Sunday, June 26, 2022

Clear Instructions and Online Education

I would seem to be quite bright in some ways and quite stupid in others. Perhaps the two are related. One of my strengths is to see the big picture when others cannot. One of my weaknesses is not seeing what's right in front of me. 

This past year, I've taken a number of classes with Southern New Hampshire, the "Game Programming and Development" major. I have enjoyed the courses for the most part. Honestly, the courses have not really made me competent at anything. I find the 8 weeks just enough to get a taste of each subject. They are like bookmarks on subjects I would need to return to if I wanted to go anywhere with them.

Mind you, 8 weeks is pretty much standard now for online courses. It's not something that can really be negotiated, I don't think. I took a Calculus II course with Arizona State last year that was 7 weeks long and brutal. They didn't cut out a thing. But it's almost inevitable, IMO, that these 8-week courses won't cover as much material as a normal 15-week one. To me, it's an argument for self-paced learning.

I messed up on a final project for an SNHU class recently because of accompanying documentation that was supposed to go with a project. Mind you, I had some distractions and turned it in during the middle of the night. The code I turned in was almost up to snuff. The grade was more because of a failure to include things I could have easily included. How did that happen?

It happened because I didn't double-check the rubric. This is a pet peeve of mine with the courses I've taken with Southern New Hampshire. The instructions for assignments are usually pretty thin. To get a sense of what you need to turn in, you pretty much have to go to the rubric and translate it into steps yourself. I find this incredibly annoying. The best courses have been those when individual professors have stood in what seems to me a glaring gap at times (and they do have some really good adjuncts).

I have wondered if there is an intentional desire for students to learn how to go to the web to figure out things ourselves. I doubt it. It just seems that there is an unintentional and quite inappropriate gap between the knowledge base you need to complete some assignments and that which is provided. 

Now this may be my stupidity in part, my inability to see what is right in front of me. It could be my incredible blindness at times. I'm not leaning in that direction, but I have to accept it is possible. I had a high school teacher who couldn't believe that I could read a whole book and not have noticed who the author was. She was wrong.

Here's another pet peeve of mine. It was true at IWU with their online programs and they wanted it to be true of the seminary some 7 years ago. I'm sure they've given in. 

I wanted instructions to spell out what day of the week assignments were due on. So if your first discussion post was due on Thursday, I wanted to say so. They did something like "Day 4." WHY?????

Southern New Hampshire doesn't even do that. Somehow, when you take your first class, you pick up that discussions are on a Thursday-Sunday flow and assignments are due Sunday. But they don't say anything like that in the instructions for an individual assignment.

This has been an annoyed student. When I create online courses, they have clear instructions. Just saying.


Friday, June 24, 2022

Wesleyan philosophy 1 -- What is philosophy and is it Christian?

We are possibly creating a Wesleyan wiki on philosophy. Here was my opening salvo on the first question:

1. What is philosophy (and is it even Christian)?  

Philosophy, if we built off the etymology of the word, would seem to involve the “love of wisdom.” Here Proverbs 1:7 immediately comes to mind: “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge; wisdom and instruction fools despise.” Proverbs suggests that, if we are to pursue true wisdom and knowledge, God must stand at the beginning of our quest.

This observation suggests to me that philosophy need not be antithetical to faith. Might we not say something in keeping with the proverb to say, “Faith in God is the proper beginning of philosophy.” I would see Augustine quite in keeping with this approach when he spoke of “faith seeking understanding” (fides quaerens intellectum).

What of Colossians 2:8: “Look lest someone will be one taking you captive through philosophy and empty deceit according to the traditions of mortals, according to the elements of the world and not according to Christ”? On the one hand, this statement would not preclude a philosophy “according to Christ.” On the other, the rest of the passage makes it clear that a particular religious practice is in view, perhaps a form of Jewish mysticism or syncretism. Perhaps the word philosophy does not really convey in English the nature of the group to which Colossians refers.

