Category Archives: Early Church

Mis-Readings Acts: Promised Only to the Apostles?

A narrow reading of John’s prediction that Jesus would baptize in the Holy Spirit, as repeated in Acts 1:4–5, is that John’s prediction was specifically about the apostles. However, Luke’s presentation of John’s prediction is much broader, in fact, much broader. For example, Luke records,

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit… (Luke 3:15–16 NIV).

Luke is clear that John’s audience were people in general. John claimed that he could only baptize the people in water but the Messiah will baptize “you” (his audience) with the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 13:24; 19:2–4). These words are then picked up in Acts to refer to what the apostles would soon experience on Pentecost (Acts 1:4–5). Later when Luke narrates how the Holy Spirit came on Cornelius and his household, he recalled John’s words:

Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”(Acts 11:16–17)

The “us” of this text is Peter’s Jewish Christian audience (“us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ”) and the “same gift” (ἴσην δωρεὰν) is the Holy Spirit which parallels what Peter promised to all believer in Acts 2:38 (δωρεὰν τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος). Luke does not see the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to be fundamentally different from other “comings” of the Spirit on people throughout Acts. This topic will be treated more fully in a later blog, but for now the word “promise” through Acts 1 and 2 is my focus.

  1. The early disciples are commanded to go to Jerusalem and “wait for what the Father has promised which you have heard about from me” (1:4; cf. Luke 24:49). He then links this promise to be what John had said (1:5).
  2. In Acts 2:33, Peter, in his first sermon, explained that the exalted Jesus “has received the promised Holy Spirit and now pours out what you see and hear.”
  3. In Acts 2:38, Peter’s well-known invitation to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin is followed by “and you will receive (future tense–think about it!) the Holy Spirit.” Baptism and repentance, then, prepares the way for the Holy Spirit to come. For Luke, this is not so odd as Jesus received the Spirit following his baptism, as he was praying (Luke 3:21–22).
  4. Luke is not done yet. After noting that people who come to Jesus will “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” he continued, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39 NIV). This is Luke’s way to say that the Messiah will continue to pour out his Spirit on his people. Luke gives us no reason to think that he is now talking of a different experience when it comes to receiving the Spirit of God.

This is consistent in Paul’s writings, too. In 1 Cor 12:13, Paul writes, “For we were all baptized by [in, with] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” Paul see all Christians as those who have been baptized “in” one Spirit.

And then in Titus 3:4–6, Paul rejoiced that “…when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.” Here Paul used the language of Pentecost to speak of all those who have been saved.

Finally, from Luke’s perspective, the Holy Spirit is the certain sign that God has kept his promise.


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Mis-Readings Acts: The Case of the Missing Pronoun

In this second installment of “Mis-Reading Acts,” I focus on whether the empowering of the Holy Spirit came on just the twelve apostles or the whole community of believers numbered by Luke at “about one hundred and twenty” (Acts 1:15). Scholars from the Restoration Movement have commonly argued that the Holy Spirit came only upon the Twelve on Pentecost. One can trace this from McGarvey’s original commentary on Acts (1872), through his revised edition (1892), and then to modern restorationists, such as Gaertner (College Press NIV Commentary, 1993) and Moore (College Press NIV Commentary, 2011).

Other commentators could certainly be added, but I’m most interested in the perpetuation of the pronoun-antecedent argument within this interpretive tradition that argues that if one follows the pronouns from Acts 1 to the “they” in Acts 2, the text is clear that the Holy Spirit only filled the apostles. Since McGarvey’s argument is typical, I quote him from his revised 1892 commentary (p. 21):

The persons thus assembled together and filled with the Holy Spirit were not, as many have supposed, the one hundred and twenty disciples mentioned in a parenthesis in the previous chapter, but the twelve apostles. This is made certain by the grammatical connection between the first verse of this chapter [2] and the last of the preceding [1]. Taken together they read as follows: “And they gave lots for them and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. And when the day of Pentecost was now come, they were all together in one place.”

