Introduction to Acts

By James M. Rochford

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What’s so special about the book of Acts? Put simply, without the book of Acts, large portions of the NT would be quite incomprehensible. This book is the linchpin that holds the NT together in a number of ways.

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. 10:6; 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; Acts 1:8).

Second, Acts authenticates and explains the apostleship of Paul. Luke records Paul’s testimony three times (Acts 9:1-9; 22:3-21; 26:2-23). This must show that Luke “desired to establish Paul’s credentials as the apostle to the Gentiles,”[1] and this explains the authority and integrity of the thirteen letters ascribed to Paul in the NT. Indeed, 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 gives a credible 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 Rome consider Christianity to be a legal religion (under the protective umbrella of Judaism), or should it be considered a separate religion altogether? 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. We agree with earlier commentators who held that Acts was something of a “trial document” that was written for “a Roman magistrate named Theophilus and perhaps meant eventually for the eyes of the emperor.”[2]

Repeatedly, Acts records how Christianity is good for the Roman Empire, and it is being unfairly represented. 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. Luke records examples of prayer in 20 out of the 28 chapters in this book. In total, he mentions prayer 31 times. This is quite an emphasis. Prayer was the engine that propelled the early church forward.

Sixth, Acts emphasizes the power and leadership of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit came to lead the early church just as Jesus had promised (Jn. 14:16-17, 26). In Acts, we come to understand why Jesus said it would be to their “advantage” that the Holy Spirit would come to lead them (Jn. 16:7). It is for this reason that many commentators call this book, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit,” rather than the “Acts of the Apostles.” John Polhill aptly comments, “That the mission of the church is under the direct control of God is perhaps the strongest single theme in the theology of Acts.”[3]

Seventh, Acts is a large portion of our Bible. Put together, Luke and Acts comprise 27% of the NT.[4] If we don’t know these two books well, then we are gutting over a quarter of our NT.

Table of Contents

Authorship. 4

Date. 5

The Historical Reliability of Acts. 5

How to use this commentary well 8

Review of Commentaries. 9

Commentary on Acts. 11

Acts 1 (Jesus’ Ascension). 11

Acts 2 (Pentecost). 21

Acts 3 (Healing the Disabled man). 33

Acts 4 (Persecution from the Religious authorities). 39

Acts 5 (Ananias and Sapphira). 47

Acts 6 (Stephen’s Character). 57

Acts 7 (Stephen’s defense). 63

Acts 8 (Philip’s Ministry in Samaria). 74

Acts 9 (Paul comes to Christ). 82

Acts 10 (Cornelius and Peter). 93

Acts 11 (Recap of the Cornelius Phenomenon). 101

Acts 12 (Herod, James, and Peter). 107

Acts 13 (First Missionary Tour: Part 1). 114

Acts 14 (First Missionary Tour: Part 2). 123

Acts 15 (The Council of Jerusalem). 131

Acts 16 (Second Missionary Tour: Philippi). 139

Acts 17 (Second Missionary Tour: Thessalonica). 149

Acts 18 (Second Missionary Tour: Corinth). 160

Acts 19 (Ephesus). 167

Acts 20 (Farewell to Ephesus). 177

Acts 21 (Paul Goes to Jerusalem). 185

Acts 22 (Paul on trial). 192

Acts 23 (Before the Sanhedrin). 197

Acts 24 (Governor Felix). 202

Acts 25 (Governor Festus). 207

Acts 26 (King Agrippa). 211

Acts 27 (Shipwreck!). 217

Acts 28 (Paul in house-arrest in Rome). 224

What Happened after Acts 28?. 228

Authorship

The same author wrote both Luke and Acts. 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, virtually all scholars believe that whoever wrote Luke, also wrote Acts.[5] Indeed, this is the overwhelming consensus of NT scholarship today:

  • Hemer states that it is “widely agreed that the Third Gospel and Acts share common authorship.”[6]
  • Longenecker writes that “hardly anyone today would dispute this basic observation.”[7]
  • Marshall writes that “the vast majority of scholars [assume] common authorship of the Gospel and Acts.”[8]
  • Polhill writes, “Scholars of all persuasions are in agreement that the third Gospel and the Book of Acts are by the same author.”[9]

Luke is the best candidate for the authorship of these two books. For a long defense of Luke’s authorship see our earlier article, “Who Wrote the Four Gospels?” Both the external and internal evidence support that Luke was the author of these two books. In fact, Luke’s “authorship was unquestioned until 18th century skepticism.”[10]

Luke was a physician (Col. 4:14), and most likely a Gentile convert. Not only does he have a Gentile name, but he is also listed alongside other Gentiles. Luke was the only one with Paul at the end of his life (2 Tim. 4:11), and Paul mentions Luke to Philemon (Phile. 24). Beyond these passages, we don’t know much more about this person, and we would “perhaps do better simply to admit that we do not know very much about Luke’s background.”[11]

Date

The majority of scholars “date Acts somewhere between AD 80 and 95.”[12] Polhill[13] dates Acts sometime between AD 70 to AD 80. Marshall[14] dates the book sometime just before AD 70. However, we think that several strong lines of evidence date the book quite early—around AD 62. For a defense of this early date of Acts, see our earlier article, “Evidence for an Early Dating of the Four Gospels.”

The Historical Reliability of Acts

Sir William Ramsay (1851-1939) lectured in classical art and archaeology at Oxford University. When he began an archaeological research project in Asia Minor, he needed to create his own maps of this massive area. He consulted the book of Acts, but he considered it a second century book without much historical value. But after his long and extensive archaeological study, Ramsay found that Acts turned out to be reliable time and time again. He writes,

I began with a mind unfavorable to [Acts], for the ingenuity and apparent completeness of the Tübingen theory[15] 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.[16]

Ramsay’s skepticism of Acts began to weaken when he read 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. According to Ramsay, this would be as bad as saying that someone fled from London to England.[17] Yet, 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.”[18]

Colin J. Hemer was originally an expert and lecturer in the Classics, but he turned his attention to NT scholarship studying under the distinguished NT scholar F.F. Bruce. Hemer became a full-time research scholar at Tyndale House and a lecturer at the University of Manchester. In his book The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (1987), Hemer documents roughly 180 “undesigned coincidences”[19] that align with secular history, culture, geography, etc. To take a small sample, Luke knew:

  • 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.).

Roman historian A.N. Sherwin-White also strongly affirmed the historical reliability of Acts. At the end of his Sarum Lectures, he 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.”[20] Indeed, many notable classicists and historians affirm the historicity of Acts:[21]

  • F.F. Bruce was a lecturer of classics before turning to NT scholarship.
  • M. Blaiklock was a classics professor in New Zealand.
  • N. Sherwin-White was a historian of Greco-Roman history at Oxford University.
  • Colin J. Hemer was a classicist who turned to NT scholarship at Tyndale House and the University of Manchester.
  • Irina Levinskaya was a Russian historian.

We will explore the historical confirmation of these details in greater detail in our commentary below.

How to use this commentary well

For personal use. We wrote this material to build up people in their knowledge of the Bible. As the reader, we hope you enjoy reading through the commentary to grow in your interpretation of the text, understand the historical backdrop, gain insight into the original languages, and reflect on our comments to challenge your thinking. As a result, we hope this will give you a deeper love for the word of God.

Teaching preparation. We read through several commentaries in order to study this book, and condensed their scholarship into an easy to read format. We hope that this will help those giving public Bible teachings to have a deep grasp of the book as they prepare to teach. As one person has said, “All good public speaking is based on good private thinking.”[22] We couldn’t agree more. Nothing can replace sound study before you get up to teach, and we hope this will help you in that goal. And before you complain about our work, don’t forget that the price is right: FREE!

Discussion questions. Each section or chapter is outfitted with numerous discussion questions or questions for reflection. We think these questions would work best in a small men’s or women’s group—or for personal reading. In general, these questions are designed to prompt participants to explore the text or to stimulate application.

Discussing Bible difficulties. We highlight Bible difficulties with hyperlinks to articles on those subjects. All of these questions could make for dynamic discussion in a small group setting. As a Bible teacher, you could raise the difficulty, allow the small group to wrestle with it, and then give your own perspective.

As a teacher, you might give some key cross references, insights from the Greek, or other relevant tools to help aid the study. This gives students the tools that they need to answer the difficulty. Then, you could ask, “How do these points help answer the difficulty?”

Reading Bible difficulties. Some Bible difficulties are highly complex. For the sake of time, it might simply be better to read the article and ask, “What do you think of this explanation? What are the most persuasive points? Do you have a better explanation than the one being offered?”

Think critically. We would encourage Bible teachers to not allow people to simply read this commentary without exercising discernment and testing the commentary with sound hermeneutics (i.e. interpretation). God gave the church “teachers… to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12). We would do well to learn from them. Yet, we also need to read their books with critical thinking, and judge what we’re reading (1 Cor. 14:29; 1 Thess. 5:21). This, of course, applies to our written commentary as well as any others!

In my small men’s Bible, I am frequently challenged, corrected, and sharpened in my ability to interpret the word of God. I frequently benefit from even the youngest Christians in the room. I write this with complete honesty—not pseudo-humility. We all have a role in challenging each other as we learn God’s word together. We would do well to learn from Bible teachers, and Bible teachers would do well to learn from their students!

At the same time, we shouldn’t disagree simply for the sake of being disagreeable. This leads to rabbit trails that can actually frustrate discussion. For this reason, we should follow the motto, “The best idea wins.” If people come to different conclusions on unimportant issues, it’s often best to simply acknowledge each other’s different perspectives and simply move on.

Review of Commentaries

Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007).

This is an excellent technical commentary on the book of Acts. It seems that Bock leaves no questions unanswered, and he offers encyclopedic information about the historical background of Acts. This is a must-read commentary for the serious student of the book of Acts. Very well done!

Colin J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990).

This is not a commentary on Acts. Rather, it is the best historical defense of the Book of Acts in print. Sadly, Hemer died in 1987 before he could finish the final three chapters of his book. We only wonder what Hemer would’ve done for NT scholarship if he had lived longer.

Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998).

Fernando is not only a scholar but also a practitioner. These rare qualities shine through his commentary. His sections entitled “Bridging Context” were deeply insightful, and worth the price of the commentary. This is by far the best pastoral commentary on Acts.

F.F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988).

Bruce was a classicist who turned his considerable talents toward NT scholarship. Even though this commentary is getting old, it is still filled with sound scholarship on Acts. At the same time, we find Bruce’s historical scholarship to be far better than his theological commentary.

John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992).

Polhill offers enough details and historical background to make it a good commentary without getting too bogged down in the details. We also appreciated his interpretive insights. Overall, this was a quite good commentary.

Richard N. Longenecker, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981).

We read the older (1981) version of Longenecker’s commentary. It was quite good, but we would suggest reading the updated version (2005) which is updated with more modern research. The new version is found in the Revised Expositor’s Bible Commentary.

I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980).

In his earlier book Luke: Historian and Theologian (1970), Marshall was one of the better scholars to defend the historicity of Acts against the works of Dibelius, Conzelmann, and Haenchen. In this commentary, Marshall regularly interacts with critical scholarship, defending the historicity of Acts. Marshall’s commentary is short and to the point. However, he lacks both insightful pastoral insight and technical rigor. If you are looking for a pastoral commentary, read Fernando. And if you are looking for a technical commentary, read Bock or Bruce.

Commentary on Acts

Unless otherwise stated, all citations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

Acts 1 (Jesus’ Ascension)

Introduction

(1:1) The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach.

What is the “first account”? The opening verses closely parallel the gospel according to Luke (Lk. 1:1-4). So, this book is the sequel to Luke’s biography about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Christ “began” his ministry in his life on Earth, and it hasn’t ended yet. The book of Acts will go on to show the great works that the Holy Spirit will continue to do through his followers.

Who was Theophilus?

Theophilus was a real person—not a symbolic name. The name “Theophilus” is a compound word that means friend (philys) of God (theos).[23] Origen (AD 250) held that Theophilus a symbolic name for a person who was a friend of God—not a specific individual.[24] This shouldn’t surprise us because Origen looked for allegorical interpretations in most biblical texts. Yet, few have followed in his footsteps. Bock,[25] Bruce,[26] Liefeld,[27] Morris,[28] Stein,[29] Green,[30] and Marshall[31] hold that this refers to a literal person for a number of reasons. For one, it was common for an author to address his book to a specific individual. Josephus introduced his books (e.g. Antiquities, Autobiography, Against Apion) by writing to “Epaphroditus, most excellent of men” (Against Apion 1.1), and he introduced his second volume by writing, “By means of the former volume, my most honored Epaphroditus, I have demonstrated our antiquity” (Against Apion 2.1).[32] Second, Theophilus was a common name at the time. Third, the designation “most excellent” fits with an actual official—not a symbolic person. Fourth, if Luke dedicated his book to a symbolic person, this would “be unparalleled in Luke’s literary culture.”[33] Indeed, Theophilus was most likely Luke’s “patron,” who “met the costs of publishing the book.”[34] We agree with older commentators who argue that one of Luke’s purposes was to show that Christianity wasn’t dangerous to the Roman Empire. This was one of the reasons why Luke wrote for Theophilus.

Theophilus held a high social status. Luke uses the word “most excellent” (kratistos) elsewhere to refer to Roman governors (Acts 23:26 “most excellent governor Felix”; 24:3 “most excellent Felix”; 26:25 “most excellent Festus”). This is why it’s quite likely that Theophilus held a high status of some kind in the Roman world.

Theophilus was most likely a believer in Jesus. Earlier, Luke wrote to Theophilus, “[I wrote my gospel] so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught” (Lk. 1:4). This implies that Theophilus was already acquainted with Christian teaching.

(1:2) 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.

Christ’s work continued “until the day he was taken up,” and it also continued beyond “by his Spirit in his followers.”[35] At this point, Christ was replaced by the Holy Spirit, just as he promised: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever” (Jn. 14:16).

(1:3) 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.

What were these convincing proofs? Surely, this is referring to Jesus’ resurrection appearances, his miracles, and his demonstration of his fulfillment of OT prophecy. During this time, Jesus led a Bible study explaining his fulfillment of OT prophecy (Lk. 24:25-27, 44-49). The Greek term for “convincing proofs” (tekmeriois) doesn’t refer to 100% certainty. Even Aristotle didn’t use it this way; instead, it 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).[36]

(1:4-5) Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Why did the disciples need to wait for the Holy Spirit? This was an important lesson that the disciples needed to learn before doing anything else: They needed to learn dependence on God. They weren’t ready to begin their mission until they were given the power and guidance to accomplish it. After all, Jesus commanded the disciples to do the impossible (e.g. make disciples, preach the gospel, engage in spiritual warfare, save souls, etc.), and they needed to learn to connect to supernatural power (Lk. 24:49; Jn. 7:37-38; 14-16).

“Not many days from now.” Pentecost arrives ten days after this point (Acts 2:1-4), because 40 days had already gone by (Acts 1:3; cf. 11:16).

(1:6) So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”

“Restoring the kingdom to Israel?” On face value, this question implies that national Israel will return in the future. Yet, amillennial interpreters argue that their question was completely misguided:

John Calvin: “There are as many errors in the question as words.”[37]

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.”[38]

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.”[39]

I. Howard Marshall: “The disciples would appear here as representatives of those of Luke’s readers who had not yet realized that Jesus had transformed the Jewish hope of the kingdom of God by purging it of its nationalistic political elements.”[40]

We respectfully disagree with these commentators. In fact, this is a compelling passage in support of Dispensational theology. The disciples believed that God was going to work through national Israel again (Rom. 11:15-16; 25-29), and Jesus didn’t correct them. In fact, he affirmed and answered their question! This would have been the perfect time for Jesus to correct their false theology, but he simply says that they won’t know the time (Mt. 24:36; Mark 13:32; 1 Thess. 5:1). Jesus makes them focus on the Church Age. For more on this subject, see my book Endless Hope or Hopeless End (2016).[41]

(1:7) He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority.”

Why can’t Jesus tell us the time of his return? We are speculating to some degree. However, one reason for keeping his return secret is so Christians in every generation would live with the expectancy of the Second Coming. Moreover, if we had a date, people would likely go insane over this. Indeed, God didn’t reveal a date, and people still go crazy over this!

(1:8) “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.

The disciples were only focused on Israel (v.6). So, Jesus redirects their mindset to the whole globe. This is a repeated theme throughout Acts: The disciples are repeatedly slow and shocked at how God wants to reach the Gentiles. But just as Jesus predicts, the gospel reaches Jerusalem (Acts 2), then Samaria (Acts 8), and even Rome (12:25ff).

Sometimes this “power” is seen 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). It’s interesting that the disciples were constantly fumbling around throughout the gospels, but after they get the Holy Spirit, they transform into powerful men of conviction and courage.

Jesus’ Ascension

(1:9) “And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.”

In the OT, clouds represented God’s presence (Ex. 16:10; Ps. 104:3).[42] Thus, this action demonstrates that Jesus was going directly to heaven. The OT includes other examples where God takes someone bodily into heaven, such as Enoch (Gen. 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kin. 2:11).

(1:10-11) And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. 11 They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”

We might imagine how amazing it would be to see Jesus taken up in this way. The disciples are slack-jawed and stunned. It takes the angels to get them reoriented.

(1:12) Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.

“The Mount called Olivet.” Jesus left from Mount Olivet, and he will return there at his Second Coming (Zech. 14:4).

“A Sabbath day’s journey” was just under a mile away (~1,200 yards). The fact that Luke uses a Jewish expression to define the measurement implies that he collected this information from a Jewish eyewitness. For one, he only uses this measurement when writing about Jerusalem. He doesn’t use it for the rest of the book. Moreover, Luke was a Gentile, and he was most likely writing to Gentiles. It’s odd that he would use a Jewish measurement. He couldn’t have been writing to a Jewish audience, because any Jewish person would know how far Olivet is from the nation’s capital. Therefore, it seems likely that this is an undesigned coincidence that tells us that Luke is using Jewish eyewitness testimony. At the very least, it implies that Luke consulted with a Jewish source—whether an eyewitness or not.

(1:13) When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James.

Is this the same “upper room” as the Last Supper? We’re not sure. The term used here for “the upper room” (hyperōon) is different than the one used by Luke regarding the “upper room” (anagaion) used for the Last Supper (Lk. 22:11-12). Yet, Luke uses the article in Greek: This isn’t just an upper room, but the upper room. It could be the upper room of the Last Supper (Mk. 14:12ff) or the room of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances (Lk. 24:33ff; Jn. 20:19, 26). Commentators like Marshall[43] aren’t certain about this conclusion, but Bruce[44] thinks it’s certainly possible.

What a rag tag group of men! This is a group of cowardly (Peter), violent (Simon the Zealot), skeptical (Thomas), blindly ambitious (James and John), tax-collecting (Matthew), and uneducated men (Acts 4:13). Yet these are the people Jesus chose to build his church. This list mirrors Luke’s earlier list from his gospel (Lk. 6:14-16), and it is composed of only eleven men—not twelve—because Judas was dead (Mt. 27:5; Acts 1:18). For a full description of the disciples, see our comments on Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, or Luke 6:14-16.

(1:14) These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

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. They were doing the same activity that they would later teach the early church (Acts 2:42).

“Along with the women.” Luke repeatedly mentions women as key followers of Jesus (Lk. 8:2; 23:49; 23:55-24:10). Yet, this is also the final mention of Mary (Jesus’ mother) in the Bible.

“One mind.” Was their prayer a cause or an effect of their unity? Or perhaps both?

What changed in the lives of Jesus’ brothers? Just six months before Jesus’ death, Jesus’ brothers were skeptical of him (Jn. 7:5), but here they are followers of him. What changed? Jesus’ resurrection deeply affected Jesus’ brother James (1 Cor. 15:7), and it must have had a similar effect on his other brothers.

Replacing Judas

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

(1:15) At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons was there together).

If this upper room could fit about 120 people, the person must have been somewhat wealthy.[45]

Does the number “120” carry significance for forming a Sanhedrin? Citing the Mishnah (m. Sanhedrin 1:6), Polhill writes, “In rabbinic tradition 120 was the minimum requirement for constituting a local Sanhedrin.”[46] We reject seeing any significance in the number 120. For one, as we continue to read in the Mishnah, rabbi Nehemiah states that the number needed for a local Sanhedrin is “two hundred and thirty” (m. Sanhedrin 1:6 S). This implies that the number was hardly uniform at this time. Second, Luke says that this was about one hundred and twenty.” If this was supposed to carry symbolic significance, we would expect a more accurate figure. Finally, what exactly is Luke trying to signify by stating that the Christians were a local Sanhedrin? Does this mean that they are the new leadership of Israel? If so, why not pick the number 70 (or 71) to match the official Sanhedrin? In our view, no symbolic meaning exists: Luke recorded that there were 120 people simply because the number of people happened to be one more than 119 and one less than 121!

(1:16) [Peter said,] “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.”

It’s no wonder that Peter would start to talk about the fulfillment of Scripture. He just recently sat in a Bible study with Jesus for 40 days, seeing how the OT predictions came to fulfillment (Lk. 24:44).

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

(1:17) “For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry.”

“Share in this ministry.” Apparently, it’s possible for non-believers to do ministry.

Peter’s language is very Jewish. It is strikingly similar to the Palestinian Targum for Genesis 44:18 (“Benjamin who was numbered with us among the tribes and will receive a portion and share with us in the division of the land”). Thus, Marshall holds that “Luke is here dependent on Palestinian traditions.”[47] Again, this confirms that Luke is interviewing the eyewitnesses in the area—not inventing speeches.

(1:18-19) (Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out. 19 And it became known to all who were living in Jerusalem; so that in their own language that field was called Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

For the difficulty of reconciling how Jesus died, see our video that addresses this, or read our earlier article on the subject below.

(Acts 1:18) How did Judas die?

(1:20) “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his homestead be made desolate, and let no one dwell in it’; and, ‘Let another man take his office.’”

Peter cites from two OT texts to support his case: Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8.

Psalm 69:25. In this psalm, enemies try to kill an incredibly righteous man, which is often applied by the apostles to the Messiah. Thus, “it would be natural to find in this Psalm a prophecy or type of the betrayer of Jesus.”[48] The original psalm refers to plural enemies (their homestead”), while Peter applies it to a singular enemy in Judas (his homestead”).

Psalm 109:8. In this psalm, the author curses his enemy with a number of prayers for divine judgment. Because the enemy is so wicked, it makes sense that the psalmist would write that the man should resign his office. The psalmist “prays that a certain enemy may die before his time and be replaced in his responsible position by someone else.”[49] Peter sees a similarity in Judas’ loss of the ultimate inheritance of eternal life.

Does this concept support apostolic succession? No. The apostles were a closed fraternity of men—not an ongoing succession that was meant to continue to this day. After all, when James is killed by Herod (Acts 12:1-2), the church doesn’t replace him. Moreover, Judas wasn’t even a believer in Jesus (Jn. 6:70-71; 17:12; Mt. 26:24). So, he hardly should be used as an example of apostolic succession. Furthermore, this is the only known example of replacing an apostle. Polhill writes, “James was not replaced after his martyrdom (12:2). It was necessary to replace Judas because he had abandoned his position. His betrayal, not his death, forfeited his place in the circle of Twelve.”[50] Jesus had promised that “twelve” apostles would rule over Israel (Mt. 19:28; Lk. 22:30). If the apostles were constantly replaced, we would have far more than “twelve” ruling over the nation.

(1:21-22) “Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us—22 beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”

Why did they need to bring the apostolic team back up to twelve men? This must be symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel,[51] and there seems to be a New Testament fulfillment involved here (cf. Mt. 19:28; Lk. 22:30; Rev. 21:10; 12; 14).

“Accompanied us all the time… a witness with us of His resurrection.” 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 (“taken up”). The focus is also 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) So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias.

There is some later historical tradition about these two men. Later history states that Joseph drank poison without dying (Eusebius, Church History 3.39.8; Philip of Side, Christian History), which seems quite suspicious. Moreover, Matthias was apparently one of the 70 disciples and a missionary to the Ethiopians (Lk. 10:1; Eusebius, Church History 1.12.3).[52] This could be true, but the report is so late that we’re not sure. Honestly, we don’t know much about them. In fact, this is the last time they’re mentioned in the NT. Of course, Joseph (or Justus) could be the man mentioned in Colossians 4:11.

Why did they have two names? We see this phenomenon throughout the NT. People at this time had both a “Gentile name as well as his Jewish one.”[53]

(1:24-25) And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen 25 to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”

Since the Lord Jesus was the one to elect the apostles (Acts 1:2) and he is called “Lord” (Acts 1:21), it seems that they’re praying directly to Jesus here.[54] This would support the deity of Christ.

“Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” This can be rendered, “A place of his own choosing.”[55] All who go to hell choose to go there.

(1:26) And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Were the apostles wrong in picking Matthias? Some commentators hold that it was wrong for the apostles to pick Matthias, and they should’ve waited for God to pick the apostle Paul.[56] Yet, nothing in this text—nor any other—indicates that this was a failure on their behalf. Instead, they were filling the vacancy for the inauguration of the church.

(Acts 1:26) Should we cast lots?

How did Jesus prepare the disciples for the growth in chapter 2?

The church began with only 120 people (Acts 1:15). Yet, by the next chapter, we’ll see 3,000 added (Acts 2:41). Yet, these 120 people turned the world upside down! How did Jesus prepare these people to make such an impact?

Jesus taught the disciples the crucial lesson of dependence, rather than self-effort. The disciples had already tried the power of self-effort (Mk. 14:31), but it failed miserably and all of them abandoned Jesus in the most critical moment. Jesus’ solution was the gift of the Holy Spirit. He taught them that they couldn’t change the world without the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. This was so crucial that Jesus told them to wait for a week and a half before they shared their faith. We should not wait to share our faith (because we already have the Holy Spirit!). But what does it look like to depend on the Holy Spirit for power and guidance in your life?

Jesus appointed Christian leaders to prepare them for the growth. In the next chapter, the 3,000 new Christians listened to the “apostles’ teachings” in order to grow (Acts 2:42). Jesus had the final say through the casting of lots (Acts 1:27). Yet, the apostles chose the two candidates through assessing their personal qualifications, asking in prayer, and accepting the divine appointment. We do not create Christian leaders, but rather, we recognize them.

Jesus told them right from the beginning what their mission was going to be. He said that they would reach the Jews, the Samaritans, and the entire world (Acts 1:8). Then, like now, the disciples were slow to understanding and remembering this vision. Yet, Jesus made this crystal clear to them.

Jesus prepared the disciples with teaching and field training before sending them out. Jesus didn’t give the disciples years of seminary training before sending them out as “ordained ministers.” But he did give them equipped and training. He served alongside them for three years, and then, it seems that he did intensive Bible study with them for 40-days (Acts 1:3). Then, he gave them his commission, gave them the Holy Spirit, and gave clear signs to go.

Jesus stayed with them. Even though Jesus ascended and left, he would be with them “always, even to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). He did this through his Holy Spirit, and his guidance of his church. The reason that Jesus “ascended far above all the heavens” was so that he could “fill all things” (Eph. 4:10).

Questions for Reflection

What is the significance in the fact that the apostles left this decision up to God? What application does this have for us today?

Should we still cast lots today? If not, why would we follow some of the application from this verse, but not the part about casting lots?

Acts 2 (Pentecost)

Luke anticipated this event (Lk. 3:15-17; 24:47-49; Acts 1:4-5), and the OT foreshadowed this event as well (Num. 11:29; Isa. 32:15; 44:3; Ezek. 36:27). We are about to read about an event that changed our world forever: the launching of Jesus’ church.

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

(2:1) When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

What was Pentecost? The term “Pentecost” comes from the word “pente” which means “50.” This festival was 50 days after the Passover. This feast was also referred to as the “Festival of Weeks” or the “Festival of First Fruits” (Ex. 23:16; Lev. 23:17-22; Num. 28:26-31; Deut. 16:9-12). This was one of the three great pilgrim festivals (along with Passover and Tabernacles), where Jews from all over the known world would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to dedicate the “first fruits” of their harvest to God. They would also renew their commitment to the law of God (Jubilees 6:17; b Peshaim 68b; M Tanchuma 26c). It was a very popular festival—likely because the weather was often better during this time of year.[57] Just as Jewish people would bring a great harvest to God during Pentecost, God was bringing a great harvest of people to himself on Pentecost. For the prophetic fulfillment of Passover and Pentecost, see “Foreshadowing in the Festival System.”

Luke’s emphasis is on the when of the event—not the where. The Holy Spirit arrived in a “house” (v.2). Was it the “upper room” mentioned earlier (1:13)? Perhaps. But we simply aren’t sure. It seems that he isn’t specific about the location because the place 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) And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.

The “wind” (pneuma) and “fire” seem reminiscent of OT “theophanies.” When God would appear to people in the OT, this was often accompanied by wind (1 Kin. 19:11; Isa. 66:15; 2 Sam. 22:16; Job 37:10; Ezek. 13:13) and fire (Ex. 3:2; 19:18; 1 Kin. 18:38-39; Ezek. 1:27).

This was literal fire or wind. Luke uses the language of simile (like a violent rushing wind” and as of fire”). This was an indescribable 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) And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.

Fire was a symbol of the divine presence in the burning bush (Ex. 3:2), the fiery cloud (Ex. 13:21), Mount Sinai (Ex. 24:17), or the Tabernacle (Ex. 40:38).

(2:4) And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

These “tongues” are different from the charismatic gift of tongues as mentioned in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. The “tongues” in Acts 2 refer to human languages, while the tongues in Corinth refer to indescribable speech—perhaps heavenly language (1 Cor. 14:9). This word “utterance” (apophthengomai) is used here as representative of clear and articulate speech (cf. Acts 2:14; 26:25). Indeed, in Acts 26:25, it is contrasted with babbling.

Did the Church exist before Pentecost?

No. Pentecost is the beginning of the existence of the Church. While people came to saving faith in God through grace and apart from works before this time (read Romans 4), before this event, the Church did not exist. This is because the Holy Spirit didn’t indwell believers before this time:

(Jn. 7:38-39) “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ 39 But 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) Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven.

The text doesn’t say whether these people permanently moved to Jerusalem from other countries, or if they were merely there temporarily for the festival. Both cases surely occurred.

(2:6) And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language.

They hear the sound, and then, they listen to the language. The diversity of tongues symbolized an international and multi-ethnic mission.

The term “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. However, instead of giving one language to the people, the Christians were able to speak in many languages. This shows God’s love for human culture, which should not be stamped out through the spread of the gospel.

(2:7-8) They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?

The northern Galileans had an unsophisticated accent. 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.”[58] This must have been particularly noticeable, because the Jewish people were able to identify Peter as having a Galilean accent after the death of Christ (Mk. 14:70). To put this in modern terms, imagine a group of hillbillies speaking in fluent French! God chose these non-esteemed people to have the most important role (1 Cor. 1:26-31). In our modern day, 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.”[59] Furthermore, the fact that Luke records what all of these foreigners were saying implies that the 120 could not only speak these foreign languages, but also understand them as well.

(2:9-11) Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”

Some think that these “visitors from Rome” went back and started the church in Rome. After all, no apostle had ever been to Rome when Paul wrote the book of Romans. This seems quite likely. After all, roughly 40,000-60,000 Jews lived in Rome, and many Jewish catacombs have been discovered there.[60] This would explain why there was rioting in over “Chrestus” by AD 49 (Suetonius, Life of Claudius 25.4).

(2:12) And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

They saw a miracle, but they were trying to understand its meaning. It’s possible to see a miracle and not understand what God is trying to communicate through it. In the gospel of John, Jesus performed seven signs (sēmeion), but the bystanders often misinterpreted the meaning. Many people wish to see a miracle, but they don’t realize that their interpretation of the miraculous could be quite confused.

(2:13) But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.”

Miracles can actually have the opposite effect on those with hardened hearts. By suppressing clear evidence, they harden themselves into further rebellion from God. It’s worth noting that many of these skeptics, however, came to Christ after hearing Peter preach.

“You are witnessing the arrival of the Holy Spirit” (Joel 2:28-32).

(2:14) But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: “Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words.”

Peter could have been cowardly like the last time he was called to give an account in front of a young slave-girl (Mt. 26:69ff). Instead, he “takes his stand” here in front of the religious leaders. Peter stands with the other apostles (“the eleven”), and this reinforces the fact that in the book of Acts “ministry is almost always done as a team in Acts.”[61]

(2:15) For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day. [9 a.m.]

It simply wasn’t common for people to get drunk this early. Though, Longenecker humorously writes, “Unfortunately, this argument was more telling in antiquity than today.”[62] Bruce holds that this was “good humor” on behalf of Peter in refuting this argument.[63]

(2:16-21) “But this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: 17 ‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on My bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will grant wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come. 21 ‘And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Peter cites Joel 2:28-32. We reject the notion that Peter was allegorizing OT prophecy, and that this is grounds for an allegorical hermeneutic for eschatology. After all, was Peter giving his first teaching on eschatology? Not at all. This is an evangelistic message—not an eschatological one!

Peter’s purpose in citing Joel 2 is not to show that this was completely fulfilled at Pentecost. Rather, he is showing that it has been partially fulfilled. Consequently, the people should “call on the name of the Lord” and “be saved” before the final judgment. In other words, if the first part was fulfilled (and the people were witnessing its fulfillment), then Peter’s listeners should repent before the rest is fulfilled later in history (i.e. judgment).

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

“You killed the One who brought the Holy Spirit.”

(2:22) “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know.”

The men were writing off the miracle and prophetic-fulfillment of Pentecost right before their eyes. 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, even ascribing Jesus’ power to Satan! (Mt. 12:24; Josephus, Antiquities, 18:63-64; Sanhedrin, 43a, 107b; Justin Martyr, Dialogues, 69.7)

(2:23) “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.”

The death and suffering of Christ were not a cosmic accident. God planned all of it. 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.”

“Plan” (boulē) is “mostly used of the divine counsel.”[64] Paul uses the term this way when he told the Ephesian elders that he preached the “whole counsel (boulē) of God” (Acts 20:27). The religious leaders “rejected God’s purpose (boulē) for themselves” (Lk. 7:30). Later, the believers pray that these people had “to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose (boulē) predestined to occur” (Acts 4:28).

“Foreknowledge” (prognōsis) comes from the roots pro (“before”) and ginōskō (“know”).

  • In Classical Greek, the term proginōskō meant “to know or perceive in advance, to see the future.”[65]
  • The Septuagint uses the verb (proginōskō) three times to refer to knowing the future (Wisdom of Solomon 6:13; 8:8; 18:6), and it uses the noun (prognōsis) 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.” Even though all of this was orchestrated according to God’s plan, the people themselves are held responsible.

(2:24) “But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.”

“Putting an end to the agony of death.” This must refer to physical death, which Jesus abolished death at the Cross. This is already-not-yet language. Jesus already ended the agony of death through his resurrection, but this is not yet fulfilled until the New Heavens and Earth.

“But God raised him from the dead” (Pss. 16; 110; 132).

(Acts 2:25-28) “For David says of Him, ‘I saw the Lord always in my presence; for He is at my right hand, so that I will not be shaken. 26 ‘Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue exulted; moreover my flesh also will live in hope; 27 because You will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay. 28 ‘You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with Your presence.’”

Peter cites Psalm 16:8-11 to demonstrate that God promised that the “Holy One” (i.e. the Messiah) would not “decay” in death. 36 hours in the tomb was not long enough for Jesus’ body to decay. Paul quotes Psalm 16 to defend the reality of the resurrection as well (Acts 13:35).

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

(2:29-31) “Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay.”

Peter notes that this passage cannot be autobiographical, because David’s body did decay (v.29). While we do not know the location of David’s tomb today, it’s likely that they knew the location in the first-century. The tomb was known at least in the days of Nehemiah (Neh. 3:16), and surely in Peter’s day as well. Josephus states that John Hyrcanus stole 3,000 talents of gold from David’s tomb in 135 BC, and later, Herod tried to loot David’s tomb as well (Antiquities 13.249; Wars of the Jews 1.61). Because they could witness David’s decaying body, Peter argues that David was a “prophet” who predicted the future about the Messiah (v.30). Peter further cites Psalm 132:11 to demonstrate that the Davidic Covenant predicted someone in the line of David who would be the Messiah (cf. 2 Sam. 7:12-16; Ps. 89:3ff; 35-37). Incidentally, this refutes the idea that the psalms are merely poetry. Some of them are clearly prophetic according to the NT.

(2:32) This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.

Peter states that the apostles are direct eye-witnesses of this predicted resurrection.

(2:33) “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.”

Because Jesus is our mediator, we now have the gift of the Holy Spirit. To paraphrase Peter, he seems to be saying, “Do you think it was just a coincidence that the coming of the Holy Spirit came just after the death and resurrection of Jesus? No way! This is all fulfilling prophecy!”

(2:34-35) “For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, 35 Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”’

Peter cites Psalm 110 to support the ascension of Jesus. God didn’t offer the invitation to David to sit at his right hand—only David’s “Lord.”

Until I make your enemies a footstool.” Of course, Jesus hasn’t taken over his enemies yet, but he will. In context, the mention of “enemies” would surely have made Peter’s listeners tremble at the thought that they were culpable for the death of Christ.[66]

(2:36) “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.”

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.

Peter calls Jesus “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.”[67]

(2:37) Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?”

Peter’s preaching was convincing because it was convicting. His teaching was “effective, not only persuading his hearers’ minds but convicting their consciences.”[68] The people were “pierced to the heart.” Bock states that this verb “refers to a sharp pain or a stab, often associated with emotion.”[69] 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).

“Turn to Christ and be forgiven!”

(2:38) Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

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

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

(2:39) “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”

The term “far off” (makran) is later used to refer to the Gentiles: “Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles” (Acts 22:21). Just like Acts 1:8, this could foreshadow how the gospel would reach the Gentiles.

Does this support infant baptism? Peter writes that this promise is for “your children.” But this doesn’t support baptizing infants. The term “children” (teknois) has a wide range of age—far beyond infancy. In context, the “children” need to be old enough to “believe” and “repent” (v.38). Earlier, Peter referred to children who could “prophesy” (v.17). Of course, “in neither case are infants obviously involved.”[70] Instead of infant baptism, this statement is a promise that later generations will benefit from what Jesus accomplished: The promise is for the children, but Peter doesn’t specify when they will receive it (anymore than those who are “far off” from Israel).

(2:40) And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!”

This speech is not exhaustive. Surely, Peter had more to say. The NIV translation states that Peter “warned them and he pleaded with them.” Jesus referred to our current age as a “corrupt generation” (Mt. 16:4; 17:17), as did Paul (Phil. 2:15).