What then is philosophy as it has been approached in the “Western” tradition? It is what we might call a “meta-discipline.” Philosophy stands outside of all other areas of thinking and asks, “What’s going on?” It is like a scaffolding beside other knowledge. First order knowledge asks questions about a subject. Second order knowledge asks, “What is going on as we ask and answer questions about a subject?”

Here we do run into a potential conflict with faith. Are we allowed to ask questions about the existence of God? Hebrews 11:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please [God], for it is necessary for the one who comes to God to believe that he is and that to those who seek him he becomes a rewarder.”

Here is where various Christian thinkers have parted ways. Let me mention three key positions on this question. 

  • “I believe because it is absurd.” (Tertullian) 
  • “I believe in order to understand.” (Anselm) 
  • “I understand in order to believe.” (Abelard)

The first position has a radical sense that faith will not make rational sense or that reason has little or nothing to do with faith. As Tertullian put it, “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem or the Academy to do with the Church.” Ironically, of course, Tertullian uses reason and was influenced by Stoicism. In the 1800s, Kierkegaard had a similar perspective but uses reason to tell us about it.

The Reformed tradition has often leaned in this direction as well. Whether it be Abraham Kuyper or Karl Barth, there is a strong sense that without proper presuppositions, no truly meaningful and valid knowledge is possible. Barth has had an immense influence on post-liberalism in the United States, and this impact has been felt on the Wesleyan tradition in general. Many broader Wesleyan thinkers are only a “hair’s breadth” from Reformed epistemology.

On the other end of the spectrum, grass-roots Wesleyanism has drunk deeply from American fundamentalism. Although it might deny it, it comes close to the third position. Josh McDowell famously wrote a book titled, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are enamored by Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ and C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. These works assume that human reason leads directly to God and faith.

Because we find Wesleyans in all three positions, we dare not say that there is just one Wesleyan position on this question. I personally think that Wesley himself came closest to the “faith seeking understanding” approach. Wesley was no enemy to reason, but he clearly began all his explorations with faith. The core of faith for him would not have been revisable but reason, tradition, and experience might negotiate around the edges.

My own position is that faith is the starting point for all discussions and that it is reasonable. It may not seem provable from our finite, skewed vantage point as humans. I suspect it is provable from God’s infinite, omni-accurate perspective. I just do not have complete access to that. Even my reading of the Bible has to go through my finite, skewed brain.

The Bible does not reject the asking of questions (e.g., Habakkuk 1:2). Faith is not afraid of questions because it is confident that God knows the answers. Nor is God afraid that he might disappear if we try to ask objective questions about his existence. It seems to me that the motto, “Faith seeking understanding” is very Wesleyan.

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Acts 2 Explanatory Notes

Happy Pentecost! Although I have published extensive notes on Acts, I haven't done so in the format I use to self-publish. I posted Acts 1 a year ago. Here are re-formatted notes on Acts 2:
Witnesses in Jerusalem (Acts 2-7)

The Day of Pentecost (2:1-47)
2:1 And when the Day of Pentecost was fulfilled, all were together into the same [place], [1] 2. and a sound suddenly came from the sky, as of a forceful wind bringing, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.[2]
The Day of Pentecost was one of the three times when a Jewish male was supposed to appear in Jerusalem at the temple before the Lord (cf. Exod 34:23). It was also known as the "Feast of Weeks" because it was seven weeks after Easter and the "Feast of Ingathering" or "Feast of First Fruits" because it celebrated the beginning of the wheat harvest (cf. 34:22).

We can assume from Acts 1:14 that these believers have been praying as important context for the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is also significant that they are "together." That is, they are unified.

The word for spirit (pneuma) is related to the word for wind (pnoe). Spirit is something that is blown. The metaphor of "filling" is frequently used with the Holy Spirit, like a cup that is filled.