McGarvey attached a footnote to this paragraph that amplified his understanding of Acts 1 and 2:

The supposition first advanced by Chrysostom, and adopted very generally by the more recent commentators, that all the one hundred and twenty were included, and the view advanced in modern time (see Alford in loco), that all the disciples of Jesus who had come to the feast were included are entirely without support in the context; and the only plausible reason given for either is the universal language employed in the quotation made below from Joel: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams,” etc. But it is obvious at a glance that these words were not all fulfilled on that occasion. Nobody then present was seeing visions, or dreaming dreams. There was here only the beginning of a fulfillment which afterward was extended until all was done which Joel predicted.

First, McGarvey is wrong. Acts 2:1 in Greek does not have the pronoun “they.” The text instead reads, “all were together in the same place.” The phrase ἦσαν πάντες (“all were”) is the “to be” verb followed by its subject. And verse 4 reads, ἐπλήσθησαν πάντες πνεύματος ἁγίου, all were filled of the Holy Spirit. The subject in each case is “all.” In English translation “they” is for the sake of English sense. Furthermore, the relationship between pronouns and their antecedents in Greek differs from English.

So the pronoun-antecedent relationship upon which McGarvey—and all later interpreters—built his case does not exist in the original language of Acts.

Second, Luke’s intent is for his readers to understand that the Holy Spirit came upon all of the believers present at Pentecost. Allow me to share several lines of reasoning.

  1. The trajectory of the Old Testament is that God wants to give his Spirit to his people. In Num 11:29–30, in response to the Spirit coming upon two elders who had failed to show up at their consecration, Joshua begged Moses to put a stop to the prophesying elders. Moses responded, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’S people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”
  2. The testimony of the prophets is the same as this but no clearer than in Joel 2, the text cited by Peter. On this matter, McGarvey misreads Acts by not including the testimony of Luke’s Gospel. Against McGarvey’s contention these words were not all fulfilled that day, I would agree. Some of them were already being fulfilled in the earliest chapters of the Gospel of Luke where one finds dreams, visions, and prophesy. And, of course, these phenomena continued to happen throughout the narrative of Acts.

Other points to be made include

  1. Peter says that the prophecy from Joel is that which was taking place before the eyes of his hearers: “This is what is spoken…” (Acts 2:16). This being the case, then, the Holy Spirit coming upon just the Twelve would hardly satisfy the intent of Joel’s text that the Holy Spirit was to come upon all people. Luke has conveniently informed his readers that women were among the earliest gathering of Jesus’ followers.
  2. Next John the Baptist promised that Jesus would baptize more than a few in the Holy Spirit. The Gospel of Luke 3:15–17 reads, “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, ‘I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’ The “you” here has “people” as it antecedent-–if one might be looking for an antecedent argument.
  3. One last piece of evidence for the Holy Spirit coming on more than the Apostles on Pentecost is a careful reading of Acts 2:38–39. Since this text will be examined in a future blog, suffice it here to say that the gift of the Holy Spirit is best read as the Holy Spirit as the gift. And there is no compelling reason in Luke-Acts to read the Holy Spirit here as a “different” gift than the Holy Spirit is throughout the book of Acts.

I conclude this piece with a minority voice among Restorationists Barton W. Johnson who in his People’s New Testament commented on Acts 2:1:

They were all… in one place. Not only the apostles, but the hundred and twenty disciples. They probably had an intimation that the promised day had come.

And again on v. 4:

They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. All the disciples present. To be filled implies that the human spirit within was overwhelmed by, or immersed in, the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Spirit was not a sprinkling, but an outpouring that overwhelmed the human spirit.


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Mis-Readings Acts: Restoring the Kingdom to Israel

With this piece, I’m beginning a series for those who love the Acts of the Apostles. Acts has been a favorite book among my tribe, the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, primarily because of it’s value in establishing certain soteriological and ecclesiological norms. And because of this, those of us so trained naturally interpret Acts to say what we thought the text needed to say. I have become quite taken with the number of times Acts really does not say what I was taught that it did. So here we go.

A traditional reading of Acts 1:6, for example, is that the apostles were still naive about Jesus’s intent to restore the kingdom to Israel because they were still hoping for a physical kingdom.

Lord, are you at this time restoring the kingdom to Israel?

To which Jesus answered,

It is not yours to know the times and seasons which the Father has established in his own authority but you . . .

