Category Archives: Acts

Acts 11.26 – Christians and Antoich

It was in Antioch that the disciples first got the name of Christians. (REB)

This is Luke’s very benign statement.

It doesn’t tell us, or how, only that the Antiochenes called the followers of Jesus ‘Christians’ first.

It is a parenthetical, a footnote — not a linear event. Nor does it tell us when the sect adopted the name of Christians for themselves.

You cannot convert to something that is not separate.

Just saying…

The Trinity in Acts 20.28?

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (NASB)

It did not take long for the early Christians to start to qualify (or quantify) the relationship between the Father and the Son, not to mention what role if any the Holy Spirit played in this family of sorts.

Yesterday, while discussing the Book of Acts with my Sunday School class, I read this as a measure of the author’s (not Paul’s) Christological stance. The developing Trinitarian motif of the verse stood out in stark contrast to Paul’s subordinationism.

Here, all three Persons play a role in the Church.

The Church belongs to God (the Father, as indicated by the relationship to the spilt blood), but is governed by the Spirit. The blood (of the Son) is what secured the Church. Throughout Paul’s speech in Acts 20.17-29, the role of the Spirit is heightened much more so than it is in the Pauline Corpus, making it parallel to the role of the Spirit in the life of the Church in Ephesians. Further, the speech begins with a salutation to Jesus but ends with a commendation to God the Father.

Unless, of course, you believe God has blood and can die?

Keener on Act’s Historicity, something covered in his @bakeracademic commentary

From here, a link to check out, yo.

@bakeracademic Review: Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: Introduction and 1:1–2:47

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Craig Keener’s first volume on the book of Acts covers two chapters while containing decades’ worth of extensive research. To dismiss the weight of this volume is to forego a severely missing component in any study on the Acts of the Apostles.

I have a certain trepidation in approaching such a large volume for review. Indeed, this book is well worth a year of study and another for reflection and measurement of use before a thorough-going review can be given. After all, where do you start? Perhaps on the back cover, with the endorsements. This, after all, are where many of us will start when judging a book. Endorsements run the gambit of modern scholars, from James D.G. Dunn to Darrell L. Bock. Dunn calls it a “first off the shelf” book while Bottini calls it a “monumental exegetical commentary.” Others call attention to the massive amount of information germane to the discussion, often missing in other commentaries. We could start there; however, we would need to quickly move  to the inside now — now that your questions as to whether or not this is a critical engaging commentary has been appeased.

There are two parts to this volume, the introduction and the commentary. The introduction is a massive tome, some six-hundred pages, covering nearly every facet of a study of Acts. Keener is not lax when it comes to answering the student’s questions, even preemptively. He even provides for the limitation of this massive volume by giving an answer for them first and thereby creating a paradox! The author explores literary sources, historical reliability, ancient approaches as well as details some objections to the commentary including the genre and use of labels. He does this just in the prolegomenon of this introduction. Keener spends the next three hundred pages covering Acts as historiography including reaching into the dating of Acts while he explores all sides of the issue. Perhaps that is the greatest strength of any of Keener’s works — they are far from polemical, far from one-sided. This is a small enough section, I believe, to explore as part of this review.

In chapter ten, Keener examines the dating of Acts. Currently, Acts is held by most scholars as having been written rather late, with come scholars pushing it into the second century. He briefly rehashes why the authorship of Acts, the author is Luke, is important. Keener sites Xenophon and his histories as works written long after the fact, but by those who had experienced them. He then feels comfortable suggesting that he holds to a centrist position, that of the 70s-8os, the majority view. Yes, he states his position, however for our sakes, Keener delves into the other dating schemas, exploring their weaker points including the premature ending. He even goes so far as to cite the stronger points for the earlier date, such as Richard Longnecker. His only issue here, and it really pertains to the Markan scholar, is his acceptance of an early dating of Mark. In exploring the late date, Keener uses the continuation with Judaism found in Luke-Acts against the idea that Acts hails from the second century. I find his methodology here convincing even I do not agree with him completely on the dating.

