Sunday, July 15, 2018

Acts 4 Explanatory Notes

Previously on Acts:

Acts 1
Acts 2
Acts 3

Now here are my notes on Acts 4, with the video links at the bottom. You can follow my daily podcasts on Acts on Patreon.

b. The Aftermath (4:1-31)
  • 4:1. They prayed. The Spirit came. They received power (cf. 1:8). They then witnessed in other languages with boldness as an expression of that power. In Acts 3 they heal a lame man as an expression of that power.
  • Now come the reactions. One reaction is growth--three thousand on the Day of Pentecost (2:41). Another reaction is opposition, and we see it begin here in Acts 4.
  • The priests, captain of the temple, and the Sadducees check up on them. The Sadducees were a group most known in the New Testament for not believing in resurrection. They tended to be priestly and very upper class. They tended to form the ruling class in Jerusalem, and the high priest seems often to have been Sadducee in this era. The Sadducees thus seem to have been collaborators with the Romans, not least so that they could remain in power.
  • 4:2. The Sadducees would be annoyed at the preaching of resurrection not just because they did not believe in resurrection but because resurrection implied the upheaval of the current world order. Resurrection implied the overthrow of the existing powers by an apocalyptic breaking of God into history. It was a revolutionary doctrine, as N. T. Wright has recognized.
  • Perhaps even more concerning is that they were gaining traction with the people. Insurrection is always something that ancient leaders watched carefully and often feared. The Romans were particularly hard on unapproved public gatherings and so, as in the case of Jesus, the leaders of Jerusalem would have been keen to keep things from escalating to where the Romans would get involved.
  • 4:3. They put them in jail for the night to break up the momentum of their popularity and interrogate them the next day.
  • 4:4. But the movement is growing immensely. Their number is now about 5000. Notice the language of faith. 
  • 4:5-6. We meet the interrogators. It is possibly a smaller subset of the larger Sanhedrin. Annas is called high priest here, but more likely Caiaphas is officially high priest (AD17-36). Annas is his father-in-law who officially held the high priesthood from AD6-15 but continued to hold great influence. John and Alexander seem to be of the same priestly family. Elders and scribes are also there.
  • 4:7. The question they ask is simple. On what authority, by what name have they healed the lame man.
  • 4:8-12. This is Peter's response. The third sermon of sorts although it is rather short. 
  • 4:8. A key observation is that Peter is full of the Holy Spirit, giving him boldness and authority in speech.
  • 4:9-10. The name by which the lame man was healed (in Greek, "has been saved") is Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Peter reminds them that this was the man that they put to death. 
  • More importantly, he is the one whom God raised from the dead. This is the key point of all the sermons but Stephen's (who doesn't get to finish the sermon). Note that God is the active agent, Jesus the object.
  • 4:11. An allusion to Psalm 118:22. Also quoted in Matthew 21:42. Jesus is the stone that the leaders of Jerusalem rejected, but God had made him the cornerstone, the Messiah.
  • 4:12. A key verse of Christian soteriology. There is no other path to salvation but Christ. Jesus is the only name under heaven by which one can be saved.
  • 4:13. Peter and John did not have a formal education. They were agrammatoi, unlettered, untrained in Greek. They were idiotes, formally untrained. But they had been with Jesus. Some of course take these words to mean that they did not know Greek and/or were illiterate.
  • The ancient world was an oral world not a literary one. Being illiterate was thus the norm and did not mean one wasn't intelligent. The memory in an oral culture is much greater than that in a literary culture.
  • 4:14-16. There was no plausible deniability of what had happened. So they needed to strategize what to do. They did not want the movement to spread, but couldn't lie about what had happened.
  • 4:17-18. They decided simply to command them not to speak in Jesus' name any more. For many, this tactic might have worked. The high priest and council had great power and no doubt would have normally been fearsome to a common person.
  • 4:19-20. Full of the Holy Spirit and boldness, Peter and John cannot obey. They must obey God. They are apostles, whose very meaning is to witness to the resurrection of Jesus. 
  • There could be an allusion here to the trial of Socrates where he says, "Men of Athens, I respect and love you, but I shall obey god rather than you" (Apology 29d).
  • Notice how often "Peter and John" have been mentioned as speaking. Obviously they are both not talking at the same time saying the same words. Peter is probably the one literally speaking and no doubt John agrees with what he is saying. It may imply, however, that these are not the exact words said. Perhaps more words were said (including words by John). This is the gist of what was said, likely abbreviated.
