allowed to preach from his own home without being forbidden. The strong and continual emphasis on these latter instances certainly confirms that one aim of Acts is to clear Christianity of any charge of subversion made against it, and to demonstrate that it was a religio licita, an officially approved religion. But it can only be seen as one aim among many. For the large amount of material that does not contribute to this aim, and is clearly irrelevant to it, prevents us from seeing it as its main purpose.

A fifth aim, emphasised by the extent to which he introduces the teaching of others through their speeches, was clearly to bring home the message of these preachers to his readers. People wanted to know what Jesus had taught, and what the Apostles had taught. So, from his wide knowledge of this, Luke wanted to pass on to them what he knew and what he had learned. He was aware that the church were more interested in the words of Jesus and the Apostles than in what he thought, and humble enough to provide what they wanted (see Speeches in Acts below).

A sixth aim was that he wanted to remove from the minds of Christians the emphasis of some on the centrality of Jerusalem. The first few chapters of Acts major on Jerusalem, but then the work expands outwards as a result of persecution and by chapter 12 it is seen that Jerusalem is no longer the hub of the spreading of the word. That privilege has passed to Antioch. Apart possibly from chapter 15 Jerusalem becomes almost a backwater. While maintaining contact with Jerusalem, the church is freed from its hold.

A seventh subsidiary aim, although an extremely important one underlying the whole purpose of Acts so that it might even be seen as a main purpose, was in order to illustrate how people of all kinds personally came to Christ and found salvation through His name, and how testimony to Christ, with full details of what that testimony was, was given before men of all traditions and status. This was indeed at the heart of all that was happening. But in the end what was really of the deepest significance was undoubtedly the fact that the Gospel moved from Jerusalem to Rome under the auspices of God’s duly appointed Apostles.

The Sources of Acts.

It is clear that Luke must have gathered the information in the first part of Acts from people who were present at what happened. He had good connections with such people including among others both Mark and Philip the deacon, who had both been involved with the church from the beginning. And he would meet many others as he travelled around. He knew most of the companions of Paul at one time or another, would have met Peter, and as his set purpose was to write an accurate history, he would have taken the opportunities presented by his travels to discover and confirm all his facts (Luke 1:3).

Especially significant in Acts are the passages where the writer uses ‘we’, which on any reasonable interpretation suggests that the author was actually present at those times. These are found in Acts 16:10-18; Acts 20:5-16; Acts 21:1-18; Acts 27:1 to Acts 28:16. Additional to these might be passages where ‘we’ would not have been expected because of the content of the passage.

So overall there is no really good reason to doubt that Luke was able to obtain accurate information from eyewitnesses for most of what he wrote, and was of course able to call on Paul for other information unobtainable elsewhere. Thus there are no real grounds for questioning the historical accuracy of the narrative.

Why Is There So Little Indication In Acts Of The Controversies So Prominent In Paul’s Letters?

The reason that there is so little reference to controversies which early on affected the Christian church is to be found in the purpose of the book. It was intended to reveal the forward movement of the Gospel against all opposition, rather than to look at the controversies of the church arising from the original Jewishness of the church (although some indication of them is certainly given), for the latter would only have sidetracked the reader from the main aim. The point is being made that the church triumphed as one and that therefore the controversies were of little importance. What mattered was the continual advance and establishment of the Gospel, and the fact that a solution to the controversies was agree on by the principle leaders of the church.

Why Did Luke End The Book Where He Did?

The most obvious solution to this question would be that the point at which he ended was about the time at which Luke ended his writings. For if the book was written after the stoning of James the Lord’s brother in Jerusalem had become generally known, or after persecution of Christians by Nero, or after Paul himself had been executed, or after the fall of Jerusalem, it might be thought hard to understand why none of these were at least mentioned. And yet we have already had cause to see that Luke can maintain a deliberate silence when it is within his literary purpose.

He had after all mentioned the martyrdom of James the Apostle (Acts 12:2), why not then that of James the Lord’s brother at the hands of the Jews? Furthermore Nero’s acts were despised by the people of Rome who suspected him of duplicity, and might therefore even have obtained sympathy for Christians, and would probably not have been counted against them, while Paul’s martyrdom could have been a genuine comfort and strength to Christians in the face of their difficulties. And reference to the destruction of Jerusalem would have had a great impact in releasing Christianity from its original Jewish ties, as it certainly did for the Jerusalem church that fled to Pella, and would have indicated God’s wrath against the Jews, and have finally distinguished the new message from the old. It would have been a fitting end to the journey from Jerusalem to Rome. Furthermore it must have been quite apparent, had Acts been written later, that anyone interested would know about the Neronic persecution and could soon check and discover what had happened to Paul, so that there was no point in pretending that they had not happened. Indeed such a book, ending like it does, might well have raised questions and resulted in an interest in the carrying out of such investigations. We might ask, if it was written later why does Luke not end with Paul in a place not quite open to such suspicion as being under guard by a Roman soldier?

But having said this it is always dangerous to suggest that an author must include certain things, just because it seems sensible to us, especially one who uses silence in his literary purposes. Possibly rather we need to review our ideas of what the book is aiming at. One possible explanation, apart from that which sees this as determining the date of the writing of the book, is that the writer had a particular aim in view, and that that aim might have been to demonstrate how the work of the early church had resulted in the establishment of the Kingly Rule of God in Rome along with a fruitful authoritative Apostolic ministry, which would have been seen by many in the early church as the ultimate of blessing and triumph. (To them Rome was the centre of all earthly things). It may be that he did not want anything to draw attention away from that. Thus he might have considered that any further information would have detracted from that message, that being the punch line at which he had been aiming. He might simply have in effect been saying, the next step will be the culmination in Heaven itself.

Indeed he might well have intended comparison with the way that Luke’s Gospel had ended with the final work of Christ, something which had resulted from the activity of His enemies, and which had resulted in His resurrection triumph which all knew was a huge blessing. A parallel may therefore have been intended between Jesus’ glorification in Heaven to the right hand of God as King, and Paul’s exaltation on earth by God to his own house in Rome as a servant of Christ, from which to declare the Kingly Rule of God in Rome. The Messiah was enthroned in heaven, while God’s rule could be seen as being established on earth in Rome through Paul His representative. And no one in authority would be able to suggest that Paul had come to Rome with evil intent, for it was by Caesar’s choice, and not by his own, that he had come. Thus anything that followed might have been seen as irrelevant or indeed as being a hindrance to the emphasising of this message. Perhaps he wanted it to be established that despite everything that man could do, God ruled in Rome.

Of course there was a church in Rome long before Paul arrived, for he wrote to them, and we do not know how it was established, (probably as a result of Christians moving or travelling to Rome) but the point being made here may have been the establishing of Apostolic authority, in other words Messiah’s authority, in Rome under God.

Furthermore, to record Paul’s death might also have been seen as unsuitable for a different reason. Luke’s Gospel ended with an emphasis on the death of Jesus, followed by His resurrection. It may well be that he felt that to end Acts with the martyrdom of Paul, as though his death could be paralleled with that of Jesus, might wrongly have suggested an equation between the two, which would not have been seen as acceptable, as Jesus’ death was unique. Comparison might have been seen as odious, as detracting from the message of the cross.

But silence concerning all four powerful events must unquestionably raise the thought in our minds of the very real possibility that the book ended here precisely because, events having reached the climax that Luke was looking for, he proceeded immediately to write his book.

Why Does Luke Not Draw Attention To The Atoning Significance of the Cross?

Much has been made of Luke’s failure to draw attention to the atoning significance of the cross. However, this is not a strictly accurate assessment, for there are certainly occasions when he does so. He cites the words of Jesus, ‘this is my body which is given for you’ and speaks about the new covenant in His blood (Luke 22:19-20). He cites the words of Isaiah 53:12, ‘he was reckoned among the transgressors’ as referred by Jesus to Himself, and the atoning significance of this idea in the context of Isaiah could hardly be overlooked (Luke 22:37). He informs us that Jesus pointed out that ‘the Messiah should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all the nations’ (Luke 24:46-47), which connects the two ideas. And in Acts 20:28 the church of God has been ‘purchased with His own blood’. So Luke tends to let his sources speak for him. At the same time he might not have seen the presentation of the doctrine of the atonement as his main purpose, except generally in his emphasis on the cross. Once Theophilus and his other readers had been attracted to the resurrected Christ and His church, then would be the time to stress the doctrine of the atonement.

But Acts certainly proclaims that it is through the death and resurrection of Jesus that men find life (Acts 2:23-24; Acts 2:33; Acts 2:38). Compare also Acts 13:29-30 with 37-39 where His death and resurrection are the means of men’s justification apart from the Law. This was preaching which offered eternal life (Acts 13:46). And he emphasises that salvation is by the grace of God and not through circumcision and legalism (Acts 15:10-11). Furthermore in many places these connections are simply assumed. Thus it is only true to say that Luke does not put a continual strong emphasis on the atonement, not that he does not include the idea at all. His emphasis is on the resurrection. But without the Atonement the resurrection could have no significance for us.

Could The Paul Of The Letters Have Behaved in The Way That Paul Does In Acts?

It is often argued that the Paul of the letters could never have done some of the things spoken of in Acts. Paul, it is said, was so firm in his belief concerning the freedom of the Christian from the Law, even for the Jewish Christian, that he could never 1). have agreed to the circumcision of Timothy (Acts 16:3) or 2). have agreed to subject himself to a vow in the Temple (Acts 21:20-26).

However, with regard to this it must be remembered that Paul had already passionately stated that he was willing, in order to convert Jews, to become as a Jew to them (1 Corinthians 9:20). This is a strong counter to the above argument. And this is especially so because his reason for circumcising Timothy, who was half Jewish by birth through his mother, was actually said to be in order to make him more effective in witnessing to the Jews in the area (Acts 16:3). Circumcising him was therefore a very different thing from circumcising the Gentile Titus at a time when circumcision was being required by the Judaisers as necessary for him in order to be a Christian, a thing Paul adamantly refused to allow because it would have surrendered his case. In view of Paul’s statement about his willingness to become as a Jew for the sake of winning Jews it is impossible to argue that he would not have behaved in this way, and have allowed Timothy to do the same. Indeed for such a reason, if it had not been for the arguments of the Judaisers, he may well have been willing to circumcise Titus as well. His refusal was because Titus had become a test case, and therefore because his being circumcised would have yielded the case to the Judaisers and prevented the full truth of the Gospel from being apparent.

This is rather an example to us of how, while we must never do anything to compromise the truth, we must always be ready not to allow secondary matters to hinder the presentation of the Gospel.

With regard to the Vow in the Temple (Acts 21:20-26), the first question is as to whether it was a Nazirite vow? Acts 21:20-26 does not in fact say that Paul made a full Nazirite vow, and thus we have no right to assume so. We are not told that Paul grew his hair long, nor that he shaved his head at that stage. The point was that he would purify himself and pay the expenses of the four men, giving them assistance while they completed their vows. The truth is that our knowledge of the system of vows in Judaism at that time is strictly limited. And in view of the complications of religious ritual and religious vows in the religion of Israel, about which we do not have full information, it is absolutely impossible without further evidence for us to know all the different situations with regard to vows, and the types of vow that a Jew could make. (Compare Leviticus 27). Thus we cannot suggest that Paul’s participation did not follow the correct requirements, because we cannot know whether it did or not, and the only question needing to be dealt with is therefore whether Paul would ever, under any circumstances, assist in the fulfilment of a vow and pay the costs of the offerings for others who took such a vow?

In Acts 18:18 we read of him that he had ‘shorn his head in Cenchreae because he had a vow’. There is no reason for mentioning it there if it did not happen. Nor is there any explanation given for it. Thus Luke clearly seems to have seen it as nothing out of the ordinary. He clearly saw vow-making as something that Paul took part in and treated seriously, and was a part of the tradition.

When we consider that in Acts 21:23 ff. he was personally being pressed to do what he did by James, the Lord’s brother, who had sided with him in his contest with the Judaisers, and that he had said that he was willing to do anything reasonable to further the Gospel, there would seem no credible reason why he would not have done so. For his reason for doing so was to be because it had falsely been said that he forbade any Jewish Christian to continue to fulfil the Law or circumcise their children. As he had not forbidden it, and indeed would favour it where, as in the case of James, it helped him to make a good witness before Jews, such as in Jerusalem, there was no reason for him to refuse.

What he had taught was that it was allowable before God for Christians not to fulfil the full requirements of the ritual Law, (because they were seen as fulfilled in Christ), and he may well have been glad to put any misunderstanding right if it was causing offence. And if he thought at the same time that it would help his brethren in the Jewish church to survive in difficult times, it gives us even more reason for suggesting that he would be very willing to do so. After all he was simply being asked to take a minor part in a ritual that he had been through at least once before and probably also in his youth. If it would help to uphold the Jewish church in the Jerusalem community he may well even have felt obliged to do it, and at the same time have recognised that he could get some religious benefit from such a dedication, as it would not be compromising his firmly stated beliefs which had been upheld by the Council.

We must remember that Jesus had always fulfilled the Jewish Law during His lifetime. Paul would therefore be following in His steps. And it would give Paul an opportunity of upholding the other four vow-makers, and of witnessing to Jews in the Temple. Even if he was not very happy about the situation, and there is no real reason for thinking this, he would have been in a very difficult position, for he knew that he partly owed it to James that his arguments against the need to circumcise Gentiles had won the day. His gratitude may thus have helped to sway his decision. His position had after all been made quite clear to, and by, the Council, who had openly confirmed it, so that he would not see himself as compromising on essentials. And as God used it to get him to Rome, and so that he was able to witness to kings and governors in the meantime, we could well argue that it was in fact God’s intention for him as well (Acts 23:11).

Some have also argued that it would have been questionable, morally, if he could really have held his peace about his Christianity and have described himself, especially before a court of justice, simply as a Pharisee (Acts 23:6, compare Acts 24:21; Acts 26:5-8; Acts 28:20), asserting that he was accused only on account of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. But Paul may well have seen Christianity, with its firm belief in eternal life and the resurrection of the dead, which were central to Pharisaism, as the true fulfilment of the Pharisaism that had once gripped him, and thus have seen himself as representing the true Pharisaic position, as one who had come to a position which was the fulfilment of Pharisaism. For the final aim of Pharisees was by all means to be faithful to God’s covenant, and that was certainly Paul’s aim, although now seen differently. It was not on the whole on basic doctrines, but in the detail, that he disagreed with the Pharisees. He was certainly far nearer to the Pharisees than the Sadducees. And we must remember that he had personally seen the finest side of Pharisaism in his connection with Gamaliel.

Furthermore Paul did see the church as the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), and in Ephesians 2:11-22 made clear the acceptance of believing Gentiles into oneness with Jews in the covenant, and in Romans 11 stresses that Gentiles have been grafted in to the olive tree, while unbelieving Jews have been cut out of it. This being so there is no reason why he should not have argued for himself as being now a true Jew, a true Israelite and a true Pharisee.

It really is therefore impossible for us to know the nature of Paul’s thinking on such a matter, or to reach a verdict about how he saw things. Consider how some Christian Jews today can proudly proclaim themselves as Jews, and would certainly be prepared to defend that claim, even in a court of law, and see themselves as the true Jews, and might well side with certain Jews on some issues as in some ways one with them. Many a Pharisee probably did become a Christian and continue to see himself as a Pharisee, simply considering that he had found a better way to obtain what he as a Pharisee had been looking for. By still being a covenant fulfiller, and by receiving eternal life, which was the general aim of Pharisaism, he may well have seen himself as fulfilling the Pharisaic ideal in Christ (Who Himself was never criticised by the Pharisees for not on the whole following their customs).

Furthermore Paul may well, as he stood there and heard the accusations being levelled against him, especially if his view of the resurrection was part of what was being attacked, have felt at one with the Pharisees over the questions at issue, and have been quite happy to identify himself with them on these main points, because at least to that extent they agreed with each other, especially if he thought that by that tactic he might woo them to Christ. Thus it was not necessarily duplicity. He may well have seen himself as a genuine Pharisee just as he saw all Christians as genuine Israelites by adoption.

In all this then we see a man of great tact who, while he was firm for the truth when it was being questioned, was also willing to compromise where that truth was not at stake in order to woo men to following Christ.

The Speeches in Acts.

The question of whether the speeches in Acts genuinely reflect what was said at the time has been hotly debated. Part of the difficulty is clearly that most of the speeches were mainly a precis of actual speeches which would no doubt have been a lot longer, something which can hardly be doubted. So we are not really asking whether we have here the exact words, but whether we have the correct sense and phraseology. Certainly reputable writers did seek to ensure that, when they wrote down what men had ‘said’, their words gave the true meaning of their utterances, as Thucydides strongly affirms. He says that he was, ‘of course adhering as closely as possible to the general sense of what was actually said’, even of speeches which he could not fully recall, and stresses that their content either came from his having heard them himself or from reliable sources. On the other hand he also spoke of making plain ‘those subjective elements which cannot easily be displayed in an impartial narrative, but are indispensable to a proper understanding of events’. He also wanted what the speeches were intending to covney to be made clear. Polybius was actually critical of this and went further, for he insisted that what should be recorded was what was actually said. So it is wrong to assume that it was ‘normal’ in those days just to invent speeches, although no doubt some writers did do so, as some do today.

Thus we would expect a reliable author like Luke, where he had not heard the speech himself, to ensure from his sources what was actually said, and to ensure that those sources would be people who had listened carefully with the intention of remembering, and were people who were used to remembering such things. And they would certainly be helped by the fact that the Biblical quotations used would be familiar to them. Furthermore, as they had no New Testament to consult for an understanding of their faith, and were used to memorising, they would be the more particular to remember words that came from a reliable source. Nor were they likely to forget them. For many of the listeners would treasure up the words that they had heard with a view to passing them on, and would have been careful to remember them correctly because they were Apostolic words, with the result that as they continually passed them on to one audience after another their words would take on a specific never to be forgotten form based on what was actually said, which would also become a treasured memory to others. Having nowhere else to turn for material they would preach what they had heard preached, and would be careful to remember it accurately so that they did not alter the inspired words of the original preacher. Indeed if they did alter the words there would be others who had also heard the original speech who would soon remind them accordingly. For, as Papias tells us, emphasising the importance laid on this by the early church, all would be eager to know what were the actual words of the Apostles. They did care about truth.

Analyses of the speeches have both recognised their different kinds, and to some extent their common approach, with differences seen as depending on the context. And this common approach would seem to be, not that of the writer, but of the early preachers themselves, for parallels to aspects of Acts speeches can be found both in the Gospels and in Pauline letters. Indeed it is now largely accepted that we actually know the main basis for most evangelistic speeches at that time, following a pattern which begins with a brief reference to past prophecy in order to indicate that the time promised by the prophets was at hand, followed by an explanation of the life and activities of Jesus, followed by a description of His death and resurrection duly explained, and all accompanied by explanatory texts from the Old Testament Scriptures, followed by the description of His exaltation, with an application to the need of the hearers at the end calling on them to repent and receive forgiveness. Where speeches differ from this it is mainly because of their special purpose or because of the particular audience that is in mind. We know therefore that we would expect Peter to have spoken as he is said to have done in Acts. Luke must therefore be acquitted from the charge of manufacturing speeches, although clearly he did have a hand in the selection of what part of the content he would use.

The pattern for such speeches was certainly not new. We can trace it backwards to the Gospels, and in Paul’s letters. John the Baptiser cited Old Testament prophecy, preached ‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3), declared, “Repent, for the Kingly Rule of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 compare Acts 4:17), and in proclaiming the coming judgment, promised also the coming of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11-12). When Jesus sent His disciples out to preach, no doubt having given them full instructions on what they were to say, He told them, ‘Preach, saying, “The Kingly Rule of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:7; ). Luke says they were to preach, “The Kingly Rule of God is come near to you” (Luke 10:9 compare Acts 9:2). And in all cases they were to intimate that judgment awaited those who rejected their message (Matthew 10:14-15; Luke 9:5; Luke 10:11-13). This is amplified in Mark 1:15 where the preaching of the good news of God was, “The time is fulfilled (spoken of by the prophets), and the Kingly Rule of God is at hand. Repent you and believe the good news”. So we already have a pattern of preaching with the central points emphasised that appear in Acts. Clearly Jesus would also have filled this out with references to the Scriptures and instructions on how to amplify this message. After all, the Apostles did not just go out repeating one sentence like parrots.

So the pattern He has given His disciples, and which they had preached on time and again, was:

1) Reference to the fulfilment of the time promised by the prophets.

2) The proclamation of the kingly rule of God as at hand or as having drawn near.

3) The call to repent and believe.

4) The promise of the forgiveness of sins,

5) The warning of imminent judgment to come.

Added by John the Baptiser were the call to be baptised and await the reception of the Holy Spirit. And we may see it as certain that the disciples would also make reference to Jesus and His life and teaching, which were the basis of the Kingly Rule of God.

When Jesus was preparing His disciples for their ministry after His resurrection He ‘opened their minds to understand the Scriptures’, that is, to ‘all things which were written in Moses and the prophets and the Psalms concerning Him’, and informed them, ‘Thus it is written that the Messiah should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day, and thatrepentance and remission of sinsshould be preached in His name to all the nations’ (Luke 24:46-47).

In Matthew His commission was, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth, go you therefore and make disciples of all nations,baptising theminto the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-19).

We could now see the overall pattern of preaching taught them by Jesus as expanding to be as follows;

1) Reference to the fulfilment of the time promised by the prophets.

2) The proclamation of the kingly rule of God as at hand or as having drawn near.

3) Reference to His suffering and rising again as declared in the Scriptures.

4) The declaration that Jesus has openly been made Lord and Messiah.

5) The call to repent and believe.

6) The promise of the forgiveness of sins.

7) The call to be baptised in anticipation of the coming of the Holy Spirit on them.

8) The warning of imminent judgment to come.

Thus we should not be surprised to find that this was the pattern which Peter emphasised in his first preaching after the resurrection in Acts 2-4. It was in fact what he had been taught by Jesus Himself. In Acts 2-4 we have four speeches by Peter. The first (Acts 2:14-36; Acts 2:38-39) was delivered by Peter to the crowds assembled on the Day of Pentecost, the second (Acts 3:12-26) was to the people after the healing of a lame man, the third and fourth (Acts 4:8-12; Acts 5:29-32) were to the Sanhedrin after the arrest of the apostles, and all in general follow this pattern. The speech of Peter to Cornelius in Acts 10:34-43 is similar to the earlier speeches, but it has some special features and suggests even more an Aramaic original.

