Introduction to Acts

By James M. Rochford

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Luke and Acts comprise 30% of the NT.[1] By way of introduction, we will consider the authorship, dating, and major emphases of Acts.

Authorship

Luke-Acts were no doubt written by the same author. Just compare the opening lines of both books:

Comparison of Luke-Acts

Luke

Acts

1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; 4            so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

1 The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. 3 To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.

 

Because of the similarities between Luke and Acts, scholars believe that whoever wrote Luke, also wrote Acts. Longenecker writes, “Hardly anyone today would dispute this basic observation.”[2] There are a number of reasons for believing that Luke wrote Luke and Acts, as has been traditionally claimed:

First, the early church fathers believed that Luke wrote Luke-Acts. Carson and Moo write, “Irenaeus, the anti-Marcionite prologue, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Eusebius all mention Luke as the author of Acts. His authorship was unquestioned until 18th century skepticism.”[3]

Second, the author of Luke-Acts couldn’t have been an apostle. Luke 1 tells us that the material in the gospel was “handed down” to him by “eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (v.2).

Third, the “we” passages help us to identify authorship (Acts 16:8-10; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16).[4] There are three sections in Acts where the author changes from the third person (“Paul did this” or “Peter did that”) to the first person plural (“We did this…”). This means that Luke went with Paul on his trip in these three sections. He was there at the initial evangelization of Philippi (16:10-17). He was with Paul from Miletus to Jerusalem (20:5-15; 21:1-18). Finally, he was with Paul on his trip to Rome (27:1-28:16). The author of Luke could not have been one of the travelling companions mentioned with Paul during this trip, because then the author wouldn’t have said “we.” This eliminates a lot of potential authors, and leaves Luke as the best possibility.[5]

Fourth, it is unlikely that an author in the first century would make up the name of Luke as the author of the book. As Longenecker writes, “If an early ecclesiastical writer were attempting to pass off Luke-Acts as the work of someone close to an apostle in order to invest it with authority, why did he not attribute it to Paul himself—or at least to Timothy or Titus, both of whom were better known than Luke?”[6] It is unlikely that the author of the book would invent such an obscure biblical character.

Luke was a doctor (Col. 4:14). He was probably a Gentile convert, because he is listed among other Gentiles. Luke was the only one with Paul at the end of his life (2 Tim. 4:11). Luke was mentioned to Philemon—a slave owner (Phile. 24). He must have been known by a number of church. Beyond these passages, we don’t know much about this person. Carson and Moo write, “We would perhaps do better simply to admit that we do not know very much about Luke’s background.”[7]

Date of Acts

While “most scholars today date Acts somewhere between AD 80 and 95,”[8] this seems unwarranted because of several good reasons for dating this book early—around AD 62:

First, the book of Acts doesn’t mention the fall of Jerusalem (in AD 70). The city of Jerusalem was completely decimated by the Romans. Many were killed in an absolute bloodbath. And yet Luke didn’t write a word about it in the book of Acts. Luke also didn’t mention the Jewish War (in AD 66). Before Jerusalem fell to the Romans, Jewish zealots waged war with the Romans for four years, and this changed the face of Israel forever. And yet again, Luke failed to mention it. To put this in perspective, this would be similar to a reporter failing to mention World War II, while he was on assignment in Paris in the early 1940s.

Second, the book of Acts fails to mention Emperor Nero’s persecution of the Christian population (AD 64). Nero began a horrid persecution after the great fire in Rome, rounding up Christians and killing them by the thousands. But Luke didn’t mention a word about this in his book. He recorded other persecutions, but he didn’t mention this one, which was one of the worst.

Third, the book of Acts fails to mention the death of James (in AD 62). James was the brother of Jesus, and he was killed by Jewish stoning. This is odd, because both Josephus[9] and Eusebius[10] recorded James’ death, but Luke didn’t. Luke mentioned the martyrdom of James of Zebedee (Acts 12:2), but he didn’t mention James the brother of Jesus. Moreover, Luke failed to mention the death of Paul (in AD 67). The early church historians record that Paul was martyred under Nero, but Luke ended the book of Acts with Paul—alive and well—under Roman house arrest. Time and time again, Luke failed to mention some of the most important events in the AD 60s.

Fourth, the emphasis of recognizing Christianity as a legal religion fits with the AD 60s. Why does Luke go to such extents to show that Christianity is under the umbrella of protection from Judaism as a “legal religion” (see Acts 18-28), if Judaism had lost this protection in AD 66 as a result of the Jewish War?

All of these historical lines of evidence point toward a date in the early AD 60s.[11]

Historicity of Acts

Sir William Ramsay (1851-1939) was a lecturer in classical art and archaeology at Oxford University. He began an archaeological research project in Asia Minor, and he had to create his own maps of the NT era, because there weren’t any trustworthy ones. He originally believed that the book of Acts was a late-dated theological work that wouldn’t give historical insight. He writes,

I began with a mind unfavorable to it [Acts], for the ingenuity and apparent completeness of the Tubingen theory had at one time quite convinced me. It did not lie then in my line of life to investigate the subject minutely; but more recently I found myself often brought into contact with the book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth. In fact, beginning with the fixed idea that the work was essentially a second century composition, and never relying on its evidence as trustworthy for first century conditions, I gradually came to find it a useful ally in some obscure and difficult investigations.[12]

Ramsay’s skepticism began to weaken, when he read in the book of Acts that Paul “fled [from Iconium] to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe” (Acts 14:6). Ramsay originally thought that this was an error, because Iconium was in Lycaonia at the time. He compared it to fleeing from London to England.[13] However, he went on to discover that Iconium was not in the district of Lycaonia in the first-century. Instead, it was outside of these geographical boundaries at that time. This got Ramsay’s attention.

Eventually, after 30 years of research, Ramsay ended up becoming a follower of Christ! Later in life, he wrote, “Luke’s historicity is unsurpassed in respect to its trustworthiness… Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy… this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”[14]

In his book The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (1987), for classicist turned NT scholar Colin J. Hemer documents roughly 180 “undesigned coincidences”[15] that align with secular history, culture, geography, etc. For instance, Luke knew:

  • that Emperor Augustus’ name (Acts 25:21; 25) and his title (Luke 2:1) were written differently.
  • Jerusalem’s territory and topography (Acts 1:12; 19; 3:2; 11).
  • that Annas still had prestige in Jerusalem, even after Caiaphas took over for him (c.f. Luke 3:2; Acts 4:6).
  • details about the military guard (Acts 12:4).
  • the name of the correct proconsul at Paphos (Acts 13:7).
  • the resting places for a voyage from Philippi to Thessalonica (Acts 17:1; Amphipolis and Apollonia).
  • geography and navigational details about the voyage to Rome (Acts 27-28).
  • river-ports (Acts 13:13), coasting ports (Acts 14:25), and sea ports (Acts 16:11-12) for Paul’s travels (c.f. Acts 21:1; 27:6; 28:13).
  • Iconium was considered a city in Phrygia, rather than Lycaonia (Acts 14:6).
  • the native language spoken in Lystra—unusual in a major cosmopolitan city (Acts 14:11).
  • the common worship in Lystra (Acts 14:12).
  • the river Gangites flowed close to the walls of Philippi (Acts 16:13).
  • Thyatira was a center of fabric dyeing, which has been confirmed by a number of inscriptions (Acts 16:14).
  • the magistrates were called “politarchs” (Acts 17:6).
  • there was an agora in Athens, where philosophical debate was popular (Acts 17:17).
  • it was common Athenian slang to call someone a “babbler” (Acts 17:18).
  • the altars to “unknown gods”—also mentioned by Pausanias and Diogenes Laertius (Acts 17:23).
  • Epimenides, showing that Paul was familiar with current Athenian religion. Epimenides was a part of Diogenes’ story about “unknown gods” (Acts 17:28).
  • Athenians were hostile to the concept of resurrection (Acts 17:32).
  • Claudius’ expulsion of the Jews from Rome, placing it in the proper time frame (Acts 18:2).
  • the name of the proconsul of Corinth (Acts 18:12).
  • the local philosopher in Ephesus named Tyrranus (Acts 19:9).
  • the goddess Artemis, who shrines have been uncovered in Ephesus (Acts 19:24).
  • the expression “The great goddess Artemis.” This was a phrase in Ephesus at the time that he was writing (Acts 19:27).
  • the historic Ephesian theatre (Acts 19:29).
  • the correct title for the chief magistrate in Ephesus (Acts 19:35).
  • there were two “proconsuls” in Ephesus—instead of one (Acts 19:38).
  • typical ethnic names at the time (Acts 20:4-5).
  • the exact sequence of places in their travel (Acts 20:14-15).
  • eyewitness comments in portions of the voyage (Acts 21:3).
  • the high priest Ananias, and he placed him in the correct time period (Acts 23:2).
  • the governor Felix, and he placed him in the correct time period (Acts 23:24).
  • common Roman court procedure (Acts 24:5; 19; 25:18).
  • the successor of Felix, Porcius Festus (Acts 24:27).
  • king Agrippa II, whose kingdom had been recently been extended (in 56 C.E.). Luke placed his visit in the exact timeframe (Acts 25:13).
  • a poorly sheltered roadstead on the way to Rome (Acts 27:8).
  • intricate details of ancient sailing, particularly in this region (Acts 27).
  • the names of the stopping places along the Appian Way on the way to Rome (Acts 28:15).
  • Pilate was procurator (26-36 C.E.).
  • Herod Antipas was tetrarch of Galilee (4 B.C.E.-39 C.E.).
  • Philip, his brother, was tetrarch of Ituraea and Trachonitis (4 B.C.E.-34 C.E.).

At the end of his Sarum Lectures, Roman historian A.N. Sherwin-White wrote, “For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming… Any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted.”[16]

In fact, many other notable classicists and historians affirm the historicity of Acts, including:[17]

  • F. Bruce—a lecturer of classics before turning NT scholarship.
  • M. Blaiklock—a classics professor in New Zealand.
  • N. Sherwin-White—a historian of Greco-Roman history at Oxford University.
  • Colin J. Hemer—a classicist who turned into a NT researcher in England.[18]
  • Irina Levinskaya—a Russian historian.

We will explore the historical confirmation of these details in our study below.

Emphases in Acts

The book of Acts has several theological features that stand out:

First, Acts explains how Jesus’ message began to reach all nations—not just the nation of Israel. Before Acts, we see that Jesus focused his attention on the nation of Israel (Mt. 15:24). Christianity was largely a Jewish religion for Jewish people. But the book of Acts demonstrates that Jesus wanted to reach all people (Acts 1:8). This is the fulfillment of the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20).

Second, Acts authenticates and explains the apostleship of Paul. Historian Paul Barnett writes, “That Luke describes Christ’s call of Paul not once, not twice, but three times (9:1-9; 22:3-21; 26:2-23), shows that the author desired to establish Paul’s credentials as the apostle to the Gentiles.”[19] This helps to explain the authority and integrity of the thirteen letters ascribed to Paul in the NT. Without Acts, we would wonder who Paul even was.

Third, Acts explains the churches mentioned throughout the rest of the NT. In the rest of the NT, we have letters to many different Greco-Roman cities (e.g. Corinth, Thessalonica, Galatia, etc.). Without Acts, we would wonder how the gospel spread to these predominantly Gentile regions.

Fourth, Acts is a case for why Christianity should be considered a legal religion in Rome. The Jewish faith was considered a legal religion by the Roman Empire, but what about Christianity? Should Christianity be considered legal by the Romans (under the protective umbrella of Judaism), or should they be considered a separate religion? Luke seeks to demonstrate that Christianity is not a separate religion from Judaism, but rather, the fulfillment of Judaism. This could be why this letter is addressed to Theophilus, who could possibly be a Roman magistrate.[20]

In Acts, we see that the city officers apologize for imprisoning Paul and Silas (Acts 16:38-39), Gallio—the Roman official—sides with Paul and allows Christian preaching in Corinth (Acts 18:12-17), and King Agrippa II and Festus both agree that Paul had done nothing wrong (Acts 26:31-32). All of this supports the fact that the Roman Empire should be favorable to Christianity.

Fifth, Acts emphasizes the importance of prayer. In the first fifteen chapters of Acts, fourteen mention prayer (all except ch.5). Luke mentions prayer in 20 out of 28 chapters—a total of 31 times.

Sixth, Acts emphasizes the power and influence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit came to lead the early church as Jesus had promised (Jn. 14:16-17, 26). Jesus promised that it would be to their “advantage” that the Holy Spirit would come to lead them (Jn. 16:7). In Acts, we discover the realization of this promise. It is for this reason that many commentators call this book, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit,” rather than the Acts of the Apostles.

Commentary on Acts

 

Acts 1:1-11 (Jesus’ teaching before his ascension)

(1:1) The phrase “most excellent Theophilus” (Lk. 1:3) is used elsewhere in Acts to refer to Roman officials (Greek kratiste Theophile). The Greek kratistos is used three times in describing Roman governors (Acts 23:26 “most excellent governor Felix”; 24:3 “most excellent Felix”; 26:25 “most excellent Festus”). This is why most people believe that Theophilus was probably a Roman authority of some kind. Theophilus means “loved by God.” It was common to dedicate a book to a person like this in Luke’s day.

What is this “first account”? Compare these opening verses with the first three verses in the gospel of Luke.

Christ “began” his ministry in his life on Earth, and it hasn’t ended in the book of Acts. The focus is on love and truth, or as Luke puts it: “to do and teach.”

(1:2) Christ’s work continued “until the day he was taken up.” Now, Christ will be replaced by the Holy Spirit, as he promised in John 14:16: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever.”

(1:3) What were these convincing proofs? His resurrection, miracles, and fulfillment of prophecy. He led a Bible study explaining his fulfillment of prophecy for 40 days (Lk. 24:25-27, 44-49). The Greek term for “convincing proofs” (tekmeriois) is not 100% certainty. Even Aristotle didn’t use it this way, but it instead refers to a “compelling sign” (Aristotle, Rhetorica 1, 2, 16). BDAG defines it as “that which causes something to be known in a convincing and decisive manner, proof” (cf. Josephus, Antiquities, 17.5.6 §128; 3 Macc. 3:24).[21]

Luke opens and closes his book discussing “the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3; 28:31).

(1:4-5) Why did the men have to wait on the Holy Spirit? They needed to learn the lesson of God’s timing and God’s power—not their own.

They are told not to begin their mission, until they are given the power by God to accomplish it. They are being told to do the impossible by God (e.g. make disciples, preach the gospel, save souls, etc.), but God promises to accomplish the work (Lk. 24:49; Jn. 7:37-38)

“Not many days from now…” It is 10 days later that Pentecost hits (Acts 2:1-4). This had been 40 days since the resurrection (1:3), and Pentecost is 50 days from the resurrection. Therefore, it must have been 10 days later. This statement is repeated in Acts 11:16.

(1:6) What do they mean by “restoring the kingdom to Israel?” Amillennial commentators argue that their question was completely misguided:

John Calvin: “There are as many errors in the question as words.”[22]

Ajith Fernando: “It must have saddened the heart of Jesus to hear his disciples ask about the time of restoring the kingdom to Israel (v. 6). He had taught them about the kingdom of God, but they talk about the kingdom of Israel.”[23]

John Stott: “The verb, the noun and the adverb of their sentence all betray doctrinal confusion about the kingdom. For the verb restore shows that they were expecting a political and territorial kingdom; the noun Israel that they were expecting a national kingdom; and the adverbial clause at this time that they were expecting its immediate establishment.”[24]

We respectfully disagree with commentators who believe that the disciples completely missed the point regarding their question. In fact, this is a compelling verse for dispensational theology. The believed that God was going to work in Israel again (Rom. 11:15-16; 25-29), and Jesus doesn’t deny this! This would have been the perfect time for Jesus to correct their false theology. Instead, he simply says that they won’t know the time (Mt. 24:36; Mark 13:32; 1 Thess. 5:1). He makes them focus on the church age. See Endless Hope or Hopeless End (2016).

Amillennialists argue that this refers to the coming of the Holy Spirit in verse 8. Yet chapters 2 and 3 point out that these promises to Israel have not been fulfilled yet (see especially, Acts 3:21).

(1:7) Why can’t God tell us the time of his return? He told us the timing of his first coming? (Dan. 9:24-27) This keeps all generations of Christians to live in an expectation of Christ’s coming. Moreover, if we had a date, people would go insane over this! In fact, God didn’t reveal a date, and people still go crazy over this!

(1:8) The disciples were just focused on Israel. Jesus redirects their anticipation to be about the whole globe. This is a theme throughout the book of acts, as the disciples are constantly shocked at how God wants to reach the Gentiles. Just as Jesus predicts, the gospel reaches Jerusalem (Acts 2), then Samaria (Acts 8), and even makes it to Rome by the end of the account (12:25ff).

It’s interesting that the disciples were fumbling around throughout the gospels, but after they get the Holy Spirit, they transform into powerful men of conviction.

Sometimes this “power” is in miracles (Acts 2:22; 3:12; 4:7; 8:13; 10:38; 19:11) and other times in courage and strength (Acts 4:33; 6:8).

Jesus’ ascension

(1:9) There’s other examples like this in the OT, including Enoch (Gen. 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kin. 2:11). The clouds also hold symbolic value of coming into God’s presence (Ex. 16:10; Ps. 104:3). Jesus’ last words were the Great Commission and the message of the Holy Spirit’s power.

(1:10-11) You might imagine how amazing this would be to see Jesus taken up in this way. The disciples are dumbfounded, slack-jawed, as the angels tell them that Jesus is coming back. Jesus left from Mount Olivet, and he will return there too.

(1:12) This was just under a mile hike away (~1,200 yards).

(1:13) Luke uses a different term to describe the “upper room” used for the Last Supper (Lk. 22:11-12), even though it is the same translation in English. Yet notice the article: This isn’t just a room; it is called the room. It could be the upper room of the Last Supper (Mk. 14:12ff) or the room of his post-resurrection appearances (Lk. 24:33ff; Jn. 20:19, 26).

What a rag tag group of men! It’s this group of cowardly (Peter), violent (Simon the Zealot), skeptical (Thomas), blindly ambitious (James and John), tax-collecting (Matthew), and uneducated men (Acts 4:13) that Jesus uses to build his church.

(1:14) They were “continually devoting themselves to prayer,” even though they knew that Jesus promised the coming of the Holy Spirit. It’s appropriate to pray—even if we know the guaranteed outcome.

Luke always mentions the women (Lk. 8:2; 23:49; 23:55-24:10). This is also the final mention of Mary (Jesus’ mother) in the Bible.[25] Was their prayer a cause or an effect of their unity? Or both?

Six months before Jesus’ death, Jesus’ brothers were skeptical of him (Jn. 7:5). Here they are followers of him. What changed? Jesus’ resurrection deeply affected James (1 Cor. 15:7), and it must have had a similar effect on his brothers.

Replacing Judas

(1:15) If this upper room could fit about 120 people, the person must have been relatively wealthy.[26] As you read through Acts, note that Luke emphasizes the growth of the church. Here is the first time he counts their number. By the next chapter, they’ll see 3,000 added. These 120 people turned the world upside down!

(1:16) It’s no wonder that Peter would start to talk about the fulfillment of Scripture. He just sat in a Bible study with Jesus seeing how many of the OT predictions were fulfilled (Lk. 24).

“Brethren” is gender neutral. Luke already told us that women were there. The NT uses the term “brethren” or “men” to include women (1 Tim. 2:4; Acts 17:34).

(Acts 1:16, 20) Doesn’t this passage imply fatalism?

(1:17) Apparently, it’s possible for non-believers to do ministry.

(Acts 1:18) How did Judas die?

(Acts 1:15-26) Does this passage support papal succession?

(1:21-22) Why did they need to bring the apostolic compliment up to twelve men? This must be symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Qumran covenanters thought that is was necessary to have 12 men in their leadership. There seems to be a New Testament fulfillment involved here (cf. Mt. 19:28; Lk. 22:30; Rev. 21:10; 12; 14).

This is probably metonymy—like saying, “I love you from head to toe.” These two body parts encompass everything in between. Peter is saying that the next apostle needed to be with Jesus from A to Z—from the beginning of his earthly ministry (baptism) to the end (ascension). Note that the focus was on the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. A “witness” was not a subjective concept to them, but more like a witness in a court of law, reporting the facts.

(1:23) There is some later historical tradition about these two men, but we don’t know too much about them. This is the last time they’re mentioned in the NT.

(1:24) Since the Lord Jesus was the one to elect the apostles (Acts 1:2), it seems that they’re praying directly to Jesus here. Jesus was also called Lord in verse 21.

(Acts 1:26) Should we cast lots?

The main point is that Christian leaders are assessed by personal qualifications, prayer, and divine appointment. The apostles were a closed fraternity of men. When James is killed by Herod (Acts 12:1-2), the church doesn’t replace him.

Acts 2:1-13 (Pentecost)

Luke had been anticipating this event (Lk. 3:15-17; 24:47-49; Acts 1:4-5). Moreover, the OT had foreshadowed this event as well (Num. 11:29; Isa. 32:15; 44:3; Ezek. 36:27).

(Acts 2:1-4) Does this passage support the Pentecostal doctrine of the second blessing?

(2:1) The festival of Pentecost comes from the Old Testament (Lev. 23:15-16; Deut. 16:9-12). “Pente” means “50,” so this festival was 50 days after the Passover. Pentecost was originally called the Festival of the First Fruits (Ex. 23:16; Lev. 23:17-22; Num. 28:26-31). It was one of the three great pilgrim festivals (along with Passover and Tabernacles), where Jews from all over would make a pilgrimage back to Jerusalem to celebrate. Pentecost was also the time where the Jews would renew their commitment to the law of God (Jub 6:17; b Peshaim 68b; M Tanchuma 26c).

For the prophetic fulfillment of Passover, see “Foreshadowing in the Festival System.”

Luke’s emphasis is on the when—not the where—of the event. It’s in a “house.” Was it the “upper room” mentioned earlier (1:13)? Maybe he doesn’t mention the location because the location doesn’t matter. Just like God made a burning bush holy in Exodus 3, he made this unnamed house holy when he filled these believers with the Holy Spirit.

(2:2) The wind refers to the Spirit. Pneuma (in Greek) or ruah (in Hebrew) were interchangeable. Notice that this is the language of simile (“like a violent rushing wind” and “as of fire”). There was some sort of supernatural event, and Luke tries to capture the miracle as best as he can. The “wind” could also harken back to Genesis 2:7, where God breathes life into the first humans.

(2:3) Fire was a symbol of the divine presence (Ex. 3:2 BURNING BUSH; 13:21 GUIDED ISRAEL; 24:17 MOUNT SINAI; 40:38 TABERNACLE).

(2:4) These are different from the tongues in Corinth, because people could understand them here, but not in Corinth (1 Cor. 14:9). This verb apophthengomai is used here (cf. Acts 2:14; 26:25) as representative of clear and articulate speech. In Acts 26:25, it is contrasted with babbling.

This day births the existence of the Church. Before this day, the church did not exist:

(Jn. 7:38-39) “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ 39But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

(Jn. 14:26) “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”

(Acts 11:15-17) “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. 16 “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 “Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

(2:5) It might not be that these men were there temporarily for the festival, but had moved to Israel from these lands permanently.

(2:6) First, they hear the sound. Then, they listen to the language. The diversity of tongues symbolized an international mission.

The term for “bewildered” (synechythe) was used at the Tower of Babel (LXX) to refer to how the people would have their languages “confused.” God is rebuilding what was lost at Babel through the Church.

(2:7-8) Longenecker writes, “Galileans had difficulty pronouncing gutturals and had the habit of swallowing syllables when speaking; so they were looked down upon by the people of Jerusalem as being provincial.”[27] The Jewish people were able to identify Peter as having a Galilean accent after the death of Christ (Mk. 14:70).

Imagine a group of hillbillies speaking in perfect French! God chose the non-esteemed people to have the most important role (1 Cor. 1:26-31).

Peter Wagner “reports of several missionaries who have been given this gift of speaking in the unknown tongue of the people among whom they were ministering.”[28]

(2:9-11) Some think that these “visitors from Rome” went back and started the church in Rome. No apostle had ever been to Rome when Paul wrote the book of Romans.

(2:12) They saw a miracle, but they were trying to understand its meaning. Miracles have meanings that God is trying to communicate. It’s possible to see a miracle and not understand what it means. In the gospel of John, Jesus performed seven signs (sumeia), but the bystanders often missed their meaning.

(2:13) Miracles can actually have the opposite effect on those who don’t want to hear. They can harden people further into rebellion from God. It’s worth noting that many of these skeptics, however, came to Christ after hearing Peter preach.

Acts 2:14 (Peter’s speech)

(2:14) Peter could have been cowardly like the last time he was called to give an account in front of slave-girls (Mt. 26:69ff). Instead, he “takes his stand” here in front of the religious leaders.

He stands with the other apostles (“the eleven”). Fernando writes, “Ministry is almost always done as a team in Acts.”[29]

(2:15) People didn’t get drunk this early. It wasn’t common. Longenecker writes, “Unfortunately, this argument was more telling in antiquity than today.”[30]

(Acts 2:16-21) Does Peter misquote Joel 2:28-32?

(2:22) The men were writing off the miracle and prophetic-fulfillment of Pentecost right in front of them. Peter notes that they also wrote off the miracles of Jesus. When will they learn? The religious leaders didn’t deny that Jesus performed miracles, but they denied the source or the meaning of these events (Mt. 12:24; Josephus, Antiquities, 18:63-64; Sanhedrin, 43a, 107b; Justin Martyr, Dialogues, 69.7).

For a devotional point, Peter’s preaching begins with Jesus, and it ends with Jesus.

(2:23) The death and suffering of Christ was not an accident. God planned the whole thing. This passage blends God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. In Acts 4:26-28, we see these “godless men” were both the Roman leaders and the Jewish leaders.

“Delivered over by the predetermined plan…” The term “predetermined” (hōrizo) means “to separate entities and so establish a boundary… to set limits to” or “to make a determination about an entity, determine, appoint, fix, set” (BDAG). This is the same term used in Acts 17:26 for how God has “determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation.”

“Foreknowledge of God…” The term “foreknowledge” (prognōsis) comes from the roots pro (“before”) and ginōskō in Classical Greek meant “to know or perceive in advance, to see the future.”[31]

Proginōskō is used in the Septuagint only three times to refer to knowing the future (Wisdom of Solomon 6:13; 8:8; 18:6). The noun (prognōsis) is used only twice to refer to knowing the future (Judg. 9:6; 11:19).

In the NT, the term can be used for “knowing the future” (1 Pet. 1:2; 2 Pet. 3:17; Rom. 8:2; 11:2) or for “knowing them beforehand” (i.e. known in the past; Acts 26:5; 1 Pet. 1:20).

“You nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.”

(2:24) It was impossible because God was behind raising him from the dead. This must be referring to physical death. Jesus abolished this at the Cross. This is already-not-yet language.

(Acts 2:25-28) Why does Peter cite Psalm 16:10 to demonstrate the resurrection of Jesus?

(2:32) Peter states that the apostles are witnesses of this predicted resurrection.

(2:33) Because Jesus is our mediator, we now have the gift of the Holy Spirit. It seems like Peter is saying, “Do you think this coming of the Holy Spirit was just a coincidence with the death and resurrection of Jesus? No way! This is all fulfilling prophecy!”

(2:34-35) Is Peter citing Psalm 110 to support the resurrection of Jesus or the ascension of Jesus? Jesus hasn’t taken over his enemies yet, but he will (“Until I make your enemies a footstool…”).