3. And distributed tongues as of fire appeared to them and sat upon each one of them.
The idea of tongues of fire is attested by Philo at the event of the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai, and we can find in other places an association between Pentecost and Sinai. It is thus at least possible that we should hear new covenant overtones to the Day of Pentecost. Pentecost is the birth of the church, the full inauguration of the new covenant, the "feast" of the first fruits of the Spirit and the first ingathering of harvest!
4. And all were filled with Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages as the Spirit was giving to them to make utterance.
Acts uses a number of expressions for the event that takes place here. They are "filled" with the Spirit. They are "baptized" in the Holy Spirit. They "receive" the Holy Spirit. These would all seem to be roughly synonymous expressions.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit is an initiatory experience in the book of Acts. That is to say, a person has not truly become part of the people of God until he or she has received the Spirit. This baptism in the Spirit is the means by which one's past sins are cleansed (cf. Acts 15:9).

Within the narrative world of Luke-Acts, this event is the fulfillment of Luke 3:16. That is to say, we would introduce foreign elements into Luke's story if we insert John 20:22 here where Jesus breathes on them to receive the Holy Spirit. In the story world of Luke-Acts, this is the first time that the disciples receive the Spirit.

For Acts, Paul, and Hebrews, receiving the Holy Spirit is the initiatory experience for a Christian. Faith (Paul), repentance (Luke), and confession (John) are important precursors to inclusion in the people of God, but they are not the borderline per se. "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they are not his" (Rom. 8:9). The Holy Spirit is a seal indicating God's ownership of us (2 Cor. 1:22). He is the earnest of our inheritance, serving both as a down payment and guarantee of our salvation (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5).

From the perspective of much of the New Testament, therefore, one is thus not a "Christian" unless one has received the Holy Spirit, and if someone has received the Holy Spirit, he or she is part of the people of God. Therefore, in the narrative world of Luke-Acts, the Day of Pentecost is the birth of the church.

The primary manifestation of receiving the Holy Spirit is power, as indicated in Acts 1:8. The first manifestation of this power in Acts is speaking in languages, although people do not speak in these "tongues" every time they are baptized in the Spirit in Acts. These would seem to be human languages in Acts 2. The word for utterance here also seems to suggest divinely revealed messages.

5. And Jews were dwelling in Jerusalem, devout men [and women] from every ethnos that is under the sky. 6. And when this sound came to be, [3] the multitude came together and was confused because each one was hearing them speaking in their own dialect.
We should picture this crowd as an overwhelmingly Jewish crowd. The mention of every "ethnos" does not mean that they are Gentiles but that these Jews have come from every "nation." However, the word nation is misleading because the Roman world was an empire, not a collection of nation-states like we have today. They were rather regions dominated by certain ethnic groups, under Roman rule. An ethnos is thus a region dominated by a certain people group, with other people groups like Jews living among them.

Pilgrimage to Jerusalem was a feature of the Judaism of the day, especially to the three pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. We thus see, thus the picture of Diaspora Jews from all over the Roman Empire coming to the temple. The volume of the noise from the rushing wind must be quite spectacular to attract a large crowd from the broader city.

7. And they were amazed and marveled saying, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? [4] 8. and how are we each hearing in our own dialect in which we were born-- 9. Parthians and Medes and Elamites and ones who dwell in Mesopotamia, both Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10. both Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya by Cyrene, and the residents of Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11. Cretans and Arabs, we hear them speaking the great things of God in our languages?
In 2:7-11 we get a sense of how many regions were represented in Jerusalem on feast days. This cross-section of Diaspora Judaism will serve as a conduit for the Jesus movement spreading throughout the world. When Paul writes Romans over twenty-five years later, we might be puzzled how the church got there. The Day of Pentecost is often mentioned as a strong possibility.

We get an overtone here that people might not have thought Galileans to be likely to speak in so many different languages. It is not the only place where we pick up on a certain negative stereotype of these Jews from the northern part of Israel.

2:8 indicates that the languages spoken were human languages and that the use of tongues here served the purpose of evangelism. Some have emphasized the word hear, suggesting either that the gift was in the ability of the audience to hear in their own language and, perhaps, that the apostles were speaking the same ecstatic tongues as in 1 Corinthians 14.

