Sunday, August 26, 2018

Acts 9 Explanatory Notes

Here are explanatory notes on Acts 9. You can also follow my daily podcast commentary on Patreon, as well as YouTube videos on the Greek (see the bottom for links).

Acts 1
Acts 2
Acts 3
Acts 4
Acts 5
Acts 6
Acts 7
Acts 8

2. The Calling of Saul (9:1-31)
  • 9:1-2. While we do not have any evidence that Paul actually put other believers to death, these verses clearly indicate it was his intent. He goes to the high priest for letters, perhaps suggesting that he is working in some way for the Sanhedrin.
  • We are forced to speculate about Paul's motivations. As a Pharisee, working with the Sadducean leadership was presumably a matter of pragmatism. They need not have the same motivations. The high priest is presumably keeping the peace. The Hellenists are perhaps seen as seditious with their critique of the temple. Paul presumably also sees the Jesus movement as a threat to the purity of Israel.
  • Psychologically, Saul presumably wants to suppress his identity as a Diaspora Jew, Roman citizen, and Hellenist of sorts. This dynamic would explain his focus on persecuting the Hellenistic wing of the church.
  • As a Pharisee, Saul behaves more like a Shammaite Pharisee than a Hillelite. If so, he would be quite zealous for the Law and nationalistic in his hopes for the political future of Israel. If, as I suspect, the Hellenistic wing of the church was in continuity with Jesus in its inclusive tendencies and thus its laxity on purity rules, Saul would not only abhor them personally but see them as a liability to the future of Israel.
  • Damascus is a long way from Jerusalem and not at all under the jurisdiction of the high priest or the Sanhedrin. Perhaps Saul is seeking specific individuals whom he knows to have fled there. The connection of Damascus with Essene literature is intriguing (i.e., the Covenant of Damascus document).
  • This is the first instance of Jesus-followers being called, "The Way." One suspects a connection to Isaiah 40:3 and the ministry of John the Baptist. We also should not forget John 14:6.
  • Note that, as women are full participants in the gospel, they are here mentioned as full targets too.
  • 9:3-9. This is the resurrection appearance of Jesus to Paul. Paul will speak of this experience as the moment of his apostolic calling. He considers himself the last of such apostles (1 Cor. 15:8). An apostle, in this particular sense, is someone to whom the risen Christ has appeared (1 Cor. 9:1) who has then been sent as a witness to the resurrection. Paul of course did not qualify as an apostle from the narrower standpoint of Acts 1:21-22, for he was not with Jesus from the time of John the Baptist.  
  • It is a misconception to think of Paul as his Christian name, while Saul is his pre-Christian Jewish name. First, Paul did not change religions when he believed. That is an anachronistic conception. He converted between one Jewish sect (Pharisee) and another (Jesus movement). Acts continues to call him Saul for almost 15 years after he believes on Christ. Rather, Paul would seem to be a Roman name he had from birth, a name he suppressed as a Pharisee. Saul is his Jewish name, but not a name he ever stopped having.
  • 9:3-4. Paul sees a light and hears a voice. "Why are you persecuting me?" Would that God stopped all of us in our tracks when we get off track.
  • 9:5. Paul says, "Who are you, sir (kyrios)?" But there is a double entendre. The word for sir is also the word for Lord. Yes, Jesus is the Lord.
  • 9:7. There are some minor variations in the later repetition of the story in Acts. In this first telling, the men hear the voice but do not see anyone.
  • 9:8-9. They take him into Damascus. He is now blind. For three days he fasts and presumably prays for the Lord to give him further guidance.
  • 9:10-19. These verses tell about Paul's interaction with Ananias, a believer in the city of Damascus.
  • 9:10-12. The Lord tells Ananias to go to Saul. Ananias is understandably nervous. Nevertheless, his response is like that of the boy Samuel, "Here I am, Lord."
  • 9:13. This is the first time that believers are called "holy ones" or "saints" in Acts.
  • 9:15-16. Here we see the mission God has planned for Saul. He will be an apostle to the Gentiles. The mention of kings probably foreshadows Paul's later appearance before Nero, of which the audience of Acts would be aware.
  • Paul will also suffer for the Lord, perhaps an allusion in part to his future martyrdom, of which the audience would be aware. He may have done some persecution for a while, but he will endure more than his fair share in return.
  • 9:17-18. Ananias is obedient. Saul receives his sight back, but we know from his own writings that he would continue to struggle with his eyes for years to come (Gal. 4:15), and many think struggles with his eyesight were his "thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor. 12:7).
  • It is implied that PTaul receives the Holy Spirit here at the hands of Ananias. This fact indicates that one does not need an apostle to receive the Holy Spirit. Indeed, on the Day of Pentecost and in the Spirit-filling of Cornelius in Acts 10, it is not necessary for someone to lay hands on you to receive the Holy Spirit.
  • Paul is also baptized in water, which is normative in Acts.
  • 9:20-22. Saul immediately starts preaching that Jesus is Lord in the synagogues of Damascus. Jesus is the "Son of God," the anointed king of Israel. This seditious claim (since the Romans considered Caesar to be Son of God and Lord) was presumably the core basis for Paul's authority to arrest Christians in the first place.