(2:36) If Israel just crucified her Messiah, what will happen to Israel? Instead of preaching a message of judgment, Peter preaches a message of incredible hope and forgiveness.

Jesus is called “Lord” (kyrios). Fernando writes, “In this speech kyrios is used for Jesus in ways that were used for God in the LXX (see vv. 20–21); moreover, Jesus as Lord has taken on divine functions, such as pouring out the Spirit (v. 33) and being the object of faith (v. 21). Note how in verse 36 Jesus is called Lord while in verse 39 God continues to be called Lord.”[32]

(2:37) They were “pierced to the heart.” Bock says this verb “refers to a sharp pain or a stab, often associated with emotion.”[33] The preaching of the word can have this effect: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

(2:38) Repentance just means “a change of mind.” Elsewhere, we read of a “repentance toward God” (Acts 20:21). Repentance shouldn’t ever lead to guilt, but to grace.

(Acts 2:38) Is baptism necessary for salvation?

(2:39) The Greek word makran is used in 22:21, as referring to the Gentiles: “Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.”

(2:40) This speech is not exhaustive. The NIV translation states that Peter “warned them; and he pleaded with them.” Jesus referred to the “corrupt generation” (Mt. 16:4; 17:17). So did Paul (Phil. 2:15).

(2:41) Not bad for your first teaching! Millard Erickson comments, “One simply cannot account for the effectiveness of those early believers’ ministry on the basis of their abilities or efforts. They were not unusual persons. The results were a consequence of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Students in a homiletics class were required to prepare sermons based on various sermons recorded in the Bible. When the students came to Acts 2, they discovered that Peter’s address at Pentecost is not a marvel of homiletical perfection. All of them were able to prepare sermons that were technically superior to that of Peter, yet none of them expected to surpass his results. The results of Peter’s sermon exceed the skill with which it was prepared and delivered. The reason for its success lies in the power of the Holy Spirit.”[34]

The four essentials of fellowship

We might wonder how 120 people were able to lead these 3,000 new converts. This section is brief, but it gives us a window into what this looked like. Rather than calling this “follow up,” Fernando refers to this section as “follow-through care,”[35] describing how these leaders looked after these brand new Christians.

(2:42) Longenecker writes, “The verb translated “devoted” (proskartereō) is a common one that connotes a steadfast and singleminded fidelity to a certain course of action.”[36] We need these four elements in our Christian community in order to experience the awe of what God is doing among us in verse 43.

(1) “to the apostles’ teaching…” Jesus had just spent 3.5 years teaching the disciples. Now it’s their turn. Moreover, Jesus held Bible studies for 40 days after his resurrection, and concluded by instructing the apostles to “teach” new believers all that he had instructed them (Mt. 28:20).

(2) “to fellowship…” This is the only time this word (koinonia) is used in Luke’s writings. It is a favorite term of Paul’s. It comes from the term koine, which means “sharing.”

(3) “to the breaking of bread…” Though the English translation doesn’t capture this nuance, this passage contains the article before “bread” (“the bread”). In verse 46, the article isn’t there (“breaking bread from house to house”). Moreover, since the other three activities have direct spiritual connotations, it would seem to follow that this one does as well. This leads some commentators to believe that this is referring to the practice of the Lord’s Supper.[37]

Others argue that the expression is only used one other time to refer to a regular meal (Lk. 24:35).

(4) “to prayer…” Here we see the great theme of prayer being expressed as central to the Christian community.

Consequences of these essentials

(2:43) The “fear” (phobos) refers to being astonished and in awe (cf. Acts 5:26). It is associated with “comfort” (Acts 9:31).

(Acts 2:44-45) Were the early Christians the first communists (c.f. 4:32)?

(Acts 2:44-45) Fernando writes, “The important point is that the fellowship touched the pocketbook too!”[38]

(2:46) They met daily. They were like-minded. They met in house churches. They were eating together. This produced a generous and sincere spirit in the people. Fernando argues that this generic “breaking of bread” probably included the Lord’s Supper too—in addition to the shared meals.

(2:47) There was something about this community that the non-Christians could see was attractive. They enjoyed the generosity which the Christians provided. Could the same be said today in Christian community?

Acts 3 (Healing the crippled man)

Earlier, Luke mentioned that the apostles were performing many miracles among the people (Acts 2:43). Here we read about one particular miracle performed by Peter and John.

(3:1) The ninth hour is 3pm. The first hour of the day for the Jewish people was 6am.

(3:2) This lame beggar had been crippled since birth. Acts 4:22 states that he was 40 years old. He knew nothing different. He was at the mercy of people’s generosity. He sat at the eastern gate of the Temple.

(3:3) He’s expecting some spare change, but instead, he gets his life changed.

(3:4) Apparently, the man wasn’t even looking people in the eye. He was so downcast and despairing that he was looking down as he raised his hand in the air for money.

(3:6) The apostles lived simple lives, so Peter doesn’t have money to give him.

“In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene…” Longenecker writes, “In Semitic thought, a name does not just identify or distinguish a person; it expresses the very nature of his being. Hence the power of the person is present and available in the name of the person.”[39] Notice, however, that Jesus never appeals to a higher name than his own. Marshall writes, “Jesus himself had no need to appeal to a higher authority such as the name of God.”[40]

(3:7-8) The miracle results in the man praising God. Chuck Smith tells the story of praying for a man in a wheel chair. He sensed that God was telling him to heal the man. He prayed over him and told him to get up and walk. He did! The family said, “We didn’t bring him to get healed… He had a financial problem.” Incidentally, the man hadn’t walked in six years.

(3:9-11) The miracle had an evangelistic effect on the crowd.

Peter combines this miracle with a message

(3:12) When God works powerfully through us, it’s tempting to take the credit or glorify ourselves. Peter (rightly) gives the glory to God. Chuck Smith points out that one of the greatest dangers of ministry is to take God’s glory from him.

People will want to glorify you as you make an impact on their lives. This is like a person praising a scalpel, rather than the surgeon who wielded it. Don’t you dare take the credit! Smith says that this is the biggest pitfall for any servant of God. (Smith, “Characteristics of a Servant”—sermon) We see the same situation in Acts 14. Fernando concurs,

Peter made a serious effort to deflect glory from himself. People often associate power with the instrument of miraculous occurrences. If not, they at least say that this person was used because he is a holy or great person. Peter vigorously refuted the idea that the healing of the crippled man was done through their power or godliness (v. 12). Instead, it was done ‘by faith in the name of Jesus,’ and even that faith ‘comes through him’ (v. 16). Luke does not say whose faith is being referred to. He perhaps deliberately leaves that question open so that the focus will be entirely on Christ. Peter and Paul both try to deflect glory from themselves elsewhere in Acts (10:26; 14:14–15). This is a refreshing change from what Luke describes in his Gospel, where the disciples began disputing among themselves as to which one was the greatest (Luke 9:46; 22:24). They have finally heeded Jesus’ warning that ‘everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted’ (Luke 14:11; 18:14; cf. 9:48; 22:26).[41]

God puts his glory in a cheap clay pot. Why?! So that people wouldn’t glorify the clay pot (us), but rather, the treasure inside (Christ).

In the midst of talking about spiritual gifts in Romans 12, Paul writes, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Rom. 12:3 NIV).

Peter was used by God, because he appeals to God and then his word in the following verses.

(3:13-15) There is so much backwards wisdom and irony going on here. The nation put to death the Prince of life. They wanted a murderer, instead of an innocent man. They disowned the One whom God glorified.

(3:16) The miracle of the healing was an object-lesson to demonstrate faith in Christ. Peter doesn’t tell us whose faith healed him. He must’ve wanted the focus to be on Jesus—not anyone’s faith.

(3:17) Peter says that they were “ignorant” (agnoia) of the fact that they killed the Savior. Agnoia literally means “a lack of knowledge.”

Peter is now giving them the information that they lacked. Then, he calls them to act on it. This must be what he has in mind by bringing them back to the OT prophecy about Jesus (v.18).

(3:18) See “Jesus and Messianic Prophecy.”

(3:19-21) Here is the conclusion to Peter’s explanation of their guilt: Forgiveness. They need to repent before the Second Coming of Christ, where he will return to judge. Longenecker writes, “The verbal form of apokatastasis (“restoration”), is often used in the LXX of the eschatological restoration of Israel (cf. Jer 15:19; 16:15; 24:6; 50:19 [27:19 LXX]; Ezek 16:55; Hos 11:11).”[42]

7 out of 11 times “return” is used in Acts, it is used of returning to God (Acts 3:19-21; 9:35, 40; 11:21; 14:15-17; 15:19-20, 36; 16:18; 26:16-20).

If these people who killed Jesus could have their sins “wiped away,” then surely anyone can receive forgiveness.

(Acts 3:21) Does this passage imply universalism?

(Acts 3:22-23) Why does Peter apply this passage to Jesus?

(3:23) Peter blends Deuteronomy 18:19 and Leviticus 23:29 to make the point that the people should listen to God’s prophets. Jesus was the ultimate prophet from God.

(3:24) The concept of following the prophets is in the Torah, but it is also true throughout the rest of the OT.

(3:25-26) These prophets even stretch all the way back to Genesis 12 in the Abrahamic Covenant. God wanted to bless the world through a descendant of Abraham, and the Jewish people deserved to hear about this first.

Acts 4 (Persecution from the priests)

(4:1) This public teaching instigated the religious authorities.

Who was the captain of the temple guard? Bock writes that he “was in charge of the temple police (Neh. 13:11; 2 Macc. 3:4; Josephus, Antiquities, 20.6.2 §131; Jewish Wars, 6.5.3 §294)… He was a member of the high-priestly family and the number two man at the temple, an elite position among the Levites who made up the temple guard… He officiated over the daily whole offering and was captain of the temple police, whose role at the temple was to keep the peace and not allow any messianic expectations that Rome would dislike (John 11:47–48).”[43]

This would be similar to having the cops called on you. He add legal authority to have the Police arrest people.

(4:2) The Sadducees (v.1) denied the resurrection, so they would’ve hated the apostolic message.

(4:3) Jesus had predicted this would happen (Lk. 21:12). They put them in lockup until they could assemble the judges to hear their case.

(4:4) This could either mean that 5,000 were added, or the total number went up to 5,000. Bock favors the first view.[44] Bruce favors the latter view.[45] This seems to simply be referring to only the men—not the women and children—though commentators are divided on this.

(4:5-6) All of the top religious leaders gathered to address the case. This must have been confusing for them, because they just put Jesus of Nazareth to death. A failed messianic pretender wouldn’t have people still following him, but Jesus still did.

Annas was high priest from AD 6 to 14, but he still had authority during this time.

Caiaphas was from the family of Annas. He was high priest from AD 18-36.

Jonathan replaced Caiaphas as high priest in AD 37.

Alexander was an unknown member of this family.

It’s possible that the apostle Paul gives us the information about this closed meeting, because Paul was trained by Gamaliel.

(4:7) The authorities didn’t deny the reality of the miracles (cf. v.16). Instead, they denied the supernatural source.

In Greek, the order shows importance. The pronoun (“you”) is put at the end of the sentence. This is an allusion back to Acts 3:12, where Peter said that it wasn’t his own power that caused the healing. Bock writes, “Josephus notes an examination scene with the Sanhedrin involving Herod (Antiquities, 14.9.4 §§168–76). The participants would have been present in a semicircle around Peter and John (Mishnah Sanhedrin, 4.3 notes that the group was organized like “the half round of a threshing floor so they could all see one another”).”[46]

(4:8) This is such a different picture of Peter than the one we find in the gospels. The key to Peter’s “confidence” (cf. Acts 4:13) is the fact that he’s “filled with the Holy Spirit.”

(4:9) Jesus was put on trial for his miracles of compassion too. Note that the authorities didn’t deny that a supernatural event took place. Instead, they denied the source of the power.

(4:10) Peter uses this event as an opportunity to preach the gospel.

(4:11) Peter cites Psalm 118:22 to show that in Israel’s history they often rejected the cornerstone.

(4:12) No one but Jesus saved this crippled man, and no one but Jesus can save humanity.

(4:13) “Uneducated” (agrammatoi) means “lacking formal education.” Bock comments, “It need not mean ‘unable to read’ but simply that the person lacks a certain level of skills.”[47]

“Untrained” (idiotai) means “a layperson in religious matters” (BDAG).

The “began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.” Maybe they remembered hurling this accusation at Jesus (Jn. 7:15). Maybe they realized that the source of their wisdom came from being discipled by Jesus.

(4:14) This healed man had been standing there the whole time. He’s like an exhibition of undeniable evidence in a court of law. Jesus predicted that the apostles would speak so well that their opponents wouldn’t be able to reply (Lk. 21:15).

(4:15-18) They conferred privately. They couldn’t deny the miracle. So they ordered silence on the name of Christ. We probably know about this conversation, because Gamaliel was present, who was Paul’s teacher.

If they couldn’t stop the miracles (acts of God), how would they expect to stop his messengers (the words of God)?

(4:19) Should they be obedient to religious leaders or to God? Their question answers itself.

For more on civil disobedience, see comments on Romans 13:1-7.

(4:20) This is a pretty honest claim. They couldn’t help from declaring what they had seen. They’re saying, “We can’t stop!”

(4:21-22) By contrast to the apostles, the religious leaders were giving in to the pressure of the society at large (“on account of the people”).

(4:23) It would be amazing to go back and say that you just stood up to the religious and political elite of your day! Instead of taking pride or ego from this, this event brought them deeper into prayer and reliance.

(4:24) They acknowledge the sovereignty and power of God. The fact that he is the Creator implies both (citing Neh. 9:6; Ps. 146:6).

(4:25-28) They acknowledge the omniscience of God. They cite Psalm 2:1-2 which is a messianic psalm about the future. Here they see that even in the crucifixion God had the upper hand. Even when the rulers killed the Messiah, this was all according to God’s plan (vv.27-28).

“Purpose” (boulē) is “that which one thinks about as possibility for action, plan, purpose, intention” or “that which one decides, resolution, decision” (BDAG).

“Predetermined” (proorizō) comes from the words pro (“before”) and horizō “to determine.” Thus this term means to “decide upon beforehand, predetermine.”

God’s plan about Jesus was predetermined beforehand. Calvinists claim that this is true of all events (including our faith, moral decisions, etc.). However, such a concept goes beyond this passage. This passage merely states that God predetermined his plan for Jesus’ death on the Cross, which the OT makes abundantly clear.

(4:29) They pray that the threats and fears wouldn’t stop them from stepping out in faith and speaking boldly. It’s interesting that they don’t pray for protection from Satan or from persecution. Instead, they pray for boldness and confidence to do what God called them to do.

(4:30) They trusted that God would still perform his work through them—despite the threats.

(4:31) When the room shakes, that’s God’s way of saying, “I liked that prayer!” Also, God answered the prayer to give them “boldness.”

(4:32, 34) This was a highly generous group. They were theologically and missionally unified.

(4:33) God empowered the apostolic teaching about the resurrection.

(4:35) The apostles would distribute the funds in the church. They were the men with the best character to handle the money.

(4:36-37) Here’s the introduction of Barnabas (Joseph—a Levite). He apparently sold his beachfront property on the island of Cyprus, and he gave it to the cause of Christ.

Application

These servants of Christ were people of prayer (Acts 3:1), gave him the glory (3:13), were people of the word (3:14ff), and were filled with the Holy Spirit (4:8). These were the men and women who turned the world upside down.

It’s interesting to note that Peter and John’s response must have been winsome, because some of these priests came to Christ as a result (Acts 6:7).

Peter is transformed powerfully in a short amount of time. He is confident, and he is wise and knowledgeable of the Scriptures (v.13).

God was supporting them and keeping them alive.

Acts 5:1-16 (Ananias and Sapphira)

Satan has seen the Christian community growing. He tried external persecution. Here he tries an internal maneuver to rip apart this church.

(5:1) This hypocrisy stands in stark contrast to the generosity and authenticity of the other believers (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32, 34), as well as that of Barnabas (Acts 4:36-37). Perhaps Ananias and Sapphira saw the praise given to others for their generosity, and they wanted some of that for themselves. Maybe they saw the apostles openly encouraging people for their financial giving, and they wanted the same notoriety.

(5:2) The expression “kept back” (enosphisato) is the same term used for Achan holding back the spoils of war (Josh. 7:1; LXX). Bock writes, “It is a verb tied to financial fraud,”[48] citing a few examples (2 Macc. 4:32; Josephus, Antiquities, 4.8.29 §274). They were able to keep the money if they wanted (v.4). The fraud occurred when they were pretending to be more spiritual than they were.

Both were responsible for this. Sapphira knew about the fraud (“with his wife’s full knowledge”).

(5:3) How did Peter discover this? Did he have some sort of prophetic gifting? Was he told? How did he know that “Satan” was involved?

We can either be filled by the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2:4; 4:31) or by Satan (“why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit…”).

(5:4) The great sin was not the amount given. The early church affirmed personal property (“Did it not remain your own… Was it not under your control?”). They could’ve kept this estate to themselves. Instead, they sold it and exaggerated the price to look spiritual in the community. The major sin here was the fact that they would “lie” (mentioned twice in this rebuke). This couple was guilty of hypocrisy. Lying can spoil a Christian community (Prov. 26:28).

(5:5-6) How did Peter know that God would take Ananias’ life right on the spot? He must have some sort of prophetic gift. They remove the body before Sapphira shows up for “Act Two.”

(5:7) Where was she when her husband died? How did no one mention this to her in that span of three hours? The text simply doesn’t say.

(5:8) Peter gave Sapphira an opportunity to tell the truth. If the sin was greediness, Peter wouldn’t have asked her this question. Instead, he wanted to know if she would be honest.

(5:9-10) How was this act of hypocrisy “putting the Spirit to the test”?

(5:11) Is “fear” a good or bad thing in this context?

What was the sin committed here? Ananias and Sapphira committed the sin of lying, but why did they lie? They were lying to portray themselves as more godly than they actually were. This was the sin of hypocrisy.

Why is God’s response so severe? I have lied worse than Ananias and Sapphira, but I haven’t been struck dead. They gave some money to the church after all. The real issue was hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy

In the historical backdrop, the Pharisees were the models of spirituality for the Jewish people—yet they were woefully hypocritical. God didn’t want these Jewish people to go in the same direction.

Hypocrisy is devastating to the world. Notice that verse 14 states, “All the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number.” Honesty in the church leads to growth and evangelism. If God had permitted this, we might not be here today.

Hypocrisy kills spirituality. The end of Acts 4 tells of Barnabas’ generosity. Imagine what would’ve happened if hypocrisy came in alongside such generosity. It would’ve broken trust in this generous community. Jesus taught, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (Mt. 23:15).

Hypocrisy is contagious. Jesus taught, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Lk. 12:1).

Hypocrisy is the opposite of love. Paul writes, “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good” (Rom. 12:9).

Hypocrisy rots the church from the inside out—not the outside in. In other religions, the heart of spirituality is external. In true spirituality, it is internal—in the heart. We aren’t just play-acting here. We are really living out what’s in our hearts.

What happens in churches that embrace hypocrisy?

When we fall into hypocrisy, we’re play acting instead of living the Christian life from the heart.

  • We can’t be honest.
  • We still do ministry.
  • We talk about sins from years ago—not from today.

Do you have a fear of hypocrisy in your own heart? Hypocrisy is at work in each of us. If you don’t think so, you’re in deep danger.

How do we have a change of mind from hypocrisy?

Treasure God’s view of you. We are hardwired to need affirmation, acceptance, and praise. The truth is, we have it! We need to be reminded of the importance and reality of this incredible gift.

Develop spiritual friendships. Talk about your current struggles with people. Paul writes, “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Eph. 4:25). James writes, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (Jas. 5:16). Are you aversive to friendships like this? Being in a home church doesn’t guarantee this anymore than having a gym membership will ensure a healthy body!

Develop hidden time with God. Jesus says,

Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. 2 So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. (Mt. 6:1-2)

When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Mt. 6:5-6)

(5:13) Who are “the rest” mentioned here? It can’t refer to non-Christians, because it is contrasted with “the people” who were being added to the kingdom (vv.15-16). It could be that this had a positive effect on believers. When God roots out hypocrisy, it’s hard on the church, but good for the world. (Honestly, it’s good for both, but God only busts believers on their hypocrisy). Bock agrees, “In all likelihood, the rest are believers who recognize the tense environment in which the apostles are working.”[49] In other words, hypocrites were repelled, but honest seekers were drawn.

(5:14) The result of purging this hypocrisy was that they had a good standing with the community. Before, Luke mentioned specific numbers. Now, it seems like he’s lost count (“multitudes… were added to their number”).

(Acts 5:15) How could Peter’s shadow heal people?

(5:16) They were healing their physical illnesses (“bringing their sick”) and their spiritual illnesses (“tormented by evil spirits”). Not all spirituality is good. Driscoll states, “Just as you wouldn’t invite every person into your home, you shouldn’t invite any sort of spirit into your life.”

Acts 5:17-42 (Gamaliel)

How did Luke know what the high priest was saying behind closed doors? You might answer that God revealed this to him, but another answer is available. Namely, some of these men came to Christ (Acts 6:7).

(5:17-18) The Sadducees were the original ones to have their authority challenged by Peter and John (cf. Acts 4:1). The Sadducees controlled the Council, and they profited from the Temple worship, making a deal with the Romans (see “Judaism in Jesus’ Day”).

Were all of the apostles locked up? The plural apostles implies that all of them were taken.

(5:19-21) That night, there was an angelic jailbreak. It’s ironic that an angel broke them out, because Sadducees didn’t believe in angels!

The apostles weren’t freed so that they could go home. They were freed so that they could go publicly preach (“Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life”).

We later see an angel breaking Peter out of prison (Acts 12) and Paul and Silas out of prison (Acts 16). Later, the angel does not break Paul out of jail in Acts 21-28. God will sovereignly choose to free his people, let them die (James of Zebedee; Acts 12:2), or let them sit in prison.

The apostles were arrested in public, and now, they were preaching in public.

(5:22-23) This must have been spooky to hear. The apostles had been known among the people for their “signs and wonders.” Now, they are witnessing a miracle firsthand that is thwarting their plans.

(5:24) The Sadducees didn’t believe in the supernatural, so this miracle would’ve be very perplexing to them when they got the report.

(5:26) They needed to re-arrest the apostles. The leadership was afraid of the people performing a lynch-mob on the leadership.

(5:27) The high priest was the most authoritative leader in Israel (besides the Roman governor). Imagine how intimidating this would be.

(5:28) Notice what the high priest doesn’t mention: How did they miraculously escape the prison cells?! He doesn’t want to talk about this.

Notice, too, that the high priest doesn’t use Jesus’ name. He calls him “this man.”

Instead, he reminds them of their previous prohibition to speak about Jesus (Acts 4:18), and he shows his distain for the fact that the apostles are incriminating him and the leadership for Jesus’ death (v.30). Bock writes, “The expression ‘His blood be upon us’ is an idiom for being responsible for someone’s death (Matt. 23:35; 27:25).”[50]

(5:29) For more on civil disobedience, see comments on Romans 13:1-7. Instead of phrasing this as a question (Acts 4:19), Peter makes this an assertion: “We’re not going to listen to you!”

(5:30) Peter still considers himself Jewish (“the God of our fathers”).

(5:31) Even though they are guilty, forgiveness is still available. Bock writes, “Judaism believed that at the end there would be a need to receive cleansing from sin (Psalms of Solomon. 17:22–29; Jubilees. 4.26; 50.5; 1 Enoch. 10.22; Testament of Levi 18.9; Testament of Judah. 24.1…). This is the apostles’ appeal. See what God is doing. It is not the apostles who need to obey God, but the leadership.”[51]

(5:32) All three members of the Trinity are mentioned here. How will the Jewish leadership respond? Imagine if they accepted this message. Perhaps Israel would still be a nation today, and the Jewish people would be the strongest believers in Jesus. We might think that this is strange, but God intended for his people to believe in their Messiah. It was because of unbelief that they rejected him.

This is a mic drop moment…

(5:33) The last time Peter preached this message, the people were “pierced to the heart.” They asked what they should do, and they quickly repented and met Christ. Here the leaders were “cut to the quick,” but it led them into a murderous rage.

Gamaliel intercedes

(5:34) Gamaliel intercedes for the apostles.

Who was Gamaliel? He was the apostle Paul’s teacher before he came to Christ (Acts 22:3). He was one of the few rabbis to be mentioned in later Jewish texts. Mishnah Sotah 9.15 says that when he died “the glory of the law ceased and purity and abstinence died.”[52] He studied under the great rabbi Hillel, who characteristically held to a looser interpretation of the law (contra rabbi Shammai who was stricter). This explains Gamaliel’s laissez-faire attitude toward the apostles here. Gamaliel and Paul must have been at odds with each other on how to approach the apostolic movement: Gamaliel called for a hands-off approach, while Paul called for persecution.

(Acts 5:36-37) Did Luke make a mistake in citing Theudas and Judas?

(5:38-39) Gamaliel argues that movements like this have come and gone before. Gamaliel felt that they didn’t need to interfere, but God would take care of it. We shouldn’t necessarily follow Gamaliel’s logic. False movement don’t necessarily die out (e.g. Islam, Mormonism, etc.). But based on Gamaliel’s own criterion, this would prove that Christianity is “of God” (v.39).

(5:40) They “took his advice,” but still flogged them! Bock writes, “The whipping would have been on the back and chest with a three-stranded strap of calf hide (Polhill 1992: 174). This could leave one close to death, if not dead, from loss of blood (Marshall 1980: 124). The hope is that by intensifying the punishment, a deterrent will be established. They are wrong.”[53] How did the apostles respond to this persecution…?

(5:41) This is an interesting perspective on suffering! They considered it a privilege to suffer. Why do you think they considered it a privilege to suffer for Christ? In an honor-shame culture, it would have been a dishonor to suffer shame. The apostles had the opposite view.

(5:42) The apostles did what they said they would do. They went right back into temple where they were captured in the first place.

Application

God powerfully reaches people through times of crisis. We see a pattern of crisis followed by growth. God doesn’t grow his church despite crisis, but in the midst of it.

Seeing people victoriously suffer has historically been powerful for evangelism. Tertullian writes, “Kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to dust.… The more you mow us down, the more we grow. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church… Who sees us die without enquiring why we do so?” (Tertullian, Apology, 50).

God allows us to experience fear, intimidation, and threats. Paul writes, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). We later see this angel breaking Peter out of prison (Acts 12) and Paul and Silas out of prison (Acts 16). Later, the angel does not break Paul out of jail in Acts 21-28. God will sovereignly choose to free his people, let them die (James of Zebedee; Acts 12:2), or let them sit in prison.

Commit to communicate. Peter keeps communicating with the authorities. When we don’t give our side of the story, it raises further questions in the mind of the persecutor. Solomon writes, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will also be like him. 5 Answer a fool as his folly deserves, that he not be wise in his own eyes” (Prov. 26:4-5). Paul writes, “When we are slandered, we try to reconcile” (1 Cor. 4:13), and he writes, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18).

We’re going to pay a price. They paid a price for righteousness (Mt. 5:10), rather than their own foolishness or unrighteousness. The way of Christ is a life of happiness, pleasure, and fulfillment. But, it’s also a life where we willingly choose to suffer. Have you decided to persevere—even when things with God aren’t exciting? Do you believe it is worth it?

The Pharisees were very religious, very educated, very powerful, very moral, very dedicated… and very, very far from God!

Acts 6:1-7 (Feeding the widows)

(6:1) This turmoil entered into the church even as they were growing (“while the disciples were increasing in number”). There is no such thing as a problem-free ministry. Even if we see growth, we need to tackle problems in the midst of this.

