Friday, May 11, 2018

Explanatory Notes on Acts (chapter 1)

I have completed explanatory notes on RomansGalatians (see also here), Philippians1 Thessalonians, and Hebrews. I have been doing videos on Acts now for five weeks going verse by verse in Greek and doing overviews on Sundays. Links to those videos for Acts 1 are at the bottom. Now that I am done with Acts 1, here are some written explanatory notes.

Acts 1: Introduction
A. Preface
  • 1:1. Acts has the same recipient as Luke, Theophilus. He is called "most excellent Theophilus" in Luke, possibly suggesting that he is a Roman official or certainly someone of importance. 
  • We wonder if he is a patron who commissioned Luke to write this two volume series. Such works were of course meant for broader consumption and brought honor to the patron.
  • Luke told about the things Jesus began to do and teach, possibly suggesting that Acts will tell us things that Jesus continued to do and teach through the Holy Spirit.
  • 1:2-3. We now hear about forty days between Jesus' resurrection and ascension, a unique feature in Acts. We do not even get the impression of forty days in Luke 24. 
  • During these days he presented convincing proofs of his resurrection to his followers.
  • 1:4. They are told to stay in Jerusalem. The centrality of Jerusalem to the mission is a key feature of Acts.
  • 1:5. Within the world of Luke-Acts, the Holy Spirit has not yet come. (We might think of John 20:22 as John's version of Pentecost). The coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost is thus the fulfillment of Jesus' promise in Luke 3:16. In the story world of Acts, therefore, we should not think of the disciples as yet filled with the Holy Spirit.
B. Getting Ready for Mission
  • 1:6-11. These verses present the ascension of Jesus to heaven, forty days after his resurrection.
  • 1:6. These verses make it clear that the disciples had been expecting a political messiah. They did not expect Jesus as messiah to die, nor did they expect the resurrection. But now that he was resurrected, they returned to their former understanding. Was Jesus now going to restore Israel as a free political entity?
  • 1:7. Jesus does not contradict their expectation, only their timing. Luke-Acts seems to view this current age as the "time of the Gentiles" (cf. Luke 21:24), much as Paul seems to view this current phase of history in Romans 9-11. It is not time for Jerusalem to be free in God's economy.
  • 1:8. This is arguably the key verse of Acts. On the one hand, it basically maps the rest of Acts. They witness in Jerusalem in Acts 1-7, in Judea and Samaria in Acts 8-12, and to the ends of the earth (=Rome) in Acts 13-28.
  • The key manifestation of the Holy Spirit in Acts is "power," especially power for witness. What they are witnessing to is the resurrection of Christ, and an apostle in Acts, more than anything else, is someone to whom the risen Christ has appeared bodily and who has accordingly been commissioned to go and testify to his risen lordship.
  • The power they receive manifests itself in boldness, in the performance of miracles, and tongues on several occasions at the moment of receiving the Holy Spirit.
  • 1:9. God meets us where we are so that we can understand. Our understanding is always partial and generally fallen. Accordingly, God's revelation is usually partial and accommodates our understandings. The truth of God is always bigger than our understanding, so revelation tends to the metaphorical and figurative, so it can point beyond itself. Most of us cannot make ourselves believe that the world is flat and that heaven is straight up through layers of sky, yet this was the worldview of the disciples. Jesus meets them within their understanding. He ascends and when he is out of their sight, presumably transfers to whatever dimension heaven is in.
  • 1:10-11. The two men, presumably angels, predict the second coming of Christ, which we still await.
  • 1:12-26. These verses deal primarily with the replacement of Judas in the ten days between Jesus' ascension and the Day of Pentecost.
  • 1:12-14. The disciples return to Jerusalem from Mt. Olives, the location of Jesus' ascension.
  • 1:12. A sabbath's journey was about a half mile. The Mount of Olives was directly east across the Kidron Valley from the Eastern Gate, with the temple immediately inside. 
  • 1:13. Here we have Luke's second listing of the disciples. It differs from Matthew and Mark's list in having Judas son of James instead of Thaddeus (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18).
  • 1:14. Two of the special emphases of Luke are indicated in this verse. First, Luke pays more attention to the role women played in the Jesus movement and the early church. Second, Luke emphasizes the role that prayer played in the life of Jesus and the early church.
  • 1:15-26. Here we have the replacement of Judas proper.
  • 1:15. The canonical New Testament texts remember Peter as the lead apostle. Here he takes the lead on the replacement of Judas.
  • Although it is tempting to see this upper room as the Cenacle you can visit today, that part of Jerusalem was thoroughly burnt when Rome burned the city in AD70. It is thus unlikely to be the precise structure, at least not in its current form.