The introduction has two excursuses. The first deals with physicians in the ancient world while the second examines the “Background for Luke’s View of the Spirit.” The commentary portion, however, has numerous excursuses discussing a wide variety of topics including Zealots (744), Dreams and Visions (911), and Messiahship (964). Like the rest of the volume, they are expanded past the normative models. Messiahship covers six pages, filled with numerous footnotes. This particular excursus examines the role of Messiah from David through the Bar Kokhba revolt. There is little here that can be classified as pure theological (Christological) with Keener instead relying on something more than “the Bible/Church says” approach to reading Scripture.

This brings to us to the extended commentary section, numbering over four hundred pages. Normally, that is considered an exhaustive commentary; however, consider that Keener reads two chapters in those four hundred pages. There is simply no way to examine the entirety of the commentary, so I have selected a favorite proof-text of mine, Acts 2.38 (972-86). To be fair, this includes an excurses on discussing the ancient role of baptism. (Note, by this time, Keener’s footnotes for the commentary proper number 1200 — that is, of course, only for the last 100 or so pages.)

Kenner separates this verse into several topics, including repentance, baptism as an act, baptism in the name of Jesus, and the gift of the Spirit. One can now see how we can spend so much time on one verse. The Hellenistic-Jewish background is given on repentance as well as discussion of literary sources from Qumran and other Second Temple sects. The original word’s meaning is sought after not just in these literary sources, but so too in canonical books. Baptism is given the same treatment, but interrupted by an excurses meant to serve as history of the theology of these verse. Under the heading of “Baptism in Jesus’s Name,” Keener brings to light the connectivity of Acts 2.38 and Matthew 28.19, although what is lacking is the usual Oneness-Pentecostal interpretation. Indeed, what is lacking is a theological interpretation altogether, but instead, present with us is the historical assessment of the verse. He finishes the commentary portion with an examination of what Luke believed was the gift of the Spirit. In all of this, Keener does not break character and insert Christian doctrine or dogma into there. There are no theological applications nor theological exegesis. The commentary instead gets to the author of Acts, of this particular verse, by using all of humanities available to Keener. Whether it is the Greek or the higher criticisms, Keener relies on studied science to help him navigate the reader to a place where they can draw their own conclusion.

The sources Keener draws from are numerous. His list of abbreviations fill over thirty pages, ranging from the Dead Sea Scrolls to Nag Hammadi. The Rabbis are consulted as well as the Church Fathers. Demosthenes and Euripedies, Fronto and Isocrates. The Romans, Greeks, and Hebrews provide voices for Keener’s chorus. Added to this are the nearly 10,000 footnotes and citations between the covers and the nearly four hundred pages of works cited and indexes included with a separate cd, one cannot easily dismiss either the work nor the conclusions Keener has poured into this volume.

I suspect, that by the end of the series on Acts, Keener will have left us his magnum opus and it will survive for a lot longer than other commentaries.

(This review will be edited further in the future)

Who is speaking about Paul’s conversion* in Acts?

There are three stories of Paul’s conversion experience in the book of acts. The first is given by the author of Acts directly, as if recounting history, in chapter 9. In chapters 22 and 26, Paul is said to telling the story in his own words. Do not worry about the seemingly apparent contradictions between the three. This is a perfectly valid tactic used by ancient authors.

We are given two insights into Paul’s conversion (it is an anachronistic term, but you understand) in Galatians and in 1 Corinthians 15.3-6. But, what is said here is that Jesus appeared to Paul, just has he had to others. So, in all of Paul’s letters, there is no hint at the magnificent account of the Damascus Road event. We only get to read about this nearly a generation after Paul’s death.

Do not be so hasty as to assume that Luke is recounting a historical record, free of theologizing blemishes. This is simply not the way it was done, nor, if we are to be honest with ourselves, is done.

My question, consider that the last time I posted on Galatians and Paul’s story, is who is speaking in Acts. Is it Paul or is it Luke?

Some quick thoughts on the Historical Paul

Did Luke theologize Paul’s blindness? Hang on, let me flesh this out.