Jesus does not tell them “no” but instead that what they were asking depended on God’s timing.

There are several reasons to suggest that the apostles asked a very pertinent question and one consistent with what Jesus (and Luke) taught.

  1. Jesus had just spent some 40 days teaching them, have “given instructions (commanding) through the Holy Spirit to them” (1:2) and speaking to them about the “kingdom of God.” This raises the question as to what Luke means by the kingdom of God in relationship to the kingdom of Israel. Why ask a question about the kingdom of Israel if Jesus had just spent forty days speaking about the kingdom of God?
  2. The people of Israel are quite important to Luke. Just do a word search on Luke and Acts to see this. A few examples of this focus include Simeon’s waiting for the “consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25), the apostles will “judge the twelve tribes of Israel” (22:30), and the disciples on the road to Emmaus “hoped that Jesus… would redeem Israel” (24:21). In Acts, one finds from Paul’s sermon that from Abraham’s descendants “God brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus as he had promised (13:23)” Later Paul stated for the “hope of Israel” that he was under house arrest (28:20). These texts are enough to show that Luke’s sees his narrative to be about God’s continued relationship with Israel.
  3. What if Luke saw the early church in Jerusalem as the beginning of the restoration of Israel. Let’s take a closer look at how Luke guides us to understand the events leading up to Pentecost and then Pentecost itself.
    1. Repentance and forgiveness of sins will reach to all nations beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:47; cf. Isa 66:20; Jer 3:17; Ezek 5:5; Mic 4:2: Zech 8:22).
    2. The “royal” family has assembled among those praying as the early disciples waited for power to come on them from high (Acts 2:14)–after all, we do have a coronation coming soon.
    3. Replacing Judas is driven by the need to complete the Twelve, a number symbolically connected to the twelve tribes of… Israel.
    4. Pentecost is the Jewish celebration of feast of weeks during which God is given the first fruits of the harvest. And who are these first fruits? None other than Jews gathered from among the nations (Acts 2:8–11; cf. Deut 4:27). By the way, Pentecost always occurred on the first day of the week.
    5. And about those Jew from the nations. God had promised repeatedly that he would gather his people from among the nations (Ezek 39:28; Hos 8:10; Zech 8:3; et al.). Again, we have another item connected to the restoration of Israel.
    6. Acts 2:21 stops Joel 2:32 short. In Joel, the text continues, “for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, even among the survivors whom the LORD calls.” The original audience of the text is Israel.
    7. According to Peter, Jesus is the rightful heir to the throne of David (Acts 2:25–31). What difference would this make if the “kingdom of God” had nothing to do with the “kingdom of Israel”? To bring David into view is to emphasize that Jesus is the rightful heir to Israel’s throne. But now as Peter portrays Jesus, he is both Lord (YHWH) and Messiah (YHWH’s representative or king). If this is not saying that God has restored Israel, from Luke’s perspective, what else would be required?

For good measure, one more example seals the deal. James, the Lord’s brother, is clearly the leader of the law-observant Christians. As he asserts that Gentiles do not have to become Jewish in their practices to become believers in Jesus, he affirms that the prophets agree that the influx of Gentiles is God’s plan when he cites Amos (9:11–12):

After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’ — things known from long ago. (Acts 15:16–18 NIV)

This phenomenal text places the rebuilding of the fallen tent of David as a pre-condition to the Gentiles seeking the Lord. In other words, James saw the early church (both Jews and Gentiles) as the rebuilt, restored kingdom of Israel.

So did those apostles before the Ascension really asked a misguided question? How do you read it now?

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No Church in Acts 2:47?

Growing up with the KJV, I learned Acts 2:47 as

And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

Later in life, I moved to the NIV, which reads,

And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Where did the church go? One explanation is that the evil NIV hated the church and thus remove mention of it from this text. However, that explanation would be wrong.

The answer to which translation is correct comes down to the matter of how the manuscripts of the NT were preserved and eventually came down to us.

Actually the NT manuscripts (MSS) contain some variations. The “best” reading is ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό (to thier group/number) instead of τῇ ἐκκλησία (to the church). That is, some MSS of the NT have the first reading while the majority of MSS have a variation of the latter.