The early church was eagerly engaged in serving the poor (Jas. 1:27). But there were discrepancies regarding who was being fed. There is historical background for the racism between the Hellenistic Jews and Hebraic Jews:

  • Hellenistic Jews: These Jews assimilated more with the Greek conquest of the world (a process called “Hellenization”). They learned Greek, read the Septuagint, and didn’t know Hebrew.[54] Since they weren’t native born, they were considered second-class citizens.
  • Hebraic Jews: These Jews resisted assimilation. They read their Bible in Hebrew—not Greek.

Now, both of these Jewish groups had come to Christ, and their previous barriers were clashing. There was “murmuring” (gongysmos) going on. The people were talking: “Why are they getting more help than us?

This isn’t so much racism as it would be classism. That is, these were all Jewish people, but they had different status in each others’ eyes. Do you have a problem with classism occurring in the early church? Why? This is a sin in the human heart, and it appeared in the church like anywhere else. The difference is that the Christian community had a way to battle it (Gal. 3:28), and they quickly moved to correct it. I wonder if the apostles were preaching sermons on this at the time (v.4).

(6:2) This is a good leadership principle. People in the church often expect their leaders to do all of the ministry—whereas the Bible teaches that the leaders are supposed to “equip the saints for the works of service” (Eph. 4:12). As leaders, we need to be selective. The Word and prayer should be our priority (v.4). If we lose this ministry, we lose everything. If someone else can do a good job with an important ministry, why not delegate it to them?

The apostles didn’t get frustrated with the complaining of the people—nor did they ignore the problem. Instead, they set up administrative duties so that this problem could be solved.[55] Sometimes, leaders and administrators butt heads in the church. But when done well, leaders and administrators are not enemies, but allies. The apostles created administrative structures to help this problem, so that they could get back to leading in more important ways.

(6:3) They had plurality of leadership (“seven men”). They chose them by consensus (“select from among you”). The leaders were men of character (“full of the Spirit and of wisdom”).

(6:4) This is similar language to Acts 2:42. They wanted to keep the main things central.

(6:5) It doesn’t seem like the apostles were taking a vote. That is, they weren’t asking the church if they agreed. Instead, they made a decision, and the church recognized that this was wise. It would be misinformed to think that this passage supports congregational leadership.

At the same time, the apostles didn’t take an authoritarian posture either. They delegated the selecting of these men to the “disciples.” Therefore, the fellowship played a vital role in selecting these leaders. This is a good blend of directional leadership as well as delegation.

Philip returns in Acts 8. Notice all the Greek names on this list. Gonzalez writes, “It would seem that all seven were ‘Hellenists,’ for they had Greek names. Thus, the naming of the seven would appear as an attempt to give greater voice in the affairs of the church to the Hellenistic party, while the twelve, all ‘Hebrews,’ would continue being the main teachers and preachers.”[56]

Some churches get their concept of deacons being service-oriented ministers from this passage. Ajith Fernando writes, “Though Luke does not use the word ‘deacon’ here to describe the Seven, this decision laid the foundation for the diaconal order, which, while taking different forms in the history of the church, has rendered great service in mediating Christ’s love to needy people. Barclay observes, ‘It is extremely interesting to note that the first office-bearers to be appointed were chosen not to talk but for practical service.’”[57]

The root word for “deacon” (diakonia) is used in verse 1 (“daily serving of food”) and verse 2 (“serve tables”). However, the same term is used for the “ministry of the word” in verse 4. The term doesn’t refer to a service ministry versus a speaking ministry; rather, the term diakonia simply means “ministry” or “service” of any kind. Later, we discover that Stephen (one of these seven men) was a powerful speaker, debater, and thinker.

The concept that this passage is setting up an office for deacons simply isn’t warranted from this text. Even if it was, it wouldn’t support the notion that deacons only exist for the purpose of service ministry. This is simply a mark of church tradition—not Scripture. We agree with Bock, who writes, “This is probably not the origin of the office of deacon. This title is never used of the group, nor is there evidence that these men do all the things that deacons did.”[58]

(6:7) Luke is careful to note that growth in the church is important. Even priests were coming to Christ in big numbers. Again, it seems that Luke has lost count of the number of believers at this point (“the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly”).

Application

What is unity? Unity is organic—not organizational. Actually, when the Church did have a large organizational unity, it went really off track (AD 1200 to 1500).

Why is unity important? Why might Satan attack the unity of the Body of Christ? There is active division and passive division.

Good leadership is a safeguard against division. These seven men were highly gifted, yet they were willing to do lowly tasks like serving the tables. Leaders should be willing to serve wherever God wants them to. Stephen started being faithful with the small things, and God later used him in the greater things. We need to be faithful with the small stuff.

Importance of delegation. When we delegate, we make solutions out of our problems. Instead of looking at the Hellenists as a problem, the apostles looked at them as a solution. It takes stronger leadership to delegate, rather than becoming caught up with the “tyranny of the urgent.”

Acts 6:8-15 (Stephen—the visionary)

(6:8) The key to Stephen’s “power” was that he was “full of grace.” We get our power from the grace of God (Rom. 1:16; 2 Tim. 1:7). The apostles weren’t the only ones to do “wonders and signs.”

(6:9) This was a group of former Jewish slaves (maybe from the time of Pompey in 63 BC? Though that’s a century early).

  • Cyrenians were from north Africa.
  • Alexandrians were from Egypt.
  • Cilicians were from northeastern Mediterranean—such as Tarsus. Bock asks, “Might Paul have participated?”[59]

(6:10) This is a fulfillment of Luke 21:15.

(6:11) Blasphemy against God or one of his designated leaders was a capital crime (Ex. 22:28; Lev. 24:11ff). It’s interesting that Moses comes before God on their list of crimes. Bock writes, “The order of the blasphemy charge is unusual, with Moses preceding God, but it may point to how important the law is, in their view.”[60]

(6:12) They dragged him in front of the Sanhedrin Council for judgment.

(6:13-14) The charges surround the concept of holy places and practices. Bock writes, “These are serious charges, as Josephus in Ant. 10.11.2–3 §§233–43 describes Baltasar’s (Belshazzar’s) use of temple utensils at a pagan party (Dan. 5:2–4) as being blasphemous of things associated with God’s presence (also on the law, J.W. 2.8.9 §§145–49 [esp. the Sabbath]; Ant. 18.2.2 §230 [of the temple]).”[61]

The arrest and trial of Stephen has many similarities with Jesus (e.g. forcible arrest, Kangaroo court before the religious authorities, false witnesses, etc.).

(6:15) This shows that Jesus has passed his authority off to the disciples. Now the disciples speak for God with authority—just as Jesus did.

“Saw his face like the face of an angel…” Longenecker writes, “In Judaism very devout men were often spoken of as resembling angels. Luke here, however, probably wants us to understand that Stephen, being filled with the Holy Spirit (6:3, 5) and possessing a genuine spiritual winsomeness (6:8), radiated a presence marked by confidence, serenity, and courage.”[62] Marshall writes, “The description is of a person who is close to God and reflects some of his glory as a result of being in his presence (Exod. 34:29ff.).”[63]

Acts 7 (Stephen’s defense)

Commentators have long wondered what the point of Stephen’s speech even is:

Howard Marshall: “The purpose of this speech is still much disputed. In form it is a lengthy recital of Old Testament history, discussing in detail what appear to be insignificant points and culminating in a bitter attack on the speaker’s hearers. What is the speaker trying to do? [Regarding the mention of Joseph’s history, Marshall writes,] …It is not clear what the theological point of the details is.”[64]

Martin Dibelius: “The irrelevance of this speech has for long been the real problem of exegesis. It is, indeed, impossible to find a connection between the account of the history of Israel to the time of Moses (7:2-19) and the accusations against Stephen… The major part of the speech shows no purpose whatever… The most striking feature of this speech is the irrelevance of its main section.”[65]

The accusation against Stephen was threefold: (1) he speaks against Moses in 6:11, (2) he speaks against the Temple and the Law in 6:13, and (3) Christ would replace the Temple and the Law in 6:14. The main point of Stephen’s apologetic is this: God often worked through unusual spaces, places, and races in the past. Moreover, God’s own Jewish people were some of the staunchest rejecters of God’s ways. We agree with F.F. Bruce who writes, “A major theme of the speech is its insistence that the presence of God is not restricted to any one land or to any material building… the Jewish people’s refusal to acknowledge Jesus as Messiah was all of a piece with their attitude to God’s messengers from the beginning of their national history.”[66]

As you read through Stephen’s defense, note how Stephen repeatedly cites example after example of OT ways that (1) God was transcending spaces and races and (2) how the Jewish people themselves were resistant to God’s messengers and leadership. In a sense, Stephen is saying, “The Jewish people resisted God’s leadership and direction in the past, and now, it is happening all over again with the coming of his Messiah, Jesus.”

We owe our interpretation of this passage largely to Dennis McCallum’s article, “Strange Details in Stephen’s Defense.”

Abraham

(7:2) God first appeared to Abraham in Mesopotamia—not Israel.

(7:5) Abraham didn’t have any property in the “holy land.”

(7:6) Abraham’s descendants lived for 400 years outside the “holy land.”

(7:7) God was active in judging nations while the Jewish people were outside of the holy land.

(7:8) God gave Abraham the rite of circumcision before he was ever in the holy land.

Patriarchs

(7:9) God was present with Joseph—even though he was in the “unholy land” of godless Egypt. Notice that even the patriarchs were resistant to God’s man: Joseph.

(7:10) God used Joseph in unholy Egypt to bring a blessing to those Gentiles.

(7:11-14) The holy people got help from Egypt—not Israel.

(7:15-16) The patriarchs died outside of the “holy land.”

(7:17) The people of Israel were growing and being blessed in Egypt—not Israel.

Moses

(7:20-21) God used a Gentile ruler (Pharaoh’s daughter) to raise Moses. Moses was raised by Gentiles!

(7:22) If we should hate the Gentiles, then should we hate Moses who was “educated” by Gentiles?

(7:23) Moses didn’t know his own people until he was 40 years old. He lived the first four decades of his life with Gentiles—not Jews.

(7:24) Moses broke the Law by killing an Egyptian.

(7:25-28) Moses’ own Jewish people rejected his leadership. Similarly, the Jewish people of Stephen’s day rejected the leadership of Jesus.

(7:29-30) Moses received his calling in Midian—not Israel.

(7:31-33) God referred to a place in the land of Midian as “holy,” even though it’s outside of Israel. McCallum writes, “It would have been a serious mistake to stand around at this site when God had already moved on! In the same way, according to Stephen, God was moving in new directions as he spoke, but He was being inhibited by institutionalized foot-dragging on the part of his audience.”

(7:34) Even though the Jewish people were located in Egypt, God could still hear their prayers and take care of them.

(7:35) The people disowned their rightful ruler (which is similar to the people rejecting Jesus).

(7:36) Moses performed “signs and wonders” in Egypt and the Red Sea, which is outside of Israel.

(7:37) Moses predicted a future Prophet to whom the people should listen (Deut. 18:15). In Stephen’s day, this Prophet (Jesus) had come, but the Jewish people rejected Him.

(7:38-43) The problem wasn’t with God or with his leader. The people were “unwilling to be obedient” (v.39). Their unbelief was so bad that they wanted to return to Egypt. This unbelief and disobedience is compared to idolatry (vv.40-43). Similarly, the religious leaders in Stephen’s day were idolizing the Temple, rather than getting on board with God’s new covenant through Jesus.

(7:44-45) God’s presence moved in the wilderness in the tabernacle. God wanted to be present in different places—not one fixed location.

David

(7:46) It was David’s idea to build the Temple—not God’s. God wanted to have a portable tabernacle (vv.44-45).

(7:48-50) Even in the old covenant, God didn’t want to dwell in a Temple. The entire earth is only a footstool for God!

Stephen’s conclusion?

(7:51-53) The people were currently rebelling against God’s will—just as their ancestors did in the OT (v.51). He says that the history of the OT is one where all of the good guys (e.g. prophets) get murdered by the bad guys (e.g. the people).

(7:54-57) The problem wasn’t with the intellectual rigor of Stephen’s argument. The problem was with their hearts: they didn’t want to listen. They literally “covered their ears” (v.57).

It’s tragic that such a powerful speaker, thinker, and visionary would be killed at the start of the early church! Stephen really understood that God wanted to transcend the holy space (the Temple) and the holy race (the Jewish people) to reach all people. What a tragedy to see him killed!

But as it turns out… A young man was in the crowd, listening to the whole speech…

(7:58) Saul (later the apostle Paul) was soaking up everything Stephen said. Even though he wasn’t a believer at this time (Acts 8:1), he would later repeat things he heard in Stephen’s defense (compare Acts 7:48 with Acts 17:24; cf. Rom. 2:17-24).

(7:59-60) Stephen’s trial was a lot like Jesus’ trial. His death was a lot like Jesus’ death. He even forgives his persecutors like Jesus did (Lk. 23:34). But instead of committing his soul to God the Father as Jesus did (Lk. 23:46), Stephen commited his soul to God the Son (“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”).

Acts 8 (Philip’s ministry in Samaria)

(8:1) God can sovereignly use suffering to reach people (v.4). If this hadn’t happened, maybe the gospel wouldn’t have left Jerusalem so quickly. It moved up to Samaria and the broader region of Judea.

“On that day a great persecution began…” Up until this point, the Christian leaders had suffered floggings, but average Christians hadn’t receive persecution like this. There were several thousand brand new believers (at least 5,000). They fled for their lives.

“Except the apostles…” The apostles bravely stayed where God planted them.

(8:2) We are supposed to grieve as Christians. Bock writes, “They are honoring Stephen, as Mishnah Sanhedrin, 6.5-6 permits burial of one who was stoned but no lamentation. Their act is both defiant and a statement of their perception that Stephen was righteous.”[67] This is probably why these were called “devout” men. They were taking a stand in having this funeral service.

(8:3) The growth of the early church and the speech of Stephen sparked Saul (Paul) to take action.

(8:4) Persecution had the opposite effect that Saul had hoped for: it led to courage—not cowering. The faithfulness of the apostles must’ve rubbed off on these persecuted believers.

Philip’s ministry

(8:5) Christ’s prediction is coming true (Acts 1:8). We’ve gone seven chapters, but we’re finally getting into Samaria. Considering the ethnic hostility with the Jews and Samaritans, this is shocking to see the gospel spreading to these people (see “History of the Samaritans”).

(8:6-8) Miracles weren’t just for the apostles. Phillip’s miracles were specifically about healing sick or possessed people (v.7). That is, Philip healed both spiritual and physical maladies. People were open to the gospel—even though they were Samaritans (v.8).

(8:9-11) Simon was the original miracle worker in town. He got a big name for himself from working occult miracles. How will he react to Phillip taking over his prestige?

The early church fathers had all sorts of accounts of Simon’s wickedness in the early church (most of which are likely legendary and not historical).[68] Irenaeus claimed that he started Gnosticism (Against Heresies 1.16). Hippolytus claimed that Simon allowed himself to be buried in Rome, and predicted that he would rise from the dead on the third day. Hippolytus notes that he didn’t rise (Refutation of All Heresies 6.2-15). Justin Martyr and Tertullian both claimed that Simon erected a statue of himself in Rome with the title: “SIMON THE GREAT GOD” (Justin Martyr, First Apology 26.2; Tertullian, Apology 13.9). The apocryphal work The Acts of Peter (4-32) states that Simon was bested by the apostle Peter in a magic contest, where Peter showed God’s miraculous powers over Simon’s occult practice.

(8:12-13) Philip’s miracles were greater than Simon’s, but his message was what changed the hearts of people. Even Simon became a believer.

Peter and John come to see Philip’s work in Samaria for themselves

(8:14) Why would the apostles need to send a delegation to witness the Samaritans coming to Christ? The Samaritans were so hated by the Jews, this was probably shocking. Even though Jesus predicted this (Acts 1:8), it was still a surprise to them.

(8:15-17) God waited to give them the Holy Spirit to break down racial barriers. After all, it was in this city that John had wanted to call down the fire of judgment on the Samaritans (Lk. 9:53-54). Instead of judgment, God sends John to watch them receive the Holy Spirit!

On the subject of the delay of the Holy Spirit, see our earlier article “Is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit Biblical?”

(8:18-19) Simon—a former occult magician—thought that he could pay for the supernatural power that the apostles had. This fits with the mindset of occult practice—whereby we pay to get spiritual control and power.

(8:20-24) Did Simon lose his salvation?

(8:25) Peter and John got their fill of preaching to the Samaritans. Many came to faith during this trip.

Philip’s ministry to the Ethiopian eunuch

(8:26) Right in the middle of a revival in Samaria, God called Philip away to talk to one Ethiopian man. In fact, he sends him out into the middle of a “desert.”

Maybe Philip got this opportunity because he was faithful with preaching to the Samaritans (Acts 8:5ff).

(8:27-28) The text shows surprise (“Behold…”), when Philip meets this man…

“Candace” was the queen’s hereditary title.

“Ethiopian” means that the man was of African descent, so once again, the gospel is spreading to another group.

“Eunuch” Bock writes, “Eunuchs were castrated men who often served as keepers of harems.”[69] This would’ve stopped him from worshipping in Jerusalem (Deut. 23:1).

He’s rich. He controls the treasury, and he’s sitting in a “chariot.” He also has his own personal copy of Isaiah, which would’ve been expensive.

(8:29-30) The Holy Spirit not only guided Philip to the place, but to the specific man (“join this chariot”). Philip sounds like a guy at a Starbucks seeing someone reading their Bible. He walks up and introduces himself, and he asks him if he’s grasping what he’s reading.

(8:31) The Ethiopian invites him to sit down. He says he needs some help understanding the text. As a eunuch and a foreigner, people probably never gave him the time of day.

(Acts 8:30-31) Does this support the idea that we need an interpretive society to understand the Bible, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim?

(8:32-33) The Ethiopian eunuch just happened to be reading from the best possible place in the OT: Isaiah 53:7-8! This is one of the best prophecies about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

(8:34) It’s interesting that the eunuch thought it could be about Isaiah himself. Clearly, he was confused. The Servant Songs are about Jesus.

(8:35) Philip was able to explain Christ by starting in this passage.

(8:36) Good question!

(8:37) Early manuscripts do not contain this verse.

(8:38) The eunuch initiated his own baptism.

(8:39) This word “snatched” (harpazo) is the same word used for the rescue of the Church (1 Thess. 4:16). The eunuch went back to Ethiopia rejoicing… Did he go home to Ethiopia and tell his friends and family about this good news? If so, the gospel spread very early into Africa.

(8:40) Azotus is only a little bit north of Gaza, but still south of Jerusalem. He passed through until he reached Caesarea.

Acts 9 (Paul comes to Christ)

 

Who is Saul?

For all intents and purposes, Saul’s life was going great. On the outside, he looked like he had it all together:

  • He was born in a wealthy city, Tarsus (Acts 22:3), which was “no ordinary city” (Acts 21:39).
  • His family acquired Roman citizenship for him (Acts 16:37), so that he was “born a citizen” (Acts 22:28).
  • He was a scholar of Greek His illustrations were about races, boxing, military figures, builders, debtors, and slaves—whereas Jesus uses illustrations and parables about country life and fishing. He quotes from Greek thinkers and poets (Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 15:33; Titus 1:12-13).
  • He was a scholar of Jewish thought, training under the prestigious Jewish scholar Gamaliel (Acts 22:3).
  • He was excelling above his peers in his field (Gal. 1:13-14).
  • He was a Pharisee (Acts 23:6; Phil. 3:5).
  • He was (arguably) a member of the Sanhedrin (Acts 26:10).

After this day is over, Saul will later call all of this “rubbish” (skubalon, Phil. 3:8).

From God’s point of view, he was deeply broken on the inside. Saul had led a ferocious persecution against Christianity. Luke records, “Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison” (Acts 8:3).

It’s hard to read this account without seeing Saul as the apostle Paul—one of the great heroes of the Christian faith. But if you were reading this account for the first time, you consider Saul as one of the greatest enemies and antagonists of the Christian movement. He was already presiding over Stephen’s death—approving of it (Acts 7:58).

This must be an important event in the book, because Luke records it three times (Acts 9, Acts 22:3ff, Acts 26:4ff).

(9:1) Saul is still breathing threats. Nothing has stopped him.

(9:2) Saul is like a first century bounty hunter, rounding up Christians and taking them back to face trial and capital punishment. Damascus is about 135 miles north-northeast of Jerusalem. Saul wants to get to Damascus to tie a tourniquet on the Christian movement, which is bleeding out from Jerusalem.

The people he’s trying to arrest are probably the same ones who fled under Saul’s persecution (Acts 8:1-3).

The “Way” could be an allusion to Jesus being “the way” (Jn. 14:6), or John the Baptist preparing “the way” for the Lord (Mk. 1:3).

(9:3) Jesus appeared around noon (Acts 22:6; 26:13), and still, his light was “brighter than the sun” (Acts 26:13). It was so bright that he fell to the ground. It must have been that much brighter than the sun—even at high noon!

(9:4) Bock writes, “The double calling out of the name of Saul indicates intense emotion.”[70]

Jesus could’ve said, “Why are you persecuting my church?” or “Why are you persecuting my followers?” Instead he personally identifies with the church (Mt. 25:40; 1 Cor. 12; Rom. 12). Bock writes, “The roots of the concept of the ‘body of Christ’ are here, although this does not dawn on Paul immediately.”[71] Maybe this is why Jesus is filled with such emotion (?).

This is an interesting question to ponder. Presumably, Jesus knew why Saul was persecuting the church. Why then did he feel it necessary to ask this question? Jesus asked roughly 180 questions in his earthly ministry. He liked asking questions to get people to think for themselves.

This is a very serious charge leveled at Saul (Lk. 10:16).

(9:5) Saul calls Jesus “Lord.” This isn’t because he has a complete understanding of who Jesus is. He just knows he’s speaking to God, so it’s a fitting title.

Next, Paul should be hearing the words, “Prepare to die!” Just as he braces himself to be judged, Jesus tells him…

(9:6) Christ gives him directions.

(9:7) This wasn’t a mere private vision like Ananias gets in Acts 9:10. The bystanders could hear the voice as well. Acts 22:9 elaborates that they saw the light, but they didn’t see Jesus specifically. Paul later states that the light was so powerful that his fellow travelers fell to the ground (Acts 26:14). Perhaps that’s why these men didn’t see Jesus (because they weren’t looking up?).

(9:8) What is the significance of Saul (Paul) being struck blind? This could be significant because Saul was spiritually blind, and yet, he was trying to lead people! He doesn’t regain his sight until he accepts Christ.

(9:9) What is Saul thinking about for those three days? Verse 11 tells us that “he is praying” this whole time. He might be searching the catalogues of his mind for OT Scriptures. He might be replaying the words of Christ over and over. He might be thinking of all of the Christians he’s killed. He might be thinking of Stephen’s speech in Acts 7—just before he died. The point is this: Saul had a lot to think about, and it probably took some time for him to process this. He must have inferred a number of things:

  • Jesus is alive (Rom. 1:4).
  • Salvation is not based on good works, because Jesus is accepting him even though he’s a murderer.
  • The Gentiles are allowed into the kingdom—even though they’re law breakers (Eph. 2:14-15).
  • Jesus has created a mystical union of believers in the “Body of Christ.”

(9:10-12) Jesus sends Ananias to talk with Saul and finish leading him to Christ. The street called “straight” is still used today. Bock writes, “This street is still a major road in the city (Bruce 1990: 237). It runs east and west in the eastern portion of the old city and is known today as Derb el-Mustaqim, although its direction has changed slightly since that time. It was known to have had major halls with colonnades and two great city gates at each end, making it a “fashionable” street. It was fifty feet wide.”[72]

At this point, Jesus didn’t promise Ananias that Saul would change. What did Ananias think as he was meeting with Saul the killer? How was he feeling?

(9:13-14) Saul was famous (or infamous?). Ananias had heard from “many” about Saul being a persecutor. Ananias struggles with this direction from Christ. But Ananias soon discovers that God’s grace is way better than we can perceive and imagine.

(9:15-16) Christ is going to take this man who brought suffering against the gospel, and he’s going to put him through suffering for the gospel. Christ recruited Saul for this mission. We later discover that Saul had the best background, upbringing, and education to play this role as a dual ambassador for both Jews and Gentiles.

Is this a vindictive statement from Christ? Is Jesus saying, “I’m gonna get Saul for what he did to me!” Not at all. The context is not rubbing suffering in Saul’s face, but rather, comforting Ananias. He is, in effect, saying, “Saul won’t make you suffer… In fact, he’s going learn to suffer for Me.”

(9:17-18) Saul comes to Christ with Ananias, gets the Holy Spirit, regains sight, and was baptized. Christ used Ananias to further confirm to Saul that God was working through the Church.

(9:19) I wonder what these disciples thought about Saul. The text later states that they were afraid of him and likely shocked (cf. Acts 9:21).

(9:22) This is the same root word (“strength” enedynamouto) used to describe the “power” (dunamis) of the gospel (Rom. 1:16).

(9:23-25) “When many days had elapsed…” Elsewhere, we discover that three years had elapsed here (Gal. 1:18). He is stumping the professors. Lydia McGrew writes, “Greek phrases to the phrase ‘many days’ in Acts 9.23 are used in the Septuagint Old Testament for considerable lengths of time, up to and even greater than three years (Exod 2.11, I Kgs 1.18). The Hebrew expression ‘many days’ is used to refer to a period of three years in I Kings 2.38–39.”[73]

Saul immediately started to teach, debate, and win his disciples. Bock writes, “Saul apparently ministers long enough to have his own band of disciples.”[74]

We discover a parallel account in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands” (2 Cor. 11:32-33).

(9:26-27) Imagine how differently history would’ve went if these believers rejected Saul. Consider if Barnabas hadn’t stepped forward to embrace Saul. It would’ve been easy for them to harbor bitterness or cynicism toward him, but they embraced him instead. That’s a miracle not mentioned very much. The amount of forgiveness given to Saul was incredible.

Galatians 1:18-19 states that Paul met with James and Peter specifically.

Barnabas vouches for John Mark when he deserted them on the first missionary journey (Acts 15:37-40). Later, Barnabas was able to restore John Mark back into ministry (2 Tim. 4:11).

What kind of a character was Barnabas? Where would we be today without people like Barnabas in the church, who believe in broken people and work to restore them?

(9:28-29) Christianity didn’t lead to violence. Paul was talking and arguing, but his opponents were resorting to violence.

(9:30) The Christian community took him back to his home town—Tarsus—to prevent harm.

(9:31) God comforts his people through times of distress and suffering. The “fear of the Lord” cannot refer to terror, because they were also being “comforted.”

(9:32-43) Peter healed Aeneas and Tabitha—or Dorcas in Greek. (It’s no wonder she went by Tabitha!) Tabitha was a kind and loving woman. Peter healed Aeneas’ paralysis and raised Tabitha from the dead. The purpose of these healings was evangelism (v.35, 42).

Application

Saul’s dramatic experience in coming to Christ is surely unique. We shouldn’t expect or demand Jesus to appear to us in bodily form. Yet there are some principles we can learn from this passage which do directly apply to believer and non-believer alike:

God allows us the freedom to receive or reject his grace. Later, Ananias told Saul, “Why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). Saul chose to meet Christ, but his companions didn’t listen (v.7). So much for the claim, “I’d believe if God appeared to me!”

Nobody is too far gone. If there was ever a candidate for being too far gone, it would’ve been Saul. Who would’ve thought Saul would come to Christ? Then again, who would’ve thought you would’ve come to Christ?

