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After a successful time in the synagogue in Thessalonica, charges are made against Paul before the local Roman authorities (Acts 17:1-9). The charges against Paul are significant: he is accused of “defying the decrees of Caesar” and “advocating another king, Jesus.”  Given the recent history of Thessalonica, these are dangerous charges indeed.

Upside DownFirst, Paul and his companions are troublemakers. This could be standard rhetoric, although it does seem that wherever Paul goes there is trouble. But Rome did not particular care for trouble-makers. In fact, this phrase (οἱ τὴν οἰκουμένην ἀναστατώσαντες οὗτοι) literally means the ones who are turning the world upside down.”  Kavin Rowe uses this phrase as the title for his excellent book subtitled “Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age.” As he points out in his chapter on Acts 17, to “turn the world upside down” is a grave accusation in the Roman world (p. 96). Luke used the phrase later in Acts to describe the revolutionary activities of the Sicarii, actions that will result in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem (Acts 21:38). It is possible to take this phrase not as “they are troublemakers” but rather as “they are rebels against the Roman Empire.”

Second, they subvert the decrees of Caesar. In 1 Thess 1:9 Paul says that the congregation has “turned form idols.” Obviously any pagan Gentiles saved during Paul’s time in the city would have turned from whatever idols they worshiped. But this “turning from idols” must have included the Roman cult.  If this is the case, then turning from the Roman cult could be understood as an act of disloyalty.  It is possible then that Gentile God-fearers still participated in some form of official cult, despite worshiping in the synagogue.

Third, they advocate another king, Jesus.  In 1 Thess 4 and 5 Paul clearly teaches that Jesus is coming back in power and he will establish his own glorious kingdom (1 Thess 2:19, for example).  This could easily be understood in terms of a change of emperors, that the empire of Rome was about to be supplanted with the empire of Jesus. It is clear, at least for Kavin Rowe, that “the figure to whom King Jesus is juxtaposed is beyond a doubt the Roman emperor” (p. 99).

Fourth, Paul’s preaching of the gospel challenges the truth of pax Romana. In 1 Thess 5:3, Paul says that when Jesus returns, it will be at a time when people are saying “peace and safety,” but they will in fact be destroyed.  Peace and security is exactly what was promised by the Empire, pax Romana meant that the empire was a safe and peaceful place to live.  Paul says there that the peace of Rome is an illusion.

All of this points to the radical nature of Paul’s gospel from a Roman perspective.  After the Jerusalem Council, we are well aware of how radical the gospel is from a Jewish perspective.  But now we see how dangerous the idea of Jesus can be from a Roman imperial perspective.  Paul is declaring that Jesus is the Real King and that his empire of peace is going to overwhelm the so-called peace of Rome.  This alternative way of viewing the world provoked violent reactions from Rome.

All this leads me to wonder how we can present this “radical” the Gospel to the world today. Does the message of the Grace of God really appear to be “turning the world upside down”?

When Paul begins to work in a new location, he often visits a local synagogue first. But when Paul arrives in Philippi he visits worshipers by a river because there was no synagogue in the city. Access to water was an important factor for Diaspora Jews, so it is not unusual to find a group worshiping at a river. Since Luke calls this “a place of prayer,” Keener suggests this is not a group that would normally constitute a synagogue (3:2387). Since Paul talks to the women at the river, it is possible this is a group of Jewish women gathered to pray on the Sabbath. It is somewhat ironic Paul responds to a vision of a man calling him to preach in Macedonia by visiting a group of women praying on the Sabbath.

LydiaLydia was worshiping with the Jewish women outside of the city near a stream. She is identified as a “worshiper of God” (σεβομένη τὸν θεόν) from Thyatira, implying she was a Greek who was attracted to the practice of Judaism. Gentile women were often attracted to Judaism, so much so that Celsus could complain Christian spread through women (Keener 3:2391).

It is possible Lydia was a wealthy freedwoman and perhaps a widow. She invites Paul and his travelling companions to her home, which implies a larger than average home, Keener suggests a domus, a Roman house with an atrium with ample space to host a new church (3:2404). While she was probably not among the elite of the city, Luke does include several reports of prominent people accepting the gospel in the book. Since her husband is not mentioned in Acts 16, it is possible Lydia was widowed, giving her some wealth and independence.