These first speeches of Peter cover substantially the same ground as we have described above. The phraseology and order of presentation may vary slightly, but there is no essential difference between them. They supplement one another, and taken together afford a comprehensive view of Peter’s approach which seems to have become the standard for early preaching on the basis of what Jesus had taught them. It was based on training given by Jesus when they went out preaching the Kingly Rule of God, but extended to take account of the crucifixion and resurrection, and the exaltation of Jesus. Peter was no longer a novice when it came to preaching, and now the Holy Spirit had come with power.

Consider the basis of the speeches in Acts:

· Firstly that the time is fulfilled, that is, that the age of fulfilment spoken of by the prophets has come, and that the Messianic age has dawned. "This is that which was spoken by the prophet" (Acts 2:16). " The things which God foreshowed by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Messiah should suffer, He thus fulfilled" (Acts 3:18). "All the prophets from Samuel and those who followed after, as many as have spoken, told of these days" (Acts 3:24).

And this tied in with Jewish teaching for it was a central feature of Rabbinic exegesis of the Old Testament that what the prophets predicted had reference to the "days of the Messiah." In other words they predicted the time of expectation when God, after long centuries of waiting, would visit His people with blessing and judgment, and bring to a climax His dealings with them.

· Secondly, that this has taken place through the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, of which a brief account is given, with proof from the Scriptures that all took place through "the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23).

This could include, 1) His Davidic descent. "David, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, He would set one on his throne, foreseeing the resurrection of the Messiah ---," who is therefore proclaimed, by implication, to have been born "of the seed of David" (Acts 2:30-31; citing Psalm 131:11 compare Psalms 16:10. See Romans 1:3).

2) His life and ministry. "Jesus of Nazareth, a man divinely accredited to you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by Him among you" (Acts 2:22). "Moses said, The Lord your God will raise up a prophet --- like me; him you must hear in all things that he may say to you" (Acts 3:22; regarded as fulfilled in the preaching and teaching of Jesus).

3) His death. "Him being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you, by the hands of lawless men, did crucify and slay" (Acts 2:23). "His servant Jesus, Whom you caused to be arrested, and denied before the face of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. And you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of Life" (Acts 3:13-14). "Jesus Christ of Nazareth Whom you crucified" (Acts 4:10).

4) His resurrection. "Whom God raised up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it. For David says with reference to Him, --- ‘You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor give Your Holy One to see corruption’ " (Acts 2:24; Acts 2:27-28). "Whom God raised from the dead, whereof we are witnesses" (Acts 3:15). "Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead" (Acts 4:10).

· Thirdly, by virtue of the resurrection, Jesus has been exalted at the right hand of God, as Lord and Messiah and head of the new Israel (receiving all authority in heaven and earth). "Being exalted at the right hand of God --- God has made Him Lord and Messiah" (Acts 2:33; Acts 2:36 compare Psalms 110:1). "The God of our fathers --- has glorified His Servant Jesus" (Acts 3:13). "He is the Stone which was rejected by you builders, which was made the head of the corner" (Acts 4:11, citing Psalms 118:22). We can compare with this, "Him did God exalt with His right hand, as Prince and Saviour" (Acts 5:31). In the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:19, all authority had been given to Him in heaven and on earth.

· Fourthly, the Holy Spirit in His people is the proof of Christ’s present power and glory. "Being exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this which you see and hear" (Acts 2:33). This is referred to earlier by citing Joel 2:28-32 in Acts 2:17-21. See also, "We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit which God has given to those who obey Him" (Acts 5:32). The promised baptism (drenching) with the Holy Spirit had come.

· Fifthly, the Messianic Age will shortly reach its consummation in the return of Christ, a consummation awaited from the beginning. "That He may send the Messiah appointed beforehand for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the times of the restoration of all things, of which God spoke through the mouth of His prophets which have been since the world began" (Acts 3:21). This is in fact the only reference in Acts 2-4 which speaks of the second coming of Christ, but in Acts 10 it is seen as part of the apostolic preaching, "This is He who is ordained by God as Judge of living and dead" (Acts 10:42). This is the only explicit reference to Christ as Judge in these speeches (compare John 5:22; John 5:27), but as we have seen it was certainly an assumption of the Apostolic ministry during the lifetime of Jesus.

· Sixthly, and finally, the preaching regularly closes with an appeal for repentance, an offer of forgiveness and of the Holy Spirit, and the promise of" salvation," that is, of "eternal life, the life of the age to come," to those who become Christ’s and one with His people. "Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and to all who are far off, as many as the Lord your God may call to Him" (Acts 2:38-39, referring to 2,21 (Joel 2:32), Isaiah 57:19). "Repent therefore and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out ---You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ To you first, God, having raised up His Servant, sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you away from your sins " (Acts 3:19; Acts 3:25-26, having in mind Genesis 12:3). "In none other is there salvation, for nor is there any other name under heaven given among men by which you must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

We can compare with this, " Him did God exalt at His right hand as Prince and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins" (Acts 5:31); "To Him bear all the prophets witness, that through His name everyone who believes in Him will receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:43).

This then is what the author of Acts meant by "preaching the Kingly Rule of God." It is very significant that it follows the lines of the summary of the preaching of Jesus as given in Mark 1:14-15 : "Jesus came into Galilee preaching the Good News of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled (spoken of by the prophets), and the Kingly Rule of God has drawn near. Repent and believe the Gospel", the lines of the preaching of John the Baptiser to whom Peter had been a disciple, and the lines Jesus Himself laid out in His resurrection appearances, which together covered everything that Peter said.

The first clause in Mark’s description, "The time is fulfilled," is expanded in the reference to prophecy and its fulfilment in accordance with what Jesus had no doubt taught them while He was alive, and had certainly taught them after His resurrection. The second clause, "The Kingly Rule of God has drawn near," is expanded in the account of the ministry and death of Jesus, and His resurrection and exaltation as Lord and Messiah to receive all authority in heaven and earth, having suffered as the Messiah. The third clause, "Repent and believe the Gospel," reappears in the appeal for repentance and the offer of forgiveness with which Peter’s sermons close. Even if we had not known what Peter preached we could have pieced it together from the Gospels.

That this pattern was acceptable to Paul comes out in the first four verses of Romans. There he describes the Gospel of God as being - promised beforehand by his prophets in the Holy Scriptures (verse 2), concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord (verse 3), Who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh (verse 3), and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. That this included the cross comes out in what follows (Romans 3:24-28) and is stressed in 1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 2:2; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.

Parallels Between Luke and Acts.

There are some interesting parallels between Luke and Acts. In Luke the first part is in Aramaic Greek and the second part is in general Greek, and the same applies in Acts, although in different proportions. The general Greek section begins in Luke when Jesus goes out to preach, and in Acts it begins once the Gentile believers’ freedom from the Law has been confirmed. In Luke 3 John the Baptiser refers to his baptism in water as pointing to the Coming One Who will baptise in the Holy Spirit, while in Acts 1:5 Jesus refers back to this saying. In Luke 4 Jesus goes forth full of the Holy Spirit, and commences preaching the Kingly rule of God, healing, casting out evil spirits, as do His Apostles, and in Acts 2 the Apostles are filled with the Holy Spirit and go forth in the same way, healing, casting out evil spirits and proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God. In Luke 4 Jesus is immediately challenged about His ministry and His behaviour is treated as blasphemous, and a similar result follows the going out of the Apostles and their disciples. So the Acts ministry parallels the ministry of Jesus in a number of ways. And that this is a continuation comes out in that Jesus is the Servant of God, ‘His chosen’, in Luke (Luke 2:32; Luke 3:22; Luke 9:35 RV/RSV Luke 22:37; Luke 23:35), while in Acts the early church (as well as Jesus) is the Servant of God (Acts 13:47).

In Luke Jesus calls His Apostles in order to expand His ministry (Luke 6:13-19), and in Acts 1 the number of the Apostles is made up ready for the expansion of the ministry through the Holy Spirit. In Luke Jesus is transfigured before His three main disciples (Luke 9:29), while in Acts He appears in glorious light to Paul, something drawn attention to three times (Acts 9:3; Acts 22:6; Acts 26:13 with 1 Corinthians 15:8). In Luke Jesus is ‘compelled’ to take His journey to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51-53; Luke 13:22; Luke 17:11), while in Acts Paul is compelled to take his journey to Rome (Acts 21:23-27), both finally being held under restraint, something which finally results in the triumph of God. Luke finishes with Christ enthroned triumphantly in heaven with all authority in heaven and earth (Luke 24:51 compare Matthew 28:19), while Acts finishes with Paul firmly established in Rome proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 28:30-31). In Luke Jesus follows His ministry to the Jews with an attempted ministry to the Samaritans (Luke 9:52; Luke 17:16), and in Luke 8:5 onwards the ministry to the Jews is followed by one to the Samaritans. However, Luke gives no obvious examples of a ministry to the Gentiles, although it is latent in Luke 7:1-10; Luke 8:26-39. In Luke there is early concentration on the work of the Spirit, followed by silence, and the same applies, although to a lesser extent, in Acts, although in Luke the reason is probably in order to draw the whole of his reader’s attention to Jesus, whereas in Acts it is to draw attention to Paul’s being constrained and not free. In Luke Jesus passes his final days before His exaltation under restraint. In Acts Paul is held under restraint before his being established in Rome.

The parallels are far from exact, but they may well be deliberate (had they been too exact we might have doubted them). This is, however, no stereotyped representation. Rather it illustrates on the whole that we His people are called to follow in His steps.

Is There A General Consensus About the Book?

We do not intend to go into detail on the many controversies which have been fought over the book, for most of them merely arise from the disparity between the kinds of people who have studied the book. As we might expect of a book which is so important, (it is the only record of mid 1st century church history that we have), views about it are many and varied, and are the result of the thinking of atheists, deists, rationalists, and people of various other religions, to say nothing of wide varieties of ‘Christians’. We must thus expect diversities of views. They approach the book with their own agenda, and then they regularly each interpret in the light of their own ideas. They have thus tended to see in it what struck them from their point of view, and their interpretations are thus regularly the result of the viewpoint of the writer rather than something that is demanded by the text of the book itself. Each sees what he looks for.

Had a consensus been reached we might have seen things differently. But the fact that there is no consensus, and that widely differing views are still held, confirms that the views are solely just that and are not fully evidenced by the facts. Had they been so a consensus would have been reached. The fact that scholars are no nearer to coming to a consensus about it now than they have ever been, in spite of the time spent studying the book, serves to confirm that there is in fact no straightforward answer to the questions that have been asked.

This wide diversity of opinions demonstrates, not the unreliability of the book, but the general uncertainty and unreliability of the theories that have been raised. No theory is acceptable to the majority. This should rather make us recognise that if we do wish to grasp the truth about the book we will do it best by giving consideration to the text itself rather than by following one or other of the theories, which have simply been shown to be what they are, unproveable theories dependent on viewpoint which can obtain no wide agreement.

What, however, has been good about the theories is that they have made us think more deeply about the text itself, and given us new lines along which to think. Indeed the book is considered so important that its language has been analysed in detail over and over again, and its sources have been discussed continually, with no agreement having been reached, but as a result its historical accuracy has been thoroughly questioned, carefully examined, and then reinstated by competent scholars.

No other books in the world have been subjected to such detailed examination as the books of the Bible. And yet with all this what in the end tend to be put aside are not the books themselves, which still continue to stand firm, but rather all the theories that have been invented about them. Even today, after two hundred years or more of careful scrutiny by some of the most brilliant minds in the world, they are still not fully understood, and there is no consensus of opinion about them. Some people once thought that they would reach such a consensus, but they have been proved wrong. In fact no real evidence has been produced showing them to be other than what they claim to be. They have never been ‘disproved’. Each simply has an opinion which disagrees with someone else’s opinion (confirming that neither can be demonstrated to be true).

Applying this to Acts we can safely say that all attempts to discredit it have failed. No critical position has been demonstrated to be certainly true, and for every scholar who holds one view, there are others who hold the opposite. There is some little agreement. All would agree that its first half is in some way affected by Aramaic Greek, and that its second half is of ‘purer’, Greek, but views about why and how much this is so still vary considerably and contradict each other. There is no consensus on why this is. All we can probably safely say is that it is not a virginal piece of literature but did have some sources, including Aramaic sources, which is both what we would have expected and what Luke stated from the very beginning to be so.

The one who is looking for contradictions and does not look below the surface will, of course, find them to his own satisfaction. That is inevitable with any piece of literature. But then he will find that other scholars of equal calibre do not consider that they are contradictions. To some extent each finds what he is looking for, which suggests that the book itself is not so amenable to our theories as we would like. And thus our best way of deciding the issue for ourselves is by taking into account the best of what has been said, and then looking at the book itself and coming to our own conclusion with regard to it, having especially a regard, on careful study, to its quality, and its moral and spiritual impact, and giving recognition to the fact that there are able scholars today who still do accept it as a true record of what did happen. There has not been sufficient evidence to convince them otherwise.

One thing certainly stands out, and that is that after over two centuries and more of detailed study by scholars of all backgrounds, no certain grounds have been discovered for rejecting its historical truth. Indeed the opposite is the case. The gradual accretion of knowledge has served more to demonstrate its overall accuracy than otherwise, and to give us confidence in the fact that it can be relied on. No one has been able to clearly demonstrate that for all practical purposes it is mainly fictitious or pure invention. The opposite is in fact the case. All such suggestions have arisen from the unwillingness to believe that God was really at work. In fact as far as it can be tested the opposite has been demonstrated to be the case. It has been shown to stand securely against the background of its day.

We must accept, of course, that its truth is declared from a Christian viewpoint. No one would doubt that this is the case. Nor as Christians would we want it any other way. We do not want just a potted history. We want to know positively from the inspired writer what the facts reveal about Jesus Christ and about the Christian message. And that was after all why Luke was writing a history. He was presenting a case and seeking to get over more than just facts. He was, under the guidance of the same Holy Spirit of Whom he writes, selecting and interpreting those facts. The interpreting of facts is something all historians do. And Luke was both a historian and a theologian, which was a necessity for the kind of books he wrote. But that is a very different thing from saying that he invented the facts, which the evidence suggests that he did not do.

Each person necessarily approaches facts from the point of view of his own prejudices. The one who believes that miracles cannot happen will interpret accordingly, whatever the facts are. To such people, whatever the evidence may be, the assumption will always be that the miracle cannot have happened and that an alternative explanation must therefore be found. The one who does not believe in a God Who acts, will interpret accordingly. From their viewpoint nothing can be an act of God. No sceptic, even having been given all the facts, could possibly have written the book of Acts, or could even have appreciated the issues involved. But that does not mean that Luke was historically inaccurate, only that he presented the facts from the point of view of one who did believe in miracles because he had seen them happen, and did believe in a God Who acts. That does not mean that he distorted the facts, or simply accepted things through prejudice. What it did do was determine how he interpreted the facts that he discovered.

For Luke’s aim was to get over Who Jesus is and what He had come to do, and how the message about him was spread abroad from Jerusalem to Rome. He makes no secret of it. He makes it absolutely clear from the beginning (Acts 1:8). But if we wish to treat him fairly we must also recognise that he actually claims that he does so after a careful researching of the facts. He claims quite strongly that for this reason he did research the facts carefully (see Luke 1:1-4). Unless we are going to say that he was just being dishonest, we must necessarily take this into account in studying the book. We may disagree with his interpretation, but in view of his general proven historical accuracy, we must be careful before we dismiss the facts that he states.

Of course he was influenced by the fact that he believed in a God Who acts, and believed in miracles. No one would deny that. But nor can we doubt that he also genuinely wanted to ensure that he only spoke what he knew to be the truth, and basically claimed, with regard to that, that he did not just invent things in order to get over his message. We may accept that his facts were right, or we may claim that they were wrong, but we have no genuine reason for doubting that he had looked into them very carefully and had concluded that they really were facts. Certainly his interpretation of them was Christian. And equally certainly a non-Christian Pharisee or Sadducee would each have interpreted the facts very differently, both from Luke and from each other. But the underlying facts stand firm. All, for example, saw the miracles, (apparently no one claimed that they did not happen) but each interpreted them from his own viewpoint. Indeed in chapters 3 & 4 we have a clear example of how different people knew the facts and interpreted them in different ways. In those chapters all admitted the facts, but each interpreted them according to their own background beliefs. And Paul certainly interpreted the facts very differently after he had been converted from how he did prior to being converted.

Thus all we can ask of Luke is that he was careful about the facts, genuinely sought to obtain his information from eyewitnesses, and did not try to make everything fit in with his own presuppositions. And it is our view that he has demonstrated that he did accomplish all three of these aims.

Commentary on Acts - The Pattern.

Coming now to the commentary proper we find that, in accordance with the main theme of Acts, which is that the witness of the Apostles might commence at Jerusalem and finally reach to Rome (Acts 1:8), Acts divides naturally into four sections each of which ends with a summary stressing the effectiveness of the witness and of ‘the word’.

The first one majors on the ministry of the Apostles as a whole, with all of them powerfully active but with Peter as their main spokesmen. The second majors on the expansion of the ministry through chosen men appointed by the Apostles, and on the activity of Peter himself. The third focuses on the ministry of Paul. The fourth concentrates on how Paul is to be taken from Jerusalem to Rome.

Each of these sections finishes with a reference to the powerful success of the word:

(1) The word of God increases (Acts 6:7).

(2) The word of God grows and multiplies (Acts 12:24).

(3) The word of the Lord grows and prevails mightily (Acts 19:20).

(4) The Kingly Rule of God and teaching about Jesus Christ is proclaimed (Acts 28:31).

So the overall theme on which the book is built is the going forth of the word and its effectiveness in men’s lives (compare 1 Corinthians 1:18).

This might then be seen as dividing into subsections thus:

The Ministry Under The Apostles (1:1-6:7).

(a) Acts 1:1 to Acts 6:7. This section relates the commencement of the witness of the Apostles after the resurrection, beginning at Jerusalem. It includes the coming of the Spirit in chapter 2 followed by the ministry of the Apostles, which includes the preaching of Peter both then and when they are called to account by the Jews because of their activities, and follows it up with the appointment of the first official appointees of the Apostles who were to ‘serve’ (diakoneo) tables. It ends with the summary, "The word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem; and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith."

The Ministry of the Hellenistic Jewish Christians (6:8-9:31).

(b) Acts 6:8 to Acts 9:31 This section deals with the spread of Christianity throughout Judaea, the ministry and martyrdom of Stephen, followed by the ministry of Philip and the proclamation of the Gospel among the Samaritans, together with the conversion of Saul and his initial ministry in Damascus and Jerusalem. It ends with the summary, "So the Church throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was built up; and, walking in the fear of the Lord and in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it was multiplied."

The Ministry Of Peter (9:32-12:24).

(c) Acts 9:32 to Acts 12:24. This section includes particular ministry of Peter, the reception of Cornelius, the Gentile, into the Church by Peter, the extension of the Church to Antioch, and Peter’s imprisonment and release, and his leaving Jerusalem ‘for another place’. Its summary is, "The word of God grew and multiplied."

The Ministry Under Paul (12:25-28:31).

(d) Acts 12:25 to Acts 16:5 This section covers the extension of the Church throughout the main cities of Asia Minor and the preaching tour of South Galatia. It ends with, "So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily."

(e) Acts 16:6 to Acts 19:20 This section relates the extension of the Church to Europe and the work of Paul in great Gentile cities like Corinth and Ephesus. Its summary runs, "So the word of the Lord grew and prevailed mightily."

(f) Acts 19:21 to Acts 28:31 This section tells the story of his determination to go from Jerusalem to Rome (Acts 19:21), through his movement towards Jerusalem to that end It describes the original arrest of Paul in Jerusalem, and proceeds up to the arrival of Paul in Rome and his imprisonment there. It ends with the picture of Paul "preaching the kingly rule of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ quite openly and unhindered."

These four sections and six subsections establish the pattern for Acts. Each begins with the idea of the spreading forth of the word, and ends with the word being seen as successful. Each subsection stresses the strengthening of the churches. That is the central pattern of Acts. Each section then expands on it.

· The first section sees the Gospel established in Jerusalem by the Apostles as a whole.

· The second section is divided into two subsections which see it firstly as being established among the Judaeans and the Samaritans, and secondly as being established among Gentiles by means of the proclamation of the Gospel to the Roman centurion Cornelius and his group, and then to his fellow-Gentiles in Syrian Antioch. In each of these sections and subsections the person who is prominent in sealing and giving approbation to the work is Peter, but always in connection with others.

· The third section is again divided into two subsections and sees the expansion of the work to Asia Minor, followed by the expansion of the Gospel into Europe, through the ministry of Paul.

· The fourth section sees the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God in Rome by a resident Apostle, first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. In the case of these last two sections the prominent authority is Paul.

Note the pattern and emphases in the endings of the subsections:

(1) The word of God increases (Acts 6:7).

(2) The fear of the Lord and encouragement of the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:31).

(3) The word of God grows and multiplies (Acts 12:24).

(4) Strengthening in the faith (Acts 16:5).

(5) The word of the Lord grows and prevails mightily (Acts 19:20).

(6) The Kingly Rule of God and teaching about Jesus Christ (Acts 28:31).

It will be seen that each major section ends with the continual expansion of ‘the word’ (1, 3, 5 and 6), while each subsection ends with references to advancement in the faith. These last are expressed in terms of ‘walking in the fear of the Lord and encouragement of the Holy Spirit’ (2), and of ‘being strengthened in the faith’ (4). Along with this there is the emphasis on continual increase of Christ’s church as God’s purposes go forward.

The proclamation of the word is thus central and forms the major message of the book, especially for the first nineteen chapters from Acts 1:1 to Acts 19:20. From Acts 19:21 onwards it is still proclaimed but in a limited environment. But interspersed with this are the attacks that gradually arise against the word in one way or another, and how God deals with them or uses them. These attacks arise because men need not only to turn from darkness to light, which is accomplished by the power of the word, but also from the power of Satan to God (Acts 26:18), which involves deliverance from tribulation. This last requires constant battle with the Evil One including facing persecution, martyrdom and the other varied consequences of all his more insidious attacks. Acts is a spreadsheet revealing all the methods that he uses. Thus we have:

SECTION 1 (1:1-6:7).

1). The great commission that is given that the word is to be taken to Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria and the uttermost part of the world, a commission which is followed by the power coming on them all at Pentecost and the manifestation of tongues of ‘every nation under heaven’ (i.e. within reasonable distance around). This produces initial success. (Acts 1-2)

2). The healing of the lame man as a Messianic sign and the successful proclamation of the word, which results in arrest, imprisonment, and release with the required first warning. (Acts 3:1 to Acts 4:22)

3). Prayer and empowering with boldness to speak the word, which is followed by great spiritual growth in the church, and results in an attempt to undermine that growth from within by false dedication, a sign of the work of Satan. This is nipped in the bud by God’ swift execution of the culprits. (Acts 4:23 to Acts 5:11).

