Monday, May 10, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Acts 2-6

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 2-6.

Chapter 2

  • Verses 9-11 - I think it's interesting to see the list of countries and lands referred to in these verses to demonstrate the diversity of languages being heard at Pentecost.
  • Verse 14 - After all that trouble to install a new "twelfth" apostle at the end of the previous chapter, we see a reference to "the Eleven" here.  See how quickly Matthias has been forgotten?
  • Verse 23 - There's a footnote in the TNIV that suggests an alternate interpretation for "wicked men," which would read "those not having the law" (the footnote further spells out that this would mean "Gentiles").  This does not seem to reflect a textual variant within the Greek, but rather a difference of opinion about how the Greek should be interpreted.  What reasons might be offered to prefer one interpretation over the other?
Chapter 3
  • Verse 2 (and again at verse 10) - why is the gate called "Beautiful," and why does Luke make the effort to point out this name us?  Why not just tell us that the man was at a temple gate?1
  • Verse 12 - Peter sounds like Jesus here, asking why people should be surprised by an event that really is indeed utterly astonishing.
Chapter 4
  • Verses 6,7 - Based upon context, I think it's safe to say that the John of verse 6 and the John of verse 7 are two different people, but I would have preferred a more specific description spelling this out.  Of course, John was (and is!) a pretty common name....
  • Verse 13 - Williams suggests that the amazement at Peter and John's lack of schooling is less the kind of prejudice we might have against, say, a "country bumpkin" (apologies to my more rurally-located friends!) and more an amazement at the fact that "laypeople" would be able to speak about matters of God in such a way.2
  • Verses 32-37 - Yet another for the growing list of passages that I wonder "why did this section get put in this chapter?"  It clearly connects better to the beginning of Chapter 5.
Chapter 5
  • Verses 1-11 - Many commentators have pointed out that Ananias and Sapphira were struck down not for holding back part of the money earned from selling their property, but for having lied to the disciples about it.  The text certainly supports this interpretation, but I wish we were given a bit more explicit look into their motives for this deception, or that we could see examples of people who were generous without necessarily giving away all of their possessions (see chapter 4, verse 32, or should we take that as hyperbole?).  This passage is one of few explicit examples of harsh punishment meted out by God in the New Testament (and with no apparent chance for repentance!), but is nonetheless a memorable one.
  • Verse 12 - Solomon's Colonnade has been mentioned a couple of times now as a meeting place for the Apostles.  What was so special about it?
  • Verse 13: "no one else dared join them" and verse 14: "more and more... were added to their number" - These bits sound contradictory.  Williams suggests that these statements may be reconciled if, although outsiders didn't join the Christians at the Colonnade (part of the temple), they may have joined "at other, more convenient, times."3
  • Verse 23 - When the angel released the apostles, he must have done so without the guards noticing, and having locked the prison door behind him (or perhaps he had the apostles just walk through the wall?). 
Chapter 6
  • Verse 2 - The core disciples are called the "Twelve" (and not the "Eleven") again.  Although I doubt it's the intention, the disciples sound a bit elitist when they complain about neglecting "the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables."  Even so, the recognition that different followers are called to different ministries is important.
  • Verses 8-15 - One wonders how long Stephen was active before his persecution and execution (in chapter 7.  This is another of those bits that seems to go better with what comes next, but I'd rather not wait until next week to get to that).  I suppose that it could have been years (it's certainly long enough that Luke is able to refer to the "great wonders and miraculous signs" Stephen performed), but Stephen really only enters into the narrative so that Luke can describe (again, getting ahead of myself) the manner of Stephen's death.

1In David J. Williams, Acts (New International Bible Commentary), Hendrickson, 1990, p. 66, it is pointed out that no "Beautiful Gate" is attested in either the Mishnah nor Josephus, leaving us to wonder what gate Luke is referring to.
2Williams, p. 83.
3Williams, pp. 102-103.

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