First, Galatians 4.13-15. Here, he says the Galatians would have ripped out their eyes for him. Later in the chapter, he signs the letter with a very large signature. He was, perhaps, going blind.

Now, remember the conversion story of Paul in Acts 9. If Acts is written long after Paul’s death, and with the same theological motivation the Evangelists applied to Jesus, then is it possible that Luke takes the known disability of Paul and theologizes it inside the conversion story?

Anyone have any scholarly articles on this?

Josephus and Paul go to Rome

In 64 CE, Paul stood before Felix as both a Jew and a Roman (Acts 23.23-35), mired in a conspiracy that accused the Jews of attempting to murder the apostle. Or, at least, according to Acts. Is this a historical or a historiographical event?

Oddly enough, Josephus records that he went to Rome during the same time period (1.13-6). And… there was a shipwreck. I can’t tell from reading it if he accompanied the priests or not.

I’m not going to put this into my book because of the hypothetical nature of this – and I don’t discuss Paul.

Of course, I understand that some may assume Luke is borrowing from Josephus, but what if they aren’t? What if they are telling the same story – because, you know, other people made the journey. Except for Paul, the situation is the same. The Jewish priest were holy and pious men who caused a ruckus. That ruckus, Luke tells us, is Paul.

Just found it interesting. That’s all.

Question: What is the ‘host of heaven’ in Acts 7.42

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Got a question:

NAB  Acts 7:42 Then God turned and handed them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: ‘Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings for forty years in the desert, O house of Israel?

NAU  Acts 7:42 “But God aturned away and delivered them up to serve the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, ‘bIT WAS NOT TO ME THAT YOU OFFERED VICTIMS AND SACRIFICES cFORTY YEARS IN THE WILDERNESS, WAS IT, O HOUSE OF ISRAEL?

NLT  Acts 7:42 Then God turned away from them and abandoned them to serve the stars of heaven as their gods! In the book of the prophets it is written, ‘Was it to me you were bringing sacrifices and offerings during those forty years in the wilderness, Israel?

So right off, the NLT looks to be a better thought, but it doesn’t answer the question. So was Stephen still a henotheist? Granted, he is quoting Amos 5.25-27 which seems to say that Israel carried pagan shrines alongside the Tabernacle. This, of course, fits will with henotheism, I guess.

But, are these the ‘powers’? And if so, does Scripture give us license to connect the ‘host of heaven’ which here and in Amos seems to be other gods, to the host of the Lord of Host?

Just a discussion post – I’m not tied to an interpretation at the moment.

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Quintilian v Stephen

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This is an assignment, etc…. Again, this is just the first stage, with lots of dialogue to follow.


The summary of VI.2 is simply that the orator must know the proper uses of emotion in appealing to a judge. The Roman Rhetorician begins the book by starting at the end of the Argument, the peroration, and advises the reader that this part in particular is “chiefly concerned with the feelings.[1]” Like Aristotle before him, and against Plato before them both, the nature of human emotions is allowed to play a part in the decision making process of the audience; perhaps to the extent that it is one of the greatest assets to the speaker. To this end, Quintilian cautions against treating these emotions “cursorily” and urges the position that nothing greater is to be studied in the “whole art of oratory.”

He goes on to cite the “number of pleaders” who could establish proofs, but is more warm to those who can “seize the attention of the judges.” He writes, “Proofs in our favor, it is true, may make the judge think our cause the better, but impressions on his feelings make him wish it to be better, and that he wishes he also believes.” In this, we find that Quintilian is speaking more regarding, as Lopez pointed out, of the forensic style of rhetoric, and as such, is concerned with using emotional appeals to declare someone innocent. The emotional appeal is to be powerful enough to incite the judge, regardless of proofs, to connect to the person on trial, perhaps to see himself on trial. Of course, there is danger in this, I would state, in that as Quintilian notes, “passion overpowers the sense of sight, so a judge, when led away by his feelings, loses the faculty of discerning truth; he is hurried along as it were by a flood and yields to the force of the torrent.” To this end, the Roman Orator notes that pathos in the conclusion will excite judges, but the use of ethos[2] will soothe them. If may be advisable then, not to incite the judges to anger at yourself in the concluding statement, if one hopes to survive the trial.