We’ve got to be broken before we see our need for Jesus. This must’ve been a real time of breaking for Saul (Paul). He was a zealous and young man at the height of his career. He had all of his plans laid out before him. This all came crashing to a halt. Now he had to be led by the hand like a little child.

Following Christ involves suffering. Would you still follow Christ even if he told you how much you would suffer in advance?

We should start serving Christ immediately. Saul didn’t wait several years to begin influencing and impacting people for Christ. Instead, he “immediately” started to talk with people about Christ. In verse 25, he has disciples. He started being faithful with the small ministry that God gave him. Chuck Smith says, “Wherever Paul preached, it ended in either revival or a riot.” Jesus chose Saul to serve—even though he deserved it the least.

God works directly and through human agency. Jesus wanted Saul to see that he’s working through the disciples; otherwise, Saul might’ve developed an individualistic attitude toward Christianity. Even in this case where Christ appeared directly to a non-believer, Christ still wanted to work through human agency (Ananias).

Truth matters more than anything else. Saul thought that he was in the right, but as it turns out, he was dead wrong. Irony abounds in this account:

  • Saul’s persecution of the church moved the gospel even further to Damascus (135 miles to the north). His actions actually had a reverse effect.
  • Saul thought that he was in the right, but it turns out he was dead wrong.
  • Saul was on the road to stop Jesus, but Jesus was on the same road to stop Saul.
  • Saul went to find God’s people, but instead, they wound up finding him.

How do you know that your worldview is right? If you were wrong, would you want to know?

Saul didn’t get his level of commitment from his social group. He lost his wealth, his position in government, and the honor of being in society. Like Saul, once we’re convinced of the truth, you can never be the same. McCallum asks, “If this is false, then why are we screwing around with it? And if this is true, then why are we screwing around with it?”

God has a plan for each one of us. God planned to use Saul’s background and training to reach people. Later, Saul would have his name changed to Paul. He would reach thousands for Christ, and write 13 of 27 NT books. God has good works prepared for us too (Eph. 2:10).

Acts 10 (Cornelius and Peter)

For discussion: Ask the group the principles of how Peter discerned God’s will from this passage.

(10:1-2) It’s funny that Paul had just passed through Caesarea (Acts 9:30). Yet God didn’t choose to use Paul to reach this man. He used Peter instead.

Caesarea was the capital of the province. Bock writes, “Josephus (Ant. 15.9.6 §§331–41) describes Herod’s building up of Caesarea into a major administrative and harbor city. In The Jewish Wars 3.9.1 §409 Josephus notes that mostly Gentiles inhabited it. The city was formerly known as Strato’s Tower. It had an amphitheater, a hippodrome, and a temple dedicated to Caesar. Its role as the Roman provincial capital is why Cornelius is there.”[75]

Cornelius must’ve been a pretty skilled and tough man—a leader. The “Italian cohort” was “about six hundred members.”[76] He would’ve had a high social status.[77]

Cornelius wasn’t a conformist. Even though the Romans believed in a pantheon of gods, Cornelius believed in just one. Bock notes, “This openness to Judaism would be rare among such soldiers.”[78]

Cornelius was a God-fearer. His nation currently occupied Israel, but Cornelius believed in the Hebrew God and gave money to the Jewish people. He also prayed continually to God.

(10:3) The angel didn’t appear to him directly. This was a vision in the middle of the afternoon (3 pm).

(10:4) This is the only use of the term “memorial” in the NT. This shows that God hears prayers.

(10:5-6) Joppa is 31 miles away from Caesarea. Apparently, many people were named “Simon.”

(10:7-8) He sent two servants and a soldier. The soldier was also “devout” like Cornelius. This shows that Cornelius’ faith had not only reached his family (v.2), but also some of his soldiers. Later we see that Cornelius also had an impact on “his friends” (v.24).

(10:9) Peter begins to pray about noon.

(10:10-12) Peter goes into a “trance” (ekstasis), and he sees unclean animals being lowered from heaven on a sheet. This wasn’t an Eastern or New Age type of trance. BDAG’s first definition is “a state of consternation or profound emotional experience to the point of being beside oneself.” The second definition is being unconscious.

(10:13-15) God commands him to eat these unclean animals. Even though he is hungry (v.10), he still refuses to eat because these broke from the kosher laws of the OT (Lev. 11). Peter is having a hard time coming into the new covenant. God must start with food, so that he can see more clearly when it comes to people (i.e. Cornelius). If the food was cleansed, then how much more were Gentiles cleansed?

(10:16) God made this announcement three times.

(10:17-18) As Peter is asking God what that was all about (!), some Gentiles knock at the door downstairs. And they want to hear a message from Peter. They even ask for him by name.

(10:19-20) The miracle of this coincidence wasn’t enough: the Holy Spirit also communicated with Peter so that he wouldn’t refuse them.

(10:21-23) Cornelius’ men explain why they have come. Peter lets them stay for the night in his house. Remember, Joppa is 31 miles from Caesarea, so they couldn’t start the trip at night.

Cornelius wasn’t “righteous” because of his deeds. He was righteous because he feared God, and he was seeking God. Consequently, God pursued him through this miracle.

Some of Peter’s friends came with him. Peter may have been nervous that this was a trap: After all, why would a Gentile want to have Peter into his house? Maybe Peter wanted some moral support. However, when Peter gets to the house, he seems to not be worried (v.29). Perhaps he simply wanted some other witnesses to see what God was going to do.

(10:24-26) Cornelius was an ignorant Jewish God-fearer. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have tried to “worship” Peter. This is a good passage for the deity of Christ. Jesus accepted worship like this constantly.

(10:28-29) The OT law never calls this “unlawful.” BDAG translates the Greek term (athemitois) as “not being sanctioned, not allowed, forbidden.” Peter is saying that the cultural customs or taboos didn’t allow for this. Longenecker writes, “Admittedly, this was an ideal representation of the Jewish position (as so often happens in the Talmud), for Jewish ethical law contains a number of provisions for Jewish-Gentile business partnerships (e.g., b Shabbath 150a) and even for Jews’ bathing with Gentiles (ibid., 151 a). But such contacts made a Jew ceremonially unclean, as did entering Gentiles’ buildings or touching their possessions (cf. M Abodah Zarah, passim). Above all, it was forbidden to accept the hospitality of Gentiles and eat with them, particularly because Gentiles did not tithe. Scrupulous Jews were not even permitted to be guests of a Jewish commoner (cf. M Demai 2:2–3), much less of a Gentile (ibid., 3:4).”[79]

John 18:28 states that the Jews wouldn’t enter the house of Gentiles, because they thought it would make them unclean. The terms “unholy and unclean” came up in Acts 10:14 to describe the unclean food. Here it is describing these Gentile people.

(10:30-33) Cornelius explains his half of the story. Then he asks what God wants to say to them.

(10:34-35) God wants to reach all people—regardless of race. This passage really doesn’t fit in the Calvinistic systematic very well. Cornelius was seeking God, and God responded to him by giving him more revelation. Cornelius’ good works didn’t save him, but his “reverence” and “doing what is right” showed what was in his heart—namely, he wanted to know God.

(10:36) Jesus’ work on the Cross was originally set in the context of Israel. However, since Jesus is “Lord of all,” his work applies to Jew and Gentile alike.

(10:37) John the Baptist was well known to all of the Jewish people. So they would’ve had some idea of what he was like.

(10:38) Jesus chose to heal people based on the Holy Spirit’s power working through him, rather than choosing to access his own divine attributes.

(10:39-40) Peter explicitly notes that he (and his friends, v.23) were witnesses of Jesus death and resurrection.

(10:41) Why were these witnesses “chosen beforehand” (procheirotoneō)? This isn’t a mystery: these were the same ones who lived with Jesus and witnessed these things.

(10:42) Consequently, God wanted these chosen witnesses to preach to all people.

(10:43) He gives the gospel in an abstract way. He doesn’t even call on them to receive Christ. But before the words are even out of his mouth…

(10:44) It must be possible to come to saving faith without even saying a word. When they believed, God came into their hearts.

(10:45) This was shocking to the Jewish believers in Jesus.

(10:46) The speaking of tongues was probably an outward sign that they had inwardly received the Spirit. This is sometimes called the “Gentile Pentecost.”

(10:47-48) Peter’s argument for them being baptized was that they had already received the Holy Spirit. Baptism is the outward sign of an inward working of God. When Peter recaps this account to his skeptical Jewish brothers, he says, “I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:16-17).

Acts 11:1-18 (Recap of the Cornelius phenomenon)

(11:1-3) These Jewish believers in Jesus were slow to see what God was doing here. They were more obsessed with custom and tradition, than with what the Holy Spirit was doing to reach these people.

(11:4-15) Peter recaps the account in Acts 10.

(11:16) He supports his case by appealing to the word of Christ.

(11:17) He seals his case by appealing to the fact that the Holy Spirit came on these believers.

(11:18) These Jewish believers in Jesus were slow on the uptake, but they came around to seeing how God was moving.

Barnabas

(11:19) Persecution led to evangelism (cf. Acts 8:1-3). Here they focused on the Jewish contingent.

(11:20-22) Men from Barnabas’ home town led a large number of Gentiles to Christ as well. It’s no wonder that the apostles sent Barnabas to check this out (v.22).

(11:23-24) Seeing people come to faith in Christ is a “grace” or gift of God. Barnabas was a skilled encourager, so he used his gift here. Others led them to Christ, but Barnabas built them up.

(11:25-26) Barnabas was there to see the origin of the name “Christian.”

(11:27) For the extent of NT prophets, see our earlier article “The Charismatic Gifts.”

(11:28) Extrabiblical history records this famine. Claudius—the Roman emperor who reigned from AD 41 to 54—led during multiple famines. Bock writes, “Famine hit in the first, second, fourth, ninth, and eleventh years of Claudius’s reign (See Suetonius, Claudius 18.2; Tacitus, Ann. 12.43; Dio Cassius, Rom. Hist. 40.11). One inscription from Asia Minor (CIG 3973.5–6) speaks of a famine that gripped the whole world.”[80]

(11:29-30) This is a good passage for missions-giving in the local church. These believers were sending their money hundreds of miles away to the church in Jerusalem. It’s sad to see mega-churches that don’t give to missions.

Acts 12 (Herod, James, and Peter)

(12:1) Herod Agrippa I reigned from 9 BC to AD 44. He was the grandson of Herod the Great (Mt. 2). Josephus writes about Herod frequently (Antiquities, 18.126-19.354; cf. Sotah 7.8). Specifically, Josephus tells us how much the Herod Agrippa was popular with the Jewish people (Antiquities, 19.328-31).

(12:2) This is James of Zebedee—not Jesus’ brother James. He was one of Jesus’ “inner three” disciples—along with Peter and his brother John (who wrote 5 books of the NT). How sad to see one of Jesus’ closest disciples get killed so soon! All of that discipleship with him would have felt like it went down the drain.

This fits with Jesus’ prediction that he would face the “baptism” of suffering (Mk. 10:39).

(12:3-4) Now Herod arrested Peter! Would another of Jesus’ “inner three” get killed so soon? It seems like Herod plans to bring Peter out before the people during Passover—sort of how Jesus was brought out and judged.

“It was during the days of Unleavened Bread…” The Jewish people considered it horrendous to kill someone during this sacred week (Mk. 14:2).

“Four squads of soldiers to guard him…” A squad consisted of four soldiers. So this was sixteen soldiers total. Herod knew he was arresting the leader of the new Christian movement, so he placed a heavy guard on him. Yet the guard couldn’t hold Jesus in the grave, and the prison hadn’t held Peter before (5:19-21).

(12:5) The church was praying “fervently” (ektenos) for Peter. It wasn’t the emotion of their prayer that got him out. The term refers to “persevering, eagerly, fervently, constantly” (BDAG), rather than an emotional state. Either prayer is in God’s will or it’s not. Jesus prayed “very fervently,” but this didn’t change God’s will (Lk. 22:44). Later in Acts 12:14-15, they don’t believe that Peter has actually made it out of prison!

(12:6) Peter had broken out of prison before. But this is maximum security. He’s literally surrounded by guards.

An angelic jailbreak!

(12:7-8) In shorthand, the angel said, “Get dressed, we’re leaving!”

(12:9) Give Peter a break! He was just dead asleep five minutes earlier, trying to forget that he was about to be executed in front of a lynch mob the next day.

(12:10) Was Peter invisible to the guards? Were the guards asleep?

(12:11) Peter comes to his senses. He realizes a miracle occurred to him. It’s interesting that he is so slow to recognize a miracle happening to him. Could the same thing be happening today in my life? Could God be moving powerfully, but I’m slow to realize it?

(12:12) He shows up at John Mark’s mother’s house, where they were having a prayer meeting… for him!

Mary (Mark’s mother) was probably wealthy. For one, the house belongs to her—not her husband. In this culture, men typically owned the property. Second, her house was big. It had a “gatehouse or forecourt”[81] on the perimeter of the house (or at least the front door. Third, Rhoda may have been her servant, which would also imply that Mary was a wealthy woman. She used her wealth to hold prayer meetings and take care of these persecuted Christians.

(12:13-14) Peter was probably upset. He just broke out of prison, and now he can’t even break into the prayer group!

(12:15) Rhoda had three strikes against her: (1) She was female, which was looked down upon for eye witness testimony in the first-century (cf. Lk. 24:10-11); (2) she was young; and (3) she was of low social status, being only a “servant-girl.” These people didn’t accept her testimony. We might find their attitudes to be sexist, classist, and overall repugnant. However, Luke may have included this funny narrative to show that this “servant-girl” was in the right, while the prayerful people inside the house were in the wrong.

Why did they think “his angel” appeared to them? This is descriptive—not prescriptive. Marshall writes, “It is most likely that it is nothing more than a Jewish superstition which he cites but does not necessarily corroborate.”[82]

(12:16) Peter kept knocking. But he must’ve been knocking softly, because he wouldn’t want to wake the neighborhood up and incriminate the people at this house.

(12:17) James of Zebedee was already dead (v.2). James—Jesus’ half-brother—was already becoming a major leader in the early church.

Why did Peter leave? Isn’t it obvious? He was on the run from the cops! He probably knew that they would check this house first, and he didn’t want to wait around for the search party.

Where did Peter go? This question is hard to answer. Peter doesn’t reappear until Acts 15 at the Jerusalem Council. Some argue that he went to go plant churches during this time, which is likely. However, it’s unlikely that he went to Corinth, as some people speculate (1 Cor. 1:12; 3:22; 9:5). Paul doesn’t plant the church in Corinth until Acts 18.

Herod’s fury

(12:18-19) Herod is furious. He has the guards executed. Guards in the ancient world would rather kill themselves (Acts 16:27) or their prisoners (Acts 27:42), rather than lose their prisoners. F.F. Bruce writes, “By Roman law (which, however, was not binding on Agrippa in the internal administration of his kingdom) a guard who allowed a prisoner to escape became liable to the same penalty as the escaped prisoner would have suffered (Code of Justinian 9.4.4.).”[83]

(12:20-23) This sounds like pure legendary embellishment, right? Not at all. Josephus corroborates Luke’s account (Antiquities, 19.343-350):

(343) Now, when Agrippa had reigned three years over all Judea, he came to the city Cesarea, which was formerly called Strato’s Tower; and there he exhibited shows in honor of Caesar, upon his being informed that there was a certain festival celebrated to make vows for his safety. At which festival, a great multitude was gotten together of the principal persons, and such as were of dignity through his province. (344) On the second day of which shows he put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture truly wonderful, and came into the theatre early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun’s rays upon it, shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently upon him; (345) and presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another (though not for his good), that he was a god; and they added, “Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature.” (346) Upon this the king did neither rebuke them, nor reject their impious flattery. But, as he presently afterwards looked up, he saw an owl sitting on a certain rope over his head, and immediately understood that this bird was the messenger of ill tidings, as it had once been the messenger of good tidings to him; and fell into the deepest sorrow. A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner. (347) He therefore looked upon his friends, and said, “I whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death. But I am bound to accept of what Providence allots as it pleases God; for we have by no means lived ill, but in a splendid and happy manner.” (348) When he said this, his pain was become violent. Accordingly he was carried into the palace; and the rumor went abroad everywhere, that he would certainly die in a little time. (349) But the multitude presently sat in sackcloth, with their wives and children, after the law of their country, and besought God for the king’s recovery. All places were also full of mourning and lamentation. Now the king rested in a high chamber, and as he saw them below lying prostrate on the ground, he could not himself forbear weeping. (350) And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in the fifty-fourth year of his age, and in the seventh year of his reign.

Regarding these two accounts, F.F. Bruce writes, “The accounts of Luke and Josephus are independent, but they agree in all essentials.”[84] That is to say, Luke and Josephus did not copy from one another, but they both independently corroborate each other’s history.

Furthermore, extrabiblical Jewish tradition alludes to this event: “the enemies of Israel earned destruction, for they flattered Agrippa” (Tosefta, ṭāh 7.16; cf. Babylonian Talmud ṭāh 41b).[85]

“He was eaten by worms…” Many ancient authors used this expression to describe the death of historical figures: 2 Macc. 9:5–12 (of Antiochus Epiphanes); Josephus, Antiquities 17.168–70 (of Herod the Great); Lucian, Alexander 59 (of Alexander the imposter); Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 8.16.3–5 (of Galerius); Theodoretus, Ecclesiastical History 3.9 (of the uncle and namesake of Julian the Apostate).[86]

(12:24-25) Herod Agrippa tried to stop the word of God, but the word of God stopped him. Barnabas and Saul return to Jerusalem from Antioch after their famine-relief visit (cf. Acts 11:30).

Application

At the beginning of the chapter, Herod kills James (v.2) and imprisons Peter (v.3). By the end of the chapter, Herod is dead and eaten by worms (v.23) and Peter is alive and talking about Christ (v.17). No matter how severe our enemies are, God won’t let his plans be thwarted.

Sometimes, God’s plan isn’t clear. After all, imagine seeing James’ dead body with a sword hole in the middle of it! It would be confusing to see one of Jesus’ closest disciples (one of the inner three!) be martyred so soon (~AD 44). Jesus discipled him for three years, only to see him serve for a decade. Why did God allow this to happen? We don’t know. Paul says that during times of suffering, we are “perplexed but not despairing” (2 Cor. 4:8).

This tragedy pushed Peter to leave Jerusalem and preach elsewhere. God uses suffering to move the church.

It’s amazing how little the believers had faith at this corporate prayer meeting. It wasn’t the amount of faith that the believers had. It was the object of their faith. All you need is enough faith to pray.

This chapter also shows us how easy it is to miss answers to prayer. Their answer to prayer was literally knocking at the door, but they couldn’t believe it. How frequently are we seeing answers to prayer, but we don’t recognize it, remember it, or give thanks?

Acts 13 (Paul and Barnabas: First missionary tour)

(13:1) These are central leaders in the early church:

Barnabas: We’ve already seen him in earlier chapters.

Simeon (Niger): Bock writes, “It is thought that Niger and Lucius may be from north Africa, and Niger may be black, considering that this is what his name means in Latin.”[87]

Manaen: He was raised with Herod. Bruce writes, “Herod the tetrarch, to whom Manaean was foster-brother, was Herod Antipas, youngest son of Herod the Great, who ruled Galilee and Peraea as tetrarch from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39.”[88] The term can also mean that he was his courtier. Either way, Bock writes, “He would have had high social standing through this connection.”[89]

It’s interesting that Barnabas is mentioned first, and Saul is mentioned last in this list. Saul (Paul) had to learn how to serve underneath other people’s leadership.

(13:2) What does it mean that they were “ministering” to the Lord? The term just means service. In verse 3, we see that fasting is coupled with prayer.

ESV, NIV, and NLT have “worshipping” the Lord. From this, we might think that this is referring to a worship service. However, this is not justified from the text: First, this was only six men—not a large worship service. Second, the term “worshipping” (leitourgeō) can also be rendered “ministering” (NASB) or “serving” (NET). It is first defined as “to render special formal service, serve, render service” (BDAG). Howard Marshall writes, “The verb worshipping means serving God, and is a Greek word originally used of doing public service at one’s own expense and then applied in the Greek Old Testament to the cultic service of the priests and Levites in the temple (cf. Luke 1:23).”[90]

(13:3) This isn’t an ordination service. They were already ministers before they had hands laid on them. The hand-laying is for a specific work.

Before they go out to take ground for God, they sit in front of God in prayer.

For an explanation of fasting, see our earlier article (Mt. 6:16-18, “Should Believers Fast?”).

(13:4) They went from Antioch to Seleucia and Cyprus.

(13:5) They started in the synagogues. John Mark was with them. Given the fact that the Holy Spirit didn’t set apart John Mark, should they have taken Mark with them? In verse 13, we discover that John Mark deserted them. Maybe this was the wrong call.

(13:6) It’s ironic that their first opposition comes from a man named “Bar-Jesus” (“son of Jesus”). Who will win this confrontation between a gifted occultic magician and gifted Christian workers?

(13:7) Proconsuls “were Roman magistrates who headed the government in a senatorial province where no troops were required.”[91] Bock writes, “Three inscriptions bearing a similar name have been found, two in Greek and one in Latin, in addition to one that refers to a Lucias Sergius Paullus near Pisidian Antioch.”[92] There is debate whether all three inscriptions refer to this particular proconsul. Minimally, these inscriptions show that the name was popular in this area at the time.

(13:8) This guy is similar to Grima Wormtongue from The Lord of the Rings. He’s whispering deceit into the ear of the proconsul.

(13:9-11) Paul takes the lead here. The key to his effectiveness is the fact that he’s “filled with the Holy Spirit.” He looks the man right in the eye. He calls the guy a “fraud” or “con artist.”

This temporary judgment of blindness is similar to what Paul himself went through in Acts 9.

(13:12) Sergius comes to faith because of the word and deed.

(13:13) What happened that made John Mark flake out at this moment? He didn’t make it very far.

Paul’s speech at Pisidian Antioch

(13:14-15) The practice in the synagogue would be to recite the Shema, prayer, Torah reading, prophet’s reading, priestly blessing, and exposition (m. Megillah. 4.1–5). Here they see that the great Pharisee Saul is present! So they ask him to give the word of exposition on the Scriptures. Little do they know what he is about to share…

What is Paul doing in this speech? He seems to be connecting Israel’s history directly with the person and work of Christ.

(13:18) The people of Israel weren’t always faithful. God was leading them in a type of salvation, but they rebelled against his leading in the past. Their rebellion points forward to the work of Christ. They needed a greater savior.

(13:19) God’s plan in Egypt, the Exodus, and the Conquest took a very long time (~450 years).

(13:20-23) Paul is tracking the kingship and Davidic Covenant to Jesus. The Davidic Covenant didn’t point toward David, but points forward to Christ. The people needed a greater king.

(13:24-25) John the Baptist was the final OT prophet before Jesus. We could consider Jesus the final prophet of God as well. John doesn’t focus on himself, but points forward to Christ. The people needed a greater prophet.

(13:26-27) Paul was asked to expound the Scriptures for them. He points out that the Scriptures point to Christ, but even the leaders in Jerusalem missed this. Will his audience also miss the point of the Scriptures (which he has just expounded)?

(13:29) What prophecies predicted the death and burial of Christ? (Ps. 22; Isa. 53)

(13:30-31) Paul isn’t emphasizing “felt needs.” He’s making a case that Jesus fulfilled prophecy and there are witnesses.

(13:32) There is nothing new about the work of Christ. This was promised in the OT.

(13:33) Why does Paul cite Psalm 2:7?

(13:34-35) I think this citation of Isaiah 55:3 is supposed to connect Jesus with the promises of David—specifically the resurrection mentioned in Psalm 16:10 (v.35). Why does Paul cite Psalm 16:10 to refer to Jesus?

(13:36-37) Paul’s argument regarding Psalm 16:10 is that David did undergo decay. So this psalm cannot refer merely to David. Jesus was only dead for a short time, and he didn’t undergo decay.

(13:38) Notice the subtle shift from “us” to “you.” Paul is calling for an action: belief in Christ for forgiveness.

(13:39) The term for “freed” (dikaioō) means “justified” (see NET). There are consequences for not believing. This isn’t just an intellectual exercise or theological jousting…

(13:40-41) Paul cites Habakkuk 1:5 to show that Jewish people in the past scoffed at God’s marvelous work. Will this contemporary audience do the same?

It angers God when he’s doing a powerful work and people scoff at it, rather than trusting him.

(Acts 13:41) Why does Paul cite Habakkuk 1:5?

Reaction? Some believed and some rejected this message

(13:42) Notice that Paul is first in the list now, rather than second. The people invited the two of them back to speak about this again.

(13:43) This “urging them to continue in the grace of God” seems to be more the work of Barnabas (cf. Acts 11:23). Paul would do the preaching, and Barnabas would do the follow up. Both roles were important.

(13:44) This sent a tidal wave into the city! These people must have been talking to their friends, and now, Paul and Barnabas were speaking to a massive crowd.

(13:45) Many people blasphemed and rejected Jesus’ message too (Lk. 22:65). The term for “jealousy” (zelou) can also be translated zeal. Paul elsewhere refers to “misdirected zeal” (Rom. 10:2 NLT).

(13:46) This causes Paul and Barnabas to turn to the Gentiles.

(13:47) Why does Paul cite Isaiah 42 and 49?

(Acts 13:48) Does this passage teach that only some are appointed for eternal life?

(13:49-52) The message of Christ spread even as the persecution increased. The disciples also experienced “joy” even as the persecution increased. We think of persecution stopping both the mission and the joy of ministry, but this tells us just the opposite.

Acts 14:1-28 (Paul and Barnabas: First missionary tour)

(14:1) It was Paul’s custom to speak with the Jews first. A large number of people came to faith here. Apparently, Gentiles were in the synagogue, or perhaps, word of mouth spread from the synagogue to the Gentile contingent.

(14:2) We keep seeing a battle between the religious authorities and the Christian apostles. “Embittered” (kakoō) means “poisoned” or to “make someone think badly about another” (BDAG). Why would the Jews and Gentiles team up against the preaching of the gospel? This shows that unbelief is in the heart of everyone—not just a specific group. Just as the potential for faith was in everyone—unbelief was also present in everyone.

(14:3) Note the connecting word (“Therefore…”). Paul and Barnabas had resolve in the face of persecution. And God got behind their faith, giving them signs and wonders.

Their boldness didn’t come from self-effort. It came from “reliance upon the Lord.”

(14:4) The gospel divides people.

(14:5) The opposing group tries to intimidate Paul and Barnabas through violence. The term “mistreat” (hybrisai) means to “harass,” “molest,” or “physically intimidate.”[93]

(14:6) Lystra is Timothy’s hometown (Does Paul lead Timothy to Christ here?). Regarding Lystra, Bock writes, “These people were regarded as militant, intractable, and ‘non-Roman’ in their lifestyle (Strabo, Geography, 12.6.2–5 [described as having little regard for civil law, being full of robbers, a source of much trouble to the Romans, and living among the mountain caves that protected them]; 14.5.24 [living on food unmixed with salt and were either Greek or barbarians]).”[94]

“[Paul and Barnabas left Iconium and] fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe…” Sir William Ramsay originally thought that Luke erred here. Xenophon (401 BC) stated that Iconium was in the region of Phrygia. However, later writers like Cicero[95] and Pliny the Elder[96] placed Iconium in Lycaonia. Ramsay (like other critics) thought that Luke was unaware of the fact that Iconium was in Lycaonia in the first century, and thus, he made a historical error. (This might be similar to thinking that Cincinnati is a city in Kentucky, rather than Ohio.)