  • 4:21-22. They release them. The best they can do is threaten them and speak sternly to them. The man was over 40 years old. Everyone knew who he was and who he had been.
  • 4:23-31. These verses give the response of the believers.
  • 4:23. They return to "their own." They are not of the sort of the priests and leaders.
  • 4:24-30. They pray. That is their response. They pray "together."
  • 4:25. They reference Scripture, through which the Holy Spirit speaks to them.
  • 4:25-26. This is a quotation of Psalm 2:1-2. At the time, David was understood to be the author of this psalm, although in terms of the original meaning, this psalm was probably an enthronement psalm, a psalm for the enthronement of a king.
  • The psalm addresses a situation where outside political forces oppose the king anointed by the LORD, in this case Jesus.
  • 4:27-28. Here they apply the Scripture. Herod, Pontius Pilate and other Gentiles gathered against Jesus, God's holy servant (pais again, entailing a likely allusion to Isaiah 53).
  • 4:28. Acts uses deterministic language fairly often, which we have to process theologically in terms of the whole counsel of God in Scripture. However, in this case he is speaking of the overall plan of salvation, which certainly was predetermined by God.
  • 4:29-30. The prayer ends with a petition for boldness and for an empowerment to continue to perform signs and wonders.
  • 4:30. The miracles are authorized by Christ. They are done "in the name of Christ," who is once again called pais, servant, alluding perhaps to Isaiah 53. There could be the implication that the righteous suffering of Jesus authorizes the performance of miracles.
  • 4:31. They are filled with the Holy Spirit again, indicating that being filled with the Spirit is a repeatable event, especially when one is in need of power to face a particular event or challenge. 
  • Signs accompany the filling, and boldness is the chief manifestation here of the power that comes from the Spirit.
2. Early Church Life (4:32-5:42)
a. All things in common (4:32-37)
  • This paragraph again summarizes the nature of the life of the earliest church (cf. also 2:42-47). It is perhaps a somewhat idealized picture. In keeping with the nature of ancient history writing, it is not merely reporting but reporting with a moral. The "evaluative" perspective of Acts wants the reader to see this description as good and as something to be emulated.
  • 4:32. They are of one heart and soul. 
  • The church treats their possessions like a healthy family would. They share their possessions.
  • 4:33. The apostles continue to give witness to the resurrection, which again is what an apostle is in Acts, someone to whom the risen Christ has appeared and commissioned to go as a witness to the resurrection.
  • There is great favor on them all... or perhaps great grace. The first suggests that they were favored by the people. The second suggests that God was giving them great power. Both are probably true.
  • 4:34-35. Acts probably wants us to see this as the way the church would ideally function. There should be no needy in the church when those who have excess help out those who have fallen on hard times. Perhaps Luke wants Theophilus to think this way too, since he is likely someone of some wealth and status.
  • Certainly history has also proved that it does not go well for millennial communities whose persons of means divest themselves of all their property (often because they believe the Lord is immediately going to return). Similarly, it does not well to develop an unnecessary dependence among the needy. It does not contradict Acts for those who can to continue to generate resources for the community, nor to expect the needy to work as part of the community (e.g., 2 Thess. 3:10). Luke does not say that this model must be enacted exactly in every time and place.
  • 4:35. The apostles seem to have served as the roundhouse for the proceeds of sales and distribution. 
  • 4:36-37. Here we are introduced to Barnabas, who gives us a specific example of what was happening in the church. His example is considered entirely positive, and he is depicted entirely positively in the book of Acts and almost entirely positively in Paul's writings.
  • 4:36. Barnabas is apparently a name the apostles have given him, "son of encouragement." He will bear out this name in the story of the early church. 
  • He is a Levite, originally from the island of Cyprus. His point of origin presumably played a role in the itinerary of the first missionary journey in Acts 13.
  • 4:37. He owned a field, sold it, donated it, in keeping with the familial, communal nature of the earliest believers.
Patrons video (now available)
Videos on the English of Acts 4
Videos on the Greek of Acts 4

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