How did the people respond to Peter’s teaching?

(2:41) So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.

Considering the fact that this was Peter’s first recorded teaching, Peter didn’t do a bad job! 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.”[71]

Is this number of 3,000 converts an exaggeration? No. It’s quite possible for a crowd of this size to hear Peter and come to faith. After all, John Wesley and George Whitefield preached to far bigger crowds in the open air. Moreover, the other 120 people—particularly the other eleven apostles—could have led people to Christ as well, baptizing these people as a result. After all, this narrative opened with Peter “taking his stand with the eleven” (Acts 2:14). If all 120 people helped with the follow up work, then this would result in only 25 people being baptized per person. Furthermore, since this was during the Passover, the population of Jerusalem swelled to several hundred thousand. Polhill writes, “Jerusalem had an ample water supply, the temple area was vast and would accommodate 200,000 or more…, and the resident population of Jerusalem has been estimated at 55,000, swelling to 180,000 during pilgrim festivals.”[72]

In conclusion, the numbers of people were there to listen, and the Christian workers were there to baptize these brand-new converts. The only thing difficult for us to believe is that this many people would give their lives to Christ. But surely this says more about our own unbelief in the power of the Holy Spirit, than in the historical account itself!

Four essentials of fellowship

We might wonder how 120 people were able to lead these 3,000 brand 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,”[73] describing how these leaders looked after these brand-new Christians. In this picture of the early church, we have what Bruce calls “an ideal picture of this new community.”[74] We agree. This is a model for us to emulate as a church.

(2:42) They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

The early church “devoted” (proskartereō) themselves to four practices. Longenecker writes, “The verb translated ‘devoted’ (proskartereō) is a common one that connotes a steadfast and singleminded fidelity to a certain course of action.”[75] On what did the early Christians focus? We see key areas:

(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). This teaching had authority, and later, the writings of the apostles became Scripture. Bruce writes, “This teaching was authoritative because it was the teaching of the Lord communicated through the apostles in the power of the Spirit. For believers of later generations the New Testament scriptures form the written deposit of the apostolic teaching.”[76]

(2) “to fellowship.” This is the only time this word (koinonia) is used in Luke’s writings.[77] It is a favorite term of Paul’s. It comes from the term “common” (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 Bruce,[78] Fernando,[79] and Polhill[80] to believe that this is referring to the practice of the Lord’s Supper. We tend to agree with this view. Others, however, argue that the expression is only used one other time to refer to a regular meal (Lk. 24:35), so this could simply refer to sharing meals together.

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

What were the consequences of these four essentials?

(2:43) Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.

The “awe” (phobos) refers to astonishment (cf. Acts 5:26). It is associated with “comfort” (Acts 9:31), rather than fear (1 Jn. 4:18).

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

(Acts 2:44-45) And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.

This experience of God’s love led to radical love for others. Fernando writes, “The important point is that the fellowship touched the pocketbook too!”[81]

(2:46) Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.

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—in addition to shared meals. In other words, both are in view.

(2:47) Praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

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

Theologian John Polhill concludes this section of Acts with these words, “It could almost be described as the young church’s ‘age of innocence.’ The subsequent narrative of Acts will show that it did not always remain so. Sincerity sometimes gave way to dishonesty, joy was blotched by rifts in the fellowship, and the favor of the people was overshadowed by persecutions from the Jewish officials. Luke’s summaries present an ideal for the Christian community which it must always strive for, constantly return to, and discover anew if it is to have that unity of spirit and purpose essential for an effective witness.”[82]

What did God do to prepare and empower the launch of his church?

God predicted this and prefigured it through OT foreshadowing. In fact, he planned it all out to the day of Pentecost (v.2).

God communicated to all people—not just Jews in Jerusalem (v.6). He was breaking boundaries.

God used regular people to lead his movement (vv.7-8). The disciples were Galileans.

God performed miracles get people’s attention and draw a crowd, but he empowered a speaker like Peter explain the meaning and message behind the miracles. Miracles in and of themselves were insufficient (v.13).

God led Peter to begin his preaching with Jesus (v.22), and ends his preaching with Jesus (v.36).

God didn’t leave these Christians to fend for themselves after coming to faith. God led a system of follow up with these believers through Bible teaching, fellowship, gratitude, and prayer (v.42). They met frequently in small and large groups (v.46), and this led to further growth in the church.

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 14-36. What do we learn about the basics of the gospel message from Peter’s teaching?

What evidence does Peter give for his message about Jesus? Do you find this evidence persuasive? Would his original audience have found this persuasive?

Read verses 41-47. What do we learn about Christian community from these passages? How does this compare to modern churches today? How does this picture compare to your current church?

Acts 3 (Healing the Disabled man)

Luke already mentioned that the apostles were performing many miracles among the people (Acts 2:43) in the Temple (Acts 2:46). Here we read about one particular miracle in the Temple precincts that was performed by Peter and John.

(3:1) Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer.

The first hour of the day for the Jewish people was 6am. So, the ninth hour is 3pm. The afternoon was a busy time of day at the Temple, and this could be why Peter and John went there to share their faith.[83] Before they came to faith, these two men had been friends and business partners (Lk. 5:10). Now, God is using them as coleaders in Christian work.

(3:2) And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple.

This beggar had been physically handicapped since birth, and he was 40 years old at this point (Acts 4:22). For the first four decades of his life, he knew nothing other than shame, poverty, and public humiliation. He was at the total mercy of other people’s generosity. He sat at the eastern gate of the Temple.

What is the gate called “Beautiful”? We do not possess records in Jewish literature of a gate called “Beautiful.” After the third century AD, this gate was associated with the Shushan gate, but this is unlikely. The Shushan gate was right next to a steep cliff above the Kidron Valley, and it wouldn’t have been a good access point for a disabled man to enter. The Mishnah, however, refers to another entrance near the sanctuary itself called the Nicanor gate (cf. m. Middô 2.3). Josephus states that this gate was covered with “Corinthian brass and greatly excelled those that were only covered over with silver and gold” (Wars of the Jews 5.201). This would explain why they called this the “Beautiful” gate, and this is a more likely site than the Shushan gate. We agree with Bruce[84] and Polhill[85] that this is the gate to which Luke is referring.

“In order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple.” This man had his friends strategically place him by the entrance to the Temple. Since many people were in town for the festivals in Jerusalem, this was a perfect location for a beggar. We might compare this to a person collecting money for the Salvation Army around Christmas time. The man placed himself here to receive money. But what he received was something far greater…

(3:3) When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms.

He’s expecting some spare change, but instead, he gets his life changed!

(3:4-5) But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!” 5 And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them.

Apparently, the man wasn’t even looking people in the eye. He was so downcast and filled with despair that he was looking down at the ground as he raised his hand for money. Marshall writes, “What could have been simply the occasion of mechanical charity is turned into a personal encounter as the lame man and the apostles look intently at one another.”[86] Peter and John confer dignity on this man as they encounter him. Polhill writes, “Perhaps [the disabled man] expected a display of unusual generosity. Would this be his day? Yes, it would be, but not as he might think.”[87]

(3:6) But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!”

“I do not possess silver and gold.” The apostles lived simple lives, so Peter doesn’t have money to give him. The disabled man must’ve been disappointed to hear these initial words. In this man’s mind, silver and gold were the answer to his problems.

“In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene.” By calling on the “name” of Jesus, Peter was calling on Jesus’ authority and power. 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.”[88] Peter appeals to Jesus, but Jesus never appeals to a higher name than his own because Jesus has the “name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9). Marshall writes, “Jesus himself had no need to appeal to a higher authority such as the name of God.”[89]

“Walk!” The man wasn’t given what he wanted (“silver and gold”), but God gave him wanted he needed.

(3:7-8) And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. 8 With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.

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 through prayer. He prayed over him and told him to get up and walk. He did! But even more surprising was the response of the family members who said, “We didn’t bring him to get healed… He had a financial problem that we hoped you’d pray for…” Incidentally, the man hadn’t walked in six years!

“He entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.” We see significance in the fact that this man was formerly outside of the Temple, but now he was allowed inside to praise God. Polhill comments, “At this time not only had he received physical healing, but he had found spiritual acceptance as well. For the first time he was deemed worthy to enter the house of worship. This theme will repeat itself in Acts. Those who were rejected as unworthy for worship in the old religion of Israel found full acceptance in the name of Jesus, whether a lame beggar, an Ethiopian eunuch, a woman, or a Gentile.”[90]

(3:9-11) And all the people saw him walking and praising God; 10 and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. 11 While he was clinging to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them at the so-called portico of Solomon, full of amazement.

The miracle had a reverberating effect on the people, drawing a crowd. In the book of Acts, “miracles were always in the service of the word, confirming God’s presence in the spread of the gospel or as a sign that enabled faith.”[91] This is precisely what we see here: The miracle lines people up, and the gospel message knocks them down.

The people were ecstatic, running toward Peter and John. What Peter does next might be just as miraculous as the healing itself…

Peter combines this miracle with a message

(3:12) But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, “Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk?”

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 a spiritual 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! Chuck Smith claimed that this is the biggest pitfall for any servant of God. (Smith, “Characteristics of a Servant”—sermon) 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).[92]

God puts his glory in a cheap clay pot (2 Cor. 4:7ff). Why? So that people wouldn’t be tempted to 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).

If Peter and John were not the source of this divine power, then who was? Peter answers that question in the subsequent verses…

(3:13-15) “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. 14 But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.”

There is so much backwards wisdom and irony going on here. The nation put to death the Prince of life. They wanted a life-killer, instead of the life-giver. They disowned the One whom God glorified. From the very beginning, they claimed that Jesus was alive from the dead. This is why Jesus was still able to heal people through the faith and agency of the apostles.

(3:16) And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.

The miracle of the healing was an object-lesson to demonstrate the need for 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) And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also.

Peter says that they were “ignorant” (agnoia) of the fact that they killed the Savior. Agnoia is the root word for our modern term “agnostic,” and it literally means “a lack of knowledge.” In the words of Paul, “If they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8). Likewise, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34). Peter doesn’t rub their noses in the sins of their past, nor does he get to them focus on the past. But he is quite forceful in telling them to act on the truths that they are hearing in the present (v.19). To paraphrase Peter, he is saying, “You were (willfully) ignorant, but now you have no excuse.”

(3:18) But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.

See “Jesus and Messianic Prophecy.”

(3:19-21) “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; 20 and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, 21 whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.

In seven out of eleven times the term “return” is used in Acts, it is used of returning to God himself (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.

Does this refer to the restoration of national Israel at the end of history? Polhill[93] contends that this refers to Jews coming to faith in Christ—not a national restoration. However, we disagree. The listeners need to turn to Christ before the Second Coming, when Jesus 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).”[94] Indeed, this is the same word that the disciples used when they asked about the restoration of Israel: “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring (apokathistēmi) the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) Surely the disciples expected a restoration of national Israel. This only confirms our interpretation of Acts 1:6 above.

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

(3:22-23) “Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed to everything He says to you. 23 And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’”

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—the one Moses himself predicted (cf. Jn. 1:21, 25; 7:40).

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

(3:24) And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days.

In what way did Samuel predict the Messiah? It appears that Peter is not referring to a specific passage from Samuel; otherwise, he would’ve cited it. Instead, Peter is most likely citing the messianic hope of the Davidic Kingdom in the future. Marshall aptly writes that the “most that can be said is that Christians may have regarded his prophecies of David’s kingdom as finding ultimate fulfilment in the rule of the Son of David.”[95]

(3:25-26) “It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ 26 For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.”

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 God chose to reveal this to the Jewish people first. Paul cites this passage as well to demonstrate that the Gentiles will be included in the “blessing” of the Messiah (Gal. 3:16).

What do we learn about humility from this chapter?

After leading 3,000 people to Christ, the “old Peter” would’ve suffered with an inflated ego. Moreover, after healing a disabled man in public, this would’ve really boosted Peter’s pride! But something changed in Peter’s heart. He was a broken man who refused to take the credit, pointing people’s attention to God—not himself (Acts 3:13). Peter had learned the lesson of repentance, and this is the very message that he gave to his audience: “Repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away” (Acts 3:19).

Questions for Reflection

What do we learn about these early Christians from this chapter? These servants of Christ were people of prayer (Acts 3:1), they gave God the glory (3:13), and they knew his word (3:14ff). These were the men and women who turned the world upside down.

Acts 4 (Persecution from the Religious authorities)

Peter made a major impact on the people in Jerusalem through his preaching and miracle working. But what was the reaction of the religious authorities? In this chapter, we see a major pushback.

Peter and John are Arrested

(4:1) As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them.

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).”[96] This would be similar to having the cops called on you. The man had legal authority to arrest people.

(4:2) [They were] being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.

The Sadducees (v.1) denied the resurrection, so they would’ve hated the apostolic message (see “Judaism in Jesus’ Day”).

(4:3) And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening.

Jesus had predicted this would happen (Lk. 21:12). They put the apostles in lockup until they could assemble the judges to hear their case. The judges were asleep “for it was already evening.”

(4:4) But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.

This could either mean that 5,000 were added, or the total number went up to 5,000. Bock favors the first view,[97] while Bruce,[98] Marshall,[99] and Polhill[100] favor the latter view. Whatever the number, this was a massive amount of people considering the fact that this only refers to the men—not women and children (cf. Mt. 14:21).

Regardless, the religious leaders were too late. The message had already spread to thousands of people. This interlude between events is an apt one. It shows that despite the persecution (and perhaps because of it?) the message of Christ was spreading rapidly.

(4:5-6) On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; 6 and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent.

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. A high priest ruled for life, according to Jewish custom. Moreover, Annas had an “economic empire,”[101] and he held tremendous political power.

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.[102]

These were the same men who put Jesus to death just weeks earlier. Yet, Bruce comments, “If they hoped that they had got rid of him, their hope was short-lived; it looked now as if they were going to have as much trouble on his account as they had had before his death.”[103]

(4:7) When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?”

The authorities didn’t deny the reality of the miracles (cf. v.16). Instead, they denied the supernatural source. After all, the healed man was right in front of them (v.14), and they had known him for 40 years as being physically disabled. Instead, they denied the source of the power that healed the man.

In Greek, the order of words shows emphasis. The pronoun (“you”) is put at the end of the sentence, because it wasn’t by Peter’s own power that the man was healed (Acts 3:12).

“They placed them in the center.” The courtroom would’ve been setup to surround the apostles. They sat in a semi-circle so that the defendant(s) would be surrounded by the judges. The Mishnah states, “The sanhedrin was [arranged] in the shape of a half of a round threshing floor [that is, as an amphitheater], so that [the judges] should see one another. And two judges’ clerks stand before them, one at the right and one at the left. And they write down the arguments of those who vote to acquit and of those who vote to convict” (m. Sanhedrin 4:3). Josephus describes a trial that fits with this description as well (Antiquities 14.9.4).

(4:8) Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people.”

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.” Jesus had promised what we’re reading here (Lk. 12:11-12; 21:14-15).

(4:9) “If we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well.”

Jesus was put on trial for his miracles of compassion too. Again, notice that the authorities didn’t deny that a supernatural event took place.

(4:10) “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health.”

Peter uses this event as an opportunity to preach the gospel.

(4:11) “He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone.”

Peter cites Psalm 118:22 to show that in Israel’s history they often rejected the cornerstone (cf. Lk. 20:17; 1 Pet. 2:7).

(4:12) “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

Does this verse support Christian particularism? (i.e. do people need to hear and use Jesus’ name to be saved?) All Bible believing Christians should affirm that no one can be saved apart from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Without Jesus’ atonement, no one would be saved. However, is it necessary for people to use his “name” to be saved, or could they throw themselves on the mercy of God in repentance and be saved through the Cross of Jesus—even if they had never heard his name?

There is much to say about that theological debate. Suffice it to say, this passage doesn’t inform us one way or the other. When Peter says that we need to be saved by Jesus’ “name,” this refers to Jesus’ work and authority. For instance, imagine if a Policeman said, “Open the door… in the name of the Law!” In this instance, he isn’t referring to a specific name, but rather the authority of the Law. When we pray “in Jesus’ name,” we aren’t using a magic formula that will make any and all of our prayers come true. Rather, we are praying according to his will and in his authority; otherwise, we would have no basis of coming into his presence in prayer. The same concept seems to be happening here—namely, Peter is arguing that we have no basis of being saved without Jesus. Thus, in short, this verse doesn’t further the conversation in one direction or the other as far as we’re concerned.

But let’s not miss the forest for the trees: Peter is teaching that we can only be saved through the ministry and work of Jesus Christ (cf. Jn. 14:6). Peter isn’t referring to people who haven’t heard the gospel, but to those who have and are rejecting it! Those who reject Jesus will face judgment and eternal separation from God.

(4:13) As they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.

“Uneducated” (agrammatoi) does not mean “‘unable to read’ but simply that the person lacks a certain level of skills.”[104] It refers to lacking a “formal education.” Thus, this term means that Peter and John were unschooled—not illiterate. Grudem writes, “Although agrammatos can at times mean ‘illiterate, unable to read or write’, it can also mean ‘not formally educated’, and would readily have that nuance next to idiotēs, ‘common man, layman, non-expert’ in Acts 4:13.”[105] Indeed, the religious leaders held this same view of Jesus, claiming that he was also uneducated by the standards of their day (Jn. 7:15).

“Untrained” (idiotai) means “a layperson in religious matters” (BDAG). It is the root word for our modern term “idiot.”

“[They] began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.” The Sanhedrin (who had condemned Jesus to death; Mark 14:55) probably did not consider Peter’s years spent with Jesus as a formal education because they hated Jesus. By the standards of the Sanhedrin, Peter was not highly educated. This would be similar to Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting (1997), stumping an Ivy League student in math or history. While his character is brilliant in the film, he only had a high school education. Therefore, it would be within the rights of the Ivy League brat to call Will Hunting “uneducated.” Maybe the religious authorities remembered hurling this accusation at Jesus (Jn. 7:15), and perhaps they realized that the source of the apostle’s wisdom came from being discipled by Jesus.

(4:14) And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply.

This healed man had been standing there the whole time. He was an exhibition of undeniable evidence.

“They had nothing to say in reply.” The great Sanhedrin was silenced by two uneducated fishermen. Jesus predicted that the apostles would speak so well that their opponents wouldn’t be able to reply (Lk. 21:15). Polhill writes, “The irony can scarcely be missed—the accused spoke with utter boldness and freedom; their accusers sat in stony silence.”[106]

(4:15-18) But when they had ordered them to leave the Council, they began to confer with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name.” 18 And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.

They conferred privately. They couldn’t deny the miracle or the man, so they gave a gag order instead. If they couldn’t stop the miracles (acts of God), how would they expect to stop his messengers (the word of God)?

How did Luke know what was being said in this private meeting? Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were Sanhedrists, and they could have been his source. After all, this is only months to a year after the resurrection. Likewise, Saul (Paul) may have been present because “students of the law had access to deliberations of the court.”[107] Additionally, many “priests” came to faith (Acts 6:7), and they could have known the content of what happened behind closed doors—later sharing it with Luke.

(4:19) But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge.”

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) “For we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

This is a pretty honest claim. They couldn’t help from declaring what they had seen. They’re saying, “We’ve seen too much to stop!”

(4:21-22) “When they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened; 22 for the man was more than forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.”

In contrast to the apostles, the religious leaders were giving in to the pressure of the society at large (“on account of the people”). Moreover, while the crowds loved the message, the religious leaders were responsible for rejecting it.

How did two simple men like Peter and John stand up to the Sanhedrin?

The source of their power was Jesus (v.7).

The source of their training and education was from being with Jesus (v.13).

The source of their teaching was Jesus (vv.17-18).

The source of their confidence was being focused on God (vv.19-20).

A Powerful Prayer Meeting

(4:23) When they had been released, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them.

It would be amazing to go back and brag about how you just stood up to the religious and political elites of your day, and stunned them into silence (v.14). Yet, instead of taking pride or ego from this, this brought them deeper into prayer and dependence on God.

(4:24) And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them.”

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) “Who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples devise futile things? 26 ‘The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ.’ 27 For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”

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 “before” (pro) and “to determine” (horizō). Thus, this term means to “decide upon beforehand” or “predetermine.”

Does this support divine determinism? Calvinists claim that this is true of all events (including our faith, decisions, etc.). However, such a concept goes far 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) “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence.”

They pray that their fear wouldn’t crush their faith—that they 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) “While You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.”

Once again we see that “the miracles are always in the service of the word. They are ‘signs’ in the sense that they point beyond themselves to the ultimate power of the gospel message of Christ’s resurrection and the salvation that is in him (4:12).”[108]

(4:31) And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.

When the room shakes, that’s God’s way of saying, “I liked that prayer!” Also, God answered the prayer to give them “boldness.” This is a prayer that God loves to answer, because it is directly in his will (2 Tim. 1:6-7).

What lessons do we learn about prayer from this example of the early church?

They focused on how God was the Creator of the universe (v.24). If God is truly the Creator, and he stands with us, then we have no reason to be afraid of anything in his creation (Rom. 8:31).

God turned the most horrific act of suffering in the universe (the Cross) into His greatest act of love (vv.25-28). If God could do this in the past with the suffering of his Son, then he can do this for our sufferings as well (Rom. 8:28).

Their prayer ended with a petition to be bold (v.29). We sometimes pray for protection from suffering or persecution. That’s fine. However, they prayed for the courage to overcome the persecutors—no matter what happened.

They continued to depend on Jesus’ “name” for ongoing power (v.30).

More Generosity

(4:32-35) And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.

This was a highly generous group (cf. Acts 2:43-44). They were theologically and missionally unified—even to the extent of sharing their possessions. Not everyone liquidated their property (Acts 12:12), but they did to the extent that they could take care of the needs around them.

“With great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.” God empowered the apostolic teaching about the resurrection.

“Lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.” The apostles would distribute the funds in the church. They were the men with the best character to handle the money. This is why leaders should not be “lovers of money” (1 Tim. 3).

(4:36-37) Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), 37 and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

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.

Acts 5 (Ananias and Sapphira)

Satan has been watching the Christian community growing. He tried external persecution, but now, he tries an internal maneuver to rip apart this contagious movement.

(5:1) But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property.

“But…” This opening word foreshadows what we are about to read: Ananias and Sapphira both stand in stark contrast to the generosity and authenticity of the other believers (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32, 34), specifically 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. Or maybe they saw the apostles openly encouraging people for their financial giving, and they wanted similar praise and notoriety.

(5:2) [Ananias] kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet.

The expression “kept back” (enosphisato) is a very rare word. The same term was used for Achan because he held back the spoils of war (Josh. 7:1; LXX). Bock writes, “It is a verb tied to financial fraud,”[109] citing a few examples (2 Macc. 4:32; Josephus, Antiquities, 4.8.29 §274). Ananias and Sapphira were able to keep the money if they wanted (v.4). The fraud occurred when they pretended to be more generous than they were.

“With his wife’s full knowledge.” Both were responsible for this hypocrisy, because Sapphira knew about the fraud. “Ananias” is the equivalent of the OT Hananiah (ḥănanyāhû). Ironically, his name means “God is gracious.”[110]

(5:3) But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?”

How did Peter discover this? Did he have some sort of prophetic gift? Did someone tell him what happened? Moreover, how did he know that “Satan” was involved? Peter must’ve had some sort of prophetic insight from the Holy Spirit himself.

We can either be filled by the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2:4; 4:31) or we can be filled by Satan (“why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit…”). Ananias chose the way of lying hypocrisy which is in accord with Satan—not the Holy Spirit.

(5:4) “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”

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 generous around their peers in the Christian community. The major sin here was the fact that they would “lie” (mentioned twice in this rebuke). This couple was guilty of hypocrisy, which spoils Christian community (Prov. 26:28).

(5:5-6) And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. 6 The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.

How did Peter know that God would take Ananias’ life right on the spot? Again, Peter must’ve had some sort of prophetic gift. We disagree with Marshall that Ananias died from “heart-failure due to shock.”[111] The fact that Peter predicted Sapphira’s death in immediate succession to her lying (v.9) demonstrates that this was a divine act.

They remove the body before Sapphira shows up for “Act Two” of the story…

(5:7) Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.

Where was Sapphira when her husband died? How did no one mention this to her in that span of three hours? Most likely, the Christians didn’t tell her about Ananias’ death because they viewed it as an act of God that shouldn’t be trifled with. Moreover, the intermediate time of three hours implies that she was far away, and hadn’t heard the news about her husband yet. This span of time helps explain how she would be ignorant of her husband’s death.

(5:8) And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.”

Peter gave Sapphira an opportunity to tell the truth. If the sin was greediness, Peter wouldn’t have needed to ask any questions. Instead, he wanted to see if she would be honest.

(5:9-10) Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” 10 And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.

How was this act of hypocrisy “putting the Spirit to the test”? God allows a tremendous amount of sin in the church. But there are times when he draws a line in the sand.

(5:11) And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.

Is “fear” a good or bad thing in this context?

Why is God’s response so severe?

The text doesn’t say that Ananias and Sapphira died and went to hell. Indeed, we agree with Polhill when he writes, “Their death did not necessarily involve their loss of salvation.”[112] Paul refers to God taking the lives of believers in discipline, but not eternal judgment (see comments on 1 Corinthians 11:27-30).

But why was God so severe with their hypocrisy. I have lied worse than Ananias and Sapphira, but I haven’t been struck dead by God. Moreover, this couple gave some money to the church after all. If this standard was consistently applied, “today’s churches would be much emptier.”[113]

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 godlier than they actually were. This was the sin of hypocrisy. These early Christians were excited to experience the movement of the Holy Spirit, and hypocrisy could easily tear this apart.

Hypocrisy

Consider the historical backdrop: The Pharisees were the models of spirituality for the Jewish people—yet they were woefully hypocritical (see Mt. 23). God didn’t want these early Jewish Christians to go in the same direction.

Hypocrisy is devastating to the world. 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.

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.

Hypocrisy is contagious. Jesus taught, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Lk. 12:1). Leaven (yeast) spreads throughout the entire bread and grows as the bread bakes. Similarly, hypocrisy spreads and grows in the Christian community.

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. We really live 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 with authenticity.

  • We can’t be honest, because everyone is putting on a religious mask.
  • We still do ministry to keep up appearances, but the power is depleted.
  • We talk about sins from years ago—not from today or yesterday. It communicates that “we’ve arrived” spiritually, rather than being a sinful person who is continuing to grow in the sight of others.

Do you have a healthy 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 of a new identity in Christ. When we see ourselves “in Christ,” we realize that we are deeply loved, deeply accepted, and deeply praised.

Develop authentic spiritual friendships. Don’t become focused on your sin, but make sure to share about current struggles and areas of weakness. Ask each other for prayer, encouragement, and counsel. 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 spoke to this quite frequently, and he considered this to be the solution to hypocrisy. Jesus said,

(Mt. 6:1-2) 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. 6:5-6) 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.

(5:12-13) At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico. 13 But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem.

“Solomon’s portico” is the place where Peter had healed the disabled man (Acts 3:11).

Who are “the rest” mentioned here? Marshall[114] takes this as an expression that refers to non-believers (cf. Lk. 8:10; 1 Thess. 4:13; 5:6). The difficulty with this view is that “the rest” are distinguished from “the people” (i.e. non-believers) who were being added to the kingdom (vv.15-16). Furthermore, it’s hard to believe that God would do this miracle to keep unbelievers from associating with the Christian community.

We agree with Darrell Bock who understands “the rest” to refer to other Christian believers in the area. That is, the miracle could be that this had a positive effect on other believers, driving out hypocrisy. 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.”[115] In other words, hypocrites were repelled by such authentic community, but honest seekers were attracted.

(5:14-15) And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, 15 to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them.

The result of purging this hypocrisy was that they had a good standing with the community, and many came to faith. Early, Luke mentioned specific numbers (e.g. 120, 3,000, 5,000, etc.). 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) Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.

They were healing their physical illnesses (“bringing their sick”) and their spiritual illnesses (“tormented by evil spirits”). Not all spirituality is good. Think about it: we wouldn’t invite just any person into our home, and we shouldn’t invite any spirit into our lives either!

Second Arrest

How did Luke know what the high priest was saying behind closed doors? Later Luke states that some of these priests came to faith in Christ (Acts 6:7). They must’ve shared what was happening behind closed doors.

(5:17-18) But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. 18 They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail.

The Sadducees were the original ones to have their authority challenged by Peter and John (cf. Acts 4:1). They controlled the judicial council in Jerusalem, and they profited from the Temple worship, making a deal with the Romans (see “Judaism in Jesus’ Day”). They were “jealous” (zelos) which is the same word used for “zeal” by the apostle Paul when he refers to having “zeal” and being a “persecutor of the church” before he came to faith (Phil. 3:6).

The plural “apostles” implies that all of them were taken. Imagine how frightening this would be to see all of your leaders taken into custody! After all, Jesus himself was your main leader, and God predestined for him to die. If God allowed Jesus to die, then all bets are off. Surely you would wonder if the same was true of the apostles.

(5:19-21) But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, 20 “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” 21 Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach. Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought.

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 to live in safety and comfort. They were freed so that they could publicly preach (“Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life”).

We later see an angel break 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. According to his omniscient and good plan, God will choose to free his people, let them die (James of Zebedee; Acts 12:2), or let them sit in prison. This is his sovereign choice.

(5:22-23) But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back, 23 saying, “We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside.”

This must have been spooky to hear. The apostles had been known among the people for their “signs and wonders.” Now, the Sadducees are witnessing a miracle firsthand that is thwarting their plans.

(5:24-25) Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this. 25 But someone came and reported to them, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!”

The Sadducees didn’t believe in the supernatural (specifically angels!), so this miracle would’ve been very perplexing to them when they received this report.

(5:26) Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).

The Sadducees needed to re-arrest the apostles, but they were afraid of the people performing a lynch-mob on them. This is quite interesting: The apostles are the ones “without violence” in accordance with Jesus’ command (Lk. 22:50-51), but the religious leaders are worried about being killed by the crowds.

(5:27) When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them.

The high priest was the most authoritative leader in Israel (besides the Roman governor). Imagine how intimidating this would be to stand before him.

(5:28) [He was] saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

The high priest neglects to mention one very important piece of the story: How did they miraculously escape the prison cells? He doesn’t want to talk about this, so he apparently avoids the topic altogether. Moreover, the high priest doesn’t use Jesus’ name—being theologically allergic to the name of Jesus. Instead, he simply calls him “this man.”

The high priest reminds them of the previous prohibition regarding them speaking about Jesus (Acts 4:18), and he shows his disdain 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).”[116] Peter, however, wasn’t trying to make them feel guilty, because they already were guilty! The Sanhedrin was claiming that Peter was trying to get them all killed, but Peter “was not trying to get the leaders killed but rather to get them saved.”[117]

(5:29) But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”

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. To paraphrase, Peter is saying, “We’re not going to obey your orders!”

(5:30) The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross.

“The God of our fathers.” Peter still considers himself Jewish. By stating that the God of the Jews raised Jesus from the dead, Peter was effectively saying that the religious leaders were going against their own God.

“Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross.” Peter doesn’t waver. Even though the high priest warned Peter not to “bring this man’s blood upon us” (v.28), Peter explicitly says this.

(5:31) “He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.”

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.”[118]

(5:32) “And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

All three members of the Trinity are mentioned. 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.

At this point, Peter drops his mic… The ball is in the court of the Sanhedrin. How will they respond?

(5:33) But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them.

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 their emotional experience led them in a different direction—a murderous rage!

Gamaliel intercedes

(5:34) But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time.

Who was Gamaliel? This man (Gamaliel I) was 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. The Mishnah states, “When Rabban Gamaliel the Elder died, the glory of the Law ceased and purity and abstinence died” (Sotah 9.15). He was the son (or grandson?) or 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 (“hands off”) policy 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.

Rabbinic tradition states that Gamaliel had “the title of Nasi, or president of the high court,”[119] and his son (Simeon) and grandson (Gamaliel II) held this title as well. In fact, Gamaliel II possessed the title at the end of the first-century (AD 90) at Jamnia.[120]

(5:35-37) And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered.

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

(5:38-39) “So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”

Gamaliel argues that movements like these have come and gone. Gamaliel felt that they didn’t need to interfere, and that 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 indeed “of God” (v.39).

(5:40) They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them.

They “took his advice,” but still flogged them! This is precisely what Jesus had forewarned (Mk. 13:9). This punishment was a serious deterrent. The person would be whipped 39 times, because 40 was considered inhumane (Deut. 25:3) and lethal. The person would be whipped twice on the back for every time he was whipped on the chest (m. Makkot 3:10-14). Bock writes, “The whipping would have been on the back and chest with a three-stranded strap of calf hide… This could leave one close to death, if not dead, from loss of blood… The hope is that by intensifying the punishment, a deterrent will be established. They are wrong.”[121]

How did the apostles respond to this persecution?

(5:41) So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.

What an interesting perspective on suffering! They considered it a privilege to suffer. In an honor-shame culture like this, it would have been dishonorable to suffer shame, but the apostles had the opposite view (Lk. 6:22ff).

(5:42) And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

The apostles did what they said they would do. They went right back into the temple where they were captured in the first place. This deterrent only led to more “rejoicing” (v.41) and a greater fervor for sharing their faith.

What do we learn about persecution from this section? (vv.17-41)

God powerfully reaches people through times of crisis. We see a repeated pattern in the book of Acts: 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). But later, the angel does not break Paul out of jail in Acts 21-28. God will sovereignly choose to free his people (i.e. Peter and the apostles), let them die (James of Zebedee; Acts 12:2), or let them sit in prison (i.e. Paul).

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. Of course, discernment is needed here, because sometimes it’s unwise to respond to a person. 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 the sake of doing the right thing (Mt. 5:10), rather than for 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?

Religion doesn’t imply relationship. The Pharisees were very religious, very educated, very powerful, very moral, very dedicated… and very, very far from God!

Acts 6 (Stephen’s Character)

(6:1) Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.

Turmoil entered 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 assimilated more with the Greek conquest of the world (a process called “Hellenization”). They learned Greek, read their Bible in Greek (i.e. the Septuagint), and didn’t know Hebrew.[122] Since they weren’t native born in Israel, they were considered second-class citizens.
  • Hebraic Jews resisted cultural assimilation. They read their Bible in Hebrew (Aramaic), and they “attended synagogues where the service was conducted in Hebrew.”[123] And they regarded the Hellenistic Jews as compromisers.

Both of these Jewish groups had come to Christ, and their previous barriers were clashing. They were “murmuring” (gongysmos) among themselves, and surely the rumor-mill was running: “Why are they getting more help than us?

This isn’t so much racism, because all of these people were ethnically Jewish. This is more analogous to classism or perhaps religious discrimination. Is it surprising to see discrimination like this 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).

“Their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.” These Hellenistic widows would’ve been travelling back from the Dispersion across the Greco-Roman world, facing an extreme scarcity of resources. The early church demonstrated incredible generosity (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35), so this discrimination to these elderly women would’ve been a real sore spot.

(6:2) So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.”

The leadership brought everyone together to bring this issue to light. The leadership didn’t choose to fix this divisive disagreement behind closed doors. They “summoned the congregation” together to bring everything out in the open. When slander and division occur, this is a good principle to follow.

The leadership refused to be distracted from their main mission. This is another good leadership principle to follow. 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). Leaders don’t have an infinite reservoir of time and energy, and they need to carefully select where they will serve. The word and prayer should be their priority (v.4). After all, if they lose this ministry, the church loses everything.

The leadership took care of the problem through delegating to responsible people. 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.[124] 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 essential ways.

(6:3) “Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.”

The apostles chose leaders based on the principle of plurality (“seven men”), consensus (“select from among you”), and character (“full of the Spirit and of wisdom”).

(6:4) “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

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

(6:5-6) The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. 6 And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.

Does this support congregational church polity? Those who hold to a congregational church polity like to cite this passage to show that it was the congregation who decided what to do in this situation: “The statement found approval with the whole congregation.” However, this isn’t quite accurate. For one, the congregation was doing poorly on their own. Without leadership and left to their own devices, they were falling into in-fighting and division. Second, the apostles were the ones to suggest this initiative, and it doesn’t seem like they were taking a vote. That is, they weren’t asking the church if they agreed. The text simply states that the people thought this leadership decision was correct. The leaders were free to lead, and the workers in the ministry agreed with their decision.

The apostles chose to delegate responsibility to the people. The apostles didn’t take an authoritarian posture. 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 giving direction as well as delegation.

All the names on the list are Greek. 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.”[125] Marshall[126] doesn’t think that Philip” is the same person as the apostle mentioned later in Acts (Acts 8:5; 21:8ff.), but we’re not sure why. We agree with Polhill[127] who thinks this is the same person.

Were these men “deacons”? Some churches teach that deacons should be service-oriented, while elders should be word-oriented. They get this idea 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.’”[128]

We respectfully disagree with this view. It’s true that the root word for “deacon” (diakonia) is used in verse 1 (“daily serving of food”) and verse 2 (serve tables”). But this doesn’t mean that this is describing an office of deacons, nor that deacons are just service-ministers. In fact, 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. Indeed, Stephen (one of these seven men) was a powerful speaker, debater, and thinker (v.10).

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.”[129] Furthermore, Marshall writes, “Although the verb ‘serve’ comes from the same root as the noun which is rendered into English as ‘deacon’, it is noteworthy that Luke does not refer to the Seven as deacons; their task had no formal name.”[130]

(6:7) The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

Luke is careful to note the growth in the church. 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…”).

What do we learn about how to define and defend against division in the church from this passage? (vv.1-7)

What is unity? Unity is organic—not organizational. Actually, when the Church did have the most organizational unity, it went really off the rails (AD 1200 to 1500). Jesus is more concerned with loving one another, than with loving an amorphous group of Christians in an organizational way. This doesn’t preclude loving the larger church through fellowship, financial giving, etc. The point is that this text describes interpersonal relationships between believers right in their midst.

Division can be both active and passive. In this passage, we observe both forms of division. The people were actively speaking against one another (“complaint arose,” v.1), as well as passively judging each other in their hearts. Consequently, this created a rift in the church.

Why is unity important? Satan attacks the unity of the Body of Christ, inflaming anger, hurts, and suspicion (Eph. 4:26-27; 2 Cor. 2:10-11). Satan knows that believers can knock down his strongholds (Mt. 16:18; 2 Cor. 10:3-5). So instead of allowing them to fight him, he gets them to fight each other—a brilliant strategy.

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. Good leaders are willing to serve wherever God directs them to do. No service is too small! 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.

Delegation is important. 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: These became the people who served the tables and fixed the division between the widows. It takes strong leadership to delegate, rather than becoming caught up with the “tyranny of the urgent.”

