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Paul’s use of scripture in Acts 13 is a complicated issue, but it gives us insight into the way the early Christians used the Hebrew Bible.  I want to focus on the description of David in verse 22.  Paul combines several verses to describe David.  This combination is significant since Isaiah 44:28 is clearly messianic.  1 Clement 8:1 uses the same texts together; it is unclear whether Clement is using them because he knows Acts 13, or that these texts were drawn together as messianic texts prior to Paul.  This is possible, since there is reasonable warrant for the texts to be interpreted together in the rabbinic method of exegesis.  To my knowledge, there is no evidence outside of Christian sources for this collation of texts.

  • Psalm 89:20 – “I have found David…” In this verse David is described as the servant of the Lord who has been anointed with “sacred oil” by the Lord himself.  In this Psalm, David is described as the one who is sustained by the Lord’s mighty arm verse 21), the one who will call out to God as father (verse 26), and the one who is appointed as the Lord’s firstborn (verse 27).
  • 1 Samuel 13:14 -“…a man after God’s own heart.”  This description of David occurs in the context of Saul’s failure as king.  Samuel states that the Lord as already sought out the man after his own heart; his kingdom will endure in contrast to Saul’s kingdom.
  • Isaiah 44:28 – “…who will do all I want him to do.”  The servant of the Lord in Isaiah 44 is Cyrus the Great, the man who allowed the Jews to return to Judea after the exile.  This text calls him a shepherd and the Lord’s anointed.
  • Possibly 1 Sam 16:1, David as the son of Jesse.

By blending these three texts together, Paul is setting up his declaration that Jesus as the Messiah ultimate fulfills the messianic prophecy of the Hebrew Bible.  he is the one who is in fact the son of God, anointed not with sacred oil, but with the Holy Spirit in power, and will be the ultimate fulfillment of the suffering servant anticipated by Is 53.

The Lord “raises up” David, Paul uses the word in verse 30 for the resurrection of Jesus. Just as The Lord raised David up to be the king, so too Jesus was raised up from the dead to be the ultimate king.

The reason Paul includes the preaching of John may be that there were disciples of John the Baptist in Asia Minor. We will return to this idea in Acts 19, but for now we can simply observe that there were disciples of John who did not follow Jesus.  The reasons are unclear, but perhaps they simply left Judea for their homes in Asia Minor before Jesus began his ministry, and were therefore unaware of the ministry of Jesus.  Paul’s point here is that John was not the messiah himself, but rather a witness to the coming Messiah.  The words of this sermon reflect a knowledge of John’s words as recording in Luke 3 as well.

This weaving of texts to make a point is common in the Second Temple Period and shows that Paul’s way of thinking about scripture is not all that different than other contemporary Jewish scholars.  In fact, the reason Paul gained a hearing in the Synagogue is that he read the same texts from the Hebrew Bible and offered a fresh perspective.  Whether the Jewish audience agreed with Paul or not, they would have been impressed with his exegesis.

This is a good place to stop and think about applying the book of Acts once again.  Few pastors would think of weaving texts together they way Paul does here. In fact, most Seminary exegesis professors would probably fail a student that tried to get away with this sort of thing.  Yet here the method is in Scripture, modeled for us by the Apostle Paul.  What are we to make of this?

Let me make a simple suggestion – Paul used the method of communication which was best for a Synagogue sermon.  When he speaks on Mars Hill, his communication style is different, so scripture is cited although much of the theology of the Hebrew Bible is present.  There is a certain pragmatism here, Paul uses his training in order to effectively communicate in the synagogue, the marketplace, or Mars Hill. Yet in each context, the message of Jesus is clear.  The method of communication is adaptable, the message is not.

Acts 13 contains the first of several “sermons” given by Paul.  Luke is clearly summarizing since the sermon is a mere 25 verses long, taking no more than a couple of minutes to read.  Since the sermon follows the blinding of Bar-Jesus, it is likely that the sermon serves as an explanation of the events on Cyprus, but it is also a representative “synagogue” sermon for Paul.

Schnabel points out that there are three movements in the sermon (Paul the Missionary, 158-9).  Paul first reviews Israel’s history from the Patriarchs through John the Baptist (verses 16-25).  In the second movement, Paul declares the importance of Jesus in the light of this history (Verses 26-37).  It is in this section that Paul carefully weaves several texts form the Hebrew Bible together to make the point that Jesus fulfils the promise made to Abraham.  The final part of the sermon is the call to repentance (verse 29-41).  Like Peter and Stephen, Paul calls his listeners to respond to the message that Jesus is the Christ, although the repentance here in Paul’s sermon is not related to the killing of Jesus, nor does he declare that the “times of refreshing will come.”  Now repentance is connected with justification and forgiveness of sins (verses 38-39).