Some have understood her job as a “seller of purple” is sometimes taken to imply a higher-than-average status. She ran an export business moving purple-dyed goods from Thyatira to Philippi. Purple goods were costly, so there is an implication that Lydia was wealthy. Sellers of purple are sometimes included in “Caesar’s household” (NewDocs, 2:26). Since Lydia is a Greek woman worshiping the God of Israel, she is a close parallel to Cornelius in status. This is another intentional parallel between Peter and Paul: both preach the gospel to a prominent God-fearer.

Luke says “the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to believe.” This is similar to Luke 24:45; Jesus opens the hearts of his disciples so that they could understand the scripture. Lydia believers because the Lord enables her to understand and accept the Gospel as Paul preached it. A similar usage appears in 2 Macc 1:4, may the Lord “open your hearts” (διανοίξαι τὴν καρδίαν ὑμῶν) to understand his commandments.

As a result of Lydia’s faith, her household comes to faith in Jesus and she offers hospitality to Paul and his ministry team. Keener considers this a potentially “scandalous hospitality” since teachers who attracted too many female followers were suspicious. But in the context of Luke 16, a male prison guard will also offer hospitality to Paul (16:34). Like the members of the Jerusalem church selling property to support community, Lydia opens her home and (apparently) hosts the growing church at Philippi.

There are several reasons the story of Lydia is important in Acts, but also as a point of application when reading the book of Acts. What does Paul reaching out to this particular woman say for “doing church” today? How can this story be a model for ministry?

In Acts 16:3, Paul circumcised Timothy, a Hellenistic Jew who begins to travel with Paul during the second missionary journey.  The problem is Paul’s reasons for circumcising Timothy at this time. The whole point of the conference in Acts 15 was to deal with the issue of circumcision for converts. Gentile converts should not be circumcised since they are not under the Mosaic Covenant. One option is to dismiss this story as a fiction created by Luke to create the appearance of unity in the Early Church (F.C. Baur). Since it does not seem likely the Paul of Galatians would have circumcised Timothy, this story is taken as evidence Luke to not know Paul or the letter of Galatians. Or perhaps Paul was just inconsistent in the application of the decision of the council.

Timothy_stained-glassThe traditional answer for this dilemma is rooted in Luke’s description of Timothy’s parents in Acts 16:3. Since his mother was a Jew, his father was a Greek, he would have been considered ethnically Jewish. The ruling that the one’s status as a Jew was traced through the mother’s line dates back to the time of Ezra and the Mishnah includes a similar ruling often dated to the first century (m.Qidd 3:12). While it is not absolutely certain that matrilinear descent was always followed in the first century, there appears to be enough evidence to say that likely was (Dunn, Beginning from Jerusalem, 664, n.23).

Shayne Cohen has challenged the relevance of these texts and argued Timothy was actually a Gentile who happened to have a Jewish mother (“Was Timothy Jewish (Acts 16:1-3): Patristic Exegesis, Rabbinic Law, And Matrilineal Descent,” JBL 105 [1986]: 251-268). He states “The Roman law of persons is completely irrelevant” for this case since there is no hint either of Timothy’s parents were Roman citizens. The Rabbinic texts often cited cannot be dated to the first century with any certainty. For Cohen, Ezra use of matrilineal descent is not relevant since it is not mentioned again in any Second Temple document other than the implication in Acts 16:3. Even if matrilineal descent was a principle in the first century, there is no evidence Hellenistic Jews in Asia Minor would have recognized it as valid. Finally, Cohen points out that no other New Testament text implies Timothy was a Jew. Even 2 Tim 1:5 does not require Timothy to be Jewish.

Yet Timothy is circumcised in Acts 16:3. I think it is wrong think Timothy was forced to be circumcised. He was complete agreement with Paul on this matter! I suggest that despite Cohen’s objections, from the perspective of the most observant Jew in Asia Minor, Timothy was a Jew, not a Gentile. Luke also tells us the reason Paul circumcised him was pressure from the Jews in Lystra and Iconium. They presumably knew Timothy was not circumcised and they would have made Timothy’s status with respect to the covenant the central issue whenever Paul attempted to preach the Gospel in a Jewish community.

Craig Keener sees this incident as an example of Luke’s literary-theological agenda (3:2321). After achieving unity on the issue of Gentile circumcision, Luke reports Paul did not excuse Jewish Christians from circumcision. Luke intentionally told this story after Acts 15 to emphasize the fact Paul was not a threat to Jewish heritage.