However, this interpretation goes well beyond what the verse says and is based rather on the drive to harmonize this chapter with 1 Corinthians. It says that they were speaking in our language. Accordingly, they heard them speaking in their languages, just as we might hear someone speaking another language today. Although the other instances of tongues-speaking in Acts do not indicate the nature of the tongues, Acts 2 may tip the scales toward them being human languages in the other instances too.

Acts does not indicate that tongues always accompanied receiving the Holy Spirit. The believers at Samaria are not said to speak in tongues in Acts 8, nor is Paul said to in Acts 9. Acts thus does not lead us to believe that tongues is in some way the sign of the Holy Spirit.

The content of what they were saying was understood. These thus do not seem to be the same tongues as 1 Corinthians 14, which were not understood without a distinct interpretation. The content of the speaking was witness to "great works of God," likely with the resurrection of Jesus at the core.

12. And all were amazed and were perplexed, one saying to another, "What does this want to be? 13. But different [ones], mocking, were saying, "They have become drunk with wine."
There seem to be two basic reactions to the event. Some are perplexed and want to know more. Others immediately reject the spiritual nature of the event and propose that the men are drunk. In other words, some have ears to hear and others do not.

Peter's Sermon (14-36)
14. But Peter, having stood with the eleven, lifted up his voice and uttered to them, "Men, Jews and all the residents of Jerusalem, let this be known to you and hear my words, 15. for these are not drunk as you yourselves suggest, for it is the third hour of the day.
This is the first and most important sermon in Acts, giving Peter's response to the crowd. We call the basic gospel message of this sermon the "kerygma," that which is proclaimed. The sermon of Acts 2 gives us a basic sense of the preaching of the early church as Luke reports it.

For more than one reason, we probably shouldn't think of this sermon as verbatim. It would be in keeping with the practices of ancient history writing for Luke to summarize, paraphrase, even at times create material for such speeches. [4] The main parts of the sermon each begin with a word that addresses the crowd. The first is "Men, Jews, and all those dwelling in Jerusalem."

First, Peter rejects the claim that they are drunk. It is only 9 in the morning. There may be some implied parallel between being filled with the Spirit and being drunk with wine (Eph. 5:18). We might note that Peter fully assumes that they do consume the kind of wine that can make a person drunk. It is just not the time of day that they would normally be doing so.

16. "But this is that which has been spoken through the prophet Joel,
By contrast, Peter indicates that the event is the fulfillment of the words of Joel 2. The New Testament authors read the Old Testament with spiritual eyes. The Holy Spirit inspired them to hear God's voice in the words, often in a "fuller sense" or sensus plenior that gave the words extended meanings beyond what their original authors understood. Joel himself probably did not know the fullness of how God would use his words at that time, which were directed to the Israel of his own day centuries before.

17. "'And it will be in the last days,' says the Lord,

'I will pour out from my Spirit upon all flesh,
     And your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
And your young men will see visions,
     And your old men will dream dreams.
18. And, indeed, upon my male servants and female servants in those days,
     I will pour out from my Spirit
     and they will prophesy.

These are key verses indicating that the age of the Spirit is one in which both men and women will preach. Preaching is often a form of prophesying, that is, speaking forth the word that the Lord has given to a particular group of people, a divine utterance. Prophecy is much more "forth-telling" than it is "fore-telling." It is not usually about the very distant future but about the people right in front of you.

The Spirit is the great equalizer, and since men and women possess the Spirit in full measure, there is no spiritual activity that is limited to a certain gender or type of person. "In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free. There is not male and female" (Gal. 3:28). Acts knows no limits on what a woman might do in the church.

19. "And I will give wonders in the sky above
     and signs on the earth below,
     blood and fire and vapor of smoke,
20. The sun will be transformed into darkness,
     and the moon into blood
Before the Day of the Lord comes,
     the great and glorious,
In the prophets, the Day of the Lord was a day of the Lord's judgment, one that could occur as often as needed. Acts presumably relates this to the great Day of the Lord, the final judgment. In that sense, the entire age of the church is syncopated into this moment.