Acts 6:8-15 (Stephen, a visionary before his time)

(6:8) And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.

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). Apparently, the apostles weren’t the only ones to do “wonders and signs.”

(6:9) But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen.

“Synagogue of the Freedmen.” This was a group of former Jewish prisoners (maybe from the time of Pompey in 63 BC?), or perhaps the ancestors of these prisoners.[131]

  • Cyrenians were from north Africa.
  • Alexandrians were from Egypt.
  • Cilicians were from the northeastern Mediterranean—such as Tarsus. Bock asks, “Might Paul have participated?”[132]

Since Paul was from Cilicia (Tarsus) and he gave “hearty approval” at the death of Stephen, it’s quite likely that Paul took part in these early debates with Stephen.[133] If so, Paul encountered something that he never seen before: Stephen was doing miracles and he was confounding his opponents in debate. Because they couldn’t beat him in debate, they needed to beat him up.

(6:10) But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.

This is a fulfillment of Luke 21:15.

(6:11) Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”

Blasphemy against God (or one of God’s designated leaders) was a capital crime in OT legislation (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.”[134]

(6:12) And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council.

They dragged him in front of the Sanhedrin (“the Council”) for judgment.

(6:13-14) They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.”

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]).”[135] Stephen’s arrest and trial contains many similarities with Jesus (e.g. forcible arrest, Kangaroo court before the religious authorities, false witnesses, etc.). This is also similar to the charge later made against Paul: “This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people and the Law and this place” (Acts 21:28). Indeed, perhaps the memories of this event would come back to haunt Paul later in life.

(6:15) And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.

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.”[136] 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.).”[137]

Acts 7 (Stephen’s defense)

Stephen’s speech is one of the longest speeches in the book of Acts. But what exactly is his main point? Commentators have long puzzled over its meaning:

I. 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? […Later, regarding the mention of Joseph’s history, Marshall writes,] It is not clear what the theological point of the details is.”[138]

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.”[139]

John Polhill: “Stephen’s speech, the longest of the many speeches in Acts, presents a real challenge to scholars. In its context it is often seen to be totally irrelevant to the charges against Stephen.”[140]

Marshall[141] understands it to refer to (1) Israel’s history of rejecting prophets and deliverers and (2) the religious leaders thinking that God actually dwelt in the Temple. The religious leaders were rejecting Stephen because he was allegedly rejecting Moses (Acts 6:11), the Temple, and the Law (Acts 6:13). In reality, argues Marshall, it was Stephen who was in the right because he was standing in a long line of persecuted prophets and defending God’s omnipresence.

Bruce[142] states that a major theme of the speech is Stephen’s “insistence that the presence of God is not restricted to any one land or to any material building.” Another major theme is how the Jewish people refused “to acknowledge Jesus as Messiah” which was similar to their attitude toward “God’s messengers from the beginning of their national history.”

Polhill[143] sees two central themes: (1) “God can never be tied down to one land or place,” and the people of God should follow him wherever he is, and (2) the nation of Israel was “constantly resisting and rejecting its God-appointed leaders.” This subtly points to the fact that Israel largely rejected their ultimate leader in the person of Jesus. Later, he summarizes, “God revealed himself to Abraham in Mesopotamia, far from Jerusalem and its temple; indeed, the promises to Israel began there. He revealed himself to Moses not on Mt. Zion but in the wilderness of Mt. Sinai. His great act of deliverance for his people was set in Egypt, a foreign land. The tabernacle was the prototype of the true worship of God; for it symbolized God’s movement with his people, a pilgrim people on the move, not tied down to land or place… Stephen was a reformer, standing in a long line of prophets who criticized Israel’s tendency to substitute man-made institutions for a living relationship to God.”[144] Polhill is quite close to our view.

The accusation against Stephen was threefold: (1) he speaks against Moses, (2) he speaks against the Temple, and (3) he speaks against and the Law (v.11, 14). The main point of Stephen’s apologetic is this: In the OT, God often worked through unusual spaces, places, and races, and God is operating the same way through Jesus and the Church. Moreover, argues Stephen, the OT records that God’s own people were some of his staunchest rejecters. 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.”[145]

As you read through Stephen’s defense, note how Stephen repeatedly cites example after example from the OT where (1) God was transcending spaces and races and (2) 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.”

What about the charge against Stephen that he was anti-Law? Stephen speaks highly of the Law of God (7:8, 38). The problem with the religious leaders is that they didn’t learn from the repetitive cycle of law-breaking in the OT (v.54). We owe our interpretation of this passage largely to Dennis McCallum’s article, “Strange Details in Stephen’s Defense.”

Abraham

(7:1) The high priest said, “Are these things so?”

This is an official accusation and court hearing.

(7:2-4) And he said, “Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran,” 3 and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.’”

By referring to God as “the God of glory,” Stephen emphasizes “at the outset the transcendence of the God who does not live in a temple made with hands.”[146] Instead, God first appeared to Abraham in Mesopotamia—not Israel or any temple. Marshall writes, “God’s self-revelation is not confined to the land of the Jews, still less to the temple.”[147] Thus, faithful followers of God “will always live loose to any particular earthly spot, will always be ready to get out and go wherever God may guide.”[148]

(7:4-5) “Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living. 5 But He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that He would give it to him as a possession, and to his descendants after him.”

Abraham didn’t have any property in the holy land. He didn’t even own “a foot of ground.” Abraham needed to buy a cemetery plot for Sarah (Gen. 23) because he didn’t own any of the land.

(7:6) But God spoke to this effect, that his descendants would be aliens in a foreign land, and that they would be enslaved and mistreated for four hundred years.

God worked through Abraham’s descendants for 400 years outside the “holy land.” Instead, they lived in the foreign land” of Egypt.

(7:7) ‘And whatever nation to which they will be in bondage I Myself will judge,’ said God, ‘and after that they will come out and serve Me in this place.’

God was active in judging various nations while the Jewish people were outside of the holy land. Polhill comments, “There is no mistaking what Stephen meant by ‘this place.’ The temple had been the sole meaning of the word throughout his trial (cf. 6:13-14). According to v. 7b, the real goal of God’s promise to Abraham was not the land at all. It was instead the freedom to render true worship and devotion to God. Stephen would go on to show that even the temple had not realized this purpose. The promise remains yet unfulfilled. It is only fulfilled in Christ.”[149]

(7:8) And He gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.

God gave Abraham the rite of circumcision before he was ever in the holy land.

The Patriarchs

(7:9) “The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt. Yet God was with him.”

God was present with Joseph—even though he was in “godless Egypt.” Yet, despite the fact that Joseph was outside the “holy land,” Stephen is quick to point out that “God was with him.” Moreover, even the patriarchs were resistant to God’s chosen man: Joseph.

(7:10) “And rescued him from all his afflictions, and granted him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he made him governor over Egypt and all his household.”

God used Joseph in “godless Egypt” to bring a blessing to those Gentiles. God gave Joseph “wisdom” much like he gave Stephen “wisdom,” despite the fact that Joseph was outside of the “holy land.”

(7:11-14) “Now a famine came over all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction with it, and our fathers could find no food. 12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers there the first time. 13 On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family was disclosed to Pharaoh. 14 Then Joseph sent word and invited Jacob his father and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five persons in all.”

The holy people got help from Egypt—not Israel. Once again, “Stephen’s historical sketch take place outside the borders of Israel.”[150]

Were there 70 or 75 people? The Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT) states that there were 70 people (Gen. 46:27; Ex. 1:5; Deut. 10:22), but the Greek Septuagint (LXX) states that there were 75 people. Since Stephen was using the Septuagint, it would be natural for him to quote that text. This could be a case where the different texts counted the people different, including some and excluding others.

(7:15-16) “And Jacob went down to Egypt and there he and our fathers died. 16 From there they were removed to Shechem and laid in the tomb which Abraham had purchased for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.”

The patriarchs died outside of the holy land. “Shechem” is in “the hated Samaritan territory,”[151] which was considered a particularly unholy place by the religious leaders.

(7:17-19) “But as the time of the promise was approaching which God had assured to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt, 18 until there arose another king over Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph. 19 It was he who took shrewd advantage of our race and mistreated our fathers so that they would expose their infants and they would not survive.”

God was growing and blessing the people of Israel in Egypt—not Israel.

Moses

(7:20-21) “It was at this time that Moses was born; and he was lovely in the sight of God, and he was nurtured three months in his father’s home. 21 And after he had been set outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away and nurtured him as her own son.”

God used a Gentile ruler (Pharaoh’s daughter) to raise Moses. Moses was raised by Gentiles—not Jews!

(7:22) “Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds.”

To paraphrase, Stephen is arguing: If we should hate the Gentiles, then we hate Moses who was “educated” by Gentiles. Polhill comments, “Stephen’s pointing to Moses’ upbringing in Egyptian wisdom was perhaps his reminder to the Sanhedrin that God could work through others than the Jews. He could use the wisdom of Egypt to prepare Moses as deliverer of his people.”[152]

(7:23) “But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel.”

Moses didn’t visit any of his own Jewish people for the first third of his life. He lived the first four decades of his life with Gentiles—not Jews.

(7:24) “And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian.”

Moses broke the Law by killing an Egyptian.

(7:25-28) “And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him, but they did not understand. 26 On the following day he appeared to them as they were fighting together, and he tried to reconcile them in peace, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?’ 27 But the one who was injuring his neighbor pushed him away, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us? 28 You do not mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday, do you?’”

Moses’ own Jewish people rejected his leadership. Polhill writes, “Stephen made even stronger the connection between Moses’ flight and the Israelite rejection of him. They rejected their divinely chosen leader, put his life in danger, and forced him to flee.”[153] Similarly, the Jewish people of Stephen’s day rejected the leadership of Jesus.

(7:29-30) “At this remark, Moses fled and became an alien in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons. 30 After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning thorn bush.”

Moses received his calling in Midian—not Israel.

(7:31-33) When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he approached to look more closely, there came the voice of the Lord: 32 ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.’ Moses shook with fear and would not venture to look. 33 But the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.

God referred to a place in the land of Midian as “holy,” even though it’s outside of Israel. Bruce comments, “That spot of Gentile territory was ‘holy ground’ for the sole reason that God manifested himself to Moses there.”[154] 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) “I have certainly seen the oppression of My people in Egypt and have heard their groans, and I have come down to rescue them; come now, and I will send you to Egypt.”

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

(7:35) “This Moses whom they disowned, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ is the one whom God sent to be both a ruler and a deliverer with the help of the angel who appeared to him in the thorn bush.”

The people disowned their rightful ruler (which is similar to the people rejecting Jesus). Even though they rejected God’s provision, he still saved them (v.35). This is similar to God’s desire through the person of Jesus. Both Moses and Jesus are called a “deliverer” (lytrōtēs) of the people (Acts 7:35; Lk. 24:21).

In this section (vv.35-38), Stephen refers to This Moses” or This man.” This is similar to Peter referring to “this Jesus” (Acts 2:23, 32, 36). Since these religious leaders had likely heard (and rejected!) Peter’s speech, this repetition may have reminded them of the similarity between the rejection of Moses and the rejection of Jesus.[155]

(7:36) “This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years.”

God performed “signs and wonders” through Moses in Egypt and the Red Sea, which is outside of Israel.

(7:37) This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren.’

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) “This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you. 39 Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him, but repudiated him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us; for this Moses who led us out of the land of Egypt—we do not know what happened to him.’ 41 At that time they made a calf and brought a sacrifice to the idol, and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. 42 But God turned away and delivered them up to serve the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, ‘It was not to Me that you offered victims and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, was it, O house of Israel? 43 You also took along the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of the god Rompha, the images which you made to worship. I also will remove you beyond Babylon.’”

The problem wasn’t with God or with God’s chosen leader. The people were “unwilling to be obedient” (v.39). Their unbelief was so bad that they wanted to return to Egypt. Indeed, their unbelief and disobedience are comparable to idolatry (vv.40-43). Similarly, the religious leaders in Stephen’s day were idolizing the Temple, rather than just getting on board with God’s new covenant through Jesus. As Marshall writes, “With this thought [v.41ff] the speech takes a new turn, and down to verse 50 it is concerned with the twin themes of idolatry and temple-worship in Israel.”[156]

“You also took along the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of the god Rompha, the images which you made to worship. I also will remove you beyond Babylon.” Stephen states that these ancient idol-worshippers were punished by being sent to Babylon. Polhill asks, “Is there an implicit suggestion that his contemporaries could expect little better themselves if they did not turn from the same apostasy and rejection of God’s appointed Christ?”[157]

(7:44-45) “Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen. 45 And having received it in their turn, our fathers brought it in with Joshua upon dispossessing the nations whom God drove out before our fathers, until the time of David.”

God’s presence moved in the wilderness in the tabernacle. God wanted to be present in different places—not one fixed location.

David

(7:46-47) “David found favor in God’s sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for Him.”

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) “However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says: 49 ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is the footstool of My feet; what kind of house will you build for Me?’ says the Lord, ‘Or what place is there for My repose? 50 ‘Was it not My hand which made all these things?’”

Even in the old covenant, God didn’t want to dwell in a Temple. The entire earth is only a footstool for God! A being like this cannot be imprisoned. As Bruce asks, “Do they think they can make God ‘stay put’—imprison him in a beautiful ornamented cage?”[158]

Stephen’s conclusion

(7:51-53) “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.”

The people were currently rebelling against God’s will—just like their ancestors did in the OT (v.51). Stephen says that the history of the OT is one where the good guys (e.g. the prophets) were murdered by the bad guys (e.g. the religious leaders).

Stephen uses OT imagery to convict these stubborn leaders: “stiff-necked” (Ex. 33:3, 5; 34:9; Deut. 9:6, 13), “uncircumcised in heart” (Lev. 26:41; Jer. 4:4; 6:10; 9:26; Ezek. 44:7, 9), and “resisting the Holy Spirit” (Isa. 63:10).

(7:54-55) Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. 55 But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

“Being full of the Holy Spirit.” Stephen was already a man characterized by being filled by the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5). Here, God gives him a special filling of the Holy Spirit at death. We often wonder how Christian martyrs can die with such dignity, calm, and grace. Perhaps God gives a special empowering by the Holy Spirit in many instances.

By being seated at God’s “right hand,” Jesus is fulfilling Psalm 110.

“Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” This is odd language. Typically, Jesus is sitting—not standing (Lk. 22:69). Some commentators think this is simply a shift of language that describes being “situated,” and we shouldn’t read into it.[159] Or it could simply refer to Jesus choosing to stand up as the judge of the world.

Is it an exaggeration to say that Jesus personally stood to welcome Stephen into heaven? We’re not sure, but the thought if it is touching to consider: While Stephen was brutally murdered by the religious leaders, he was personally accepted by Jesus himself. We agree with Polhill that this could be “a reference to Christ having risen from his seat to welcome the martyr Stephen.”[160] If so, this is a deeply touching picture of Jesus’ love and care for those who suffered for him. If the vision hadn’t ended, perhaps we would’ve heard Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Come into the joy of your master!” (Mt. 25:21, 23)

“They cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse.” 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).

(7:56-57) And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse.

“Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man.” Jesus personally confirmed the truth of what Stephen had just said by giving him a vision into heaven. When we stand for Christ, we might not get visions into heaven, but we do get a sense of confirmation from God that he’s standing with us.

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) When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

“When they had driven him out of the city.” Stephen just spent 50 verses decrying the notion of holy spaces and holy places, only to see the religious leaders driving him out of the holy city. Of course, they didn’t want to commit their murder within the holy territory within the city walls. What utter hypocrisy!

“They began stoning him.” Typically, the Sanhedrin would take someone out of the city walls, and the people who were the chief witnesses were the ones who needed to throw the stones (m. Sanhedrin 6:1-6). Polhill comments, “In formal stonings victims were stripped and pushed over a cliff ten-to twelve-feet high. They were then rolled over on their chests, and the first witness pushed a boulder (as large a stone as he could manage) from the cliff above. In the unlikely event the victim survived this first smashing, the second witness was to roll a second boulder from above.”[161] Yet, Stephen’s stoning was far different, and it looks like the work of mob rule—not a carefully acted out judicial plan.

Saul (later the apostle Paul) likely belonged to the synagogue up in Cilicia,[162] and he was soaking up everything Stephen said. Even though Saul wasn’t a believer at this time (Acts 8:1), he would later repeat things he heard in Stephen’s defense. For instance, compare Acts 7:48 with Acts 17:24 (cf. Rom. 2:17-24). Also compare Acts 7:42 (“God turned away and delivered them up”) with Romans 1:24, 26, 28 (“God gave them over…”).

(7:59-60) They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep.

Stephen died in the same way that he lived: “full of the Holy Spirit” (v.55). He cried out to God for forgiveness on behalf of his persecutors and killers—just like Jesus (Lk. 23:34). This prayer would be answered in the person of Saul, who listening to this entire event.

Instead of committing his soul to God the Father as Jesus did (Lk. 23:46), Stephen committed his soul to God the Son (“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”). This equates Jesus with God.

Questions for Reflection

See our earlier article on God’s “Omnipresence.”

(1) How might the concept of holy places affect a personal relationship with God? What consequences might this have on a personal relationship with God?

(2) The religious leaders “gnashed their teeth” (v.54), “cried out with a loud voice,” and “covered their ears” (v.57) when Stephen was speaking. Clearly their problem wasn’t intellectual:

  • Are intellectual problems the only reason people reject God, or are there others?
  • How can we know if we are being affected by non-intellectual factors?
  • What are ways to mitigate our own biases?

(3) Stephen forgave his murderers (v.60). What principles do we learn about forgiveness from his example?

Acts 8 (Philip’s Ministry in Samaria)

(8:1) Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

“Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death.” The term “putting him to death” (anairesis) literally means “murder or killing” (BDAG). Saul was likely a member of the Sanhedrin (Acts 26:10). Marshall comments, “It would be no easy task to convert such a man; Luke is hinting at the remarkable character of Saul’s subsequent transformation.”[163]

“On that day a great persecution began.” Up until this point, the Christian leaders had suffered floggings, but average Christians hadn’t received persecution like this. There were several thousand brand new believers (at least 5,000), and this is roughly 1-3 years after the resurrection. So, these were all very young Christians. They fled for their lives. Indeed, imagine being a one-year-old believer in this situation: Could you withstand persecution like this?

“They were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.” The word “scattered” (diaspeirō) comes from the word “seed.” Polhill comments, “They were scattered like one scatters seed. But scattered seeds grow, and the irony is that the persecution and scattering of the Christians only led to their further increase.”[164] 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. Consequently, Jesus’ message moved north to Samaria and the broader region of Judea. This persecution “led to the most significant step forward in the mission of the church.”[165]

“Except the apostles.” Polhill[166] holds that the persecution was only aimed at the Hellenistic Jews—like Stephen (Acts 6:9). However, the persecution is said to have occurred against “the church in Jerusalem.” This implies that all Christians were targeted, and it also implies that the apostles didn’t budge but bravely stayed behind.

(8:2) Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him.

We are supposed to grieve as Christians. There is nothing inconsistent between knowing that Stephen is in heaven (Acts 7:59), and loudly grieving his loss. These are described as “devout” men which shows that grieving was a good activity—not a lack of faith at all.

These men were taking a courageous public stand amidst persecution. 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.”[167] This is probably why Luke called them “devout” men.

(8:3) But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.

The growth of the early church and the speech of Stephen sparked Saul (Paul) to take action. This was his moment to finish what the religious leaders had begun with Jesus and now with Stephen. This is perfectly consistent with what we read in Paul’s letters (1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13, 23; Phil. 3:6; 1 Tim. 1:13).

(8:4) Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.

Persecution had the opposite of its intended effect: it led to courage—not cowering. The faithfulness of the apostles must’ve rubbed off on these persecuted believers.

Philip’s ministry

(8:5) Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them.

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

Philip was one of “the Seven” (Acts 6:5), who had served alongside the martyred Stephen. Apparently, seeing his friend get bludgeoned to death didn’t stop him from following Christ.

(8:6-8) The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. 7 For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 So there was much rejoicing in that city.

Miracles weren’t just for the apostles. Philip’s miracles healed sick and demon-possessed people (v.7). That is, Philip healed both spiritual and physical maladies. Consequently, these people were open to the gospel—even though they were Samaritans (v.8).

In all probability, the “woman at the well” made Samaria fertile ground for the gospel (Jn. 4). Many came to faith in Jesus through the powerful witness of that woman who encountered Jesus. John records, “From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman… Many more believed because of His word” (Jn. 4:39, 41).

(8:9-11) Now there was a man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; 10 and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, “This man is what is called the Great Power of God.” 11 And they were giving him attention because he had for a long time astonished them with his magic arts.

Simon was the original miracle worker in town. He got a big name for himself with the occult. How will he react to Philip taking over his prestige?

What does church history tell us about Simon the magician? Put simply, not much. The early church fathers had all sorts of fantastic accounts of Simon’s wickedness, but these are likely legendary and not historical.[168] Irenaeus claimed that Simon 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. Yet, Hippolytus notes that Simon stayed in the grave (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 26.2-3; 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. All of these sources are entertaining, but highly doubtful and dubious. Polhill gives clarity when he writes, “It is quite possible that the Simon of Acts had virtually no connection with Justin’s Simonians but was ‘co-opted’ by the later Gnostic group to give a New Testament rootage for their movement.”[169] This was a common strategy of Gnostic groups, so this seems most likely in our estimation.

(8:12-13) But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. 13 Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed.

Simon was familiar with people being “astonished” with him (v.11), but he himself was “amazed” with Philip (v.13). Philip’s miracles were greater than Simon’s, and his message was greater as well. It changed the hearts of people. Even Simon—the occultic magician—became a believer in Jesus.

Peter and John come to see Philip’s work in Samaria with their own eyes

(8:14) Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John.

Why would the apostles need to send a delegation to witness the Samaritans coming to Christ? The Samaritans and Jews hated one another so much that this was probably shocking to these young Jewish believers. Even though Jesus explicitly predicted this (Acts 1:8), it was still a surprise to them. By showing up to verify what happened, the apostles demonstrated that Stephen’s work “was not just the undertaking of a maverick Hellenist missionary,” but rather, it was “endorsed, received, and enthusiastically participated in by the whole church.”[170]

Moreover, this seems to have been a normal practice in the early church. That is, they would send trusted leaders to check on what God was doing throughout the region. Later, for instance, the church sent Barnabas to check on the people coming to Christ in Antioch (Acts 11:22).

(8:15-17) [Peter and John] came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit.

Why did they receive the Holy Spirit only after the apostles laid their hands on them? While this is a difficult passage, in our estimation, 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). But instead of judgment, God sent John to watch these people receive the Holy Spirit. The Samaritans were “brought into fellowship with the whole church, and not merely with the Hellenist section of it… God withheld the Spirit until the coming of Peter and John in order that the Samaritans might be seen to be fully incorporated into the community of Jerusalem Christians who had received the Spirit at Pentecost.”[171] For more 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) Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

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: they would pay greater magicians for their secrets in order to gain spiritual control and power.

(8:20-24) But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 “You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.” 24 But Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”

“May your silver perish with you.” The J.B. Phillips Translation renders this as, “To hell with you and your money!” Not only did Peter not possess silver (Acts 3:6), but he refused to accept this as well. Simon was a brand-new believer from an occult background, and this is why Peter still takes a strong and immediate stand against this line of thinking. If these new believers in Samaria followed Simon’s views, it would mean the end of the movement in Samaria.

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

(8:25) So, when they had solemnly testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, and were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.

Peter and John got their fill of preaching to the Samaritans. Many came to faith during this timely trip. These Samaritan believers are viewed as such close brothers and sisters in Christ that they are later taken for granted as part of the universal church (Acts 9:31).

What unexpected positive results arise from Saul’s persecution of the church? (vv.1-19)

Evangelism. The believers were “scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” (v.1), and “those who had been scattered went about preaching the word” (v.4). Philip led the charge (v.5). This would’ve felt painful to leave their homes, but God used this to bring the gospel to the Samaritans, fulfilling Jesus’ word (Acts 1:8). (Later, we discover that some people travelled as far as Antioch, and this was the reason for the outbreaking of the gospel in Acts 11:19.)

Physical and spiritual healings. Luke records, “In the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed” (Acts 8:7). If these believers weren’t driven into the region of Samaria, these people would still be held in bondage to Satan.

Racial reconciliation. The Jews and Samaritans hated each other, but through the power of the gospel, these two racial groups were brought together in Jesus (v.17).

What do we learn from Peter’s response to Simon? Why do you think Peter takes the approach that he did? (vv.20-24)

This sort of demonic occult practice held these people in spiritual bondage (v.7). Peter wasn’t going to be permissive to this sort of thing.

It’s better to address evil practices like this right away, rather than taking a “tolerant” stance. While we should be patient with the sin of young Christians, this issue was so serious that it would’ve derailed Christianity in this region.

Philip’s ministry to the Ethiopian eunuch

(8:26) But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.)

Right in the middle of a revival in Samaria, Luke focuses on the conversion of one Ethiopian man. God sends Philip out into the middle of a “desert” to speak to this man. Perhaps God chose Philip for this opportunity because Philip was faithful with preaching to the Samaritans (Acts 8:5ff). It would take a lot of faith to walk out into the desert, not knowing what was waiting for you. Philip must have been wondering, “Lord, why are you sending me out into the desert at a time like this? I’ve been leading many to Christ in Samaria… Is this really worth my time to walk around in the middle of nowhere?” But little did he know, the Holy Spirit was setting up an important appointment for him…

(8:27-28) So he got up and went; and [behold] there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah.

The text shows surprise when Philip meets this man (“Behold…” idou).

“Candace” was the queen’s hereditary title.

“Ethiopian” means that the man was of African descent. So, once again, the gospel is spreading to more ethnicities.

“Eunuch.” Bock writes, “Eunuchs were castrated men who often served as keepers of harems.”[172] He would’ve been put in charge of guarding the money. Indeed, he would be similar to being the head of the “Ministry of Finance,” and with time, the term “‘eunuch’ became a synonym for ‘treasurer.’”[173] His castration would’ve stopped him from worshipping in Jerusalem (Deut. 23:1).

This eunuch was wealthy. For one, he controls the treasury. Second, he’s sitting in a “chariot.” And third, he owns a personal copy of Isaiah, which would’ve been an expensive scroll to possess.

This eunuch was spiritually seeking. He travelled all the way to Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel. Afterwards, he still didn’t feel spiritually satisfied, and he felt like reading more from the Bible.

(8:29-30) Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” 30 Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

The Holy Spirit not only guided Philip to this specific place, but to this specific person (“…join this chariot”). Philip sounds like a guy at a Starbucks seeing someone reading their Bible. He walks up, introduces himself, and asks him what he’s reading.

“Heard him reading Isaiah the prophet.” Bruce states that “reading in antiquity was almost invariably done aloud.”[174] Indeed, it was difficult to read silently unless you were a sophisticated reader. Most readers needed to sound out the words on a handwritten scroll.

(8:31) And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

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) Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this: “He was led as a sheep to slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He does not open His mouth. 33 In humiliation His judgment was taken away; who will relate His generation? For His life is removed from the earth.”

The Ethiopian eunuch just so 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) The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?”

It’s interesting that the eunuch thought it could be about Isaiah himself. Jeremiah referred to his own sufferings in this way (Jer. 11:28-30), so there is some biblical precedent for this. However, clearly, the eunuch was confused. The Servant Songs are about Jesus.

(8:35) Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.

Philip was able to explain Christ by starting in this passage.

(8:36) As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?”

Despite the fact that this was an arid region, they “coincidentally” found a body of water in which the eunuch could be baptized. We agree with Polhill that “the coincidences are too numerous to be coincidences.”[175]

(8:37) And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

Early manuscripts do not contain this verse.

(8:38) And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him.

The eunuch initiated his own baptism.

(8:39) When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.

This word “snatched” (harpazo) is the same word used for the rescue of the Church (1 Thess. 4:16). This implies a supernatural movement of Philip from Gaza to Azotus. If all of these “divine coincidences” weren’t enough, this must have been a powerful sign to the eunuch that God was miraculously at work.

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. Indeed, Irenaeus states that this man became a missionary to the Ethiopian people (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.12.10).

(8:40) But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea.

Azotus is only a little bit north of Gaza, but still south of Jerusalem (equivalent to the OT Philistine city of Ashdod). Philip passed through until he reached Caesarea. Philip’s experience led him to only want to share Jesus’ message all the more. We discover that he becomes a lifelong evangelist later in the story, starting a family in Caesarea (Acts 21:8).

What do we learn about the excitement of evangelism from Philip’s example? (vv.25-40)

Philip was faithful in sharing his faith in Samaria with a difficult group of people (i.e. racial antipathy). This led to more opportunities for him—even a supernatural one.

The Holy Spirit guided Philip to a spiritually hungry person. When God prompts us, our role is to follow his prompting.

Philip used Scripture to share about Christ (v.35).

Acts 9 (Paul comes to Christ)

Paul the PERSECUTOR

Before we read this powerful chapter of Scripture, we should become acquainted with our main antagonist: Saul. For all intents and purposes, Saul’s life was going extremely well. On the outside, he had it all:

  • He was born in a wealthy city, Tarsus (Acts 22:3), which was “no ordinary city” (Acts 21:39). It was a “leading center of culture, with schools devoted to philosophy, rhetoric, and law.”[176] Though, it wasn’t on par with Athens or Alexandria (Strabo, Geography5.13).
  • His family acquired Roman citizenship for him (Acts 16:37), so that he was “born a citizen” (Acts 22:28).
  • He was an expert of Greek thought, quoting from Greek thinkers and poets (Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 15:33; Titus 1:12-13). Jesus used illustrations and parables about country life and fishing, but not Saul. He created illustrations from the Greek foot races, boxing, military warfare, builders, debtors, and slaves.
  • 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 might have been a member of the Sanhedrin (Acts 26:10).

But after this day is over, Saul will later call all of this “rubbish” (skubalon, Phil. 3:8). Indeed, from God’s point of view, Saul was deeply broken on the inside. 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’d consider Saul as one of the greatest enemies and antagonists of the Christian movement. He had been presiding over Stephen’s death (Acts 7:58) and leading a “great persecution” against Christians (Acts 8:1-3).

(9:1) Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest.

Saul is still breathing threats. Nothing has stopped him. The concept of “breathing” comes so natural to us in our daily lives. Each breath is a necessity. Paul is expending each breath to threaten followers of Jesus!

“The high priest” is most likely still Caiaphas. There is some evidence that the high priest would have the authority of extradition in cases like this. the Roman ambassador Ptolemy VIII wrote a letter that stated, “If any pestilent men have fled to you from their own country [Judaea], hand them over to Simon the high priest, so that he may punish them according to their law” (1 Macc. 15:21). Moreover, Julius Caesar (47 BC) gave these rights to the Jewish nation (Josephus, Antiquities 14.192-95). The date is somewhere between 1-3 years after the resurrection (~AD 34-36).

How could Saul think that it was justifiable to kill Christians? Saul likely saw himself as following in the great traditions of Jewish heroes, who in their “zeal” used violence and killing to subdue false religion.

  • Phineas saw one of the Israelite men take a Midianite woman to his tent to have sex “in the sight of all the congregation of the sons of Israel” (Num. 25:6). This was not only an act of sexual immorality, but also false religion (Num. 25:1-4). Thus, God commanded a corporate capital punishment of these people, and Phineas threw a spear through both the Israelite man and the Midianite woman (Num. 25:8). This took away God’s wrath (cf. Ps. 106:30-31). Saul likely saw himself as “zealous” like Phineas—willing to kill the unbelievers for the sake of God’s honor.
  • Elijah the prophet also performed a corporate capital punishment for several hundred prophets in a “contest of the gods” at the brook Kishon (1 Kin. 18:40). Later, he prayed, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword” (1 Kin. 19:10).
  • Mattathias was the father of the Maccabees, and he led the revolt to usurp and kick out the Greeks from Israel in the 160s BC (1 Macc. 2:23-28). When Mattathias saw a Jewish person perform false worship on an altar, he killed the man in broad daylight and “burned with zeal and his heart was stirred” and he “killed him on the altar” (1 Maccabees 2:24).

Bruce writes that these men were “prepared to go to extremes of violence against the enemies of God, and they were the exemplars on whom Saul modeled himself in his zeal against the church.”[177] Yet, God never commanded Saul to kill these Christians—unlike the biblical examples above. Saul’s “zeal” for God was abundant. Reflecting on this time period, he wrote, “As to zeal, a persecutor of the church” (Phil. 3:6; cf. Acts 22:3; Gal. 1:14). But later, Saul would call this “zeal without knowledge” (Rom. 10:2).

(9:2) And asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

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 his earlier persecution (Acts 8:1-3).

The “Way” is likely 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) As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.

Jesus appeared around noon (Acts 22:6; 26:13), and still, his light was “brighter than the sun” (Acts 26:13). The light was so bright that Saul fell off his horse. So, it must have been brighter than the sun—even at high noon!

Was this a private vision of Jesus—only for Saul? No, this was an appearance of the bodily resurrected Jesus. For one, Acts distinguishes between public appearances and private visions. A few verses later, we read, “The Lord said to [Ananias] in a vision…” (Acts 9:10; cf. Acts 9:12; 10:3, 17, 19; 11:5; 16:9-10). Second, Acts distinguishes private visions of Jesus from real visitations of Jesus. Later, we read, “The Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision…” (Acts 18:9). Third, Acts distinguishes true experiences from private perceptions. When an angel broke Peter out of jail, we read, “[Peter] did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision” (Acts 12:9). Fourth, Paul’s comrades saw and heard Jesus during this event—even if they couldn’t understand it completely (Acts 9:7; 22:9; 26:13-14). Fifth, Paul elsewhere describes this event as an encounter with the risen Jesus. He stakes his apostleship on being an eyewitness of the resurrection: “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (1 Cor. 9:1) Paul also includes himself among the list of eyewitnesses—right alongside the other apostles (1 Cor. 15:4-9).

A difficulty with this view is when Paul calls this a “heavenly vision” when talking to King Agrippa (Acts 26:19). Could it be that Paul was trying to leverage the notion of heavenly visions that were well-known in the OT when talking to Agrippa? We’re not sure. But the overwhelming evidence points to a literal and bodily appearance of Jesus to Paul on the road to Damascus.

(9:4) And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”

We might expect Jesus to threaten Saul, or at least scold him. After all, Saul’s campaign against the Christians was a horrific. But instead, Jesus asks Saul a question, and he speaks kindly to Saul. Bock writes, “The double calling out of the name of Saul indicates intense emotion.”[178]

“Why are you persecuting Me?” Jesus could’ve said, “Why are you persecuting my church?” or “Why are you persecuting my followers?” Instead he personally identifies himself 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.”[179] Perhaps this is why Jesus is filled with such emotion: He is being hurt because his people are being hurt.

Jesus’ question is interesting to ponder. Presumably, Jesus knew why Saul was persecuting the church. So, why did he feel it was necessary to ask this question? Jesus asked roughly 200 questions in his earthly ministry. He liked asking questions to get people to think for themselves.

(9:5) And [Saul] said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”

“Who are You?” Paul was so blinded by hatred and religious presuppositions that he didn’t even know whom he was persecuting. As it turns out, his religion was so twisted and evil that it led him to persecute God’s very own people—and even God himself.

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.

Paul probably expected to hear the words, “Prepare to die!” But just as he braces himself to be judged, Jesus tells him…

(9:6) “But get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.”

Christ gives him directions to follow—not death.

(9:7) The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.

Why was Saul travelling with other men? Since Saul wanted to capture and chain up these Christians in Damascus and forcibly return them home to Jerusalem, he most likely needed to bring some “muscle” help him retain these people.[180]

This wasn’t a mere private vision. Ananias received a private vision of Jesus (Acts 9:10), but not Saul. 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 hit the deck and weren’t looking up?).

(9:8) Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus.

What is the significance of Saul being struck blind? This could be significant because Saul was spiritually blind, and yet, he was trying to lead people. Though he was a zealous leader, a top-tier intellect, and a man filled with great potential, he needed to be led by the hand like a little child because he was so weak and blind after encountering the risen Christ. Moreover, he doesn’t regain his sight until he accepts Christ. This also shows the absolute brokenness of Saul: the great and mighty Saul needed to be led like a child by the hand. This sort of brokenness of “self-will and pride is a necessary stage of all genuine conversions.”[181]

(9:9) And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Paul was most likely not fasting during this time. We agree with Bruce that this was not fasting, but was “probably the result of shock.”[182]

What was Saul thinking about for those three days? Verse 11 tells us that “he was praying” this whole time. He might’ve been searching the catalogues of his mind for OT Scriptures. He might’ve been replaying the words of Christ over and over in his mind. He might’ve been thinking of all of the Christians he’s killed. He might’ve been thinking of Stephen’s speech in Acts 7—just before Saul had him murdered. The point is this: Saul had a lot to think about! It probably took some time for him to process this. He likely 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 fanatical killer, breaking the Law: “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13).
  • 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.”

Ananias

(9:10-12) Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.”

Jesus sends Ananias to talk with Saul and lead him to faith. He gives him a ton of details on where to find him (e.g. the name of the street, the owner of the house, what Saul is doing, what to do when he gets there, etc.). Jesus likely does this in order to build Ananias’ faith.

What is the “street called Straight”? This street is still in use today. Bock writes, “This street is still a major road in the city. 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.”[183]

At this point, Jesus never promised Ananias that Saul would change. What did Ananias think as he was meeting with Saul… the killer? How was he feeling?

(9:13-14) But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”

Saul had led the persecution that sent Christians into this region in the first place (Acts 8:1-3). Saul was famous (or infamous!) to Ananias, who had heard from “many” about Saul’s persecution. Ananias struggles with this direction from Christ. But Ananias soon discovers that God’s grace was way more powerful than he could’ve perceived or imagined.

“Bind all who call on Your name.” Later, Ananias would tell Saul to call on the name of Jesus to be forgiven (Acts 22:16).

(9:15-16) But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”

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 a perfect background to play this role as a dual ambassador for both Jews and Gentiles.

“I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Is this a vindictive statement from Christ? Is Jesus saying, “I’m gonna get Saul for what he did to Me!” Not at all. Jesus is not rubbing suffering in Saul’s face, like a dog’s nose in his urine on the carpet. In context, Jesus is comforting Ananias. He is, in effect, saying, “Saul won’t make you suffer… In fact, he is going learn to suffer for Me.”

(9:17-18) So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized.

Saul comes to Christ with Ananias, receives the Holy Spirit, regains sight, and is baptized. Christ used Ananias to further confirm to Saul that God was working through the Church.

(9:19a) And he took food and was strengthened.