  • The irony is thick. Saul is now doing exactly what he was trying to stop.
  • Paul's knowledge of the Scriptures now makes him a powerful advocate of Jesus. He knew the arguments of the Jesus-followers. They likely had gnawed at his heart as he argued against them. There must have been a seed of doubt within him even as a Pharisee. Now the conclusion flips, and he becomes unstoppable in argument.
  • 9:23-25. We learn some interesting details of these days from Galatians and 2 Corinthians, where Paul gives his own account of these days. For example, we learn that there is a three year period tucked into the time between his faith in Christ and his return to Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18). 
  • During this time, he visits "Arabia," which seems to refer to the Nabatean kingdom just to the east of Damascus (Gal. 1:17). This was the boundary of the Roman Empire.
  • In 2 Corinthians 11:32-33 we hear Paul's version of his escape from Damascus. In his account, it is not the Jews of Damascus but the Arab ethnarch under King Aretas who is trying to arrest him. Paul presumably got into trouble for his preaching in Arabia. It is hard to know whether he was already preaching to non-Jews this early. Perhaps we can picture a Jonah-like message of coming destruction. Perhaps he goes to Arabia to get beyond the reach of the Romans and the Sanhedrin.
  • It has been suggested that the year AD36 was one in which King Aretas would have held more sway in Damascus than previously, because Herod Antipas was briefly defeated in battle. If so, this fact would place Paul's conversion around AD33.
  • 9:26-30. Paul finally goes back to Jerusalem. From Galatians we know this was after three years. In Paul's own account, this was somewhat of a stealthy trip, which is understandable given his former role there. In his account, he only sees Peter and James, the brother of Jesus (Gal. 1:19). He was unknown to the churches of Judea at large and only stays 15 days.
  • 9:26-27. The apostles are understandably hesitant to see him. Barnabas, as we will come to expect, serves as a go-between, a minister of reconciliation. 
  • 9:28-29. Again, this is not the impression we get from Paul's own writings--that he preached to Hellenists and went in and out among the leadership. Interestingly, Paul considered himself a Hebrew of Hebrews (e.g., Phil. 3:5; 2 Cor. 11:22), not a Hellenist. Yet Acts frequently places Paul in Hellenistic contexts.
  • 9:30. Saul returns to his home in Tarsus, which will apparently be his center for the next seven years or so. It is hard to imagine him simply sitting put. Since Paul does not conduct a mission to Cilicia or Cappadocia in Acts, we can wonder if he did so during these years, covering the eastern part of Asia Minor up to Pontus.
  • 9:31. In this summary statement, the church in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee undergoes a time of peace. The implication seems to be that, with Saul now a believer, there is no anti-champion against the church. 
  • We are reminded that persecution in the early church was sporadic rather than sustained. It was local rather than global. It is often thought that the church thrives under persecution. It might be more accurate to say that the church tends to thrive just after persecution.
B. Peter's Ministry in Judea (9:32-11:18)
     1. Peter in Lydda and Joppa (9:32-43)
  • 9:32-43. We now see Peter getting out of Jerusalem and preaching the gospel in Judea. We also see him once more embodying the power of the Holy Spirit in ways that parallels what the Holy Spirit did through Jesus.
  • 9:32-35. In these verses, Peter heals a paralyzed man in Lydda named Aeneas. Lydda was along the Judean coast.
  • 9:32. Believers are once again called "holy ones" or "saints."
  • 9:35. The miracles performed in the church clearly were an instrument of evangelism, as many people come to the Lord after seeing them.
  • 9:36-43. This is the story of the raising of Tabitha from the dead. Luke seems clearly to want to demonstrate a continuity between the acts that Jesus did through the Holy Spirit and the acts of the church through the Holy Spirit. The implication is that all those who have the Holy Spirit can do such acts, and there is no indication that such power will change during this time of the Spirit.
  • 9:36. Tabitha seems to mean "gazelle" in Aramaic, of which the Greek is "Dorcas." Luke is writing for a Greek-speaking audience, so has a bias for the name Dorcas.
  • She was full of good works and acts of almsgiving, which Luke only considers to be positive virtues fitting a follower of God.
  • 9:37. The mention of an upper room may suggest some affluence.
  • 9:38. Peter is invited to come, presumably to take part in the mourning of her virtuous life.
  • 9:39. The other widows show him garments she had made.
  • 9:40-41. Peter sends them from the room and (through the power of the Holy Spirit) raises her from the dead. Then he presents her alive.
  • 9:42. Once again, the miracle proves to be a powerful mechanism of evangelism.
  • 9:43. Peter stays with a tanner, someone who skinned dead animals and prepared their hides for sale. It was a smelly and messy business, looked down upon. Yet it was part of life. We find out later that Simon's house was along the sea (10:6), which makes sense in the need for water.
  • One wonders, however, if this is yet another example of the fact that the gospel is for everyone. God loves and receives this tanner just as much as he receives all those who believe on the Lord.
Patron video 
Podcasts on the English of Acts 9
Videos on the Greek of Acts 9

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