Language of the moon darkening and the sun turning to blood is eclipse language. It is not clear that Luke foresees a literal eclipse at some time but this is apocalyptic language. He may actually be saying that the Day of Pentecost fulfilled the thrust of those signs.

21. And it will be [that] everyone who calls 
on the name of the Lord will be saved.'
One of the main themes of Acts is that anyone can now call on the Lord, and anyone who does will be saved. Luke also uses deterministic language but these two types of language should not be connected philosophically as in Calvinism. In keeping with the fatalism of the day, Luke assumes that those who are called have been chosen by God and yet also believes that the gospel is for everyone and anyone merely need call upon God to be saved.
22. "Men, Israelites, hear these words. Jesus the Nazarene [was] a man attested by God to you by powers and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know.
The next section of the sermon, beginning with “Men, Israelites,” goes from 2:22-35. These verses focus on Psalm 16:8-11, which Luke uses in conjunction with Psalm 110:1 to indicate that Jesus' resurrection is also the fulfillment of prophecy, just like the day of Pentecost. One of the first points of each sermon in Acts is that the events taking place fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures and were all part of God’s plan.

In 2:22 specifically, Luke's Christology focuses on the empowered humanity of Jesus. Jesus is specifically described as a man whom God endorsed by empowering him to do signs and wonders through the Holy Spirit. In this sense Jesus the man gives us an example of what is possible through the power of the Holy Spirit.

23. "This [man], given up by the appointed plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed through the hand of lawless people, having crucified [him]...
One feature of the sermons of Acts, of which this one is the most important and central one, is that the enemies of Christ did not prevail. Jesus' death was in accordance with the foreknowledge and plan of God. No one has ever gotten the best of God, not even for a moment.

24. "... whom God raised, having loosed the birth-pains of death, since it was not possible for him to be held by it.
The climax of every sermon in Acts except one (Stephen's sermon--he is stoned to death before he can get to this part of the sermon) is the statement that "God raised him from the dead." Notice again that the agency is that of God the Father rather than Jesus himself.

25. "For David says to him, 
'I saw the Lord before me constantly, 
    because he is on my right [hand]
    so that I might not be shaken.
The Greek version of Psalm 16:8 differs a little from the Hebrew, a hint that Luke is at least paraphrasing. The Hebrew reads, "I put the LORD" but the Greek reads, "I foresaw." While Peter might have known some Greek, it seems more likely that he would have spoken Aramaic on the Day of Pentecost, suggesting that Luke is at the very least making Peter's sermon conform to the text in which his audience would have read the psalm. More importantly, this different wording leads Luke's Peter to see these words as a prophecy by the psalmist, understood to be David, rather than a statement about the psalmist himself, as it likely was in its original meaning.

26. "'Because of this, my heart rejoiced,
    and my tongue exulted,
    and still my flesh will dwell in hope.
The version Luke's Peter quotes in 2:26 also follows the Septuagint with the expression "in hope" rather than the likely Hebrew, "securely." These variations should not bother us. Under God’s inspiration, The New Testament use of Scripture focused on the message the audience needed to hear, not on historical or inductive study of what the Old Testament texts originally meant. This use of Scripture was fully in keeping with the way most Jews read the biblical texts at the time. [5] Because God wants to be understood, he meets us where we are in our understanding, largely in our categories, and takes us from there.

27. Because you will not abandon my life in Hades,
    nor will you give your holy [one] to see corruption.
28. You have made known to me ways of life;
    you have filled me with gladness with your face.'