Does Paul do the right thing in requiring Timothy to keep the Law, even though he argues passionately in Galatians that those who are “in Christ” are not “under Law?”

[This is another post by a student in my Advanced Acts Studies seminar class, Camron Befus. Camron prepared a lecture on the conflict between Barnabas and Paul, so I asked him to write two blog posts on the topic.]

Argument 2Barnabas wishes to take his cousin John Mark on a second missionary journey Paul has proposed. But Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had already deserted them in Pamphylia and not continued with them in the work. They had such a “sharp disagreement that they parted company…” (Acts 15:38-39). Luke uses the word παροξυσμὸς for “sharp disagreement,” which is an odd choice of words to describe Paul’s disagreement. The word most often is used as “to stir to anger,” “to be irritated,” to do something that causes a person to get upset at a person. This is exactly what happened to Paul, as he was “provoked to anger” by Barnabas request.

This word is used in the Septuagint to describe God’s anger or wrath when he is provoked:

Deuteronomy 1:34-35 “When the Lord heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore: “No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors…”

Deuteronomy 29:27 “Therefore the Lord’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book.”

Jeremiah 32:37 (LXX 39:37) “I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety.”

Luke describes Paul as being very angry at Barnabas wishing to bring John Mark along, and we quickly see they even split up because of this disagreement. From Luke’s perspective Paul evidently believed he is in the right in this discussion. Luke chooses a word commonly used to describe the unfaithfulness of the Israelites towards God to describe Paul’s anger. Did Luke use this word because he was agreeing with Paul decision to be against John Mark coming on the trip? Or did Luke use this strong of a word for this disagreement because he was disappointed in Paul having such a strong reaction against his companion?

Some scholars believe Paul is the one who is in the wrong: he did not wait for the Holy Spirit’s leading to go on a second missionary journey. It was the Holy Spirit who had moved Paul and Barnabas to be commissioned and go on the first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-4). Perhaps God used Paul’s impatience to show him that good does not come from not waiting on God.

Paul was not going to change his mind about bringing John Mark and Barnabas must have felt the same way, so they parted ways. Their solution to the problem was to continue reaching the Gentiles, although they will no longer work together. Barnabas took John Mark to Cyprus and Paul recruited Silas and went to Derbe. They went to the towns Paul had visited on his first missionary journey.

What did Luke intended by using this particular word to describe Paul’s anger? Who was in the right in this conflict over John Mark?

[This is another post by a student in my Advanced Acts Studies seminar class, Camron Befus. Camron prepared a lecture on the conflict between Barnabas and Paul, so I asked him to write two blog posts on the topic.]

The first conflict in Paul’s ministry occurs over a particular person (Acts 15:37-40). Paul proposes to his colleague Barnabas to revisit the churchs they had planted from their first missionary journey (Acts 13-14). Barnabas agrees but wants to take John Mark along. Mark had accompanied them on their first missionary journey but abandoned them half way through the trip (Acts 13:13).

Businessmen fightingThe Bible gives no reason for John Mark’s rapid departure in Perga of Pamphylia. Scholars have speculated on the reason for his departure because it caused Paul to be against John Mark coming on the second missions trip. His abandoning the group appears to be the principal reason if not only reason for Paul not desiring him to join them. Some have speculated that John Mark was home sick and therefore decided to return to Jerusalem where his mother is believed to have lived (Acts 12:12).

Another reason for his quick departure was that, James the leader of the Jerusalem counsel, was keeping tabs on Paul and his new ministry, and John Mark was there for the wrong reason. He abandoned them after he had seen what Paul’s message was and reported back to the counsel.

It is also sometimes suggested John Mark was still immature in Paul’s eyes. Paul did not wish to bring a ministry in itself along on what was certain to be a difficult trip as Paul knew hardship and persecution was coming. Acts 15:38 says “but Paul did not think it wise to take him.” This phrase might be translated as, “Paul did not think him ready.” Another factor is that John Mark was the cousin of Barnabas (Col. 4:10) which meant he would most likely side with Barnabas on any discussion. Whatever the case for his departure Paul was against Barnabas’s desire to bring John Mark along.