What did these disciples think about Saul? The text later states that they were afraid of him and likely shocked (cf. Acts 9:21).

What is the significance of the fact that God used a “no name” guy like Ananias to reach a man like Saul (Paul)?

We don’t need to be a certain personality or intellect to reach people for Christ. We just need to be faithful, and put one foot in front of the other and speak with them.

We need to take our insecurities and fears and place them at Jesus’ feet. Ananias as scared to death of Saul. But he didn’t let that stop him from doing what he was called to do.

Paul the PERSECUTED

(9:19b-22) Now for several days [Saul] was with the disciples who were at Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.

The word “strength” (enedynamouto) is the same root word to describe the “power” (dynamis) of the gospel (Rom. 1:16).

“Proving that this Jesus is the Christ.” This doesn’t refer to philosophical (apodictic) certainty. The term “proving” (symbibazō) comes from words that mean “to join or put together and seems to picture his assembling Old Testament texts to demonstrate how Christ fulfilled them.”[184]

(9:23-25) When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket.

“When many days had elapsed.” Elsewhere, we discover that three years had elapsed here (Gal. 1:18). In the Septuagint (LXX), the expression “many days” can refer to periods of time that are years in length (Ex. 2:11; 1 Kin. 1:18; 2:39-39). During this time, Paul was stumping the top leaders and professors in the city.

Saul immediately started to teach, debate, and win disciples. Bock writes, “Saul apparently ministers long enough to have his own band of disciples.”[185]

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). Aretas ruled in Damascus from 9BC-AD40. So, the timeline of Aretas’ life matches the timeline of Paul’s preaching in Damascus. Marshall writes, “The account in 2 Corinthians 11:32f. makes good sense, since, if Paul had just returned from Arabia, it is probable that his preaching had stirred up trouble among the Jewish communities there. It is equally likely that the Jews in Damascus sided with the ethnarch or even enlisted his support in their hostility to Paul.”[186]

(9:26-27) When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.

“When he came to Jerusalem.” Galatians 1:18-19 states that Paul met with James and Peter in Jerusalem.

It had been a couple of years since the Christians in Jerusalem had seen Saul roaming the streets. They may have thought that Saul’s alleged “conversion” was “part of an elaborate and extended plot”[187] to capture and kill more Christians in Jerusalem.

Imagine how differently history would’ve been if these believers rejected Saul. Consider if Barnabas hadn’t stepped forward to embrace Saul. Just think if these believers harbored bitterness or cynicism toward Saul, instead of forgiveness and love. Instead, they embraced Saul as a brother. That’s a miracle not mentioned very much, but the amount of forgiveness extended to Saul was truly supernatural.

What kind of a man was Barnabas? Where would we be today without people like Barnabas in the church, who believe in broken people and work to restore them? 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). Yet, Barnabas was not a man-pleaser or weak. Indeed, he was incredibly bold and fearless to befriend a former killer like Saul!

(9:28-29) And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death.

Christianity didn’t lead to violence. Paul was talking and arguing, but his opponents were on ones issuing threats and attempts on his life. Indeed, he began to argue with the “Hellenistic Jews,” who were the same people who killed Stephen.[188] How odd it must’ve been for these men to see Saul change from having “hearty agreement” in killing Stephen to seeing him preach about Jesus boldly.

(9:30) But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus.

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

(9:31) So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.

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” by this. Now that their main persecutor was now a proponent of Christianity, the church enjoyed a short time of peace.

What can we learn from Saul’s experience with Jesus?

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 believers and non-believers alike:

God gives us the freedom to receive or reject his grace. We’ve often heard people say, “I’d believe if God appeared to me!” But according to this passage, that statement isn’t necessarily true. Saul delayed for three days before he believed in Jesus. Ananias told Saul, “Why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). Moreover, Saul’s companions saw Jesus, but they chose not to listen to him (v.7).

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 need 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 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, when Jesus knocked him off his horse, blinding him. He had to be led by the hand like a little child. How humbling this must have been for the mighty Saul!

Following Christ involves suffering. Would you still follow Christ even if he told you how much you would suffer in advance? Saul certainly chose to (Acts 9:15-16). We don’t have a specific word from the Lord about our individual suffering, but we have his inspired word for all believers that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).

We should start serving Christ immediately. Saul didn’t wait years to begin influencing and impacting people for Christ. Instead, he “immediately” started to talk with people about Christ. In verse 25, we see he already 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 through direct revelation, and he also works through human agency. Jesus wanted Saul to see that he’s choosing to work through his disciples; otherwise, Saul might’ve developed an individualistic attitude toward Christianity. Even in this case where Christ appeared directly to a non-believer, we still see that Jesus 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. 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, we will never be the same. Furthermore, irony abounds in this account:

  • Saul’s persecution of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1-3) moved the gospel even further to Damascus (135 miles to the north). His actions actually had the opposite reaction to his actions.
  • 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? It was most likely painful to realize that he was in the wrong, but the truth changed Paul’s life forever. Rather than being an angry and hate-filled young man, Paul turned into a loving and joy-filled follower of Jesus.

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, and he would reach thousands for Christ, writing 13 of 27 NT books. God has good works prepared for us too (Eph. 2:10).

Peter heals Aeneas

The last time we read about Peter, he was in Samaria (Acts 8:25). Since the persecution had died down, we find him roaming around more freely.

(9:32-35) Now as Peter was traveling through all those regions, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years, for he was paralyzed. 34 Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed.” Immediately he got up. 35 And all who lived at Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.

The reason that people “turned to the Lord” (v.35) was because Peter gave the credit to God: “Jesus Christ heals you” (v.34).

Peter heals Tabitha

(9:36-43) Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which translated in Greek is called Dorcas); this woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did. 37 And it happened at that time that she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her body, they laid it in an upper room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, having heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him, imploring him, “Do not delay in coming to us.” 39 So Peter arose and went with them. When he arrived, they brought him into the upper room; and all the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them. 40 But Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body, he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. 41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 It became known all over Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 And Peter stayed many days in Joppa with a tanner named Simon.

Tabitha was also called “Dorcas” in Greek. (It’s no wonder why she went by Tabitha!) Tabitha was a kind and loving woman.

God didn’t use Peter to raise James from the dead, but God did use him to raise Tabitha—an old woman. Did this bother Peter to see an old woman raised, when his close friend died and remained dead? Did Peter ever wonder about God’s purposes behind all of this? Luke doesn’t record this. Rather, he records that many continued to come to faith (v.35, 42). While God’s miraculous decisions are incomprehensible to us, we should be happy that he intervenes at all, rather than demanding him to intervene at our every desire. We can also know that his answers to prayer are for the good of his ultimate purposes in freely bringing the maximum number of people into a relationship with himself.

Does God still raise the dead today? Fernando writes, “Perhaps a word should be said about the possibility of raising the dead today. There have been reports of this happening in different parts of the world today. I met a missionary working with a tribal group in India who told me that among this group in the past few years, there have been seven cases of bringing dead people back to life. When someone among them dies, the believers pray for about three-and-one-half hours after his or her death. After that, if the person has not come back to life, the elders give the signal to prepare the corpse for burial.”[189]

What do we learn from Peter’s example? Fernando writes, “Traveling preachers and artists, however famous they may be, are also servants, because that is the leadership lifestyle of Christianity. We must never allow anyone to elevate them to any higher status; to do so is dangerous to their spiritual well-being. Peter is a model for us here. When he heard about the death of a church member, he dropped everything and rushed ten miles on foot (!) in order to bring healing to this woman. Then he stayed in the home of a tanner for a number of days. He certainly seemed to be freed from the celebrity syndrome! He had learned his lifestyle from the servant Jesus, who, on his way to the parallel event in Jairus’s home, stopped and sought out the woman who had touched the hem of his garment in the midst of a milling crowd (Mark 5:21-34). We are first and foremost servants of the people. When we travel on speaking tours, we are not celebrities; rather, we are servants of the pastor and the members of the congregation, servants of the driver who picks us up, servants of the enthusiastic young person whose long testimony eats into our sermon time, servants of the little child whose cries disturb our message.”[190]

The story leaves off at the house of Simon who was a “tanner.” This gives us Peter’s address for the next chapter, showing us his location (Acts 10:6). To the Pharisees, a “tanner” would’ve been considered unclean, because he worked with animal hides. The Babylonian Talmud states, “Woe to him who is a tanner by trade” (Kiddushin 82b). This might be the backdrop for the life-changing miracle that awaits Peter in chapter 10.

Acts 10 (Cornelius and Peter)

Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness breaks ground in Gentile territory. This event is so important that it is explained three times! (Acts 10; 11:3-17; 15:7-11) We likely take the idea of Gentiles being Christians for granted, but this was a major change from the perspective of the original people.

(10:1-2) Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually.

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. The Jewish people despised Caesarea, and didn’t consider it to be a part of Judea. 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.”[191]

Cornelius must’ve been a pretty skilled and tough man—a leader. The “Italian cohort” was “about six hundred members,”[192] and he would’ve had a high social status.[193] The historian Polybius writes, “Centurions are required not to be bold and adventurous so much as good leaders, of steady and prudent mind, not prone to take the offensive or start fighting wantonly, but able when overwhelmed and hard-pressed to stand fast and die at their post” (Polybius, History 6.24.)[194] (Incidentally, this isn’t the first time Luke records a good man who was a Roman centurion. He recorded Jesus’ healing of a centurion’s slave in Luke 7:1-10.)

Cornelius wasn’t a conformist. Even though the Romans believed in a pantheon of gods, Cornelius believed in just one. Bruce writes, “The Roman army had its own religious observances, officially prescribed for appointed days and carried out with the same routine punctiliousness as modern church parades, but utterly incapable of feeding men’s souls. Roman soldiers who felt the need to satisfy their religious hunger looked elsewhere—many to Mithraism; some, like Cornelius, to Judaism.”[195] Of course, Bock notes, “This openness to Judaism would be rare among such soldiers.”[196]

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) About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had just come in and said to him, “Cornelius!”

This vision occurred in the middle of the afternoon (3 pm).

(10:4) And fixing his gaze on him and being much alarmed, he said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God.”

This is the only use of the term “memorial” in the NT. This shows that God hears the prayers of non-believing people who are seeking him.

(10:5-6) “Now dispatch some men to Joppa and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter; 6 he is staying with a tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea.”

Joppa is 31 miles away from Caesarea. Apparently, many people were named “Simon,” so this angel needed to specify which Simon he meant (“a tanner named Simon”).

(10:7-8) When the angel who was speaking to him had left, he summoned two of his servants and a devout soldier of those who were his personal attendants, 8 and after he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.

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 the soldiers under his command. Later we see that Cornelius also had an impact on “his friends” (v.24).

(10:9) On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray.

Regarding how Peter was praying on the roof, Fernando writes, “The flat roofs of Palestine, approached by an outdoor flight of steps, were common places of prayer in biblical times. It was a good place to pray during the daytime as it was separate from the activity of the house, and the sea breeze and an awning helped cool the place.”[197]

Peter begins to pray around noon, so he would’ve been hungry. Then, this happens…

(10:10-12) But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; 11 and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, 12 and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air.

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 of a “trance” (ekstasis) is “a state of consternation or profound emotional experience to the point of being beside oneself.” The second definition is being unconscious. In other words, Peter’s mind was engaged by this vision, as the context makes clear.

(10:13-15) A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” 15 Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”

“By no means, Lord!” The words “no” and “Lord” should never be put together in the same sentence! It is “probable that this was an outburst characteristic of Peter.”[198]

God commands him to eat these unclean animals. Even though he is hungry (v.10), he still refuses to eat because this would’ve broken 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 Peter 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) This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.

God made this announcement three times.

(10:17-18) Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon’s house, appeared at the gate; 18 and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there.

Just as Peter was asking God what his vision was all about (!), some Gentiles knock at the door downstairs. They want to hear a message from Peter, and even ask for him by name!

(10:19-20) While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself.”

The miracle of this coincidence wasn’t enough: The Holy Spirit also needed to communicate with Peter so that he wouldn’t refuse them.

(10:21-23) Peter went down to the men and said, “Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come?” 22 They said, “Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you.” 23 So he invited them in and gave them lodging. And on the next day he got up and went away with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him.

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 the brethren from Joppa accompanied him.” 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 moral support. Regardless, 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) On the following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am just a man.”

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

(10:27-29) As he talked with him, he entered and found many people assembled. 28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. 29 That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for. So I ask for what reason you have sent for me.”

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 of his culture didn’t allow for this. Moreover, it was practically difficult for Jews to be close friends with Gentiles, because a Jewish person “could not dine in a Gentile’s home without inevitably transgressing those laws either by the consumption of unclean flesh or of flesh that had not been prepared in a kosher… fashion.”[199] 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. 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.”[200]

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

(10:30-33) Cornelius said, “Four days ago to this hour, I was praying in my house during the ninth hour; and behold, a man stood before me in shining garments, 31 and he said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Therefore send to Joppa and invite Simon, who is also called Peter, to come to you; he is staying at the house of Simon the tanner by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.

Cornelius explains his half of the story. Then he asks what God wants to say to them through Peter. To paraphrase, Cornelius is asking, “Peter, we’re all hear and ready to listen. God clearly orchestrated for us to meet and for you to speak to us. So, I’ve got everyone together that I know… What message does God have for us?”

(10:34-35) Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, 35 but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.”

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) “The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all).”

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) “You yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed.”

“You yourselves know…” Peter assumed that Jesus’ impact was so broad that it was known in Caesarea by these Gentiles. This is similar to Paul’s appeal to King Agrippa, when decades later he says, “The king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner” (Acts 26:26).

“The baptism which John proclaimed.” John the Baptist was well known to all of the Jewish people as well. So, they would’ve had some idea of what he was like.

Peter’s speech lines up well with Mark’s gospel. Irenaeus stated that Mark recorded what Peter told him in order to create his gospel (Against Heresies 3.1.1). Interestingly, Peter’s summary of Jesus’ life closely matches the order of events in Mark’s gospel:

  • John the Baptist paved the way for Jesus.
  • Jesus served in Galilee.
  • Jesus served in Judea, then Jerusalem.
  • Jesus died by crucifixion, but then he rose from the dead.

This has led scholars to see this as good evidence for Peter being the primary source and authority behind Mark’s gospel, and we would agree with them.

(10:38) “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.”

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) “We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. 40 God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible.”

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

(10:41) “Not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.”

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) “And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead.”

Consequently, God wanted these chosen witnesses to preach to all people.

(10:43) “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”

Peter 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) While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message.

It must be possible to come to saving faith without even saying a word. When they believed, God entered their hearts. This shows by way of example the incredible truth that “by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13).

(10:45) All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.

This was shocking to the Jewish believers in Jesus.

(10:46) For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God.

The speaking of tongues was probably an outward sign that they had inwardly received the Spirit. This was an “audible, visible, objective demonstration of the Spirit’s coming upon them.”[201] This is sometimes called the “Gentile Pentecost.”

(10:47-48) Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” 48 And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.

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).

“They asked him to stay on for a few days.” Peter not only entered the house of a Gentile, but he ended up hanging out with them for a while, enjoying his new friendships. He even slept over!

Compare and contrast the faith of Cornelius and the faith of Peter. Who looks better in this account: Cornelius or the great apostle Peter?

Cornelius had a strong faith for a Roman Gentile man. He wasn’t a conformist (v.1). He prayed (v.2, 4). He feared God and did what was right (vv.34-35). He acted on God’s revelation (vv.5-6). Cornelius’ faith influenced the people around him: His fellow soldiers (v.7), his friends (v.24). Cornelius didn’t have perfect theology, worshipping Peter (v.25).

Peter seems to have less faith than Cornelius in this circumstance. That is, God needs to pull Peter along in order to accomplish his purposes. The great apostle Peter starts by refusing God’s revelation (vv.13-15). Peter refused God’s revelation multiple times (v.16). God set up a coincidence, but still needed to make this clear by speaking directly to Peter (vv.19-20). This time, Peter listened. Peter needed God to correct his cultural biases and racism (vv.27-29).

Acts 11 (Recap of the Cornelius Phenomenon)

(11:1-3) Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, 3 saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

These Jewish believers in Jesus were slow to see what God was doing in this event (cf. Acts 15:5). They were more obsessed with custom and tradition, than they were with what the Holy Spirit was doing to reach people. Of course, we might quickly judge these Jewish believers in Jesus for being reticent to accept Gentiles, but then again, Peter himself was slow to accept Gentiles. Now, Peter had the difficult task of explaining what he experienced to his Jewish brothers.

“You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” These Jewish men were upset about table fellowship. Peter argues for this based on the fact that these people were granted divine fellowship through Jesus Christ. If God accepted them, then why should his people reject them?

(11:4-15) But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying, 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me, 6 and when I had fixed my gaze on it and was observing it I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air. 7 I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ 10 This happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into the sky. 11 And behold, at that moment three men appeared at the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; 14 and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning.”

Peter recaps the account in Acts 10. The only significant difference between the two accounts is the fact that Peter says there were “six brethren” (v.12) that went with him.

(11:16) “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.’”

Peter supports his case by appealing to the words of Christ (Acts 1:5).

(11:17) 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?”

He seals his case by appealing to the fact that the Holy Spirit came on these believers.

(11:18) When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

These Jewish believers in Jesus were slow on the uptake, but they came around. After talking to Peter, they saw how God was moving. Yet, Fernando writes, “For the moment the circumcision party is silenced. They will emerge again in chapter 15 when they see what large numbers of Gentiles have come into the church. Not everyone has undergone the permanent change of conviction that Peter has. They join in the praise now, but as they see the wider implications of this step, they will rise up again in protest.”[202]

What do we learn about discerning God’s will from Peter’s explanation in verses 1-18?

God can guide us through a supernatural revelation, such as a vision or audible word (vv.5-7).

God can guide us through providential circumstances (v.11). Just as Peter was reflecting on what happened, he received a knock at the door.

God can speak through a correlated leading (vv.13-14). Both Peter and Cornelius had the same direction from God, and this led to them both coming to the same conclusion.

God can speak through Scripture (v.16). Peter was reminded of what John the Baptist had said in the past (Acts 1:5; Mt. 3:11; Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:33).

God can speak to us by seeing results (v.17). Peter could see that these people came to faith, which is a direct work of God. This shows that God was behind them.

For more on this subject, see our earlier paper, “Trusting God with Big Decisions.”

What does this passage teach us about conflict within the church?

React to this quote from Ajith Fernando: “When Peter took the revolutionary step of baptizing those at Cornelius’s home, he faced criticism from a segment of the church (11:2-3). This is natural, for those other Christians had not gone through the spiritual pilgrimage of discovery that Peter had before he came to accept Gentiles as full believers. Criticism is something any creative person who leads the church into new areas of obedience and ministry will face. But when the church criticized Peter, he did not reject the church and go out working alone. Instead, he did everything he could possibly do to gain their approval. This is why he took six Jewish brothers with him (10:23; 11:12). He wanted them to witness what was happening and testify to the church about it. This is also why he ‘explained everything to them precisely as it had happened’ (11:4). He wanted the community to accept what he had done, so that they would be united over this new direction the church was taking.”[203]

Antioch

Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire. Polhill[204] claims that its population was between 500,000 to 800,000 people. Seleucus named the city after his father Antiochus, and it was built in a highly organized grid for maximum efficiency and occupancy. The Roman general Pompey conquered it in 64 BC, calling it a “free city.”

Antioch had a large Jewish community that was anywhere from 25,000 to 50,00o people, but they were cordoned off from the larger culture and even given “a major degree of self-government.”[205] In the rest of the city, pluralism and immorality thrived. It had a temple devoted to the Greek goddess Daphne and the Greek Apollo just five miles from the center of the city.[206] This religious temple was filled with “ritual prostitution” and the city was “notorious throughout the Roman Empire for its immorality.”[207] Antioch was on the Orontes river, and this explains the words of the satirist Juvenal who said that the “filth of the Orontes [River]” had flowed into the Tiber River in Rome (Satire 3.62). It was in this chaotic environment that “the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26). This was because “the hand of the Lord was with them” in this city (Acts 11:21).

(11:19) So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone.

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

(11:20-22) But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch.

Why did they send Barnabas to oversee what was happening? Barnabas was born on the island of Cyprus (Acts 4:36), and he likely grew up on the mainland in Antioch. In other words, this was his home town. The believers in Jerusalem had just heard Peter’s report of a Roman commander coming to Christ (Acts 10-11), and now this revival in Antioch occurs. Their heads must’ve been spinning. But Barnabas was a “bridge-builder,” and “one who was able to see the positive aspects in both sides of an issue and to mediate between perspectives.”[208] This must’ve been why Paul was so disappointed and angry to see Barnabas fall into man-pleasing (Gal. 2:13). Later, in Antioch, Barnabas “withdrew from table fellowship with those very Gentile-Christian converts we see him here witnessing to so enthusiastically.”[209]

(11:23-24) Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; 24 for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.

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, and Barnabas built them up.

Barnabas’ gift of encouragement didn’t consist of merely kind words. The biblical term “encourage” (parakaleō) is better translated “to impart courage.” In context, Barnabas was encouraging them to “remain true to the Lord.” These were not words of flattery. He was speaking words of exhortation and courage to help them to press on.

Barnabas focused on what was most important. Barnabas likely saw scandalous things happening in this raw Gentile church. After all, Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire, and it contained temples to pagan deities. Surely these new Christians didn’t clean up overnight. But Barnabas didn’t choose to focus on these problems, but directed them to Christ and remaining true to him.

(11:25-26) And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

Barnabas was there to see the origin of the name “Christian.” Barnabas knew that he was out of his league in Antioch. So, he made a 100-mile trip to Tarsus to recruit Paul for help.

Was the name ‘Christian’ an insulting term? We have heard this claim repeatedly in lectures and sermons. However, we don’t see evidence of this. While it is true that non-Christians originated this name (v.26),[210] it doesn’t seem to be a pejorative term. The term is built from the Greek word “Messiah” (Christos) and the Latin ending “belonging to, identified with” (ianus).[211] The same formula is used for the followers of Herod (Herodianoi) and Nero (Augustianoi).

(11:27) Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.

For an explanation of the gift of prophecy, see our earlier article “The Charismatic Gifts.”

(11:28) One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius.

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.”[212]

(11:29-30) And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. 30 And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.

The early church emphasized giving for the local church. These believers were sending their money hundreds of miles away to the church in Jerusalem. How sad it is to see mega-churches that give little or nothing to missions!

This section aligns quite well with Paul’s description in Galatians. 14 years after his conversion (Gal. 2:1), Paul (Saul) took Barnabas and Titus to Jerusalem “because of a revelation” (Gal. 2:2). What was this “revelation”? It was most likely Agabus’ prophecy. After all, this group of men brought “a contribution for the relief of the [poor]” in Judea (11:29), and this fits with Paul’s statement in Galatians as well: “They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do” (Gal. 2:10). Bruce comments, “Such an act of fellowship was calculated to strengthen the bond of a common faith which linked the totally Jewish-Christian church of Jerusalem with the mainly Gentile-Christian church of Antioch.”[213]

What made Barnabas such a strong leader? What qualities did he have? What qualities did he lack?

Barnabas had a good reputation with the apostles (v.22). When it came time to send a person to lead in Antioch, the apostles could think of no one better than Barnabas.

Barnabas was quick to get in line with God’s will (v.23). When he saw Gentiles coming to faith, he didn’t stand back in suspicion or judgment. He “rejoiced” and “encouraged them.”

Barnabas was a “good man” and this is because he was “full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (v.24).

Barnabas helped a ministry where “considerable numbers were brought to the Lord” (v.24). This shows that God’s approval was with him.

Barnabas was humble. He knew that he couldn’t keep up with the growth in Antioch, so he asked Paul for help (vv.25-26).

Barnabas wasn’t greedy. In fact, he sold his land to give to the cause of Christ (Acts 4:36-37). He was able to handle the money given to the church in Jerusalem (v.30).

What do we know about these people who brought the gospel to Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch? Is there any significance to the fact that we don’t even know their names?

Fernando writes that this is “the first general attempt at taking the gospel directly to Gentiles.”[214] And yet, we don’t even know the names of these bold people. How do you respond to this quote from Ajith Fernando?

Ajith Fernando: “The fact that non-prominent Christians did such significant work for Christ reminds us that the famous are not necessarily the most significant or most important people in the church. The famous have gifts that put them into the limelight—and that is not wrong. But neither is it necessarily great. Some of the most significant work for the kingdom has been done by unknown witnesses who are obedient to Christ right where they are and where they do not attract much attention… All this is unnecessary, for our task is to be faithful to what God calls us to do. If that does not put our name forward on earth, that should not bother us, for our aim in life is not to get our name in the papers, but to hear the Master say, ‘Well done.’ It is the prospect of this reward that thrills true Christians.”[215]

What do we learn about biblical encouragement from Barnabas’ example? How does this compare to our common concept of encouragement?

  • He was a “good man.” He had convictions—not mere flattery.
  • He was willing to encourage a difficult church, rather than being in competition with them.
  • He directed them to be true to God. This includes using God’s promises effectively in encouragement.
  • He asked for help from Paul, knowing that this church needed more than good teaching and encouragement. They also needed a driver with the wheelhouse of Paul of Tarsus.

Acts 12 (Herod, James, and Peter)

(12:1) Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them.

Herod Agrippa I reigned from AD 41 to AD 44. He was the grandson of Herod the Great (Mt. 2), who tried to kill the infant Jesus. Josephus writes about Herod Agrippa I frequently (Antiquities, 18.126-19.354; cf. Sotah 7.8), and specifically, he tells us that Herod was quite popular with the Jewish people (Antiquities, 19.328-331).

(12:2) And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword.

James of Zebedee was one of Jesus’ “inner three” disciples—along with Peter (who wrote two books in the NT and supervised Mark) and his brother John (who wrote five books of the NT). How sad to see one of Jesus’ closest disciples get killed so soon! All of that discipleship with James would have felt like it went right down the drain. Yet, this fits with Jesus’ prediction that he would face the “baptism” of suffering (Mk. 10:39).

(12:3-4) When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread. 4 When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people.

Why was Herod so eager to “please the Jews”? Herod wanted to please the Jews because he wasn’t in good graces with Rome. The Roman emperor Caligula gave Herod his appointment as king (AD 37), and the Roman emperor Claudius extended his rule over Judea (AD 41). Since Caligula wasn’t a well-liked Roman emperor, Herod’s rule was very insecure. Even though Herod was Jewish, this was “largely a face he put on when at home,” and when away, he “lived in a thoroughly Roman fashion.”[216] This is why Herod was trying to gain favor with the Jewish community (Antiquities 18.126, 131-34, 143-69, 179-204, 228-301; 19.236-44, 265, 274-77, 288, 292-354). This also explains why he didn’t have Peter killed during Passover.

This is roughly a decade after Pentecost. We’ve certainly come a long way from “having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:47). The original revival in Jerusalem led to vicious enemies who loved seeing these early Christians suffer.

“[Herod] proceeded to arrest Peter.” Would another of Jesus’ “inner three” get killed? Would the leadership of the early church get (literally!) decapitated? It seems like Herod plans to bring Peter before the people during Passover—sort of how Jesus was publicly judged. This must have felt like a strange déjà vu moment for Peter, perhaps reminding him of Jesus’ somber prediction of Peter’s death (Jn. 21:18). Peter may have been thinking that he had a good run, but this was the end of the line.

“It was during the days of Unleavened Bread.” The Jewish people considered it horrendous to kill someone during this sacred week (Mk. 14:2). This leads to the irony of having this event occur during the Passover. Fernando writes, “At the time when the Jews were celebrating the deliverance of their nation through God’s intervention, a herald of God’s climactic act of deliverance was taken into custody to please the Jews. While they should have been celebrating a great salvation, they were hoping to inflict a great punishment on the representative of the Savior (v. 11).”[217]

“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) So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.

The church was praying “fervently” (ektenos) for Peter. It wasn’t the emotion of their prayer that broke Peter out of jail. The term refers to “persevering, eagerly, fervently, constantly” (BDAG, p.310). This describes the frequency of their prayers—not necessarily the intensity of their prayers. After all, either prayer is in God’s will or it’s not, and no amount of chutzpah will change that. Indeed, Jesus prayed “very fervently,” but this didn’t change God’s will (Lk. 22:44). Finally, when God eventually answered their prayers, the people didn’t they don’t believe it! (Acts 12:14-15) Even though their faith was weak, God’s answer to prayer is strong. This teaches us an important lesson about prayer: the object of our faith is more important than the amount of our faith.

(12:6) On the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison.

Peter had broken out of prison before. But this is a maximum-security prison. He is literally surrounded by guards—one on each arm. This is also the night before he would be judged and executed. Times up. There’s no way he’s going to get out of here…

An angelic jailbreak!

(12:7-8) And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and woke him up, saying, “Get up quickly.” And his chains fell off his hands. 8 And the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.”

To paraphrase, the angel jabbed Peter in the ribs and said, “Get dressed… We’re breakin’ out of here!”

(12:9) And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.

Give Peter a break! He was fast asleep five minutes earlier, trying to forget that he was about to be executed in front of a lynch mob the next day. How quickly could you get on your feet if you just awoke second earlier?

(12:10) When they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.

We’re not sure how this miracle occurred. Was Peter invisible to the guards? Were the guards asleep?

(12:11) When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”

Peter was slow to recognize that a miracle occurred. Could the same thing be happening today in my life or in yours? Could God be moving powerfully, but we’re slow to recognize it?

(12:12) And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.

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 relatively rich. For one, the house belongs to her—not her husband. This was unique in a culture where men typically owned the property. Second, her house was big. It had a “gatehouse or forecourt”[218] on the perimeter of the house (or at least the front door). Third, Rhoda worked for Mary, which would also imply that Mary was a wealthy woman. Mary used her wealth to hold prayer meetings and take care of these persecuted Christians.

(12:13-14) When he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate.

Peter was probably upset. He just broke out of prison, and now he can’t even break into the prayer group.

(12:15) They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she kept insisting that it was so. They kept saying, “It is his angel.”

Rhoda had three strikes against her: First, she was female, which was looked down upon for eyewitness testimony in the first-century (cf. Lk. 24:10-11). Second, she was young. Third, she was of low social status, being only a “servant-girl.” This was the trifecta: The people didn’t believe her. We might find their attitudes to be sexist, classist, and overall repugnant. However, Luke may have included this narrative to show that this “servant-girl” was in the right, while all of the pious people inside of the house were in the wrong. It’s quite amazing that this prayer group was in unbelief: “They found it easier to believe that Peter had died and gone to heaven than that their prayers had been answered.”[219]

Why did they think “his angel” appeared to them? This is descriptive—not prescriptive. We agree with Marshall, when he writes, “It is most likely that it is nothing more than a Jewish superstition which [Luke] cites but does not necessarily corroborate.”[220]

(12:16) But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed.

Peter must’ve been knocking softly, because he wouldn’t have wanted to wake the neighborhood and incriminate the people at this house.

(12:17) But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had led him out of the prison. And he said, “Report these things to James and the brethren.” Then he left and went to another place.

James of Zebedee was already dead (v.2), and 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 (~AD 49). Some argue that he went to go plant churches during this time, which in our estimation is likely. However, it’s unlikely that he went as far as Corinth at this point (1 Cor. 1:12; 3:22; 9:5), because Paul doesn’t plant the church in Corinth until Acts 18 and Peter was mostly reaching Jewish people for Jesus during this time (Gal. 2:7). It is most likely that Peter “went underground so successfully that no one to this day has discovered for certain where he went. Luke’s informant probably did not know, and Luke had no other means of finding out.”[221]

Herod’s fury

(12:18-19) Now when day came, there was no small disturbance among the soldiers as to what could have become of Peter. 19 When Herod had searched for him and had not found him, he examined the guards and ordered that they be led away to execution. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and was spending time there.

Herod is furious. He even has the guards executed in his outrage. Guards in the ancient world would rather kill themselves (Acts 16:27) or their prisoners (Acts 27:42), rather than lose their prisoners. 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.).”[222]

Herod’s death

(12:20-23) Now he was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; and with one accord they came to him, and having won over Blastus the king’s chamberlain, they were asking for peace, because their country was fed by the king’s country. 21 On an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them. 22 The people kept crying out, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” 23 And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.

“Their country was fed by the king’s country.” This event occurred in the midst of a great famine (Suetonius, Claudius 18.2; Tacitus, Ann. 12.43; Dio Cassius, Rom. Hist. 40.11). It’s no wonder that the people were flattering Herod so much.

Did this really happen? This sounds like a clear case of legendary embellishment. Perhaps Luke invented this account to show what happens when you try to kill one of the apostles, right? Wrong! Josephus independently corroborates Luke’s account:

“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.” (Antiquities, 19.343-350)

Regarding these two accounts, F.F. Bruce writes, “The accounts of Luke and Josephus are independent, but they agree in all essentials.”[223] 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).[224]

“He was eaten by worms.” Many ancient authors used this expression to describe the death of historical figures: 2 Maccabees 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).[225] Since it doesn’t say how long it took for Herod to die, it’s most likely that Herod was killed by “intestinal roundworms (Ascaris lumbricoides), which grow as long as ten to sixteen inches and feed on the nutrient fluids in the intestines. Bunches of roundworms can obstruct the intestines, causing severe pain, copious vomiting of worms, and death.”[226] Fernando comments, “There is irony here too, for the man who was glorious on the outside was rotting of worms on the inside.”[227]

(12:24-25) But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied. 25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark.

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).

What do we learn about how God guides his people through suffering and persecution?

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. Just imagine seeing James’ dead body—impaled by a sword with blood and guts spilling out. It would be confusing to see one of Jesus’ closest disciples being martyred so soon (~AD 44). Jesus discipled him for three years, but we only see him serve for a decade. Why did God allow this to happen? They didn’t know, and neither do we. Paul tells us that during times of suffering, we are indeed “perplexed,” but we shouldn’t allow this to lead into “despair” (2 Cor. 4:8).

This tragedy pushed Peter to leave Jerusalem and preach elsewhere. God uses suffering to move the church into places they wouldn’t normally go.

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 (Mt. 17:20).

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 (First Missionary Tour: Part 1)

(13:1) Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

Antioch was mostly a Gentile city, and so it shouldn’t surprise us that it became a missions-hub for Gentiles. This list comprises many of the central leaders in the early church:

  • We’ve already seen him in earlier chapters. He was the “son of encouragement,” who sold his property on Cyprus (Acts 4:36-37) and vouched for Paul (Acts 9:27).
  • 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.”[228]
  • Lucius was thought to be the author of this book (“Luke”), because various ancient versions of the text recorded this.[229] However, this view has been put to rest. After all, “the Greek ‘Luke’ and Latin ‘Lucius’ are different names.”[230]
  • The term syntrophos can be rendered “life-long friend” (ESV) or “childhood companion” (NLT). While it is true that the word can mean “courtier” or “intimate friend,” it most likely means that Manaean was Herod’s “foster-brother.”[231] Either way, Bock writes, “He would have had high social standing through this connection.”[232] This means that Manaean was raised with Herod (4 BC to AD 39). Bruce marvels at the fact that these two boys were both raised in the same family—yet one became a Christian leader and the other became the murderer of John the Baptist![233]

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 before he was fit to lead others. He went from being a “big shot” among his Jewish contemporaries (Gal. 1:14) to learning how to serve under the leadership of others. Then, this happens…

(13:2) While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

Does this refer to a worship service? 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. At most, this would be an example of a small group 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).”[234] In verse 3, we see that fasting is coupled with prayer. Thus, the term could mean that they were serving God through their prayers, or it could mean that prayer is a form of worship.

“Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” How difficult it would be to let Barnabas and Saul go! These were presumably two of the best leaders in this church at Antioch, and it may have been difficult to rationalize sending them. However, this resulted in thousands of people meeting Christ across the Roman Empire.

(13:3) Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.

This isn’t an ordination service. They were already ministers before they had hands laid on them. They laid hands on them to dedicate them for a specific work. Before they went out to take ground for God, they sat with God in prayer.

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

Salamis

(13:4-5) So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 When they reached Salamis, they began to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews; and they also had John as their helper.

The trip from Antioch to Cyprus was about 60 miles by sea. When they arrived in Cyprus, they started to speak to people in the synagogues.

“They also had John as their helper.” Given the fact that the Holy Spirit didn’t set apart John Mark, this might imply that they shouldn’t have taken Mark with them. In verse 13, we discover that John Mark deserted them, so this may have been the wrong call from the start.

(13:6) When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a magician, a Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus.

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? It turns out that this was a “no-contest” fight!

(13:7) [Bar-Jesus] was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.

Luke correctly identified the position of Sergius Paulus as a “proconsul.” Rome had two types of provinces: (1) imperial provinces led by legates/governors and (2) senatorial provinces led by proconsuls.[235] The island of Cyprus was a senatorial province—not an imperial province. Hence, Luke accurately reported that it was led by proconsuls (anthupatos).

Luke correctly identified the person of Sergius Paulus. 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.”[236] 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) But Elymas the magician (for so his name is translated) was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.

How did Elymas (Bar-Jesus) attach himself to this governmental leader? It was somewhat common for “Jewish sorcerers”[237] to serve Gentile authorities (Josephus, Antiquities 20.236-37). While the origin of Elymas’ name isn’t clear, it most likely comes from the Arabic root word “sage” (mila) and “interpreter of dreams” (haloma). This guy is similar to Grima Wormtongue from The Lord of the Rings. He’s whispering deceit into the ear of the proconsul, warping his mind with his words.

(13:9-11) But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze on him, 10 and said, “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord? 11 Now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a time.” And immediately a mist and a darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking those who would lead him by the hand.

Paul takes the lead here. The key to Paul’s effectiveness is the fact that he’s “filled with the Holy Spirit.” He looks the man right in the eye, and he doesn’t mince words, calling the guy a “fraud” or “con artist.” This man wasn’t a “son of Jesus,” but a “son of the devil”! This temporary judgment of blindness is similar to what Paul himself went through in Acts 9. It was indicative of his lostness (Jn. 3:19-20; 9:39). We wonder what Barnabas (the “son of encouragement”) thought about Paul’s direct and incisive words. He may have sensed that Paul was a stronger leader than him when he saw this event transpire.

Why did Paul change his name from Saul to Paul? Paul was entering Gentile territory, and he used the Greek name (Paulos) to assimilate well with the culture. Most likely, this was Paul’s Roman name (cognomen) that he already had. Polhill explains, “Romans had three names: a praenomen, a nomen, and a cognomen, as in Gaius Julius Caesar.”[238]

(13:12) Then the proconsul believed when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord.