29. "Men, brothers [and sisters], being permissible for me to say with boldness to you concerning our patriarch David that he both died and was buried and his tomb is among us until this day.
Now Peter gives a spiritual interpretation of the psalm. The original psalmist was likely expressing his confidence that God was going to save him from dying. Hades was the Greek word for the place of the dead in general rather than hell as a place of torment for the wicked. “Hades” thus could be a metaphor for death. God was not going to let the psalmist die in his current situation. It was yet time for the psalmist’s body to decay. God was going to rescue him from his current danger.

Here in Acts 2, Luke’s Peter takes the psalm spiritually to mean that God would not leave the Messiah dead. Again, we should not be troubled that Peter reads the psalm differently than its original meaning. God is speaking through the words as Peter understands them and bringing a true message to the crowd.

30. "Therefore, being a prophet and having known that God swore to him with an oath [that] from the fruit of his loins to sit upon his throne, 31. "... having foreseen, he spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ that neither was he abandoned in Hades nor did his flesh see corruption, 32. this Jesus God raised up, of which we are all witnesses.
The core event to which the apostles gave witness was the resurrection. An apostle is someone who is sent with a commission. In Acts, the apostles were sent with a very clear task to give witness to the resurrection. In most cases in the New Testament, an apostle is someone to whom the risen Christ has appeared, who has been sent to witness to his resurrection, which means to witness to his Lordship.

As we mentioned, Peter is reading Psalm 16 through spiritual eyes. He is hearing a word that relates directly to Jesus, a fuller meaning to the biblical text when it is read in relation to Jesus and his resurrection. Christians still today often have the words of the Bible jump out at them in this way. The Spirit blows where he wants (John 3:8).

33. "Therefore, having been exalted to the right [hand] of God and the promise of the Holy Spirit having received from the Father, he has poured out this that you yourselves both are seeing and hearing.
The New Testament indicates that the age of the Spirit can only commence once Jesus has completed his mission to die and rise from the dead. This is at least one sense in which the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. The Son runs his part of salvation’s race then tags the Spirit. The Spirit of Christ returns to earth.

In a number of places, the Gospel of John almost echoes themes in Luke and Acts, making us wonder if John had read them. Here is a theme that John will develop in the later part of his Gospel. Jesus ascends to heaven and then sends the Holy Spirit.

34. "For David did not ascend to the skies, but he himself says, 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit on my right [hand] 35. until I should place your enemies under your feet."'
Here we have a foundational interpretation of Psalm 110:1 for the early church, one that may have been central to early Christian understanding of the resurrection. Jesus' resurrection is understood to be a cosmic enthronement whereby Jesus is exalted to God's right hand in the highest heaven.

The key to this interpretation is to see “my Lord” as David referring to the Messiah. In the original meaning, the psalmist was probably referring to an earthly king. In the original meaning, the psalmist says that Yahweh, the LORD, anointed the psalmist’s Lord, the king, and placed him as king at God’s right hand. In the spiritual interpretation, David writes of how YHWH would install the Messiah as king.

36. "Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that both Lord and Christ God has made this Jesus, whom you yourselves crucified."
Here is the climax and finale of the sermon. Jesus has been enthroned as Lord and Messiah. God “has made him.” They crucified him. God enthroned him. The timing of the enthronement in context is post-resurrection. Thus we might say that Jesus was heir apparent up to this point, but then is seated on the throne after his resurrection, ascension, and exaltation. This is the “session,” the seating of Christ on the throne.

The vast majority of the New Testament puts the focus of Jesus’ identity as Messiah at his resurrection. Only the Gospel of John emphasizes the pre-existence of Jesus. In Acts, as in Paul and Hebrews, the resurrection and exaltation is Jesus’ commencement in office as Son of God. His anointing as king most focally takes place at this moment, even if sonship language might apply to him previous to that point as well.

The Response (2:37-41)
37. And having heard, they were pierced to the heart, and they said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "What should we do, men, brothers [and sisters]?"
Here we have the response to Peter’s sermon. We should note that the boldness of Peter to preach is one of the manifestations of the power that has come on him because of the filling of the Holy Spirit. Immediately after the crucifixion, he and the disciples hid from those who might come after them. Now they are speaking boldly in public.