The first reading (ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό) is supported by 01 02 03 04 81 1175.

However regarding the addition of “church,” the following readings are attested in the MSS:

  1. τη εκκλησια 08 014sup1 025 044 049 056 1 33 69 88 226 323 330 440 547 614 618 927 1241 1245 1270 1505 1611 1646 1828 1837 1854 2147 2344 2412 2492

  2. τη εκκλησια επι το αυτο 35 945 1739 1891

  3. εν τη εκκλησια 104 1243

  4. + εν τη εκκλησια 05

  5. της εκκλησιας επι το αυτο 2495

Metzger, in his Textual Commentary, offer the following explanation for the rise of the jumbled secondary readings:

The phrase ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό, which is common enough in classical Greek and in the Septuagint, acquired a quasi–technical meaning in the early church. This meaning, which is required in 1.15; 2.1, 47; 1Cor 11.20; 14.23, signifies the union of the Christian body, and perhaps could be rendered “in church fellowship.”91 Not perceiving this special usage of the word in ver. 47, scribes attempted to rearrange the text, either by moving the phrase to the following sentence (3.1) or by glossing it with an equivalent phrase, ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ.

This being the case, therefore, the first time Luke uses the word “church” (εκκλησια) is Acts 5:11 (followed by Acts 7:38; 8:1, 3; 9:31; 11:22, 26; 12:1, 5; 13:1; 14:23, 27; 15:3-4, 22, 41; 16:5; 18:22; 19:32, 39-40; 20:17, 28).

While I’m certain the Lord adds people to the church, I’m also certain Luke did not use the word church here–now those later scribes . . . well, that’s a different matter and another topic.

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Summary of “The Text of Acts in the Writings of Origen”

My thanks to Adam Harwood for posting a summary of my research on Origen on his site at

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Origen’s Reponse to Celsus on How Christians Serve the Government

Toward the end of Origen’s life (ca. AD 254), his patron Ambrose encouraged him to respond to a little book by an enemy of Christianity, Celsus. Celsus’ book was mockingly titled The True Doctrine and had been circulating for nearly seventy years before Origen’s response. Because Origen chose to respond to the book in a point-by-point fashion by quoting Celsus and then offering a response, we have the bulk of Celsus’ book, now lost. Though, this is a older translation, it still proves quite interesting (and perhaps bewildering) to modern Christians. What follows comes from Contra Celsum 8.73-75 which happens to be the very end of Origen’s total response.

73 In the next place, Celsus urges us

“to help the king with all our might, and to labour with him in the maintenance of justice, to fight for him; and if he requires it, to fight under him, or lead an army along with him.”

To this our answer is, that we do, when occasion requires, give help to kings, and that, so to say, a divine help,

“putting on the whole armour of God.”

And this we do in obedience to the injunction of the apostle,

“I exhort, therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority;”

and the more any one excels in piety, the more effective help does he render to kings, even more than is given by soldiers, who go forth to fight and slay as many of the enemy as they can. And to those enemies of our faith who require us to bear arms for the commonwealth, and to slay men, we can reply:

“Do not those who are priests at certain shrines, and those who attend on certain gods, as you account them, keep their hands free from blood, that they may with hands unstained and free from human blood offer the appointed sacrifices to your gods; and even when war is upon you, you never enlist the priests in the army. If that, then, is a laudable custom, how much more so, that while others are engaged in battle, these too should engage as the priests and ministers of God, keeping their hands pure, and wrestling in prayers to God on behalf of those who are fighting in a righteous cause, and for the king who reigns righteously, that whatever is opposed to those who act righteously may be destroyed!”

And as we by our prayers vanquish all demons who stir up war, and lead to the violation of oaths, and disturb the peace, we in this way are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them. And we do take our part in public affairs, when along with righteous prayers we join self-denying exercises and meditations, which teach us to despise pleasures, and not to be led away by them. And none fight better for the king than we do. We do not indeed fight under him, although he require it; but we fight on his behalf, forming a special army— an army of piety— by offering our prayers to God.