4). Further wonders and signs and preaching of the word, with multitudes added to the church, is followed by further arrest, release by an angel, re-arrest, an opportunity to proclaim the word to the Sanhedrin, beating and release, which results in further teaching and preaching of Jesus Christ and a giving of themselves to the ministry of the word (Acts 5:12 to Acts 6:4)

SECTION 2 contains two subsections:

SUBSECTION 1. Stephen, Philip and Saul (Acts 6:8 to Acts 9:31).

1). Proclamation of the word by Stephen in the Hellenistic synagogues, with a further opportunity to proclaim the truth to the Sanhedrin, which is followed by martyrdom and persecution. But it causes the word to be scattered abroad. (Acts 6:5 to Acts 8:4)

2). Philip takes the word to the Samaritans, but this is followed by Simon the magician revealing his spiritual immaturity and having to be seriously rebuked. However, this does not hinder the word which continues to go forth to the Samaritans through Peter and John. (Acts 8:5-25).

3). Philip takes the word to the Ethiopian High Official and then to the cities of the coastal plain, but this is meanwhile accompanied by severe persecution for the church, which is dealt with by the conversion of Saul. (Acts 8:26 to Acts 9:18).

4). Saul proclaims the word in both Damascus and Jerusalem, although each time followed by persecution, and escape, both of which result in further expansion of the word. The churches have rest. (Acts 9:19-31).

SUBSECTION 2. The Ministry of Peter And Its Repercussions (Acts 9:32 to Acts 12:24).

1). Peter proclaims the word in the coastal plain during which ministry he is called to preach to Cornelius, as a result of which it is recognised that uncircumcised Gentiles on whom the Spirit has come can be baptised. This results in his being put on enquiry, with the enquiry ending by praising God for what has happened. (Acts 9:32 to Acts 11:18).

2). The word then goes out to Syrian Antioch, and the repercussion is that James, the Apostle is killed, and Peter is imprisoned only to be finally freed by an angel. God then brings His judgment on the king involved, and the word of God grows and multiplies. (Acts 11:19 to Acts 12:24).

SECTION 2.

This is divided into two subsections.

SUBSECTION 1 The First Missionary Journey and the Gathering at Jerusalem (Acts 12:25 to Acts 16:5).

1). The word goes out to Cyprus through Barnabas and Saul, there is much blessing, but they are opposed by Elymas, the ‘child of the Devil’, whom God blinds, and the consequence is that the pro-consul believes. (Acts 12:25 to Acts 13:13).

2). The word goes out to Pisidian Antioch, and because of the intransigence of some Jews the word goes out to the Gentiles. The Jews respond by having Barnabas and Saul thrown out of the city, resulting in the word being taken on to Iconium. Meanwhile the disciples are filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:14-52)

3). The word is proclaimed successfully and powerfully in Iconium but the city is divided and plots set on foot against them, so, as a consequence of persecution and death threats, they move on Lystra and Derbe with the word. (Acts 14:1-6)

4). The Good News is preached in Lystra, but because of their signs and wonders they are hailed as gods and have to repudiate the suggestion. Their earlier opponents arrive from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium, who cause the people to stone Paul. But left for dead he stands up and returns to the city, and they take the word to Derbe without hindrance. Then they return through all the cities they have visited confirming the believers, and having established the churches return to Syrian Antioch. (Acts 14:7-26)

5). This final section of Acts 12:25 to Acts 16:5 must be seen as being the result of the whole proclamation of the word in this whole section since first leaving Antioch. It is Satan’s response to the successful and powerful spreading of the word as he seeks to undermine its effectiveness by bringing a yoke heavy to bear on the Gentile converts which he hopes will discourage them and put some off for ever (compare Acts 5:3; Acts 13:10; Acts 26:18).

It commences with them in Antioch declaring what God has done and continuing their ministry in that city, proclaiming the word there for some considerable time, and this results in the arrival of Christian Judaisers who come to throw in doubt their whole ministry and declare that all converts must be circumcised and become full proselytes of Judaism, observing the law and the sabbath, attending the Synagogue and acknowledging the Temple, and following all the customs of the Jews, something which could undermine their whole ministry. Paul and Barnabas argue against this and with others go to Jerusalem to consult the Apostles and elders to have the matter dealt with once and for all. The assembly come down in favour of Paul and Barnabas with the result that the whole proclamation of the word since first leaving Antioch is sealed.

It should be noted that this brings out that the assembly is not so much what the book was leading up to (for its results are not again mentioned) but is the response to a particular attack of Satan against the truth, and provides God’s solution to the problem, before moving on to further proclamation of the word. (Acts 14:27 to Acts 16:5). It is, however, as our analysis will demonstrate, the central pivot of the middle of the three chiastic presentations, the first of which commences in Jerusalem and the last of which ends in triumph in Rome (see below). Its importance lies in that it finally settles the official position of the whole church to circumcision and the Law.

SUBSECTION 2 (Acts 16:6 to Acts 19:20).

1). Paul and his companions are steered away from all else and are called to over to Macedonia to ‘preach the Good News’, and then move on to Philippi where they ‘speak to the women’ and Lydia’s household are converted. This results in a woman possessed with an evil spirit continually testifying to Paul which grieves him so that he cures her, with the further result of persecution and imprisonment, resulting in the conversion of the household of the Philippian gaoler, followed by release and an encouraging of the brethren (Acts 16:6-40).

2). They come to Thessalonica ‘reasoning the Scriptures’ and proclaiming the crucifixion, resulting in some Jewish converts, a multitude of Gentiles believers, and many of the chief women being won for Christ, which results in the stirring up of an uproar and an examination before the courts resulting in their having to move on. (Acts 17:1-9).

3). Moving on to Berea the people received the word and ‘searched the Scriptures’ with numerous response from many Jews, and many honourable women and men, with the result that persecution is fanned up by arriving Thessalonians, causing Paul to move on to Athens, while Silas and Timothy stay in Berea. (Acts 17:10-15).

4). Paul waits in Athens for the coming of Silas and Timothy and ‘disputes’ in the synagogues with Jews and the ‘devout’, and in the market places and is invited up to the Areopagus to preach, where he proclaims Christ, and while some mock, others express interest, and some believe, including Dionysius the Areopagite. It is interesting that apart from Derbe Athens is the first instance where there is no persecution. (Acts 17:16-34).

5). Moving on to Corinth the message is proclaimed first in the synagogues and then in the house of Justus over a period of eighteen months, resulting in further persecution and appearance before Gallio and the courts who reject the case as a mere religious dispute and ignore resulting misbehaviour. Paul then remains there a good while. (Acts 18:1-18 a).

6). Paul takes Priscilla and Aquila to Ephesus, and then, because of a vow which necessitates his going to Jerusalem, he cuts short his ministry, visits Jerusalem (he went up and saluted the church), and then returns to report to Antioch, following it up with confirming the churches of Galatia and Phrygia. Meanwhile this gives Luke the opportunity to expand on Priscilla and Aquila’s work which results in the conversion and successful ministry of Apollos, who had been proclaiming the message of John the Baptiser in Ephesus, with the result that he moves to Corinth and expounds the Scriptures mightily. (Acts 18:8-28). (We note that when Paul ceases to spread the word Luke abbreviates his ministry and turns to that of Apollos, for it is the proclamation of the word that is his main theme. The word goes on).

7). In Ephesus, having brought about the enlightenment and coming of the Holy Spirit on disciples of John the Baptiser, Paul proclaims the Kingly Rule of God in the synagogues for three month, but the adverse reaction causes him to turn to proclaiming the word in the school of Tyrranus for two years, so that the word is spread abroad ‘over all Asia’ with wonders and signs being accomplished. ‘So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.’ (Acts 19:1-20).

SECTION 4.

· From this point on Paul determines to go from Jerusalem to Rome (Acts 19:21) and the remainder of the book deals with this endeavour. The whole pattern becomes different and more complicated, although filled with incidents along the way, and ends up with him in Rome proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 19:21 to Acts 28:31).

The Basic Pattern of the First Two Sections.

Having demonstrated the basic divisions and theme of the book we must now consider the basic pattern of the first twelve chapters. These cover the period when Jerusalem is the centre of evangelisation and end with Jerusalem’s final rejection of its Messiah, and the transferring to Syrian Antioch of the mission of the church under the Spirit. They are in the form of a chiasmus which centres on Stephen’s defence and martyrdom. Note the chiastic pattern, the second part paralleling the first part in reverse order.

a Jesus speaks of the things concerning the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 1:3). He is asked, ‘Lord will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? (Acts 1:6). His reply indicates that the present concern is to be the establishment of the Kingly Rule of God throughout the world in accordance with the teaching of Jesus, through the preaching of the word. Any other idea of a kingdom must be left with God.

b He declares the Great Commission - they are to be His witnesses and the Good News is to be taken to the uttermost parts of the world, and the resulting preparations for this are described (Acts 1:7-26).

c Through the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, life is given to the people of God at Pentecost. God is among His people (2).

d The lame man is made to leap like a deer indicating that Messianic expectation is being fulfilled (3).

e Persecution comes under the High Priest and its results are described (4-5).

f Within this scenario comes sin within the church - Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11).

g The ministry of the Hellenist Stephen (6).

h The pivotal speech of Stephen and his martyrdom (7).

g The ministry of the Hellenist Philip (8).

f Within this scenario comes sin within the church - Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:18-24).

e Persecution comes under the High Priest and its results are described (Acts 9:1-31).

d The paralysed man is made to walk (Acts 9:32-35).

c Through the resurrection, life is given to Tabitha - and to Joppa - God is among His people (Acts 9:36-42).

b The Good News goes out to the Gentiles confirming that God has given to the Gentiles ‘repentance unto life’ (Acts 9:43 to Acts 11:30).

a Israel choose their last and final earthly king who is destroyed because of blasphemy and because he has attacked the Kingly Rule of God. The earthly kingdom is definitely not to be restored to Israel, and from now on Jerusalem virtually drops out of the frame (12).

It will be noted that in the initial ‘a’ the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God is emphasised, with the instruction that they should ignore the idea of an earthly Kingdom, and in the parallel at the end the Kingly Rule of God is contrasted with an earthly Kingdom of Israel, a Kingdom whose king is brought into judgment and whose people are rejected. In ‘b’ the commission is to go as witnesses to the end of the earth and in the parallel the Good News is opened to Gentiles ready for the fulfilment of this task.

We can hardly fail to see that in these first twelve chapters Jerusalem is the starting point of all these ventures, which either commence at Jerusalem or are overseen from Jerusalem. We must therefore now consider, before commencing the commentary proper, the significance of Jerusalem in Acts.

The Significance of Jerusalem in Acts.

Luke has carefully constructed Acts in order to portray how Jerusalem fits into the purposes of God. He commences with it as the centre from which the witness of the Good News will go out, ever more widely, to the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8). For a while it is then the centre of all activity. From Acts 1:8 to Acts 6:7 all is Jerusalem, and from Acts 6:8 to Acts 11:30 the Word of the Lord goes forth from Jerusalem and is overseen by Jerusalem.

But meanwhile the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem first reluctantly tolerate (Acts 4:13-23; Acts 5:33-41) and then oppose the word and God’s people (Acts 6:12; Acts 8:1-3; Acts 9:1-2), in which they are assisted by the Jews (Acts 6:9-13; Acts 9:23; Acts 9:29), until in chapter 12 Jerusalem as a whole finally rejects its Messiah and His people and chooses a false Messiah who is finally doomed for his blasphemy. It is significant that at this point, with James the apostle having been martyred, Peter, seemingly the last of the Apostles in Jerusalem, ‘went to another place’ (Acts 12:17) and all evangelistic activity from Jerusalem ceases.

From this point on Antioch becomes the major centre for the mission of the Holy Spirit and the sending out of the word of the Lord. It is true that the church in Jerusalem (not Jerusalem itself which has been rejected) is called in. But this time it is not as the Jerusalem church overseeing the work, it is as the Apostles and elders advising on what they consider to be the mind of God. And significantly it advises only in order to pronounce its own demise (15). The decision made here releases the Gentiles from any tie with Jerusalem and its Temple (but not the tie with the Jerusalem church).

From this point on Luke only brings in Jerusalem in order to demonstrate that Paul, rejected by Jerusalem, goes from Jerusalem to Rome, although still stressing that the work in Jerusalem prospers (Acts 21:20).

We may portray this in more depth as follows:

1). Jerusalem Is Blessed (1:8-6:7).

· The Spirit comes from above (Acts 2:1-4; Acts 4:31).

· The world has come to Jerusalem (Acts 2:5-11).

· The Apostles proclaim the word to the Jewish world in Jerusalem (Acts 2:15-36; Acts 3:12-26).

· The Apostles perform great signs and wonders in Jerusalem (Acts 2:43; Acts 5:12).

· Jerusalem is the great centre of healing as people come from all parts (Acts 5:16).

· The Messianic signs are being fulfilled - the pouring out of the Spirit (Acts 2:1-4); - the Messianic banquet (Acts 2:46; Acts 4:35; Acts 6:1-6); - the Messianic signs (Acts 3:1-10; Acts 4:30).

· The Sanhedrin itself is challenged with the Good News (Acts 4:8-12; Acts 5:29-32)

· The ‘church’ (the assembly of God’s people) is being firmly established in Jerusalem and growing rapidly and spreading (Acts 2:37-47; Acts 4:32; Acts 6:7).

A Messianic judgment takes place on Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11).

All the prophecies concerning Jerusalem are thus being fulfilled.

2). The Word of the Lord Goes Out From Jerusalem (6:8-11:30).

The martyrdom of Stephen is then the signal for the word to go forth from Jerusalem as promised in Isaiah 2:2-4, as further prophecies are fulfilled. It goes out to Samaria (Acts 8:4-25), to Ethiopia (Acts 8:26-39), to the cities along the coast (Acts 8:40; Acts 9:32-43), to Damascus (Acts 9:19-25). Churches are established and prosper throughout Judaea, Galilee and Samaria (Acts 9:31). And then finally the word goes to the Gentiles (Acts 10:1-48; Acts 11:19-30).

3). Jerusalem Rejects Its Messiah For A False Messiah (12).

The hailing of a false Messiah and rejection of the true Messiah is clearly portrayed in chapter 12. (We are dealing here with Luke’s portrayal making use of the historical facts). ‘Herod the King’ as the people pleaser attacks the Apostles, is hailed by the people (they approve his persecution of the Apostles) and he then allows himself to be exalted as a god. But the inevitable consequence is that he is judged and his judgment is final. Here we have the anti-Messiah (one who sets himself up in place of the Messiah) who through pride worships Satan in order to receive his kingdom (Luke 4:6). What folly it proved to be. The only reason that Luke can have for bringing this in here, especially in view of the fact that Jerusalem now drops out of the reckoning, is in order to demonstrate that Jerusalem has forfeited its final opportunity by rejecting the Messiah and choosing the anti-Messiah. From now on the word of the Lord will go to the world and it will go from Antioch.

There is, however, a rather touching picture here of God’s care for His people. Surrounding this description of affairs in Jerusalem in chapter 12, as Jerusalem loses its significance under God, is the description of the love and care of the church at Antioch for the church of Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30; Acts 12:25). It is as though the people of God in Jerusalem and Judaea are cocooned in their love. God has not forgotten them.

4). The Church of Jerusalem Pronounces Its Own Demise (15).

While they were probably not aware of it at the time, the gathering at Jerusalem of the Apostles and the elders with the representatives from Antioch in chapter 15 would release the tie that bound the world to Jerusalem. From this point on universally speaking even the church in Jerusalem was mainly redundant. It no longer had any purpose. Having given the world the Messiah they had nothing further to give. From this point on they just fade into the background, until finally historically they disappear into the wilderness to linger on as nonentities (except to God) as the destruction of Jerusalem approaches.

Paul Sets His Face Towards Jerusalem and Jerusalem Despatches Paul To Rome (19:21;20:16, 22; 21:4, 11-14, 17-26).

Considering these verses it is difficult to avoid the conclusion, firstly that Paul’s ‘journey to Jerusalem’ (Acts 19:21;Acts 20:16; Acts 20:22; Acts 21:4; Acts 21:11-14) in defiance of all warnings, in some way parallels that of Jesus Himself as portrayed in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 9:51 on), and that secondly it is in order to portray the end of Jerusalem’s influence. He arrives in Jerusalem only for God (not Jerusalem) to despatch him to Rome in order that the word of the Lord and the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God might go forth in Rome to both Jew and Gentile.

The whole situation here is somewhat strange. He was clearly warned by the Spirit against going to Jerusalem (Acts 21:4; Acts 21:11-12), and yet he insisted on going (Acts 21:13-14), and even ‘purposed it in spirit’ (or ‘in the Spirit?) - Acts 19:21). His purpose was seemingly in order to participate in the anniversary of the day of Pentecost (Acts 20:16). We can only assume that his desire was to enjoy the celebrations of the anniversary of Pentecost with his fellow-believers in Jerusalem. And as we know, humanly speaking it ended up disastrously. As far as Luke is concerned it had to do so for Jerusalem was no longer the springboard from which God was working. However, as so often, God overruled it for good.

The seeming purpose of Luke’s detailed description of this can only surely be in order once and for all to stress the cessation of the importance of Jerusalem except as a place which rejects God’s people because of its own fixations, while underlining the fact that the witness has gone from Jerusalem to Rome. Possibly also it was a warning to all Christian Jews of the danger of nostalgia for the past in view of what it did for Paul, the message being, ‘let go of Jerusalem, otherwise .it will be an albatross around your neck’. If this is so it would confirm that Acts was written before the destruction of Jerusalem when such ideas would become almost irrelevant. The result would be that when that destruction came it caused hardly a ripple for the Christian church (except that it did then throw them more into the limelight as being non-Jews and therefore an illicit religion).

But we must not see these as the only patterns that Luke is weaving, for as we shall see later there are a number of other interweaving patterns in Acts.

ADDENDUM:

POSTSCRIPT TO ACTS: We have deliberately ceased the commentary where Luke ceased his writings. What follows is not a part of the Commentary. It is merely in order to assist those who are not sure what happened afterwards and are not sure where to look in order to find out. It is abstracted from McGarvey’s commentary on the book. (It must not be assumed that we agree with all his conclusions, but it does give the overall picture).

“A commentary on Acts, strictly confined to the subject-matter of the text, would here be brought to a close. But as it has been a part of our purpose to give somewhat more fullness to the biography of Paul, by introducing information derived from other inspired sources, we have yet a few paragraphs to pen. Fortunately, the intense curiosity awakened by the closing chapters in reference to the further career of the apostle may, in some degree, be gratified. This curiosity directs itself chiefly to two questions suggested by the later portion of the history: first, what were the results to the cause of his long-wished-for visit to Rome? second, what was the result of his appeal to Cæsar?”

“In reference to the first question, we have already remarked, that his entrance into Rome was far different from what he had fondly hoped, and he could not reasonably expect to accomplish much while confined with a chain, and resting under the suspicion of being deservedly in confinement. But we have already seen that he continued to preach and teach for two years, and we learn something of the extent and success of his labours from epistles which he wrote during this period. Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon were the earliest of these epistles, being written at one time, and forwarded, the former two by Tychicus (Ephesians 4:21; Colossians 4:7-9), and the last by Onesimus (Philemon 1:10-12), the two messengers travelling together. In the two former there are indications of great anxiety in reference to the success of his efforts, and intimations of serious obstacles in the way. He exhorts the brethren to pray for him, that a door of utterance might be opened to him, and that he might have boldness to speak the gospel as it ought to be spoken. (Ephesians 6:18-19; Colossians 4:2-4).”

“This request shows that there were some obstructions to the proclamation of the truth, and that they were such as were calculated to check the boldness of his utterance.”

“Notwithstanding these obstructions, the last of the three letters above named reveals some success which had already rewarded his labours. Out of the very dregs of the dissolute and corrupt society of the metropolis, a Greek slave, who had run away from his master, a convert of Paul's in Asia Minor (Philemon 1:19) had, by some means, been induced to visit the apostle and hear the gospel. It proved the power of God to free him from a bondage far worse than that from which he had fled. After he became a disciple, Paul found him profitable to him for the ministry (Philemon 1:11-13), being of service, no doubt, in bringing within the sound of the gospel many of his former companions. For this reason he had a strong desire to retain him as an assistant; but having no right to do so without the consent of Philemon, his master, and being unwilling to enjoin by authority upon the latter the obvious duty of liberating a slave capable of so great usefulness, he sent him home to his master, with an epistle, in which he delicately intimates his wishes in the premises, but leaves the whole subject to his own sense of propriety (Philemon 1:8-16). Sending him home without the means to recompense his master for any thing of which he had defrauded him, Paul promises to pay the sum, if any, out of his own purse (Philemon 1:18-19). Thus his preaching had begun to take effect upon the most hopeless class of the city population, at a time when he was urging distant congregations to pray that God would open to him a door of utterance.”

“But, eventually, in answer to these prayers, a door of utterance was thrown open far wider than he had reason to expect. In the Epistle to the Philippians, written at a later period, when he was expecting his trial and release (Philippians 1:19-27) he says: "I wish you to understand, brethren, that the things which have happened to me have fallen out rather to the furtherance of the gospel, so that my bonds in Christ are made manifest in all the palace, and in all other places, and many brethren in the Lord, growing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear" (Philippians 1:12-14).”

“ From his prison, the Lord had opened a door of utterance into the imperial palace itself; so that Paul the prisoner had an audience whose ears would have been wholly inaccessible to Paul the unfettered apostle. His discourse before the emperor, if we may judge by that before Agrippa, must have awakened new thoughts and emotions in the Roman court; and what awakened new interest there could not be long in spreading to "all other places." The Lord had led him by a strange method to Rome, and surrounded him with many discouragements; but his purpose was now unfolded, and Paul saw in the result, as it affected both the disciples and the community at large, a wisdom which before had been inscrutable. He had now demonstrated what he had once written to the Romans, that he was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, and was ready to preach it even in Rome; for he had preached it to both the proudest and the poorest of the population, and that with a chain upon his arm.”

