The Storied Propaganda of Acts | Acts 6.7,15


The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

Acts 6.7

That’s odd phrasing. This is telling a certain version of history. Surely this fact would be denied by the Jews at the time. And yet, Luke is trying to paint a picture of the Gospel spreading, to the Jews first (in this section, the focus is on Jerusalem and Peter) and then to the ends of the earth (the big Paul section).

And all who sat in the council looked intently at him [Stephen], and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
–Acts 6:15

Here we see one of the inklings and beginning of the long Christian tradition of saint veneration and myth-making (St. George and the Dragon, anyone?)

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

St. Stephen & the History of Israel | Acts 7.48-53


Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says,

‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?’

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”
Acts 7.48-53

Notice how Stephen does a few things here in this turn.

  1. He skips the history of Israel that includes the Divided Monarchy, Exile, Return, Intertestamental Victories and and Sorrows, and the establishment of the Jewish state under Roman Rule.
  2. He jumps straight from the temple to their Rejection of Jesus. This could be Jesus’ connection as a New Temple among us, it could highlight Israel’s inordinate obsession with the temple, even unto the rejection of their Messiah, or it could be a reference to the charges they brought against Jesus to get him crucified: blasphemy against the temple.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

In Acts, Paul = Jesus | Acts 27.35-36


After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves.
Acts 27.35-36

Here is an obvious parallel between Jesus and Paul. I don’t know if these features are meant to hearken to the feeding of the 5,000, or the Last Supper. Actually, it’s probably not a parallel of the 5,000, because there is no multiplication or anything miraculous about this meal. But, Paul does the same thing with the bread that Jesus does elsewhere, and others are similarly encouraged by what he does. If I had to vote, I would say that this is a parallel of the Last Supper. Or, it is like the road to Emmaus passage, where Jesus is seen in the breaking of the bread.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Luke on the New Perspective on Paul | Acts 15:1,8-11


Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”…
Acts 28.23-31

This is a great summary of the argument for the New Perspective on Paul. The key is the line about Moses. It’s not about works righteousness, but ethnic identity.

And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
Acts 15:8-11

Another quick NPP note. Notice here that Peter is not contrasting salvation by yoke versus salvation by grace, but that grace will also save them just as the Jews believed it saved them.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Paul is slow; Acts has gaps| Acts 28.1-11


After we had reached safety, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The natives showed us unusual kindness. Since it had begun to rain and was cold, they kindled a fire and welcomed all of us around it…. Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days…. They bestowed many honors on us, and when we were about to sail, they put on board all the provisions we needed.

Three months later we set sail on a ship that had wintered at the island, an Alexandrian ship with the Twin Brothers as its figurehead.
Acts 28.1-2,7,10-11

Three months!? That’s a long time! Good lord, what were they doing?

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Justice, Self-Control, & Judgment| Acts 24.24-25


Some days later when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him speak concerning faith in Christ Jesus. And as he discussed justice, self-control, and the coming judgment, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present; when I have an opportunity, I will send for you.”
Acts 24.24-25

These are very odd, very specific things. It’s funny that these things shook him so much to the core. I wonder what it was specifically that was enough for Luke to include this? Was the Justice Paul talked about more along the lines of the wrath of God, or more like equality in society and Social Justice (that would surely shake a wealthy local governor!). It was probably something like the fact that God would make all things right someday. Maybe the judgment piece made him scared? But either way, personally, I find it interesting that the one that scares me the most is the call to self control.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

We are descendants of the Covenant| Acts 3.24-26


And all the prophets, as many as have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, also predicted these days. You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”
Acts 28.23-31

In this, we see that we, the New Covenant People of God, are still members of the covenant that’s been in effect the whole time: the Abrahamic Covenant. It is not done away with; only brought under a new administration: that of Christ.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Paul’s ministry thesis & maybe Theophilus’ identity? | Acts 28.23-31


After they had set a day to meet with him, they came to him at his lodgings in great numbers. From morning until evening he explained the matter to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets. Some were convinced by what he had said, while others refused to believe. So they disagreed with each other; and as they were leaving, Paul made one further statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah,

‘Go to this people and say,
You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.’

Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”

He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him,31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.
Acts 28.23-31

What a thesis statement for all of Paul’s ministry and the books of Luke: the hard-heartedness of the Jews and the inclusion of the Gentiles. Perhaps this was a main reason why Luke wrote both of these books to the mysterious Theophilus. Maybe he wrote these to offer assurance to this Gentile man (as evidenced by his Roman name) of his inclusion in the mission and salvation of God.

On a side note, it’s odd that this statement of the Gentile inclusion in the family of God (throughout Paul’s preaching) rests primarily on the a story of the preaching ministry of Paul. It’s well-known that Luke draws literary parallels between Jesus in the Gospel of Luke and Paul in Acts. But since this was being written to Theophilus, and these writings about Paul seem to rest on an implied authority and trust that it seems Theophilus would have had in Paul (if he said it, then it must be true), then could this be a hint that Theophilus met Paul at some point or even that Paul was the one that converted him?

Just a thought. A pure, conjectural thought.

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Haha. Such a great narrative turn. | Genesis 6.5-8


The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.
Genesis 6:5-8

Greatest narrative turn ever.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Preaching the Gospel to Christians | Romans 1:14-16


I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish—hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Romans 1:14-16

Notice here that Paul wants to proclaim the gospel to those who are already believers! This Gospel is the whole of the Christian life, not simply our starting place. It not the ABC’s, after which we need theology, doctrine, good works, etc. It is the A-to-Z of the Christian life. When we think our churches, our preaching, and our lives essentially need something more than that, we begin to stray from the Gospel altogether.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Women at the Cross | Matthew 27:55-54


Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
Matthew 27:55-54

It’s really interesting to me that Matthew adds this little addendum to the end of the account. Why point out the women that were there? Is the assumption that all the men have scattered, and so Matthew had to show his sources for this story?

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Abraham’s son Ishmael was part of Covenant! | Genesis 17.23-27


This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised… and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you…. Both the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money must be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”… As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will bless him and make him fruitful and exceedingly numerous; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.”…. Then Abraham took his son Ishmael and all the slaves born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him…. And his son Ishmael was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised; and all the men of his house, slaves born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.
Genesis 17.23-27

Yes, God said that Ishmael would not be the primary bearer and “administrator” of the covenant, but he still bears its marks. Reminds me of a reading from Lesslie Newbigin where he talks about how through our election and Covenantal relationship with God, Salvation is extended to all the nations. “Election” isn’t about blessing; it’s about responsibility to extend the Blessing to others.

Other peoples (even those not in the elect people of God) participate in and receive the full benefits of being part of the Covenant. To be elect is to extend these Covenantal blessings to all nations (as we see here with Abraham). To be marked as God’s is to be placed on mission.

Ishmael was still joined to the covenant! Praise God for his gratuitous grace!

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Lent 2013 is on the way. What are you doing?


Munch-melancholyNext Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which kicks off Lent, the time of year in which we our sins and shortcomings weigh on our minds and shoulders a little more than usual, that we might feel their sting, and that might propel us to Christ.

Lent is always a very meaningful time for me spiritually. It is my most fruitful time of blogging and meditating, and I hope that today is similar. This is probably because I’m wired to be extra sensitive to the quieter, subtler movements of my own heart.

I can also be prone to despair over my inability to change or grow, but even in the midst of the difficulty and darkness of this season, there’s always the dawn of Easter ever-more cresting upon the Lenten horizon.

Historically, there have been many ways that the Church had engaged in this time, and so there is great freedom in how we might do that. This is how I’m engaging in Lent this season: Continue reading