Tag Archives: Acts of the Apostles

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: 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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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 http://www.adamharwood.com/?p=74.

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The Spirit Fell on the Eunuch? (Textual Variant in Acts 8:39)

I have long known about the Eunuch’s missing confession in modern translations. Acts 8:37 is “missing” in most modern translations of the New Testament.

“And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts 8:37 KJV)

The secondary nature of this reading is clear from it not being in the earliest witnesses; it does not show up until the sixth century. Additionally, it has several minor variants within the text itself in the manuscripts that contain it–a telltale sign for a shaky history of transmission. Metzger’s Textual Commentary offers the following explanation:

There is no reason why scribes should have omitted the material, if it had originally stood in the text. It should be noted too that τὸν Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν is not a Lukan expression.

The formula πιστεύω … Χριστόν was doubtless used by the early church in baptismal ceremonies, and may have been written in the margin of a copy of Acts. Its insertion into the text seems to have been due to the feeling that Philip would not have baptized the Ethiopian without securing a confession of faith, which needed to be expressed in the narrative. Although the earliest known New Testament manuscript that contains the words dates from the sixth century (ms. E), the tradition of the Ethiopian’s confession of faith in Christ was current as early as the latter part of the second century, for Irenaeus quotes part of it (Against Heresies, iii.xii.8).

Although the passage does not appear in the late medieval manuscript on which Erasmus chiefly depended for his edition (ms. 2), it stands in the margin of another (ms. 4), from which he inserted it into his text because he “judged that it had been omitted by the carelessness of scribes (arbitror omissum librariorum incuria).”

The last paragraph explains how the verse got into the manuscripts used in the earliest English translations. Erasmus is largely responsible for creating a text erroneously known later as the Textus Receptus. (The verse is even lacking in the Latin Vulgate).

Of course, as I said, this variant is well known by text critics. Yet in verse 39 there is another rather interesting variant that never showed up in any English translation. The text with the variation (marked in red) reads,

When they came up out of the water, the Spirit Holy fell on the Eunuch and the angel of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:39 NRSV).

The adjective “holy” in normal Greek fashion comes after the noun.

While most of the witnesses are late; one is important and early. In Codex Alexandrinus the first hand scribe entered it as a correction. While I’m not arguing for its originality, it does show how the scribe—who first added the text—read the text. The scribe, probably based of how Luke presents the Holy Spirit in Acts (e. g., Acts 10:44; 11:15), found it to be a reasonable expectation that the Eunuch visibly received the the Holy Spirit. Without this addition, the text of Acts 8 is silent on the Eunuch’s reception of the Holy Spirit.


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