Without “the teaching of the Lord,” miracles lack theological content, and it’s easy to misinterpret what they mean. The miracle got his attention, but Paul’s teaching explained the miracle he had seen. Sergius comes to faith because of the words and deeds of these Christian men.

Questions for Reflection

The church in Antioch was filled with ethnic diversity—especially among the leadership. Fernando writes, “What happened in Antioch was certainly remarkable and may be an example worthy of emulation. I will go so far as to say that fostering leaders from different cultural backgrounds is a goal to work at in all churches that have a diversity in their membership.”[239] Do you agree with Fernando? Diversity is good, but how do we know that this isn’t just an example, rather than something we should emulate?

What do we learn about how God calls missionaries from this passage? (Remember, Paul had already had a personal calling from Jesus in Acts 22:15 and 26:17.)

Paul spoke strongly against Elymas for blocking Sergius Paulus from coming to faith. When would it be appropriate to speak like this to a non-believing person?

Pisidian Antioch

(13:13) Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; but John left them and returned to Jerusalem.

The journey from Paphos to Pamphylia was about 100 miles.

“Paul and his companions.” Earlier, Barnabas was mentioned first, and Paul was mentioned second. From here forward, Paul is always mentioned first. In fact, Barnabas isn’t even mentioned here at all except being called one of Paul’s “companions.” How do you think Barnabas felt about handing over his senior leadership status like this to Paul?

“John left them and returned to Jerusalem.” Later, Paul refers to John’s act as “desertion” (Acts 15:38). John Mark didn’t make it very far. Speculating on John Mark’s desertion, Fernando writes, “Is he homesick? Has he not planned to be away for so long? Does he find the rigors of travel, especially the prospect of a climb up the mountains to Galatia, too hard on him? Does he resent the fact that his cousin Barnabas is falling into second place? Does he have problems with the bold approach to Gentiles that Paul is developing? We cannot be sure.”[240] He must’ve not realized what he signed up for, and he didn’t count the cost.

(13:14-15) But going on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading of the Law and the Prophets the synagogue officials sent to them, saying, “Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.”

Pisidian Antioch was the “leading city in the area known as Phrygia.”[241]

The practice in the synagogues was to recite the Shema, listen to a reading of the Torah, read the prophets, have a priestly blessing, and engage in biblical exposition (m. Megillah. 4.1-5; Lk. 4:16-21). Here the synagogue leaders see that the great Pharisee Saul has arrived. Since they don’t know about his conversion, they ask him to give a 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. Marshall states that Paul’s speech can be “summed up as a historical survey designed to root the coming of Jesus in the kingly succession of Judah and to show that the career of Jesus was in fulfilment of prophecy: it culminates in an appeal to the hearers not to repeat the error of the people of Jerusalem who had rejected Jesus.”[242]

(13:16-18) Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen: 17 The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He led them out from it. 18 For a period of about forty years He put up with them in the wilderness.”

The people of Israel weren’t always faithful. Their rebellion points forward to their need for the work of Christ. They needed a greater savior.

(13:19) “When He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land as an inheritance—all of which took about four hundred and fifty years.”

The “seven nations” are listed in Deuteronomy 7:1. God’s plan in Egypt, the Exodus, and the Conquest took a very long time (~450 years).

(13:20-23) “After these things He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. 21 Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22 After He had removed him, He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will.’ 23 From the descendants of this man, according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus.”

Paul is tracking the kingship and Davidic Covenant to Jesus, blending Psalm 89:21 with 1 Samuel 13:14. The Davidic Covenant didn’t point toward David—but to Christ. The people needed a greater king. This was predicted in the OT, when Ezekiel stated that God would wait to crown a king “until He comes whose right it is” (Ezek. 21:27; cf. Gen. 49:10; Jer. 23:5; Ezek. 34:23-24).

How did Paul know that Saul was in power for 40 years? This isn’t recorded in the OT. Surely the mention of Saul serving for “two years” is a textual corruption (1 Sam. 13:1). Josephus tells us that Saul served for 40 years (Antiquities 6:378), and this implies that both Paul and Josephus had a common historical source.[243]

(13:24-25) “After John had proclaimed before His coming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 And while John was completing his course, he kept saying, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not He. But behold, one is coming after me the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’”

Even though his life is recorded in the NT, John the Baptist was truly the final old covenant prophet before Jesus. John doesn’t focus on himself—but points forward to Christ. He wasn’t the king that the people had expected or desired. The people needed a greater prophet.

“What do you suppose that I am? I am not He. But behold, one is coming after me the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.” Interestingly, when Paul cites John the Baptist’s words, his language is closer to that of John’s gospel (Jn. 1:20ff), not Luke’s gospel (Lk. 3:16).[244]

(13:26-27) “Brethren, sons of Abraham’s family, and those among you who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. 27 For those who live in Jerusalem, and their rulers, recognizing neither Him nor the utterances of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning Him.”

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?

(13:28-29) “And though they found no ground for putting Him to death, they asked Pilate that He be executed. 29 When they had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb.”

The OT predicted the death and burial of Christ (Ps. 22; Isa. 53).

(13:30-31) “But God raised Him from the dead; 31 and for many days He appeared to those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, the very ones who are now His witnesses to the people.”

Paul isn’t emphasizing “felt needs.” He’s making a case that Jesus fulfilled prophecy and there are witnesses. His message was convicting because it was convincing. It produced feelings because it was based on world-changing facts.

(13:32) “And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers.”

There is nothing new about the work of Christ. This was promised in the OT.

(13:33) “That God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘You are My Son; today I have begotten You.’”

Why does Paul cite Psalm 2:7?

Psalm 2:7 was generally recognized as messianic by both Jews and Christians (Psalms of Solomon 17:26; Acts 4:25ff; Lk. 3:22; Heb. 1:5; 5:5).

(13:34-35) “As for the fact that He raised Him up from the dead, no longer to return to decay, He has spoken in this way: ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ 35 Therefore He also says in another Psalm, ‘You will not allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.’”

This citation of Isaiah 55:3 connects Jesus with the promises of David—specifically the resurrection mentioned in Psalm 16:10 (v.35; cf. Acts 2:25-28).

Why does Paul cite Psalm 16:10 to refer to Jesus?

(13:36-37) “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers and underwent decay; 37 but He whom God raised did not undergo decay.”

Paul’s argument regarding Psalm 16:10 is that David did undergo decay. Therefore, this psalm cannot refer to David. Jesus, however, was only dead for a short time, and he didn’t undergo decay. So the psalm must predict one of David’s offspring in the future—namely, Jesus.

(13:38) “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.”

Paul uses a subtle shift in language from “us” to “you.” Paul is calling for an action: belief in Christ for forgiveness.

(13:39) “And through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.”

The term for “freed” (dikaioō) means “justified” (see NET). Incidentally, this is language that Paul frequently uses in his letters. This shows that Luke is accurately reporting what Paul really said.

This isn’t just an intellectual exercise or theological jousting. Paul concludes by stating that there are consequences for rejecting this good news about Jesus.

(13:40-41) “Therefore take heed, so that the thing spoken of in the Prophets may not come upon you: 41 ‘Behold, you scoffers, and marvel, and perish; for I am accomplishing a work in your days, a work which you will never believe, though someone should describe it to you.’”

It angers God when he’s doing a powerful work and people scoff at it, rather than trusting him. Paul cites Habakkuk 1:5 to show that Jewish people in the past scoffed at God’s marvelous work. Marshall writes, “In its original context the prophecy referred to failure to recognize the Chaldean invasion as a divine judgment; Paul applies it to the danger of failing to recognize Jesus as the Saviour sent by God.”[245] Will this contemporary audience do the same?

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

Reaction: some believed and some rejected this message

(13:42) As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath.

Even after such a strong and direct teaching, the people invited the two of them to speak again. If what Paul said was true, they needed to hear more about it.

(13:43) Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God.

“Urging them to continue in the grace of God” seems to be more the work of Barnabas, than Paul (cf. Acts 11:23). Paul would do the preaching, and Barnabas would do the follow up. Both roles were important then, and they are still important today!

(13:44) The next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord.

Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness 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. As Chuck Smith often said, “Wherever Paul preached, it ended in either a revival or a riot.” How would the religious leaders respond to seeing all of these Gentiles coming to faith in the God of Israel…?

(13:45) But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming.

Many people blasphemed and rejected Jesus’ message (Lk. 22:65). The term for “jealousy” (zelou) can also be translated zeal. This is a case of “misdirected zeal” (Rom. 10:2 NLT).

(13:46) Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.”

Paul and Barnabas don’t permanently turn to the Gentiles (see Rom. 9-11; Acts 27-28). This only refers to turning to the Gentiles in this city.

(13:47) “For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles, that You may bring salvation to the end of the earth.’”

Why does Paul cite Isaiah 42 and 49?

(13:48) When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

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

(13:49-52) And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. 51 But they shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

“They shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them.” Jewish people would often shake the dust off their feet when leaving a Pagan city. Marshall comments, “For Jews to do this to their fellow Jews was tantamount to regarding the latter as pagan Gentiles.”[246]

The message of Christ spread even as the persecution increased. Moreover, the disciples 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.

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 13-41. Why does Paul choose to cover the history of Israel in order to share the gospel? How does this approach compare to Paul’s speech to the Greek philosophers in Acts 17?

Paul makes the claim that Jesus fulfilled predictive prophecy and rose from the dead in history. Why didn’t he appeal to the “felt needs” of the people instead? Why does he make this an issue of truth, rather than feelings? Do you think it’s misguided to appeal to “felt needs” when sharing the gospel today?

Acts 14 (First Missionary Tour: Part 2)

Iconium

Iconium was about 90 miles from Antioch, and it was a ~3,400-foot elevation to get there.[247] This would’ve been quite a trip to make for Paul and Barnabas.

(14:1) In Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks.

It was Paul’s custom to speak with the Jewish community first (cf. Rom. 1:16-17). A “large number of people” came to faith. Apparently, Gentiles were in the synagogue, or perhaps, word of mouth spread from the synagogue to the Gentile contingent.

(14:2) But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the brethren.

We continue to witness 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 as well.

(14:3) Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands.

“They spent a long time there.” Paul and Barnabas had resolved in their hearts to face persecution. This is what the word “therefore” is there for. Their boldness didn’t come from self-effort. It came from “reliance upon the Lord.”

God gets behind the teaching and preaching of his word. First, he did this through giving Paul and Barnabas the courage to preach his word (“spent a long time… speaking boldly”). Second, God ratified the truth of their preaching (“testifying to the word of His grace”) by performing miracles through the same men who were preaching (“granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands”). Bruce[248] sees interlocking between this setting in South Galatia and Paul’s letter to the Galatians, when he writes, “Does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” (Gal. 3:5)

This would’ve had a polarizing effect on the people. Indeed, this is precisely what we see…

(14:4) But the people of the city were divided; and some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles.

The gospel divides people. Some think it is the greatest news ever told, while others think it is the most offensive or absurd news ever told (cf. 1 Cor. 1:23).

Was Barnabas an apostle? Verse 4 and verse 14 are the only two examples in the book of Acts where the term “apostle” is used to describe anyone besides the Twelve. Since Paul was a legitimate “big A” apostle on par with the Twelve (1 Cor. 9:1-2), it seems to follow that Barnabas was in the same category.

(14:5) An attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone them.

The opposing group tries to intimidate Paul and Barnabas through violence. The term “mistreat” (hybrisai) means to “harass,” “molest,” or “physically intimidate.”[249]

Lystra and Derbe

Lystra was 20 miles south of Iconium, and Derbe was 60 miles southwest of Lystra. Later, we discover that Timothy grew up in Lystra (Acts 16:1), and it’s quite likely that he came to faith through Paul and Barnabas at this time.

(14:6) They became aware of it and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding region.

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]).”[250]

“[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.[251] However, later writers like Cicero[252] and Pliny the Elder[253] 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.) Ramsay himself compared this verse to fleeing from London to England.[254] However, Ramsay discovered after “further acquaintance with both literary and epigraphic evidence… 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.”[255] Thus, Luke was right, and the critics were wrong.

(14:7) And there they continued to preach the gospel.

Paul and Barnabas didn’t flee to hide. They fled in order to continue to preach the gospel.

Lystra and Derbe

Paul would always go to a synagogue before turning to the Gentiles. At Lystra, however, we see the first example of Paul and Barnabas going directly to idol-worshipping Gentiles, rather than Jews.

(14:8-10) At Lystra a man was sitting who had no strength in his feet, lame from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. 9 This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze on him and had seen that he had faith to be made well, 10 said with a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he leaped up and began to walk.

How could Paul see that this man had faith? We’re not sure, but it seems that the man would not be unilaterally healed. He needed to have faith for it to occur. Fernando comments, “Apparently Paul had a special gift that enabled him to discern whether he should pray for healing or not. The fact that he decided to do so in this case because the man had the faith to be healed suggests that even Paul did not pray for the miraculous healing of every sick person he encountered.”[256] We might amend this statement from Fernando by saying that Paul didn’t pray with confidence or with certainty that a person would be healed. After all, Paul prayed for his own healing three times, but didn’t see an answer to prayer (2 Cor. 12:7).

Pagans had stories about the “gods” coming in the form of strangers—staring and speaking in loud voices.[257] This might be why the people confused Paul and Barnabas for “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) When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” 12 And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds.

The people speak in the “Lycaonian language,” so Paul and Barnabas didn’t realize what was happening at first. The Lycaonian language was an “isolated hill-country dialect, and there are few literary remains of it. Centuries of Hellenistic influence in their area would have given them knowledge of Greek, and they would have had no difficulty in understanding Paul’s koine.”[258] Yet, once the sacrifices came forward, this sent Paul into a frenzy.

What was the cultural significance of Zeus and Hermes? In a Latin poem, Ovid writes that Zeus and Hermes “were entertained by an aged couple, Philemon and Baucis, who were unaware of the identity of their guests.”[259] Furthermore, 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.’”[260] Fernando further explains, “The frenzied response of the Lystrans may be traced to an ancient legend retold by Ovid (43 B.C.-A.D. 17) in his Metamorphosis. Zeus and Hermes once visited the Phrygian hill country disguised as ordinary men. They were turned away from a thousand homes where they sought lodging, but were finally taken in by an elderly couple into their humble home. The gods turned that house into a temple and destroyed all the houses that had rejected them.”[261]

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—not less.

(14:14-15) But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out 15 and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.”

Paul and Barnabas delayed in reacting to the worship because they couldn’t understand what the people were saying (v.1). But once they understood, they ripped their clothes into shreds (which was a typical Jewish response to blasphemy). Their response is markedly different than what we saw from Herod (Acts 12:22-23).

Paul argues with 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).

Unlike many modern religious leaders today, Paul and Barnabas refused to accept the praise (or outright worship) of people. They placed themselves on the same level as these people (“We are also men of the same nature as you.”).

(14:16) “In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways.”

God gave humans free will to choose against him—even allowing them to choose idolatry. This is similar to Paul’s later statement that God “overlooked the times of ignorance” (Acts 17:30).

(14:17) “And yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”

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.”[262] Paul needed to set a foundation for belief in God before he could share the gospel with them. Indeed, he never gets to the gospel in his preaching here, though this is quite likely because he was interrupted by the noise of the crowds and the attacks from the men in Antioch and Iconium.

(14:18) Even saying these things, with difficulty they restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.

Even Paul’s apologetics for the existence of the true God could barely stop the idolatry of the crowd. They were so invested in idolatry that they could hardly be “restrained” from worshipping these two missionaries.

(14:19) But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.

At least some considerable amount of time must’ve passed because Paul won “disciples” in this city (v.20). Yet, he paid a price for this: Lystra was only 20 miles away from Iconium. So, Paul and Barnabas didn’t travel far from their persecutors, and the religious authorities made this short trip, following Paul to have him stoned. This must have been quite traumatizing for Paul, because he brings it up in his later letters (2 Cor. 11:25; Gal. 6:17; 2 Tim. 3:11). Yet this trauma and pain didn’t stop him from continuing in his mission.

This stoning must have permanently disfigured Paul. In fact, Paul briefly mentions this fact in his letter to the Corinthians: “Once I was stoned” (2 Cor. 11:25). This could further explain why Paul told these same people in South Galatia, “I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus” (Gal. 6:17). Imagine how just how bad you would look after enduring full body torture like this—with the intent to kill you! Paul’s body and face would’ve been permanently mangled, and he wouldn’t have had any help from cosmetic surgeons. A mid-second century apocryphal work describes that Paul was “a man small of stature, with a bald head and crooked legs, in a good state of body, with eyebrows meeting and nose somewhat hooked, full of friendliness; for now he appeared like a man, and now he had the face of an angel” (Acts of Paul 3.3). Bruce comments, “It has been felt that a description so vigorous and unconventional must rest on a good local tradition of what Paul looked like. This may be so, but it might well be the product of the writer’s lively imagination.”[263]

(14:20) But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe.

“He got up and entered the city.” The last time these people saw Paul, he was being stoned to death. What must they have thought, seeing Paul alive, hobbling back into the city? He must’ve looked gruesome as he made his way back into the city—like the walking dead. Which was the greater miracle: Paul surviving the stoning, or his courage to return after the stoning!

“The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe.” This was roughly a 60-mile trip from Iconium. So, Paul and Barnabas were putting more space between themselves and their persecutors.

What evidence does Paul point to in the world to argue for the existence of monotheism?

God made the universe (v.15). An effect cannot be greater than its cause. Since something created the universe, then that something (or Someone) must be more powerful than the universe.

God gives humans free will (v.16). He “permitted” them to choose what they wanted.

God is good because he provided a good ecosystem for humans (v.17). This could point to God’s intentional design of nature.

Antioch

Paul and Barnabas now returned to the same cities to follow-up with the people that they led to faith, building them up before finishing their first missionary tour. They did some teaching (v.22), and encouraged them to persevere (v.22b),

(14:21-22) After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

“[They] made many disciples.” Paul’s ministry wasn’t just preaching (“preached the gospel to that city”). He also spent time discipling these people.

This persecution didn’t stop Paul. He returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch. The people gave Paul and Barnabas a further hearing, probably because they saw them suffer and persevere. This, no doubt, showed that they were the real deal.

(14:23) Should believers fast?

(14:23) When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

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.

“Appointed elders for them in every church.” This shows the principle of plurality of leadership. Paul and Barnabas appointed plural elders for every singular church. That is, it was their practice to have leadership teams working together—not one person leading alone (cf. Titus 1:5; 1 Pet. 5:2).

(14:24) They passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia.

They returned to do follow up on churches where they had already been (Acts 13:13).

(14:25-26) When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished.

They made it full circle! They came back to the place from where they had originally set out: Antioch. Imagine how different they must’ve 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) When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they spent a long time with the disciples.

Paul and Barnabas shared everything that God was doing among the Gentiles. They kept the focus off of themselves, and placed it onto God where it belongs. This becomes important in light of the “great debate” in Acts 15: Should these Gentiles be circumcised?

What do we learn about the qualities and practices of good Christian leaders from the examples of Paul and Barnabas?

Paul and Barnabas were used by God, but they refused to be treated as ‘gods’ (vv.14-15). They considered themselves humans with the “same nature” as anyone else (v.15).

Paul wouldn’t allow physical pain or persecution to deter him (v.20).

They discipled the new Christians in these cities (v.22).

They raised up leaders in the midst of turmoil (v.23).

They kept the focus on God using them and God opening the doors (v.27). It would’ve been easy for them to brag about their results, but this wasn’t the focus.

Some people say, “Religion is good for you.” I’m not sure I agree. Is that what we’re reading about in this chapter?

Religion isn’t always good. Paul and Barnabas face the legalistic and hostile message of Jewish monotheism on the one hand, and the idolatry of polytheism on the other.

Acts 15 (The Council of Jerusalem)

This is a 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 main focus of Christianity has been on the Jewish Christians, while shifting focus from time to time to include Gentile Christians. From here on out, the focus is on Gentile Christians, while shifting at times to include Jewish Christians.

To interpret Acts 15 well, it’s important to understand that the events of Galatians 2 occurred before Acts 15. This means that Paul had rebuked Peter for his hypocrisy before the Council of Jerusalem. 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) Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.

“Some men came down from Judea and began teaching.” These men didn’t come with authorization from the apostles (v.24), though they may have insinuated that they carried this kind of authority. Instead, their views came from converted Pharisees (v.5). This would’ve been an exciting debate to watch because Paul himself was a converted Pharisee (Phil. 3:5).

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?”[264]

“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. This was serious! So serious, in fact, that they took the question to all the leaders of the church in Jerusalem.

(15:3) Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren.

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) When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.”

Pharisees are pushing circumcision and the Law for the Gentiles. Remember, Paul was a former Pharisee, and so, some of these men may have been old friends and colleagues of Paul. Yet Jesus changed Paul’s view regarding the OT law, and he doesn’t side with the Pharisees here.

(15:6) The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter.

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?

Peter formerly caved 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? Will he become only more embittered since this confrontation?

(15:7-9) After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; 9 and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.”

This is the third account of the story of Cornelius and the Gentiles coming to faith in Christ, which shows its importance. Peter 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 (cf. Rom. 8:9). God didn’t wait for them to become circumcised or to follow the Law; he gave them the Holy Spirit immediately (cf. Eph. 1:13-14).

(15:10-11) “Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.”

Putting God to the “test” 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 the grace of the Lord Jesus.”

The issue was salvation—not missiology. Marshall notes, “What Peter disputed was thus the need to obey the law in order to be saved; whether Jews kept it for other reasons was a secondary matter.”[265]

This is the final mention of Peter in the book of Acts. At this point, the focus shifts to Paul’s missionary work. Martin Hengel comments, “The legitimation of the mission to the Gentiles is virtually Peter’s last work.”[266]

Agreement from Paul and Barnabas

(15:12) All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.

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) After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, “Brethren, listen to me.”

All of the heavy-hitters are stepping forward to support the grace perspective: Paul, Barnabas, Peter, and now, James (Jesus’ half-brother). James is so influential that he never even gets an introduction in the book of Acts. The readers were expected to know who he was (cf. Acts 12:17).

(15:14-15) “Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. 15 With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written.”

“Simeon” is Peter’s Jewish name (see NET note). James lines up Peter’s experience with the testimony of Scripture.

(15:16-18) “‘After these things I will return, and I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, and I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, 17 so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,’ 18 says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago.’”

Why does James cite from the Greek version of Amos 9:12?[267] Critics argue that the focus of James’ argument hinges on the Greek version of Amos 9—not the Hebrew text. Thus, critics find it difficult to believe that James would cite the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT), rather than the Hebrew text itself (preserved in our Masoretic Text today). Yet Marshall writes, “The following observations can be made: (1) Parts of the same text are quoted in the Dead Sea Scrolls (CD 7:16; 4QFlor. 1:12f.) and applied to the current situation of the Qumran sect. (2) The lxx version rests on a hypothetical Hebrew text which differs only slightly in lettering from the MT; hence the differences may be due to a revision of the Hebrew text to make it relevant to a new situation. (3) We should not rule out the possibilities that James knew and used Greek (Neil, p. 173), or that he was using the Hebrew text presupposed by the lxx. (4) It has been claimed that the MT itself would support James’s point, if understood of the church gaining possession of all the nations (cf. Bruce, Book, p. 310). These points show that use of the quotation by James is not impossible, and that the process of reinterpreting the text of Amos was much older than the early church. On the other hand, there is no real difficulty in supposing that Luke himself has added the quotation to bring out more clearly the way in which the progress of the church is in accordance with the Old Testament prophecies.”[268]

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

(15:19-20) “Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, 20 but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.”

“Abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.” James concludes that they shouldn’t put the Law on the Gentiles, 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.”[269] Paul invokes the same principle in Romans 14.

Why does James include sexual immorality, if this list is supposed to be ceremonial laws? Refraining from sexual immorality isn’t a ceremonial law, but a moral imperative for Christians. Polhill is probably right when states, “For the Jew sexual misbehavior was both immoral and impure.”[270] This is a case where it isn’t an “either/or” but a “both/and.”

(15:21) “For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

The connecting word (“For…”) demonstrates that James is thinking about a missiological principle: Moses is read in the synagogues, and the behavior of the Gentiles will create problems in reaching Jewish people for Christ (1 Cor. 9:19-23).

F.F. Bruce denies the missiological interpretation, 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.”[271] However, we disagree, seeing that 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).

What do we learn about godly leadership from this interplay between the apostles?

Paul had just recently rebuked Peter (Gal. 2:12), but Peter sided with Paul on this issue.

James was a law-abiding Jew until the end of his life, but he didn’t push his views on the entire church. He chose to do what was best for the Gentiles—even though he didn’t lead them.

These leaders focused on the truth—not factions. Fernando comments, “Christian leaders [should] not take sides in a conflict. They battle over issues, not for sides.”[272]

They opened up this issue for debate, rather than concealing it behind closed doors. After all, their decision would have major ramifications on the entire church.

Agreement from the church

(15:22-23) Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas—Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, 23 and they sent this letter by them, “The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings.”

The Jerusalem Church drafts a letter that communicates in a formal Greco-Roman way. They were “making every effort to communicate clearly and in the style of their Greek-speaking brothers and sisters at Antioch.”[273]

The entire church agrees with this idea—not just the apostles and elders. Discussion and debate are the way to work through doctrinal differences and find agreement and become “one mind” (v.25). Moreover, this is where Paul becomes a ministry partner with Silas.

(15:24) “Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls.”

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

(15:25-30) “It seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: 29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.” 30 So when they were sent away, they went down to Antioch; and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter.

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) When they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.

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. Most importantly of all, they secured the Bible’s central teaching about grace.

(15:32-33) Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message. 33 After they had spent time there, they were sent away from the brethren in peace to those who had sent them out.

Prophecy is closely related to teaching. These men were “prophets” but gave a “lengthy message.”

(15:34-35) [But it seemed good to Silas to remain there.] 35 But Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch, teaching and preaching with many others also, the word of the Lord.

Verse 34 isn’t in the earliest manuscripts. Paul, Barnabas, and Silas continued to teach in Antioch.

Paul and Barnabas split up

(15:36-39) After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. 38 But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.

John Mark broke up the band… He was the Yoko Ono of the first century!

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 perhaps more importantly, Barnabas was more inclined to believe in people. Indeed, 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 say, 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, 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). Mark missed this opportunity, but he still had a life of fruitful service ahead of him (including writing a gospel!). Moreover, even though “disagreements are regrettable,” at least now “there were two missions instead of one.”[274]

(15:40) But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.

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). He was also the carrier of the apostolic letter (Acts 15:22, 27, 32), which implies that he was an enthusiastic supporter of Gentile evangelism. 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 this second missionary tour. Moreover, Silas was a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37), which would be valuable in travelling across the Empire. He becomes the coauthor of two of Paul’s letters (1 & 2 Thessalonians) and the scribe (or letter carrier?) for Peter’s first letter (1 Pet. 5:12).[275]

(15:41) And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

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 after coming to faith.

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 36-41. Both Paul and Barnabas each take on a coleader as they go out to serve. What is the significance of this? How would it change our approach to Christian service if Paul or Barnabas went alone, rather than as a team?

Read verses 36-41. What sort of arguments do you imagine Barnabas made for taking John Mark on the second missionary journey? What sort of arguments do you imagine Paul made for not taking John Mark on the second missionary journey?

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, or to actively and bitterly divide.

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

John Mark missed an opportunity to serve on the second missionary journey, but he went on to have a life of fruitful service for Christ. Similarly, our failures may disqualify us from certain ministry in the present, but this isn’t the end of the world. God has many good works set out for us (Eph. 2:10).

Acts 16 (Second Missionary Tour: Philippi)

Barnabas drops entirely out of the book of Acts at this point, and the “the spotlight is exclusively on Paul.”[276] Paul launches his second missionary journey with a new teammate: Silas.

(16:1-2) Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, 2 and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium.

“[Timothy] was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium.” Timothy was so respected that his reputation made it all the way to Iconium, which was 18 miles from Lystra. Thus, even though Timothy was a young disciple (1 Tim. 4:12), he had great character. Paul didn’t base his selection of Timothy on his seniority, but on his spirituality.

“The son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek.” Timothy came from a broken home. His mother was a believing Jewish woman, but his father was an unbeliever. Elsewhere, we learn that both Timothy’s mother and grandmother were believers (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15), but Paul never mentions his father. Jewish law began to teach that a child was Jewish if the mother was Jewish. The Mishnah states, “Any situation in which a woman has no right to enter into betrothal with this man or with any other man—the offspring is in her status” (Mishna Qiddushin 3:12).

Paul authored or coauthored several letters with Timothy (2 Cor. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; Phile. 1), and he called Timothy his “fellow worker” (Rom. 16:21; 1 Cor. 16:10). See Introduction to 1 & 2 Timothy for a further biography of Timothy.

(16:3) Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

Why hadn’t Timothy already been circumcised? It’s possible that his father forbid Timothy’s circumcision, or it could’ve been the case that there wasn’t a Jewish presence in Lystra.[277] We’re not sure.

It’s funny that Paul fought tooth and nail for not circumcising Gentiles, but here he circumcises Timothy! Did Paul have a change of mind overnight? Not at all. Paul objected to circumcision theologically in Acts 15, but he promoted it contextually or missionally in Acts 16 (“…because of the Jews who were in those parts”). Because Paul was going to be taking Timothy to Jewish synagogues, he needed to fit in with the Jewish people. If Timothy was uncircumcised, he wouldn’t have a hearing with these people.

“[Paul] took him and circumcised him.” Paul personally circumcised Timothy. This was an intensive team-building “trust exercise” for Paul to initiate!

(16:4) Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe.

This is the letter from the decision made in Acts 15. The “decrees” (dogmata) were “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) So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.

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

(16:6-8) They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; 7 and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; 8 and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.

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 to the whole world? This was a temporary act of God, not a permanent act. God had a more strategic route for Paul to take 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). This shows that God wants to lead and direct our efforts to share about Christ.

The Spirit led them to Troas. They were blocked from Bithynia, but we know that the gospel spread here. Peter refers to Christians in Bithynia (1 Pet. 1:1), as does Pliny the Younger in AD 115 (Pliny the Younger to Emperor Trajan, Letters, 10.96).

(16:9) A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

Next God leads Paul through a vision. Was this during sleep? Luke doesn’t say. He just says it was “in the night.” Paul could’ve been fully awake.

Who was the man? William Ramsay held that the man was Luke himself. After all, when Paul travels to Macedonia, the first “we passage” begins, which implies that Luke was there.[278] However, this isn’t specified by Luke, and so this is merely speculation.

Questions for Reflection

Read verse 3. Timothy was half-Jewish. Unlike Titus, this meant that he needed to be circumcised if he was going to have the respect of the Jewish people on his mission. And yet, being circumcised as an adult in the ancient world would be extraordinarily painful. What does this act tell us about Timothy’s character and convictions? (cf. 1 Cor. 9:19-23)

Read verses 6-9. What does this section tell us (if anything) about discerning God’s will?

“We” passage in Philippi (vv.10-17)

(16:10) When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

This missionary group trusted Paul’s vision. They allowed this to guide them into Macedonia.

(16:11) So putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis.

Paul must have picked up Luke in Troas. This trip was 125 miles long, but with a strong wind, they could cover this in two days.[279] The return trip, however, was five days long, because it was against the wind (Acts 20:6).

(16:12) And from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days.

For a historical background on Philippi, see “Introduction to Philippians.”

(16:13) And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled.

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).[280] Geographically, the river Gangites flowed close to the walls of Philippi.

(16:14) A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.

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.”[281] Lydia was probably wealthy, because 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).”[282]

“The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” Did God override Lydia’s free will? Perhaps. But even if God chose to override Lydia’s free will, this would simply refer to a single example. This doesn’t mean that God uses irresistible grace with every human being who ever lived. After all, Paul came to faith through a confrontation with the resurrection Christ, but this was merely one example—not a universal practice of God. Moreover, the use of the word “opened” (dianoigo) could simply refer to how God opened her heart in order for her to understand (Lk. 24:45; 2 Macc. 1:4). Thus, God opened Lydia’s heart, but Lydia needed to let Christ come in. The fact that God opened her heart shows God’s involvement in the missionary work. Paul and Silas were not alone; God was with them, leading them, and opening hearts before them.

(16:15) And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

“Prevailed upon them” (parebiasato) means that Lydia “implored” or “urged” them to stay. The 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. She was also practicing the principle of sharing with those who share the word with us (Gal. 6:6; 1 Cor. 9:14).

Demon possessed slave-girl at Philippi

(16:16) It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling.

We disagree with the view 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 (Isa. 40-48). Demons, at most, can predict likelihoods or can orchestrate events to make self-fulfilled prophecies. But they do not know the future itself.

The “python spirit” came from “the symbol of the famous Delphic oracle and represented the god Apollo, who was believed to render predictions of future events.”[283] Thus, the spirit of the python became a way to identify a fortune teller. In a military region like Philippi, diviners and oracles like this were a premium commodity. Military commanders and even emperors would not make decisions without “first consulting an oracle to see how things might turn out.”[284]

This slave-girl was held captive by both demonic masters and human masters, being exploited for their selfish purposes. 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).”[285] 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) Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.”

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 they were proclaiming salvation. In our view, this demon-possessed girl is similar to legalistic street preachers today, who do more harm than good. Some of what they say is true, but their message is so poisoned with hate and legalism that it turns people away from Christ. After all, even demons can utter theological truths (Jas. 2:19).

(16:18) She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out at that very moment.

Why did Paul wait “many days” to cast this demon out of this girl? First, it’s possible that it took Paul a few days to discern if she was truly possessed. Second, perhaps Paul needed to see if the girl desired to be free of this demon. It isn’t clearly whether the girl wanted free from her possession. Third, it’s also feasible that Paul knew that there would be serious repercussions in the culture if he performed an exorcism. Indeed, this turned out to be the case.

How did Paul discern that this girl was possessed? Paul must’ve been able to discern that this girl was demon-possessed based on her profession (i.e. fortune-telling) and her aberrant behavior (i.e. following them around in a caustic way). It’s no wonder why Paul was “greatly annoyed” by her.

(16:19-21) But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, 20 and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, “These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, 21 and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans.”

Luke used the same word to describe how the demon “came out” of the girl (exēlthen), as well as the money was “gone” (exēlthen). This shows that the demon was “not the only thing to vanish.”[286]

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 an economic threat to their society. Similarly, 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) The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. 23 When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; 24 and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

This kangaroo court is reminiscent 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.

“[They] ordered them to be beaten with rods… They had struck them with many blows.” Paul had been beaten with rods at least three times (2 Cor. 11:25; 1 Thess. 2:2). The magistrates used “bundles of rods” (Latin fasces) to pummel the guilty people.[287]

“[They] threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.” Bock writes, “Prisoners slept seated or on the hard floor and were seen as deserving harsh treatment.”[288] 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.”[289] Another commentator writes, “The stocks normally caused extreme discomfort as the prisoner had to sleep either in a sitting position or lying down on the floor. Changing position to avoid cramping was nearly impossible.”[290] Hence it is “not surprising, then, to find them awake at midnight (v. 25).”[291]

(16:25) But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

This shows the impact of giving thanks in order to victoriously suffer. 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 “joy” in the midst of suffering. Paul modeled that joy here. Yet, all the gratitude and praise in the world wasn’t changing their circumstances. Their situation looked pretty grim. Then, this happens…

God intervenes with an earthquake

(16:26) And suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.

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). This must’ve scared the jailer to experience this—especially given the fact that the chains were broken open.

(16:27) When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.

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 fled. In this culture, a jailer would face capital punishment if he lost a prisoner (Acts 12:19; 27:42; Justinian, Code, 9.4.4). Thus, this man is about to make a rash decision—ending his life—being utterly hopeless.

(16:28) But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!”

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 in discerning God’s which—not the least of which being the prospect of evangelism.

(16:29) And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas.

This event occurred 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) And after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

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 men sing praises to God after taking a humiliating and painful beating??” The jailer realized that their God was powerful (causing an earthquake), protective (taking care of them), and now merciful (because He didn’t let him die). God used Paul and Silas to save the jailor’s life, and now, God would use them to save his soul. The jailer’s theology and life changed in that one moment.

(16:31) They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

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 regulations to salvation, but not Paul and Silas.

(16:32) And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.

Paul and Silas must’ve gone on to explain more about God, Christ, and salvation more in depth. Consequently, the entire family is persuaded.

(16:33) And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household.

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: bruised, bloody, and tired.

The jailer goes from inflicting pain on these two men to relieving their pain. 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) And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.

Does this justify infant baptism? Paedobaptists (i.e. practitioners of “infant baptism”) believe that this is evidence of infant baptism, because the whole household” was baptized, which likely included little kids and perhaps even babies. However, the text never explicitly states that babies were baptized. This is only inferred and assumed by these interpreters. Moreover, the text explicitly states that the people in his family had “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) Now when day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, “Release those men.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The chief magistrates have sent to release you. Therefore come out now and go in peace.”

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 prison to protect this jailer’s life—at the risk of their own lives. They must have realized that this “miracle served not to deliver them but rather to deliver the jailer.”[292]

(16:37) But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out.”

Romans citizens were not allowed to be whipped or beaten (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).[293] Bock writes, “The Valerian (509 BC), Porcian (248 BC), and Julian law codes (ca. 23 BC) affirmed such protections.”[294]

Paul had been stripped naked, and then took a humiliating beating and imprisonment. Remarkably, Paul could’ve called an end to this torture at any moment, but he waited to play this card the next morning. Paul probably used this as legal leverage for the Philippian believers, so that they wouldn’t undergo too much persecution.[295]

(16:38-39) The policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, 39 and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city.

The leaders in Philippi were in hot water. 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).”[296]

(16:40) They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.

Paul and Silas return to Lydia’s house to “encourage them.” They probably told the story of all that happened that night. As brand new Christians, this must’ve been an incredibly encouraging story to hear.

What were some of the ways that God brought people to faith in Philippi?

Paul went to places a prayer (v.13). When he entered a new city, he went to the areas where people would be open to the message of Christ.

God opened Lydia’s heart in order to understand and “respond” to the message (v.14). We can pray that God would open the hearts of people around us in order to make the message of Christ clear.

God used the suffering of Paul and Silas to reach others. Specifically, he used their praise in the midst of suffering (v.25).

God intervened in the forms of miracles: healing the possessed girl (v.18) and generating an earthquake (v.26).

Paul put the needs of the jailer above his own safety and security (v.28). He was willing to pay a tremendous price to see this man come to faith. Paul and Silas stayed up far into the night—far past “midnight” (v.25). They not only experienced pain, but they sacrificed their sleep to reach this man’s family.

