New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 28: Acts 1-5

Today we begin something new that is neither here nor there. Acts is not a letter, like so much of the rest of the New Testament will be. But it’s not a gospel, like the first four books we’ve read. Luke makes clear that it’s a sequel of sorts to his gospel.

“In the first book [i.e. Luke], Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning” Acts 1:1.

Compare Luke 1:1ff-

“Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”

Who is Theophilus? We don’t know. It could be Luke’s patron, who is sponsoring him to research and write about these things. It could be a Christian Luke wished to educate. Or it could be Christians in general, since it means “lover of God.” Are we meant to see ourselves as theophiloi, to whom Luke is writing? Regardless, Luke gives us the narrative Acts of the Apostles. Much of it is unique, some overlaps with parts of Paul’s letters. Remember, Luke (like Mark) is neither an eyewitness or apostle himself, but was mission companions to an Apostle. Luke and Mark both accompanied Paul, though tradition records that Mark also accompanied Peter.

1:18– Note the contrast between Judas’ death here (which explains the name of a local field in Aramaic) and Matthew 27:5, where Judas goes and hangs himself. Here, however, he “falls” head first, and his guts burst out. Note also, in Matthew, he throws the money back at the priests, who buy the field; here Judas buys the plot of land (or small field) he dies in.

Via wikipedia

Via wikipedia

C.S. Lewis had some remarkable views of scripture. I wrote recently about his view that inspired scripture could adopt, adapt, and transform Babylonian myth. Here too, he offers a mature opinion.

“Whatever view we hold of the divine authority of Scripture must make room for…. the apparent inconsistencies between the genealogies in Matt. i and Luke ii; with the accounts of the death of Judas in Matt. xxvii 5 and Acts i 18-19….It seems to me that [this and other facts] rule out the view that every statement in Scripture must be historical truth.”- C.S. Lewis on Scripture, as quoted here.

At least here, “Augustine [followed by many others] harmonizes by suggesting he hanged himself and then fell.” – David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament CommentaryOr as the Faithlife Study Bible (a free resource from Logos) says it,

“Luke records that Judas purchased the property and fell headlong. Matthew records that religious leaders bought the field and that Judas hung himself (Matt 27:3–8). The two accounts can be compatible: Judas hung himself and, as a result, fell and burst open on the ground. The religious leaders bought the property in his name following his suicide.”

That’s a possibility. But we need to be prepared for those times that competing or contrasting narratives of the same event can’t be so easily reconciled. Scripture is messy like that.

2:1 Pentecost is the Greek name of Shavu’ot, or the Feast of Weeks, which took place 50 days after Passover. Acts 1:3 reports in amazing brevity that the resurrected Jesus had been with them for 40 of those days, “speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” That’s all scripture says, though (as is often the case), non-biblical literature filled in the gaps with imagination. Hugh Nibley wrote on it, of course, as did Griggs and Brown in The Ensign.

At the pentecostal gathering in Jerusalem, Peter and the other apostles are heard to speak in a variety of languages, to people from all over the Mediterranean. As N.T Wright points out, there’s some deep biblical allusion here. Back in Genesis, at the tower of Babel, God divides the people by causing them to speak many languages instead of one. But here, by causing them to speak many languages, God begins to unite the people into one body under the gospel umbrella. This is the beginning of the gospel going to all people, every nation, tongue, and language.

“Luke is implying, with the day of Pentecost this curse is itself overturned; in other words, God is dramatically signalling that his promises to Abraham are being fulfilled, and the whole human race is going to be addressed with the good news of what has happened in and through Jesus…. Granted, all the people present were Jewish or at least proselytes (Gentiles who had converted to Judaism), since the reason they were in Jerusalem was to attend the Jewish festival. But they had come from all over, from countries each of which would have its own native language and local dialects. Luke gives the list of where they came from in a great sprawling sweep, covering tens of thousands of square miles, from Parthia and Mesopotamia in the north and east to Rome in the west and Egypt and Arabia in the south, together with the island of Crete. The point is not to give an exact list of precisely where everyone came from in the crowded city of Jerusalem that day, but to splash across the page the sense of a great polyglot company all hearing words spoken in their own language.”- Tom Wright, Acts for Everyone

What’s the result of this multi-linguality?

“12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

In other words, some only heard babbling, and assumed they were drunk (although as Peter points out, it was only 9 am.)

It’s entirely possible for us to witness something miraculous and yet have rendered ourselves incapable of perceiving it fully. C.S. Lewis illustrated this in The Last Battle. Several dwarves, as well as some of Aslan’s disciples, have been thrown into what appears to be a dark stable. The dwarves perceive it as such, but others find themselves in a sunny field with the door they have been thrown through freestanding in the middle of it. Aslan appears.

“Aslan,” said Lucy through her tears, “could you – will you – do something for these poor Dwarfs?”
“Dearest,” said Aslan, “I will show you both what I can, and what I cannot, do.” He came close to the Dwarfs and gave a low growl: low, but it set all the air shaking. But the Dwarfs said to one another, “Hear that? That’s the gang at the other end of the stable. Trying to frighten us. They do it with a machine of some kind. Don’t take any notice. They won’t take us in again!”

Aslan raised his head and shook his mane. Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarfs’ knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn’t much use. They began eating and drinking greedily enough, but it was clear that they couldn’t taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sort of things you might find in a stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had a bit of an old turnip and a third said he’d found a raw cabbage leaf. And they raised golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said “Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of a trough that a donkey’s been at! Never thought we’d come to this.”…. “Well, at any rate there’s no Humbug here. We haven’t let anyone take us in. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.”

“You see, ” said Aslan. “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.

When we hear the gospel preached, are we spiritually sensitive enough to hear salvation, or do we hear incomprehensible babbling? If the latter, how do we change?

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