Monday, May 24, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Acts 12-16

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through Acts, chapters 12-16.

Chapter 12

  • Verse 7 - There's something about the fact that the angel struck Peter to wake him up that just strikes me as very... real.
  • Verse 15 - Although I've been taught that the Bible does not teach that angels are the ghosts of dead people, clearly, Peter's friends thought of angels in such a way that Peter's "angel" could be confused with him.
  • Verses 21-23 - I feel like there must be more to this story that isn't recorded here (but perhaps which was obvious to those in the first century who were the first readers of Acts).  Why is Herod being struck down (with the emphatic "immediately" no less)?  Because other people thought he spoke like a god?  Because Herod wasn't quick enough to rebuke them (thus giving praise to God)?  Surely other (ungodly) leaders had people say such things about them yet were not struck down in this way.
Chapter 13
  • Verse 1 - Luke drops a few more names that were obviously important enough that he should give us their names in the first place, but of whom we never hear again.  I do find it interesting to note the ethnic diversity already apparent among these "prophets and teachers" (implied by the locations mentioned and alternate names given) in this early Christian era, even before Paul starts explicitly evangelizing to the Gentiles.
  • Verses 6-8 - So, are Bar-Jesus and Elymas the same person?  It seems this is unnecessarily confusing. 
  • Verses 16-23 - Like Stephen before him, Paul bases his (upcoming) sermon on Jewish history.  This account differs from Stephen's, of course.  Much less attention is given to the Pentateuch (perhaps Luke cut it short this time, having already covered all of that in Stephen's speech?) and a bit more to King David before Paul moves on to talk (explicitly, this time!) about Jesus. 
  • Verse 48 - A clearly theologically-motivated statement.  A bit circular, isn't it?  For all we know, very few people actually believed Paul and Barnabas at this time, but Luke can still safely say they were "all who were appointed for eternal life."
Chapter 14
  • Verse 1-2 - Since the Greeks in verse 1 seem to be in the synagogue (where Paul and Barnabas are speaking), I assume that these are proselytes to the Jewish faith.  I'm not sure whether or not this is as opposed to not-previously-converted Gentiles in verse 2 (or if these "other Gentiles" are also proselytes, just ones who didn't believe Paul and Barnabas).
  • Verse 3 - I wonder what "signs and wonders" were performed....
  • Verses 6-7 - I'm all for preaching the gospel in boldness, despite opposition, but I think it's worth noting that even Paul and Barnabas fled to safer climates from time to time.
  • Verses 11-15 - I wonder if this response of Paul and Barnabas is intentionally to be opposed to Herod's lack thereof in Chapter 12.
  • Verse 23 - We've already seen people appointed to the office of deacon.  I think this is the first time we see people appointed to the office of elder.  (But did Christian elders previously exist?  See Acts 11.)
Chapter 15
  • Verses 1-35 - The role of the law (and, specifically, of circumcision) is debated among the believers.  The importance of the decision reached via this council for the later shape of Christianity should not be diminished.  I do think it's worth noting that in the letter that was composed and sent to the churches (verses 23-29), believers were still given "rules" to follow, although the significance of following these rules may well be somewhat different than the significance the law held for old covenant Jews.  Why should these particular rules have been singled out?
  • Verses 36-41 - Although Luke does tell us that this is "some time later," I find it intriguing that Acts presents us with this rift between Paul and Barnabas so quickly after the resolution to the debate about the law.  The idea that Mark (presumably later the author of the Second Gospel) was a deserter was of huge importance to Paul (despite Paul's own need to flee from danger in Chapter 14?).
Chapter 16
  • Verse 3 - Many commentators have noted Paul's seeming inconsistency here, having Timothy circumcised despite Paul's insistence later on (that is, in the epistles) that circumcision was not only unnecessary, but worthless.  I won't rehash those arguments here, but I do want to point the fact out.  I especially find it interesting that this takes place so quickly after Chapter 15's apparent resolution to the question of circumcision's (lack of) necessity.
  • Verse 10 - The use of the second-person plural ("we," in English) is dropped in so off-handedly, it can be easy to miss.  I won't point out every time Luke does this, but it's worth noting that he is a participant in many of the events he is writing about, and is being up-front about this fact.
  • Verse 13-15 - Given some of the cultural taboos against speaking to women, I think this section is important.  I also want to draw attention to Lydia, who is apparently a woman of some means.  And this isn't inherited wealth, but her own earnings via her being a merchant.  And not just a merchant, but a merchant who sells purple cloth.  Purple was a color that only the wealthy could afford to own.  Without even getting into the Christian believers' apparent positive attitude toward these women, it sometimes seems to me that the world of first-century Palestine was more egalitarian than today (I'm well-aware that this opinion won't hold up to close scrutiny, even among those of a more progressive persuasion regarding the role of women like myself.  The culture of that time and place was patriarchal, and I haven't forgotten that fact).
  • Verse 33 - I do wonder just what was meant by the fact that the entire "household" of the jailer was baptized.  Did they all make confessions of faith on the basis on this incident?  For some reason (and trying to lay my own prejudices aside insomuch as I can), this strikes me as unlikely.  Not impossible (I know that those who disagree with the concept of infant baptism would be quick to point this out), but it seems to me that it is a straining of the text to assume such.

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