Questions for Reflection

Many factors led the Philippian jailor to come to faith in Christ. As you read through the passage, what were some of those factors?

Acts 17 (Second Missionary Tour: Thessalonica)

(17:1) Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.

The Romans built a massive highway called the Via Egnatia that stretched from Neapolis all the way to the Adriatic Sea. From there, people would catch a boat to Rome. Thus, this main highway was very popular to use. It intersected the major cities of Macedonia—not the least of which was its capital of Thessalonica. The city of Thessalonica was the second largest city in Greece with a population of roughly 200,000 people.[297] Strabo called Thessalonica “the metropolis of Macedonia” (Geography, 7.7.21), and the poet Antipater called it “the mother of all Macedonia” (Palatine Anthology 4.228). Bock writes, “It had a major harbor and was a key link to the Bosporus and the Black Sea.”[298] For more history on Thessalonica, see “Intro to 1 and 2 Thessalonians.”

(17:2-3) And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.”

Why was it Paul’s “custom” to speak to the Jewish people first in a new city? This was probably theological on some level (Rom. 1:16-17; 9:1-3). In Paul’s mind, the Jewish people had the right to hear about the Jewish Messiah. Additionally, it was also a strategic decision: The Jewish people were monotheists, believed in the Scriptures, and anticipated their Messiah.

Was Paul only in Thessalonica for 3-5 weeks? Not necessarily. Paul taught in the Sabbaths on three occasions, but this doesn’t mean that these teachings were week after week. Paul was probably there for longer, but given the chronology of Acts, he could’ve only been there for a few months.

“This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” Paul used the logical Law of Identity to argue for Jesus as the Messiah (A = A; Jesus = the Christ).

(17:4) And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women.

Both races (Greeks and Jews) as well as genders (males 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 and evidence to reach these people.

“A number of the leading women.” In Thessalonica, women held significant positions of power. There is “inscriptional evidence that in Macedonia women had considerable social and civic influence.”[299]

(17:5) But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people.

The preaching of the gospel attracted enemies. Jason[300] hosted Paul and Silas (see v.7). Because of his connection with them, the mob attacked his house first. Perhaps this violent mob was surrounding Jason’s house, wanting him to hand over Paul and Silas. We discover interlocking between Acts and Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians—both of which mention this persecution from the Jewish population (1 Thess. 2:14-16).

(17:6) When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also.”

Luke was correct to call the leaders of Thessalonica “city officials” (politarchs). Critics formerly held that the term “city officials” (politarchs) was an error, because 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…”[301] 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.”[302]

“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 influential.

(17:7) “And Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.

The Romans hated sedition, so this would’ve been a clever accusation to level at Paul. The message of Christ 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). This would’ve been threatening.

(17:8-9) They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things. 9 And when they had received a pledge from Jason and the others, they released them.

The authorities release Jason (et al.), but they must’ve been shaken. 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.”[303] 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.”[304]

Berea

(17:10) The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.

Berea is about 45 miles away from Thessalonica, and Cicero referred to it as ““out-of-the-way town” (Against Piso 36.89.). The description of being driven out of the city fits with Paul’s writing to the Thessalonians: “We, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while—in person, not in spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. 18 For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and yet Satan hindered us” (1 Thess. 2:17-18).

“They went into the synagogue of the Jews.” Again, Paul follows his custom of going to the synagogue before speaking to the Gentiles.

(17:11) Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

Even though the Bereans were hearing the message directly from an apostle, Luke records that they were “more noble-minded” 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.”[305] Moreover, they didn’t do this weekly, but daily. These truths were so important that they met “daily” to discover if they were true.

(17:12) Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.

Luke keeps mentioning women believers—a key and repeated theme in his writing. The order of the words “suggests that the women are particularly prominent in the new Christian group.”[306]

(17:13) But when the Jews of Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea also, they came there as well, agitating and stirring up the crowds.

They travelled 45 miles to lynch Paul. This is extreme dedication to their cause! Perhaps Paul could relate to their fury, because he had been travelling to Damascus to stop Christianity.

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 1-13. What methods did Paul use to reach people in Thessalonica and Berea? How did these people respond to Paul’s efforts?

Athens

(17:14) Then immediately the brethren sent Paul out to go as far as the sea; and Silas and Timothy remained there.

Athens was 195 miles from Berea. Once again, this account is interlocks with 1 Thessalonians 3:1-6. Paul won’t see Timothy again until he sees him in Corinth (Acts 18:5).

(17:15) Now those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they left.

We often view Paul as a maverick leader, who was independent and entrepreneurial. Yet this is the only time in Acts where he is alone! Paul typically preferred to lead 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.” This gives us a window into the heart of Paul: He hated working alone and desired fellowship with other believers. It’s possible that Paul asked for Timothy to visit him during this time (1 Thess. 3:1), but then sent him back to Thessalonica.[307]

Athens

Athens was the intellectual capital of the Greek world. This was the home of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno. 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).”[308] The city was a “blend of superstitious idolatry and enlightened philosophy.”[309] It reached its peak in the 4th century BC. At this point, Corinth surpassed Athens both “commercially and politically,” and its citizenry dropped to roughly 5,000 men.[310] Yet it was still a place of tourism, education, art, and culture. Thus, despite its decline in many respects, Athens was still “still considered the cultural and intellectual center of the Roman Empire.”[311]

(17:16) Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols.

Art and architecture of the Greek gods filled the city of Athens. All of this idolatry was deplorable to Paul. The term “provoke” (paroxynō) is where we get our term “paroxysm,” which is medical term for a violent spasm. Paul wasn’t ashamed to bring the message of Christ into the public arena of ideas. In his letter to the Romans, he says that he was “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 taking “the gospel” to intellectuals (Rom. 1:15-16).

(17:17) So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.

Before speaking to the philosophers, Paul follows his custom of going to the Jewish people and the God-fearers.

(17:18) And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.

These two philosophical schools were different from one another:

  • Epicureans followed the teachings of Epicurus (341-270 BC). They didn’t care for the Greek gods. Indeed, they were “thoroughgoing materialists, believing that everything came from atoms or particles of matter”[312] and were similar to “agnostic secularists.”[313] Of course, this implied that they denied the existence of the afterlife. This led to a pronounced detachment with the world. Diogenes writes, “Nothing to fear in God; Nothing to feel in death; Good [pleasure] can be attained; Evil [pain] can be endured.”[314]
  • Stoics followed the teachings of Zeno (340-265 BC), who taught in the “stoa” or porch (hence the name “Stoicism”). They “were pantheists who argued for the unity of humanity and kinship with the divine (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers1-160).”[315] They focused on reason and self-sufficiency.[316] 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.”[317] They believed in the logos that was “the cohesive rational principle that bound the entire cosmic order together.”[318]

How does Paul address these various thinkers? Marshall comments, “The Epicureans attacked superstitious, irrational belief in the gods, expressed in idolatry, while the Stoics stressed the unity of mankind and its kinship with God, together with the consequent moral duty of man. What Paul was doing was to side with the philosophers, and then demonstrate that they did not go far enough.”[319]

“Babbler” (spermologos) or “seed-speaker”[320] refers to someone who is picking up scraps of knowledge and pawning them off like he knows what he is talking about (“scrapmonger”). The word was “designated [for] a bird picking up scraps in the gutter, and hence came to be used of worthless loafers (the kind of person who today would pick up cigarette ends and smoke them) and also of persons who had acquired mere scraps of learning.”[321]

(17:19-21) And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? 20 For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.” 21 (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)

The Areopagus was the “hill of Ares,” the Greek god of war. The Latin version translates this as “Mars Hill.” This 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.”[322] Some commentators think that this was a legal trial that intended to assess Paul’s teaching. We disagree. Luke simply doesn’t mention legal proceedings in this account, and even though the intelligentsia rejected Paul’s message, he was allowed to leave without harm. Moreover, Luke records that these people simply enjoyed debating new philosophical views (v.21; Demosthenes, Philippic 1.10; Thucydides, History 2.38.5).

(17:22) So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.”

Paul uses their idolatry as a segue to discuss the one true God. Earlier, Paul was “provoked” by their idols (v.16), and so, he clearly doesn’t agree with their spiritual views. However, he found a good starting place for dialogue, discussion, and debate: “At least you’re religious!” Even though Paul disagreed with these people, he found common ground and something on which to agree before he began to debate.

(17:23) “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.”

The Athenians had an altar to an “unknown god.” A traveler named Pausanius (AD 150) states that in Athens there were “altars of gods both named and unknown” (Description of Greece 1.1.4 and 1.17.1).[323] Moreover, other authors describe the religious life of Athens and their multitude of gods (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 6.3; Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers 1.110).[324] 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.

They worshipped a “what,” not a who. They worshipped an inanimate stone object—not the living God.

(17:24-25) “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things.”

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 an idol.

“As though He needed anything.” In one of his teachings, D.A. Carson states that the Greeks believed that they needed to bargain with the gods. If a worshipper gave a good enough sacrifice to a god, then that god would be favorable to him. For instance, if you were going on a sea voyage, you would sacrifice to Poseidon. If you were giving a speech, you’d sacrifice to Hermes. 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, or giving a grain of sand to the owner of a beach!

(17:26) “And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation.”

Paul needs to start from the beginning in order to explain why the biblical worldview makes sense. Moses makes a similar point: “When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of man, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel” (Deut. 32:8).

(17:27) “That they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.”

Because God is the Creator, he is sovereign over human history. Some people call history His Story.

“They might grope for Him.” The term “grope” (psēlaphaō) refers to “looking for something in an uncertain way.” In Greek outside of the NT, the “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).”[325] Paul’s point is that we need more than speculation. We need revelation.

God is very near to “each one” of us. He seems to be combining the transcendence and the imminence of God here.

(17:28) “For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’”

Paul cites from Epimenides the Cretan (600 BC). He cites the final line of the quatrain here:

They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one—

The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!— [see Titus 1:12]

But thou art not dead; thou livest and abidest for ever,

For in thee we live and move and have our being.[326]

Paul also cites Aratus of Soli in his work Phaenomena (315-240 BC), which states:

“Let us begin with Zeus. Never, O men, let us leave him unmentioned. All the ways are full of Zeus, and all the market-places of human beings. The sea is full of him; so are the harbors. In every way we have all to do with Zeus, for we are truly his offspring.”[327]

This itself may be a citation of Cleanthes,[328] which would explain why Paul said, “Some of your poets have said…” (referring to plural authors)

Paul cites their own literature to show that humans are made in God’s image—not the other way around (Rom. 1:21-25). Marshall comments, “Whereas the Greeks thought of the divine nature of man, Paul would have thought of the way in which man is the image of God.”[329]

(17:29) “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.”

Paul continues to critique their idolatry. 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 manufacturing idols.

(17:30) “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent.”

God allowed the nations to go their own way—even into idolatry (cf. Acts 14:16; Rom. 3:25). Now, Paul takes his lecture full circle: He calls their worldview “ignorant” (agnoias, v.23). Originally, he said that these people “worship in ignorance” (v.23), and now, he says that God has “overlooked the times of ignorance.” This would’ve been a risky statement to make in the intellectual center of the world! These people prided themselves on their knowledge, but twice, Paul states that they have “no knowledge” (agnoias).

(17:31) “Because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

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) Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.”

The Greeks despised the idea of resurrection. Polhill writes, “Epicureans did not believe in any existence after death, and Stoics believed that only the soul, the divine spark, survived death.”[330] 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).[331] 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).[332]

This fits with Paul’s other statements that his message was “foolishness” to the Greeks (1 Cor. 1:23). Greco-Roman worldviews directly collided with the Christian proclamation of resurrection, and therefore, Greco-Romans found the concept repulsive (see Evidence Unseen, ch. 16 for the Pagan rejection of resurrection).

(17:33-34) So Paul went out of their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

Did Paul fail by using apologetics? Some critics of apologetics believe that Paul’s lecture at the Areopagus was a failure. Not true! Some of the people wanted to hear more (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.”[333] 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).

Analyze Paul’s approach with the Athenians. How did Paul choose to communicate the message of Christ with these people? What stands out in this particular approach?

Paul has a gracious and diplomatic approach to these people. Paul avoids two extremes: (1) hating culture and (2) accepting the immorality of culture. Even though he was “provoked” by their idolatry (v.16), he could still speak generously, charitably, knowledgably, and patiently to them (v.22).

Paul is forthright that he disagrees with the Athenians. He begins and ends his lecture by calling their views “ignorant” (agnoias). Originally, he said that these people “worship in ignorance” (v.23), and now, he says that God has “overlooked the times of ignorance” (v.30). This would be difficult for the people to hear in the intellectual capital of the world!

Humans cannot limit God in holy spaces (v.24). Paul argues that the Creator of the universe would not live inside of a man-made temple. If God is truly the Creator, then he cannot be limited by his creation.

Humans cannot coerce God through sacrifices (v.25). We cannot bargain with a God that “has no needs” (NLT). Indeed, part of the fundamental flaw in this thinking is that it rejects that God is a giver by nature—not a taker.

Humans should seek to discover what God is really like (vv.26-27). In fact, in God’s sovereignty, he organized humanity so that we would come to him.

Humans have personhood, morality, and free will, which must come from a supernatural source (vv.28-29). Everything else in the universe operates according to the laws of nature. If we concede that humans are thinking, rational, and volitional beings, then we must have inherited this from a transcendent source—namely, God.

Humans are morally and spiritually separated from God (v.30). At the heart of the issue is the issue of the heart. Our problem isn’t primarily intellectual. Our problem is that we don’t want to “repent” and turn to God.

Humans will face judgment if they do not trust in Jesus (v.31). The great thinkers at the Areopagus affirm Paul’s teaching as true when they sneer and throw him out of their sight. They couldn’t lower their pride to accept the Messiah.

Was Paul’s use of apologetics a failure?

Some argue that Paul’s message to the Athenians was a failure. After all, they argue, Paul never mentions the Cross in his message. Later, they argue, Paul repents of this philosophical approach in Athens and writes to the Corinthians, “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1-2). Do you agree with this interpretation?

Acts 18 (Second Missionary Tour: Corinth)

(18:1) After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth.

Corinth is about 50 miles from Athens in Greece, and it was the largest city in Greece. Moreover, it was the third largest city in the Roman Empire (behind Rome and Alexandria). For a historical background of Corinth, see “Introduction to 1 & 2 Corinthians.” With all honesty, Paul told the Corinthians, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). Corinth was a frightening environment in general, and additionally, Fernando comments, “This is understandable considering the pain he had endured in his last few stops.”[334]

(18:2) And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them.

Suetonius states that this event occurred in AD 49 (Suetonius, Life of Claudius, 25), and this edict dates to ~AD 49 (Orosius, History 7.6.15-16). Since Priscilla and Aquilla were from Rome, Paul probably first heard about the Roman Christians through them. Later in Acts 20:2-3, Paul wrote 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.”[335] Longenecker writes, “We may conclude that she came from a higher social class than her husband or was in some way considered more important.”[336]

(18:3) And because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers.

What was tent-making? Tradesmen used goat’s hair called cilicium in order to make “cloaks, curtains, and other fabrics designed to give protection against wet.”[337]

Paul immediately hits it off with Aquila, because they were both tent-makers, and they worked together. This interlocks with Paul’s reference to “working with his hands” in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 4:12; 2 Cor. 11:7; cf. 1 Thess. 2:9; Acts 18:3).

What is a leader and scholar like Paul doing making tents? This would be the equivalent of having a scholar with a double PhD working at a blue-collar job. But 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.”[338] Rabbi Hillel allegedly said, “He who makes a profit from the crown of the Torah shall waste away” (Pirqê ʾAḇô 4.7). Later, Gamaliel III said, “All study of the Torah which is not combined with work will ultimately be futile and lead to sin” (Pirqê ʾAḇô 2.2).[339]

(18:4) And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.

Once again, we see the pattern of Paul preaching with the Jewish people in town.

(18:5) But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.

Silas and Timothy most likely brought a financial gift to Paul at this time so that he didn’t need to work (cf. 2 Cor. 11:9; Phil. 4:19). Paul told the Corinthians, “When I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so” (2 Cor. 11:9).

(18:6) But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

Paul gave the Jewish people the first shot to hear the gospel. But he didn’t want to waste an inordinate amount of time trying to persuade people who were refusing the truth. After all, if God could start a thriving church through others, they would be able to reach the Jewish people in town.

(18:7) Then he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue.

Titius was probably a Gentile, and he moved in right next to the synagogue. This must have caused tension with the Jews there.

(18:8) Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized.

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 long letters to the Corinthians.

(18:9-10) And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; 10 for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.”

God intervenes when we need him the most. Verse 9 is the role of human agency, and verse 10 is God’s part in ministry. Paul was “afraid” (1 Cor. 2:1-4) because he was in such a wild place like Corinth—the “Las Vegas” of his day. This visitation from Jesus must have been precisely what he needed to move forward.

“I have many people in this city.” This refers to unconverted people—not believers. In our view, Marshall gives the best explanation when he writes, “The saying indicates divine foreknowledge of the success of the gospel in Corinth.”[340] We agree that divine foreknowledge is in view. Indeed, even Calvinists would need to agree that an unconverted person is not part of the “people” of God until regeneration and justification. Jesus must be infallibly predicting that many will come to saving faith.

(18:11) And he settled there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

When Jesus Christ makes a personal visit and tells you to stay put, it’s a good idea to listen! Paul ends up staying in Corinth for a year and a half as a result of this encounter with Christ. Bruce dates this period from the fall of AD 50 to the spring of AD 52.[341]

(18:12) But while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat.

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 also tells us that Gallio was anti-Semitic (Seneca, Natural Questions 4a.preface.11; Dio Cassius, Roman History 61.35; Tacitus, Annals 15.73).[342] This fits with the portrayal of Gallio in this chapter.

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.”[343]

The Jewish people were fed up with Paul, and they appealed to the secular government to do something. Yes, Jesus just told Paul that no one would “attack” or “harm” him (vv.9-10). So, who do you think is going to come out on top of this exchange with the proconsul?

(18:13) [They were] saying, “This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.”

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

(18:14-15) But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrong or of vicious crime, O Jews, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you; 15 but if there are questions about words and names and your own law, look after it yourselves; I am unwilling to be a judge of these matters.”

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

(18:16) And he drove them away from the judgment seat.

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

(18:17) And they all took hold of Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and began beating him in front of the judgment seat. But Gallio was not concerned about any of these things.

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?). Regardless, after the trial with Gallio, Sosthenes was beaten badly.

What happened to Sosthenes? We agree with Marshall[344] who holds that Sosthenes became a Christian at this time. Paul later refers to a man named Sosthenes as being a Christian in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:1). Therefore, it isn’t unlikely that Paul himself shared his faith with Sosthenes after he took a public and painful beating.

“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) Paul, having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria, and with him were Priscilla and Aquila. In Cenchrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow.

What “vow” was this? There are multiple views regarding the nature of this vow:

OPTION #1. This was the Nazarite vow. The Mishnah stated that a man should cut his hair before a sacrifice was made (Nazir, 3.6; 5.4). So, this might fit with this sort of 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). The problem with this view is that this was done outside of Israel, which doesn’t fit with performing a Nazarite vow.

OPTION #2. This was a “thanksgiving vow.” Bruce[345] and Marshall[346] argue that this is simply some sort of “thanksgiving vow” from Paul to God. Bruce states that this was an act of gratitude for Jesus fulfilling his promise in verse 10, protecting his life.

OPTION #3. This was some sort of Greek vow. Barrett holds that this was a culturally Greek vow, where “sailors sometimes shaved after surviving a tough journey (citing Juvenal, Satires 12.81-82).”[347] We’re simply not sure.

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

Ephesus

(18:19-21) They came to Ephesus, and he left them there. Now he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay for a longer time, he did not consent, 21 but taking leave of them and saying, “I will return to you again if God wills,” he set sail from Ephesus.

Paul will indeed return to Ephesus and stay for multiple years. 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 by the beginning of chapter 19.

Caesarea, Antioch, Galatia, Phrygia

(18:22-23) When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and went down to Antioch. 23 And having spent some time there, he left and passed successively through the Galatian region and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.

Paul builds up the churches that he already planted. This ends the second missionary journey and begins the third.

Apollos in Ephesus

(18:24) Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures.

Alexandria was a center of learning and philosophical study. So, Apollos must’ve been an intelligent and educated man. Marshall writes, “Alexandria was a centre of education and philosophy, and it was here that Philo, the Jewish philosopher, worked. Apollos may well have owed his eloquence and debating ability to his upbringing in Alexandria. As an educated Jew he was well versed in the scriptures and able to turn his knowledge to good Christian use.”[348]

(18:25) This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John.

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).”[349] Apollos was not only intelligent, but he was passionate. A great combination for a Christian teacher!

What was Apollos’ 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?”[350] While this is an interesting speculation, 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.”

(18:26) And he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

Paul had left Priscilla and Aquila behind in Ephesus (v.19), and it turns out that this was a good decision. This couple helped to instruct this rising teacher.

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—a willingness to learn and accept correction.

(18:27-28) And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

Apollos must have been a good debater and public speaker. The term “powerfully refuted” (diakatelegchomai) means to “overwhelm someone in argument” (BDAG). All of this shows why Paul speaks so highly of Apollos in his letter to the Corinthians, viewing him as a coleader (1 Cor. 1-4).

Questions for Reflection

Corinth was a wild city filled with egregious immorality, and Paul was a very righteous man. What sort of qualities do you think Paul had to develop in order to reach these Corinthian people?

Paul was a tentmaker when he couldn’t collect financial giving from local Christians, or when he refused his right to be paid (1 Cor. 9:12). What does this tell us about Paul’s character that he would be willing to do blue-collar work like this?

Paul was able to speak powerfully and with endurance to the Corinthians. How do you respond to this quote from Fernando? He writes, “While we are responsible to share the message faithfully, we are not responsible for the response of our audience.”[351]

What qualities did Apollos have that made him a dynamic Bible teacher? (Don’t forget to include the qualities he demonstrates with Priscilla and Aquila.)

Acts 19 (Ephesus)

Paul had desired to travel to Ephesus for a long time, but the Holy Spirit had redirected him to do other work (Acts 16:6; 18:21). Now, finally, he gets an opportunity to serve here. Historians tell us quite a bit about the city of Ephesus:

  • Ephesus had a large population. Witherington estimates it somewhere between 200,000-250,000 people.[352] It was the third largest city in the Roman Empire (behind Rome and Alexandria).
  • Ephesus was massively influential. This was the second most influential city that Paul reached—second only to Corinth. Ephesus was the “hub of all culture and commerce in western Asia,”[353] and it is the place from which the seven churches of Revelation 2-3 were formed (Acts 19:10).
  • Ephesus contained a massive amount of occult activity. Jewish exorcists lived and practiced there (Acts 19:14ff). When the church exploded, the new Christians burned their occult books for 50,000 pieces of silver (Acts 19:19). This shows just how big of a movement occurred in this city.
  • They had a temple erected to Artemis. This temple was 4x the size of the Parthenon. Its pillars were 60 feet tall, and it was 425 feet long and 225 feet wide.[354] This was considered “one of the great wonders of the ancient world.”[355]
  • A massive Jewish settlement was there. Josephus records a large Jewish population surrounded by all of this Paganism (Josephus, Antiquities225-27; 16.162-68, 172-73).

Remnants of John the Baptist in Ephesus

(19:1) It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples.

Are these disciples of Jesus or disciples of John the Baptist? John the Baptist had many disciples (Lk. 5:33; 7:18-19), and Luke doesn’t mention “disciples of John” or “[Paul’s] disciples” (Acts 9:25). Moreover, Luke consistently uses the simple term “disciples” to refer to disciples of Jesus. From this, F.F. Bruce[356] believes that these were disciples of Jesus.

However, we agree with Howard Marshall[357] that these are not true believers; after all, they do not have the Holy Spirit (v.2), which is essential for a true believer to 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.”[358] This would make sense as to why Paul immediately starts to question their beliefs (“Did you receive the Holy Spirit…”). This would also fit with Luke’s other examples of naming disciples, while not being certain if they were true Christians (Acts 8:13; 15:5).

Therefore, it is right to sometimes question whether a person is truly a Christian. This is precisely what Paul does with John the Baptist’s disciples in Ephesus. He heard the right words at first—that they were “disciples,” but he dug deeper to discover that these were not authentic believers. After asking more questions, he found out that they weren’t regenerate. This is a good model for how to approach someone if we don’t think they’re regenerate. Keep asking questions to discern if they’ve legitimately come to faith.[359]

(19:2) He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”

These were disciples, but they weren’t new covenant believers. They “believed” but didn’t have the Holy Spirit. They 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) And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.”

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) Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

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 had been inaugurated.

(19:6) And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.

This is the final mention of speaking in tongues in Acts. These men were re-baptized when they heard about the message of Jesus for the first time. This example from Paul gives us insight into his view conversion and water baptism: If a non-believer is baptized, they should be re-baptized when they truly come to faith.

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

(19:7) There were in all about twelve men.

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, surely he would’ve been more exact.

Ephesus

(19:8) And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.

Paul had already taught in this synagogue, and now he returns (Acts 18:19-21). Paul used apologetics and rational arguments. He also spent “three months” in the synagogue trying to persuade these people. This fits with the pattern we’ve seen all throughout Acts: (1) starting with the synagogue and (2) 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) But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.

The term “hardened” is in the middle voice (i.e. “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. Moreover, it was common for people in the Mediterranean world to cease work around 11am: “Rome prolongs her varied tasks to the fifth hour” (Martial, Epigrams 4.8.3).[360] Bruce writes, “Whatever the textual basis of this reading may be, it probably represents what actually happened.”[361] Moreover, since this was the heat of the day, it is “historically probable”[362] that this account is true—despite the fact that it comes from the Western Text. Paul taught for several hours in the heat of the day while also making a living. This was the time that most people would flee from the sun to take a nap because of the heat. Bruce writes, “More people would be asleep at 1 p.m. than at 1 a.m.”[363] Paul worked on tents (Acts 20:34), and he used his free time to teach.

(19:10) This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.

He stayed there for two years, and God reached many in Asia Minor. Bruce dates this period from the fall of AD 52 to the summer of AD 55.[364] Paul seems to stay in these bigger, strategic cities for longer amounts of time. After all, he stayed in the booming metropolis of Corinth for a year and a half (Acts 18:11).

The churches mentioned in Revelation 2-3 likely came from the equipping and discipleship ministry Paul did here: “Presumably the seven churches of Asia addressed in Revelation 2-3 were founded at this time.”[365] This must’ve resulted in thousands meeting Christ. Consider how many Christians would need to be there to burn occult books that were worth 50,000 pieces of silver? (Acts 19:19)

Overt spiritual warfare

(19:11-12) God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.

(19:11-12) Healing handkerchiefs?

“Handkerchiefs” (sudaria) is better translated “sweat rag.”[366] Paul probably did a lot of sweating as a leatherworker and day-time Bible teacher. Though, it must’ve been frustrating for him to set down his sweat rag for just a moment… only to see someone disappear with it to heal someone!

Not everyone had power from God like this. Luke offers a contrast with seven Jewish exorcists…

Seven Jewish Exorcists: What kind of power did the other spiritual leaders have?

(19:13) But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.”

These Jewish exorcists seem to be using Jesus’ name like a magic formula. But demons can see through unbelief. They want to use the name, but deny its power (2 Tim. 3:5). Jewish exorcists in this region were syncretists: That is, they used various different religious practices to accomplish their goals. Indeed, various “magical papyri from the ancient world have been discovered.”[367] One text reads, “I abjure thee by Jesus, the God of the Hebrews.” Another reads, “Hail, God of Abraham, hail, God of Isaac, hail, God of Jacob, Jesus Chrestus, Holy Spirit, Son of the Father.”[368]

(19:14) Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this.

Sceva wasn’t one of the high priests. Rather, Luke is likely observing that this man was in “the high priestly circle.”[369]

(19:15-16) And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” 16 And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

These exorcists didn’t have any authority without Christ’s authority. Also, demons had supernatural strength (i.e. one demon-possessed man could beat up seven men). The men wore loose robes, so this could explain why they were “naked.” Furthermore, Polhill observes, “With the extreme sense of modesty characteristic of Judaism, the nakedness of the Jewish exorcists was almost symbolic of their total humiliation in the incident.”[370]

(19:17) This became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified.

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) Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices.

The “practices” refers to the “magic spells” performed by these people. Occult practitioners kept their practices secret, because this was the key to their power. Indeed, the term occult means “hidden, secret, dark, mysterious, concealed.”[371] 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.”[372]

(19:19) And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.

What should we do with demonic materials from our past? We don’t have explicit teaching on what to do with occult materials. However, this example seems like our best principle: incinerate these things.

How big was the church in Ephesus? If a piece of silver equaled a denarius, then this would be equivalent to 137 years of worth of work without a day off.[373] This shows quite a significant amount of commitment to forfeit this much money for the sake of Christ. Stott writes, “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.”[374]

(19:20-21) So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing. 21 Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”

Paul 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). Indeed, Paul wrote Romans in AD 56-57, and he “provides first-hand evidence that this was precisely Paul’s purpose at this very time.”[375] Paul made these decisions “in the Spirit,” showing that 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) And having sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.

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

What principles do we learn about spiritual warfare from this section?

Demons know believers by name. The evil spirit knew “Jesus” and “Paul” (v.15). Both were a threat to Satan’s kingdom, and this demon had heard of these men. Perhaps C.S. Lewis’ fictional book The Screwtape Letters (1942) 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?”[376]

Demons are exceptionally strong. One demon was able to overpower seven grown men (v.16).

The power of Jesus is greater than religion. Seven sons of Sceva couldn’t exorcise a demon (v.16), but Paul’s sweat rag could heal multiple people (vv.11-12).

It is better to destroy occult materials than to keep the money. The believers destroyed 50,000 pieces of silver worth of occult materials (v.19). Occult materials are so powerful and destructive that they should be destroyed.

Ephesian riot!

(19:23-24) About that time there occurred no small disturbance concerning the Way. 24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, was bringing no little business to the craftsmen.

Demetrius is the ring leader of this mob.

“Artemis” (Roman “Diana”) was a fertility goddess.[377] This is why she is often depicted with many breasts. The people “celebrated” this female deity with “wild orgies and carousing.”[378]

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… We also have inscriptions about such silver materials (British Museum collection of ancient Greek inscriptions 3.481 = Die Inschriften von Ephesos 1.27).”[379]

The Temple was a historical place. Several ancient authors describe this massive and ornate structure (Strabo, Geography 14.1.22-23; Pliny Natural History 16.213; 36.95-97, 179.). 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… [Some experts place] the dimensions at 377 feet by 197 feet, or 130 meters by 70 meters… It was the largest building in the Greek world.”[380] The Temple was destroyed in 1869, and only its altar was rediscovered in 1965.[381]

(19:25-27) These he gathered together with the workmen of similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business. 26 You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all. 27 Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence.”

Demetrius views Christianity as an affront to materialism and idolatry (1 Thess. 1:9-10). Polhill writes, “The gospel is always at its most controversial when it comes into conflict with economic interests.”[382] Demetrius’ worries turned out to be real. Pliny the Younger mentions pagan temples being turned into places for Christians to gather in Bithynia (Letters, 10.96).

“The great goddess Artemis” was a phrase in Ephesus at the time that Luke was writing.

(19:28-29) When they heard this and were filled with rage, they began crying out, saying, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 The city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed with one accord into the theater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia.

“Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 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).

The Ephesian “theater” was “cut out of the western slope of Mount Pion (modern Panayirdaǧ).[383] It was “capable of holding 25,000 persons.”[384]

(19:30-31) And when Paul wanted to go into the assembly, the disciples would not let him. 31 Also some of the Asiarchs who were friends of his sent to him and repeatedly urged him not to venture into the theater.

Paul wants to go in, but the believers hold him back. His friends were right: What help could Paul be in the middle of a mob?

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.’”[385] The Asiarchs “would likely be civic rulers or leading men of Ephesus from the upper class rather than merely cultic figures.”[386] Barrett writes, “Strabo, who wrote about the geography of the times, referred to ‘the Asiarchs… the first men of their province (14.1.42).’”[387]

(19:32-34) So then, some were shouting one thing and some another, for the assembly was in confusion and the majority did not know for what reason they had come together. 33 Some of the crowd concluded it was Alexander, since the Jews had put him forward; and having motioned with his hand, Alexander was intending to make a defense to the assembly. 34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, a single outcry arose from them all as they shouted for about two hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

This was mass hysteria and mob rule took over the temple. They were chanting about Artemis for two hours! They didn’t want to hear from a Jewish man either, because he was against idolatry too.

(19:35) After quieting the crowd, the town clerk said, “Men of Ephesus, what man is there after all who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of the image which fell down from heaven?”

The “town clerk” is the proper term used for a chief magistrate. This 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.”[388] 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.”[389]

(19:36-37) “So, since these are undeniable facts, you ought to keep calm and to do nothing rash. 37 For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of our goddess.”

The town clerk argues for sanity: If Artemis is really a goddess, why worry about her? This man is not a Christian but “a defender of law and order, anxious that the city should not get a reputation for disorderliness and illegal action.”[390] He argues, “If it’s so “undeniable,” they why do you have to shout and scream?” Haenchen writes, “In final analysis the only thing heathenism can do against Paul is to shout itself hoarse.”[391]

This section fits with the “legal brief” thesis. The Christians didn’t disturb the peace, but their faith caused others to do so. 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.”[392]

(19:38-41) “So then, if Demetrius and the craftsmen who are with him have a complaint against any man, the courts are in session and proconsuls are available; let them bring charges against one another. 39 But if you want anything beyond this, it shall be settled in the lawful assembly. 40 For indeed we are in danger of being accused of a riot in connection with today’s events, since there is no real cause for it, and in this connection we will be unable to account for this disorderly gathering.” 41 After saying this he dismissed the assembly.

Demetrius had originally said that Paul’s message was a “danger” (kindyneuō) to the city (v.27), but the town clerk states that the real “danger” (kindyneuō) was this unlawful assembly and riot (v.40). The town clerk doesn’t want Rome to consider this an unlawful riot, which could be considered seditious. He dismisses the mob before a riot occurs.

Why are there two proconsuls and not one? Marshall writes that “the plural referred to the emperor’s two representatives, Helius and Celer, who may have governed the province during the interregnum that followed the murder of the proconsul Silanus by the emperor’s orders in October, 54.”[393] Bruce[394] disagrees with this, asserting that two proconsuls are mentioned because this refers to the interim between Marcus Junius Silanus and his successor.

Read verses 23-41. What do we learn about persecution from this potential riot that was quelled by a city official? Why did Luke choose to include this section of Scripture?

The persecutors of Christianity were driven by money. Demetrius had a lot to lose if Christianity was true, and he is forthright in admitting this (vv.23-27).

The persecutors of Christianity were irrational. They were driven by “rage” (v.28), “confusion” (v.29), “shouting” (v.32), and “did not know for what reason they had come together” (v.32). They shouted for “two hours” (v.34). Their voices must’ve been hoarse by the end of this encounter.

The city official demonstrates that the Christians are not guilty of any crimes, but the Pagan mob is verging on breaking the law. He argues that they should be “calm” because they were being “rash” (v.36). They should bring their case to court if they think something is illegal (v.39).

Acts 20 (Farewell to Ephesus)

This material can be supplemented by the material in 2 Corinthians 1-7 that describes the same period of time in Paul’s life. Paul was collecting a massive financial gift for the church in Jerusalem at this time—though Acts doesn’t record this gift. Why is Luke silent on this matter? We’re not sure, but it seems that Luke wanted to “show how Paul’s journey to Jerusalem was as foreboding as that of his master before him, how it ended in chains, but how even in the seeming defeat of his arrest in Jerusalem God turned the events to the triumph of the gospel.”[395]

(20:1) After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and when he had exhorted them and taken his leave of them, he left to go to Macedonia.

The “uproar” refers to the riot in Ephesus from the last chapter. Bruce dates this to about AD 55.[396]

(20:2) When he had gone through those districts and had given them much exhortation, he came to Greece.

Paul 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.”[397] Furthermore, Marshall thinks that Paul wrote 2 Corinthians at this time.[398]

(20:3) And there he spent three months, and when a plot was formed against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia.

What was Paul doing for these three months in Corinth, Greece? Bruce[399] and Marshall[400] believe that this is when he wrote his letter to the Romans, which was an excellent use of his sabbatical! If he hadn’t taken this time off, we wouldn’t have the letter to the Romans. Bruce dates this to the winter months of AD 56-57.

(20:4) And he was accompanied by Sopater of Berea, the son of Pyrrhus, and by Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia.

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 in Derbe (Acts 14:20-21).[401]
  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.

Luke’s purpose in mentioning all of these men is to demonstrate that they were well-known and trustworthy workers and leaders.

“We passage” (20:5-21:18)

The earlier “we passage” left off at Philippi (Acts 16:16). Here it picks up again at Troas and Philippi. Luke must’ve stayed in this region during the interim period, and here, Paul picks him up again.

(20:5-6) But these had gone on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas. 6 We sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and came to them at Troas within five days; and there we stayed seven days.

Because they are travelling against the wind, it takes them five days to make this journey (cf. Acts 16:11).

Marshall[402] holds that they were celebrating “Easter,” citing 1 Corinthians 5:7, when it refers to the feast of “Unleavened Bread.” This has all of the hallmarks of anachronistic church culture being imported backward into the text. Christian holidays like Easter didn’t come until much later.

Eutychus: Bored… to death!

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

(20:7-8) On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together.

Look at the attention to detail in the “we passages” from Luke. He mentions how late Paul talked, the lighting, the location, etc. This reflects eyewitness testimony.

“Talking” (dialegomai) could imply a discussion, rather than a lecture (dia = between; legomai = to say). This could explain how Paul could talk for hours on end—namely, he was leading an open discussion. Fernando illuminates an aspect of this passage that could easily be missed: Paul was genuine friends with these people, and enjoyed spending time with them. He writes, “Perhaps the best example of identification through presence is the way he chatted through the night with the people (vv. 7, 9, 11); this is something friends do. Paul’s method of encouragement also included getting alongside people in their homes (v. 20).”[403]

This must’ve been a warm and stuffy room. This is foreshadowing for what happens to Eutychus. In verse 12, Luke calls Eutychus a “boy” (pais). John Stott writes, “Pais normally covering the years from 8 to 14.”[404] Imagine this 10-year-old kid sitting through a six-hour meeting! The “many lamps” were burning in this upper room, and the boy probably fell asleep from the think, stuffy air.

(20:9-10) And there was a young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor and was picked up dead. 10 But Paul went down and fell upon him, and after embracing him, he said, “Do not be troubled, for his life is in him.”