This is a significant development.  In Acts 2 and 3, Peter’s sermon was directed at people who had themselves witnessed the events of the crucifixion and resurrection, and even participated in those events (cf. 2:23).  No one in the synagogue at Antioch would have been at Jerusalem so they could not be accused of participating in the crucifixion.  Paul’s sermon adds a new element – forgiveness of sins.  But there is a radical element here:   Paul says that through Jesus one can have forgiveness of sins in a way that the Mosaic Law could not provide (37-38).

While the first parts of this sermon were quite similar to that of Peter and Stephen, Paul now calls for a much different response than Peter did.  Peter declared that those who repent will be a part of the coming kingdom.  In Acts 2 and 3 the repentance is of a sin of ignorance, the sin of killing the Messiah.  Since the people acted in ignorance, they may repent and find forgiveness.

Now Paul says that the “one who believes is justified,” but in a way that the Law could never justify.  There is a great deal of “Pauline theology” in this verse, since the Mosaic Law allowed for “sins of ignorance” to be forgiven through a sacrifice.  If one sinned intentionally (“with a high hand”) then a sacrifice could not be made.  Deliberate, premeditated breach of the Law could not find “justification” through a sacrifice.  Paul is not talking about the sin of killing the Messiah, but rather of deliberate sins done with forethought and intention, and he is saying that one who  believes is the one that receives justification.

Is this a development away from the Law?  I think so, Paul is declaring that God granting forgiveness in a new way, one that might very well have been unanticipated in the Hebrew Bible.

Barnabas and Saul arrive at Paphos they are challenged by a “sorcerer and false prophet” named Bar-Jesus, or Bar-Joshua. Bar-Jesus was a counselor for Sergius Paulus, the Roman proconsul on Cyprus.  Thus Bar-Jesus was a very powerful man in the government His name means “son of the Savior,” but he is also known as Elymas, meaning “Wise” in Arabic.

Sergius Paulus wishes to meet with Saul, but Bar-Jesus opposes this meeting.  Paul is described as “full of the Spirit” as he condemns Bar-Jesus.  Paul accuses him of trickery and deceit, and perverting the ways of the Lord.  Paul then blinds the man, and he had to be led away. This is in itself a rather unique event in the New Testament, but the miracle is also a symbolic act.   There are a number of miracles in the New Testament which are more or less “prophetic acts.”  Jesus heals a blind man in Mark 8:22-26 who begins to see, then sees fully.  This is a picture of the understanding of the disciples at that point in the gospel of Mark.  The result is that the Gentile man who is not a God-Fearer believed and was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.

Luke uses the Blinding of Bar-Jesus at this point in Acts to signal a major shift to Gentile mission.  Luke begins to refer to Saul and Paul.  The change occurs in the middle of the conflict with Bar-Jesus.   Likely Saul was always also known as Paul, but it is at this critical part of the story when Luke chooses to change names in the narrative.  This indicates a major shift in the progress of salvation history, from the Jews to the Gentiles.

Luke also switches the order of the names from this point on in the book; up until this event, Barnabas and Saul have traveled together, now Paul and Barnabas will travel on to Antioch.  The only exception is at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, likely because Barnabas took the lead in speaking with James.  On a literary level, Paul is the main human character for the rest of the book; the blinding of Bar-Jesus is the transitional point in the whole book.

Paul and Bar-Jesus are in many ways similar: both were blind and both encounter the truth of the Gospel of Jesus.  As Darrell Bock says, “Elymas is where Paul was years earlier” (Acts, 446).  But Bar-Jesus is radically off-base from the Law.  He is a sorcerer and working for a Roman official.  While Paul condemns this one man for his unfaithfulness, he is also pointing his finger at the whole of the Jewish nation; Paul too was in error concerning the nature of Jesus as the Messiah.

It is critical to note that Bar-Jesus is blind only for a time, not permanently.  So too, Israel is only set aside in the progress of salvation, they are not “cut off forever.”  If this is a symbolic miracle indicating that the Jews are “blinded” to the gospel, it also promises a restoration of the Jewish people in the future.

The audio for this week’s evening service is available at Sermon.net, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer.

This is Paul’s first sermon in Acts, and as such it is an important insight into how Paul addressed a Hellenistic audience in a Synagogue.  Luke shows that Paul was equally at home preaching in a Synagogue as he was discussing philosophy on Mars Hill (Acts17).  While this seems a bit obscure, I want to unpack some things I said on Jan 26 about Paul’s method of exegesis here.  He is reading scripture in a way which would have been perfectly acceptable in a first century Hellenistic synagogue and is using Jewish midrashic techniques.

