Thursday, March 19, 2015

NT: Acts 10 - 20

I’m continuing my notes on selected books in the New Testament. I thought I’d pick up the pace with the remainder of Acts, since it is even more removed from Jesus than the Gospels. I’m keeping in mind that Acts is presented as if it were a history of how the Christian church began, and that it presents it from Luke’s perspective, which differs from Paul’s.

We’re seeing references to other congregations distributed around the Mediterranean region, which brings to mind the occasional claim of Christianity’s phenomenal growth, but some sobriety is warranted. Knowing that Acts was definitely written no earlier than 63 CE, probably 80 - 90 CE, and possibly as late as the second century, the citing of multiple groups of Christians in disparate locations is not surprising. Even if Acts was written as early as 63 CE, there would have been time for an original few hundred believers to grow into tens of thousands in the intervening years.

One of the themes in Acts is that the Apostles - having been rejected by, and persecuted by the Pharisees (a sect of Jews) - decide to take their new religion to the Gentiles.

In Chapter 10, we’re treated to the conversion of Cornelius the Centurion - allegedly the first Gentile to be converted. While there’s no doubt that Cornelius is a believer in God, and that he had a vision, and that he is in a worshipful state, and that he falls down at Peter’s feet and begins worshipping Peter, and that the two share their visions, there’s never a moment that indicates that Cornelius accepts Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior. He just gets baptized (at Peter’s command) and we are left to assume that Cornelius is Convert Numero Uno. I find these loose interpretations dodgy, to put it mildly.

Chapter 11 brings a mass conversion:

1 And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.

Peter then gives a defense of eating with the uncircumcised: because he had a vision. Of course. We then hear what I believe to be the first use of the term “saved”.

14 Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.

So the religion transforms from a rag-tag band of misfits that have been rejected by the Jews into a multi-region religion, in just a few verses.

19 Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.
20 And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus.
21 And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.

We also see the first reference to “Christians”:

25 Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:
26 And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.

...thus marking the creation of the first Christian church in Antioch.

Chapter 12 brings us Herod Agrippa, who kills “James the brother of John”, and because this kind of activity seemed to please the Jews, and Herod seems to want to please them, he arrests Peter as well. What a suck-up.

So Peter is rescued almost immediately by an angel. When Herod finds out Peter has escaped, he rousts the locals, but the angel smites him dead. To top it off, incongruously, Barnabas and Saul return from their ministry in Jerusalem, are joined by John, and ... we’re left hanging. Maybe they play Foosball in their undershorts for a while.

Chapters 13 & 14 clarify the status of the three amigos from the the preceding chapter, as Barnabas, Saul and John are sent on a mission to further minister to the folks. As you’d expect, there’s continuing tension between the Jews and the new religion:

Acts 14:2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren.

Chapter 15 finds the boys back in Antioch, with much praising and preaching. At the end of the chapter, Paul heads out on the road for another mission or two.

Chapters 16 through 20 are centered largely on Paul’s missions to other regions - his second and third.

Chapter 16 begins with a whirlwind of travel. Apparently accompanied by Silas, Paul travels to Derbe and Lystra; by Mysia to Troas; into Macedonia, from Troas to Samothracia and Neapolis; "And from thence to Philippi". WHEW!!

They do some preaching and praying, encounter a woman named Lydia, get thrown in jail, pray for escape, are rewarded with an earthquake which cracks open the prison, then stay with Lydia. So THAT happened.

Paul & Silas’ stay Lydia’s was brief. In Chapter 17, they move on.

1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews:

If this chapter had been written by a neighbor, I’d have made sure they were aware of the following irony:

22 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, [Ye] men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.
24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;

Chapter 18:

1 After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth;

Some minor hi-jinks ensue, follower by brief travels to Stria, Ephesus, Caesarea, Antioch, Galatia and Phrygia. Then we are told:

24 And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, [and] mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus.

Apollos was apparently adjudged to be a good dude, so the disciples were advised to welcome him with open arms. Why is this important? I forget.

Chapter 19: Paul is in Ephesus (a flashback?) And baptizes some people, and engages in some familiar skullduggery with the folks.

Chapter 20:

1 And after the uproar was ceased, Paul called unto [him] the disciples, and embraced [them], and departed for to go into Macedonia.

The bouncing from town-to-town at breakneck speed continues for the first half of this chapter.

The author identifies himself as a hanger-on ... note that he refers to disciples as “them”:

5 These going before tarried for us at Troas.
6 And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days.
7 And upon the first [day] of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.

In the end, Paul gathers the elders of the church at Ephesus and gives a farewell speech. Everyone is sad.

No comments:

Post a Comment