Paul heals this kid from falling three stories to his death. Remember, there were no window screens or glass—just bare openings in the walls. It must’ve been stuffy from all of those lamps and body heat (v.8). So, this kid was literally 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!” (Hilarious!)

“His life is still in him.” Luke recorded that the boy was indeed “dead” (v.9). Marshall writes that Paul’s comment “refers to his condition after he had ministered to him.” And he adds, “Luke would not have devoted space to the raising up of somebody who was merely apparently dead.”[405]

(20:11-12) When he had gone back up and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while until daybreak, and then left. 12 They took away the boy alive, and were greatly comforted.

It’s funny that this death didn’t stop Paul from finishing his teaching! Surely it 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) But we, going ahead to the ship, set sail for Assos, intending from there to take Paul on board; for so he had arranged it, intending himself to go by land.

This was a long walk (~20 miles). Paul made this walk after teaching all night, and raising a boy from the dead. Surely, Paul was one resilient and tough man to make a trip like this after the night that he had. On this walk, Paul probably had plenty of time to think, pray, and reflect.

(20:14-17) And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and came to Mitylene. 15 Sailing from there, we arrived the following day opposite Chios; and the next day we crossed over to Samos; and the day following we came to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost. 17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.

Paul and his team eventually travel to Miletus, so he could teach one final time. The elders from Ephesus come to listen and say goodbye (~30 miles away). Paul was under intense persecution in Ephesus, and this is probably why he had the elders come meet him out of town. He most likely didn’t want to needlessly face persecution.

Paul’s Final Teaching on Christian Leadership

Paul spent a lot of time with these Christian men, leading alongside them. Now, he prepares to deliver his final teaching to them. This is the only recorded speech in Acts where Paul addresses Christians.

What do we learn about godly leadership from these verses below?

(20:18) And when they had come to him, he said to them, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time.

Paul spent time with these people. Godly leadership doesn’t take place in a “control tower” in the sky. We’re investing our lives in the people around us.

(20:19) “Serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews.

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

Paul had a vertical focus. He viewed his ministry as “serving the Lord,” rather than people.

Paul focused on love relationships as the basis for leadership. This must be why he began his talk on ministry by talking about deep love relationships (cf. 1 Thess. 2:7-11). As a leader, you invest in people until you feel affection for them. You love them until you like them. Paul’s credentials came from the love relationships he had—not ordination, education, etc. (2 Cor. 3:1-3).

(20:20) How I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house.

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 at the “school of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:19), as well as small home churches. Apparently, Paul would teach at both venues. 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) Solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Godly leaders don’t discriminate who they speak to about Christ (“Jews and Greeks”). For both groups, Paul emphasized grace (cf. v.24). The repentance mentioned here is turning toward God.

(20:22-23) And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.

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 us directly into suffering (cf. Acts 21:11). Are we willing to follow his leadership? Have we decided in advance that we will walk into suffering?

Leadership is self-sacrificial. Instead of starting to think about what we can get for ourselves, we start to think about what we 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, actively trusting that God will meet my needs?

(20:24) But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.

“Finish my course and the ministry which I received.” 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.

“I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself.” 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.

(20:25) And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face.

He knows that he won’t see them again.

(20:26) Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.

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, so he left the rest with God. As one pastor said, “I work like an Arminian, and I sleep like a Calvinist.” There is a lot of wisdom in this statement.

(20:27) For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.

Paul 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 things. Don’t focus on tangential issues. Expository Bible teaching helps keeps us balanced.

(20:28) Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

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 sober responsibility. After all, God purchased these people with his own blood!

If this passage is referring to God the Father, then when did God bleed? God the Father did not bleed his blood, but God the Son did. This is, therefore, a strong passage supporting the deity of Christ. At the same time, this passage does contain many textual variants, so “in light of the possibilities, one cannot be dogmatic on the passage.”[406]

“Made you overseers.” Even though Paul recognized elders (Acts 14:23), God is the one who “made” them leaders.

(20:29-30) I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.

Godly leaders feed and protect the flock. False teachers come from within the church. We likely see the fulfillment of this in Paul’s second letter to Timothy (2 Tim. 1:15).

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.[407] Because many of these new Christians didn’t know their Bibles 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.

(20:31) Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.

Godly leaders admonish, but not out of any sort of vindictiveness. Paul did this with tears in his eyes.

(20:32) And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

What is God’s defense against all of these false teachers? Church councils? A teaching magisterium? 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) I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. 35 In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Godly leaders are givers—not takers. Paul didn’t mooch off of the church. He paid his own bills (Acts 18:2f; 1 Cor. 4:12; 9:12, 15; 2 Cor. 11:7; 12:13; 1 Thess. 2:9; 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:7-9), and he wasn’t a materialist (v.33; 1 Tim. 3:3, 8; 6:3-10; Titus 1:7, 11). Instead he could show them the callouses on his hands, and 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) When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.

Godly leaders depend on the Lord in prayer. Furthermore, prayer is a probably a good way to end our time in teaching or in discussions with fellow Christians.

(20:37-38) And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, 38 grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship.

Godly leaders form deep relationships. These people wept at the thought of not seeing Paul again.

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 18-38. What do we learn about godly leadership from this section?

As you read through these qualities of leaders, which stand out to you as personal strengths? Which stand out as weaknesses?

Which qualities do you see in others around you? How can you encourage them to “excel still more” in these areas?

Acts 21 (Paul Goes to Jerusalem)

(21:1-3) When we had parted from them and had set sail, we ran a straight course to Cos and the next day to Rhodes and from there to Patara; 2 and having found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. 3 When we came in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we kept sailing to Syria and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload its cargo.

The term “parted” (apospao) means to “tear oneself away” (BDAG, p.120). This describes deep pain as Paul left these leaders that he loved in Ephesus.

“When we had parted.” The “we passages” continue. The company makes their way to Tyre. Travelling in those days took time. So, Paul’s company needed to wait 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) After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.

“After looking up the disciples.” Paul took any opportunity he could get to find fellowship with other believers—even during his travelling.

“We stayed there seven days.” Earlier, Paul was hasty about getting to Jerusalem, but now he is lingering for a week. Why the long wait? We agree with Marshall[408] who holds that the ship in verse 6 is the same one that Paul had been travelling on, and Paul needed to wait for these merchants to unload and depart again.

“Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” Consider just how difficult it would be to continue to go towards the danger waiting in Jerusalem, when so many fellow Christians were telling you not to go.

(Acts 21:4, 11) Was Paul contradicting the Spirit when he went to Jerusalem?

(21:5) When our days there were ended, we left and started on our journey, while they all, with wives and children, escorted us until we were out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach and praying, we said farewell to one another.

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, so this isn’t a command for believers.

(21:6-7) Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home again. 7 When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and after greeting the brethren, we stayed with them for a day.

Like verse 4, Paul kept seeking out fellowship with other believers on his travel.

(21:8-9) On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. 9 Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses.

Philip is one of the seven from Acts 6, and he was the man who led the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ in Acts 8. He started a family since that time, and now, he has four daughters who are “prophetesses” (cf. Acts 2:16-17 predicted female prophetesses). Polhill writes, “Like their father, evidently they were open to the Spirit.”[409]

This passage lines up well with what we learned about Philip earlier. In Acts 8:40, Philip was left “in Caesarea.” Now, roughly twenty years later, Philip is still there. Earlier, 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 felt like for Philip to invite Paul (Saul) in his house?

(21:10-14) As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” 12 When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, “The will of the Lord be done!”

Agabus’ earlier prediction came true (Acts 11:27-30). So, he was a proven prophet. Now he predicts that Paul will be captured in Jerusalem. Agabus doesn’t tell Paul whether or not to do to Jerusalem—just what will happen if he chooses to go.

Is Paul being bullheaded and stubborn, rejecting the counsel of his fellow Christians? No, Paul seems heartbroken over their pleas. Marshall writes, “It is hard for a man to make a sacrifice which is going to be unpleasant for himself; it is even harder when the people whom he loves are going to be hurt by his action and plead with him to act differently.”[410] More importantly, Paul is merely interpreting the prophecy differently than these other people. Paul’s friends were probably arguing, “Agabus says that you’ll be imprisoned… Don’t go!” But to paraphrase, Paul retorted, “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? This is similar to the OT prophets who would act out their prophecies on occasion (1 Kin. 11:29-31; Isa. 8:1-4; 20:1-4; Jer. 13:1-11; 19:1-13; 27:1-22; Hos. 1:2).

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 his 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?

Imagine that you had a high level of confidence in some major decision concerning knowing God’s will for your life. Yet, like Paul, many of your wise Christian friends disagreed with you. How could you tell if you were being foolish by disregarding their wise counsel? Also, how would you know if you needed to continue on no matter what other Christians said? What principles do you see from this text above? (vv.1-14)

None of these prophets had a word from the Holy Spirit that was telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Instead, they knew the price that would be paid if Paul went to Jerusalem—namely, capture and imprisonment. So, this is different than saying that

Paul wasn’t deciding based on selfishness, but on suffering. That is, Paul wasn’t going to Jerusalem for selfish reasons. He was going there knowing that he would pay a huge price. How different this is from most Christians today!

Paul interpreted the data differently than his friends. This wasn’t a moral issue where Paul was breaking a biblical command. Instead, in good conscience and in good faith, he believed that God was telling him to choose the path of suffering.

In the end, Paul’s friends agreed with him and supported him. They concluded, “The will of the Lord be done!” (v.14) While they held different views, they all wanted the same thing.

Jerusalem

(21:15-17) After these days we got ready and started on our way up to Jerusalem. 16 Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came with us, taking us to Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple of long standing with whom we were to lodge. 17 After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.

They finally make it to Jerusalem. There, they meet James—Jesus’ half-brother. The “we passage” ends here. Luke probably split up from Paul and did some research while he was staying in Jerusalem, interviewing some of the eyewitnesses. The “we passages” return in Acts 27:1 on Paul’s trip to Rome.

(21:18) And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.

Paul meets with James and the elders, and he gives the Jerusalem church a big financial gift (Acts 24:17).

(21:19) After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.

It isn’t boasting to talk about what God is doing in your ministry. Paul didn’t talk about what a great church planter he was. Instead, James understood Paul to be referring to glorifying God as a result of hearing his story (v.20).

(21:20) And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law.”

Is James concerned about the Zealot party? We think not. It’s true that the expression “zealous for the Law” was used of the Maccabees who revolted against Hellenistic conquest (1 Macc. 2:42; 2 Macc. 4:2). But this reads far too much into one single word—especially when Paul considered his old self to be “zealous” for Judaism (Acts 22:3; Gal. 1:14).

“How many thousands there are among the Jews who have believed.” Critics of the Bible state that there is no way that this many Jews could’ve converted to Christianity in Jerusalem. Even a conservative scholar like Marshall states that this could be a “rhetorical overstatement by James.”[411] We disagree. After all, the book itself told us that 3,000 and then 5,000 came to faith in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41; 4:4), and even “a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). It’s true that these were scattered during Paul’s (Saul’s) persecution (Acts 8:1-3), but by this time, many had likely returned. Moreover, this is roughly 25 years later! It isn’t at all surprising to see several thousand Christians in Jerusalem at this time.

(21:21-25) “And they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. 22 What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law. 25 But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.” 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them.

Paul taught that it’s 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). This was around AD 57, and Jewish nationalism and “zeal” were at an all-time high.

(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) When the seven days were almost over, the Jews from Asia, upon seeing him in the temple, began to stir up all the crowd and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, “Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people and the Law and this place; and besides he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.”

“The Jews from Asia, upon seeing him in the temple, began to stir up all the crowd and laid hands on him.” 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. These guys travelled a few hundred miles just to persecute Paul. They just wouldn’t quit! Their charge seems similar to the charge made against Stephen two decades earlier (Acts 6:11-14). There, Paul was the accuser; now he is the accused.

Why are these accusers focusing on Paul defaming the Temple? This was a capital crime. 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])… 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]).[412]

Shortly after this time, Paul would write a circular letter to the churches in Asia Minor, where he would tell them, “[Jesus] is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Eph. 2:14).

(21:29) For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.

The Jews from Ephesus recognized Trophimus as a Gentile (Acts 20:4). 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).”[413] Two placards were discovered by archaeologists (one in 1871 and the other in 1935). In both Latin and Greek, these signs state, “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.”[414]

(21:30) Then all the city was provoked, and the people rushed together, and taking hold of Paul they dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut.

This is pure and unadulterated mob rule. Paul received so many warnings from fellow believers (vv.1-14) that he may have been wondering if this was the end of the line.

(21:31-33) While they were seeking to kill him, a report came up to the commander of the Roman cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32 At once he took along some soldiers and centurions and ran down to them; and when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the commander came up and took hold of him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; and he began asking who he was and what he had done.

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 this incendiary 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.

“Bound with two chains” could refer to being bound with his hands and feet. This could be a fulfillment of Agabus’ prediction (Acts 21:11).

(21:34-36) But among the crowd some were shouting one thing and some another, and when he could not find out the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. 35 When he got to the stairs, he was carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob; 36 for the multitude of the people kept following them, shouting, “Away with him!”

We’re seeing that Paul doesn’t revolt against the rule of law. This increases his credibility in the eyes of others.

“Carried by the soldiers because of the violence.” It could be that Paul was “somewhat incapacitated from the severity of his beating.”[415]

(21:37) As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the commander, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek?”

The fact that Paul could speak Greek shocked the commander.

(21:38) “Then you are not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?”

This Egyptian led 30,000 into the wilderness, and 4,000 died (Josephus, Jewish War, 2.13.5; Antiquities, 20.8.6). Luke and Josephus disagree on these figures, but Polhill states that the discrepancy could be a result of “Josephus’s tendency to give exaggerated figures.”[416] 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.”[417] F.F. Bruce places this revolt only three years before this event.[418]

The term for “assassins” (sikariōn) was a loaded term. It referred to the Jewish zealots who would kill people with daggers (sica meant “dagger”).[419]

(21:39) But Paul said, “I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city; and I beg you, allow me to speak to the people.”

Paul is giving his credentials so he can show that his arrest is unjustified, and that he isn’t a political threat to Rome. 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.”[420]

(21:40) When he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with his hand; and when there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect.

The Hebrew dialect is a reference to Aramaic. This shows that Paul was at least bilingual (v.37). Fernando comments, “The fact that Paul spoke fluent Aramaic caused the people to become ‘very quiet’ (22:2). Any who may have thought he was a Diaspora collaborator with the Gentiles would probably have realized that they were wrong.”[421]

Questions for Reflection

Did Paul make a mistake in bringing a sacrifice to the Temple to appease Jewish believers?

What do we learn about persecution from this section? And what do we learn from Paul on how to respond to persecution?

Acts 22 (Paul on trial)

In this speech to a Jewish mob, Paul focuses on his Jewish credentials and on Ananias. In his speech to a Gentile court, Paul doesn’t even mention Ananias. When speaking to Gentiles, Paul held the “pious Jewish Christian not as important for the predominantly Gentile audience.”[422]

(22:1) [Paul was] saying, “Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you.”

Paul gives a similar address as Stephen, opening by calling them “brothers and fathers” (Acts 7:2) and giving 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) And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet.

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) Paul said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today.”

Paul 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. Paul is disproving the implicit accusation 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) “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, 5 as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.”

Paul had permission to extradite Christians from Damascus from the high priest, and so he exceeded the laissez-faire stance of even Gamaliel. He assaulted “men and women,” being a wicked and violent man (cf. 26:10; 1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13; Phil. 3:6; 1 Tim. 1:13). He claims that they can fact-check these assertions with the high priest and the elders of Jerusalem. The high priest at the time was Caiaphas, but at this point, it is Ananias (Acts 23:2).

(22:6) “But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me.”

The light appeared around noon or at “midday” (Acts 26:13). This light was brighter than the sun at high noon (!).

(22:7-8) “And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ 8 And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’”

This is almost identical to Acts 9, except Paul adds that Jesus said, “I am Jesus the Nazarene.” Paul likely included this component “to make clear to a Jewish audience the precise identity of the speaker.”[423]

(22:9) “And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me.”

This was not an internal event in Paul’s psyche (i.e. a vision). The other travellers 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, shutting their eyes to the intense light. Yet, Paul kept his eyes wide open. This could be why Paul was struck blind, but they could lead him into Damascus (v.11).

(22:10-11) “And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’ 11 But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me and came into Damascus.”

His friends led him into Damascus, where Paul would meet Ananias. Again, Paul’s friends maybe have looked away when they saw the light of Jesus, while Paul kept looking at Jesus. This would explain why he was blind, while they could still see. The blindness might harken back to the OT (Deut. 28:28-29).

(22:12) “A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there.”

The key differences in the account of Ananias with Acts 9 is in the fact that Paul tells about the visitation from his own perspective, while Acts 9 tells the account from Ananias’ perspective. Paul is refuting the case that Christians hate the customs and laws of Jews, because Ananias was “devout by the standard of the Law” and the Jews loved him.

(22:13) “[Ananias] came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him.”

God uses Ananias to give Paul his sight back. Paul excludes Ananias’ own vision of Jesus because he’s focusing on his own story—not Ananias.

(22:14) “And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth.”

Acts 9 doesn’t include this language, but we should take note of the fact that it is highly Jewish in nature. Again, Paul is speaking to the Jewish people. 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) “For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard.”

The mission toward the Gentiles subtly seeps in here (“a witness for Him to all men”).

(22:16) “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.”

Apparently, Paul delayed 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) “It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, 18 and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’”

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) “And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You. 20 And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.’”

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) “And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”

Paul’s commission to take the gospel to the Gentiles was not his idea. It came from God. 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) They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!” 23 And as they were crying out and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging so that he might find out the reason why they were shouting against him that way.

Paul didn’t even get to the part where he could defend himself of the accusation of bringing a Gentile into the Temple. Once, he simply mentioned the Gentiles, his Jewish audience flew into a fervor: How could God bless the Gentiles—especially the Romans who were their political oppressors and occupiers? They react to this by throwing off their cloaks, and the commander orders a scourging for Paul.

(22:25) But when they stretched him out with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?”

The law-men tie Paul to the whipping post, preparing him for a lashing. But right at that moment, 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.”[424] Paul probably waited to drop this bomb to his Jewish audience, because it would’ve only added fuel to the fire that he was a “Gentile lover.”

“Stretched him out with thongs.” 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) When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and told him, saying, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman.” 27 The commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?” And he said, “Yes.”

The commander asks for verification from Paul: “Are you serious? Are you really a Roman citizen?”

(22:28) The commander answered, “I acquired this citizenship with a large sum of money.” And Paul said, “But I was actually born a citizen.

People could pay for Roman citizenship through the form of a bribe. Bock writes, “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).”[425] To paraphrase, the centurion was saying, “I spent a lot of money to get this citizenship… Now, it looks like anyone can get one!” But Paul’s response would’ve been equally as shocking: He claims that he was “born a citizen.”

(22:29) Therefore those who were about to examine him immediately let go of him; and the commander also was afraid when he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had put him in chains.

The Romans were afraid of scourging a Roman citizen (see above).

(22:30) But on the next day, wishing to know for certain why he had been accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Council to assemble, and brought Paul down and set him before them.

Paul avoids scourging so that he can make his apologetic before the Jewish Sanhedrin.

How does Paul tailor his testimony to fit with his Jewish audience? (Compare his testimony to a Gentile audience in chapter 26)

Question for Reflection

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, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.”

Paul uses the issue of “conscience” in his defense more than once (Acts 24:16). He has no regrets. Readers might wonder how Paul could say such a thing when he was a killer of Christians. But this is to miss the point and the setting of this statement. Paul is standing in front of the Sanhedrin, and this is “a rejection of the charges made against him” and “no evidence was produced by his accusers.”[426] Paul’s conscience didn’t justify his actions (1 Cor. 4:4). Rather, he is appealing to the fact that lived

Yet, Paul doesn’t get very far in his defense before being shut down…

(23:2) The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth.

“The high priest Ananias.” This is not the same priest as Annas (Acts 4:6). 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).”[427]

“Strike him on the mouth.” Jews could strike people in order to defend God’s honor (b. Sanhedrin 85a).

(23:3) Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?”

Did Paul commit a sin by name-calling the high priest? This can’t automatically be a sin, because Jesus used a similar insult in Matthew 23:27 (“whitewashed tomb”). Moreover, Paul’s words were accurate: Because Ananias was politically pro-Roman, the Jewish zealots killed him at the beginning of the Jewish War (Wars of the Jews 2.441ff). 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.”[428]

(23:4-5) But the bystanders said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” 5 And Paul said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”

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) But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” 7 As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided.

This was a slick move 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—just like Judaism at this time.

(23:8) For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.

This is the only historical source that tells us that the Sadducees denied the existence of angels. But it fits with their overall worldview.

(23:9) And there occurred a great uproar; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and began to argue heatedly, saying, “We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?”

The Pharisees aren’t supporting the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. They are simply arguing about the greater worldview implications and theological discussion that affirms things like the general resurrection of the dead, angels, and spirits.

(23:10) And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks.

The religion of these people caused them to a violent upheavel and political instability for the Romans—unlike Christianity.

Imagine what Paul is thinking: “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) But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.”

We can’t demand Christ to appear to us whenever we’re afraid, but it seems that he appears to Paul when Paul needed him the most. This shows that Paul is walking in a plan that was laid out for him by Jesus. Fernando comments, “God knows when we need special help to overcome discouragement and to persevere in a difficult call. And at just the right time he sends us that comfort. The comfort Paul received was in the form of an affirmation of the sovereignty of God. This time of uncertainty eventually resulted in Paul’s fulfilling one of his greatest ambitions: to preach the gospel in Rome.”[429]

The murderous plot against Paul

(23:12-14) When it was day, the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than forty who formed this plot. 14 They came to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have bound ourselves under a solemn oath to taste nothing until we have killed Paul.”

“Bound themselves” (anathematizō) means to place oneself under God’s curse if the vow wasn’t fulfilled. Polhill paraphrases, “May I be cursed/ eternally damned if…”[430] Bock writes, “The irony is that they take an oath before God that actually violates God’s standards and will.”[431]

There were forty people trying to kill Paul, but one Jesus saying that he would be protected. Who will get the upper hand? It wouldn’t matter if forty thousand or forty million people wanted Paul dead. Jesus was with Paul, and that was enough.

“They would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul.” We know that these men didn’t kill Paul. So, does this mean that they starved to death? No. In extrabiblical Judaism, a person could drop a vow if it became unfulfillable “by reason of constraint” (Mishnah Nedarim, 3.1). So this doesn’t mean that these men starved to death.

(23:15) “Now therefore, you and the Council notify the commander to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case by a more thorough investigation; and we for our part are ready to slay him before he comes near the place.”

Paul’s remark about the high priest being a “whitewashed wall” is proven to be quite accurate.

(23:16-21) But the son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush, and he came and entered the barracks and told Paul. 17 Paul called one of the centurions to him and said, “Lead this young man to the commander, for he has something to report to him.” 18 So he took him and led him to the commander and said, “Paul the prisoner called me to him and asked me to lead this young man to you since he has something to tell you.” 19 The commander took him by the hand and stepping aside, began to inquire of him privately, “What is it that you have to report to me?” 20 And he said, “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down tomorrow to the Council, as though they were going to inquire somewhat more thoroughly about him. 21 So do not listen to them, for more than forty of them are lying in wait for him who have bound themselves under a curse not to eat or drink until they slay him; and now they are ready and waiting for the promise from you.”

“The son of Paul’s sister.” Did Paul’s sister live in Jerusalem? Did she come to Christ? If so, when and where and how? Luke doesn’t tell us.

Paul’s nephew seems to be a young Christian. 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.

(23:22) So the commander let the young man go, instructing him, “Tell no one that you have notified me of these things.”

The commander wants to keep this information quiet, so he can get Paul out without a riot.

(23:23-24) And he called to him two of the centurions and said, “Get two hundred soldiers ready by the third hour of the night to proceed to Caesarea, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen.” 24 They were also to provide mounts to put Paul on and bring him safely to Felix the governor.

They transport their prisoner at 9pm after the son went down, so that no one can see them. The commander has a ratio of over 10-to-1 guards to oath-takers (470 to 40). Paul even gets a horse for this sixty-mile travel from Jerusalem to Caesarea. Since Paul was used to walking, this would’ve been equivalent to flying first class!

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.”[432]

Claudius’ letter to Felix

(23:25) And he wrote a letter having this form:

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. Thought Bruce states that this language “suggests a claim to give more than the general purport.”[433] Indeed, we agree with Bock when he 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.”[434]

(23:26-30) “Claudius Lysias, to the most excellent governor Felix, greetings. 27 When this man was arrested by the Jews and was about to be slain by them, I came up to them with the troops and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman. 28 And wanting to ascertain the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down to their Council; 29 and I found him to be accused over questions about their Law, but under no accusation deserving death or imprisonment. 30 When I was informed that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, also instructing his accusers to bring charges against him before you.”

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).

Claudius Lysias leaves many things 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 in a very positive light.

Paul travels to Caesarea

(23:31-35) So the soldiers, in accordance with their orders, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. 32 But the next day, leaving the horsemen to go on with him, they returned to the barracks. 33 When these had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. 34 When he had read it, he asked from what province he was, and when he learned that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will give you a hearing after your accusers arrive also,” giving orders for him to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium.

“Antipatris” was named after Herod the Great’s father, Antipater. It was a military station on the border between Judea and Samaria—halfway between Jerusalem and Caesarea. This was a good place to top on a two-day journey.

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 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 (Phil. 1:13).

“He was from Cilicia.” A few years later, the “status of Cilicia changed, and it became a separate province.” If Luke was writing far later, he wouldn’t have brought up this “tricky legal point.”[435]

What methods does Paul use to defend himself against persecution in this chapter?

Paul verbally defends himself, pointing out the hypocrisy of the high priest (v.3). Christians should “turn the other cheek” (Mt. 5:39). Yet, this doesn’t imply being a “doormat.” Paul didn’t take a slap to the face without sharing some incisive and direct words.

Paul apologized when he was in the wrong (v.5). Of course, it’s debatable what this passage means.

Paul focused on the underlying worldview issues and presuppositions in order to show the plausibility of his view (v.6). This resulted in pitting the Pharisees against the Sadducees (vv.7-10).

Paul trusted in Jesus’ word (v.11). Jesus doesn’t speak to us directly in visions, but he does speak to us directly through Scripture.

Paul utilized the authorities when necessary (vv.17-24). He told his nephew to get the attention of the Roman commander. This led to a safe exit from the city. Paul could’ve been super-spiritual and stated that Jesus would protect him as Jesus had just promised (v.11). However, Paul believed that Jesus would protect him through the means of this Roman commander.

Conclusions

Jesus promised that Paul would make it to Rome (v.11), but the religious leaders had another agenda. Who do you suppose will win in the end? Once Jesus gave Paul his 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)

(24:1) After five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders, with an attorney named Tertullus, and they brought charges to the governor against Paul.

The Sanhedrin hires an attorney (Tertullus) to formally prosecute Paul. Tertullus may have been a Gentile “attorney” (rhētōr) hired by the Sanhedrin to stand in court with a Roman procurator. Though, Bruce holds that Tertullus was “probably a Hellenistic Jew; his name was a common one throughout the Roman world.”[436] The Jews couldn’t kill their own citizens, so they needed to convince Rome that Paul wasn’t under the protective umbrella of the religio licita (“legal religion”) of Judaism.

(24:2-4) After Paul had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying to the governor, “Since we have through you attained much peace, and since by your providence reforms are being carried out for this nation, 3 we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness. 4 But, that I may not weary you any further, I beg you to grant us, by your kindness, a brief hearing.”

Tertullus seems to be buttering up Felix before he brings his charges. Tertullus tells Felix that he “attained much peace.” In reality, there was “less peace in Judea during Felix’s administration than for any procurator until the final years before the outbreak of the war with Rome.”[437] Tertullus likely thought Felix would be sympathetic to his cause, because Felix quelled several rebellions from the zealot party (Josephus, Jewish War, 2.13.2; Antiquities, 20.8.5). At the same time, this was a steaming load of flattery on Tertullus’ behalf. Marshall writes, “It is true that coins issued by the Roman government made claims of a similar kind, but that was simply propaganda.”[438]

 (24:5) “For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.

Tertullus doesn’t mind using name-calling as rhetoric. He accuses Paul of being a “pest” (loimos) which can be rendered “diseased” or in this context a “public menace or enemy” (BDAG, p.602; Claudius’s letter to the Alexandrines, AD 41.[439]). Paul is like a cancerous tumor that needs to be put into remission. This is character assassination—pure and simple.

“Nazarenes” is the only usage of this word to refer to Christians in the NT. It obviously comes from Jesus’ identity (Acts 2:22). Because Nazareth was a backwater town (Jn. 1:46), this is likely a pejorative term (Jn. 1:46).

“[Paul] stirs up dissension.” Paul wasn’t the one to start the riots—the religious leaders were. Tertullus seems to be equating Paul with the Zealots, because he knows Felix hates the zealots (see comments on v.2).

(24:6-9) And he even tried to desecrate the temple; and then we arrested him. [We wanted to judge him according to our own Law. 7 But Lysias the commander came along, and with much violence took him out of our hands, 8 ordering his accusers to come before you.] By examining him yourself concerning all these matters you will be able to ascertain the things of which we accuse him.” 9 The Jews also joined in the attack, asserting that these things were so.

If Paul “desecrated the Temple” by bringing Gentiles into the Temple, then this would be a capital crime.

“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—a threat to the State. Tertullus wants Paul’s blood!

Paul’s defense

(24:10) When the governor had nodded for him to speak, Paul responded: “Knowing that for many years you have been a judge to this nation, I cheerfully make my defense.”

“Knowing that for many years you have been a judge to this nation.” Paul’s respectful comments differ from Tertullus’ flattery. Paul doesn’t lie about what a great leader Felix had been. Instead, he merely acknowledges him as a ruler, and nothing more.

The religious leaders had an attorney or advocate to accuse Paul, but who did Paul have? To the naked eye, it seems like Paul was defending himself. But looks can be deceiving. 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 that (1) he is peaceful, (2) Christianity is not different than true Judaism, and (3) the plaintiff has no evidence for his charges.

(24:11-13) “Since you can take note of the fact that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12 Neither in the temple, nor in the synagogues, nor in the city itself did they find me carrying on a discussion with anyone or causing a riot. 13 Nor can they prove to you the charges of which they now accuse me.”

Paul argues that he wasn’t causing a riot or starting trouble (vv.11-12). He was minding his own business, and the plaintiff doesn’t have any evidence otherwise, because Paul had been in Jerusalem for only twelve days.

(24:14) “But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets.”

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 same Law, and the same Bible.

“The Way” of Jesus is used six times in the book of Acts. They talked about their faith as “the Way,” because Jesus was at the center of their lives. This was a new way of life and a new way to God (cf. Jn. 14:6). Ironically, Paul had been a persecutor of “the Way” (Acts 9:2), but now he was being persecuted for being a part of “the Way.”

(24:15) “Having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.”

Paul emphasizes their points of agreement: for instance, their mutual belief in the resurrection of the dead.

(24:16) “In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.”

Paul believed in keeping a clear conscience before God and people, because he was thinking about the resurrection (“in view of this…”). It’s important to life honestly and sincerely before God now because we know we will stand before him later.

(24:17) “Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings.”

Paul still calls Israel my nation.” He is still a loyal Jewish man. Paul points out that he didn’t come to bring violence, but to bring “alms” (i.e. gifts of charity for the poor). In a sense, the assembly wanted to kill him for being a relief worker! (cf. Rom. 15:26)

(24:18-19) “In which they found me occupied in the temple, having been purified, without any crowd or uproar. But there were some Jews from Asia— 19 who ought to have been present before you and to make accusation, if they should have anything against me.”

Paul is showing that the prosecution is lacking key witnesses. Marshall notes, “Roman law did not like persons who made accusations and then failed to carry them through in court.”[440]

(24:20-21) “Or else let these men themselves tell what misdeed they found when I stood before the Council, 21 other than for this one statement which I shouted out while standing among them, ‘For the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you today.’”

Paul asks, “Where is the evidence? Where are the witnesses?” Indeed, if Felix wanted witnesses, the members of the Sanhedrin could verify this part of Paul’s account (!!). Paul continues to cliam that he’s a faithful Jewish man, who believes in the resurrection of the dead (cf. Acts 23:6).

(24:22) But Felix, having a more exact knowledge about the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case.”

Where did Felix learn about “the Way”? Extrabiblical history claims that Simon Magus witnessed to Felix, but this isn’t certain.

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) Then he gave orders to the centurion for him to be kept in custody and yet have some freedom, and not to prevent any of his friends from ministering to him.

He keeps Paul locked up. Yet he allows certain freedoms for Paul like house guests, which was common for a prisoner in Paul’s situation (Josephus Antiquities 18:204). We never hear if Lysias ever comes to give his testimony…

Drusilla

(24:24) But some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus.

Drusilla was the daughter of Herod Agrippa I (the man who killed James of Zebedee in Acts 12). Regarding Drusilla, 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).”[441] In addition to their marital problems, the people in this family were brutal killers.

(24:25) But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.”

Paul uses this arrest as an opportunity to speak to Felix and Drusilla 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 Drusilla 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 backwards and forwards, but he still chose to reject 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) At the same time too, he was hoping that money would be given him by Paul; therefore he also used to send for him quite often and converse with him.

Felix’s motive for keeping Paul was to try and 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.”[442]

(24:27) But after two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned.

Porcius Festus takes over after Felix (AD 59-60). How was Paul feeling as he sat imprisoned and stationary for two years?? No one was receiving the message of Christ, but instead, they were only trying to get money out of him.

Questions for Reflection

Verses 13-21. What arguments and evidence does Paul give to show that he’s innocent?

Verses 24-27. Why did Festus find it so difficult to come to faith in Christ?

Verse 27. How do you think Paul felt languishing in prison for two years? What sort of thoughts and feelings do you think were running through his mind?

  • Paul saw little or no visible fruit for two years. Yet, today, we have a different picture. If it wasn’t for this imprisonment, Paul wouldn’t have had time to write multiple epistles, and Luke recorded his biography of Jesus’ life and his writing of Acts.

Acts 25 (Governor Festus)

(25:1-3) Festus then, having arrived in the province, three days later went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. 2 And the chief priests and the leading men of the Jews brought charges against Paul, and they were urging him, 3 requesting a concession against Paul, that he might have him brought to Jerusalem (at the same time, setting an ambush to kill him on the way).

Who is Governor Festus? He is basically Pontius Pilate 2.0. He took over after Felix in Judea, and he reigned from roughly AD 58 to AD 62. He seems to have been a fairly good governor, but he reigned for far too little time to make a major impact in Judea.[443] The only writers to mention Festus are Luke and Josephus (War 2.271; Antiquities 20.182-88). Since this is the beginning of his administration, the date is close to AD 58.

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 the Police transporting Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight (2008), so that the Joker can kill him. In Jerusalem, the high priesthood has changed as well—from Ananias to Ishmael ben Phiabi.

(25:4-5) Festus then answered that Paul was being kept in custody at Caesarea and that he himself was about to leave shortly. 5 “Therefore,” he said, “let the influential men among you go there with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them prosecute him.”

Festus seems to be pretty level-headed. He wants a trial to be held to see if Paul is guilty.

(25:6) After he had spent not more than eight or ten days among them, he went down to Caesarea, and on the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought.

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 intends to write with approximations. Since he didn’t know the exact amount of days, Luke gives an approximation.

(25:7-8) After Paul arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him which they could not prove, 8 while Paul said in his own defense, “I have committed no offense either against the Law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar.”

The severity of their charges was inversely related to their lack of evidence for them. Paul claims innocence (v.8).

(25:9) But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me on these charges?”

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) But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you also very well know. 11 If, then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of those things is true of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar.12 Then when Festus had conferred with his council, he answered, “You have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you shall go.”

Paul makes his appeal to stand before Caesar himself, and Festus agrees. Paul was a Roman citizen, so this was his legal right. “I appeal to Caesar” was a formal, legal pronouncement (in Latin, the statement was Caesarem Appello).

Why did Paul appeal to Caesar? Since Jerusalem was filled with false witnesses, Paul likely “feared that the chances of gaining neutral advisers in Jerusalem were nil.”[444] After all, Jesus was perfect, and he was indicted by the testimony of false witnesses in Jerusalem. Paul knew that he had better chances in Rome, and furthermore, he was eager to bring the gospel to the cultural hub of the known world.

King Agrippa and Bernice

Festus conferred with King Agrippa, and tells him the story about Paul. Agrippa wants to hear from Paul directly.

Who was King Agrippa? Agrippa’s full Roman name was Marcus Julius Agrippa, which he called himself on his coins.[445] 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).”[446]

Who was Bernice? She has been compared to the “Jewish Cleopatra.”[447] She had married her uncle at age 13 (AD 48), and after his death, she moved in with her brother. She was one year younger than her brother, and it was rumored that she was his incestuous partner. To avoid the rumors, she married King Polemon of Cilicia in AD 63. Later, she became the mistress of Titus, emperor Vespasian’s son (Juvenal 6.156ff; Tacitus, Histories 2.2; Suetonius, Titus 7; Dio Cassius, 65.15; 66.18; Josephus War 2.217-21, 310-14, 333f, 405, 426, 595; Antiquities 19.277, 354; 20.104, 143-47).[448] Bock notes the tremendous irony in the fact that these are the people who are judging Paul.

(25:13) Now when several days had elapsed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and paid their respects to Festus.

This brother and sister come to Caesarea to visit Festus.

(25:14-15) While they were spending many days there, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a man who was left as a prisoner by Felix; 15 and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation against him.”

Festus explains Paul’s case to them. He might be thinking, “Felix left this mess for me to clean up! What am I supposed to do with this guy?”

(25:16) “I answered them that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over any man before the accused meets his accusers face to face and has an opportunity to make his defense against the charges.”

The accused had the right to confront 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) “So after they had assembled here, I did not delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought before me. 18 When the accusers stood up, they began bringing charges against him not of such crimes as I was expecting, 19 but they simply had some points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive. 20 Being at a loss how to investigate such matters, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there stand trial on these matters. 21 But when Paul appealed to be held in custody for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him to be kept in custody until I send him to Caesar.” 22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” he said, “you shall hear him.”

Since Agrippa was an expert in Judaism (see above), this seems to be why Festus confers with him. He suspects that this is a Jewish affair, and he’s out of his league (“Being at a loss how to investigate such matters”). Indeed, his description of the Jewish and Christian faiths are both confused. Festus catches Agrippa up to speed on the claims of Paul and the issues at stake, and this piques Agrippa’s interest in the case (v.22).