Like Aristotle before him, Quintilian relies upon the character of the speaker (2.18) to be a force in making the argument. In the court room, the speaker must possess the “virtues which he ought to praise” in his client. To contrast this, a “bad man” must speak ineffectively or else his sincerity will be challenged. Thus is the connection made in the minds of the jurists between the speaker and the client, and perhaps reliant upon ethos. If the speaker is thought to defend only for fame or wealth, it may be argued that the defense of the client could be seen as mocking the needed ethos of the jurist, in that if the speaker cared nothing for the client, then why should the judge. I note here Quintilian’s further limitations on the speaker, in that the speaker should be “calm and mild”, lacking “vehemence” and “elevation.” A good speaker by these standards would be one not just emotionally connected to his client, but a bridge between the client and the judges. As an arbiter, the speech must not raise the client above the judge nor seek to anger the judge in such a way as that is the last emotion felt before making a decision.

The argument using pathos is one which seems to be the most difficult, because it is the one most in danger of going wrong. Pathos is focused on the negative, in that Quintilian states that it is to be used in “exciting anger, hatred, fear, envy or pity.” Any of these emotions can easily turn on the client and cause a hard view from the jurist. Quintilian gives the example of fear, in that fear can lead to several outcomes. In this, he goes into the use of words to give a more effective blow to the person. (2.23). This idea of “language adding force to things unbecoming, cruel, or detestable” could not have been profitable for a novice in the courtroom, especially if there was not an established connection of ethos. The ancient writer cautions that our language be so tempered as to use the same emotions “we would wish to excite from the judge.”

Finally, 2.29-36 deals with the phantasiai, or visions, which Quintilian defines as “images by which the representations of absent objects are so distinctly represent to the mind that we seem to see them with our eyes and to have them before us.” He goes on to give credit to the orator who can represent things so vividly that one can actually ‘see’ them. This is important for the judge, then, in order to establish both pathos and ethos so that the jurist can feel the evils “of which we complain.”

In examining Stephen’s speech (Acts 7), I must extend it to Acts 6.8-16 so that the events which sets up the drama are in view. In 6.8-15, Stephen is arrested due the “wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” The charged leveled against Stephen was that he was blaspheming Moses and God (6.11) and was made complete with false witnesses (6.13). The author alludes to the almost favorable position of the Council when he writes that to them, Stephen’s face was like an angel[3] (6.15). Unfortunately, however, Luke records that Stephen was ultimately, in a fit of rage, put to death. If compared to Quintilian’s rules, Stephen failed in his defense, but if Stephen is seen as speaking for Christ, with Christ as the client, then Stephen was successful. In the narrative of Acts, speeches are regularly given in defense of Christ[4], so that here, Stephen, especially with the phantasiai in the peroration, can be seen to defend Christ and to establish a co-vindication[5].

In defense of himself, Stephen is successful in inciting anger and in having that anger influence the judges (7.51-43), but in doing so, he failed to properly place this in the argument, as the use of pathos caused Stephen’s immediate order of execution. Of course, no ethos could readily be established because Stephen was a Hellenized Jew, whereas the Council members were Palestinian Jews listening to other Palestinian Jews. Further, he failed in not using vehemence (Quint, VI.2.19; Acts 7.51-53) or elevation (Acts 7.60). He failed as well in using the “middling sort of eloquence” and in using the “temper of mind” which he sought to excite from the judges.