The crowd realizes what they have done. The crowd has a moment of conviction. Upon realizing that they have participated in the crucifixion of their own Messiah, they want to turn and see restoration.

38. And Peter says to them, "Repent and let 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. 39. "For the promise is to you and to your children and to all [those] from afar as many as the Lord our God should call."

This verse unfolds how to call on the name of the Lord. First, one repents or turns from one's self-destructive path. Repentance is a major feature of Luke's theology (in contrast to Paul, who hardly mentions it). Then one believes or exercises faith. The crucial moment, however, is when one receives the Holy Spirit. This is the moment when one actually becomes part of the people of God, is cleansed of one's past sins, and is going to be saved on the Day of the Lord.

The timing of receiving the Spirit seems clear. While I deeply respect the tradition of my own church that receiving the Spirit is a subsequent experience to “conversion,” nothing in this verse suggests such a thing. The clear impression of the text is that when a person repents and is baptized in water, filling with the Spirit should follow. It is a problem in Samaria when they have been baptized but have not immediately received the Holy Spirit (8:14-17).

Sins are a problem and obstacle to reconciliation with God. In some way that Acts does not make explicit, baptism in the name of Jesus relates to the forgiveness of sins. It likely relates to a cleansing inside that corresponds to the cleansing of the body on the outside. This is not simply a matter of ritual. The right attitude must accompany the baptism—repentance.

Similarly, we might infer from the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43 that water baptism is a normal and important part of the process but not essential. The thief does not have an opportunity for baptism before his death. (True, this is before the age of the Spirit commences) Similarly, the Gentiles in Acts 10 receive the Holy Spirit before they are baptized in water. They are already “in” the people of God before the ritual act that signifies their cleansing and usually catalyzes the Holy Spirit coming in Acts.

The promise was first for the Jews. It was for all Israel. The good news was not something different from God’s promises to Israel but good news for true Israel and the true Israel of the future. In Acts 10 we will learn that the good news is for the Gentiles as well. It is as Joel said for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord.

40. And with many different words he was witnessing and exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from his crooked generation." 41. Therefore, those who received his word were baptized and about three thousand souls were added on that day.
Those who repent, are forgiven, and receive the Holy Spirit are part of the people of God. Within Israel, they are the true Israel, the righteous remnant. By contrast, those in Israel who have not belied were a “crooked” and destined for judgment. Perhaps Peter especially had the leadership of Israel at that time in mind.

About 3000 people respond positively to the message and join the Jesus movement. The pattern in Acts is repeated several times. Some group is praying and the Holy Spirit suddenly comes on them. The group receives power, along with the cleansing of the Spirit and forgiveness of sins.

That power shows itself in various ways. It typically involves boldness to witness to the good news. Sometimes they speak in other languages as part of this proclamation. Sometimes they have the power to heal, as in Acts 3 immediately following Pentecost. Two consequences usually follow also on these demonstrations. We will see persecution soon enough, and it seems to grow with each demonstration. 2:41 shows us the other typical consequence—people turning to the Lord. The number of “converts” to the Jesus movement also grows as time goes on.

Early Church Fellowship (2:42-47)
42. And they were holding fast to the teaching of the apostles and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayers.
One principle of biblical application is that “description is not prescription.” Just because Judas went out and hanged himself, we are not to do the same when we betray the Lord. In that instance, the text describes what happened without prescribing it. However, biblical narratives often do have what is called an “evaluative point of view.” Whenever God’s perspective is given, it is clearly the evaluative point of view of the text. [6] At other times, we must try to infer whether the story is implying that what happens is positive or negative.

These verses give us an idyllic picture of the earliest church, and Luke seems to consider this picture a very positive one indeed. That is, Luke wants us to see this picture as the ideal. He is not merely describing the early church. The evaluative point of view of Acts is entirely positive toward this picture.