However, Ramsay discovered after “further acquaintance with both literary and epigraphic evidence convinced him that the statement in Acts was entirely correct, that Iconium was as Phrygian a city in the middle of the first century A.D. as it had been 450 years earlier.”[97]

(14:7) Paul and Barnabas didn’t flee to hide. They fled in order to continue to preach the gospel.

(14:8-10) How could Paul see that this man had faith?

Pagans had stories about the “gods” coming in the form of strangers, staring, and speaking in loud voices.[98] This might be why the people confused Paul and Barnabas with “gods.” Luke (obviously!) doesn’t affirm this, but he might be using this account to show that the Pagans are in the wrong. Even though God is using Paul and Barnabas in supernatural ways, they shouldn’t be confused with “gods” (cf. Acts 28:6).

(14:11-13) The people speak in the “Lycaonian language,” so Paul and Barnabas might not have realized what was happening at first. Surely, once the sacrifices came forward, this caused Paul to flip out!

What was the cultural significance of Zeus and Hermes? Longenecker writes, “Two inscriptions discovered at Sedasa, near Lystra, dating from the middle of the third century AD, identify the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes as being worshiped in Lycaonian Galatia. On one inscription recording the dedication to Zeus of a statue of Hermes along with a sundial, the names of the dedicators are Lycaonian; the other inscription mentions ‘priests of Zeus.’ Also found near Lystra was a stone altar dedicated to ‘The Hearer of Prayer [presumably Zeus] and Hermes.’”[99]

Paul and Barnabas could’ve glorified themselves, but they didn’t take advantage of these people. The result? Paul nearly gets stoned to death. Sometimes doing the right thing results in more suffering.

(14:15) Paul calls on them to turn from idols to the Creator. Instead of jumping right to Jesus, Paul builds a case for monotheism and the one true Creator (Ex. 20:11; Ps. 146:6).

(14:16) God gave the people freewill to choose against him (and choose idolatry). This is similar to Paul’s statement that God “overlooked the times of ignorance” (Acts 17:30).

(14:17) Zeus doesn’t take care of people, but God does. Bock writes, “This may be a polemical and contextualized response to the idea of Zeus being kalakagathios, or ‘the one who does good and is fruitful,’ a description of Zeus that has been uncovered in Phrygia and Pisidia (Schnabel 2004: 1118, who notes how well the speech fits the setting, which points to its credibility). God gives abundant care to all.”[100]

(14:18) Even Paul’s apologetic speech could barely stop the idolatry of the crowd.

(14:19) The religious authorities followed Paul and had him stoned. This must have been pretty traumatizing for Paul, because he brings it up later in his letters (2 Cor. 11:25; Gal. 6:17; 2 Tim. 3:11). Yet this trauma and pain didn’t stop him from serving.

Paul and Barnabas face the legalistic and hostile message of Jewish monotheism on the one hand, and the idolatry of polytheism on the other.

(14:20) The last time they saw Paul, he was being stoned to death. What must these people have thought to see Paul alive like this, hobbling back into the city? Which was the greater miracle? That Paul survived the stoning? Or that he courageously chose to come back to the place where he was nearly killed?

(14:21-22) “[They] made many disciples…” Paul’s ministry wasn’t just preaching. He also spent time to disciple these people.

This persecution didn’t stop Paul. He went back to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch. The people gave Paul and Barnabas a further hearing, probably because they saw them suffer and persevere.

(14:22) Should believers fast?

(14:23) These elders must’ve been spiritually young. This was a big step of faith to let them lead. The phrase “commended them to the Lord” (NASB) or “entrusted them to the protection of the Lord” (NET) seems to mean that they were in prayer for these young leaders.

(14:24) They go back and do follow up on churches where they had already been (Acts 13:13).

(14:26) They made it full circle! They came back to the place from where they had originally set out: Antioch. Imagine how different they felt in Antioch after all of the adventures they’d seen. This first missionary trip involved serious suffering and persecution, but it also involved miracles, joy, and the spread of the gospel. This trip changed Paul’s life forever. Once he got a taste of seeing God’s faithfulness like this, he couldn’t stop his missionary work.

(14:27-28) Paul and Barnabas shared everything that God was doing among the Gentiles. This becomes important in light of the “great debate” in Acts 15. Should these Gentiles be circumcised?

Acts 15 (The Council of Jerusalem)

This is a real turning point in Acts—being almost exactly half way through the book (12,385 words compared to 12,502 in the rest of the book). So far, the focus of Christianity has been on the Jewish Christians. From here on out, the focus is on Gentile Christians.

To teach this chapter, you need to understand that Paul’s rebuke of Peter in Antioch preceded this event in Galatians 2. For the timing of Acts 15 and Galatians 2, see our earlier article “(Gal. 2:1-10) Is this passage referring to the Council of Jerusalem (in Acts 15) or something else?”

(15:1-2) In the old covenant, Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to join the Jewish faith. If Christianity was really a fulfillment of Judaism, shouldn’t Gentiles be circumcised? F.F. Bruce captures the situation: “Now a new situation confronted them. Before long there would be more Gentile Christians than Jewish Christians in the world. Many Jewish Christians no doubt feared that the influx of so many converts from paganism would bring about a weakening of the church’s moral standards, and the evidence of Paul’s letters shows that their misgivings were not unfounded. How was this new situation to be controlled?”[101]

The term “dissension” (staseos) is a strong term. It is translated as a “riot” elsewhere in Luke’s writing (Lk. 19:40) or as an “insurrection” (Lk. 23:19). This shouldn’t be the translation here, but it shows the nature of the debate. It was serious! It was so serious that they took the question to all the leaders of the church in Jerusalem.

(15:3) One of the evidences of God’s will was the fruit being borne. How can the Pharisees claim that these weren’t authentic or complete conversions if so many Gentiles were coming to faith?

(15:4-5) Pharisees are pushing circumcision and the Law for the Gentiles. Remember, Paul was a former Pharisee. Yet something has changed in Paul: he doesn’t side with them here.

(15:6) In Acts 6, it’s only the apostles who decide the matter. Here they include the elders in the decision. This is probably because elders weren’t raised up yet in Acts 6, but the church has been thriving for almost two decades at this point (~AD 50-51).

How will Peter respond?

Formerly, Peter capitulated to the social pressure of the Jewish Christians in Antioch, and Paul rebuked Peter in that instance (Gal. 2:11ff). How will Peter respond here? Will he double-down and resist Paul’s rebuke? Has he become only more embittered since this past confrontation?

(15:7-9) This is the third account of the story of Cornelius and the Gentiles coming to faith in Christ, which shows its importance. What is Peter’s argument in this section? He bases his argument on the fact that these Gentiles received the Holy Spirit. If the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit, then they must be true believers. God didn’t wait for them to become circumcised or follow the Law; he gave them the Holy Spirit immediately (cf. Eph. 1:13-14).

(15:10-11) “Testing” God was a serious sin in the OT! Peter also argues historically that the Jewish people (and even the Pharisees!) didn’t keep the Law. So why would they give this command to the Gentiles? He concludes that all people come to God in the same way: through grace.

It’s amazing that Paul could rebuke Peter publicly in Antioch (Gal. 2:11ff), and now, Peter would have the humility to come back and support Paul’s view.

Agreement from Paul and Barnabas

(15:12) Paul and Barnabas supplemented Peter’s account with their own. They pointed out that God performed “signs and wonders” among the Gentiles. This obviously showed that God was empowering these Gentiles coming to faith.

Agreement from James

(15:13) All of the heavy-hitters are stepping forward to support the grace perspective: Paul, Barnabas, Peter, and now, James (Jesus’ half brother).

(15:14-15) “Simeon” is Peter’s Jewish name (see NET note). James lines up Peter’s experience and testimony with Scripture.

(15:16-17) Why does James cite Amos 9?

(15:19-20) James concludes that they shouldn’t put the Law on the Gentiles. He’s agreeing with Peter (v.10). The point of James’ imperatives is for the purpose of harmony between Jews and Gentiles, and for the purpose of them “doing well” (v.29). The purpose isn’t salvation, but a harmonious community and a good life. Bock writes, “The limitations are probably to keep relations from becoming strained in a mixed community of Jews and Gentiles as well as to warn about association with idolatry.”[102] Paul invokes the same principle in Romans 14.

(15:21) Notice the connecting word (“For…”). James is thinking about a missiological principle here: Moses is read in the synagogues, and these Gentile actions are going to create problems in reaching Jewish people for Christ (1 Cor. 9:19-23).

F.F. Bruce denies the missiological principle, and instead, he argues that James is appealing to the Pharisees here: “There was still ample opportunity for Gentiles to learn the law of Moses, for it was read publicly every sabbath in synagogues throughout the civilized world.”[103] However, this seems to contradict the entire chapter thus far, including James’ own words that they should “not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles” (v.19).

Agreement from the church

(15:22) The entire church agree with this idea—not just the apostles. Discussion and debate is the way to work through doctrinal differences and find agreement and become “one mind” (v.25).

This is where Paul picks up Silas.

(15:24) These Pharisees didn’t come from James, as some have argued. They were given “no instruction” from the apostles.

(15:25-30) Luke records the letter that the apostles sent to the churches in Antioch—the same place that this whole debate began (Acts 14:26-15:1).

(15:31) This letter went over well with the believers in Antioch. The believers (especially the uncircumcised men!) must’ve given a sigh of relief about this ruling regarding circumcision. More importantly, the Bible’s central teaching about grace was secured.

(15:32) Prophecy is related to teaching. These men were “prophets” but gave a “lengthy message.”

(15:34-35) Paul, Barnabas, and Silas continued to teach in Antioch. Verse 34 isn’t in the earliest manuscripts.

(15:36-39) Paul and Barnabas disagree over taking John Mark on the second missionary journey. Paul argued that John Mark couldn’t be trusted, because he deserted them on their first tour (cf. Acts 13:13). Barnabas is invested in Mark, because Mark is his cousin. Also, and more importantly, Barnabas was more inclined to believe in people. He was the first to believe in Paul, and he’s generally a very encouraging leader.

So who was right in this disagreement? The text doesn’t tell us, but they probably both were. Paul made a good judgment call for the missionary tour; he couldn’t trust a flaky believer like John Mark. Mark probably couldn’t be trusted so soon, because it had only been months since he deserted them. On the other hand, Barnabas felt like Mark could be trusted for other Christian work. Barnabas took Mark under his wing, and continued working with him. By the end of his life, even Paul could write, “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service” (2 Tim. 4:11).

(15:40) Paul takes Silas with him, who was a “leading [man] among the brethren” (v.22). The term “leading” (hēgeomai) means “to be in a supervisory capacity, lead, guide” (BDAG). In other words, Paul saw that Silas already had a following in his leadership. Since Paul had been working with Silas in Antioch, he seemed like a good choice for his second missionary tour.

(15:41) Note: on their first missionary tour, they didn’t go through Cilicia. These must have been churches Paul planted in his “lost years” (Gal. 1:21). Paul wasn’t twiddling his thumbs during this time; he was witnessing (Acts 9:22), making disciples (Acts 9:25), and planting churches. This shows that we can start to serve Christ immediately.

Application

Paul and Barnabas argued with the Pharisees in Antioch (v.1), and Paul argued with Barnabas over their missions work (v.39). Disagreement is solved through dialogue, discussion, and even sharp debate. This is a key to healthy leadership teams. The alternative is to ignore problems and push them under the rug.

Imagine how different the church would’ve been if Paul and Barnabas hadn’t raised this issue. Christianity would’ve moved into being merely another Jewish sect.

Who is more of a hero in this account? Paul had real bravery to argue his case with the Peter (Gal. 2:11ff), but Peter had real humility to listen to Paul’s rebuke and agree with him.

Acts 16 (Second missionary tour: Philippi)

(16:1-2) Timothy is a young disciple, but he has great character (“he was well spoken of by the brethren”). He most likely comes from a broken home. His mother was a believing Jewish woman, but his father was an unbeliever. In 2 Timothy, we learn that both Timothy’s mother and grandmother were believers (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15), but no mention of his father is made.

(16:3) It’s funny that Paul fought tooth and nail for not circumcising Gentiles, but here he circumcises Timothy! He objected to circumcision theologically in Acts 15, but he was for it contextually or missionally in Acts 16 (“because of the Jews who were in those parts”).

“[Paul] took him and circumcised him…” Talk about a funny “trust exercise.”

(16:4) This is the letter from the decision made in Acts 15. The decrees (dogmata) are “delivered” (paredidosan). This is the same language used by Pharisees for passing on sacred tradition (cf. 1 Cor. 15:3). In this case, it’s based on the written word of the apostles—though teaching and speaking is also implied.

(16:5) The response to the letter supports the fact that this letter was been in God’s will. In addition to basing their arguments in Scripture, we see practical fruit coming from their decision.

(16:6-8) Why was Paul “forbidden” to preach in Asia (which could be the Roman province or the cities on the Aegean coast), when Jesus commanded to preach in the whole world? This was a temporary act of God, not a permanent act. God had a more strategic route for Paul in his tour through Europe (see 1 Thess. 1:7; Acts 19:10; 22; 26; 20:4; 16; 18; 1 Cor. 16:19). God had other people to reach first (v.9).

The Spirit leads them to Troas.

Bithynia is the place where Pliny the Younger will write about Christianity to Emperor Trajan in AD 115.

This shows that God wants to lead and direct our efforts to share about Christ.

(16:9) Next God leads Paul through a vision. Was this during sleep? Luke doesn’t say that. He just says it was “at night.” Paul could’ve been fully awake.

“We” passage (vv.10-17)

(16:10) This missionary group trusted in Paul’s vision.

Paul at Philippi

(16:11) Paul must have picked up Luke in Troas.

(16:12) For historical background on Philippi, see “Introduction to Philippians.”

(16:13) In order to establish a synagogue, Jewish tradition taught that there needed to be at least ten men in the area: “Rabbi Halafta ben Dosa, of the village of Hananya, said, ‘When ten people sit together and occupy themselves with the Torah, the shekhinah abides among them, as it is said, God stands in the congregation of God’” (Mishnah Abot, 3:7).[104]

(16:14) Thyatira was in the ancient kingdom of Lydia. Thus her name means “the Lydian woman.”

“A seller of purple fabrics…” The kingdom of Lydia was known for its dying of fabrics. Bruce writes, “The people of that area were famed for their skill in the manufacture of purple dye, extracted from the juice of the madder root. This was still in use there for the dyeing of carpets at the end of the nineteenth century, before it was superseded by chemical dyes… There is inscriptional evidence for the existence of a guild of purple merchants in Philippi.”[105]

Lydia was probably rich. Purple cloths were expensive and made for royalty (1 Macc. 10:62; Lk. 16:19). Thyatira is later mentioned in Revelation 2:18-19.

“A worshiper of God…” Bock writes, “This phrase often describes former polytheists who become worshipers of the God of Israel, adopt monotheism, and attend the synagogue but do not keep the entire law (Acts 13:43).”[106]

“The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul…” Did God override Lydia’s freewill? “Opened” could just mean opened to understand (Lk. 24:45; 2 Macc. 1:4). Also, he opened her heart, but she was the one who responded. The fact that God opened her heart shows God’s involvement in the missionary work. Paul and Silas were not alone in their work. God was with them, leading them, and opening hearts before them.

(16:15) She “prevailed upon them” (parebiasato). This means “implored” or “urged” them to stay. NLT renders this as, “She urged us until we agreed.” Imagine getting the apostle Paul in your town—you’d probably urge him to stick around and teach for a while.

Demon possessed slave-girl at Philippi

(16:16) We disagree with the reading that the demonic spirit actually “enabled” her to know the future (see NET/NLT). The Greek is literally “she had a spirit of divination (‘Python’).” Only God can tell the future. Demons, at most, can predict likelihoods or can orchestrate events to make self-fulfilled prophecies.

This slave-girl was held captive by both demonic and human masters, using her to make them money. Apparently, she would use occult practice to read people’s fortunes. This was a very frightful encounter in the ancient world. Bock writes, “Often such magicians were young, beautiful girls or older witches, with Circe as the prototype (Homer, Od. 10.234-40). Some saw magic as engaging the sympathetic powers of the universe (so Plotinus, Enneads 4.4.40–45).”[107] He also cites two important historical sources that give us a window into the fear involved in occult practice.

Pliny the Elder: “There is in fact no one who is not afraid of being cursed by terrible imprecations” (Natural History, 28:19).

Philo spoke about magic having the ability to change someone’s emotions (The Special Laws, 3.18).

(16:17) If she was demon-possessed, why would she follow Paul and Silas around and teach the truth about them? After all, they were servants of God and proclaiming salvation. This could be similar to legalistic street preachers today doing more harm for the gospel than good. Some of what they say is true, but their message is poisoned with hate and legalism, so it turns people off to Christ.

(16:18) This could explain why Paul is “greatly annoyed” by her. The demon-possessed girl was making his presence obvious in the city, and drawing bad attention. Paul must’ve been able to discern that this girl was demon-possessed based on her profession (fortune-telling) and her aberrant behavior.

(16:19-21) The Romans were fine with religious pluralism, unless they thought it brought destruction (Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 30.11; Plato, Apology of Socrates, 47). The Jews were a legal religion in Rome, but many of their practices were thought to be subversive to the State (Tacitus, Histories, 5.5; Cicero, Pro Flacco 28; Juvenal, Satires 14.96–106).

If Paul and Silas were stopping the commerce of Paganism in the Roman Empire, this could be viewed as a commercial threat. When Jesus healed the demoniac in Mark 5, the people may have been more concerned about the herd of pigs being killed (i.e. their commerce), and that may be why they wanted Jesus to leave.

At the end of the day, these slave masters were probably just plainly slandering Paul and Silas, because they were angry about losing money from their slave girl.

Paul and Silas in prison

(16:22-24) This “kangaroo court” reminds me of the accusations launched against Jesus (Lk. 23:2, 5). It could’ve been a sort of lynch mob, because of the reference to the crowd. At the same time, there is restraint, because the chief magistrates are there and Paul and Silas aren’t executed.

However, Paul and Silas are stripped, beaten, and thrown into jail. Paul received this treatment at least three times (2 Cor. 11:25; 1 Thess. 2:2). Bock writes, “Prisoners slept seated or on the hard floor and were seen as deserving harsh treatment.”[108] Bruce writes, “These stocks had more than two holes for the legs, which could thus be forced apart in such a way as to cause the utmost discomfort and cramping pain.”[109]

(16:25) This really shows the impact of giving thanks and victoriously suffering. These prisoners were listening to Paul and Silas sing and pray during their mistreatment. When Paul later wrote to the Philippians, his epistle is filled with the them of “joy” in the midst of suffering. Paul modeled that joy here.

(16:26) This must’ve been some earthquake! It was so violent that it loosened their chains—but without killing anyone. Pagans believed that earthquakes were divine appearances or theophanies (Ovid, Metamorphoses, 9.782-83; 15.669-78).

(16:27) The punishment for losing a prisoner was death (Acts 12:19; 27:42; Justinian, Code, 9.4.4). Imagine being this prison guard. It’s midnight, so he wouldn’t be able to see into the cells that well. He assumes that the prisoners have all escaped. He’s about to make a rash decision—ending his life. He’s hopeless.

(16:28) Paul didn’t exploit the miracle for his own advantage—that is, at the loss of this man’s life. Sometimes, God will open up a door, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we should walk through it. Many factors are in play.

(16:29) Remember, this happened at midnight, so the guard couldn’t see into the cells, which must’ve been pitch black. This makes sense for why “he called for lights.”

(16:30) What makes the jailor ask this question? Remember, the jailer had been listening to Paul and Silas singing and praying all night (v.25). He must have been asking himself, “How can these two sing praises to God after taking a humiliating and painful beating like that??” The jailer realized that their God was powerful (causing an earthquake), protective (taking care of them), and now merciful (because they didn’t let him die). His theology and life changed in that one moment.

(16:31) This is a pretty short answer! Why is it that most Christians do not give a short answer like this? The history of the church has added all sorts of rules and conditions on salvation, but not Paul and Silas.

(16:32) Paul and Silas went on to explain more about God, Christ, and salvation more in depth. The family was persuaded.

(16:33) It must have felt good to have their wounds washed after taking such a massive beating. It’s interesting that Paul and Silas were explaining the gospel and doing their Bible study with this man’s family before they got their wounds washed. It was also far after midnight at this point. Paul and Silas were up late, probably very tired, and yet they still chose to speak about Christ. They must’ve looked haggard standing there—all bruised, bloody, and tired.

One early theologian wrote, “He washed and was washed; he washed them from their stripes, and was himself washed from his sins” (John Chrysostom, Homilies on Acts, 36.2)

(16:34) Paedobaptists believe that this is evidence of infant baptism. However, the text never explicitly states that babies were baptized; this is only inferred and assumed by the reader. Moreover, the text explicitly states that the people in his family “believed.” Thus, if you’re old enough to “believe” and “rejoice greatly” in Christ, then you’re old enough to get baptized.

(16:35-36) After giving Paul and Silas a massive beating, the authorities order them to be released. It’s incredible to think that Paul and Silas willingly returned to the prison to protect this jailer’s life—at the risk of their own lives.

(16:37) Romans citizens were not allowed to be whipped (Cicero, In Verrem 5.62), as Paul had been (v.23). Cicero wrote, “The Porcian Law removed the rods from the bodies of all Roman citizens” (On behalf of Rabirius, charged with treason 12).[110] Bock writes, “The Valerian (509 BC), Porcian (248 BC), and Julian law codes (ca. 23 BC) affirmed such protections.”[111]

Paul had been holding this trump card the entire time! Paul was stripped naked, and then took a humiliating beating and imprisonment. Remarkably, Paul could’ve called an end to this treatment at any moment, but he chose to play this card the next morning. Paul probably used this as legal leverage for the Philippians believers, so that they wouldn’t undergo too much persecution.

(16:38-39) Bock comments, “The risk to the magistrates is significant, for part of their role is to protect Romans from injustice. If they fail in giving such protection, they might never serve in such a role again (Dio Cassius, Roman History, 60.24.4).”[112]

(16:40) Paul and Silas return to Lydia’s house to “encourage them.” They probably told the story of all that happened that night. This must’ve been an incredibly encouraging story to hear.

Acts 17:1-9 (Second missionary tour: Thessalonica)

(17:1) Paul and Silas passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia to get to Thessalonica. Strabo called Thessalonica “the metropolis of Macedonia” (Geography, 7.7.21). Bock writes, “The poet Antipater of Thessalonica called it ‘the mother of all Macedonia’ (Palatine Anthology 4.228). It had a major harbor and was a key link to the Bosporus and the Black Sea. Its population has been estimated between twenty and a hundred thousand. As a senatorial province, it was very loyal to Rome, a point that will be important in the events to come.”[113] For more history on Thessalonica, see “Intro to 1 and 2 Thessalonians.”

(17:2-3) Why was it Paul’s “custom” or strategy to speak to the Jewish people first in a new city. It was probably theological on some level (Rom. 9:1-3). It was also probably strategic: the Jewish people were monotheists, believed in the Scriptures, and were anticipating their Messiah.

He taught in the Sabbaths on three occasions. Does this mean he was only there for three weeks, or does it mean he only taught there on three occasions?

Paul used the logical Law of Identity (A = A; Jesus = the Christ).

(17:4) Both races (Greeks and Jews) as well as genders (male and females) came to accept Paul’s message (cf. Gal. 3:28). The term “persuaded” (epeisthesan) means “convince… convincing, not compelling… persuade, appeal to… win over” (BDAG). Paul employed reason.

(17:5) The preaching of the gospel garnered enemies. Jason (Rom. 16:21? Although not certain) hosted Paul and Silas (see v.7). Because of his connection with them, he was attacked. Were they surrounding his house in a lynch mob and wanting Jason to hand over Paul and Silas? For a parallel account, see Paul’s comments in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16.

(17:6) They pull Jason and some of the new believers in front of the authorities.

“These men who have upset the world have come here also…” This is clearly hyperbolic language, but it shows that Paul’s ministry was widely known.

(17:7) The Romans hated sedition. Paul’s message taught against idolatry (1 Thess. 1:9), taught the triumph of a new King (1 Thess. 1:10; 4:15), and taught about a new kingdom (1 Thess. 2:12).

(17:8-9) The authorities release Jason (et al.), but they must’ve been shaken up. They get out because of a “pledge,” which is similar to “posting bail.” Bock writes, “In this context, the term hikanos refers to the taking of ‘legal security’ or bail, something to guarantee that this missionary group will not break the Roman law. This act in Latin is called satis accipere and is well attested.”[114] This riot could be what Paul was referring to when he wrote that he wanted to come to them “yet Satan hindered us” (1 Thess. 2:18). Bruce writes, “[Paul] might well discern satanic machinations behind the politarchs’ decision.”[115]

Critics formerly held that the term “authorities” (politarchs) was an error. It was rarely mentioned in ancient books. However, an inscription over the Vandar Gate at Thessalonica was found to read “In the time of the Politarchs…”[116] Bruce writes, “The title politarches or politarchos is found in some 32 inscriptions from the second century B.C. to the third century A.D., being used in the majority of these for the magistrates of Macedonian cities. The form politarches is otherwise attested in inscriptions only; politarchos occurs in Aeneas Tacticus, Siege Warfare 26.12.”[117]

Berea

(17:10) Notice Paul’s custom of going straight to the synagogue.

(17:11) Even though they were hearing the message from an apostle, Luke records that they were noble because they were “examining the Scriptures” to verify his message. This is a good passage to support Sola Scriptura. Bock writes, “The expression for ‘examining’ (anakrinō) is graphic, for it refers to a legal process, such as a trial.”[118]

(17:12) Note that Luke keeps mentioning women believers.

(17:13) They travelled 45 miles to lynch Paul. Talk about dedication to their cause! Perhaps Paul could relate to their fury, because he had been travelling to Damascus to stop Christianity.

Athens

(17:14) Athens was 195 miles from Berea. This account is paralleled by 1 Thessalonians 3:1-6. Paul won’t see Timothy again until he sees him in Corinth (Acts 18:5).

(17:15) We often view Paul as a maverick leader, who was independent and entrepreneurial. Yet this is the only time in Acts where he is by himself. He usually liked to work on a team. In fact, even though he is here out of necessity, he tells Silas and Timothy to meet up with him “as soon as possible.”

(17:16) Athens was the intellectual capital of the Greek world. Ovid called it “learned Athens” (Heroides 2.83). Regarding the idols, Bock writes, “Such a description of Athens is well attested, as Livy, History of Rome 45.27, speaks of statues of men and gods (also Strabo, Geography 9.396; Pausanius, Description of Greece 1.17.1).”[119]

The term “provoke” (paroxynō) is where we get our term “paroxysm.” Paul wasn’t ashamed to bring the message of Christ into the public arena of ideas. In Romans, he says that he’s “under obligation both to Greeks and barbarians, both to the wise and the foolish” (Rom. 1:14). This made him “eager” to preach the gospel, and he “wasn’t ashamed of the gospel” (Rom. 1:15-16).

(17:17) Before speaking to the philosophers, he follows his custom of going to the Jewish people and God-fearers.