The description of David in 13:22 is an example of a typically rabbinic method of interpreting scripture.  Paul combines several verses to describe David.  This combination is significant since Isaiah 44:28 is clearly messianic. (We can include 1 Sam 16:1 as well:  David, the son of Jesse, but this is a bit of well know history)

  • Psalm 89:20 – “I have found David…” In this verse David is described as the servant of the Lord who has been anointed with “sacred oil” by the Lord himself.  In this Psalm, David is described as the one who is sustained by the Lord’s mighty arm verse 21), the one who will call out to God as father (verse 26), and the one who is appointed as the Lord’s firstborn (verse 27)
  • 1 Sam 13:14 -“…a man after God’s own heart.” This description of David occurs in the context of Saul’s failure as king.  Samuel states that the Lord as already sought out the man after his own heart; his kingdom will endure in contrast to Saul’s kingdom.  The key word which connects this text to Ps 89:20 is “to find.”  In 1 Sam 13:14, God says he will find a man after his heart (in contrast to Saul); in Ps 89:20 he has found David.
  • Is 44:28 – “…who will do all I want him to do.” The servant of the Lord in Isaiah 44 is Cyrus the Great, the man who allowed the Jews to return to Judea after the exile.  This text calls him a shepherd and the Lord’s anointed.  This is clearly a messianic text, and is one of the few texts in the latter prophets which calls an individual “messiah.”  What is more, the servant in this text anticipates the Servant Songs, especially Isaiah 53, a clearly messianic text and one which was quickly applied to Jesus.

By blending these three texts together, Paul is setting up his declaration that Jesus as the Messiah ultimate fulfills the messianic prophecy of the Hebrew Bible.  he is the one who is in fact the son of God, anointed not with sacred oil, but with the Holy Spirit in power, and will be the ultimate fulfillment of the suffering servant anticipated by Is 53.

In a Christian text written about A.D. 95 from Rome, we find the same use of these texts.  1 Clement 18:1 has a line which is virtually identical to this verse in Acts 13, but Clement does not quote Acts elsewhere in his letter.  In addition, Clement’s point is to use David as model of humility, not a proof that Jesus is the davidic messiah.

It is possible that Clement is citing Acts, even though his point is quite different.  But it is equally possible that he is citing a traditionally collation of texts which were drawn together as messianic texts prior to Paul.  This is possible, since there is reasonable warrant for the texts to be interpreted together in the rabbinic method of exegesis.  This could be a part of the preaching of the earliest apostles (who functioned as teachers and preachers in the Temple), or it could be a bit of rabbinic exegesis pre-dating the New Testament period which Paul knew and re-applied to Jesus.

Many scholars have pointed out that this sermon in the synagogue is in many ways parallel to Jesus’ own (brief) sermon in Luke 4. (The term used is “paradigmatic” in that they give us an overview of the ministry which is to follow.) I would add to this Peter’s sermons in Acts 2-3 in the temple which follow the same pattern. There are a number of parallels between Jesus in Luke 4 and Paul in Acts 13.

In the case of Jesus and Paul, the sermon serves as a part of the synagogue reading and interpretation of scripture. While Peter is not in a synagogue, that he is in the Temple indicates that he has an audience of well-educated and religiously minded people.

In all three cases, the Hebrew Bible is used to show that what is happening now is the fulfillment of prophecy. While Jesus comments only on Isaiah 61, Peter and Paul draw together many texts to show that Jesus is the Messiah and his suffering was part of the plan of God.

Reaction to all three of these sermons is initial interest, but quickly followed by violent rejection. Jesus and Paul are more or less run out of the synagogue; Peter is soon arrested and told to be silent.

We might be tempted to describe these sermons as failures in that they fail to convince the crowd. But if they are in fact paradigmatic, then they are a success since in all three cases they do indicate how the ensuing narrative develops. Jesus preaches the kingdom and heals, Paul continues to turn to the Gentiles.

We know that a similar sermon and reaction is given in Acts 18 and 28, so it seems to me that Paul probably preached this sort of sermon whenever he was in a synagogue. Naturally he would turn to the Hebrew Bible with the intention of proving that Jesus is the Messiah when he had an audience which knew the scriptures and was perhaps looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. What is significant about Paul’s sermon is the conclusion – shaking the dust of his cloak and turning to the Gentiles of Antioch. Paul is willing to break from the synagogue in order to draw more and more Gentiles to salvation.

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