Another area that might have contributed to Paul and Barnabas going separate ways is found in Gal. 2:11-13, “The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.” Barnabas is influenced by the men who were sent to Antioch. These men would not eat with the Gentiles and Barnabas joined them. This is important depending on how Gal 2 fits into the chronology of the book of Acts. If the Antioch Incident occurs after Acts 15, then Barnabas would have sided with Paul in the Jerusalem Counsel against circumcision but then back stabbed Paul because he was influencing the Gentiles to turn back to the Law. If it is placed before the Jerusalem Counsel occurs in Acts 15 then Barnabas would have sided and back Paul up at the Jerusalem counsel. This would have shown Paul his true understanding of the ministry to the Gentiles and that he had a backbone.

Many scholars have argued Gal 2 occurs before Acts 15, perhaps sometime in Acts 11. The reason for this is that in Gal 2 Paul states he went to Jerusalem to meet with the counsel by a revelation and meet in secret (Gal 2:1-2). This was done to further explain and understand the ministry God had called him to. He does the speaking to the counsel while in Acts 15 Paul is just a witness and Peter does the talking. In Acts 15 Paul does not go on his own accord but is sent by the church in Antioch who wanted to understand more thoroughly what to do when it came to circumcision.

Was Paul correct in splitting ways with Barnabas over John Mark? Was the main cause for Paul and Barnabas going separate ways because of the disagreement over John Mark or do you believe that something was adding to it as well? Was Luke trying to mask a bigger problem behind the disagreement over John Mark?

Saint JamesOne of the most interesting things about the Jerusalem meeting is that it is James who appears as a key leader and is described as rendering a decision on the matter of Gentiles and the Law (Acts 15:13-21). The structure of the Jerusalem community seems to center around elders, and James appears to be the leader of this group of elders. To take up a thread from earlier in the book, the Jerusalem community is living like a new Israel. In the early history of Israel, Moses led as a prophet, but through a council of 70 elders.

Within this community there are some who are “more conservative” with respect to the Law, primarily Pharisees (v.5). These Pharisees accept Jesus as the Messiah, but consider the Gentiles who are coming to Christ as a result of Paul’s mission as “joining Israel.” If the community thought of itself as new Israel, then Gentiles in Paul’s churches were like Gentiles who joined Israel in the Hebrew Bible. They ought to “convert” and accept Jewish Law and practice.

Luke intends his description of the meeting in Acts 15 to show to Theophilus that the church is an orderly independent entity that functions in a way that is similar to the Greco-Roman world. A question that effects the whole is presented to an assembly, which debates that issue and makes a decision that the whole accepts (Witherington, Acts, 451). Luke describes a report from Peter and Barnabas, explaining that the Holy Spirit has come upon Gentiles as it is the Jews at Pentecost, and that miracles are being done by the Holy Spirit among the Gentiles.

James states that it is not right to “trouble” the Gentiles with the Law. The verb παρενοχλέω is rare in the New Testament, only used in this passage. It does appears in 2 Macc 11:31 in a text describing the Jews being permitted to “enjoy their own food and laws” without being troubled by the Greek authorities. In that case, the Jews were not to be “troubled” over their keeping of boundary markers like circumcision or food laws, here in Acts the Gentiles are not to have the Law imposed upon them.

Perhaps James is the best to make the statement since he stands between the two parties, the Gentile Party represented by Paul, and the Circumcision party represented by the Pharisees. It is hard to know just how much “power” James has at this point, but the resolution seems to keep both sides happy.

I wonder if this solution really satisfied everyone, since Paul never (specifically) mentions it in his letters and he continues to have trouble with Judaizers.

 

Test in ProgressPeter reports his experience with Gentile salvation and argues that requiring Gentiles to keep the Law is placing an unnecessary yoke upon them (Acts 15:7-11).  He first briefly reminds the assembly of his encounter with Cornelius, a conversion which was confirmed by evidence from the Holy Spirit. At the time this was a shock to Peter and his companions, as well as to the Jerusalem community. Cornelius received the Spirit before he converted to Judaism. In hindsight, this may be the reason that the Spirit comes upon him even before baptism, so that there can be no question that Cornelius was saved apart from conversion.

When Peter describes the Law as a “yoke” on the Gentiles he is not necessarily criticizing the Law. In Judaism, the idea of being “yoked” to the Law is a positive image, although there is often the implication of completeness – if you are yoked to the Law, you are required to keep it all (Bock, Acts, 501).  To live under the yoke of the Torah or yoke of Wisdom was to live as God intended!