“No two years of Paul's life were better filled with earnest labour than these two spent in his Roman prison. Besides the oral efforts just referred to, and the epistles to Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians, he is supposed, also, near the close of this period, to have written Hebrews, the most profound, next to Romans, of all his productions. He was not alone in his toil and danger, but was constantly surrounded by some of those noble brethren who were so ardently attached to his person. Timothy joins with him in the opening salutations of Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians. Aristarchus and Epaphras were his fellow-prisoners (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 1:23). Mark, who once forsook him and Barnabas, and went not with them to the work, was now with him (Colossians 4:10); Demas, who afterward forsook him, "having loved the present world" (2 Timothy 4:10) was as yet by his side (Colossians 4:14) and Luke, the beloved physician, who shared the perils of his voyage from Cæsarea, continued to relieve the dreariness of his imprisonment (Colossians 4:14) and wrote the last paragraph of Acts, as we conjecture, just as the two years expired.”

“The question as to the result of Paul's appeal to Cæsar is not settled by direct scriptural evidence, yet it is determined, to the satisfaction of nearly all the commentators, that he was released at the end of the two years mentioned by Luke. The evidence on which this conclusion is based consists partly in the unanimous testimony of the earliest Christian writers after the apostles, and partly in the difficulty of fixing a date for the epistles to Timothy and Titus without this supposition. There are events mentioned in these epistles, for which no place can be found in the preceding history; such as his leaving Timothy in Ephesus, to counteract the influence of false teachers, while he went into Macedonia (1 Timothy 1:3); his leaving Titus in Crete, to set in order the things that were wanting there, and to ordain elders (Titus 1:5); his visit to Miletus, when he left Trophimus there sick; (2 Timothy 4:20); and to Nicopolis, where he spent the winter (Titus 3:12).”

“On the supposition of his release, the subsequent known facts are best arranged as follows: He first fulfilled the purpose so confidently expressed of the Philippians of visiting them again (Philippians 2:24); and next took advantage of the lodging which he had directed Philemon to prepare for him at Colosse (Philemone Acts 1:22). While in Asia, he would scarcely pass by the city of Ephesus; but it is after a short visit to Spain, that we locate that visit, at the conclusion of which he left Timothy there and went into Macedonia. It was contrary to the expectation once entertained by Paul, that he was once more greeted by the brethren in Ephesus; for he had bidden them farewell four years ago with the conviction that they would see his face no more (Acts 20:25). Leaving Timothy in Ephesus, and going to Macedonia, he wrote back to him the First Epistle to Timothy (2 Timothy 1:3) in which he expressed a hope of rejoining him soon at Ephesus (1 Timothy 3:14). This he most likely did, as he soon after visited Crete, in company with Titus; and the most usual route from Macedonia to this island was by way of Ephesus. Having made a short visit in Crete, he left Titus there, to "set in order the things which were wanting, and ordain elders in every city" (Titus 1:5).”

“Shortly after leaving the island, he wrote the Epistle to Titus. He was then on his way to Nicopolis, a city of Epirus, where he expected to spend the winter (Titus 3:12). On the way he had passed through Miletus, where he left Trophimus sick; and Corinth, where he left Erastus (2 Timothy 4:20). Whether he spent the whole winter in Nicopolis, or was imprisoned again before spring, is not certainly known; but the next that we know of him, he was a prisoner in Rome the second time, as is indicated in his Second Epistle to Timothy. From this epistle we learn several interesting particulars of his imprisonment, and of the beginning of his final trial. His situation was more alarming, and he was attended by fewer friends than before. Demas forsook him, through the love of this world, and went to Thessalonica; Crescens, for some reason unexplained, went to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia (2 Timothy 4:10). Tychicus he had sent to Ephesus (2 Timothy 4:12). Luke, alone, of all his former fellow-labourers, was with him, though he was expecting Timothy to soon rejoin him, and bring Mark with him (2 Timothy 4:11).”

“At the time of writing, he had passed through the first stages of his trial, and was awaiting the second. The want of human sympathy which he had felt in his prison was realised still more intensely during his trial. He says: "At my first answer, no man stood with me, but all forsook me. I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge" (2 Timothy 4:16). Even Luke, who dared to visit him in his prison, and remain with him when others fled, shrunk from the fearful position of standing by his side in the presence of Nero (Editors note. That is, of course, assuming Luke had not been despatched somewhere or was not ill). But the venerable man of God, though deserted in his most trying hour by human friends, was able to say, "Notwithstanding, the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me, that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion." (2 Timothy 4:17). Thus again had he fearlessly and fully vindicated his preaching in the presence of the imperial court, and passed, a second time, through the fiery ordeal, without personal injury. The declaration that he was delivered out of the mouth of the lion is an allusion to the case of Daniel, of which his own reminded him.”

“But there was another stage of his trial yet before him, and from this he had reason to anticipate the most fatal results. From all the indications in view, he was induced to write to Timothy, "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand." (2 Timothy 4:6). He had some years before declared, "I hold not my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the favour of God" (Acts 20:24). Now, he was about to yield up his life, and upon looking back over the course he had run, and the ministry with which he had been entrusted, the conditions specified were completely fulfilled. With all confidence he is able to say, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7). All who have followed his course with us in these pages can bear testimony to this declaration, and, after glancing back with him over the long series of stripes, imprisonment, and exhausting toil through which he had passed, can enter into the feeling of relief and joy with which he looked forward and exclaimed, "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me at that day; and not to me only, but to all them also who love his appearing" (2 Timothy 4:8).”

“Like a mariner on a long voyage, whose bark had been tossed by many waves, and shrouded in the gloom of many a storm, his soul was cheered, at last, by a view of the desired haven close at hand. He is still, however, buffeted by the storm, and one more dark billow is yet to roll over him, ere he rests upon the calm waters within the haven. Here the curtain of inspired history closes over him, and the last sound we hear is his own shout of triumph as he braces himself for the last struggle. It only remains for the earliest uninspired history of the Church to confirm his own anticipations, by testifying that his trial finally resulted in a sentence of death, and that he was beheaded outside the gates of Rome, in the last year of the reign of Nero, A. D. 68. We bid him adieu till the resurrection morning, well pleased that the course of the narrative on which we have commented has been so directed as to keep us for so long a time in his company.”

End of Postscript).

Appendix 1.

The Speeches in Acts.

The question of whether the speeches in Acts genuinely reflect what was said at the time has been hotly debated. Part of the difficulty is clearly that most of the speeches were mainly a precis of actual speeches which would no doubt have been a lot longer, something which can hardly be doubted. So we are not really asking whether we have here the exact words, but whether we have the correct sense and phraseology. Certainly reputable writers did seek to ensure that, when they wrote down what men had ‘said’, their words gave the true meaning of their utterances, as Thucydides strongly affirms. He says that he was, ‘of course adhering as closely as possible to the general sense of what was actually said’, even of speeches which he could not fully recall, and stresses that their content either came from his having heard them himself or from reliable sources. On the other hand he also spoke of making plain ‘those subjective elements which cannot easily be displayed in an impartial narrative, but are indispensable to a proper understanding of events’. He also wanted what the speeches were intending to convey to be made clear. Polybius was actually critical of this and went further, for he insisted that what should be recorded was what was actually said. So it is wrong to assume that it was ‘normal’ in those days just to invent speeches, although no doubt some writers did do so, as some do today.

Thus we would expect a reliable author like Luke, where he had not heard the speech himself, to obtain from his sources what was actually said, and to ensure that those sources would be people who had listened carefully with the intention of remembering, and were people who were used to remembering such things. And they would certainly be helped by the fact that the Biblical quotations used would be familiar to them. Furthermore, as they had no New Testament to consult for an understanding of their faith, and were used to memorising, they would be the more particular to remember words that came from a reliable source. Nor were they likely to forget them. For many of the listeners would treasure up the words that they had heard with a view to passing them on, and would have been careful to remember them correctly because they were Apostolic words, with the result that as they continually passed them on to one audience after another their words would take on a specific, never to be forgotten, form, based on what was actually said, which would also become a treasured memory to others. Having nowhere else to turn for material they would preach what they had heard preached, and would be careful to remember it accurately so that they did not alter the inspired words of the original preacher. Indeed if they did alter the words there would be others who had also heard the original speech who would soon remind them accordingly. For, as Papias tells us, emphasising the importance laid on this by the early church, all would be eager to know what were the actual words of the Apostles. They did care about truth.

Analyses of the speeches have both recognised their different kinds, and to some extent their common approach, with differences seen as depending on the context. And this common approach would seem to be, not that of the writer, but of the early preachers themselves, for parallels to aspects of Acts speeches can be found both in the Gospels and in Pauline letters. Indeed it is now largely accepted that we actually know the main basis for most evangelistic speeches at that time, following a pattern which begins with a brief reference to past prophecy in order to indicate that the time promised by the prophets was at hand, followed by an explanation of the life and activities of Jesus, followed by a description of His death and resurrection duly explained, and all accompanied by explanatory texts from the Old Testament Scriptures, followed by the description of His exaltation, with an application to the need of the hearers at the end calling on them to repent and receive forgiveness. Where speeches differ from this it is mainly because of their special purpose or because of the particular audience that is in mind. We know therefore that we would expect Peter to have spoken as he is said to have done in Acts. Luke must therefore be acquitted from the charge of manufacturing speeches, although clearly he did have a hand in the selection of what part of the content he would use.

The pattern for such speeches was certainly not new. We can trace it backwards to the Gospels, and in Paul’s letters. Consider how John the Baptiser

· Cited Old Testament prophecy.

· Preached ‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3).

· Declared, “Repent, for the Kingly Rule of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 compare Acts 4:17)

· In proclaiming the coming judgment, promised also the coming of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11-12).

When Jesus sent His disciples out to preach, no doubt having given them full instructions on what they were to say, He told them, ‘Preach, saying, “The Kingly Rule of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:7; ). Luke says they were to preach, “The Kingly Rule of God is come near to you” (Luke 10:9 compare Acts 9:2). And in all cases they were to intimate that judgment awaited those who rejected their message (Matthew 10:14-15; Luke 9:5; Luke 10:11-13).

This is amplified in Mark 1:15 where the preaching of the good news of God was,

· The time is fulfilled (spoken of by the prophets).

· The Kingly Rule of God is at hand.

· Repent you and believe the good news”.

So we already have a pattern of preaching with the central points emphasised that appear in Acts. Clearly Jesus would also have filled this out with references to the Scriptures and instructions on how to amplify this message. After all, the Apostles did not just go out repeating one sentence like parrots.

So the pattern He has given His disciples, and which they had preached on time and again, was:

1) Reference to the fulfilment of the time promised by the prophets.

2) The proclamation of the kingly rule of God as at hand or as having drawn near.

3) The call to repent and believe.

4) The promise of the forgiveness of sins,

5) The warning of imminent judgment to come.

Added by John the Baptiser were the call to be baptised and await the reception of the Holy Spirit. And we may see it as certain that the disciples would also make reference to Jesus and His life and teaching, which were the basis of the Kingly Rule of God.

When Jesus was preparing His disciples for their ministry after His resurrection He

· Opened their minds to understand the Scriptures’, that is, to ‘all things which were written in Moses and the prophets and the Psalms concerning Him’.

· Informed them, ‘Thus it is written that the Messiah should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day.

· Commanded that ‘repentance and remission of sinsshould be preached in His name to all the nations’ (Luke 24:46-47).

In Matthew His commission was, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth, go you therefore and make disciples of all nations,baptising theminto the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-19).

We could now see the overall pattern of preaching taught them by Jesus as expanding to be as follows;

1) Reference to the fulfilment of the time promised by the prophets.

2) The proclamation of the kingly rule of God as at hand or as having drawn near.

3) Reference to His suffering and rising again as declared in the Scriptures.

4) The declaration that Jesus has openly been made Lord and Messiah.

5) The call to repent and believe.

6) The promise of the forgiveness of sins.

7) The call to be baptised in anticipation of the coming of the Holy Spirit on them.

8) The warning of imminent judgment to come.

Thus we should not be surprised to find that this was the pattern which Peter emphasised in his first preaching after the resurrection in Acts 2-4. It was in fact what he had been taught by Jesus Himself. In Acts 2-4 we have four speeches by Peter. The first (Acts 2:14-36; Acts 2:38-39) was delivered by Peter to the crowds assembled on the Day of Pentecost, the second (Acts 3:12-26) was to the people after the healing of a lame man, the third and fourth (Acts 4:8-12; Acts 5:29-32) were to the Sanhedrin after the arrest of the apostles, and all in general follow this pattern. The speech of Peter to Cornelius in Acts 10:34-43 is similar to the earlier speeches, but it has some special features and suggests even more an Aramaic original.

These first speeches of Peter cover substantially the same ground as we have described above. The phraseology and order of presentation may vary slightly, but there is no essential difference between them. They supplement one another, and taken together afford a comprehensive view of Peter’s approach which seems to have become the standard for early preaching on the basis of what Jesus had taught them. It was based on training given by Jesus when they went out preaching the Kingly Rule of God, but extended to take account of the crucifixion and resurrection, and the exaltation of Jesus. Peter was no longer a novice when it came to preaching, and now the Holy Spirit had come with power.

Consider the basis of the speeches in Acts:

· Firstly that the time is fulfilled, that is, that the age of fulfilment spoken of by the prophets has come, and that the Messianic age has dawned. "This is that which was spoken by the prophet" (Acts 2:16). " The things which God foreshowed by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Messiah should suffer, He thus fulfilled" (Acts 3:18). "All the prophets from Samuel and those who followed after, as many as have spoken, told of these days" (Acts 3:24).

And this tied in with Jewish teaching for it was a central feature of Rabbinic exegesis of the Old Testament that what the prophets predicted had reference to the "days of the Messiah." In other words they predicted the time of expectation when God, after long centuries of waiting, would visit His people with blessing and judgment, and bring to a climax His dealings with them.

· Secondly, that this has taken place through the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, of which a brief account is given, with proof from the Scriptures that all took place through "the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23).

This could include, 1) His Davidic descent. "David, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, He would set one on his throne, foreseeing the resurrection of the Messiah ---," who is therefore proclaimed, by implication, to have been born "of the seed of David" (Acts 2:30-31; citing Psalm 131:11 compare Psalms 16:10. See Romans 1:3).

2) His life and ministry. "Jesus of Nazareth, a man divinely accredited to you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by Him among you" (Acts 2:22). "Moses said, The Lord your God will raise up a prophet --- like me; him you must hear in all things that he may say to you" (Acts 3:22; regarded as fulfilled in the preaching and teaching of Jesus).

3) His death. "Him being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you, by the hands of lawless men, did crucify and slay" (Acts 2:23). "His servant Jesus, Whom you caused to be arrested, and denied before the face of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. And you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of Life" (Acts 3:13-14). "Jesus Christ of Nazareth Whom you crucified" (Acts 4:10).

4) His resurrection. "Whom God raised up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it. For David says with reference to Him, --- ‘You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor give Your Holy One to see corruption’ " (Acts 2:24; Acts 2:27-28). "Whom God raised from the dead, whereof we are witnesses" (Acts 3:15). "Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead" (Acts 4:10).

· Thirdly, by virtue of the resurrection, Jesus has been exalted at the right hand of God, as Lord and Messiah and head of the new Israel (receiving all authority in heaven and earth). "Being exalted at the right hand of God --- God has made Him Lord and Messiah" (Acts 2:33; Acts 2:36 compare Psalms 110:1). "The God of our fathers --- has glorified His Servant Jesus" (Acts 3:13). "He is the Stone which was rejected by you builders, which was made the head of the corner" (Acts 4:11, citing Psalms 118:22). We can compare with this, "Him did God exalt with His right hand, as Prince and Saviour" (Acts 5:31). In the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:19, all authority had been given to Him in heaven and on earth.

· Fourthly, the Holy Spirit in His people is the proof of Christ’s present power and glory. "Being exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this which you see and hear" (Acts 2:33). This is referred to earlier by citing Joel 2:28-32 in Acts 2:17-21. See also, "We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit which God has given to those who obey Him" (Acts 5:32). The promised baptism (drenching) with the Holy Spirit had come.

· Fifthly, the Messianic Age will shortly reach its consummation in the return of Christ, a consummation awaited from the beginning. "That He may send the Messiah appointed beforehand for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the times of the restoration of all things, of which God spoke through the mouth of His prophets which have been since the world began" (Acts 3:21). This is in fact the only reference in Acts 2-4 which speaks of the second coming of Christ, but in Acts 10 it is seen as part of the apostolic preaching, "This is He who is ordained by God as Judge of living and dead" (Acts 10:42). This is the only explicit reference to Christ as Judge in these speeches (compare John 5:22; John 5:27), but as we have seen it was certainly an assumption of the Apostolic ministry during the lifetime of Jesus.

· Sixthly, and finally, the preaching regularly closes with an appeal for repentance, an offer of forgiveness and of the Holy Spirit, and the promise of "salvation," that is, of "eternal life, the life of the age to come," to those who become Christ’s and one with His people. "Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and to all who are far off, as many as the Lord your God may call to Him" (Acts 2:38-39, referring to Acts 2:21 (Joel 2:32), Isaiah 57:19). "Repent therefore and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out ---You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ To you first, God, having raised up His Servant, sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you away from your sins " (Acts 3:19; Acts 3:25-26, having in mind Genesis 12:3). "In none other is there salvation, for nor is there any other name under heaven given among men by which you must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

We can compare with this, " Him did God exalt at His right hand as Prince and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins" (Acts 5:31); "To Him bear all the prophets witness, that through His name everyone who believes in Him will receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:43).

This then is what the author of Acts meant by "preaching the Kingly Rule of God." It is very significant that it follows the lines of the summary of the preaching of Jesus as given in Mark 1:14-15 : "Jesus came into Galilee preaching the Good News of God, and saying,

· The time is fulfilled (spoken of by the prophets).

· The Kingly Rule of God has drawn near.

· Repent and believe the Gospel.

Thus the lines of the preaching of John the Baptiser to whom Peter had been a disciple, and the lines that Jesus Himself laid out in His resurrection appearances, together covered everything that Peter said.

The first clause in Mark’s description, "The time is fulfilled," is expanded in the reference to prophecy and its fulfilment in accordance with what Jesus had no doubt taught them while He was alive, and had certainly taught them after His resurrection. The second clause, "The Kingly Rule of God has drawn near," is expanded in the account of the ministry and death of Jesus, and His resurrection and exaltation as Lord and Messiah to receive all authority in heaven and earth, having suffered as the Messiah. The third clause, "Repent and believe the Gospel," reappears in the appeal for repentance and the offer of forgiveness with which Peter’s sermons close. Even if we had not known what Peter preached we could have pieced it together from the Gospels.

That this pattern was acceptable to Paul comes out in the first four verses of Romans. There he describes the Gospel of God as being - promised beforehand by his prophets in the Holy Scriptures (verse 2), concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord (verse 3), Who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh (verse 3), and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. That this included the cross comes out in what follows (Romans 3:24-28) and is stressed in 1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 2:2; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.

Appendix 2.

The Kingdom or Kingly Rule of God In The Old Testament.

The idea of the Kingdom of God, or better, the Kingly Rule of God, is central in Scripture and is closely involved with the idea of covenant (the binding together of two parties by a solemn, unbreakable oath). This should not surprise us as in ancient days kingship and covenant were closely connected. Every nation was expected to enter into covenant with its king to submit to him and obey him, (to swear fealty), and every subject nation was required to enter into covenant with its suzerain (overlord). Thus what we call ‘the Ten Commandments’ given at Mount Sinai are really the stipulations part of a typical suzerainty treaty of the period.

A covenant describes a position where two parties are involved, the maker of the covenant and its recipients. As a result of such a covenant, promises are made and actions carried out, and in many cases response is required. Biblically such covenants are basically of three kinds.

· The first is where the Lord of the covenant determines, totally unconditionally, to perform some service for those who are seen as within the covenant, and fully determines what it will achieve. Its benefits are unconditional and will occur solely because of the sovereignty of the Covenantor. Its recipients have no choice in the matter because it is an act of undeserved goodness and total sovereignty, in response to which there can be no refusal, for the Covenantor guarantees to carry it through to the end regardless of the deserving or otherwise of the recipients. Examples of this are the Noahic covenant whereby God guarantees into the far future the existence of the world as inhabitable in spite of all that man may do, namely that never again will He bring such a flood upon it (Genesis 8:21-22; Genesis 9:8-17); the Abrahamic covenant whereby God promises that through his seed all the world will be blessed (Genesis 12:2-3); the Davidic covenant of 2 Samuel 7:8-16 whereby God guarantees eternal kingship to David’s house; and the new covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-34 whereby God guarantees to produce a people for Himself who will perform all His will, and the re-emphasising of this covenant in Hebrews 8:8-13. All these are certain of fulfilment. While resulting in human response, fulfilment of them is not dependent on it. There is no real human equivalent, although an unconditional Will might be seen as approaching it.

· The second type of covenant is where the Lord of the covenant determines to perform some service for those who are seen as within the covenant, but where the fulfilment of the promises made are seen as conditional on obedience. In this case then it depends on the response of the recipients as to whether the benefits promised continue. The benefits are thus dependent on the correct response of the recipients. Examples of this are the initial creation in which the man and the woman were installed in the Fruitful Place of Eden and given certain instructions, disobedience with regard to which would result in expulsion; and the second covenant after the Flood which gave promises concerning the future of mankind, although again warning of the consequences of disobedience (Genesis 9:1-7). It can be compared with the Suzerain Lord who invades a country and enforces his will on it because of his irresistible power, but who will then come down in judgment on them if they fail to obey his commands. (The difference with God is that He requires what He does because His demands are righteous, not in order to personally benefit by the covenant).

· The third type of covenant is where on the grounds of some service performed by Him, and possibly some service that He will perform in the future, the Covenantor calls on people willingly to respond to him within the covenant, expressing thereby their willingness to perform the covenant conditions. In this case there is a choice. People may choose whether to enter into the covenant, or reject it. But once they enter it they are bound by it. An example of this is the Sinai covenant. All covenants between a king and his people in ancient days were at least theoretically on this basis.

Note that Biblically all such covenants when connected with God result from response to the grace of God. It is always God Who acts first in order to bring them about. But in the case of the first the consequences are guaranteed, while in the case of the second and third there are conditions involved. Nevertheless in all three cases the Kingly Rule of God is involved, because response to His authority as Overlord is required, the only difference in the first case being that God will bring it about sovereignly through His powerful working in the hearts of men and women, so that response will inevitably take place as a result of His effective working, while in the second and third cases voluntary response is necessary by all who would remain in the covenant.

Thus when God set up His Kingly Rule, which was to be in the sphere of the fruitful plain of Eden, of which Kingly Rule the tree of knowing good and evil was the symbol, it was not long before rebellion broke out. Adam and Eve sinned. They rejected His Kingship and the sphere of His Kingly Rule was marred. They were turned out of the sphere of His Kingly Rule, an event which eventually resulted in the establishment of a ‘city’, that is, a grouping where man ruled himself , setting up his own authority (Genesis 4:17).

