Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Acts 5 Explanatory Notes

Previously on Acts:

Acts 1
Acts 2
Acts 3
Acts 4

Now here are my notes on Acts 5, with the video links at the bottom. You can follow my daily podcasts on Acts on Patreon.

2. Early Church Life (4:32-5:42)
a. All things in common (4:32-37)
b. An exception to the rule (5:1-11)
  • 5:1-11. In contrast to the righteous story of Barnabas, these verses give us the unrighteous story of a husband-wife couple, Ananias and Sapphira.
  • 5:1-2. These verses present the problem. Ananias and Sapphira did as Barnabas did. They sold some land and they gave some to the Jesus-community. But they held some of the value back. As we will see in a moment, they seem to have lied about the amount.
  • 5:3-4. Peter exposes the problem to Ananias. It is not that he only gave part of what he sold. It is that he lied about it. Peter indicates that he has tried to lie to the Holy Spirit... which of course you can't.
  • Peter indicates that Satan had filled Ananias' heart. This can never happen without the cooperation of human will. 
  • 5:5-6. Here is the consequence. Ananias immediately dies and is carried out and buried. Understandably, a great fear comes on all those who hear of this event.
  • The judgment of Ananias and soon his wife suggest that God continues to judge in the New Testament. The Old Testament may emphasize the "wrath of God" a bit more than the New Testament, but the judgment of God is in the New Testament as well.
  • In my theology, God's justice in such cases does not change the eternal destiny of someone. That is to say, God knew that neither Ananias or Sapphira would actually make it into the kingdom. I suppose someone might also argue that they were saved "as it were by fire" (1 Cor. 3:15), a punishment without eternal consequence.
  • God's justice is more often 1) redemptive, to get a person back on track, or 2) protective, to protect people from evil.
  • 5:7-10. The parallel now happens to Sapphira, his wife. About three hours later, she comes in. Peter asks her a question to which he already has the answer. She lies. She dies and is carried out like her husband.
  • 5:9. Ananias and Sapphira are "testing" the Spirit of the Lord." This is not a bet one wants to take. The whole world is "naked and exposed" before God's eyes (Heb. 4:13).
  • 5:11. A great fear comes over the church and anyone who hears. Of course those who are in Christ need not fear (cf. 1 John 4:18). But the holiness of God is fearsome, in the same way that you would take care when you stand next to an elephant. 
c. Signs and wonders (5:12-16)
  • 5:12. The apostles continue to do signs and wonders under the power of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus did, just as Paul will do.
  • The apostles continue to meet in Solomon's Portico in the temple, on the outer east side of the temple complex, in the Court of the Gentiles.
  • 5:13. The awe factor is real. The crowds consider them to be of God and accordingly stand their distance.
  • 5:14. We see more multiplication in the church. On the day of Pentecost there were 3000 (Acts 2:41). After the lame man there were 5000 (Acts 3:4). Now a number isn't given. It is a multitude and it included women as well. 
  • 5:15-16. As with Jesus, those who were sick are brought to Jesus, including those from surrounding villages. Interestingly, they apparently have enough faith that even coming under Peter's shadow led to healing.
  • The mention of unclean spirits indicates that Peter and the apostles also cast out demons as Jesus had.
d. Before Sanhedrin again (5:17-42)
  • 5:17-18. Once again, the Sanhedrin jails the apostles for the night, intending to deal more sternly with them the next day. This verse seems to confirm that the high priest and the priestly leaders of the Sanhedrin were Sadducees. They were jealous of the apostles.
  • 5:19-21a. In what will not be the last time, an angel delivers Peter and the other apostles from prison. They are instructed to go back to the temple and continue preaching "words of this life." At daybreak, they continue.
  • 5:21b-25. The Sanhedrin convenes and realizes that the apostles are not in the common jail any more. The high priest, the Sanhedrin, the council of elders are ready, but the apostles are not there.
  • 5:23. The guards are even present, but the apostles are just gone.
  • 5:25. Then they get word on where the apostles are. They are back in the temple preaching.