However, if the defense was of Christ, then Stephen is better seen as the Orator and Christ the client who needs vindicated. While the arrest charge was originally about Stephen’s supposed blasphemy (6.11), the final charge is laid against Stephen’s preaching of Jesus’ words (6.14) which leads to the High Priest asking for the validity of the words of Christ (7.1). In this context, Stephen’s speech is then seen as the usual defense of Christ given with the usual Jewish recapitulation of Hebrew history. Jesus is set against the history of Israel and against the promise of a Prophet Like Moses. The idea of human resistance against God’s Divine Messenger is prevalent, but Stephen does not claim this role for himself but is securing the verdict for Christ. To that end, Stephen elevates himself above the need for the Council, in declaring that Christ is vindicated because he, Stephen, can see him, Jesus, standing at the right hand of the God using a technique similar to Quintilian’s phantasiai. Further, Stephen establishes the ethos between him and Christ with his final words (cf Acts 7.59/ Luke 23.46; Acts 7.60/ Luke 23.34). Finally, Stephen doesn’t vindicate himself with the Council, but Luke is able to show the reader what is going above the human will. Stephen, in speaking for his client, shows that the client is indeed γενόμενον (Luke 23.47) and is thus vindicated by the audience.

The vindication of Christ (i.e., that he is resurrected[6]) is the emotional appeal, in that the Council, and through them, many in Israel, had failed to heed the Scriptures and crucified the Son of God who had been prophesied by Moses and was the culmination of Israelite History.

[1] The translation which I will be using is John Selby Watson’s, Quintilian. Institutes of Oratory, 2010 (Kindle Edition), ed. Lee Honeycutt

[2] Quintilian notes later, 2.14, that the “ethos ought especially to prevail between persons closely connected.” Perhaps if there is no ethos, or if the ethos is muted by the prosecution being closer in connection to the judges, then pathos is the only appeal left.

[3] Regardless of interpretation, the fact that to the Council, Stephen’s face was supernatural, should give the sense to the reader that the Council was in a good predisposition to hear Stephen’s case.

[4] 2.14-40 defended Christ as the Son of David/Messiah and cast blame upon those who had killed him. 3.11-26 can be seen to defend Christ as the Prophet Like Moses. 4.8-1, 19-20; 5.29-32 defends the superiority of Christ’s command to that of the Council as well as the outpouring of the Spirit.

[5] There is not enough space to connect Luke’s use of Wisdom (of Solomon) (See Peter Doble’s monograph, The Paradox of Salvation, 2005, SNTS), but I would contend that vindication is in Luke’s mind here. (Compare Wis 3.1-3, 7; 5.1-5)

[6] Cf 2nd Macc 7.10-14

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Something I hadn’t read before – Acts 15.5 and the Pharisees

St Peter at the Beautiful Gate
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Last week or so, we were studying the book of Acts. While reading about the first Church Council, I was struck by something that had never stood out to before:

NAU  Acts 15:5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.”

NLT  Acts 15:5 But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.”

You see that? Pharisees were a part of the early Believing community. Later, you see Paul state that he was once a Pharisee, before he converted to Christianity from Judaism –

NAU  Acts 23:6 But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!”

NLT  Acts 23:6 Paul realized that some members of the high council were Sadducees and some were Pharisees, so he shouted, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, as were my ancestors! And I am on trial because my hope is in the resurrection of the dead!”

Oh, wait – that’s right. Paul didn’t convert. Nor was his membership as a Pharisee stopped. He said, ‘I am a Pharisee.’He was a Pharisee, however, that believed in Jesus Christ.

I bring this up because Rodney has a post up about the use of ‘Pharisee‘ which has created some discussion. If you are waiting on your usual Saturday round of posts were Rodney and I go after each other, well, maybe next Saturday.

Oh, and yes, Jesus was close to the Pharisaic community.

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Brief thoughts on Acts 2.1-4 and the Tongues of Fire

The Difficult Question this week was regarding Acts 2.1-4. This is my very brief answer.

As a former tongue talker, my viewpoint on this has changed some out. I think that the fire is symbolic of God’s Spirit and may allude to Isaiah 6 where the burning coal touched the prophet’s mouth and he was cleansed. Also, I think that there is an allusion to Isaiah 28.1-15 as well, especially with the echoes of wine and ‘different tongue.’ So to sum  – and this has to be my shortest post ever – the fire and the tongues were an allusion to the judgment against Jerusalem, especially given the language of Peter later in the chapter, for their crucifixion of Christ and announcement that the Day of the Lord had begun.

Pentecost was the start of the ingathering, the Last Days, etc… Anyway, what do you think?