When God set up His Kingly Rule through Noah after the Flood, it was the whole world which was to be the sphere of His Kingly Rule, but again it was not long before the sphere of His Kingly Rule was marred because of Noah’s sinfulness and the sinfulness of his sons. And things eventually became worse and worse as first under Nimrod, who established ‘the Great City’, a combination of cities (Genesis 10:8-12), and then at Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), mankind sought to establish their own kingly rule apart from God, a rebellion indicated by the cities that they established. God’s Kingly Rule had been rejected, and man had set himself up as supreme, setting up his own gods.

It was then that God turned to the idea of establishing a Kingly Rule of God over a select part of mankind, within a select area, with a view to their developing righteousness and finally bringing the world back under His Kingly Rule.

He did this initially in respect to Abraham (Genesis 12:2-3) and the patriarchal tribes, who were promised that at some time in the future a specific area of land (Canaan and its surrounds) would become theirs, and that their descendants would become kings. They walked comparatively righteously in a godless world, acknowledging His Kingly Rule, and they were promised that one day the whole land would belong to their descendants, and that through them the whole world would be blessed.

This promise eventually expanded into His offer to Israel, who were the successors of the patriarchal tribes, under which His aim was to set up a sphere under the Kingly Rule of God in Canaan and its surrounds. They would set up under God ‘a kingdom of priests’ (Exodus 19:6). And this was immediately followed by the Suzerainty (Overlord’s) treaty contained in Acts 20:1-17, which was the commencement of that aim. They could now declare that ‘the sound of a king was among them’ (Numbers 23:21), and in the Holiest Place in the Tabernacle was the King’s throne. The Lord was King among the righteous ones (Jeshurun - Deuteronomy 33:5).But this Kingly Rule never achieved itsfinal goal, and again the reason for the failure was because of disobedience. They rejected the full significance of His kingship, and instead compromised with the cities and peoples whom they should have driven out of the land, who were steeped in idolatry and were in rebellion against God (e.g. Judges 1).

Thus in the end, seeing themselves as hemmed in from every side, they asked for an earthly king in order to replace Him (1 Samuel 8:5; 1 Samuel 10:19). They did not want to continue relying on God, Who might not be for them if they were being disobedient. They wanted a king who would fight for them whatever their behaviour. The ideal of the Kingly Rule of God, which was that all in it would be responsive to His covenant requirements, and live in the light of them, was replaced by the idea of loyalty to a king. God made clear to Samuel that it was the rejection of His Kingship (1 Samuel 8:7).

But God was not finished with them, for He remembered His promises to Abraham, and so He raised up David and made promises that through him and his descendants the everlasting Kingly Rule of God would be established, and his descendants as ‘sons’ under God their ‘Father’ would rule for ever (2 Samuel 7:4-16). The vision was that in the end all nations would be brought into subjection to God (Psalms 2:7-9). And the Psalmists were able to declare that ‘the Kingly Rule (LXX Psalms 21:29 tou Kuriou basileia) is the LORD’S (Psalms 22:28), and He is the ruler over the nations’, for they saw its fulfilment as a certainty. Thus they could boldly state, ‘The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His Kingly Rule (LXX Psalms 102:19 - he basileia autou) reigns over all’ (Psalms 103:19). There was no doubting God’s Kingly Rule, what awaited fulfiment was His conquest of those who had risen up against Him.

However, God’s idea in all His activity was that this establishing of the Kingly Rule of God would be by means of a people who were fully faithful to His covenant, and acknowledged His Heavenly Rule. His aim was that righteousness and truth might triumph under the coming ideal king (Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-10). Thus there would have to be a total transformation in His people before it could be brought about. In contrast the idea of His people became that God would bring it about and they would simply benefit by it whether they were fully obedient to His covenant or not, as long as they performed the right rituals and offered token worship.

The subsequent history of the kings revealed Israel’s unwillingness to submit to the Kingly Rule of God, and the failure of their unfounded hopes. This was especially seen as revealed in the form of their idolatry. And the prophets then declared judgment on Israel and Judah until there should arise a King of the house of David Who would do all God’s will. Even the good kings formed alliances with godless nations (see Isaiah 39, where Hezekiah looked to Babylon; and 2 Kings 23:29, where Josiah assisted the alliance against Assyria by seeking to prevent Pharaoh Necho from going to Assyria’s aid), while their children continued to prove their fathers’ failure by their own rebellion against God.

In contrast with this was the basic idea of the totally independent Kingly Rule of God which was maintained by the prophets, and the basis of that was that it could only be entered by those who truly responded to His covenant, were transformed in their attitudes and came under His Kingly Rule (e.g. Ezekiel 37:21-28). Ahaz was given such an opportunity. He could either trust in the Lord, or he could trust in the King of Assyria. The Lord even promised to perform for him any spectacular ‘sign’ that he asked for (Isaiah 7:10). If he would believe and trust wholly to the Lord he would be established. If, however, he refused to believe and trusted in Assyria then he would not be established (Isaiah 7:9). Ahaz chose to trust in Assyria, at which God informed him that the Coming King in whom all Israel’s hopes were place, who was to be born of his house (the house of David), would not be born of his seed but would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). Ahaz had lost the privilege of being sire to the Coming King.

The unbelief continued and when it became clear that the present kings were not likely to bring about a situation of triumph over the nations, the hope began to be aroused of a future King who would be raised up by God. This was especially exemplified in, for example, Isaiah 6-11; Jeremiah 23:5; Ezekiel 37:21-28. And this was confirmed by the Psalmist who declared that ‘the Kingship belongs to the Lord, and He rules over the nations, yes, to Him shall all the proud of the earth bow down (Psalms 22:28-29).

These pictures of God’s final triumph, of the establishment of His final Kingly Rule,had to be described in earthly terms because at that stage people had no conception of the possibility of a ‘kingdom’ in Heaven. In their eyes man, even resurrected man, belonged to earth, and any future therefore had to be spoken of in those terms. It was only after the time of the prophets that the concept of men actually living in Heaven even began to be considered. But Jesus confirmed that such ideas were true. Indeed much of what the prohets spoke of could only be fulfilled in another world from this. Thus we must see the prophets as conveying a greater truth than they realised,, that the expected ‘kingdom’ would in fact be an everlasting, and therefore a heavenly one.

The consequence was that the people began to look for a Coming King (an ‘anointed one’ (Messiah) - Psalms 2:2; Daniel 9:25) of the house of David who would bring about God’s Kingly Rule for them through God’s power so that they could enter into its benefits. But while the prophets demanded the transformation of Israel as a first priority, the people’s view was that the Coming King would do the work, with God’s and their assistance, while they would simply reap the rewards. They were much too tied to earth. They considered that it would thus all be brought about by God’s activity, without too much being required of them, apart possibly from them giving the Coming King support in battle, with Him ensuring few casualties and guaranteeing overall success. This was the Kingly Rule of God which they expected to appear (Luke 19:11).

Some like the Pharisees did, however, recognise that it would depend on fulfilling the covenant. They acknowledged that God required faithfulness. Thus they set their hearts on obeying the covenant. But the problem was then as to what was required in order to fulfil that covenant, and how it could be achieved. And sadly, as men will, this was degraded into following a set of rules which were laid down by the Scribes on the basis of their interpretation of the Law, which was contained in the ‘Traditions of the Elders’. Their view became that if only they could fulfil the covenant by perfectly achieving their own traditions the Kingly Rule of God would come. Thus the fulfilling of the minutiae of the Law became their first objective and wider ideas of justice and compassion became overlooked.

When Jesus came He had to reveal to them that their set of rules was insufficient to constitute a true fulfilment of the covenant with God, and indeed produced hypocrisy. For by then many of them had lost their way. He declared that the righteousness of those who would come under God’s Kingly Rule must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20), for their righteousness was outward but not inward (Mark 7:14-23), superficial and not real (Matthew 6:1-6; Matthew 23). He then called on men to believe in Him as the One sent from God, to have a change of heart and mind towards God (to repent - Matthew 4:17), to receive forgiveness of sins, to come personally in their hearts under the Kingly Rule of God, and to hear His teaching, which would put right where that of the Scribes had gone wrong, and then to do it. Through thus believing in Him, and responding to Him, they would receive eternal life and enter under the Kingly Rule of God. But this was dependent on each individual responding. Those whose hearts were opened towards Him and His teaching, and were truly of God, would enter under the Kingly Rule of God. Whether Scribe or Pharisee or common man or public servant they would respond to Him. Those who rejected Him and His teaching would be excluded from the Kingly Rule of God now, and from the eternal Kingly Rule of God in the future. Thus the Kingly Rule of God would now be made up of all those who truly believed in Him, and responded to His word. By their fruits they would be known. For there was now no other name under Heaven given among men whereby men could be saved.

It will be noted that Jesus has dropped the emphasis on the land. From Abraham until after the Exile the land had been emphasised as a part of the promises, for His people had had to have their eyes fixed on a goal, and they would have understood no other goal. They had had no concept of the possibility of a future life other than on earth. Nor had they any concept of a heavenly Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22). They had looked for an idealised life on earth, a heaven on earth, and an earthly, although idealised, Jerusalem. And thus God had made His promises in those terms, terms that they could appreciate. But since those days men’s conceptions had widened and the possibility of a genuine life beyond the grave outside of the earth had developed, the possibility of a life in ‘Heaven’. This was epitomised in the New Testament in terms of a new Jerusalem, and of a new Heaven and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1), for the old would pass away and could not therefore offer an eternal kingdom. This would be the sphere of the everlasting Kingly Rule of God to which all should look and respond by coming now under His Kingly Rule in readiness for it. Thus the writer to the Hebrews could picture Abraham as looking to a heavenly city, whose builder and maker was God (even though to him it had been an idealised earthly city). The promises were not abrogated. They would still receive ‘the land’, but it would be the land in a new Heaven and a new earth.

But should someone say, ‘Surely we must take what God says literally’ we reply that we do take it literally. The good is replaced by the better, the idealised earthly land to which His true people looked forward (and in its perfection could never really have existed on earth) is replaced by the ideal ‘new earthly’ land, the better Canaan; the idealised Jerusalem is replaced by the new ideal Jerusalem where God dwells with His people for ever. And all this in the same way as the offerings and sacrifices are replaced by the new offering and sacrifice made once for all in Jesus Christ. And the old people of God have been subsumed into the new. All is new (Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:5-13; Revelation 21:1).

For once Jesus Christ had replaced the offerings and sacrificesthe Old Testament promises could never be literally fulfilled. The old offerings and sacrifices had by His offering of Himself lost their original significance. And yet if we take the promises literally the prophets had promisedthe restoration of the old sacrifices, with their old significance and meaning.They knew of no other. And in Zechariah 14 even the prophets had recognised the types of problem that this could raise, so that they spoke in terms of extending the court of the priests to cover all Judah. This was a problem that arose because none of the prophets ever dreamed of any other type of offerings and sacrifices than the old sacrifices, so if the whole world gathered much more space would be required for holy activity. And it is thusnottaking these promises literally to speak of ‘memorial sacrifices’. Such memorial sacrifices were unknown to the prophets. To call on that concept is as much to de-literalise the promises, as is the idea of the new Heaven and the new earth. Nor is it frankly conceivable that in the promised future, when the wolf will lie down with the lamb, and they will eat together quite fearlessly with the lion, the only killer that the lamb will have to fear will be redeemed man coming seeking for sacrifices to offer. Can we really see the lion having to say to the lamb in the perfect future, when none hurt or destroy in all His holy mountain, ‘Run for it. Redeemed man is coming!’ (Isaiah 11:6-9; Isaiah 66:25).

Every promise concerning future offerings and sacrifices is fulfilled in Jesus Christ and in His offering of Himself. Every promise of Canaan and its surrounds is fulfilled in the new Canaan in the new earth. Every promise of a new Jerusalem is fulfilled by the New Jerusalem. Every promise concerning the Kingly Rule of God will be fulfilled in the new Kingly Rule of God eternal in the heavens. Every promise to Israel is fulfilled to the new Israel, known to us as the true church of God. Not one yod or tittle of the Law or the prophets will fail, until all is fulfilled. In the words of Jesus, ‘My Kingly Rule is not of this world, else would My servants fight that I might not be handed over to the Jews. But my Kingly Rule is not from this world’ (John 18:36). It is in Paradise (Luke 23:43).

Appendix 3.

The Kingly Rule of God (Heaven) In The New Testament.

One problem we have in understanding ‘the Kingdom of God’ is that we think of a kingdom as being a piece of land with fixed boundaries. We think of a place. But in ancient days a King’s ‘kingdom’ extended to wherever he could exercise his power. There were no fixed boundaries. Boundaries were fluid and continually changing. They therefore thought in terms of Kingly Rule. The ‘kingdom’ was the sphere over which each ruler ruled, regardless of boundaries. It was similar to the Bedouin chieftain who is ‘king’ over his people as they travel around in the deserts, no matter where they are. Wherever he is, and wherever he exercises his power, regardless of location, he is king. Thus if his men surround you in the desert because you chance to be where they are you are in his ‘kingdom’, you are under his kingly rule. And next year, or even month, the same spot may be under the kingly rule of a Bedouin chieftain of another tribe, while your king is a hundred miles away having taken his ‘kingdom’ with him. For they rule not over the land but the people. The word ‘basileia’, therefore, means rather ‘Kingly Rule’ than ‘Kingdom’ and points to submission to a king.

When the term occurs in the New Testament we always have to consider its context. The Jews were on the whole very much expecting the establishing of a physical Kingly Rule where their King would rule in Jerusalem and they would have a position of authority over the world. Often the references to the Kingly Rule of God had this in mind (e.g. Matthew 18:1; Luke 17:20; Luke 19:11; Acts 1:6). This was not Jesus’ concept. These referred to men’s wrongly held views of the Kingly Rule of God. But Jesus made very clear that the Kingly Rule was not to be expected in this way (Luke 17:21; John 18:36). His Kingly Rule was not of this world (John 18:36). Rather it was now present in Him, and men must respond to it from their hearts and come in submission and obedience to God and to the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:21-22). It resulted from the spreading of the word (Matthew 13). In order to see and enter into it men must be born from above (John 3:5-6). The test in the end was whether their hearts were fruitful (Matthew 13:1-8).

In the New Testament the Kingly Rule of God is divided into three phases:

· The first phase of the New Testament Kingly Rule of God arose because the King was present in Him. Those who responded to Him, believing in Him and obeying His words came under the Kingly Rule of God. Outwardly many would appear to be under His Kingly Rule who were not. They would outwardly yield obedience. But in their hearts they did not experience the saving work of the Holy Spirit. They called Him ‘Lord, Lord’, but did not seek to do the things which He said. They did not do the will of the Father (Matthew 7:21). Thus they were not under His Kingly Rule and would be excluded from the everlasting Kingdom.

· The second phase resulted from the resurrection, when Jesus Christ was enthroned in Heaven. From then on the Kingly Rule of God came in power through the Holy Spirit calling all men to respond to the enthroned and glorified King by believing in Him and seeking to fulfil His will. This is the story of Acts where the Kingly Rule of God is proclaimed, and responded to by many. The test of whether someone is in this ‘Kingdom’ is their personal response to Him by which they accept His salvation and became one with Him through the Spirit, and thereby responsible to do His will. For to proclaim the Kingly Rule of God is to proclaim Jesus (Acts 28:23; Acts 28:31).

· In its third phase the Kingly Rule of God will be revealed in its full glory when the King returns, having first gone away, and those who are His will then enter the everlasting Kingdom (Luke 19:12; Luke 21:31; Luke 22:16; Luke 22:18; Mark 14:25), while those whose response has not been genuine will be cast off (Matthew 13:40-43; Matthew 13:47-50).

There is thus a growth of conception in the first place between the Kingly Rule of God which was declared once Jesus had been pronounced by the Father as His Son (Mark 1:11) and that which resulted when He was raised from the dead and received His crown and His throne (Matthew 28:18; Acts 2:36; Luke 19:12). This twofold stage may be illustrated by what did happen when new kings were established. First they were named by their supporters, and selected those who were to help them to the throne by winning over support, at which point they might have a coronation of sorts, but it was only after this, once their position was established, that they were officially crowned. See for an example of this Adonijah and Solomon in 1 Kings 1, where each sought to establish his kingship. In the end it was Solomon who was successful. Compare also David. He was crowned as King over Judah. But Israel clung to Ishbaal/Ishbosheth. Thus Ishbaal had to be defeated before David could consolidate his throne and become king over all Israel (2 Samuel 2-4). So in a similar way we may see that at His baptism Jesus was named as the rightful heir, and proclaimed King, (although He had also been so from birth (Matthew 2:2; Luke 2:11 compare Luke 1:32-33)) and went about establishing the basis of His Kingly Rule, and then that at His resurrection and glorification He was officially crowned and received His throne (Daniel 7:13-14; Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:36). Meanwhile the establishment of His Kingship had been taking place. Then once He had received His throne the declaration of His Kingly Rule was to go out to the world which was called on to submit to Him (Acts 1:8).

1). The Kingly Rule of God Began To Be Established When the King was Acknowledged By His Father And Began To Gather His Followers.

It was promised at Jesus’ birth (Luke 1:32-33) that:

1) He would be called the Son of the Highest.

2) He would receive the throne of His Father David.

3) Of His Kingly Rule there would be no end.

There is a real sense in which these three phrases not only explain three aspects of what He had come to do, but also the three stages of the Kingly Rule. The Kingly Rule of God in one sense began when Jesus had received the Holy Spirit and was told, ‘You are My Son’ (Mark 1:11; compare Psalms 2:7). From then on He went out in order to proclaim that the Kingly Rule of God was ‘at hand’ or ‘had drawn near’ (Mark 1:14-15), so that those who submitted to Him and believed on Him entered under the Kingly Rule of God. They were born from above and ‘saw’ the Kingly Rule of God (John 3:3). Indeed the fact that Jesus cast out evil spirits by the Spirit or finger of God was the proof that the Kingly Rule of God had come to them (Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20). It was present there among them, evidenced by the power that the King exercised. It had come with power, a power to be revealed in the Transfiguration, and in Christ’s resurrection and enthronement and what followed (Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27; Matthew 28:18). The sick who were healed, and those who refused to listen to His Apostles, had both come near to the Kingly Rule of God. It had been revealed to them and offered to them. They must choose whether they would submit to the King and obey Him (Luke 10:9; Luke 10:11).

Those who came under that Kingly Rule were greater than John the Baptiser in his prophetic role (Matthew 11:11; Luke 7:28; Luke 16:16), for in it he was only pointing forward as a prophet. He was pre-kingdom, the last in the line of the Torah (Law) and the Prophets (Luke 16:16). He was the preparer of the way (Acts 3:2-3). Yet even so the tax collectors and prostitutes (representing the most despised kinds of men and women) who repented for the remission of sins under his ministry (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3), entered ‘the way of righteousness’, thus coming under ‘the Kingly Rule of God’ (Matthew 21:31-32). So John was very much involved with the introduction of the Kingly Rule of God. But his office as prophet and preparer of the way was ‘lower’ than the office of servant under the Kingly Rule of God which had now come, because it was simply preparatory, while the latter was the great reality. From now on the actual Kingly Rule was being exercised by Jesus under God. What the prophets had promised was here. Thus what Jesus brought was something greater than John could offer. (And John entered it when he deferred to Jesus, but Jesus never made any attempt to ‘take over’ until John was imprisoned. Until then He simply preached alongside John, and when He became too successful retired to Galilee ).

Since John’s day the Kingly Rule of God allowed violence and the violent took it by force (Matthew 11:12, compare Luke 16:16). That is, it could be entered by those who made a determined effort, and refused to be put off (compare Mark 9:47; Acts 14:22). For the Kingly Rule of God was being proclaimed and men were pressing into it (Luke 16:16). Humanly speaking it could not be entered easily. It required intensity of purpose and a true change of heart, ‘repentance for the forgiveness of sins’, but it was very much a present experience for many. The purpose of this saying in Matthew 11:11 is in order to represent Jesus and His followers as ‘greater’ than John the Baptiser because He and they are bringing about the new age, the new Kingly Rule, that John pointed to.

When the Pharisees asked when the Kingly Rule of God would come, Jesus replied that when it came it would not be seen by looking around, but by looking within, for ‘the Kingly Rule of God is within you’ (Luke 17:20-21). Some would here translate ‘among you’, signifying that it was present in Him, but they did not see it. Either way the thought was that it was present in Jesus and was to be responded to from the heart, while the Pharisees were missing it because they were looking for the wrong kind of Kingdom. Only through response to Jesus and the work of the Spirit could the Kingly Rule of God be known. Except a man be born of the Spirit he could not see or enter into the Kingly Rule of God (John 3:5-6).

When the disciples prayed they had to remember that this Kingly Rule of God had, even at the time when Jesus was speaking, to be sought above all else (Matthew 6:33). Once they sought this they would not need to pray for food and clothing, for everything else would be added to them. That is why when they went out to preach they were to take no extra food or clothing (Matthew 10:9-11). They had entered under the Kingly Rule of God, and would be fully provided for with regard to all their physical needs. Thus as they went out to proclaim it they were to pray for its extension daily, praying, ‘your Kingly Rule come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven’ (Matthew 6:10). The Kingly Rule consisted in men responding to Him and doing His will on earth. In other words God’s Kingly Rule was coming in that men responded to the preaching of Jesus and began to do what He taught them, and they were to pray that this might become true of more and more. Responding to the King and the teaching that He had brought would equate to entering under the Kingly Rule of God (or ‘Heaven’ - we will continue to use ‘God’ as Mark, Luke and John do, while recognising that Matthew used a circumlocution).

The Kingly Rule of God (Heaven) belonged to those who were poor in spirit, to those who were persecuted for righteousness sake (Matthew 5:3; Matthew 5:10; Luke 6:20). They were humble and contrite, and willing to undergo persecution precisely because they had come under God’s Kingly Rule. On the other hand it was hard for those who had riches to enter the Kingly Rule of God, because then their riches would come under His control (Mark 10:23-25; Luke 18:24-25), and they found it hard to give them up. To put the hand to the plough and then to turn back was to be not worthy of the Kingly Rule of God (the submission to the King had then ceased - Luke 9:62). And to be esteemed under the Kingly Rule of God it was necessary not to break God’s commandments, or teach men to do so (Matthew 5:19). That is why only those whose righteousness exceeded that of the Scribes and Pharisees, (who did by their teachings cause men to break the commandments), could enter it (Matthew 5:20). This clearly indicated that entry into His Kingly Rule did not come about by following the teachings of men but by responding in submission and obedience to the King. Those who listened to the teaching of Jesus and responded to it entered that Kingly Rule, which involved not only calling Him ‘Lord, Lord’, but doing His will (Matthew 7:21). Thus the Scribe who on learning of the two great commandments said, ‘Teacher, you have said the truth’, was told that he was not far from the Kingly Rule of God (Mark 12:34). All that was now required was his full response to Jesus in accordance with what he had learned.