(17:18) These two philosophical schools were different from one another:

Epicurean: They followed Epicurus (341-270 BC). They didn’t care for the gods. They “were like agnostic secularists.”[120] Diogenes writes, “Nothing to fear in God; Nothing to feel in death; Good [pleasure] can be attained; Evil [pain] can be endured.”[121]

Stoics: They followed Zeno (340-265 BC), who would teach in the “Stoa.” They “were pantheists who argued for the unity of humanity and kinship with the divine (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers 7.1–160).”[122] They focused on reason, obedience, and self-sufficiency. Gonzalez writes, “This philosophical school, slightly younger than Platonism, held very high moral standards. The early Stoics—in the third century B.C.—were materialists who believed that all things were made out of fire, and determinists who were convinced that all they could do was to train themselves to assent to the inexorable laws that rule events.”[123]

“Babbler” refers to someone who is picking up scraps of knowledge and pawning them off like he knows what he is talking about. Specifically, they react poorly to the teaching about the resurrection of Christ, because Pagans viewed this as repulsive (see Evidence Unseen, ch.16 for the Pagan rejection of resurrection).

(17:19-21) The Areopagus (or Latin, “Mars Hill”) was the center of judicial rule and philosophical debate in Athens. Bock writes, “It had great power, trying crimes and regulating, for example, city life, education, philosophical lectures, public morality, and foreign cults.”[124]

(17:22) Paul uses their idolatry as a segue to discuss the true God. Remember, Paul was “provoked” by their idols, so he doesn’t agree with them. But he found a good starting place for dialogue, discussion, and debate. Even though he disagreed with them, he found something to affirm in their faulty belief system.

(17:23) The Athenians had an altar to an “unknown god.” Bock writes, “Pausanius describes such altars to unknown gods in his works; Description of Greece 1.1.4 and 1.17.1 speak of the Athenian religiosity and their veneration of the gods (also Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 6.3; Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers 1.110).”[125] They had so many gods that they probably assumed that there could be others that they were missing. So, just in case, they set up an altar to him, her, or it. Paul capitalizes on this.

(17:24-25) Paul starts with monotheism and creation. Did he get this part about “not [dwelling] in temples made with hands” from Stephen? (Acts 7:48) Paul is reasoning that the Creator of the universe wouldn’t dwell in localized parts of the universe—like in a temple or idol.

D.A. Carson points out that the Greeks believed that they needed to bargain with the gods. If you gave a good propitiatory sacrifice, then the gods would be favorable to you. Here, says Carson, Paul is asking the question: “How do you bargain with a God who has no needs?” You need to come to him on his terms, because you have nothing to bargain with. It would be like sitting down to negotiate with Bill Gates and offering him a few thousand dollars.

(17:26) Paul needs to start from the beginning in order to explain why the biblical worldview makes sense. Moses makes a similar point (Deut. 32:8).

(17:27) Because God is the Creator, he is sovereign over human history. Some people call history His Story.

Regarding the term “grope,” Bock writes, “In Acts the expression refers to a spiritual groping after God, to looking for something in an uncertain way. But the term in nonbiblical Greek and LXX usage is negative, of a blind person or a person walking in the dark (Plato, Phaedo 99B; Isa. 59:10; Deut. 28:29; Judg. 16:26; Job 5:13–14; 12:25).”[126] Paul’s point is that we need more than speculation. We need revelation.

Paul says that this is a good goal. In fact, God is very near to “each one” of us. He seems to be combining the transcendence and the imminence of God here.

(17:28) Paul cites Aratus Phaenomena (315-240 BC). In other words, we were made in His image—not the other way around (Rom. 1:21-25).

(17:29) He critiques idolatry here. If we are personal beings, then how can we come from an impersonal source like gold, silver, or stone? Moreover, if God is truly the Creator, then we shouldn’t invent what he looks like through art or idol manufacture.

(17:30) God allowed the nations to go their own way—even into idolatry (cf. Acts 14:16; Rom. 3:25). He calls their worldview “ignorant” (agnoias). This would’ve been a risky statement to make in the intellectual center of the world (!). These people prided themselves on their knowledge, and Paul states that they have “no knowledge” (agnoias).

(17:31) Paul had opened his discussion with Jesus (v.18). Now that he’s given a robust explanation of his worldview, he ends his discussion with Jesus. In a sense, he’s asking, “What do you think of Jesus?” This isn’t just an intellectual exercise. Depending on how they react, they could face judgment.

(17:32) The Greeks despised the idea of resurrection. The Greek tragedian Aeschylus has Apollo state, “When the dust has soaked up the blood of a man, once he has died, there is no resurrection” (Eumenides 647–48).[127] Bock writes, “Greeks believed either in a complete extinction of body and soul (Epicureans; Pliny the Elder, Natural History 7.189–90), in an afterlife in hades, or in the limited immortality of the soul (as opposed to an eternal immortality; Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel 15.20.6 summarizes Stoic views similarly). For example, Pliny the Elder, speaking of views that discuss some type of life after death, says that ‘these are fictions of childish absurdity, and belong to a mortality greedy for life unceasing’ (Natural History 7.189). Pliny goes on to say ‘a plague on this mad idea that life is renewed by death.’ It is a ‘sweet but naïve view’ (Natural History 7.190).”[128]

This fits with Paul’s other statements that his message was “foolishness” to the Greeks (1 Cor. 1:23).

(17:33-34) Some critics of apologetics believe that Paul’s lecture at the Areopagus was a failure. However, some of the people wanted to hear more from Paul (v.32), and Luke records that “some men joined him and believed” (v.34). Dionysus the Areopagite has a title that “means that he is a member of the council and has significant social standing.”[129] After one lecture, Paul reached a number of people for Christ. That is hardly a failure!

The use of the term “men” (andres) proves that the Bible uses the term men for both men and women; after all, Luke mentions that one of these “men” was a woman (Damaris).

Paul avoids two extremes: (1) hating culture and (2) accepting the immorality of culture. Even though he was “provoked” by their idolatry, he could still speak generously and patiently to them.

Acts 18 (Corinth)

(18:1) Corinth is about 40 miles from Athens in Greece. For a historical background of Corinth, see “Introduction to 1 & 2 Corinthians.” Bock writes, “Horace (Epistles 1.17.36) calls it a town where only the tough survive.”[130]

(18:2) Suetonius states that this event occurred in AD 49 (Suetonius, Life of Claudius, 25). This edict dates to ~AD 49 (Orosius, History 7.6.15-16).

Since they were from Rome, Paul probably first hears about the Roman Christians through them. Later in Acts 20:2-3, Paul will write his letter to the Romans.

Paul mentions Aquila and Priscilla multiple times (Rom. 16:3; 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim. 4:19). They must have been strong leaders in the early church. Interestingly, Luke and Paul mention Priscilla (Prisca) before her husband, Aquila (Acts 18:18, 26; Rom. 16:3; 2 Tim. 4:19), which “suggests that she was the more important figure from a Christian point of view.”[131] Longenecker writes, “We may conclude that she came from a higher social class than her husband or was in some way considered more important.”[132]

(18:3) Paul immediately hits it off with Aquila, because they were both tent-makers, and they worked together. Paul refers to “working with his hands” in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 4:12; cf. 1 Thess. 2:9).

This would be the equivalent of a William Lane Craig working at a fast food restaurant. Paul didn’t feel that it was “beneath him” to work while doing ministry. In fact, Bruce writes, “In Judaism it was not considered proper for a scribe or rabbi to receive payment for his teaching, so many of them practised a trade in addition to their study and teaching of the law.”[133] In his footnote, he writes, “Hillel is credited with the observation: “He who makes a profit from the crown of the Torah shall waste away” (Pirqê ʾAḇô 4.7)—i.e., one should not give religious instruction for money. At a later date, Gamaliel III commended the study of the Torah in combination with some “secular” occupation: “All study of the Torah which is not combined with work will ultimately be futile and lead to sin” (Pirqê ʾAḇô 2.2).”[134]

(18:4) We’re seeing a pattern: In a new city, Paul would start preaching with the Jewish people in town.

(18:5) Paul was likely given money from Silas and Timothy so that he didn’t need to work (cf. 2 Cor. 11:9; Phil. 4:19).

(18:6) Paul gave the Jewish people in a city the first chance to hear the gospel. But he also didn’t want to waste inordinate time trying to persuade people who were stubbornly rejecting the truth.

(18:7) Titius was probably a Gentile, and he moved in right next to the synagogue. Would this have caused tension with the Jews there?

(18:8) Crispus was a Jewish convert—the leader of the synagogue—whom Paul personally baptized (1 Cor. 1:14). Luke records that “many” in Corinth had come to faith. It’s no wonder why Paul would write multiple large letters to this church.

(18:9-10) God intervenes when we need him the most. Verse 9 is the role of human agency. Verse 10 is God’s part in ministry. Was Paul “afraid” (1 Cor. 2:1-4) because he was in such a wild place like Corinth—the Las Vegas of his day?

Note that this visitation from Jesus is different from his experience on the road to Damascus. This visitation is a “vision,” rather than a bodily appearance of Jesus.

(18:11) When Jesus Christ makes a personal visit and tells you to stay put, it’s a good idea to listen. Paul ends up staying there for a year and a half as a result of this encounter with Christ.

(18:12) Who was Gallio? We know a lot about him from history. He was the son of Seneca the Elder (50 BC to AD 40), and he was the brother of Seneca the Stoic philosopher (3 BC to AD 65). History tells us that Gallio was anti-Semitic (Seneca, Natural Questions 4a.preface.11; Dio Cassius, Roman History 61.35; Tacitus, Annals 15.73).[135]

Gallio didn’t reign in Achaia for a long time, so we can date this event very precisely to the summer of AD 51. The Delphi Inscription in Greece records a decree of Emperor Claudius that refers to Gallio being out of office by Claudius’ twenty sixth acclamation (or AD 52). Thus, it can be inferred “rather precisely that [Gallio] entered on his proconsulship in the summer of A.D. 51.”[136]

The Jewish people got fed up with Paul, and they appealed to the secular government to do something.

(18:13) Paul’s Jewish accusers make the case that this is not a collegium licitum (a “legal religion”). Gallio interprets this statement to mean that they are upset about Jewish law. Remember, under Roman law, the Jewish people were allowed to worship (Josephus, Against Apion, 2.4.35-47; Antiquities, 19.5.290). But was Paul’s faith legitimately Jewish? Or was it something else? If Paul’s religion didn’t fall under the framework of Judaism, then he wouldn’t have been protected under these laws.

(18:14-15) Gallio says that he doesn’t care about their religious problems. Luke probably includes this account, because he wants to show (to Theophilus?) that Christianity is not a threat to Rome and fits within the domain of the Jewish religion.

(18:16) “Judgment seat” (bema) is the term Paul uses to the Corinthians in his letters to describe the “bema seat” of believers’ judgment of rewards. It would’ve been an apt illustration, because the Corinthians were so familiar with this.

(18:17) Sosthenes—the leader of the synagogue—was a main instigator of attacking Paul. It isn’t clear who turned on him (Was it his fellow Jews? The Greeks?). But after the trial with Gallio, he was beaten badly. We don’t know what happened after this event, but because this man is later mentioned by Paul as coming to faith in Christ (1 Cor. 1:1), it’s likely that Paul came to him after this beating and witnessed to him.

“Gallio was not concerned about any of these things…” This anti-Semitic sentiment fits with what history tells us regarding Gallio (see comments on verse 12 above).

(18:18) What “vow” was this? It could be the Nazarite vow. It could’ve been that he used this vow for the purposes of contextualization, so he could get into the synagogues to speak and gain a hearing (1 Cor. 9:20). This could also be the sacrifice mentioned in Acts 21:26. This makes more sense than Paul offering an animal sacrifice!

The Mishnah allowed for the person to cut their hair before the sacrifice was made (Nazir, 3.6; 5.4).

Some commentators believe that this could be a culturally Greek vow, where “sailors sometimes shaved after surviving a tough journey (citing Juvenal, Satires 12.81–82).”[137] Bruce argues that this cannot be the Nazarite vow, because this couldn’t be taken outside of Israel. Instead, he believes that this was “a private vow, the fulfilment of which was an act of thanksgiving—possibly for the divine promise of verse 10, which had been confirmed by his preservation from harm throughout his Corinthian ministry.”[138]

(18:18; cf. 21:26) Did Paul keep the Nazarite Vow?

Ephesus

(18:19-21) Paul will come back to Ephesus. He probably feels rushed, because he wants to make it back to Jerusalem before the Passover. Sailing season began in March, and the Passover was in April, so the window of time was narrow. Paul will make it back at the beginning of chapter 19.

Caesarea, Antioch, Galatia, Phrygia

(18:22-23) Paul builds up the churches he has already planted.

Apollos in Ephesus

(18:24) Alexandria was a center of learning and philosophical study. Philo came from Alexandria. So Apollos must’ve been an intelligent man, and he was well studied.

(18:25) He was “fervent in spirit” (cf. Rom. 12:11). Bock writes, “The description of someone as fervent means that the person is enthusiastic, excited, or ‘on fire’ (BAGD 337; BDAG 426; ‘talked … with great enthusiasm,’ NLT). The term literally means ‘boiling’ or ‘seething’ (Josephus, Antiquities 13.12.6 §345).”[139] He was not only intelligent, but he was passionate. A great combination for a Christian teacher!

How did Apollos get his exposure to Jesus?

What was his doctrinal error? Some think he had an allegorical hermeneutic. Stott writes, “Alexandria had a huge Jewish population at that time. It was here that the LXX had been produced some 200 years before Christ, and here that the great scholar Philo, Jesus’ contemporary, lived and worked, struggling by allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament to reconcile Hebrew religion with Greek philosophy. Did Apollos himself interpret the Old Testament allegorically?”[140] But this doesn’t seem likely. His preaching isn’t false—only incomplete. He was speaking “accurately” but not exhaustively. He was missing key information about God’s plan, knowing only about the “baptism of John.”

Paul writes about how helpful of a man Apollos was in 1 Corinthians 1-4.

(18:26) Remember, Paul left Priscilla and Aquila behind in Ephesus (v.19).

Think of how easy it would be for Apollos to brush off Priscilla and Aquila. A woman teacher in this culture would’ve been viewed as inferior, yet he had the humility to listen to her and her husband. Here is another sign of a great Christian teacher: willingness to learn and be corrected.

(18:27-28) Apollos must have been a good debater and public speaker. The term “powerfully refuted” (diakatelegchomai) means to “overwhelm someone in argument” (BDAG).

This little aside shows why Paul speaks so highly of Apollos in his letter to the Corinthians, viewing him as a coleader.

Acts 19 (Ephesus)

(19:1) John the Baptist had many disciples (Lk. 5:33; 7:18-19). Are these disciples of Jesus or disciples of John the Baptist? Luke doesn’t mention “disciples of John” or “[Paul’s] disciples” (Acts 9:25), and Luke consistently uses the simple term “disciples” to refer to disciples of Jesus. From this, F.F. Bruce[141] believes that these were disciples of Jesus.

However, we agree with Howard Marshall[142] that these are not true believers; after all, they do not have the Holy Spirit (v.2), which is impossible for a true believer to not have (Jn. 3:5; Acts 11:17; Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 12:3; Gal. 3:2; 1 Thess. 1:5f.; Titus 3:5; Heb. 6:4; 1 Pet. 1:2; 1 Jn. 3:24; 4:13). Marshall writes, “Luke is not saying that the men were disciples but is describing how they appeared to Paul.”[143] This would make sense as to why Paul immediately starts to question their beliefs (“Did you receive the Holy Spirit…”).

(19:2) These were disciples but they weren’t new covenant believers. They “believed” but didn’t have the Holy Spirit. These were holdovers from the old covenant period. They believed in God on one level, but they hadn’t come to a saving faith in Christ yet.

(19:3) At this point, John the Baptist had been dead for over two decades. They might’ve been baptized by John, or perhaps some of John’s disciples after his death.

(19:4-5) When they hear the message about Christ, they become believers. This is a strange situation. They lived through the period between the old covenant and the new covenant, but they lacked the knowledge that the new covenant happened.

(19:6) This is the final mention of speaking in tongues in Acts. These men were rebaptized when they heard about the message of Jesus for the first time.

(19:6) Does this support the Pentecostal concept of a “second blessing”?

(19:7) Why twelve? Is this symbolic of ministering to Israel? Not likely. For one, these men were serving in Ephesus—not Jerusalem. Furthermore, Luke says it was “about” twelve. If we’re supposed to see symbolism, he would’ve been more exact.

(19:8) Paul used apologetics and rational argument. He also spent “three months” in the synagogue. This fits with the pattern we’ve seen all throughout Acts: starting with the synagogue and using apologetics.

Earlier, the Holy Spirit blocked Paul’s crew from going here (Acts 16:6). This must’ve been God’s timing.

(19:9) The term “hardened” is in the middle voice (“they hardened themselves”). Paul saw that they weren’t open to the message, so they took the disciples and left.

What was the “school of Tyrannus”? It’s either a lecture hall or school building. The Western text states that Paul preached from 11am to 4pm. Bruce writes, “Whatever the textual basis of this reading may be, it probably represents what actually happened.”[144] He did this while also making a living. This was the time that people would normally flee from the sun and take a nap, because of the heat. Bruce writes, “More people would be asleep at 1 p.m. than at 1 a.m.”[145] Paul used this time to preach.

(19:10) He stayed there for two years, and God reached many in Asia Minor. The churches mentioned in Revelation 2-3 likely came from the equipping and discipleship ministry done here. This must’ve been thousands of Christians. Consider how many Christians would need to be there to burn 50,000 pieces of silver in occult books? (Acts 19:19) This many people were able to get rid of the occult practices there (Acts 19:24).

Bruce dates this period from the fall of AD 52 to the summer of AD 55.[146]

(19:11-12) Healing handkerchiefs?

“Handkerchiefs” (sudaria) is better translated “sweat rag.”[147] Paul probably did a lot of sweating as a leatherworker and day-time Bible teacher.

False exorcists

(19:13) These Jewish exorcists seem to be using Jesus’ name like a magic formula. But demons can see right through unbelief. They want to use the name, but deny its power (2 Tim. 3).

(19:14) Seven sons of Sceva couldn’t exorcise a demon, but Paul’s sweat rag could heal multiple people.

(19:15) Maybe C.S. Lewis’ fictional book The Screwtape Letters was closer to the mark than we might think. Demons know influential believers by name. J. Oswald Sanders writes, “Yes, they were acquainted with Paul. But they did not know these vagabond Jews. Their names were not known in Hell. Are our names known to the powers of darkness or are we spiritual nonentities, offering no threat to their kingdom? Are our prayers effectual in binding ‘the strong man’ or does he laugh at our puny attempts to spoil his house?”[148]

(19:16) They don’t have any authority without Christ’s authority. Also, demons had supernatural strength (i.e. the possessed man could beat up seven guys). The men only had robes, so this could explain why they were naked.

(19:17) People were very afraid of demons back then. So this was used for evangelistic purposes. The “fear” is a respect for God’s power.

(19:18) Their “practices” refers to their “magic spells.” Bock notes, “Their divulging of spells is important, as one of the keys to magic is the secrecy and mystery behind the spells. Once made public, the spell is perceived to be impotent.”[149]

(19:19) The example of dealing with occult literature is to burn it. If a piece of silver equaled a denarius, then this would be equivalent to 137 years of worth of work without a day off.[150] They would rather burn these occult books than get the money for them. Stott writes, “We have already noted that Ephesus was famous for its ‘Ephesian letters’ (grammata), which were ‘written charms, amulets and talismans’. That these young believers, instead of realizing the monetary value of their magic spells by selling them, were willing to throw them on a bonfire, was signal evidence of the genuineness of their conversion. Their example also led to more conversions.”[151]

(19:20-21) He wanted to go back to Jerusalem first to bring money for the poor believers there (Rom. 15:23-25; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8-9). Notice that he makes these decisions “in the Spirit.” He wanted God’s guidance. This is the start of many passages where Paul sees going to Rome as a divine appointment (Acts 20:23; 21:11, 13; 23:11; 27:23-25).

(19:22) He sends Timothy (1 Cor. 4:17; 16:10-11) and Erastus (Rom. 16:23? 2 Tim. 4:20). Paul stays in Asia for two and a half years.

(19:23-24) Demetrius is the ring leader of this mob.

Artemis (Roman “Diana”) was a fertility goddess.

We have found many of these shrines to Artemis in Ephesus. Bock writes, “Such shrines have been found in terra-cotta and marble but not in silver. Molds in which such material could be formed have been found, however, as have coins with temple images (Reeder 1987; Kreitzer 1987; Polhill 1992: 408; Larkin 1995: 280). We also have inscriptions about such silver materials (British Museum collection of ancient Greek inscriptions 3.481 = Die Inschriften von Ephesos 1.27).”[152]

Stott writes, “This was probably the Arcadian Way, the main thoroughfare of Ephesus, eleven metres wide, marble-paved and colonnaded, leading from the harbour to the theatre. The theatre itself, still in a fine state of preservation, nestling at the foot of Mount Pion and nearly 500 feet in diameter, could accommodate at least 25,000 people. Here the crowed dragged Gaius and Aristarchus.”[153]

Haenchen writes, “In final analysis the only thing heathenism can do against Paul is to shout itself hoarse.”[154] If it’s so “undeniable,” they why do you have to shout and scream?

This fits with the “legal brief” thesis. Stott writes, “Luke’s purpose in recounting this incident was clearly apologetic or political. He wanted to show that Rome had no case against Christianity in general or Paul in particular.”[155]

The Temple was a historical place. Bock writes, “The temple to her was four times the size of the Parthenon. It had pillars 60 feet high and was about 425 feet by 225 feet, much larger than a football field… Le Cornu and Shulam place the dimensions at 377 feet by 197 feet, or 130 meters by 70 meters. Pesch has the dimensions as 120 meters by 70 meters. It was the largest building in the Greek world.”[156]

Their materialism was getting in the way of them coming to faith in Christ.

The Christian didn’t disturb the peace, but their faith caused others to do so.

(19:25-27) Demetrius views Christianity as an affront to materialism and idolatry (1 Thess. 1:9-10). Pliny the Younger mentions pagan temples being turned into places for Christians to gather in Bithynia (Letters, 10.96).

(19:28-29) It was common for people to call out to their gods (or goddesses) like this (Xenophon, Ephesian Tale of Anthia and Habrocomes, 1.11.5). This is mob rule, and it would’ve been scary to be dragged into this if you were Gaius (Acts 20:4) or Aristarchus (Acts 20:4; 27:2; Col. 4:10; Phile. 24). Both Jews and Gentiles have reacted against Christianity violently (cf. Acts 7).

(19:30-31) Paul wants to go in, but the believers hold him back. What help could he be in this setting?

Who were the Asiarchs? The Asiarchs “were leading citizens, who were prominent members of the provincial council of Asia, especially its ‘annual presidents and perhaps expresidents’, and/or the city’s deputies who served on it, and/or ‘the administrators of the various temples of the imperial cult, who were under the charge of high priests appointed by the provincial council.’”[157] The Asiarchs “would likely be civic rulers or leading men of Ephesus from the upper class rather than merely cultic figures.”[158] Barrett writes, “Strabo, who wrote about the geography of the times, referred to ‘the Asiarchs… the first men of their province (14.1.42).’”[159]

(19:32-34) This was mass hysteria and mob rule. They were chanting about Artemis for two hours! This would be similar to the Buckeye’s losing to Michigan, or Hitler youth chanting songs to Hitler. They didn’t want to hear from a Jewish man either, because he was against idolatry too.

(19:35) The “town clerk” was “the highest civic official in the city, operating much like a powerful city manager, and serves as the city’s liaison to Roman authorities.”[160] The people believed that her idol fell from heaven. Bock writes, “A similar story appears in Euripides, Iphigenia at Tauris 87–88, 1384–85, where the story is tied to Artemis in Taurus.”[161]

(19:36-37) The town clerk argues for sanity: If Artemis is really a goddess, why worry about her?

(19:38-41) He doesn’t want Rome to consider this an unlawful riot, which could be considered seditious. He dismisses the mob before a riot occurs. We can pray that God will use anybody to accomplish his will. Luke probably includes this to show that the authorities have no reason to persecute Christians.

Acts 20 (Farewell to Ephesus)

(20:1) The “uproar” refers to the riot in Ephesus from the last chapter.

Before leaving the disciples, he built them up. He didn’t want to just skip town without getting a final teaching in. He travelled to Macedonia.

(20:2) He went to (Corinth) Greece. He probably travelled through Illyricum during this time (Rom. 15:19). Bruce writes, “[Paul’s] earlier Macedonian journey through Philippi, Thessalonica, and Beroea (16:12–17:10) did not bring him anywhere near the Illyrian frontier.”[162]

(20:3) He went to (Corinth) Greece. What was Paul doing for these three months? F.F. Bruce[163] and others believe that this is when he wrote his letter to the Romans, which was an excellent use of his sabbatical!

(20:4) Paul lists seven coworkers here. They seem to represent the different churches who are giving to this massive collection for the church in Jerusalem.

  1. “Sopater of Berea, the son of Pyrrhus…” He is mentioned in Romans 16:21.
  2. “Aristarchus of the Thessalonians…” He is mentioned in Acts 19:29; 27:2; Colossians 4:10.
  3. “Secundus of the Thessalonians…” He isn’t mentioned elsewhere in the NT.
  4. “Gaius of Derbe…” He isn’t mentioned by name, but he was probably a convert from Paul’s first missionary journey through Derbe (Acts 14:20-21).[164]
  5. “Timothy…” He is mentioned throughout the NT. He was originally from Lystra (Acts 16:1-3).
  6. “Tychicus…” He is mentioned in Ephesians 6:21–22; Colossians 4:7–8; 2 Timothy 4:12; Titus 3:12.
  7. “Trophimus of Asia…” He is mentioned in Acts 21:29; 2 Timothy 4:20.
“We passage” (20:5-21:18)

(20:5) He is another “we passage” from Luke. He must’ve met up with Paul at Philippi before meeting at Troas.

(20:6) It takes five days, because they are travelling against the wind (cf. Acts 16:11).

Eutychus: Bored to death

(20:7) Are Christians obligated to meet on “the first day of the week” for Bible studies?

(20:7-8) Look at the attention to detail in the “we passages” from Luke. He mentions how late Paul talked, the lighting, the location, etc.

In verse 12, they call Eutychus a “boy” (pais). John Stott writes, “Pais normally covering the years from 8 to 14.”[165] Imagine this 10 year old kid sitting through a six hour service! The “many lamps” were burning in this upper room, and the boy probably fell asleep from the heat.

(20:9-10) Paul heals this kid from falling three stories to his death. Remember, there were no windows in these windows. Was it stuffy from all of those lamps up there (v.8)?

He was bored to death! If you’ve ever given a bad teaching, don’t feel bad. At least no one died.

I heard a joke one time where a Christian teacher said, “I should be able to teach for three hours like Paul.” One of his students said, “You can… if you’re also able to bring people back from the dead!”

(20:11-12) It’s funny that this death didn’t stop Paul from finishing his teaching! It probably helped people to pay attention and not fall asleep anymore!

Paul taught so late because he wanted to spend as much time with them as possible.

Trip to Miletus

(20:13) This was a long walk. Paul had plenty of time to think, pray, and reflect.

(20:14-17) Paul and his team travel to eventually get to Miletus, so he could teach one final time. The elders from Ephesus come to listen and say goodbye.

What do we learn about godly leadership from this section? (vv.18-31)

This is the only recorded speech in Acts where Paul addresses Christians.

(20:18) He spent time with these people. Godly leadership doesn’t take place in a “control tower” in the sky. We’re investing our lives into the people around us.

(20:19) Paul was humble, emotional, and persevered under suffering. Could he be alluding to the fact that they saw him cry when going through suffering? If so, godly leaders show vulnerability with people they’re leading. They take the risk of exposing their hearts to people.

He viewed his ministry as “serving the Lord,” rather than people.

He stayed humble, rather than taking the glory.