74 And if Celsus would have us to lead armies in defence of our country, let him know that we do this too, and that not for the purpose of being seen by men, or of vainglory. For “in secret,” and in our own hearts, there are prayers which ascend as from priests in behalf of our fellow citizens. And Christians are benefactors of their country more than others. For they train up citizens, and inculcate piety to the Supreme Being; and they promote those whose lives in the smallest cities have been good and worthy, to a divine and heavenly city, to whom it may be said,

“You have been faithful in the smallest city, come into a great one,”


“God stands in the assembly of the gods, and judges the gods in the midst;”

and He reckons you among them, if you no more

“die as a man, or fall as one of the princes.”

75 Celsus also urges us to

“take office in the government of the country, if that is required for the maintenance of the laws and the support of religion.”

But we recognise in each state the existence of another national organization, founded by the Word of God, and we exhort those who are mighty in word and of blameless life to rule over Churches. Those who are ambitious of ruling we reject; but we constrain those who, through excess of modesty, are not easily induced to take a public charge in the Church of God. And those who rule over us well are under the constraining influence of the great King, whom we believe to be the Son of God, God the Word. And if those who govern in the Church, and are called rulers of the divine nation— that is, the Church— rule well, they rule in accordance with the divine commands, and never suffer themselves to be led astray by worldly policy.

And it is not for the purpose of escaping public duties that Christians decline public offices, but that they may reserve themselves for a diviner and more necessary service in the Church of God— for the salvation of men. And this service is at once necessary and right. They take charge of all— of those that are within, that they may day by day lead better lives, and of those that are without, that they may come to abound in holy words and in deeds of piety; and that, while thus worshipping God truly, and training up as many as they can in the same way, they may be filled with the word of God and the law of God, and thus be united with the Supreme God through His Son the Word, Wisdom, Truth, and Righteousness, who unites to God all who are resolved to conform their lives in all things to the law of God.

Oh, that the church might again recover her true calling!

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Walter Bauer’s Orthodoxy and Heresy

Walter Bauer’s original Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum (Beiträge zur historischen Theologie 10; Tübigen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1934), was published in English as Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (ed. Robert Kraft and Gerhard Krodel; trans. Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971) from the second German edition published and updated by Georg Strecker in 1963.

This book has had a tremendous influence on the study of the New Testament and Early Christian History. I’m currently working my way back through this important work and wondering about how valid Bauer’s conclusions really are.

Bauer’s thesis can be summarized with two complimentary theses.

First, Christianity from the beginning was multi-valenced. In the Book of Acts Luke is simply idealistic in his sketch of the early church as originating from Jerusalem in a pure stream which later became corrupted through certain key “heretics,” such as a Simon Magus, or a later Marcion or Valentinius, etc. Georg Strecker in the forward to the second German edition, put it this way:

In earliest Christianity, orthodoxy and heresy do not stand in relation to one another as primary to secondary, but in many regions heresy is the original manifestation of Christianity.

Bauer further argues that since the Orthodox essentially won historically, the other forms of Christianity have not been able to have their day in court. Thus, a task of the historian of Christianity is to make sure this happens. However, the problem here is complicated by the fact that nearly everything we know about the supposed heretics and their groups comes from those who were against them, such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, and other “Orthodox” writers. Consequently, very little has survived from the heretical point of views that would give the other side of the story. (Nonetheless, it should be mentioned that Bauer’s thesis was developed before the discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts which gave us access to some Gnostic texts).

The other side of Bauer’s thesis is that the Orthodox won because the church of Rome, sought, almost imperialistically, to become the center for the official teaching of the church. In Bauer’s reconstruction, Rome early sought to influence the church in Corinth (see 1 Clement), then Antioch (see the Ignatian letters), and in time the whole Western Church. What Bauer ignores for the most part is that the Eastern Church remained united—though dsitinct—with the Western Church until 1054. Additionally, the Eastern Church differed in a number of major ways from the West yet was still among the “Orthodox.”

So why is Bauer’s thesis important? Because if Bauer is right, then the way most Protestant groups read church history is simply wrong. If Bauer is correct, then there is no such thing as pure Christianity, Orthodoxy is the name given to the winner by themselves, and any attempt to “restore” the church must seriously engage the question: which church? And, I think the more important question, why do church at all?

As I get deeper into Bauer I will share more of what I discover.

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