The mystery (a hidden secret now revealed) of the Kingly Rule of God was made known to them precisely because the significance of His parables was made clear to them (Matthew 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10). And this consisted of the fact that the word of the Kingly Rule of God was being sown, and those in whom it produced fruit were within the Kingly Rule of God (Matthew 13:19-23). In another parable the good seed which grew and flourished were the children under the Kingly Rule of God (Matthew 13:38). One day all who did not so flourish would be removed in judgment, and then the righteous would shine forth as the sun under the Kingly Rule of their Father (Matthew 13:43). There would thus initially be a time when the Kingly Rule of God co-existed in the world with those who were unresponsive to the King, even though possibly professing submission, but in the end these latter would be dealt with and then God’s Kingly Rule would be fully manifested (Matthew 13:41-43). This brings home the dual aspect of the Kingly Rule of God, the present and the future. On the one hand there are those in this present world who are within the Kingly Rule of God, and on the other there are those who are rejecting that Kingly Rule. (There are also those who are professing to be under the Kingly Rule of God, but are not in reality - Matthew 13:47; Matthew 18:34). But in the future, within God’s everlasting Kingly Rule, the righteous will shine forth within the Kingly Rule of their Father. It was this future Kingly Rule from which Israel would regret being cast out of when they saw that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and all the prophets were welcomed there, while they were excluded (Luke 13:28). And to that Kingly Rule would come people from all parts of the world (Luke 13:29).

For the Kingly Rule of God is at present like a net gathering up all within it, and once they are gathered up all that is not fit for it because of lack of response to Him will be removed (Matthew 13:47). Those who are truly instructed concerning the Kingly Rule of God bring out what is old (God’s instruction in the Old Testament) and what is new (the teaching of Jesus which expands and explains that teaching). They study God’s word and eagerly hear the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 13:52). Thus the Kingly Rule of God is powerfully at work, reaching out to seize men, and then sifting them, and removing the bad from among them.

To Peter and the other Apostles were given the keys of the Kingly Rule of God so that they could ‘bind and loose’, that is open it up to all who will respond to it (which Peter does in Acts 1-15) and determine how it should be regulated and what manner of lives Christians must live (Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18). To this end they were especially endued with the Holy Spirit. They would make clear the requirements of God which bound all who followed Him.

To enter the Kingly Rule of God one must become humble, open and responsive like a little child (Matthew 18:1-4; Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:14-15; Luke 18:16-17). Those who have entered under the Kingly Rule of God are like servants to a king, and they will in the end have to give account and will be dealt with according to their behaviour (Matthew 18:23-35; Matthew 25:14-45). They are like labourers who have hired themselves out to a master, and at the end of the day all receive the same reward, for it is within the master’s gift (Matthew 20:1-16). In Jesus’ day the many tax-collectors and prostitutes were entering the Kingly Rule of God, and this was revealed in the fact that they became obedient sons and daughters of the Father, while the more religious were delaying and in danger of missing their opportunity (Matthew 21:28-32). Thus the Kingly Rule of God would be taken away from those who professed to serve God but did not recognise their sinfulness and repent, from the old Israel (the vineyard), and would be given to a new nation of Israel who would produce the fruits required by God (Matthew 21:43) and would be a part of the new Vine (John 15:1-6).

The Kingly Rule of Heaven was like a King calling people to the wedding of His Son, Who, when many refused to come, destroyed them, and also cast out the one who refused to wear the clothing provided by the King (Matthew 22:1-14), while those whom He called in from the highways and byways, who responded to Him and wore the clothing He provided (‘the robes of righteousness, the garments of salvation’ - Isaiah 61:10), celebrated and rejoiced, for they were within His Kingly Rule. Indeed the condemnation of the Pharisees lay in the fact that they themselves did not enter under the Kingly Rule of God, while at the same time they prevented others from entering, by this means ‘shutting up the Kingly Rule of Heaven from men’ (Matthew 23:13).

Thus while there may not be agreement on the interpretation of all the passages mentioned, they are sufficient to establish that the Kingly Rule of God could be entered and experienced under the ministry of Jesus. It was not just something for the future. They could already experience ‘eternal life’, the life of the age to come (John 5:24).

2). The Kingly Rule of God Continued And Was Confirmed When Jesus Was Glorified And Received All Authority in Heaven and Earth.

This aspect of His Kingly Rule clearly follows on from the previous one and much of what is written there applies here also. But the situation is now crystallised and the proclamation of Jesus as King and Lord is more strident. A clear reference to Jesus as receiving authority and power through His resurrection is made in Matthew 28:18; Acts 2:36; Luke 19:12, and we are probably to see this as tying in with the crowning of the Son of Man in Daniel 7:13-14, which spoke of the Son of Man coming to receive His Kingly Rule, which partly lay behind Jesus referring to Himself as the Son of Man (Luke 22:69; Matthew 26:64; Matthew 16:28).

It is this Kingly Rule that Acts is seeking to present. Acts is calling men to respond to the risen and glorified Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36) and enter under the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 1:3; Acts 8:12; Acts 19:8; Acts 20:25; Acts 28:23; Acts 28:31). It is a Kingly Rule into which all Christians are transferred (Colossians 1:13). And as Paul could further say, ‘The Kingly Rule of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 14:17). ‘The Kingly Rule of God is not in word but in power’ (1 Corinthians 4:20), bringing men to salvation through the preaching of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18).

The Good News of this Kingly Rule of God had to be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations, before the end could come (Matthew 24:14; Acts 1:8). Compare Mark 13:10 where it is called ‘the Gospel’, and Luke 24:47 where it is called ‘repentance and remission of sins -- preached in His name’. These differing references stress what the content is of the preaching of the Kingly Rule of God. Then at the end those who were His would enter the everlasting Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 25:34), inheriting eternal life (Matthew 25:46).

3). The Everlasting Kingly Rule Of God When His Own Have Been Made Perfect Is Yet Future For Those Who Are His.

This third aspect of the Kingly Rule of God occurs throughout the New Testament. When the Son of Man comes in His glory (Matthew 25:31) the whole world will be judged and His people will ‘inherit the Kingly Rule which was given them from the foundation of the world’ (Matthew 25:34), and ‘will go away into eternal life’ (Matthew 25:46) rather than going into everlasting punishment (Matthew 25:31-46). The coming of this Kingly Rule will be prepared for by the signs of the end (Luke 21:31). It is then that men will weep and gnash their teeth because they will see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the prophets entering it, together with people from all parts of the world, while they themselves are cast out (Luke 13:28-29; Matthew 8:11). And then will the righteous shine forth as the sun within the Kingly Rule of their Father (Matthew 13:43).

This expectation of the future Kingly Rule of God (‘His heavenly Kingdom’) is prominent in the letters of Paul. Flesh and blood will not inherit it (1 Corinthians 15:50) nor will those who live openly sinful lives. See 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Corinthians 15:24; 1 Corinthians 15:50; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Thessalonians 4:1, 18; see also James 2:5; 2 Peter 1:11. Putting all this in the words of Jesus in John, they could receive eternal life now (John 3:15; John 5:24; John 10:28; 1 John 5:13) and then enjoy it later to its fullest degree in Heaven (Matthew 25:46; Titus 1:2).

It should be noted that Matthew regularly uses the idea of the Kingly Rule of Heaven where Mark and Luke speak of the Kingly Rule of God. The ideas are thus almost synonymous. But Matthew also five times uses the phrase ‘the Kingly Rule of God’.

· ‘Seek first the Kingly Rule of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you’ (Matthew 6:33).

· ‘But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the Kingly Rule of God is come to you’ (Matthew 12:28).

· ‘’And again I say to you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingly Rule of God (Matthew 19:24).

· ‘Which of those two did the will of his father? They say to him, The first. Jesus says to them, Truly I say to you, That the public servants and prostitutes (who believed) go into the Kingly Rule of God before you’ (Matthew 21:31).

· Therefore say I to you, The Kingly Rule of God will be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth its fruits (Matthew 21:43).

It will be noted that each time it refers to its presence among them and to the fact that men can enter it in this life (although the Kingly Rule of Heaven is used for that idea as well, e.g. Matthew 11:12 and often). The thought is thus on the present Kingly Rule of God rather than the future. The future Kingly Rule of God is, in Matthew always called the Kingly Rule of Heaven.

Questions and Problems in Acts.

1. In Matthew 27:3-5 it says that Judas returned the money he was given for betraying Jesus, yet in Acts 1:8, it specifically states that he bought a field with the "reward he got for his wickedness". How is this to be reconciled?

When a man had entered into a contract from which he wanted to withdraw for conscience sake and the other party refused to accept the money back, the means he could use was to take it to the Temple and officially offer it there. This is what Judas did. However Judas money was not acceptable to the Temple because it was blood money. It could not be taken into the Temple treasury. So it remained Judas' money and was used for assisting Gentiles (Jews could not be helped with blood money) on the giver's behalf. Thus Judas' money was used to obtain the potter's field to bury strangers in, and in essence Judas obtained the field

2. In Acts 1:20 Peter's use of the Psalms seems misleading and inaccurate. He changes Psalms 69:25 which refers to several enemies of David (may their place be deserted" to "may his place be deserted") so that the Psalm now applies to Judas. Again in Psalms 109:8 David is cursing a particular enemy, yet Peter quotes it as if David were prophesying about Judas. Is Peter not here taking both Psalms out of context to apply to a contemporary situation, and in the case of the first quote, deliberately altering the word? In Acts 2, in his first post-Pentecost speech, Peter again changes some words from the Scripture. In this case it is Joel's prophecy about the pouring out of the Spirit (e.g. "in the last days" - just one example) . I remember also reading a passage where Paul did the same thing, and I know that Matthew did several times. My concern is that if a piece of scripture is truly prophetic, why then do its words need to be altered at all? Wouldn't what it is saying be totally apparent when it is being fulfilled?

Firstly we must remember that prophecy in Scripture is not intended to be a forecasting of specific events in the future, although that sometimes necessarily comes into it. Its purpose is to enable those living in the present to be aware of trends of what God is going to do, and how He will finally bring all to fulfilment. Thus each ‘prophecy’ may have several partial fulfilments. Psalms 69 is a psalm of the Davidic house. It describes the suffering of a member of that house, and would be applied to one 'David' after another in succession. (See 1 Kings 12:16). That was why the psalms continued to be sung. They applied anew to each generation. They had continuing contexts.

There were apparently many who caused suffering to the house of David and suffered this fate, for God’s purposes were to be fulfilled through that house. Peter applies it to the greatest of the house of David and to His enemy and demonstrates that there was One especially here who fulfilled part of it to the letter. Often we take John 3:16 and apply it individually. 'God so loved Jim Bloggs that He gave His only begotten Son so that if Jim Bloggs should believe in Him --- he should have everlasting life.' Is that then wrong? Is it misrepresenting Scripture? Surely not, for Jim Bloggs is a part of the world. That is what Peter did here. He points out that of the persecutors of the house of David here was one, among many, who caused suffering to a member of the house of David in this way. If it was to happen with many, it would happen too to individual cases. And Judas was one example of it. Thus the ‘prophecy’ is being fulfilled.

The same principle applies to Psalms 109. A psalm of the Davidic house applied to each generation and finally applied to Jesus as the greater David. Peter was taking it right in context for Jesus summed up the house of David. For illumination and explanation it is justifiable to take the words of Scripture and apply them in this way on an ad hoc basis as long as we do not change the sense. Here the sense remains the same. It speaks of a member of the house of David, His sufferings, and the consequences of persecuting Him for He was God’s anointed. This was applying Scriptural principles to specific cases.

We must beware of laying down rules for how New Testament writers should have used Scripture. As we all are, they were free to use them as they saw fit as long as the result was Scriptural truth. Some preachers today quote exactly, others paraphrase in order to make the point more clear. That cannot be faulted as long as the sense remains unchanged. It does not mean that they do not see them as Scripture or as prophecy. They are rather making clear the sense.

Furthermore we must note that most of the early church only ever used translations (as we do). The original was in Hebrew, but the New Testament writers used Greek. In fact they often used the Septuagint, a Greek Old Testament translation. Just as we have varying translations, so had they in Greek. LXX was not the only one. Thus we often cannot be sure whether they themselves are translating or are using a version. They might even have been using an anthology of favourite verses. Not many had access to full manuscripts. Someone today might use AV, RV, ASV, RSV, NEB, NIV and so on. We would see it in each case as 'quoting Scripture' and say 'it is written'. It is only if we had grounds for thinking that it was a mistranslation that we would not do so.

But it goes deeper than that. Many prophecies had a near and a far meaning, and none more so than the Psalms. They looked to the future working of God. The Psalms 'to/for David' especially so. Sometimes that heading refers to David's authorship, at other times it is referring as a dedication to a psalm included in the Davidic collection because connected with the house of David. But they were seen as referring to 'the anointed king'. Each crowned son of David was an ‘anointed’ (Hebrew : messiach) king, was a new ‘David’ (1 Kings 12:16). These Davidic psalms could thus be used through the generations as applying to each anointed king. When the One came who summed up the anointed kingship, the Messiah, it would especially apply to Him. This is clear from a number of Psalms.

This was the nature of much prophecy. Prophecy was intended to bless each generation as well as the final generation in which it was finally fulfilled. It described the principles according to which God worked as well as His final plan. Prophecies spoke of the trend of history. So yes the principles were often applied to a like situation without it being seen as an exact prophecy. And yes some were exact prophecies. Which was intended must be gathered from the context. Of the Psalms quoted in Acts 1 it can be said that they were both. Peter could have used the plural had he wanted to because the Psalm was fulfilled in the plural. Many had combined to bring about Jesus' downfall. But he chose not to. He wanted all specifically to see a partial fulfilment in Judas. Judas did not alone fulfil the prophecy for others were involved as well. But he was a genuine part of its fulfilment.

The same might be said of Acts 2. The quotation from Joel is an interpretive translation, an 'amplified version'. Peter was speaking to those who may not have been sure of the context (which was the last days) and so he brings out that 'afterwards' means 'the last days'. For they all saw the coming of Jesus as introducing 'the last days'. The coming of Jesus was the final stage in the fulfilling of God’s purposes. (It still is). And he wanted those listeners who did not know Joel very well to jump straight into the context

3. Why was it necessary to appoint a 12th apostle? (Acts 1:26). Weren't the other disciples required to evangelise just as much as the apostles? When one of the apostles died, why weren't they replaced so there were always 12 of them?

We are not told why the Apostles felt it necessary to make up the twelve by appointing Matthias. Probably it was partly because they saw the Apostles appointed by Jesus Himself as representing the twelve tribes of Israel and considered that twelve would be needed to act on God’s behalf (Matthew 19:28). They were the beginning of God’s new twelve tribes. On them Jesus would build His new ‘congregation (church) of the new Israel. It was an act of faith declaring their confidence in the future and looking forward to that day. They were delcaring in faith that the purposes of Jesus were to carry on in accordance with what He had said. Considering the depths of despair they had been in it demonstrated how the resurrection of Jesus had altered their whole horizon. Life had begun again! It must be remembered that they did see the early church as the new Israel (Galatians 3:29; Galatians 6:16; Romans 11:12-26; Ephesians 2:11-22; 1 Peter 1:1).

The Apostles would also see the making up of the twelve as filling a dark hole and blotting out remembrance of Judas. With only eleven there would be a constant reminder of Judas. Thus to them it was the sensible thing to do. Later they recognised that Jesus had more than twelve Apostles including James, the brother of Jesus, Paul and Barnabas. It may be that James the Lord's brother was seen as replacing James on his martyrdom, but that is only guesswork. By the time the others died no one active fulfilled the requirements of being eyewitnesses of Jesus.

It should be noted that the fact that the writer gives so much space to describing the event without any suggestion of disapproval suggests that he approved of it and considered it an important part of what was to follow. It indicated that the witness was again made full and complete. Only those who take literally Jesus’ words about sitting on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (which really meant having authority over the people of God) really have any problem with it. Jesus also of course said that to sit on His right and left was for those for whom God ordained it. But these were pictures of a greater reality.

4. Why did the Apostles use lots to make their choice (Acts 1:26). I know that the High Priest had the Urim and Thummim to make decisions, but the Apostles had the Spirit of God in them (John 20:22), even before Pentecost. Wasn't the Spirit their guide? Since they had the Spirit, prayed and still cast lots, is that method also viable for us, if we want to know God's will?

Note in the choosing that the choice was made first on other grounds, selecting according to suitability under God's guidance until they came down to the last two. But they wanted to ensure that God made the final choice from the final two, so they drew lots in line with Psalm 16:33, and also possibly on the basis of Urim and Thummim which also chose beteen two. That had been the ancient way of finding God’s will. No doubt they felt that they were directed to use this method and did so with much prayer. If so they recognised that they had replaced the High Priesthood as God’s authority, for only the High Priest was authorised to use Urim and Thummim. It is not however something to be recommended in general although might be used with much prayer of a final choice where nothing separates two final choices and someone does not feel spiritually able to make the choice, and possibly in order to counter accusations of favouritism. There is no suggestion that the result was anything but sound.

5. In Acts 3:18, Peter says that the 'ALL' the prophets foretold that the Christ would suffer. I know of Isaiah 53 which talks of the suffering servant, but am not aware of where all the other prophets say similar things. Do you know the references that Peter had in mind when he made this statement? When Peter said 'all the prophets' foretold that the Christ would suffer did he literally believe this? I can see how he could claim that all the prophets point to Christ, but that they all specifically claim that the Christ would suffer is difficult to accept.

The probability is that by 'all the prophets' (compare Luke 24:27) we have a technical term by which ‘the prophets’ from Joshua (these early books which we consider historical were called the ‘former prophets’) through to Malach1 (excluding basically 1 Chronicles to Song of Solomon) were known. Thus by 'all the prophets' he is really using a term meaning ‘the prophets in general’. We must not stress the ALL except as a generalisation. He could hardly be expected in a brief speech to pick out the individual prophets whom he thought specifically proclaimed Christ's suffering. We would put it, 'in the prophetic books they taught that Christ would suffer, and none of the prophets taught otherwise’.

This could have been said even with but a few references and both Isaiah and Zechariah especially are very clear on it, as were certain Davidic Psalms (also seen as prophetic). But there is also no question that by this time all the sacrifices described in the Old Testament were seen as foretelling Christ's suffering. 'Behold the Lamb of God' (John 1:29) comes as early as John 1. Jesus had come as the supreme sacrifice. So Peter who heard those words had come to see in the sacrifices a clear portrayal of what Jesus would suffer from the beginning, even though John's words had not come home fully until after the crucifixion. Jesus was Passover lamb, burnt offering and sin offering, all rolled into one. Thus every mention of these is a portrayal of His suffering. So Peter in his new found understanding would have seen Christ's suffering as portrayed wherever the sacrifices are mentioned, and such mention is regular in almost all the prophets. The result would be that he saw Christ's suffering everywhere.

We must not judge Peter from the standpoint of a modern scholar. To him in the newness of the resurrection he was no doubt filled with wonder that the whole of the Old Testament had pictured Christ's suffering in this way. His eyes had been opened. It sprang out from everywhere. The whole Old Testament declared His suffering. It was no longer a handbook of ritual but a vivid declaration of Christ's sacrifice of Himself. It was sufficient to make him recognise even at this early stage that Christ's death was predetermined (Acts 2:23).

6. No doubt you would have been asked many questions about the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11. I've read several explanations for their instant deaths and they mostly make sense. However what doesn't make sense is why they were punished instantly for lying to God and the Church and other Christians who have done or do the same thing are more fortunate. Were the other members of the early church sinless? If the point of the punishment was to scare people into not sinning, it could never work because we all sin.

Also how does the treatment of Ananias and Sapphira fit with the Christian teaching that God is forgiving, and nothing can separate us from his love. Every single day I sin against the Lord, and yet he forgives me when I ask. I deserve the same fate as Ananias and Sapphira, yet God is merciful to me. Why me and not them? Weren't they Christians? Are they saved?

The answer has to be found in the occasion on which it happened. There have been crucial times in history when the Spirit of God has been so active on earth that special measures were called for in order that the work might be continued. Lessons had to be taught. What God was forbearing of at other times He punished severely on these special occasions. The sons of Aaron were one example whan they offered strange fire at the altar (Leviticus 10:1-2). Another example was Achan in Joshua 7 at the time of entry into the land. The great revivals were another. Men were smitten in the Welsh Revial when they blasphemed against God, when at other times they were not. This example in Acts is another. This was no ordinary time or atmosphere. Here was a time when great power was at work. The Spirit was mightily active in an unusual way. God's presence was vividly known. Men knew the presence of God in an unusual way. And here were a man and woman who deliberately set out to deceive the church and God as to their way of life. They were professing the total surrender of all in the service of God. It was no ordinary sin. It was a deliberate attempt to gain credit for what they were not. It was deliberately thought out and acted out. They put on a pretence of total sacrifice, of offering all. They did not need to give all, they could have kept some back for themselves and been honoured for what they gave. But they wanted the extreme honour of being known as those who gave all, without actually doing so. And they did it in a highly charged revival situation when God was there in an unusual way. They came into the presence of God, vividly experienced, and lied to God. We must recognise that God alone knew what the consequences would have been for the revival if it had not been instantly dealt with. Such sin could have stopped the revival in its tracks. Furthermore in the highly charged religious atmosphere at the time it is quite probable humanly speaking that the exposure was so traumatic that Ananias’ body could not stand it and gave out. It may well be that the great fear that he felt caused his heart to give way. But his death brought fear on all and a recognition of the holiness of the God with Whom we have to do. Ask not why God smote him. Ask rather why He does not smite us who are so dilatory and often dishonest in His service, who pray so little and keep so much for ourselves. It was a warning that we must not presume on love. Were they saved? We do not know. Nothing is said about the eternal consequences of their action. But it was a great lesson for the early church at a crucial time that they must not pretend with God, that all must be open and true. It kept the forward movement of those early days very much alive

7. In Acts 5:32 the Apostles say that the God gives the Holy Spirit to those who OBEY him. What did they mean by this? I thought the Holy Spirit was given unconditionally to those whom God chose.