He begins his talk on ministry by talking about the deep love relationships there (cf. 1 Thess. 2:7-11). You start to invest in people until you feel affection for them.

The real credentials come from the love relationships we have—not ordination, education, etc. (2 Cor. 3:1-3).

(20:20) Paul’s content of teaching was high. He didn’t feel like he needed to dumb it down for them. They had large centralized teachings and small home churches. Apparently, Paul would teach at each of these. He didn’t feel that teaching a small group was beneath him. If you’re too important to teach a small group, then you’ve really surpassed Paul in his ministry (!!).

He didn’t refrain from teaching difficult doctrines (“I did not shrink from declaring to you anything). He also didn’t needlessly offend people (“anything that was profitable).

God has a lot of things to say that we don’t want to hear.

(20:21) Godly leaders don’t discriminate who they speak to about Christ. Paul emphasized a grace focus (cf. v.24).

The repentance here is turning toward God.

(20:22-23) Godly leaders take radical steps of faith. Serving God is unpredictable, so we can’t try to control the direction. Paul felt that God was leading him to Jerusalem—even though he knew suffering awaited him. Sometimes, God will lead you directly into suffering (cf. Acts 21:11).

Leadership is self-sacrificial. Instead of starting to think about what I can get for myself, I start to think about what I can give away. Am I serving others to see what I can get out of it? Or do I want to give my life away?

(20:24) Paul believed that God had a foreknown plan for him to walk in (2 Tim. 4:7). John the Baptist also had a course to complete (Acts 13:25).

He compares serving God to a long-distance race. In order to complete our course, we need to hold the belief that our lives are not our own. Paul thought that his ministry of evangelism was worth more than his life. He believed his ministry that was something that was given to him (“which I received from the Lord Jesus”).

(20:25) He knows that he won’t see them again.

(20:26) Godly leaders don’t feel overly responsible for how their people do. If we do our part, we can sleep soundly. Paul felt that he had done all that he could. The rest is up to the person and to God. One pastor said that he “worked like an Arminian and slept like a Calvinist.” There is a lot of wisdom in this statement.

(20:27) He taught theology from beginning to end—not “Christianity-lite.” He gave them a balanced teaching of the Bible. As leaders, we need to teach what the Bible teaches, and emphasize what the Bible emphasizes. Many Christians start to do the opposite: emphasizing minutiae, instead of the main thing. Don’t focus on tangential issues. Expository Bible teaching helps keeps us focused.

(20:28) Now that Paul is gone, he encourages the elders to lead well. Godly leaders know when to “pass the baton” to the next generation of leaders. They also pass this baton with a sense of sobering responsibility. After all, God purchased these people with his own blood.

God the Father did not bleed his blood; God the Son did. If this passage is referring to God the Father, then when did God bleed? However, this passage does contain many textual variants, so “in light of the possibilities, one cannot be dogmatic on the passage.”[166]

God is the one who “made” them leaders.

(20:29-30) Godly leaders feed the sheep and protect them. False teachers come from within the church. Most of the great cults arose from apostate Christians. J. P. Moreland argues that two of the great Christian cults were started on the heels of the great American revivals.[167] Because many of these new Christians didn’t know their Bibles very well, they were easily captured by the false teaching of these cult groups. Paul predicted that the false teachers in Ephesus would actually arise from within the church itself (Acts 20:29-30). Therefore, in the modern church, we need to learn how to interpret and read our Bibles with clarity in order to combat false teaching like this.

(20:31) Godly leaders admonish, but not out of any sort of vindictiveness. Paul did this with tears in his eyes.

(20:32) What is God’s defense against all of these false teachers? Church councils? A teaching magisteria? No! The “word” of God itself is the best defense. Paul trusted that God would take care of them through his word.

He told them to focus on “grace.” We can teach the Bible from cover to cover, but if we don’t focus on grace, we’re missing the main point.

(20:33-35) Godly leaders are givers—not takers. Paul didn’t mooch off of the church. He could show them the callouses on his hands. He paid his own bills. He wasn’t a materialist (v.33; 1 Tim. 3:3, 8; 6:3-10; Titus 1:7, 11). Instead he was a servant in the church. He believed that giving was the key to a happy life (“It is more blessed [makarios] to give than to receive”).

(20:36) Godly leaders depend on the Lord in prayer.

(20:37-38) Godly leaders form deep relationships. These people wept at the thought of not seeing Paul again.

Conclusions

As you read through these qualities of leaders, which stand out to you as personal strengths? Which stand out as weaknesses?

When you read through this passage, do you accept conviction from God (or do you deflect, minimize, or excuse it)? The beginning of change in our lives and leadership is to start with agreeing with God on these issues.

Acts 21 (Paul Goes to Jerusalem)

(21:1-3) The “we passages” continue. The company makes their way to Tyre. Travelling in those days took time: they needed to wait around for a cargo ship that was going in their direction. Once you waited for a ship, you waited for them to go back to sea.

(21:4) “We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days…” This passage shows that Paul would take any opportunity he could get to find fellowship with other believers.

“Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem…” Consider how difficult it would be to continue to go towards danger in Jerusalem, when so many believers were telling you not to.

(Acts 21:4, 11) Was Paul contradicting the Spirit when he went to Jerusalem?

(21:5) Tyre is close to Antioch. They must’ve come to Christ through that group. They were only there a week, but they connected with these people. Why did they “kneel” to pray? This is description—not prescription.

(21:6-7) Like verse 4, Paul kept seeking out fellowship with other believers on his travel.

(21:8-9) Philip is one of the seven from Acts 6. He also led the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ in Acts 8. He has four daughters who are “prophetesses” (cf. Acts 2:16-17, which predicts female prophetesses).

This passage lines up well with what we learned about Philip earlier. In Acts 8:40, Philip was left “in Caesarea.” Now, some twenty years later, Philip is still there. In fact, he had started a family with four daughters.

Remember, Philip had to leave the city of Jerusalem because Saul was terrorizing the believers. Philip left and now he lives in Jerusalem. What must it have been like for Philip to have Paul (Saul) in his house now?

(21:10-14) Agabus’ earlier prediction came true (Acts 11:27-30). He was a validated, proven prophet. Now he predicts that Paul will be captured in Jerusalem. Agabus doesn’t tell Paul what to do—just what will happen. Paul seems heartbroken over their pleas. He isn’t being bullheaded and stubborn. He is merely interpreting the prophecy differently. The people were probably arguing, “Agabus says that you’ll be imprisoned… Don’t go!” But Paul retorts, “Agabus says that I’ll be imprisoned… And I’m not only willing to face prison, but also death, if it’s in God’s will!”

Why does Agabus decide to act out this prophecy? OT prophets would act out their prophecies sometimes (Ezek. 4-5; Isa. 20).

Paul has been travelling the world for 25 years. Did he think that maybe God was bringing him home to Jerusalem to die? Did he think that this was one last chance to reach the Jewish people? Paul had family in Jerusalem (Acts 23:16), and maybe he wanted to be able to speak to his fellow Jews one last time (Rom. 9:1-3).

(Acts 21:4, 11) Was Paul contradicting the Spirit when he went to Jerusalem?

(21:15-17) They finally make it to Jerusalem. There, they meet James—Jesus’ half brother.

(21:18) He meets with James and the elders. Note that the “we passage” ends here. Luke must’ve stayed in Jerusalem to do interviews and research. He meets up with Paul again in Acts 27.

Here, Paul gives the Jerusalem church a big financial gift here (Acts 24:17).

(21:19) It isn’t boasting to talk about what God is doing in your ministry. James didn’t talk about what a great church planter Paul was. Instead, he glorified God as a result of hearing his story (v.20).

(21:20) Is James concerned about the Zealot party? The expression “zealous for the law” was used of the Maccabees who revolted against Hellenistic conquest (1 Macc. 2:42; 2 Macc. 4:2).

We are no longer under law, so why is James saying that this is a good thing? Is this the “law” in terms of the entire Hebrew Scriptures? Not likely. The practices mentioned are referring to the OT rituals specifically. Circumcision isn’t a problem (Gal. 6:15). It’s what is meant by it that matters.

(21:21-25) Paul taught that it is fine to continue Jewish practices (1 Cor. 7:17-18), but he was critical of judging people for these things or making them mandatory (Col. 2:16-17).

(Acts 21:26; cf. 18:18) Did Paul make a mistake in bringing a sacrifice to the Temple to appease Jewish believers?

(21:27-28) Their charge seems similar to the charge given against Stephen in Acts 6:11-14. There, Paul was the accuser; now he is the accused. Longenecker writes,

Josephus described the wall separating the Court of the Gentiles from the Holy Place, or inner courts reserved for Jews alone, as ‘a stone balustrade, three cubits high [c.41/2 feet high; though Mishnah Middoth 2:3 says it was ‘ten hand-breadths high,’ c.21/2 feet high] and of excellent workmanship’ (Josephus Jewish War, V, 193 [v.2]). ‘In this at regular intervals,’ he said, ‘stood slabs giving warning, some in Greek, others in Latin characters, of the law of purification, to wit that no foreigner was permitted to enter the Holy Place, for so the second enclosure of the temple was called’ (ibid., V, 194 [v.2]; cf. VI, 124–26 [ii.4]; Antiq. XV, 417 [xi.5]). One of these Greek notices was found by C.S. Clermont-Gannau in 1871 and two Greek fragments of another were found in 1935. The complete notice reads: ‘No foreigner is to enter within the balustrade and embankment around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his death which follows’ (cf. “New Discoveries,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 3 [1871], 132). Roman authorities were so conciliatory of Jewish scruples about this matter that they ratified the death penalty for any Gentile—even a Roman citizen—caught going beyond the balustrade (Soreg) (cf. Josephus, The Jewish Wars, VI, 126 [ii.4]).[168]

These Jewish men came from “Asia,” which is no doubt Ephesus. In chapter 19, there was violent lynch mob, and they’re now returning to capture Paul.

(21:29) Gentiles were not permitted in the Temple. Bock writes, “Gentiles were not allowed into the main temple area (m. Mid. 2.3; Josephus, Ant. 15.11.5 §417 [notes that a Gentile who entered was subject to death]; J.W. 5.5.2 §§193–94; 6.2.4 §§124–25; m. Kelim 1.8; b. ʿErub. 104b).”[169] Two placards have been discovered by archaeologists, which read, “No foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the temple and enclosure. Anyone who is caught trespassing will bear personal responsibility for his ensuing death.”

(21:30) More mob rule.

(21:31-33) A Roman cohort was about 1,000 soldiers. 750 on foot, and 250 on horse. There was a watchtower northwest of the Temple from which the soldiers would keep an eye on the Temple, because they weren’t allowed in inside (Josephus, Jewish War, 5.5.8). Claudius Lysias (Acts 23:26; 24:22) shows up—not to protect Paul—but to quell a potential riot. This cohort would be like ancient “riot Police.”

If Luke is writing this to Theophilus to show that Rome should adopt Christianity as a legal religion, then this would be another example of a Roman leader who is inquiring about Christianity, rather than giving in to xenophobia.

(21:34-36) We’re seeing that Paul doesn’t revolt against the rule of law. This increases his credibility in the eyes of others.

(21:37) The fact that Paul could speak Greek seems to be shocking to the commander.

(21:38) This Egyptian led 30,000 in the wilderness, but 4,000 died (Josephus, Jewish War, 2.13.5; Antiquities, 20.8.6). Fernando writes, “This Egyptian took a large number of people to the Mount of Olives, promising them God’s intervention, but the revolt was aborted by Governor Felix with the loss of much life but the escape of the Egyptian.”[170] F.F. Bruce places this revolt only three years before this event.[171]

The term for “assassins” (sikariōn) was a loaded term. It referred to the Jewish zealots who would kill people with daggers (sica meant “dagger”).[172]

(21:39) Bock writes, “Paul’s hometown was known as a cultural center of Hellenism, rhetoric, and Stoic philosophy (Strabo, Geography 14.4.12–15; 14.5.13–15.”[173] Paul is giving his credentials so he can show that his arrest is unjustified. He isn’t a political threat to Rome.

(21:40) The Hebrew dialect is a reference to Aramaic. Paul was at least bilingual (v.37).

Acts 22 (Paul on trial)

(22:1) He gives a similar address as Stephen, calling them “brothers and fathers” (Acts 7:2). Paul gives his “defense” (apologia). This is the term from which we get the modern term “apologetics.” Paul’s defense typifies these final chapters of Acts (24:10; 25:8, 16; 26:1-2, 24).

(22:2) Since Paul is using the “Hebrew dialect” (i.e. Aramaic), this shows that he is directing his defense toward the Jewish people—not the Romans. They seem to respect the fact that he’s speaking to them in Hebrew. He contextualizes his apologetic for the people there.

(22:3) He grew up in Tarsus, which was a center of learning (see above; 9:11; 21:39). He was taught by Gamaliel (Mishnah Abot, 1.4).

“This city” probably refers to Jerusalem. He is disproving the thought that he doesn’t care about the customs and laws of the Jewish people. He was raised in these customs, and he had the best education out of anyone in the audience.

(22:4-5) Who was more zealous to defeat Christianity? Paul exceeded the laissez-faire stance of even Gamaliel. He assaulted “men and women.” He was a violent persecutor of the church (cf. 26:10; 1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13; Phil. 3:6; 1 Tim. 1:13). He claims that they can check out his facts with the high priest and the elders of Jerusalem. The high priest at the time was Caiaphas—now it is Ananias (Acts 23:2).

(22:6) The light appeared around noon (Acts 26:13). This light was brighter than the sun at high noon (!).

(22:7-8) This is almost identical to Acts 9, except Paul adds that Jesus said, “I am Jesus the Nazarene…”

(22:9) This was not an internal event (i.e. a vision). The other people could see it—even though they didn’t see Jesus directly (Acts 9:7). They probably didn’t see Jesus because they were face down on the ground. They probably shut their eyes, while Paul kept his open. This is why he was blinded, but they could lead him into Damascus (v.11).

(22:10-11) His friends led him into Damascus, where Paul would meet Ananias. Did Paul’s friends look away when they saw the light of Jesus, but Paul kept looking at Jesus? Is this why he was blind, but they could still see? The blindness might harken back to the OT (Deut. 28:28-29).

(22:12) Paul is refuting the case that Christians hate the customs and laws of Jews, because Ananias was “devout by the standard of the Law.”

(22:13) God uses Ananias to give Paul is sight back.

(22:14) Ananias sees that God has chosen to do something powerful in Paul’s life. Paul is further refuting the thought that Christianity is an anti-Jewish religion (“the God of our fathers…”).

(22:15) The mission toward the Gentiles seeps in subtly here (“a witness for Him to all men”).

(22:16) Apparently, Paul delayed in coming to Christ for those three days. He didn’t come to faith until Ananias led him to Christ. This shows that God works in tandem with human agency—a lesson Paul would learn here for the first time.

(22:17-18) This is new information, not given in Acts 9. Paul is still showing that he is reverent toward the Jewish customs (“When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple).

Paul went from being a persecutor to becoming the persecuted. This passage shows God’s protection of Paul, warning him about all of this.

(22:19-20) This is new information, not mentioned in Acts 9. It would’ve been hard for Paul to think that his fellow Jewish brothers would turn against him. After all, he was more zealous than any of them.

(22:21) Paul’s commission to take the gospel to the Gentiles was not his idea. It was God’s. If someone is to blame, then it should be God—not Paul.

However, these religious men couldn’t stand this statement about the Gentiles…

(22:22-24) The mention of Gentiles was the last straw! How could God bless the Gentiles—especially the Romans who were their occupiers and were present? They react to this by throwing off their cloaks. The commander orders a scourging for Paul.

(22:25) They are tying him to the whipping post, preparing him for a lashing, when Paul drops a bomb: he is a Roman citizen. Here we see Paul appealing to the rule of law. This reinforces the fact that Luke is trying to show that Christianity is willing to work within the rule of law, and isn’t a threat to Rome. Remember, the Roman Cicero wrote, “To bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him an abomination, to slay him is almost an act of murder” (Cicero, In Verrem 2.5.66). Bock notes, “Perhaps he carries his diploma, a wooden diptych containing his registration as a citizen (Suetonius, Nero 12; Sherwin-White 1963: 146–49). The Valerian and the Porcian Laws prohibited beating a Roman in this way (see Acts 16:37). The Julian Laws allowed appeal to Rome (Sherwin-White 1963: 57–59, 71–76). Any officer who violated these limits would be guilty of a crime.”[174]

Paul probably waited to drop this bomb, because it would add fuel to the fire to his Jewish audience that he was a “Gentile lover.”

Sometimes they tied victims to a pillar or a post. Other times, they laid them over a rock or piece of wood. This is funny, because Paul would’ve been bent over looking up, saying, “Hey… by the way… is this legal?”

(22:26-27) The commander asks for verification from Paul: Are you serious? Are you really a Roman citizen?

(22:28) People could pay for Roman citizenship through the form of a bribe. Bock writes, “This money may well have been a bribe for an offer of citizenship. Such bribes were frequent during the time of Claudius’s reign, as the goal was to appear on a list that the emperor would approve (Dio Cassius, Roman History 60.17).”[175] The centurion was saying, “Roman citizenship cost a lot of money: could a guy like you afford it?” But Paul claims he was “born a citizen.”

(22:29) The Romans were afraid of scourging a Roman citizen (see above).

(22:30) Paul avoids scourging so that he can make his apologetic before the Jewish Sanhedrin.

Application

This is the second account of Paul’s testimony. Paul was a master of sharing his testimony.

We might judge these Jewish people for loathing the Gentiles. Yet who are the “Gentiles” to you? Are there people groups (or just people) you don’t have a loving attitude toward?

Acts 23 (Before the Sanhedrin)

(23:1) Paul uses the issue of “conscience” in his defense more than once (Acts 24:16). He has no regrets for his life up until this point.

(23:2) Jews could strike people in order to defend God’s honor (b. Sanhedrin 85a). Bock writes, “The high priest Ananias served from about AD 47 to AD 58 or 59 (Josephus, Antiquities 20.5.2 §103). He had a reputation for being insolent and quick-tempered (Josephus, Antiquities 20.9.1 §199; on his death in AD 66, see Jewish War 2.17.9 §§441–42, which tells us that his pro-Roman position caused him to be slain by the zealot leader Menahem; on his handling of tensions while in office, see Antiquities 20.9.2–3 §§205–9).”[176]

(23:3) This can’t be a sin, because Jesus used a similar insult in Matthew 23:27 (“whitewashed tomb”). The Jews couldn’t enact punishment until guilt was found (Lev. 19:15). Fernando writes, “Paul’s comment about Ananias proves to be prophetic, for within ten years the high priest had to flee to Herod’s palace, his house was burned, and he was eventually killed. He was known as a greedy, corrupt, and violent man.”[177]

(23:4) It was illegal to revile the high priest (Ex. 22:28; cf. Jn. 18:22).

(Acts 23:2-5) Was it wrong for Paul to revile the high priest? Also how did he not know who he was?

(23:6-7) This was a slick maneuver on Paul’s behalf: He pulls the Pharisee card, pitting the Pharisees against the Sadducees. One of Luke’s purposes here is to show that Christianity shouldn’t be outside of Judaism. Paul wasn’t lying when he said he was a Pharisee. Luke is arguing that Christianity should be considered a “legal religion” by the Roman Empire—like Judaism was.

(23:8) This is the only historical source that tells us that the Sadducees denied the existence of angels.

(23:9) They aren’t supporting the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. They’re off subject by focusing on the greater theological discussion about resurrection, angels, and spirits.

(23:10) The religion of these people caused them to be “violent.”

Imagine what Paul is thinking here: “What am I doing here? I’ve been through suffering after suffering. And now I’m here and probably about to die…” He didn’t know who was coming to pay him a visit…

(23:11) We can’t demand Christ to appear to us whenever we’re afraid, but it seems that he appears to Paul when he needs him most. This shows that Paul is walking in a plan that was laid out for him by Jesus.

(23:12-14) There were forty people trying to kill Paul, but one Jesus saying that he would be protected! It wouldn’t matter if forty thousand or forty million people wanted Paul dead. Jesus was on his side.

You could not fulfill the vow if it became unfulfillable (Mishnah Nedarim, 3.1). So this doesn’t mean that these men starved to death (!). Bock writes, “The irony is that they take an oath before God that actually violates God’s standards and will.”[178]

(23:15) Paul’s remark about the high priest being a “whitewashed wall” is proven to be accurate here.

(23:16-21) Did Paul’s sister live in Jerusalem? Did she come to Christ? If so, when? Luke doesn’t tell us.

Paul’s nephew seems to be a Christian here. He also seems to be young. The term “young man” (neanias) could refer to a really young man like Eutychus (Acts 20:9) or a youthful, grown man like Paul before he came to Christ (Acts 7:58). However, the comment about the commander “taking him by the hand” (v.19) implies Paul’s nephew was a little kid.

Paul’s nephew warns Paul and the commander of the Romans about the ambush being planned in order to kill Paul.

(23:22) The commander wants to keep this information quiet, so he can get Paul out without a riot.

(23:23-24) They transport their prisoner at 9pm after the son has gone down, so that no one can see them. The commander has an over 10-to-1 ratio of guards to oath-takers (470 to 40). Paul even gets a horse for this sixty mile travel from Jerusalem to Caesarea.

Who was Governor Felix? Bock writes, “On Felix, see Josephus, Antiquities 20.7.1 §§137–38 (appointed by Claudius, he persuaded the beautiful Drusilla to divorce her husband and marry him); 20.8.9 §182 (not popular with the Jews, who accused him of not being a just governor); Jewish War 2.12.8 §247; Suetonius, Claudius 28; Tacitus, Histories 5.9 (portrays him as an evil man who wielded power insensitively, like a slave); Annals 12.54.”[179]

Claudius’ letter to Felix

(23:25) How does Luke know what was written in this letter? The fact that he says, “He wrote a letter having this form might mean that this is a loose summary of the letter. However, Bock writes, “In this case its basic contents may have been revealed at the hearing, given the uncertainty of the situation. Our translation reflects the verbatim view.”[180]

(23:26-30) We keep seeing Luke emphasizing that Christianity should be viewed as a Jewish religious dispute (v.29)—not an issue for the State to get involved with (cf. Acts 18:15; 25:19; 26:3).

Notice what Claudius Lysias leaves out of the letter. He doesn’t mention the fact that he had this “Roman citizen” bent over a stone for whipping before he learned of his citizenship. Claudius is painting himself as a good soldier here.

Paul travels to Caesarea

(23:31-35) Paul spends two years here. It’s interesting that he’s under custody, but he’s also under the protection of the Roman government. God also uses the Romans to bring the gospel to Rome.

This arrest in Herod’s Praetorium is where Paul creates a headquarters for sharing the gospel with the Romans.

Conclusions

Jesus promised that Paul would make it to Rome (v.11), but the religious leaders had another agenda. Who will win? Once Jesus gave Paul is word, there was no reason to worry whose agenda would win out: Paul was going to make it to Rome. Similarly, we may have people persecuting believers today, but we have Jesus’ word on how this will all turn out in the end. This is our basis to “take courage,” as Jesus told Paul (v.11).

Acts 24 (Governor Felix)

Felix is the Roman governor in charge of Judea (Acts 23:26).

(24:1) The Sanhedrin hires an attorney (Tertullus) to formerly prosecute Paul. We are not sure what ethnicity Tertullus is. The Jews couldn’t kill their own citizens, so they needed to convince Rome that Paul wasn’t under religio licita (or the “legal religion”) of Judaism.

(24:2) Felix quelled several rebellions from the zealot party (Josephus, Jewish War, 2.13.2; Antiquities, 20.8.5).

(24:3-4) He is buttering up Felix before he brings his charges.

(24:5) He accuses Paul of being a “pest” (loimos) which can be rendered “diseased” or in this context a “public menace or enemy” (BDAG). Paul is like a cancerous tumor that needs to be put into remission. Tertullus is trying to perform character assassination on Paul.

Paul wasn’t the one to start the riots—the religious leaders were. Tertullus seems to be trying to equate Paul with the zealots, because he knows Felix hates the zealots (v.2).

These were very serious accusations. In just a few short years, zealots attacked the Romans, and incited the Jewish War (AD 66).

(24:6) If Paul “desecrated the Temple” by bringing Gentiles into the Temple, then this would a capital crime.

(24:7) Tertullus seems to be pointing the finger at Lysias—the Roman commander—for being the one who was inciting “much violence.” In reality, it was the Jewish people, and Lysias stopped the riot. (Similarly, Lysias was trying to make himself look like the good guy, when he wrote his letter to Felix, Acts 23:26-30.)

(24:8-9) The expression “joined in the attack” (synepethento) is a military term (Josephus, Antiquities, 10.7.4). The implication is that Paul is being painted as a violent zealot and a threat to the State.

Paul’s defense

(24:10) Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would show up at these times to give his disciples the right words to defend themselves (Lk. 12:11-12; 21:14). In his “defense,” Paul argues (1) that he is peaceful, (2) Christianity is not different than true Judaism, and (3) the plaintiff has no evidence for their charges.

(24:11-13) Paul argues that he wasn’t causing a riot or trouble (vv.11-12). He was minding his own business, and the plaintiff doesn’t have any evidence otherwise. He has only been in Jerusalem for twelve days.

(24:14) Paul admits that he’s part of the Jewish “sect” called “the Way,” but he argues that they both believe in the same God, the Law, and the Bible.

“The Way” of Jesus is used six times. They talked about their faith this way, because Jesus was at the center of their lives. This was a new way of life (cf. Jn. 14:6).

(24:15) He emphasizes their points of agreement: belief in the resurrection of the dead.

(24:16) He believes in keeping a clear conscience before God and people, because he was thinking about the resurrection (“in view of this…”).

(24:17) Paul still calls Israel “my nation.” Paul points out that he didn’t come to bring violence, but to bring “alms” (i.e. gifts of charity for the poor!). He was arrested as a relief worker.

(24:18-19) The plaintiff lacks their key witnesses.

(24:20-21) Where’s the evidence? Paul claims that he’s a faithful Jewish man, who believes in the resurrection of the dead (cf. Acts 23:6).

(24:22) Where did Felix learn about “the Way”? Extrabiblical history claims that Simon Magus witnessed to Felix.

Felix says that he’ll wait to decide Paul’s case until Lysias arrives. He delays the acquittal, instead of making a decision.

(24:23) He keeps Paul locked up. Yet he allows certain freedoms for Paul like house guests. We never hear if Lysias ever comes to give his testimony.

Druscilla

(24:24) Druscilla was the daughter of Herod Agrippa I. Regarding Druscilla, Bock writes, “Born in AD 38, she is not yet twenty years old, the youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa I and sister to Agrippa II. This is her second marriage. She left her first husband, whom she had married in a customary, arranged marriage at fourteen. She is Felix’s third wife. Josephus (Antiquities 20.7.2 §§141–44) notes that she was beautiful and was persuaded by Felix to leave her first husband (also Antiquities 19.9.1 §354; Jewish War 2.1.6 §220; Suetonius, Claudius 28; Tacitus, Roman History 5.9).”[181] This is a whole family of killers.

(24:25) Paul uses this arrest as an opportunity to speak to Felix and his wife about Christ. Felix becomes “frightened” hearing about this, and tells him to leave. He postponed the decision, instead of making a decision on the spot. Chuck Smith notes that Felix’s “more convenient time never came.” He was stepped down in disgrace under Nero for raiding wealthy Jewish homes.

“Righteousness…” Felix realized that he wasn’t a righteous man.

“Self-control…” He was an adulterer, stealing Druscilla from her first husband.