  • 5:26. The captain and the guard and his servants now go to get them gingerly. They don't force them because they are afraid of getting stoned by the people, which shows how popular they have become.
  • 5:27-28. The high priest asks the question. Why haven't you obeyed our orders? Why are you continuing to preach in this name? The high priest infers that the apostles are trying to bring guilt for Jesus' death on them. They of course are not trying to do this. In fact, they have already indicated that the leaders of Israel crucified him in ignorance (3:17).
  • 5:29-32. This is Peter and the apostles' response. Of course only one person would speak at a time, so probably we should picture Peter speaking.
  • 5:29. Again, echoing Socrates' answer to the Areopagus (Apology 29d), Peter indicates that they will obey God rather than mortals.
  • This is a clear indication that obedience to authorities is not an absolute. There are exceptional situations. The definition of an absolute is "no exceptions."
  • 5:30. The resurrection is again the key point of all the sermons in Acts, except for Stephen's sermon in Acts 7.
  • The mention of hanging on a tree may be an allusion to Deuteronomy 21:23, which Paul uses in his argument in Galatians 3:13.
  • 5:31. Following the resurrection is the exaltation, which is the enthronement of Jesus as Messiah (2:36), Lord (2:36), and Son of God (13:33). Here he is also called "leader" and "savior." 
  • Notice that at this point Peter is thinking of the corporate restoration of Israel and the forgiveness of its sins. 
  • 5:32. The apostles are witnesses to these things. That is what apostles are--individuals who give witness to the resurrection, which they have personally seen. The Holy Spirit witnesses to it as well through the signs and wonders he empowers.
  • 5:33. The Sanhedrin is predictably enraged. They want to kill them.
  • 5:34-39. Before the Sanhedrin can follow through, one of their members, a Pharisee has the apostles removed from the room and warns the council. 
  • 5:34. The Pharisee in question is Gamaliel, a well-respected teacher of the Jewish Law. 
  • Gamaliel the Elder is well-known from Jewish tradition. There were two schools of Pharisees, the schools of Hillel and Shammai. The School of Hillel tended to be more deterministic, tolerant, and lenient. The School of Shammai was more militant and strident. We see the "fatalistic" flavor of the School of Hillel in this passage (which might have sounded a little Stoic to a Greek audience). Later Jewish tradition would come to suggest that Gamaliel could have been a grandson of Hillel. 
  • Acts says that Paul studied "at the feet of" Gamaliel (22:3). In general, however, the pre-Christian Paul had more the flavor of the School of Shammai than the School of Hillel.
  • 5:35, 38-39. Gamaliel's basic premise is that God can fight his own battles, while it is impossible to fight God and win. If the Jesus movement is of God, they will not be able to stop it no matter how hard they try. But if the Jesus movement is not of God, God will stop it himself. There is of course a flaw in Gamaliel's argument, namely, that God sometimes leads his people to action and stops evil through his people. Nevertheless, this is the right word for the Sanhedrin at that moment, and the book of Acts implicitly endorses it.
  • 5:36-37. Gamaliel gives two examples. The first is Theudas. Interestingly, Josephus places Theudas in the 40s under Cuspius Fadus. This would actually be about ten years after the scene in Acts. Some have suggested this is intentional--Acts is writing for the point not the exact chronology. Others suggest there was another Theudas or that Josephus made a mistake.
  • The second revolutionary mentioned is Judas the Galilean, who was active around AD6. Both movements were defeated by the Romans.
  • 5:40. The Sanhedrin surprisingly listens to Gamaliel. They beat the apostles, command them again to stop preaching in Jesus' name and set them loose.
  • 5:41-42. Meanwhile, the apostles count it a privilege to be dishonored in the name of Jesus. Like the Beatitudes, they are blessed in relation to God's kingdom at the same time that they are dishonored in the world.
  • 5:42. But they continue to preach the word and meet in the temple. They continue to meet in homes and teach. They obey God and disobey the word of mortals.
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1 comment:

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for this series.