The point you bring out is an important one and brings out the lack in the modern church's doctrine. As far as the Apostles were concerned to be a believer was to obey. The one went with the other. No new convert in those days would have spoken of believing but not obeying, nor questioned the requirement. True faith obeys. Not for them 'first I take Jesus as Saviour, and then I will consider taking Him as Lord'. What an insult to God. On conversion He became their Lord Jesus Christ. There is of course a growth in recognition of what that Lordship involves. The new young believer did not appreciate all that that Lordship might involve, but he did not deny the requirement. The fact of it would not have been denied.

Jesus Himself said, "Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?" And his parable of the building on rock and sand in Matthew 7 was based on those who heard His words and did them, and those who did not. (Those who take the teaching of Jesus and say it does not apply to the church will have to give account for it in the day of judgment. The whole of the early church's teaching was based on the teaching of Jesus and the need to obey it). He assumed that to follow Him was to follow Him as Lord as well as Saviour. Of course one of the problems of being brought up in a 'Christian' country is that these distinctions come in because so many are brought up to know the Christian faith without actually being true Christians, while thinking that they are. And others who are converted very young at some stage recognise the need for a deeper commitment. But give me the man who says, 'Jesus is not my Lord, I do not need to obey Him' and I will show you a man who is not a Christian.

8. In Acts 5:36 my commentary points out an apparent anachronism about the character Theudas. Apparently Josephus also mentions Theudas. However Josephus dates Theudas activities after the events described in Acts 5, meaning that Gamaliel could not have said these words. Do you know anything about this?

As I am sure that you are aware one of the problems of history is the wrong identification of people because they bore the name of someone more famous (how easily we can mix up the Constantines, and we are in general more careful to identify people more specifically). This could especially arise because of the tendency to name children or grandchildren after their fathers/grandfathers, thus perpetuating a name. As you say, according to Josephus there was a Theudas who led a group of people towards the Jordan saying that it would open in front of him. They were attacked by cavalry and he was slain. But from the time of Herod the Great onwards Palestine was a hotbed of rebellions, outbursts, insurgencies, risings and so on. That was why as a small country they still had a procurator, and why a military man was always posted to rule there. It was infamous for its constant troubles and small risings, even in a world of trouble. Thus Gamaliel tells us of another Theudas who also rose with a band of four hundred men and had to be squashed. There were many Theudas's (it was a fairly common name. You may think it unusual, a Palestinian of that time would not), and whether one was related to the other we cannot know.

The fact is that we do not have enough information. Josephus' Theudas might have been the grandson of Gamaliel's, carrying on the family tradition. Or they may have been totally unrelated. But apart from the name there is nothing in the descriptions which suggests that we should identify them as one and the same person. And in a country where names were constantly passed on, and about which little in general is known, that would be a very unsafe thing to do. The historian should take each piece of information and hold it in its place until he gathers more information. There were so many small incidents like this in Palestine at that time that simply identifying them on the coincidence of a name in spite of the evidence is to ignore the complicated history of the time. Luke is recognised by historians as a reliable historian. Historians (in contrast with some Bible scholars) look on Luke as a source of reliable information. There is absolutely no reason for suggesting that he and Gamaliel got it wrong. Nor for suggesting that Josephus got it wrong. They are just speaking of different people.

The fact is that if the Theudas of Josephus was in mind Luke would have had to be very careless, no, criminally careless, to have got it wrong for it would have happened in his recent lifetime and would have been widely talked about. Luke just did not make that kind of mistake.

9. There appear to be some apparent discrepancies between the content of Stephen's speech in Acts 7 and the Old Testament. Explanations for this seem to rest on the notion that Stephen quoted from the Septuagint or possibly Samaritan sources. This bothers me a bit because if there is other true information about God not contained in the Old Testament why isn't it in our Bibles too? How could the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint be different and yet both true? If it's acceptable to use other sources apart from the Hebrew Bible how then can I be confident that when I read my Bible that I'm reading the pure word of God?

Before dealing with this question we must first recognise that Stephen's speech raises questions for us of another kind. The first is, how are we to discern what words in the Bible are to be looked on as conveying an inerrant divine message, and what, while an inspired record of what was actually said, are not directly conveying such a divine message? Take for example the book of Job. In the book of Job we have chapter after chapter of human speech. The Book of Job is inspired Scripture, but we are specifically told towards the end that what the three friends said was untrue (and it was God Who said so - Job 42:7). We see from this that while Job was an inspired record of what was said, the actual words spoken were not in themselves an inerrant divine message. We cannot, for example, turn to a speech of Eliphaz, or Bildad, or Zophar, and say with any confidence 'the Bible says' any more than we can turn to the words of Satan and say 'the Bible says'. They were not authoritative words of Scripture. They are a part of the inspired Scriptures which accurately tell us what false message these people spoke, but their words are not necessarily to be accepted as conveying divine truth (Job 42:7). That is why the Book of Job is a favourite haunt for heretics.

We too must be discerning when we read Job. Suddenly, once we think about it, a lot of the words in Job cease to be acceptable authenticated truth simply because we wake up to the context. They were rather the opinions of men who were wrong. When reading Scripture we must use our brains and be discerning. Thus when quoting a verse in Job (or anywhere) we must always ask, ‘Who said it?’

Now in those cases the situation is obvious. But at what point can we say of someone's spoken words, 'this is the divine message?' Can we say of every 'goodie' that he is conveying a divine message, and of every 'baddie' that he is not? Clearly not, for that would then mean that we have to determine who is a 'goodie'. And what of the times when a 'goodie' is behaving like a 'baddie'? Even Job was said to have spoken wrongly about God (Job 38:2; Job 40:2-5; Job 40:8).

In those first days in Acts we can turn to the words of the Apostles and say, 'this is the fulfilment of Jesus’ words that they would know all truth' when they spoke by the Spirit. Thus when Peter or John or Paul speak officially and are cited the readers were probably intended to see their words as divine Scripture. They had been given a unique divine gift in the Upper Room (or in Paul's case when he was set aside as an Apostle). But there is no reason why this should be seen as applying to others like Stephen when they were defending themselves.

You will in fact note that Luke makes no comment such as to the fact that 'Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, said'. There are no words of Scripture authenticating the words which Stephen uses in his defence as inspired Scripture (even though earlier they could not withstand the wisdom and Spirit by which he spoke - Acts 6:10). It is simply that we like and admire Stephen and therefore just assume it. But we should not do so. We must rightly divide the word of God. His words are cited because their gist was true, and because it was what he said. It is true that the Holy Spirit promised to guide God’s servants in such circumcstances, as he would us, but that does not make the words ‘verbally inspired’.

The truth is that Acts 7 is to be seen as an accurate record of Stephen's defence before the court. That God was with him there can be no doubt. That God was inspiring him to a certain extent, as He promised to inspire all Christians in such circumstances, we can have no doubt. But that is a very different thing from saying that it was inerrant Scripture. It was only of the Apostles that the promise was given of special understanding and inspiration, of divine accuracy of thought and words.

God inspires many people today at certain times, but we are foolish if we say that their words are inspired Scripture, however godly they may be. I may today sit and listen to an inspired preacher give an inspired message, but that does not mean that I accept all that he says as God's inspired Scripture. Often I disagree with him on something. I separate the good from the not so good.

So Stephen, helped by God, gives an impassioned speech, but he speaks extempore from memory and may have had lapses of memory, or even have cited from records that his listeners would accept, or from his own slightly wrong ideas (even godly men get wrong ideas). Should Luke have corrected his mistakes? That would not be good history. But Luke is careful not to give divine authentification to all that he said. He cites his general words approvingly and gives the stamp of his approval to the gist of what he says, but he does not convey the idea that it is inspired Scripture (except in the sense that it is a true record of what Stephen said). Citation of someone's words as speech in Scripture does not authenticate the divine truth of what was said, only of the divine truth that it was said. It is then to be judged as anyone else's speech is to be judged. The background is inerrant Scripture, the words of Stephen are not, they are an inerrant summary of what he said. So we cannot use Stephen's words as a test case for Scripture.

Now let us look at the second part of the question.'This bothers me a bit because if there is other true information about God not contained in the Old Testament then why isn't it in our Bibles too? How could the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint be different and yet both true? If it's acceptable to use other sources apart from the Hebrew Bible how then can I be confident that when I read my Bible I am reading the pure word of God?'

Clearly there is a great deal of true information about God not contained in the Old Testament. Even in the days of the personal computer no computer could contain all the truth about God ever spoken. The point, however, is that the Scriptures do contain the authenticated truth about God by which all other truth must be judged. When we go to the Scriptures and rightly divide it we know we have the authenticated truth (in the end authenticated by Jesus). Then we can test other truth by it.

How could the Hebrew Bible and the LXX be different and both true? It depends on what you mean by true. If you mean finally Scripturally authenticated then of course they are not both necessarily 'authenticated truth'. Jesus’ words about the authenticity of Scripture applied to the original Hebrew text. Nevertheless they can both be true in a general sense unless they directly contradict each other. It is at that point that we have to ask which conveys authenticated truth.

The LXX is a translation, sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes a paraphrase, sometimes even changed to suit particular views. But it has blessed many. No translation is authenticated truth. In the end for authenticated truth we have to go back to the original. But that does not mean that we cannot read the KJV, the ASV, the RSV, the TEV, the NIV, the LXX and so on and in general say, 'this is Scripture'. What it does is remind us that none of these versions are the last word on the subject and that we have to assess how accurate they are. If we want to know how reliable they are we have to go behind them.

The authenticated truth is found in the original. But Scripture is such that a translation can be fairly inaccurate but still better than nothing, and can convey much truth, because in the end Scriptural truth does not depend on nuances of a word but on the whole picture. Many Christians have been blessed by translations which were far from accurate, for God can overrule. But they are only God's authenticated truth where they are absolutely accurate .

If it is acceptable to use other sources apart from the Hebrew Bible how then can I be confident that when I read my Bible that I'm reading the pure word of God?

It is certainly acceptable to use other sources apart from the Hebrew Bible as long as we recognise them for what they are. We are doing so when we use a commentary. What we must not do is see them as authenticated inspired truth. Every commentary will disagree with every other commentary. It is to the Hebrew/Aramaic (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) texts that we must finally go for that, and then we have to decide how reliable even those are and try to get back to the original text.

We are fortunate in that we have many Greek texts of the New Testament from many different sources, which enable us to get a very accurate picture of the original. And in the Old Testament we have a text which was preserved in the Temple archives and is therefore very reliable. So we are in the happy position of being able to be choosey. Many throughout history have not been able to be so choosey. They had to make do with what they were able to get hold of. However, in the end Scripture, like all else, is God's tool. And God can use any tool He likes. He is unlimited in what He can do.

Stephens’ speech.

Now we come to Stephen's speech which is interesting as an example of the views that first century Hellenised Christian readers of Scripture had in the light of the background of teaching that they had received. Like us their views were not always accurate. They depended on 'scholars' and scholars are not always reliable. They are fallible like the rest of us. But as we consider his words we must remember that they were his words as recorded by an inspired writer, not in themselves necessarily words of Scriptural truth. They were an impassioned defence before a court. And one thing we must recognise. While we may pick holes in Stephen’s statements there was no doubt in the minds of his hearers. He was only stating what they themselves believed.

One of the reasons, however, for recording them in such detail was because the gist of what he said was seen as true. The general message he conveyed showed the new way in which the early church were looking at things, guided by God. Thus the speech was included in the narrative. But his speech is not in its content 'Scripture'. It is Scripture telling us what he said. Nevertheless we must assume that he had some basis for his words. We must not just dismiss them because they puzzle us. We must give them fair treatment. With this in mind let us consider questions that may arise.

1. In verse.3 Stephen says that Abraham was called to leave Mesopotamia and go to Canaan before he lived in Haran (v. 2), but in Genesis 12:1 the call to Abram comes once he is in Haran.

We should note that in Genesis the first original aim of Terah is stated to have been to go from Ur to Canaan (Genesis 11:31). Thus in Genesis as well as in Acts the impetus to go to Canaan is seen as beginning in Ur. Genesis 12:1 then refers the movement to Canaan to God’s command. We (and Stephen) could thus well be justified in translating Genesis 12:1 as ‘and God had said’ (the Hebrew ‘perfect’ or ‘definite tense’ can signify English perfect or pluperfect. It merely states that it happened not when it happened). This could then indicate that God’s call came at Ur as Stephen said.

Indeed we are probably intended to see that God’s call to Canaan can be seen as having arisen in both Ur and then, as a result of delay, in Haran. God’s overriding pressure can probably be seen as continuous. What Genesis is emphasising is that the call came from God, not when it came. This is what Stephen also sees, and he reads back the call to Ur, as Genesis 11:31 suggests. But whatever is true about that, both occasions were certainly seen by Scripture as indicating God’s intention for Abraham, with God being seen as behind what happened. Nor incidentally did Stephen say that he was citing Scripture. Whether Stephen was quoting a specific source or just stating a generally accepted view we do not know. Furthermore Josephus and Philo both convey the same idea as he does, so that it was clearly a generally accepted view. And it was no doubt a right one for Who but God started the impetus? If He wanted Abraham in Canaan clearly He must have been behind the move from Ur to Haran, (which was on the route), as well as the move from Haran to Canaan.

2. In verse 4 Stephen says that Abraham left Haran for Canaan after his father's death. In Genesis 11:32 it says that Terah was 205 years old when he died. Abram was born when Terah was 70 (Acts 11:26). This means that Abram was 145 years old when he left Haran according to Stephen, but Genesis 12:4 says that Abraham was 75 years old when he left Haran.

The first question must be as to how far these numbers were intended to be taken strictly (note that they are all round numbers) and how far simply symbolically. Some numbers in Genesis 1-11 are almost certainly symbolic. We can cite the 365 for Enoch (number of days in the year indicating his heavenly character) and the 777 for Lamech (three sevens indicating threefold perfection in contrast with the 77 used of the Cainite Lamech), to say nothing of the 900 for Noah (threefold completeness - 3x3x100). They indicate the character of the persons, and the nature of their lives, rather than their ages. Note how many of the ages of the patriarchs end in nought or five. They were not intended to be exact. They told a story.

In the same way ‘Seventy’ is a typically symbolic number indicating divine perfection (seven intensified). Note how in Genesis 46:27 there were ‘seventy’ with their households who ‘came into Egypt’ from Canaan (the divinely perfect number). But a careful examination of the passage indicates that that number is reached by including a number of people who did not leave Canaan in the Jacob’s party. It includes for example Joseph’s sons who were born in Egypt. This was not an error, it was deliberate. Nor was it deceitful for it is clearly stated. Every reader of that day would recognise the reason for it. It was in order to show that the whole of Israel who now dwelt in Egypt were a ‘divinely perfect number’. Genesis 11:26 is probably saying that Terah had his children at the divinely perfect time because they included Abraham. But it is very doubtful if the three were triplets. Thus if anyone was born at seventy it would have been the firstborn. Abram need not have been the firstborn. He is mentioned first because of his subsequent importance. It was possibly Haran, who died ‘early’, who was the firstborn. Or even more likely Nahor who bore his grandfather’s name. So we do not really know for sure how old Terah was when Abram was born.

Furthermore ‘Two hundred’ may have been indicating that Terah had died prematurely, not attaining a complete ‘three hundred’ (two regularly indicates ‘a few’, signifying coming short of the completeness of ‘three’ which could mean ‘many’. Compare how Saul reigned for ‘two years’ signifying a fairly long reign but not a very long one - 1 Samuel 13:1. And see the widow who sought for ‘two’ sticks, meaning ‘a few’ (1 Kings 17:12). The additional ‘five’ would then hint at living just a little more than ‘two hundred’ or at covenant connection (the movement had been at God’s command). Abraham’s ‘seventy five’ may also have been indicating divine perfection with covenant connection (70+5) in a similar way. Abraham left in the divinely perfect time in accordance with the covenant. Thus Stephen may have recognised that the numbers were symbolic and have ignored them for practical purposes for this reason, taking the general sense of the passage which, in line with Jewish tradition, certainly gives the impression that Abraham left after the death of Terah (Josephus and Philo both agree with him).

The next point is as to the meaning in Stephen’s mind of ‘removing from Haran’. Was Stephen (and the Jews generally) intending by this phrase a permanent leaving of Haran as the family centre once his father was dead and the setting up of a new family centre in Canaan, as opposed to his first ‘temporary’ movement to Canaan to find pasture for his flocks and herds while his father was alive? It is quite possible. The idea being that while his father was still alive, he would still look on Haran as the family ‘home’ even when wandering in Canaan (as Canaan was always ‘home’ to Jacob even when he lived at Paddan-aram)? Loyalty to the family may well have been seen by the Jews as binding him to seeing Haran as ‘home’ (as with Moses wandering near the mountain of God, while still seeing the camp of Midian as ‘home’) even though for the sake of his flocks he had wandered farther afield into Canaan. Later observers may well thus have considered that it was only once his father was dead that the movement could be seen as permanent, and as being ‘coming home’. Certainly close contact was kept with his family in Haran as is evidenced by the knowledge of the family history (Genesis 22:20-24), and Jacob’s welcome there. In those days it was quite common for semi-nomads to be ‘living’ far from home while still attached to ‘home’ (compare Genesis 37:12; Genesis 37:17)

All in all we must beware of simply saying that ‘the writer was wrong’ or that he was citing a tradition that was wrong. Viewpoint must be taken into account. And all the above explanations are possible.

3. In verse 14 Stephen says that Jacob's family were 75 in all, but in Genesis 46:27 it says they were 70.

The numbering of Jacob’s family on their move to Canaan is a clear example of the artificial and symbolic use of numbers. The number in Genesis 46:27 is clearly deliberately and overtly contrived by including sufficient relatives to make up the final ‘perfect’ number. The point being made is not actually the number who moved but the divine perfection of the constituents of the party moving to Egypt who in fact probably numbered, with wives and servants (their ‘households’), a few thousand. Tacking the five on (seventy five is found in LXX) thus simply stressed their connection with the covenant. It would not be seen by the ancients as signifying a greater number overall than the artificial ‘seventy’. It just conveyed a further message of covenant connection, which may have been why LXX used it.

4. In verse16 Stephen says that Abraham bought the tomb at Shechem where Jacob and his sons were buried, but in Genesis 33:18-19 it says that Jacob purchased that tomb. Furthermore in Genesis 23:16-20 it says that Abraham bought a burial place near Hebron. As far as I know only Joseph was buried at Shechem, but Jacob was buried in the tomb that Abraham bought near Hebron (Genesis 49:29-30). I don't know where the other sons were buried.

We must remember here that Stephen is trying to abbreviate a very complicated situation. We must firstly recognise that in Jewish eyes Jacob came from the loins of Abraham so that what Jacob did could be seen as having been done by Abraham. He could mean that Abraham bought the land ‘in Jacob’. This was a typically ancient way of thinking. Thus when Jacob bought a tomb it was also being bought by ‘Abraham’. No one listening would have questioned that for a moment, and it had the advantage of bringing in to his argument the revered name of Abraham.

With respect to the actual burying he did not say that Jacob was buried at Shechem. He said that ‘they’ were. True he was previously speaking of Jacob and the twelve patriarchs (our fathers) but if the majority of the latter were buried at Shechem, and the Jews presumably believed they were, the statement can be seen as generally true (it was not the time or place for going into detail as to who were buried where in detail. He was simply conveying a total picture to people who already knew the facts).

5. What does Stephen mean in verse 53 where he said that the "law was put into effect through angels"?

Strictly speaking he said that ‘the Law was ordained by angels’. It was in fact the general Jewish view in the time of Stephen that the law was mediated to Moses through the hand of angels (compare Galatians 3:19). God Himself was seen as so holy that intermediaries were considered as necessary. Stephen was thus simply stating the accepted view. As we can have no idea as to what happened when Moses was with God in Sinai in the cloud we can neither say whether it was true or false. The idea was partly based on Deuteronomy 33:2-3. But all who listened to Stephen would have accepted it as fact.

10. The questions below are based on Acts 8:15-24

How do you explain the situation in vs.16 where people were baptised but had not received the Holy Spirit. Were they genuine converts? If they were, how could they have believed without first receiving the Spirit? Also how do you think Peter and John could actually tell that they had not received the Holy Spirit. Apart from faith in Christ, the only way I could tell if someone had the Holy Spirit was if they demonstrated charismatic gifts as well as profess faith in Christ. What were the apostles looking for? Finally why is Peter uncertain whether God will forgive Simon if he repents (verse 22). Doesn't God always forgive a genuinely penitent sinner? I also found it interesting that Simon got the chance to repent unlike Ananias. What is the difference between the two cases?

In those early heady days of the first coming in profusion of the Holy Spirit it is clear that His coming was usually manifested in signs, whether of prophecy, tongues (Acts 10:46) or an effusion of divine joy (Acts 13:52), or other similar phenomena. We note that Simon 'saw' that the Holy Spirit was given. It was a time of many signs. Miracles were occurring everywhere. (It is a sign of the soberness of the records that while this is made clear no emphasis is laid on it). Philip healed widely and extensively and cast out evil spirits (Acts 8:7). And he preached Christ. The Samaritans believed concerning the Kingly Rule of God and the name of Jesus Christ and were baptised. Why then was there no manifestation at that point of the Holy Spirit's coming? We need not doubt that they were born again of the Spirit as the earlier Samaritans had been in John 4. But the actual manifestation awaited the Apostles.

Philip seems to have been a man before his time. He preached to Samaritans, and he later preached to the Ethiopian eunuch. And he is the only one mentioned as doing so. But it is doubtful whether many other Jewish Christians were approving of his actions. They would not be happy with Philip, and they would be doubtful of these so-called converts. The Samaritans were still looked on as not really Jews, but as second class religionists, barely tolerable. And while the Ethiopian eunuch was a God-fearer he was certainly a Gentile. Great barriers still had to be broken down in men's minds (although not in Philip's). Furthermore God was concerned for the unity of His people. He did not want separate 'Philipite churches' being established who owed nothing to the Apostles. It was important that the church was seen as one with the Apostles at the head.

Thus to these great events the Apostles were called. Many (who knew nothing of the John 4 incident at this stage) possibly expected Peter and the others to come down heavily on Philip. But when Peter and John came they remembered how Jesus Himself had laid his seal on the conversion of Samaritans. Thus they were willing to welcome Samaritans into the Jewish Christian fold (but not at this stage Gentiles, unless they converted to Judaism. That came later as a result of God's direct intervention). So on their arrival they no doubt taught the Samaritans further and then laid hands on them and the coming of the Spirit was manifested in some way (not necessarily tongues otherwise it would surely have been mentioned to justify the reception of Samaritans in the eyes of all). This proved to all that the Samaritans were being welcomed under the Kingly Rule of God by God Himself under the auspices of the Apostles. All knew that there was still one Apostolic church and it consisted of both Jews and Samaritans. At this stage it was vital that the unity of the church be preserved.