  • Luke suggests that the kernel of the early church consisted of about 120 people in Jerusalem. A room big enough to hold this many people would need to be the home of a fairly wealthy person. This home could be that of John Mark's parents, Mary and perhaps Cleopas.
  • 1:16. Peter understands David to have written the psalms. This was the understanding of the time and God met the early church within this understanding. Internal evidence suggests that David did not write all of the psalms that have that heading, as we will see in 1:20. This is not the point of the revelation here, however, but rather the cultural understanding within which the revelation came.
  • More important is the fact that the Holy Spirit is the one through whom revelation comes. The Holy Spirit has revealed to Peter that God wants them to replace Judas.
  • 1:18-19. Luke's account of what happened to Judas and the blood money differs a little from Matthew's. Both agree that Judas received money from betraying Jesus. Both agree that the money was used to purchase a field called Akeldama. Both agree that Judas met a gruesome end. 
  • However, in Matthew 27:3-10, Judas tries to return the blood money and the chief priests buy the field. Then Judas hangs himself. In Acts 1, Judas buys the field, falls headlong, and his bowels gush forth. The impulse to harmonize is probably misguided. There was room for some artistic license in ancient history writing and we can actually miss the inspired point if we don't let narratives stand as they are. If varying accounts are easily coordinated, by all means do it. But when it requires going well beyond what the texts actually say, it is best to let each stand alone. 
  • 1:20. The Lord spoke to Peter, Luke, or someone in the early church through Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8. As is always the case, these psalms had an original meaning in their original context. The New Testament authors then hear the Holy Spirit give an extended or spiritual meaning to the words that goes beyond the original meaning.
  • In the case of Psalm 69, an original psalm of lament and imprecatory psalm was widely read by the early Christians in relation to Jesus. However, in Psalm 69:5, the psalmist speaks of the wrongs he did, making it clear that the original meaning was not about Jesus, since Jesus was without sin. Yet several verses from the psalm were applied to Jesus by the early Christians, such as the "zeal for your house" verse (69:9) and the vinegar of 69:21. Like the Holy Spirit does to many Christians today, he "quickened" these verses to the early Christians in relation to Christ, even though the original psalm was not about Christ. 
  • Further, the internal evidence of the psalm more likely suggests an original context in the late 500s BC rather than the time of David. The cities of Judah were not destroyed in the time of David (69:35), nor was the house of the Lord built yet (69:9). But we can easily see a Haggai or Zechariah having zeal for God's house and for the rebuilding of Judah around the year 516BC.
  • In one translation of Psalm 109:8 (NRSV), the person whose place is being called for replacement is not that of the wicked person. Rather, the wicked are calling for the place of the righteous to be replaced. None of these observations should bother us, although they are a much needed corrective to the standard evangelical insistence that the Holy Spirit only speaks through the original meaning of biblical texts. The Holy Spirit, it would seem, is far more a holiness or Pentecostal interpreter than a neo-evangelical one!
  • 1:21-22. The qualifications for a replacement for Judas are that the person must have been with Jesus from the time of John's baptism. The apostle Paul thus did not qualify. There was an innermost circle of apostles, the twelve, in which Paul did not fit. 
  • Of course we must also keep in mind the principle that "description is not prescription." That is to say, Acts may be describing what Peter thought--describing what happened--without prescribing this definition for an apostle. It would seem, however, that this is Luke's perspective, the "evaluative point of view" of the book of Acts at this point.
  • 1:23-26. They cast lots to decide on the replacement, and it falls on Matthias. Here is probably a point where we would all agree that description is not prescription. Casting lots may be how they decided such things but we probably should not use that method, unless Luke means simply to say that they voted.
  • 1:23. This is the only place where these two individuals are mentioned, a reminder that we know only the tiniest bit of the life of the early church.
  • 1:24. We note again the importance of prayer in Acts.
Patron Videos (now public)
Videos on English of Acts 1
Acts 1:1-5
Acts 1:6-11
Acts 1:12-17
Acts 1:18-20
Acts 1:21-26

Videos on Greek of Acts 1
Acts 1:1
Acts 1:2
Acts 1:3
Acts 1:4
Acts 1:5
Acts 1:6
Acts 1:7
Acts 1:8
Acts 1:9-10
Acts 1:11
Acts 1:12
Acts 1:13-14
Acts 1:15
Acts 1:16
Acts 1:17
Acts 1:18
Acts 1:19
Acts 1:20
Acts 1:21-22
Acts 1:23
Acts 1:24
Acts 1:25
Acts 1:26

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