The earliest Christian community involved teaching and teaching by the apostles. The source of their teaching is presumably the Holy Spirit, although they have also been apprentices of Jesus and have learned much from him. Community life involves fellowship (koinonia) and prayer. The importance of fellowship should not be underestimated. The breaking of bread suggests a level of mutual approval and intimacy. The early church became family.

Prayer is something that Luke positively emphasizes in both Luke and Acts. Luke has more parables and teaching on prayer than any other Gospel. The disciples were presumably praying on the Day of Pentecost before the Holy Spirit came.

43. And fear was coming on every soul, and many wonders and signs through the apostles were coming to be.
The apostles performed miracles, which brought a fear at the seriousness of the power of the Spirit. It is interesting that it is not suggested that all the believers there performed miracles. However, 1 Corinthians 12:10 suggests that ordinary people in the church could also have the gift to do so. Nothing in the biblical texts suggests that such gifts ended with the first apostles. Rather, in the age of the Spirit, we would expect these powers to be present in an ongoing way among Christian communities that have the Spirit.

44. And all the [ones] who believed were in the same [mind] and were holding all [things] common, 45. and the goods and the possessions they were selling and distributing them to all as ever they were having need.
There was a communal aspect to the early church. Those who had more possessions than they needed sold them and gave them to others who had need. The sense probably is not that they sold everything, although it is possible that some did. Those who think the Lord will return immediately or soon sometimes rashly do such things.

Again, the evaluative point of view of Acts is positive toward this sharing of possessions. It does not mandate it, however. Ananias and Sapphira were not mandated to sell all their property (5:4). Nevertheless, clearly Acts smiles on these believers sharing their excess with those in need. In other words, the early church behaved as a family, and they helped each other out accordingly.

46. And daily holding fast together in the temple and breaking bread at home, they were partaking of food with rejoicing and a generous heart, 47.praising God and having grace with all the people, and the Lord added to those being saved daily into the same [group].
They continued to pray at the temple. We get no sense at this point that they were anticipating that the temple would soon be destroyed. Indeed, Acts 21:24 suggests they continued to participate in the sacrificial system, perhaps implying that they did not yet understand the full scope of Christ’s atoning death. We have to remember that many things are clear to us in hindsight that were not yet clear to them.

The centrality of fellowship and eating in each other’s homes continues. The church is a new family. The “Lord’s supper” was such a meal that they probably shared weekly on Sundays. It was not at that time a small, distinct ceremony as we practice it today. It was probably more like what we call a pitch in dinner or potluck. Jude seems to call it an agape or “love feast” (Jude 12). Paul addresses abuses of the Lord’s supper at Corinth (1 Cor. 11:17-34).

New people were “being saved” daily. This is shorthand for individuals repenting, being baptized, receiving the Holy Spirit, joining the people of God, and thus beginning a journey toward the salvation that would take place when the Lord returned and they did not face the wrath of God.

Nor is the sense one of “progressive salvation,” as if we are gradually being saved. Rather, people were being saved daily, one by one, salvation event by event. One person was saved and then another, not “I’m a little bit saved. Now I’m more saved.”

They also held favor with the people. Under peaceful circumstances, non-believers should respect and admire believers for their wholesome and peace-loving nature. One of Luke’s special emphases is the unified and peaceful nature of the church. Christianity sometimes had a bad reputation in the Roman empire. Luke wants Theophilus and all his readers to know that these rumors are false. Christians are not troublemakers by nature, although trouble sometimes comes to them from their opponents.

[1] temporal infinitive construction

[2] periphrastic

[3] genitive absolute

[4] question expecting a yes answer

[5] Cf. the ancient Greek historian Thucydides, who says he composed some of the speeches in his history of the Peloponnesian War.

[6] Here we should remember that God meets us where we are in revelation. The books of the Bible are instances of God meeting his people largely within their own categories and taking them from there. For example, the perspective of God at the end of Job is God as revealed to the author of Job at that point in the flow of biblical revelation. It is a contextualized presentation of God’s perspective.