Simon was a wonder worker who was converted to Christianity. It is understandable that he wanted to be able to continue wonder-working in his new religion. It is very probable that he had been able to pass on the secrets of his own 'wonder-working' to others in the past who had paid him well. (Religion was often very profitable for those involved at the centre). Thus he took up the same attitude to the Apostles. It was then that he learned how different this new Christianity was. It was concerned with genuine truth not money. So Peter calls on him to repent. Peter's doubt is not as to whether God's forgiveness was open to Simon but as to whether Simon would truly repent. It would seem he was probably just a little suspicious about Simon's conversion which had resulted from seeing wonders greater than his own. But the difference between Simon's sin and that of Ananias was that Simon's was done in ignorance. He did not think that he was doing wrong. Ananias acted knowing that he was deliberately doing wrong and in the midst of powerful working of the Spirit deliberately lied and tried to cheat God. It was a sin with a high hand not one done through ignorance, and in times of great revival such sins are dangerous. (They are dangerous at any time, but thankfully God gives us more time to repent).

11. I've just read the section on the Jerusalem council and have a couple of questions that I hope you can help me with.

1. James quotation of the prophets causes me problems (vs. 16-18). I looked up the reference to Amos 9:11-12 and found that he has not quoted the scripture correctly and has changed it's original meaning. Compare Acts 15:17 to Amos 9:12 - How are these two the same? Also where does Acts 15:18 come from? - my Bible provided no cross reference.

2. What point is James trying to make in verse 21? How does it relate to the previous verses?

3. Given that the Septuagint seems to be quoted more by the New Testament writers than the Massoretic Hebrew Bible (and hence seems to have been held in higher esteem than the early church), why is it that our modern Bibles have the latter as our Old Testament and not the former?

Firstly we must remember that in those days knowing what the Scriptures said was far more difficult than it is today. They could not buy a pocket Bible at the local bookshop, or pop into a local library to check up on various texts. They had to make do with whatever manuscripts were available and they were expensive. Fortunately they could go to a synagogue and find copies of the Scriptures but they were very bulky and not easily available.

As you know, today we have many versions including amplified ones, modernised ones and so on. We accept them as ‘Scripture’ but recognise that they will differ. They had the same situation, but much, much fewer in number. There were of course the basic texts in Hebrew preserved in the Temple and carefully copied by men who already knew the texts off by heart, and these were the texts most carefully preserved and were the basis for the Massoretic text. Then there were a number of other Hebrew texts which differed somewhat, as the Qumran scrolls have evidenced, and some of these were closer to the LXX text. Then there were a number of Greek translations such as LXX and Aquila, and these were of various quality so that the LXX is better in some books than in others. But until people started copying them these would be mainly limited to synagogues and very rich people.

And then there were smaller 'books' of quotations or special texts, such as Messianic texts, which were seen as especially significant. And people used what they could get hold of. Once people became Christians copying would take place apace. Someone would copy a portion from the synagogue LXX text, then others would copy that extract, and even others would copy the copies. And so written copies would spread, but only of limited portions. For the whole they had to go back to the synagogue.

And they would prize their copies because it was ‘the word of God’. The Hebrew Temple texts were the original basis (just as we can go back to the Massoretic Text) but were not easily available, and few Greeks could read them or understand them. The situation was really no different from today except for the sparsity of texts. Most Americans use English versions not the Hebrew text. In many places today in other parts of the world their translations of the Bible in their own language are not necessarily awfully good (they may have only one version) but they are the best that they have. And they treasure it and quote it as the word of God. That is why the Bible societies are trying to get good translations into every country and tribe.

But God's word is such that it overcomes these difficulties remarkably. And each of us quotes the version we use as the word of God. In the days of Acts many Jews knew Hebrew as well as Aramaic but Aramaic and not Hebrew was the language used in the affairs of everyday life in Palestine, and as the Gospel spread it reached large numbers of people who knew no Aramaic but spoke Greek. To them the LXX was a God-send. It was to the LXX that they would naturally go. Thus in writing to Greeks the LXX might well be quoted so that they could compare it with their own versions. James may have been using the LXX for this reason, (there were Greek speakers present) but quoting from memory and changing it round slightly as preachers do to emphasise his point and to make it more understandable, or it may be that the Hebrew text most easily available to him in the local synagogue may have been similar to LXX. Preachers often follow that pattern today of putting a text in their own words to bring out a point. That cannot be criticised, but care is necessary that they do not deviate from the truth.

As you have noted the quote by James is similar to LXX and added on to it is an extract from Isaiah 45:21 paraphrased. Divine inspiration does not guarantee that the Temple text (which was accessible to very few - how privileged we are) should be quoted. All it guarantees is that what is said will be the truth from God. God did not directly interfere with the practicalities of translations. Anyone who chose to do so could make a translation and anyone who wanted to do so and had the facilities could make a copy of any book or part book in the Bible. While we may be sure that God ensured the preserving of good texts He did not control everything that anyone ever did with regard to the Bible. However James' quotation gives the sense of the text and the point he makes was also in agreement with the Hebrew text.

James’ point in verse 21 seems to be that they will give instructions to Gentile believers about certain things so that Jewish Christians will not be prevented from fellowshipping with them (as they would have been if meat with the blood still in it was eaten) and points out that he does not need to tell Jewish Christians what they are to observe and what Moses says because they already have sufficient teaching from their local synagogue. We must recognise that many Jews who became Christians often continued to observe Jewish traditions and attend synagogues for they saw their Christianity as springing out of Judaism, recognised that Jesus had observed the traditions of Judaism and still saw themselves as Jews, albeit Christian Jews. But they also met with the wider Christian church and could only do so because these strictures given by the Council were observed. They were not necessary in order to be Christians, they were necessary so that Jewish Christians could meet with Gentile Christians. They were a concession of love. It was only later that Jews turned against Christians and would force Jewish Christians to choose whether to be Jews or Christians.

It was not that LXX was held in higher esteem it was the fact that it was understood. They could not understand Hebrew. How many Christians do you know who use the Hebrew Bible and quote from it? Apart from the occasional scholar probably none. And most of the copies of Scripture available to Christians in the world outside Palestine, apart from in some synagogues, would be LXX. And they could read and understand it straight away. Paul did sometimes make use of the Hebrew text when he had a special point to make and it was found there. But writing to Greeks it was otherwise more sensible to use the version which they used by necessity.

12. My understanding of Acts 15:17 is that a time will come where a remnant of Jews will seek God, and so too will Gentiles. However Amos 9:12 seems to say that Israel ("they") will possess the remnant of Edom (Israel's enemy) and other nations.

Now here's my problem.

1. I just can't see how these two verses are saying the same thing?

2. If James quoted Amos from the Septuagint and came up with Acts 15:17 and this is different to what the Massoretic says then surely one of them is wrong. How can two sentences with different meanings both be the same and both be right? Isn't this illogical? I have no problem with paraphrasing or not having exactly the same words quoted from the OT, but when the meaning of the words has been altered, I find this hard to accept. Particularly when James ascribes his quote to the prophets, but the prophets, according to the best translation, didn't say those words.

Firstly we should note that James was not necessarily using the LXX. His words, while fairly similar to LXX, differ slightly from it. However they are very close to a manuscript of the Hebrew text found at Qumran, which was presumably similar to the one being used by James.

The main point that James was stressing in his quote was that the Gentiles would seek His name. That was why he quoted the verses, because they said that. (And MT says that too). To be 'possessed by the people of God' resulted in them seeking after the Lord. It is only saying the same thing in a different way. To be possessed by Israel meant being brought under the covenant that the Lord had made with Israel, and so did seeking the Lord.

The point was that house of David would be re-established and all peoples would seek to Israel's God and be 'possessed' by Israel, subscribing to the covenant. They would come under the covenant of God with Israel that bound Israel together, which meant seeking the Lord. And the residue of men who would so seek after the Lord did include Edom. The remnant of Edom was actually finally absorbed into God's people in 1st century BC. Israel thus did possess the remnant of Edom. So by the time of James the remnant of Edom had 'sought the Lord'. They were already absorbed into God's people.

But why does the text quoted by James fail to mention Edom? Probably it has to do with the fact that 'Edom' and 'Adam' (man) have the same consonants in the original Hebrew text which had originally no vowels. Thus both rendered the Hebrew original but interpreted/translated differently. The ‘residue of Edom’ or the ‘residue of men' (adam) would be possessed by Israel, seeking the Lord. They would come within the covenant of Israel. They would be possessed by Israel. So LXX and the text used by James simply expanded the residue to include all men, translating 'dm as 'men' instead of as 'Edom'. Amos actually confirmed that all men would be involved in what followed.

So the MT and LXX were not saying anything contradictory to each other. The only thing is that LXX does not personalise it and mention Edom. Otherwise the message is the same in slightly different terminology

13. I have some questions in respect of Acts 16:11-40. There are a many parts of the story about the mission to Philippi which I find odd and hope that you can provide logical explanations for.

1. Why were members of Lydia's household baptised when only her heart was opened by the Lord? (14-15)

There is no word for ‘only’ in the Greek. Lydia’s heart was opened first. She was God-fearer, one who worshipped the God of Israel. No doubt her household were also people who had faith in God as a result of her piety. There is little doubt that we intended to see that they too responded to Paul’s message, so that all were baptised together. They were ‘prepared ground’.

2. How can demons know the future? Judging by the reaction of the girl's owners in vs. 19, she must have been an accurate fortune teller otherwise she would not have been profitable. If she was lying, her exorcism would have made no difference to her fortune-telling ability!

Superstitious people are easily persuaded by fortune-tellers. Clever fortune-tellers know how to extract information from their clients by subtle questions on the basis of which they then ‘foretell’ what is likely to happen to them in sufficiently vague but seemingly detailed terms that they are unlikely to be proved wrong. A widely worded prophecy is certsain of fulfilment.

Thus when the Delphian oracle was approached by a great king, who asked whether he would be successful in his invasion, he was informed that ‘a great king will return laden with spoil’. Satisfied that he was a great king he paid up and went off. When defeated he returned in anger only to learn that a great king had returned laden with spoil. It was his enemy. That is why the Delphian oracle was never wrong. It covered all its options.

Remember that people would remember the times when she got it right, and would forget the other bits. After all they wanted to believe her. Furthermore it may well be that evil spirits have wider knowledge of events than we have. A limited foretelling of the future is not difficult for a clever and knowledgeable person.

3. Why did Paul wait many days before exorcising her? Why didn't he expel the demon from her once he was aware of its presence? (v. 18).

Only Paul can answer that one. It may be that he was awaiting an indication from the Lord that it was what he should do. Or possibly it took some time for him to discern the facts about the spirit that was in her. Discerning whether a person was simply clinically depressed or genuinely possessed by spirits is not always easy. Or possibly he had so much on his mind that he had not had time to consider her situation. For like Jesus his first concern was not to heal but to save. .

4. v. 28 How did Paul know the jailer was attempting suicide? If he could see the jailer surely the jailer could see that Paul was still in the prison. Were all the prisoners so silent that the jailer would not have heard that they were there? It's also strange that the other prisoners didn't escape - how is that explained?

THE JAILER WOULD LIVE AT THE PRISON AS WOULD HIS FAMILY. HIS HOUSE WOULD BE A PART OF THE PRISON COMPLEX. THE PRISON WAS PROBABLY AN UNDERGROUND PRISON UNDER THE JAILER'S HOUSE (AFTERWARDS HE BROUGHT THEM 'UP' INTO HIS HOUSE). IF AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE THE JAILER CAME TO THE EDGE OF THE PIT HE COULD EASILY HAVE BEEN SEEN BY THOSE IN IT AGAINST THE SKYLINE WHILE HE MAY NOT HAVE BEEN ABLE TO SEE CLEARLY WHAT HAD HAPPENED IN THE DARKNESS OF THE PIT, ONLY THE FACT THAT OUTWARDLY ESCAPE WAS POSSIBLE. HIS ACTION WAS ONE OF PANIC KNOWING THE CONSEQUENCES TO HIM OF THE ESCAPE OF ALL THE PRISONERS. AND HE WAS STILL IN SHOCK. HE WOULD BE HELD TO ACCOUNT, SHAMED, AND POSSIBLY TORTURED. IF HE TOOK OUT HIS SWORD TO SLAY HIMSELF PAUL COULD WELL HAVE SEEN. WE MUST REMEMBER THAT IN A SEVERE EARTHQUAKE LIKE THIS ONE WAS PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED IN DIFFERENT WAYS. MANY ARE TRAUMATISED AND LOSE ALL SENSE OF DIRECTION. MANY OF THE PRISONERS WERE PROBABLY TERRIFIED AND COWERING IN HOPE OF ESCAPING FALLING MASONRY. AND IF THEY HAD BEEN HELD IN FETTERS OR STOCKS FOR SOME TIME THEY MAY WELL HAVE BEEN IN NO CONDITION TO SCRAMBLE FROM THE PIT. AND SURVIVAL RATHER THAN FREEDOM WAS THE FIRST THING ON THEIR MINDS. MANY WERE PROBABLY SILENT WITH THE SILENCE OF TRAUMA. PAUL WITH HIS TRUST IN GOD WAS UNUSUAL..

5. How can Paul say that if the jailer believes in Christ that his whole household will also be saved? Isn't our salvation dependent on our individual response to Christ, not on the faith of the leader of our household? (v. 31) What were the jailer's family doing in the prison? (v33).

Paul would certainly have witnessed to the jailer when he was first imprisoned, and this earthquake may not have been on the first night. Thus he could also have witnessed to him when the food was brought round. Being recognised as an important person the jailer would pay special attention to him. Besides he may have heard Paul preaching earlier and out of interest have come to see him so that could have a discussion. All kinds of possibilities present themselves. And the same would apply to his family. It was probably a private prison so that the prison was a part of his house and the whole family would sometimes help to cater to the prisoners. Thus some of them may also have expressed interest to Paul, and he may have become on fairly good terms with them.

When Paul says that if he believes, he will be saved and all his household, we are justified in making the assumption that a believing response is also required from them (as we are later told did happen). He is simply saying that each one who believes will be saved.

Already the Spirit had been remarkably at work in Philippi. It was not therefore difficult for Paul to believe that the whole household were ready to believe his message. As in fact we are told that they all later believed it is clear that they too recognised that he meant this. It is also clear that they were all old enough to believe. No infants in mind here.

Many prisons at that time were private prisons. The owner of the property would have a prison attached to his house, possibly an undergound cellar, and he would be paid a rate for each prisoner he looked after. And all his family could well be involved in looking after them. Similar situations could apply to public prisons, but it was often simpler to use a self-employed jailer. Then there was always someone to take the blame if anything went wrong.

7. v. 34 How could the jailer take prisoners to his home? Wasn't this a dereliction of duty - especially since he is now converted, surely he is doing something that his employers would not approve?

The jailer would be free to guard his prisoners in any way he wanted. They were his responsibility and as long as he could produce them when asked, no one cared how he fulfilled his responsibilities. The city were probably his customers, not his employers. Thus if he liked to take them to his dining quarters, as long as he accepted responsibilty for them, no one minded. His house was after all a part of the prison.

Who was guarding the other prisoners? Did they really allow him to lock them up again - I find that incredibly hard to believe?

8. v. 35 The officers go to the prison to say release the men, yet he had taken them to his house for a meal. Does this mean that he returned them to jail after feeding them at his house? This seems bizarre.

The house would be seen as part of the prison and its doors were probably kept locked. Thus all he had done was allow Paul and his companions up to the eating quarters. He was entitled to use any methods that he liked to control the prisoners, and as long as they were in his house no one wouild doubt that they were undere his care..

14. In Acts 18:25 it says that Apollos had been instructed in the way of the Lord and taught about Jesus accurately, but only knew John's Baptism. What does it mean that he only knew John's Baptism? It implies that he's missing knowledge of some sort - what didn't he know? Does it mean he doesn't know about being baptised in the Spirit? Do you think that he had the Spirit at this time?

From one point of view of the very earliest church the religious world was split into five (although life, and especially religious life is never quite that simple). There were the Christians, non-Christian Jews, who included many who not yet heard the Gospel and who truly believed in God (including Proselyte converts who had been circumcised from among the Gentiles and God-fearers who were Jewish converts who had not been circumcised), Samaritans, Gentiles, and disciples of John the Baptiser. The last named were a very large group spread around the known world. John had preached for many years and large numbers of Jews, proselytes and God-fearers who had flocked to Jerusalem for the feasts had been baptised by him. They had then gone back to their home cities and like Apollos had spread the word. They had gained a new enthusiasm in witness. They had undoubtedly experienced a work of the Spirit through John, but they would not have entered into the full experience of the Holy Spirit as He came at Pentecost. Most of them would never have heard of Jesus except as proclaimed by John as 'the coming One'. (Visits to Jerusalem would in many cases be rare because of distance).

Thus we know that a large group of 'disciples of John the Baptiser' had grown up (compare Acts 19:1-6) around the known world. Thus at the time of Pentecost what we might call 'believers could also be split into three. There were firstly those who believed in Jesus and were recognised as Christians; then there were those pious Jews and God-fearers who truly believed in God and clung to His word, but had never heard of Jesus and had never heard John; and then there were the truly believing disciples of John. It was vital for the unity of the church that each of these groups should eventually recognise their oneness with the Christian church which at the beginning was looked on as an offshoot of Judaism. This explains the very unusual examples of the coming of the Holy Spirit given in Acts which were not the norm. In order to confirm this unity, God seems to have ensured that when those in these groups heard of Jesus they did not at first enter into the fullness of the Holy Spirit without Apostolic intervention. Thus as Acts proceeds we have incorporation of previously non-Christian Jews (Acts 2), incorporation of Samaritans (Acts 8), incorporation of God-fearing Gentiles (Acts 10-11), and incorporation of disciples of John the Baptiser (Acts 19:1-6). And in each case they 'received the Spirit' through the Apostles.

Thus was guaranteed that all looked back to the Apostles as their founding fathers. So Apollos and other disciples of John the Baptiser knew of 'the coming One', and possibly by now connected Him with Jesus, although without having any depth of knowledge. In many cases they would not even be aware of the cross and resurrection, and certainly they would never have entered into the full experience of the Spirit which commenced with the inundation at Pentecost. It would appear that God ensured that this latter only occurred, except in individual cases, on contact with the Apostles so that they looked to the Apostles as the first spiritual guides of their new found faith. (This explanation is of course a simplification of a most complicated situation, but this seems to be one of the main lessons of Acts).

15. I notice that in Acts 19:5 the 12 disciples of John the Baptist needed to be baptised a second time in order to receive the Spirit. Does this mean that all those who were baptised by John the Baptist also needed to be rebaptised? Also is it essential for someone to be literally baptised in order to become a Christian or was this a unique situation?

When I was born again, I wanted to be baptised again to show my commitment, but my minister (Anglican church) said that it wasn't necessary as I had already been baptised as a child (even though this was under the Catholic system) so I was confirmed instead. As an infant I had no idea about God so really the baptism from my perspective was meaningless, yet when I wanted to make it meaningful as an adult, I wasn't allowed to do it. Yet in the Acts episode these men were rebaptised! What's the difference between my situation and that of these men?

While we may probably presume that the Apostles were not rebaptised, nor those who left John to follow Jesus prior to the resurrection, it would seem that disciples of John who believed on Jesus after the resurrection did have to be rebaptised. However that was a unique situation.

Paul clearly distinguished being saved by responding to the word of the cross from being baptised. He concentrated on the one and left the baptising to others. He even rejoiced that he had baptised so few (1 Corinthians 1:17-18) because of the wrong impression it could give. But there is no doubt that he and all the others did expect people to be baptised. It was a declaration to the world that they now belonged to Christ, that they had put their old lives behind them.

How to apply it to the modern day is more difficult. Many are rebaptised (for example in Baptist or Pentecostal churches) because they feel that their infant baptism was meaningless. But they mainly see it as a wholehearted response to Christ not as necessary in order to be saved. However there is no Scriptural position on this because in Scripture there is no mention of infant baptism. Different ones see it in different ways. The Anglican position would be that as you have already been marked off as belonging to Christ in His church once for all, what was needed was personal confirmation, a personal 'entering in' to your baptism, not another baptism. What God's view is we have to work out for ourselves. It really depends on how we view baptism. Some are satisfied with the Anglican position and look to their confirmation as a kind of ‘rebaptism’, that is, a renewal of their baptism. Others are not satisfied until they have been baptised as adults. That is a huge subject. Those who in past centuries were rebaptised in this way were called anabaptists.

16. . In Acts 25-26, Luke recounts private conversations between Agrippa and Festus. As I was reading them I wondered how he would know what they were talking about. The commentary I'm using says that he couldn't have known, so Luke is imaginatively recreating what he believes they were talking about. I don't know whether you agree with this conclusion or not, but if it's true, then how can we be certain that these words that Luke records are the historical truth?

It has been said that no man is a hero to his valet. He sees too much of his inner moments. A similar thing might be said of powerful men and their servants. Nothing that they say is not picked up by the servants. It is quite probable that there were Christians among Festus' servants who could report (probably better than their masters) exactly what Festus had said. Indeed they would race out and report it to the church as soon as they had some free time, so that all could pray. Luke may well have been there with them at the time for he is present in the city and sails with Paul on the next stage of the journey (Acts 27:1 - 'we').

In fact many things in Scripture probably resulted from servants overhearing things. (Of course God could have told Luke directly what was said, but the above is more likely).

17. In Acts 26:10, Paul recounts how many saints were put to death by the Jewish authorities. My understanding was that the Jews didn't have the authority to inflict capital punishment - that is why the handed both Jesus and Paul over to the Romans. If Paul did behave in this way along with his fellow Pharisees, weren't they breaking Roman law? How could they get away with it?

The Jews almost certainly had the right of execution when the charge was blasphemy. Consider Stephen. In the Temple there was a notice (of which we have examples) which stated that any Gentile passing that point would immediately be put to death. That was an example where Roman law was not required. Blasphemy probably became the favourite accusation for executing Christians, although the Romans may have called a halt when it happened too often. However even if the seal of approval was necessary from the Romans it was not too hard to obtain. In the case of Jesus the Jewish leaders did not want to charge Him with blasphemy. They were afraid of the people. They wanted the Romans to kill Him for treason. Then they would be free of blame. Paul was saved by Roman soldiers or he may well have been stoned for blasphemy.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Acts:4 Overview". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/acts-0.html. 2013.

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