“Judgment to come…” Consequently, Felix was “frightened” about the prospect of facing God’s judgment. Paul talked about judgment with his judge (Felix). It’s as if Paul was saying, “I’m on trial now… but you will be the one on trial later.”

Felix heard the gospel from the apostle Paul, and he still rejected it. Felix probably could’ve recited the gospel back to you, but he didn’t accept it. It’s possible to have a “seared conscience” to the gospel. When you continually say No to Jesus Christ, this sets a pattern in your life that has consequences.

(24:26) Felix’s motive for keeping Paul was trying to squeeze a bribe out of him. This is ironic in light of Paul’s teaching regarding “righteous, self-control, and judgment.” Bock writes, “Felix knows from Paul’s remarks about alms and offerings that Paul has access to large amounts of money, and he may assume that Paul can get more.”[182]

(24:27) He is there for two years. Porcius Festus takes over after Felix (AD 59-60).

How was Paul feeling as he sat around for two years??

Acts 25 (Governor Festus)

(25:1-3) Festus is the next governor, who took over after Felix in Judea. The Jews ask Paul to be moved, so that they could kill him. Remember, when they took Paul from Jerusalem (two years earlier), they tried to set a similar ambush (Acts 23:16ff). This is similar to Harvey Dent being transported in The Dark Knight, so that the Joker can kill him. In Jerusalem during this time, the high priesthood has changed hands from Ananias to Ishmael ben Phiabi.

(25:4-5) Festus seems to be pretty level-headed. He wants a trial to be held to see if there is any guilt in Paul.

(25:6) Festus begins to hold a trial in Caesarea, but the Jewish leaders couldn’t provide evidence for their charges.

“Eight or ten days…” This shows that inerrancy has some flexibility when the author is writing with approximations. Since he didn’t know the exact amount of days, he gives an approximation.

(25:7) The severity of their charges was inversely related to their lack of evidence for them.

(25:8) Paul says he’s innocent.

(25:9) Festus wants Paul to go to Jerusalem to stand trial, because he was in bed with the Jewish group. If Paul’s returns to Jerusalem, he knows that he’ll get ambushed and murdered by a mob.

(25:10-12) Paul makes his appeal to stand before Caesar himself, and Festus agrees. This would be like being charged with murder, and you appeal to a presidential pardon to get out of it. Paul was a Roman citizen, so this was his legal right. “I appeal to Caesar” was a formal pronouncement (in Latin, the statement was Caesarem Appello).

King Agrippa and Bernice visit

Festus conferred with King Agrippa, and tells him the story about Paul. Agrippa wants to hear from Paul directly.

Who was King Agrippa? This is Herod Agrippa II (AD 28-100). His father was Herod Agrippa I who died in Acts 12. He was his only surviving son. He was the great-grandson of Herod, who tried to kill the infant Jesus (Mt. 2). Bock writes, “Agrippa II was part Jewish, and so the Roman governor was seeking his help as one with some knowledge about these matters. Agrippa had a reputation of being very pious in religious matters and expert in Jewish issues. He also was a faithful vassal: later he would side with Rome in the war that led to Jerusalem’s defeat in AD 70 (Photius, Bibliotheca 33).”[183]

Who was Bernice? She was one year younger than her brother. It was rumored that she was his incestuous partner. Bock thinks that there is tremendous irony that they are the ones who are judging Paul.

(25:13) This brother and sister come to Caesarea to visit Festus.

(25:14-15) Festus explains Paul’s case to them. He might be saying, “Felix left this mess for me to clean up.”

(25:16) The accused had the right to see their accusers (Justinian, Digest 48.17.1). Bock records these other historical examples:

“We employ this right lest those who are absent be condemned, for the concept of equity does not allow anyone to be condemned without his case being heard” (Tacitus, Histories 1.6).

“Our law, Senators, requires that the accused shall himself hear the charge preferred against him and shall be judged after he makes his own defense” (Appian, Civil Wars, 3.54.222).

(25:17-22) Since Agrippa was an expert in Judaism (see above), this might be why Festus is conferring with him. He suspects that this is a Jewish affair, and he’s out of his league. He catches him up to speed on the claims of Paul and the issues at stake. Agrippa is interested in the case (v.22).

(25:23) Festus invites Agrippa and Bernice to the trial to hear Paul. Bernice came with “great pomp” or “pageantry.”

(25:24-27) Festus tells the assembly of men and Agrippa that he wanted them there to double check his discernment on what to do with Paul. Festus has “nothing definite to write about him” (v.26) because he is innocent.

Acts 26 (King Agrippa)

(26:1) This isn’t a motioning for silence, but showing deference to the king. Once again, Paul gives his “defense” (apologia).

(26:2-3) Paul begins by complimenting the king because of his knowledge of Judaism. Paul feels fortunate to have an expert in Judaism, because he has claimed all along that he believes in true Judaism.

(26:4) He grew up in Jerusalem. From his youth, he was born Jewish and followed Judaism.

(26:5) Paul was a Pharisee—the strictest sect in Judaism.

(26:6) He says that he believes in the promise given to “our” fathers. He still considers himself Jewish.

(26:7) The religious people were trying to attain this promise by serving God, but the reality is that they can only have it because God served them through the death and resurrection of Christ.

(26:8) Why would Jewish people not believe that God could raise Jesus from the dead? Their worldview would be the easiest one to believe in a resurrection from the dead.

(26:9) Paul shares that he was more hostile than anyone against Christianity.

(26:10) “I cast my vote against them…” This reference to how Paul “cast [his] vote” seems to fit with a Sanhedrin vote. Bruce states that individual synagogues had ruling councils, but he notes that “such a court had no competence to carry out the death-sentence.”[184] Only the Sanhedrin had this authority.

F.F. Bruce believes that this “vote” might refer to Paul’s consent to have Stephen killed (Acts 8:1).[185] The difficulty with this view is that Paul refers to plural believers being killed.

Howard Marshall believes that this statement implies that Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin.[186] After all, Paul is talking about the activity in Jerusalem—not one of the peripheral synagogues. The difficulty with this view is that the Sanhedrin wasn’t allowed to put people to death (Jn. 18:31), unless it had to do with the desecration of the Temple. Moreover, Paul refers to synagogues outside of Jerusalem (“foreign cities” v.11).

(26:11) Paul would bring Christians into the synagogue to compel them to renounce Christ. (Did he torture them?)

(26:12-13) Paul tells his testimony (for the third time in Acts) about how he met Christ on the road to Damascus.

(26:14) This is the only account that says that his friends also fell to the ground. This shows that this event was real and external—not an inner vision.

What does it mean to kick against the goads? Bock writes, “A goad is a stick that serves the same purpose as a whip and is used to prod and direct an animal. So in the appearance Jesus was asking why Saul is kicking against God’s discipline and direction.”[187]

(26:15)

(26:16-18) Jesus promises to protect his life as he makes him a teacher for the gospel. We’re probably seeing this transpire as Paul is being protected from the religious authorities at this very moment. This explanation of the gospel is really a good summary of the whole book of Acts.

(26:19) Paul still had a choice in all of this. He was allowed to “kick against the goads.” Here he says that he wasn’t “disobedient” to the call of Christ. Paul chose not to ignore how God was trying to speak to him (unlike Agrippa who was ignoring God’s communication!).

(26:20-21) Many Jews didn’t believe that Gentiles could be involved in the afterlife (Psalms of Solomon 17:22-23; 2 Baruch 72). It’s no wonder that many Jewish people seized Paul.

(26:22-23) Paul thought that he made it this far because of God’s protection and “help.” Paul continues to tie his beliefs in the OT Scriptures. The reference to light to both Gentiles and Jews is found in the OT (Isa. 49:6) and the NT (Lk. 2:32).

(26:24) Festus—a Gentile—interrupts at this point. The gospel is “foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23). He probably has a hard time believing the supernatural claim about the resurrection and the racial claim about Jews and Gentiles being together. Festus ignores the evidence by throwing an ad hominem argument at Paul.

(26:25-26) Paul had a reasonable faith. Bock writes, “The metaphor of things not being done in a corner refers to no hidden events tucked away somewhere in the corner out of public sight.”[188]

(26:27) Paul returns to Agrippa: “Don’t you believe in the OT Scriptures?” It’s all laid out there.

(26:28) Is Agrippa being sarcastic here? He might be saying, “In such a short time… With so few arguments… You’re trying to make me a Christian?” Whatever Agrippa is saying, he’s clearly dodging the logic of Paul’s defense. He almost became a Christian (cf. Mk. 12:34).

(26:29) Paul wants all people to become like him—minus the chains (haha).

(26:30-32) Paul’s legal defense was a victory. They decide that he doesn’t deserve death. But his apologetic doesn’t seem to reach them.

Application

Notice how Paul blended truth with personal experience in his “defense.” He appealed to the prophets and apologetics, but he also weaved in how Christ changed his life and gave him purpose.

Paul saw little or no visible fruit for two years. Yet, today, we have a different picture. For one, this gave time for Paul to write multiple epistles, and Luke recorded his biography of Jesus’ life and his writing of Acts.

Acts 27 (Shipwreck!)

The time frame is “likely autumn leading into AD 60.”[189]

Final “we” passage

Luke is with Paul on this final journey.

(27:1) They are departing from Caesarea for Rome. If it was smooth sailing, it would only take about 5 weeks to get there.

(27:2) “Adramyttian ship…” was a “seaport of Mysia in northwest Asia Minor, opposite the island of Lesbos.”[190]

(27:3) Julius seems like a kind guard.

(27:4) Note how much detail increases in this “we” section of Acts. This is due to the fact that the author (Luke) was present.

(27:5)

(27:6) Bock writes, “These ships were large; a ship called Isis was estimated to weigh anywhere from 1,200 to 2,900 gross registered tons. Lucian (The Ship 1–9, esp. 5) describes a ship 120 by 30 by 29 cubits, or 180 by 45 by 43.5 feet.”[191] This is a big ship (276 people were on board according to verse 37).

(27:7-8) They moved at about six miles an hour—or a fast run. If they were facing poor weather, it would slow to one or two miles an hour.

(27:9)

(27:10) Paul was an experienced traveler of the seas, because of his missions work (2 Cor. 11:25-26). Remember, Paul has not been found guilty. While he is still a prisoner, he can still be viewed with some level of respect.

(27:11-12) They don’t listen to Paul’s warnings. (“Do I listen to the captain or to a tentmaker??”). The “majority” wins out.

(27:13)

(27:14) The “violent wind” (typhōnikos) is the origin for our word “typhoon.”

“Euraquilo…” Bruce writes, “Euraquilo is a hybrid, from Gk. Ἐῦρος (“east wind”) and Aquilo (“north wind”). It appears (with the spelling Euroaquilo) in Latin on a twelve-point wind-rose incised on a pavement at Thugga in the province of Africa.”[192]

(27:15)

(27:16)

(27:17) Regarding the use of cables, Bock writes, “It could entail (1) running cables under the ship a few times to secure the ship in a process known as frapping, (2) running cables longitudinally along the ship’s hull, known as hogging, (3) running ropes along the deck from one side to another, or (4) running them inside the hold (Conzelmann 1987: 218 lists these four options). The cables ensure that the timber hull stays together. ‘Lowering the vessel’ may refer to lowering the main yard, which carried the mainsail (χαλάσαντες τὸ σκεῦος, chalasantes to skeuos; Plutarch, Moralia 507A; Lucian, Toxaris 19). Otherwise it may refer to setting a loose anchor.”[193]

(27:18) This really shows that they were in dire straits. Their cargo was their source of payment for the voyage.

(27:19) Regarding the “tackle,” Bock writes, “The tackle would be all the spare gear and might even include the mainsail and main yard. They are that desperate.”[194]

(27:20) They couldn’t see the stars or sun to navigate. Just imagine how scary this would be—sailing blind in a typhoon!

(27:21-22) Paul doesn’t bring up his advice that they turned down in order to shame them. He wants to build credibility as a speaker. He makes another prediction: No one will die, but the ship will be lost.

(27:23-24) Paul had some sort of visitation from an angel. God wanted to comfort him during this tumultuous time. The angel only repeated what Jesus had promised (Acts 23:11), but the angel added that the crew would be saved as well.

(27:25) Paul believed God’s word. It wouldn’t be partially fulfilled, but “exactly” fulfilled.

(27:26) Bock writes, “The trip will be tough but survivable. It also is amazing that the only island for them to hit, given where they are and where they are headed, is Malta. It would be like finding a needle in a haystack. This detail, of where they will land, they do not yet know, but the story will make it clear later.”[195]

(27:27-29) They have travelled about 475 miles at this point. A fathom is the wingspan of the average man—or just under six feet long. So 20 fathoms is 120 feet and 15 fathoms is 90 feet deep. They threw in their anchors and hoped that sunlight could give them a view of where they were.

(27:30-32) The sailors are trying to flee on life boats at night, showing how desperate they were feeling. Paul warns the centurion and soldiers to not let them flee; otherwise, they will all die. After all, without sailors, the soldiers and prisoners would be sailing blindly: almost like the pilot of an airplane parachuting out of the plane, leaving the passengers to fly the plane to safety!

The fact that they listen to Paul shows how much they’ve come to trust him, as a sort of ad hoc captain of the ship.

(27:33-34) Paul is really practicing Jesus’ teaching about God’s protection (Lk. 12:7). He tells them that they’ve been two weeks without food. If they don’t eat, the starvation could kill them before the storm does.

(27:35-38) Paul gave thanks during this time of trial. The men were encouraged by Paul’s faith. 276 of them ate, and they threw the extra food overboard to lighten the load.

(27:39-44) Shipwreck! They cast off the anchors into the sea. They aim the boat at the soft shore. Remember, they don’t have life boats anymore, so they’re just pointing the boat right into the shore, so they can swim the rest of the way. The ground was hard clay, so the ship gets stuck in the Earth. The waves pummel the stern of the ship and tear it to pieces. Paul’s prediction is fulfilled (v.22).

Application

Paul trusted the words of Jesus more than his feelings. Paul had the word of Jesus that he would make it to Rome (Acts 23:11). He had confidence that he wouldn’t die.

It seems like he also had a visitation from an angel to encourage him (v.23). God wants to encourage us with his promises and protection.

Notice how the sailors listened to Paul, rather than the captain. What is the significance of this?

What is the significance of Paul giving thanks to God in front of the men? (see v.35)

Notice how well-documented this chapter is. It gives credibility to Luke as a historian, and it reinforces the thought that the “we” passage shows the author was present for these events.

Acts 28 (Paul in house-arrest in Rome)

(28:1) Malta is 58 miles south of Sicily.

(28:2) After this massive storm and shipwreck, this kind treatment would’ve felt pretty good. The natives showed them “extraordinary kindness” (philanthrōpia). This is the word used for God’s love for mankind in Titus 3:4.

(28:3) Paul is still serving—even after leading them all to safety. He didn’t take a time out. When he throws the sticks on the fire, one of the “sticks” actually turns out to be a snake! He jumps out of the fire and bites Paul’s hand. How terrible to survive the shipwreck, only to die from a snake bite.

(28:4) This must be some form of divine retribution theory. In eastern terms, we would understand this as karmic law. They are personifying “Justice” here (cf. 4 Macc. 18:22). “Justice” was the goddess daughter of Zeus and Themis.

(28:5-6) Is this a fulfillment of Luke 10:19? Jesus seems to be referring to metaphorical serpents there. Paul is like a first century Chuck Norris: A snake bites him, and after three days of agony, the snake dies! A similar story occurs with Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa: a snake bites him and the snake dies: “Woe to the man whom the snake meets; woe to the snake Hanina ben Dosa meets” (y. Berakhot, 5.1).

This whole scene shows how God was showing his protection of Paul in view of the pagans.

(28:7) On the island of Malta, Luke refers to “the chief man of the island, Publius.” An inscription was unearthed which read, “Pudens, equite of the Romans, chief man of Malta.”[196]

(28:8-10) Paul keeps bringing hope and healing to people—even though he’s imprisoned. This continues to show that he shouldn’t be in custody.

Leaving Malta for Rome

(28:11) Ships didn’t sail between November and February (hence the “three months” wait). The “Twin Brothers” are Castor and Pollux—the twin sons of Zeus and Leda.

(28:12-14) Syracuse was on the east coast of Sicily. Paul finally makes it to Rome. The journey takes about four months, but God’s word came to fulfillment (Acts 23:11).

(28:15) Remember, Paul had written to the believers in Rome about AD 56-57, so they had read his letter about four years before meeting him in person. These believers come down to see Paul as he makes his walk through the Appian Way—about 43 miles south of Rome. This greatly encouraged Paul.

(28:16) This was not traditional imprisonment in a dungeon. He was in house arrest under the supervision of a guard.

Paul speaks to the leading Jewish leaders in Rome

(28:17-20) Paul waits three days to gather the leading Jewish men together. He tells them that he is on trial “for the sake of the hope of Israel.” He is still thoroughly Jewish.

(28:21-22) Remember, in the ancient world, news travelled a lot slower than today! So they’re open to hearing what Paul has to say. This shows that Luke is friendly to the Jewish audience. He’s not painting the Jewish people with a broad brush. He sees them as having different views and reactions to Christ.

(28:23) Paul took all day to unpack the Scriptures, arguing for his case. Again, he’s using “persuasion” and appealing to predictive prophecy. Paul’s apologetic lasted all day (“from morning until evening”).

(28:24) There was a mixed reaction to this message. We see the same thing today.

(28:25) Paul warns them about their reaction.

(28:26-27) He quotes Isaiah 6:9-10. God told Isaiah that the people would reject his message. Paul is seeing something similar here: many of God’s own people would reject his message.

This passage doesn’t say that these people were born hardened, blind, and deaf (as Calvinism teaches). It states that they have “become” hardened, blind, and deaf. If only they would repent, God would “heal them.”

(28:28) Why does Paul go to the Gentiles? Because they were more righteous? Because they were better people? No! The Gentiles had not become “dull” or hardened to the truth of Christ.

(28:29-31) Neither Jews nor Gentiles are excluded by Paul. He welcomes one and all, teaching about the message of Christ. The Christians paid to put Paul in “rented quarters,” rather than a prison cell. Here he is able to write his “prison epistles,” and he still has access to people to teach.

The final word of the book of Acts is “unhindered.” Even though Paul is imprisoned, the gospel is still “unhindered.” Even though Paul is imprisoned, the “word of God is not imprisoned” (2 Tim. 2:9).

What happens after the “two year” stay under house arrest? Luke doesn’t tell us.

What happens after Acts 28?

Paul stands before Nero (Acts 27:24).

Paul is deserted by everyone in Rome at his “first defense” (2 Tim. 4:16).

Was Paul exonerated by Nero? Does he merely escape? (Phile. 22; Phil. 1:19ff). It seems that Paul makes it out alive. Eusebius tells us that Paul was imprisoned twice in Rome (Eusebius, Church History, 2.22.1-7). This is the first time. He must have gotten out and been imprisoned a second time, where he faced execution (1 Clement 5.5-7).

Eusebius: “After [Paul] made his defense it is said that the apostle was sent again upon the ministry of preaching, and that upon coming to the same city a second time he suffered martyrdom” (Eusebius, Church History, 2.22.2).

[1] Longenecker, Richard. The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 9: John and Acts (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1981. 207.

[2] Longenecker, Richard. The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 9: John and Acts (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1981. 238.

[3] Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Second ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. 293.

[4] The authenticity of the “we” passages can be supported by the fact that the author’s historical detail increases during these verses. This would support eye-witness testimony. Historian Paul Barnett writes, “These three passages supply a wealth of information about places, people and time. They are the most detailed passages of the whole of Acts, as one would expect, because the author was an eyewitness of what he describes.” Barnett, Paul. Is the New Testament Reliable?: a Look at the Historical Evidence. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992. 141.

[5] Paul mentions Mark, Jesus Justus, Epaphras, Demas, Luke, Tychicus, Timothy, Aristarchus, and Epaphroditus in these letters. Therefore, if the author of Luke was with Paul in person (Acts 27-28), and Paul wrote these letters during that time, then we should expect that Paul would mention the author of Luke in those letters. This gives internal evidence for Luke.

[6] Longenecker, Richard. The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 9: John and Acts (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1981. 240.

[7] Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Second ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. 296.

[8] Longenecker, Richard. The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 9: John and Acts (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1981. 236.

[9] Josephus Antiquities of the Jews Book 20. Chapter 9.

[10] Eusebius Historia Ecclesiastica 2.23; 3.11; 3:32.1-6; 4:22.4.

[11] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 22.

[12] William M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, p.8. Cited in Yamauchi, Edwin M. The Stones and the Scriptures. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1972. 95.

[13] William Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, reprinted in 1979), 40.

[14] Ramsay, William Mitchell. The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953. 222. For a more modern treatment of this, see A.W. Mosley’s article titled, “Historical Reporting in the Ancient World.”

[15] Hemer, Colin J. The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2001. 101.

[16] White, Adrian Nicholas Sherwin. Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. The Sarum Lectures, 1960-61. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1963. 189.

[17] See Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 26.

[18] Sadly, Hemer died in 1987 before he could finish the final three chapters of his book.

[19] Barnett, Paul. Is the New Testament Reliable?: a Look at the Historical Evidence. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992. 140.

[20] Longenecker writes, “At the close of the last century, many viewed Acts as something of a trial document sent to a Roman magistrate named Theophilus and perhaps meant eventually for the eyes of the emperor.” Longenecker, Richard. The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 9: John and Acts (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1981. 219.

[21] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 54). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[22] Cited in Stott, J. R. W. (1994). The message of Acts: the Spirit, the church & the world (p. 41). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[23] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 51.

[24] Stott, J. R. W. (1994). The message of Acts: the Spirit, the church & the world (p. 41). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[25] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 79). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[26] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 77). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[27] Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, p. 272). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[28] Peter Wagner, Spreading the Fire, p.86. Cited in Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 91.

[29] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 100-101.

[30] Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, p. 275). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[31] Jacobs, P., & Krienke, H. (1986). Foreknowledge, Providence, Predestination. L. Coenen, E. Beyreuther, & H. Bietenhard (Eds.), New international dictionary of New Testament theology (Vol. 1, p. 692). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[32] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 105.

[33] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 140). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[34] Erickson, M. J. (1998). Christian theology. (2nd ed., p. 1050). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[35] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 119-126.

[36] Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, p. 289). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[37] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 121.

[38] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 121.

[39] Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, p. 294). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[40] Marshall, I. H. (1980). Acts: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 5, p. 94). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[41] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 142.

[42] Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, p. 297). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[43] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 186). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[44] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 188). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[45] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 90). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[46] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 190). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[47] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 195). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[48] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 221). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[49] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 231). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[50] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 246). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[51] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 248). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[52] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 249). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[53] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 252). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[54] There is a wide debate over who exactly the “Hellenistic” Jews were, but Longenecker seems to land on this position. Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, p. 329). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[55] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 226.

[56] Gonzalez, Justo L. The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984. 19.

[57] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 226-227.

[58] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 262). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[59] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 270). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[60] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 271). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[61] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 273). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[62] Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, p. 337). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[63] Marshall, I. H. (1980). Acts: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 5, p. 139). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[64] Howard I. Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles (Leichester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), 131, 137.

[65] Dibelius, in Studies in Acts, pp. 167,168 cited by Richard N. Longnecker, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Gabelein, Frank, E., Editor (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids MI. 1978), pp. 337,338.

[66] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 130). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[67] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 319). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[68] See Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 166). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[69] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 341). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[70] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 357). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[71] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 357). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[72] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 360). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[73] Lydia McGrew, Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts (Chillicothe, OH: DeWard Publishing Co., 2017), Kindle Location 3516-3519.

[74] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 366). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[75] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 385). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[76] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 385). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[77] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 386). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[78] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 386). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[79] Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, p. 390). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[80] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (pp. 417–418). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[81] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 238). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[82] Marshall, I. H. (1980). Acts: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 5, p. 223). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[83] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 240). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[84] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 241). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[85] See footnote. Cited in Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 242). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[86] See footnote. Cited in Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 242). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[87] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 439). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[88] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 245). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[89] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 439). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[90] Marshall, I. H. (1980). Acts: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 5, p. 229). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[91] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 444). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[92] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 444). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[93] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 471). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[94] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 471). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[95] Letters to Friends, 15.4.2.

[96] Natural History, 5.25.

[97] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 272). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[98] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 475). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[99] Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, p. 435). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[100] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 479). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[101] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 286). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[102] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 506). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[103] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 296). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[104] Cited in Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[105] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 311). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[106] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 534). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[107] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 536). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[108] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 539). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[109] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 315). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[110] Cited in Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[111] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 544). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[112] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 544). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[113] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 550). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[114] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 553). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[115] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 326). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[116] Barnett, Paul. Is the New Testament Reliable?: a Look at the Historical Evidence. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992. 151.

[117] See footnote. Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 324). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[118] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 556). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[119] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 560). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[120] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 561). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[121] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 561). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[122] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 561). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[123] Gonzalez, Justo L. The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984. 17.

[124] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 563). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[125] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 564). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[126] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 567). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[127] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 570). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[128] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 571). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[129] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 571). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[130] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 577). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[131] Marshall, I. H. (1980). Acts: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 5, p. 309). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[132] Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, p. 481). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[133] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 346). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[134] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 346). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[135] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 580). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[136] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 352). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[137] Bock states that Barrett holds this view. Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 586). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[138] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 355). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[139] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 591). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[140] Stott, J. R. W. (1994). The message of Acts: the Spirit, the church & the world (p. 302). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[141] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 363). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[142] Marshall, I. H. (1980). Acts: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 5, p. 323). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[143] Marshall, I. H. (1980). Acts: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 5, p. 324). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[144] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 366). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[145] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 366). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[146] See footnote. Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 366). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[147] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (pp. 367–368). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[148] J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Clinic (Moody Press, 1958), p.140.

[149] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 604). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[150] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 605). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[151] Stott, J. R. W. (1994). The message of Acts: the Spirit, the church & the world (p. 307). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[152] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 607). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[153] Stott, J. R. W. (1994). The message of Acts: the Spirit, the church & the world (p. 309). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[154] Cited in Stott, J. R. W. (1994). The message of Acts: the Spirit, the church & the world (p. 310). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[155] Stott, J. R. W. (1994). The message of Acts: the Spirit, the church & the world (p. 311). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[156] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (pp. 607–608). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[157] Stott, J. R. W. (1994). The message of Acts: the Spirit, the church & the world (p. 310). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[158] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 610). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[159] Barnett, Paul. Is the New Testament Reliable?: a Look at the Historical Evidence. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992. 151.

[160] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 612). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[161] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 612). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[162] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 381). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[163] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 382). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[164] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 382). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[165] Stott, J. R. W. (1994). The message of Acts: the Spirit, the church & the world (p. 320). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[166] White, James R. The Forgotten Trinity. Minneapolis, MN. Baker Publishing Group. 1998. 83.

[167] J.P. Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind: the Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1997), 23.

[168] Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, pp. 521–522). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[169] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 651). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[170] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 564.

[171] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 412). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[172] See footnote. Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 412). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[173] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 658). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[174] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 664). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[175] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 665). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[176] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 669). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[177] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 567.

[178] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 677). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[179] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[180] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 682). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[181] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 695). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[182] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 696). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[183] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 709). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[184] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 464). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[185] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 464). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[186] Marshall, I. H. (1980). Acts: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 5, p. 413). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[187] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 716). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[188] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 722). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[189] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 731). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[190] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 477). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[191] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 733). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[192] See footnote. Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (pp. 484–485). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[193] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 736). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[194] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 736). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[195] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 738). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[196] See Inscriptiones Graecae, 14.601. Cited in Barnett, Paul. Is the New Testament Reliable?: a Look at the Historical Evidence. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992. 151.