(25:23) So, on the next day when Agrippa came together with Bernice amid great pomp, and entered the auditorium accompanied by the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in.

Festus invites Agrippa and Bernice to the trial to hear Paul. Bernice came with “great pomp” or “pageantry” (phantasia). What we are reading is a fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction roughly 30 years ago: “[Paul] is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16; cf. Lk. 21:12).

(25:24-27) Festus said, “King Agrippa, and all you gentlemen here present with us, you see this man about whom all the people of the Jews appealed to me, both at Jerusalem and here, loudly declaring that he ought not to live any longer. 25 But I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death; and since he himself appealed to the Emperor, I decided to send him. 26 Yet I have nothing definite about him to write to my lord. Therefore I have brought him before you all and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the investigation has taken place, I may have something to write. 27 For it seems absurd to me in sending a prisoner, not to indicate also the charges against him.”

Festus tells the assembly of men and Agrippa that he wanted them to double check his discernment on what to do with Paul. Festus has “nothing definite to write about him” (v.26) because Paul is innocent.

Acts 26 (King Agrippa)

This chapter fulfills Jesus’ prediction that Paul would witness to “kings” (Acts 9:15). It also fulfills Jesus’ promise that He would give his Holy Spirit to empower his people when they stood before the authorities (Lk. 21:12-15).

(26:1) Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense:

This isn’t a motioning for silence, but showing deference to the king.[449] Once again, Paul gives his “defense” (apologia).

(26:2-3) “In regard to all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today; 3 especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.”

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) “So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem.”

Paul grew up in Jerusalem. From his youth, he was born Jewish and followed Judaism. He was born into the right family.

(26:5) “Since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion.”

Paul was a Pharisee—the strictest sect in Judaism. He had the highest rank.

(26:6) “And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers.”

Paul believes in the promise given to “our” fathers. He still considers himself Jewish.

(26:7) “The promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews.”

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 is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?”

As the NASB correctly points out, the “you” is plural, and so, Paul is addressing the entire assembly (“you people”). 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) “So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.”

Paul shares that he was more hostile than anyone against Christianity.

(26:10) “And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them.

“I cast my vote against them.” This reference seems to fit with a Sanhedrin vote. Individual synagogues had ruling councils, but “such a court had no competence to carry out the death-sentence.”[450] Only the Sanhedrin had the authority to carry out capital punishment. We hold that this implies that Paul was a Sanhedrist—one of the 70 men that ruled under the high priest in Jerusalem. However, scholars have different views on this:

  • Marshall[451] believes that this statement implies that Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin. 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”11).
  • Bruce[452] believes that this “vote” might refer to Paul’s consent to have Stephen killed (Acts 8:1). The difficulty with this view is that Paul refers to plural believers being killed.
  • Polhill[453] states that this vote was “metaphorical,” and that Paul “was fully in agreement with the verdict.”

(26:11) “And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.”

Paul would bring Christians into the synagogue to compel them to renounce Christ. Did he torture them? This seems consistent with the language.

(26:12-13) “While so engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, 13 at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me.”

For the third time in Acts, Paul tells his testimony about how he met Christ on the road to Damascus.

(26:14-15) “And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.’”

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.”[454] Both Gentiles[455] and Jews[456] used this metaphor to describe fighting against God (or the gods).

(26:16-18) “But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; 17 rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, 18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’”

“Rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you.” Jesus promises to protect Paul’s 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) “So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision.”

Paul still had a choice in all of this. He was allowed to “kick against the goads,” and 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 at that moment!).

(26:20-21) “But kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance. 21 For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death.”

Many Jews didn’t believe that Gentiles would be 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) “So, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; 23 that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”

Paul thought that the only reason that he has made it this far because of God’s protection and “help.” Furthermore, Paul continues to tie his beliefs to 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) While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.”

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) But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. 26 For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner.

“This has not been done in a corner.” Paul had a reasonable faith, which was open to verification or falsification. 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.”[457] After all, King Agrippa’s entire family had lived in Judea, going back all the way to Jesus’ birth. Obviously, Agrippa knew about the events surrounding Jesus, and Paul banks on this fact. Bruce writes, “The ministry and death of Jesus were matters of common knowledge; his resurrection was amply attested; the gospel had been openly proclaimed in his name. Anyone who believed the prophets and compared their predictions with the historical facts concerning Jesus of Nazareth must acknowledge the truth of Christianity.”[458]

(26:27) “King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.”

Paul was skilled at persuasion. He doesn’t ask if Agrippa believed in Jesus. He must’ve sensed that this would be going too far at this particular moment. Instead, Paul asks if Agrippa believes in the Hebrew Scriptures. If the answer is, Yes, then this would create a straight line to Jesus. Indeed, once someone starts studying messianic prophecy, they need to be careful. It’s just a matter of time before they become a Christian! In fact, this is what Agrippa says next…

(26:28) Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.”

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. This was “Agrippa’s attempt to get out of the logical trap in which he is in danger of being caught.”[459] Bruce[460] speculates that Agrippa was “embarrassed” by being put on the spot here.

Regardless, Agrippa almost became a Christian (cf. Mk. 12:34). How tragic! This is like a wide receiver who almost caught the winning touchdown, or the sky diver who almost packed his parachute correctly. Agrippa almost had eternal life, but he lost it—forever!

(26:29) And Paul said, “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.

Paul appears to be tacking a joke on the end (“…except these chains”). The tension was so thick that he may have wanted to loosen up the room a little bit. He could be mirroring what Agrippa himself was doing (v.28) by lightening the tension.

Rather than cowering in fear or feelings of defeat, Paul left the invitation open to Agrippa. In fact, it seems like there was “every reason to believe that Paul would have continued his witness had he not been cut short by the king’s rising to his feet (26:30).”[461]

(26:30-32) The king stood up and the governor and Bernice, and those who were sitting with them, 31 and when they had gone aside, they began talking to one another, saying, “This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment.” 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

Paul’s legal defense was a victory. Agrippa sees that even if Paul was crazy (v.24), he didn’t do anything illegal. They decide that he doesn’t deserve death. But his apologetic doesn’t seem to reach them for Christ.

What held back GOVERNOR FESTUS from coming to faith in Christ?

Festus knew that the evidence against Paul was weak (Acts 25:7, 10, 25). The evidence was so weak that Festus couldn’t even collect clear accusations against Paul (Acts 25:27).

Festus joked about Paul’s evidence. He exclaimed, “Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad” (Acts 26:24). This isn’t a rational response. It seems that Festus was feeling uncomfortable, so he appealed to humor (or to sarcasm?) to break the tension. If so, Festus cracked jokes all the way out of a relationship with Christ.

What held back KING AGRIPPA from coming to faith in Christ?

Just look to Agrippa’s right and his left: Agrippa was in an incestuous relationship with Bernice, and he just heard Festus call Paul crazy. He had a lot to surrender if he came forward to believe in Christ.

What do we learn about evangelism from Paul’s example in this chapter?

Paul blended truth with personal experience in his “defense” (apologia). He appealed to apologetics, but he also weaved in how Christ changed his life and gave him purpose.

  • Paul appealed to his own changed life as evidence for the reality of Christ (Acts 26:9ff).
  • Paul appealed to their shared belief in an infinite-personal God who can raise the dead (Acts 26:8).
  • Paul appealed to the events of the resurrection (Acts 26:26).
  • Paul appealed to predictive prophecy (Acts 26:27).

Acts 27 (Shipwreck!)

When did this occur? Marshall places this in October of AD 59.[462] Likewise, Bock states that the timeframe as being in the “autumn leading into AD 60.”[463]

What is the significance of this chapter? This shows the fulfillment of Paul’s desire to go to Rome (Rom. 1:10-13; 15:22-32) and Jesus’ prediction that he would indeed get there (Acts 23:11).

Was Luke accurate in his description of this sea voyage? Indeed! Luke uses “technical seafaring terminology” and his account is a “valuable source for ancient sailing technique by scholars of the history of navigation.”[464] H.J. Holtzmann stated that this chapter was “one of the most instructive documents for the knowledge of ancient seamanship.”[465] James Smith was an experienced yachtsman who studied Luke’s description of ancient sea travel and later wrote the book The Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul (1880). Smith was familiar with sailing in this particular area of the Mediterranean Sea, and he found Luke’s account to be stunningly accurate. Even though this book is quite old, Bruce states that it still “remains unsurpassed, and indeed unequalled for its purpose.”[466] Indeed, the expertise of a 19th century mariner might actually get us closer to the standards of ancient seafaring practices.

This chapter might seem tedious to read from one perspective, but it really should be read as an adventure story. This is a dramatic shipwreck after all, and it should be read with all of the emotion and drama that this text deserves.

Final “we” passage

(27:1) When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, they proceeded to deliver Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan cohort named Julius.

Luke is with Paul on this final journey (we would sail…”). They are departing from Caesarea for Rome. If it was smooth sailing, it would only take about 5 weeks to get there.

(27:2) And embarking in an Adramyttian ship, which was about to sail to the regions along the coast of Asia, we put out to sea accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica.

Adramyttium was a “seaport of Mysia in northwest Asia Minor, opposite the island of Lesbos.”[467] It was near Troas.

Aristarchus was a friend of Paul (Acts 19:21; 20:4; Col. 4:10; Phile. 24).

(27:3) The next day we put in at Sidon; and Julius treated Paul with consideration and allowed him to go to his friends and receive care.

Julius seems like a kind guard.

(27:4-5) From there we put out to sea and sailed under the shelter of Cyprus because the winds were contrary. 5 When we had sailed through the sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia.

Note how much detail increases in this “we” section of Acts. This is due to the fact that the author (Luke) was present.

(27:6) There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy, and he put us aboard it.

This is a big ship. According to verse 39, 276 people were on board. Moreover, 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.”[468]

(27:7-9) When we had sailed slowly for a good many days, and with difficulty had arrived off Cnidus, since the wind did not permit us to go farther, we sailed under the shelter of Crete, off Salmone; 8 and with difficulty sailing past it we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea. 9 When considerable time had passed and the voyage was now dangerous, since even the fast was already over, Paul began to admonish them.

The “fast” refers to the Passover (v.9), which would occur around September or October in AD 59.[469] They moved at about six miles an hour, which is equivalent to the speed of person jogging. If they were facing poor weather, it would slow to about one or two miles an hour.

(27:10) [Paul] said to them, “Men, I perceive that the voyage will certainly be with damage and great loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.”

Paul was an experienced traveler of the seas, because of his missions’ work (2 Cor. 11:25-26). Moreover, Paul has not been found guilty yet. So, while he is still a prisoner, not a convict. Accordingly, he was still viewed with some level of respect.

(27:11-13) But the centurion was more persuaded by the pilot and the captain of the ship than by what was being said by Paul. 12 Because the harbor was not suitable for wintering, the majority reached a decision to put out to sea from there, if somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there. 13 When a moderate south wind came up, supposing that they had attained their purpose, they weighed anchor and began sailing along Crete, close inshore.

They don’t listen to Paul’s warnings. They must’ve been asking themselves, “Do I listen to the captain or to a tentmaker??” Paul was only making general statements of doom and gloom about the voyage as well, and consequently, he was ignored. The “majority” won out. They were only making a short trip (~6 miles), and they were staying close to shore. With the south wind coming in, they must’ve thought that they were safe.

(27:14-16) But before very long there rushed down from the land a violent wind, called Euraquilo; 15 and when the ship was caught in it and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and let ourselves be driven along. 16 Running under the shelter of a small island called Clauda, we were scarcely able to get the ship’s boat under control.

The “violent wind” (typhōnikos) is the origin for our word “typhoon.”

“Euraquilo.” Bruce writes, “Euraquilo is a hybrid, from Greek Euros (‘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.”[470]

(27:17) After they had hoisted it up, they used supporting cables in undergirding the ship; and fearing that they might run aground on the shallows of Syrtis, they let down the sea anchor and in this way let themselves be driven along.

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 (chalasantes to skeuos; Plutarch, Moralia 507A; Lucian, Toxaris 19). Otherwise it may refer to setting a loose anchor.”[471] We agree with Bruce that “undergirding the ship” refers to “passing cables around it transversely underneath in order to hold the timbers together.”[472]

(27:18) The next day as we were being violently storm-tossed, they began to jettison the cargo.

“Jettison the cargo.” This shows that they were in dire straits. Their cargo was their source of payment for the voyage.

(27:19) And on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands.

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.”[473]

(27:20) Since neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm was assailing us, from then on all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned.

They couldn’t see the stars or sun to navigate. Just imagine how scary this would be—sailing blind in the middle of a typhoon!

(27:21-22) When they had gone a long time without food, then Paul stood up in their midst and said, “Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete and incurred this damage and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.”

“Long time without food” (asitia) could also mean that the sailors did not have “the stomach for food, as the vessel lurched in the waves.”[474]

“You ought to have followed my advice.” 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. He implores them to not repeat their error, but to listen to his advice so that they wouldn’t drown.

(27:23-24) “For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, 24 saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’”

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) “Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told.”

Paul believed God’s word. It wouldn’t be partially fulfilled, but “exactly” fulfilled.

(27:26) “But we must run aground on a certain island.”

“Certain island.” God spoke to Paul, but he didn’t tell him everything about the future. For instance, Paul didn’t know the name of the island that they would crash on. 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.”[475]

(27:27-29) But when the fourteenth night came, as we were being driven about in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors began to surmise that they were approaching some land. 28 They took soundings and found it to be twenty fathoms; and a little farther on they took another sounding and found it to be fifteen fathoms. 29 Fearing that we might run aground somewhere on the rocks, they cast four anchors from the stern and wished for daybreak.

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. Fernando comments, “When he said that they should have taken his advice (27:21), he was not making an ‘I told you so’ statement but trying to win their attention. Twice he asked them to keep up their courage (27:22, 25), basing that appeal on his vision. God had a job for him in Rome, and because of that everyone would be saved (27:24). After expressing his faith in God, he predicted the ship would run aground on an island (27:25-26). From this point on, Paul seems to have assumed a leadership role in the ship.”[476]

(27:30-32) But as the sailors were trying to escape from the ship and had let down the ship’s boat into the sea, on the pretense of intending to lay out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, “Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it fall away.

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 just how much they’ve come to trust him. Paul had moved from merely being a prisoner to being a sort of ad hoc captain of the ship.

(27:33-34) Until the day was about to dawn, Paul was encouraging them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have been constantly watching and going without eating, having taken nothing. 34 Therefore I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation, for not a hair from the head of any of you will perish.”

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) Having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all, and he broke it and began to eat. 36 All of them were encouraged and they themselves also took food. 37 All of us in the ship were two hundred and seventy-six persons. 38 When they had eaten enough, they began to lighten the ship by throwing out the wheat into the sea.

Josephus recounts a similar shipwreck of 600 men, and only 80 survived (Life, 15). It’s no wonder that Paul gave thanks during this time of trial, because every single man survived. Furthermore, the men were encouraged by Paul’s faith. 276 of them ate, and they threw the extra food overboard to lighten the load.

Was this a celebration of the Lord’s Supper? We agree with Marshall[477] and Polhill[478] that this was simply an ordinary meal—not an initiation of the Lord’s Supper. For one, the men were malnourished, and Paul simply told them “to take some food, for this is for your preservation” (Acts 27:34). Second, it’s highly unlikely that Paul would serve the Lord’s Supper to unbelievers (1 Cor. 11:27ff). Instead, the men took generic “food,” not bread and wine (v.36).

(27:39-44) When day came, they could not recognize the land; but they did observe a bay with a beach, and they resolved to drive the ship onto it if they could. 40 And casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea while at the same time they were loosening the ropes of the rudders; and hoisting the foresail to the wind, they were heading for the beach. 41 But striking a reef where two seas met, they ran the vessel aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern began to be broken up by the force of the waves. 42 The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, so that none of them would swim away and escape; 43 but the centurion, wanting to bring Paul safely through, kept them from their intention, and commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard first and get to land, 44 and the rest should follow, some on planks, and others on various things from the ship. And so it happened that they all were brought safely to land.

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. Then, they were ready to 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).

Paul showed his leadership in a secular context—not a Bible study. What do we learn about how to show spiritual leadership in a secular context from this chapter?

Paul shared his views and predictions openly (v.10, 21, 31). Leaders need to speak up when it’s important.

Paul didn’t hide his faith, but practiced it openly and naturally in front of others (v.23, 35). He spoke openly about “the God to whom I belong and whom I serve” (v.23). He encouraged the men to eat some food, and when he himself ate, he “gave thanks to God in the presence of all” (v.35).

Paul didn’t win every argument (vv.11-12). He failed to persuade the crew on the ship (v.11). This must’ve been frustrating for Paul, but good leaders know that they won’t win every argument. If you are a Christian at a secular job, you need to be prepared to lose some arguments to the “majority” (v.12).

Paul displayed confidence in Jesus’ word—not his feelings (v.24). Paul had the word of Jesus that he would make it to Rome (Acts 23:11). During this voyage, an angel visiting him to remind him of Jesus’ words (Acts 27:24). Therefore, he had confidence that he wouldn’t die.

Paul built good friendships with the men on the boat (v.36, 43). Paul encouraged the men on board, and we read, “All of them were encouraged and they themselves also took food” (v.36). Paul’s words and deeds were encouraging to these non-Christian men. They liked him. In fact, the centurion liked Paul so much that he saved his life rather than following procedure and having the prisoners killed (v.43).

Acts 28 (Paul in house-arrest in Rome)

(28:1) When they had been brought safely through, then we found out that the island was called Malta.

Malta is 58 miles south of Sicily. They are getting close to their destination.

(28:2) The natives showed us extraordinary kindness; for because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and received us all.

After the massive storm and near-death shipwreck, this kind of treatment would’ve felt like a luxury hotel. The natives showed them “extraordinary kindness” (philanthrōpia).

(28:3) But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand.

Paul is still serving—even after leading them all to safety. He didn’t take a break just because he was cold and tired.

Yet, when he throws the sticks on the fire, one of the “sticks” actually turns out to be a snake! The viper jumped out of the fire and bit Paul’s hand. How terrible to survive the shipwreck, only to die from a snake bite!

Today, no poisonous snakes live on the island of Malta. This has led skeptics to say that this story is fabricated. However, Marshall[479] makes two observations. First, the term “viper” (echidna) could be a generic term that doesn’t refer to a specific species of snake. Second, the people could’ve confused this “viper” for a grass snake. Or, most likely, third, the modern ecology of Malta might have changed over the last 2,000 years (!!).

(28:4) When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they began saying to one another, “Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.

The Maltese people must have held 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), who was the goddess daughter of Zeus and Themis.

(28:5-6) However he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 But they were expecting that he was about to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had waited a long time and had seen nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.

Is this a fulfillment of Luke 10:19? Jesus promised, “I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions” (Lk. 10:19). Is this example from Paul a fulfillment of this promise? Not in our view. Jesus seems to be referring to metaphorical serpents and scorpions—not literal ones. Specifically, Jesus seems to be referring to demons. Just one verse later, Jesus says, “Do not rejoice… that the spirits are subject to you” (Lk. 10:20). Likewise, just one verse earlier, Jesus referred to the fall of Satan (Lk. 10:18). Hence, Jesus wasn’t referring to literal snakes.

Paul is like a first century Chuck Norris: A snake bites him, and after three days of terrible and writhing agony… the snake dies! This whole scene shows how God was continuing to demonstrate his protection of Paul in the presence of others.

A similar story occurs with Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa: a snake bites him and the snake dies. Hence, the Mishnah states, “Woe to the man whom the snake meets; woe to the snake Hanina ben Dosa meets” (y. Berakhot, 5.1).

(28:7) Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who welcomed us and entertained us courteously three days.

On the island of Malta, Luke refers to “the chief man of the island, Publius.” An inscription was unearthed which reads, “Pudens, equite of the Romans, chief man of Malta.”[480]

(28:8-10) And it happened that the father of Publius was lying in bed afflicted with recurrent fever and dysentery; and Paul went in to see him and after he had prayed, he laid his hands on him and healed him. 9 After this had happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases were coming to him and getting cured. 10 They also honored us with many marks of respect; and when we were setting sail, they supplied us with all we needed.

What sickness did the father of Publius have? Today, there is a very common gastric fever caused by a microbe found in goat’s milk that is called the “Malta fever.”[481] Perhaps this is what the man was suffering from. Regardless, 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) At the end of three months we set sail on an Alexandrian ship which had wintered at the island, and which had the Twin Brothers for its figurehead.

Ships didn’t sail between November and February (hence the “three month” wait). The “Twin Brothers” are Castor and Pollux—the twin sons of Zeus and Leda.

(28:12-14) After we put in at Syracuse, we stayed there for three days. 13 From there we sailed around and arrived at Rhegium, and a day later a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. 14 There we found some brethren, and were invited to stay with them for seven days; and thus we came to Rome.

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) And the brethren, when they heard about us, came from there as far as the Market of Appius and Three Inns to meet us; and when Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.

Since the time is roughly the spring of AD 60, this means that the believers in Rome had read his letter roughly four years before meeting him in person (AD 56-57, Acts 20:3). These believers come down to see Paul as he makes his walk through the Appian Way—about 43 miles south of Rome. Imagine how encouraged Paul must have felt as he saw these Christians flocking to meet him on the final road to Rome.

Paul speaks to the leading Jewish leaders in Rome

(28:16) When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.

This was not traditional imprisonment in a dungeon. Paul was in house arrest under the supervision of a guard. This explains how Paul could write so many of his letters from prison.

(28:17-20) After three days Paul called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they came together, he began saying to them, “Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. 18 And when they had examined me, they were willing to release me because there was no ground for putting me to death. 19 But when the Jews objected, I was forced to appeal to Caesar, not that I had any accusation against my nation. 20 For this reason, therefore, I requested to see you and to speak with you, for I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel.”

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,” and he is still thoroughly Jewish. Moreover, he affirms that he had broken no laws (Acts 23:29; 25:25; 26:31).

(28:21-22) They said to him, “We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you. 22 But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere.”

In the ancient world, news travelled a lot slower than today. So, these religious leaders were open to hearing what Paul had to say. Marshall comments, “Very possibly the Jews in Rome preferred to remain ignorant of the case; they would not have forgotten that earlier disputes over the Messiah had led to their temporary expulsion from the city.”[482]

As an accurate reporter, Luke is still friendly to the Jewish audience—despite the fact that many Jewish people had rejected Jesus. Luke is simply not painting the Jewish people with a broad brush.

(28:23) When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening.

Paul took all day to unpack the Scriptures, arguing his case. Again, he’s using “persuasion” and appealing to predictive prophecy. Paul’s apologetic lasted “from morning until evening.”

(28:24) Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.

There was a mixed reaction to this message. Not much has changed in 2,000 years.

(28:25) And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers.”

Paul warns them about their reaction.

(28:26-27) [Paul was] saying, ‘Go to this people and say, “You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; and you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; 27 for the heart of this people has become dull, and with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I would heal them.”‘

Paul 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.” Marshall comments, “This is a divine judgment upon them because they themselves have made their hearts impervious to the Word of God; they have allowed themselves to become deaf and blind for fear that they might hear and see the disturbing Word of God and so receive healing from God. God’s Word brings the diagnosis of sin, which is painful to hear and accept, but at the same time it wounds in order to heal. Once a person deliberately refuses the Word, there comes a point when he is deprived of the capacity to receive it. It is a stern warning to those who trifle with the gospel.”[483]

(28:28) “Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.”

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) [When he had spoken these words, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves.] 30 And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.

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 teach visitors.

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

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).

Read verses 16-31. What do we learn about evangelism from this section?

What Happened 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 imprisonment, so 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] Paul Barnett, Is the New Testament Reliable? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992), 140.

[2] Richard N. Longenecker, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 219.

[3] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 63.

[4] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 24.

[5] Two exceptions would be:

(1) A. C. Clark, The Acts of the Apostles (Oxford: Clarendon, 1933), 393-408.

(2) A. W. Argyle, “The Greek of Luke and Acts,” NTS 20 (1973-74): 441-45.

[6] Colin J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 22.

[7] Richard N. Longenecker, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 238.

[8] See footnote. I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 19.

[9] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 23.

[10] D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Second ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 293.

[11] D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Second ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 296.

[12] Richard N. Longenecker, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 236.

[13] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 30.

[14] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 51.

[15] The “Tübingen theory” held that Acts dated to the second century AD, and it was a redaction of earlier sources.

[16] William M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, p.8. Cited in Edwin M. Yamauchi, The Stones and the Scriptures (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1972), 95.

[17] William Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, reprinted in 1979), 40.

[18] William Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, reprinted in 1979), 222. For a more modern treatment of this, see A.W. Mosley’s article titled, “Historical Reporting in the Ancient World.”

[19] Colin J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 101.

[20] A.N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament: The Sarum Lectures, 1960-1961 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1963), 189.

[21] See Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 26.

[22] Scott Berkun, Confessions of a Public Speaker (Cambridge: O’Reilly Media, 2009), 57.

[23] Robert Stein, Luke (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), p.66.

[24] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 79.

[25] Darrell L. Bock, Luke: 1:1-9:50: BECNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), p.63.

[26] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 29.

[27] Walter Liefeld, Luke: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), p.823.

[28] Leon Morris, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 3, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), p.83.

[29] Robert Stein, Luke (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), p.66.

[30] Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), p.44.

[31] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 60.

[32] Cited in F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 30.

[33] Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), p.44.

[34] Leon Morris, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 3, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), p.83.

[35] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 30.

[36] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 54.

[37] Cited in John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 41.

[38] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 51.

[39] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 41.

[40] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 64.

[41] 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).

[42] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 66.

[43] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 67.

[44] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 40.

[45] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 77.

[46] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 91.

[47] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 69.

[48] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 70.

[49] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 46.

[50] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 93.

[51] The Qumran covenanters thought that is was necessary to have twelve men in their leadership (1QS 8:1). Though, it is “doubtful whether it was copied by the church from Qumran.” I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 71.

[52] Cited in F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 46.

[53] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 46.

[54] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 70.

[55] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 94.

[56] R. Stier, The Words of the Apostles, E.T. (Edinburgh, 1869), pp.12-15.

  1. Campbell Morgan, The Acts of the Apostles (New York, 1924), pp.19-20.

[57] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 97.

[58] Richard N. Longenecker, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 272.

[59] Peter Wagner, Spreading the Fire, p.86. Cited in Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 91.

[60] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 58.

[61] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 100-101.

[62] Richard N. Longenecker, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 275.

[63] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 60.

[64] Gottlob Schrenk, “Boulomai, Boule, Boulema,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-), 635.

[65] 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.

[66] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 85.

[67] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 105.

[68] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 69.

[69] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 140.

[70] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 87.

[71] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology., 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998), p.1050.

[72] See footnote. Polhill cites Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem at the Time of Jesus, trans. F. H. and C. H. Cave (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989), 83. John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992).

[73] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 119-126.

[74] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 73.

[75] Richard N. Longenecker, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 289.

[76] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 73.

[77] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 119.

[78] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 73.

[79] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 121.

[80] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 119.

[81] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 121.

[82] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 122.

[83] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 125.

[84] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 77.

[85] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 126.

[86] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 94.

[87] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 127.

[88] Richard N. Longenecker, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 294.

[89] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 94.

[90] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 128.

[91] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 125.

[92] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 142.

[93] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 135.

[94] Richard N. Longenecker, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 297.

[95] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 102.

[96] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 186.

[97] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 188.

[98] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 90.

[99] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 105.

[100] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 140.

[101] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 142.

[102] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 92.

[103] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 92.

[104] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 195.

[105] Wayne A. Grudem, 1 Peter: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 17, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 26-27.

[106] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 145-146.

[107] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 146.

[108] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 150.

[109] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 221.

[110] See footnote. F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 104.

[111] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 119.

[112] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 161.

[113] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 161.

[114] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 122.

[115] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 231.

[116] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 246.

[117] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 169.

[118] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 248.

[119] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 171.

[120] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 171.

[121] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 252.

[122] There is a wide debate over who exactly the “Hellenistic” Jews were, but Longenecker seems to land on this position. Richard N. Longenecker, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 329.

[123] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 120.

[124] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 226.

[125] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984), p.19.

[126] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 135.

[127] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 181-182.

[128] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 226-227.

[129] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 262.

[130] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 135.

[131] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 137.

[132] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 270.

[133] Bruce leaves open this possibility. However, he seems to lean against it. A “Hebrew of Hebrews” like Paul would more likely prefer a synagogue where they spoke Aramaic (Heb. 3:5). F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 125.

[134] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 271.

[135] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 273.

[136] Richard N. Longenecker, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 337.

[137] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 139.

[138] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 131, 137.

[139] 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.

[140] To be clear, Polhill doesn’t hold this to be sure. Rather, he is explaining the view of contemporary NT scholarship. John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 187.

[141] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 140.

[142] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 130-133.

[143] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 188.

[144] Emphasis ours. John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 203-204.

[145] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 130.

[146] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 143.

[147] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 143.

[148] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 134.

[149] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 190.

[150] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 193.

[151] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 147.

[152] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 195.

[153] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 196.

[154] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 140-141.

[155] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 150.

[156] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 152.

[157] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 201-202.

[158] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 150.

[159] C. H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures (London, 1952), p. 35n.; cf. G. H. Dalman, The Words of Jesus, E.T. (Edinburgh, 1902), p. 311.

[160] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 207-208.

[161] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 209.

[162] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 159.

[163] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 159.

[164] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 211.

[165] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 161.

[166] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 211.

[167] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 319.

[168] See F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 166.

[169] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 216.

[170] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 218.

[171] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 162, 167.

[172] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 341.

[173] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 223.

[174] In his footnote, he states, “In his Confessions (6.3) Augustine records as something worthy of note that Ambrose of Milan read silently.” F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 175.

[175] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 226.

[176] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 195.

[177] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 180.

[178] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 357.

[179] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 357.

[180] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 185.

[181] See footnote. John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992).

[182] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 185.

[183] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 360.

[184] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 239.

[185] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 366.

[186] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 184.

[187] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 185.

[188] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 185.

[189] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 313.

[190] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 315.

[191] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 385.

[192] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 385.

[193] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 386.

[194] Cited in F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 202.

[195] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 203.

[196] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 386.

[197] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 320.

[198] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 320.

[199] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 255.

[200] Richard N. Longenecker, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 390.

[201] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 263.

[202] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 339.

[203] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 337.

[204] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 268.

[205] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 269.

[206] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 269.

[207] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 269.

[208] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 272.

[209] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 272.

[210] Later, this was the preferred name used by non-Christian writers. See Josephus, Antiquities 18.64; Tacitus, Annals 15.44; Pliny, Epistles 10.96-97; Lucian, Alexander 25.38.

[211] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 273.

[212] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 417-418.

[213] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 231.

[214] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 350.

[215] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 353.

[216] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 278.

[217] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 362.

[218] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 238.

[219] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 282.

[220] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 223.

[221] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 238-239.

[222] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 240.

[223] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 241.

[224] See footnote. Cited in F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 242.

[225] See footnote. Cited in F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 242.

[226] Richard N. Longenecker, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 413.

[227] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 364.

[228] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 439.

[229] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 245.

[230] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 289.

[231] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 245.

[232] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 439.

[233] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 245.

[234] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 229.

[235] See footnote. John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 291.

[236] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 444.

[237] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 293.

[238] See footnote. John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 295.

[239] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 376.

[240] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 385-386.

[241] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 236.

[242] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 234.

[243] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 238.

[244] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 301.

[245] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 243.

[246] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 245.

[247] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 310.

[248] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 271.

[249] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 471.

[250] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 471.

[251] Xenophon states that Iconium was “the last [i.e., most easterly] city of Phrygia” (Anabasis 1.2.19.).

[252] Letters to Friends, 15.4.2.

[253] Natural History, 5.25.

[254] William Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, reprinted in 1979), 40.

[255] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 272.

[256] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 401.

[257] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 475.

[258] See footnote. John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 314.

[259] Ovid, Metamorphoses 8, 626ff.

[260] Richard N. Longenecker, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 435.

[261] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 398.

[262] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 479.

[263] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 271-272.

[264] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 286.

[265] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 265.

[266] Martin Hengel, Acts and the History of Earliest Christianity, E.T. (London, 1979), p. 125. Cited in F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 291.

[267] James might also be citing pieces and parts from Jeremiah 12:15 and Isaiah 45:21, but he mostly focuses on Amos 9:12.

[268] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 267.

[269] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 506.

[270] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 331.

[271] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 296.

[272] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 422.

[273] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 334.

[274] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 341.

[275] There is considerable debate regarding what Peter means when he writes, “Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard him), I have written to you briefly” (Pet. 5:12). Some take this to mean that Silas (Silvanus) was the letter writer (amanuensis), while others simply believe he was the letter carrier. We hold to the former view. See comments in our commentary on 1 Peter.

[276] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 273.

[277] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 275.

[278] William M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, pp.200-205.

[279] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 282.

[280] Cited in F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988).

[281] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 311.

[282] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 534.

[283] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 351.

[284] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 351.

[285] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 536.

[286] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 351.

[287] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 315.

[288] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 539.

[289] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 315.

[290] Brian Rapske, Paul in Roman Custody, vol. 3, The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993-1996), 127.

[291] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 445.

[292] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 355.

[293] Cited in F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988).

[294] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 544.

[295] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 291.

[296] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 544.

[297] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 358.

[298] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 550.

[299] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 361.

[300] Could this be the same Jason mentioned in Romans 16:21? We’re not sure.

[301] Paul Barnett, Is the New Testament Reliable? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992), 151.

[302] See footnote. F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 324.

[303] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 553.

[304] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 326.

[305] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 553.

[306] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 297.

[307] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 364.

[308] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 560.

[309] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 298.

[310] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 365.

[311] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 365-366.

[312] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 366.

[313] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 560.

[314] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 561.

[315] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 561.

[316] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 330.

[317] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984), p.17.

[318] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 367.

[319] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 298.

[320] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 367.

[321] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 301.

[322] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 563.

[323] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 303.

[324] Cited in Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 564.

[325] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 567.

[326] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 339.

[327] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 339.

[328] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 376.

[329] Emphasis his. I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 306.

[330] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 367.

[331] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 570.

[332] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 571.

[333] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 571.

[334] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 490.

[335] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 309.

[336] Richard N. Longenecker, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 481.

[337] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 346.

[338] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 346.

[339] See footnote. Cited in F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 346.

[340] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 313.

[341] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 351.

[342] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 580.

[343] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 352.

[344] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 316.

[345] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 355.

[346] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 318.

[347] Bock states that Barrett holds this view. Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 586.

[348] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 320-321.

[349] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 591.

[350] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 302.

[351] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 495.

[352] Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 563.

[353] Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 563.

[354] Darrel Bock, Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), pp.607-608.

[355] Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 564.

[356] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 363.

[357] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 323.

[358] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 324.

[359] Marshall disagrees with the application on the grounds that Christian baptism is different than the baptism these men underwent earlier. Regardless, the principle is quite the same: they were baptized as non-believer and needed re-baptized. I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 325.

[360] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988).

[361] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 366.

[362] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 327.

[363] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 366.

[364] See footnote. F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 366.

[365] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 515.

[366] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 367-368.

[367] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 403.

[368] Paris papyrus 574. Cited in John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 403.

[369] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 404.

[370] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 404.

[371] Kurt Koch, Occult Bondage and Deliverance (Kregel: Grand Rapids, MI, 1976), p.16.

[372] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 604.

[373] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 605.

[374] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 307.

[375] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 331.

[376] J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Clinic (Moody Press, 1958), p.140.

[377] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 335.

[378] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 335.

[379] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 607.

[380] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 607-608.

[381] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 374.

[382] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 410.

[383] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 376.

[384] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 337.

[385] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 310.

[386] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 610.

[387] Paul Barnett, Is the New Testament Reliable? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992), 151.

[388] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 612.

[389] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 612.

[390] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 339.

[391] Cited in John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 310.

[392] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 311.

[393] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 339.

[394] See footnote. F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 379.

[395] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 417-418.

[396] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 381.

[397] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 381.

[398] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 341.

[399] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 382.

[400] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 341.

[401] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 382.

[402] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 343.

[403] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 539.

[404] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 320.

[405] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 345.

[406] James R. White, The Forgotten Trinity (Minneapolis, MN: Baker Publishing Group, 1998), p.83.

[407] 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.

[408] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 357.

[409] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 228.

[410] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 360.

[411] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 363.

[412] Richard N. Longenecker, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 521-522.

[413] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 651.

[414] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 409.

[415] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 455.

[416] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 455.

[417] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 564.

[418] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 412.

[419] See footnote. F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 412.

[420] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 658.

[421] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 564.

[422] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 459.

[423] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 375.

[424] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 664.

[425] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 665.

[426] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 382.

[427] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 669.

[428] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 567.

[429] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 569.

[430] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 472.

[431] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 677.

[432] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007).

[433] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 434.

[434] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 682.

[435] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 393.

[436] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 438.

[437] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 479.

[438] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 394.

[439] See footnote. Cited in F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988).

[440] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 399.

[441] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 695.

[442] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 696.

[443] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 403.

[444] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 405.

[445] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 456.

[446] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 709.

[447] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 493.

[448] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 493.

[449] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 461.

[450] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 464.

[451] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 413.

[452] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 464.

[453] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 501.

[454] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 716.

[455] Pentheus was told, “You are a mortal, he is a god. If I were you I would control my rage and sacrifice to him, rather than kick against the pricks.” Euripides: The Bacchae and other Plays (Harmondsworth, 1954), p. 205.

[456] The Jews seemed to use it more for an issue of conscience (Psalms of Solomon 16:4; Philo, The Decalogue 87). Yet, it isn’t likely that Paul was struggling with an issue of conscience at this point.

[457] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 722.

[458] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 471.

[459] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 420.

[460] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 471.

[461] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 510.

[462] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 426-427.

[463] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 731.

[464] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 513.

[465] H. J. Holtzmann, Handcommentar zum Neuen Testament (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1889), p. 421. Cited in F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 474.

[466] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 476.

[467] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 477.

[468] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 733.

[469] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 518.

[470] See footnote. F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 484-485.

[471] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 736.

[472] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 485.

[473] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 736.

[474] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 523.

[475] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 738.

[476] Ajith Fernando, Acts: NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 601.

[477] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 434.

[478] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 527.

[479] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 437.

[480] See Inscriptiones Graecae, 14.601. Cited in Paul Barnett, Is the New Testament Reliable? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992), 151.

[481] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 533-534.

[482] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 444.

[483] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 445.