Sirach 51:26 Put your neck under (wisdom’s) yoke, and let your souls receive instruction; it is to be found close by.

PsSol 7.8-9 For you will have compassion on the people Israel forever and you will not reject (them); And we are under your yoke forever, and (under) the whip of your discipline.

Despite being given the Law, Peter says the forefathers were never able to “bear the yoke.” Luke 11:46 uses a similar phrase with respect to the traditions of the Pharisees, so it is possible Peter has traditions which go “beyond the Torah” in mind.  I really cannot see the requirement of circumcision for converts to Judaism as one of these sorts of burdens, however.

What is more, Peter calls the imposition of law on the Gentiles “testing God.” The verb is often used for testing something to see if it is genuine or a person to see if they will prove themselves to be true. Perhaps this is why Luke used πειράζω in 5:9, Sapphira “tests” the Holy Spirit in order to see if he will “prove true.” But to test God is always to invite disaster! Peter already knows if God has accepted a Gentile without circumcision and given the Gentiles the Holy Spirit, then it is dangerous for the Jerusalem community to require circumcision as a proof of God’s commitment to Gentile salvation.

Peter is agrees with Paul, God saves both Jew and Gentile by faith.  But God has only given the Law to Israel, not the Gentiles. He agrees with Paul’s claim that Gentiles are not converts to Judaism, although he may stop short of agreeing that Jews and Gentiles both are converts to something new, a new people of God which Paul will later call the “body of Christ” (Eph 3:1-6).  Peter is not saying that Jews ought to disregard Law, but only that Gentiles should not be given the additional of the Law.

What are the ramifications of Peter’s speech here in Acts 15? In the short term, this may sway James’s mind to accept Paul’s view of Gentiles and the Law, but do you think Peter’s views were enough to change thinking of the opponents of Paul in Galatia or in Antioch? Perhaps more interesting is the application of Peter’s agreement with Paul for modern church life and practice; do we “test God” today with any modern practices?

Church Keep OutThe first major controversy the early church dealt with strikes the modern reader a strange.  Rather than debating who Jesus was or beginning to develop the doctrine of the Trinity, the first major theological problem they need to solve was the status of the Gentile who has faith in Jesus.  Are Gentiles converting to Judaism? If so, at what level should they keep the Law? Are they “God Fearers”?  Are they Proselytes? If there is an implied secondary status for the Gentile believers, how does that status effect their participation in the church?

Why was circumcision of Gentiles such a controversial issue? In Acts 13-14 Paul had success among Gentiles and established several churches with mixed congregations of Jews and Gentiles. Some Gentiles may have been “God Fearers” who worshiped in the synagogues, but others may have been converts from paganism with no grounding in the ethics of the Hebrew Bible. Jews would have continued to keep the Law as Christians, but what about these Gentiles? Should they “fully convert” and submit to circumcision?

This was not a minor difference in practice. It was seriously controversial for several reasons. First, circumcision was a major factor in Jewish identity. Prior to the Maccabean revolt, the practice of circumcision was suppressed and families that had their son circumcised were put to death (1 Mac 1:60-61). Some Jews forcibly circumcised Jewish boys if their families did not follow the tradition (1 Mac 2:46). This imposition of circumcision was described as “They rescued the law out of the hands of the Gentiles and kings” (1 Macc 2:48). Given the rising Jewish national of the middle first century, it is not unexpected some Jews might insist on circumcision for all people claiming to be Jews, including the new Messiah Jesus movement.

Second, for many in the Greco-Roman world, circumcision was one of the most ridiculous practices of the Jews.  Marital, for example, seems to find a great deal of humor in the Jewish practice (Epigrams 7.35.3-4; 7,82, 11.94). The practice was seen as a strange mutilation of the flesh and a sign of extreme dishonor. For this reason, some Jewish men underwent surgery to reverse the makes of circumcision (1 Macc 1:15, see for example Neil J McEleney, “Conversion, Circumcision and the Law,” NTS 20 [1974]: 319-341.)

Third, Paul was teaching his Church in Galatian there is neither Jew nor Gentile in the Body of Christ (Gal 3:28). If Gentiles convert to Judaism, then the church is Jewish; if Jews rejects the Law and behave like Gentiles, then the church is “Gentile.” Paul’s point is God is creating something different than Judaism in the present age. The “church” is not a form of Judaism nor is it a Gentile mystery religion. The church in Paul’s view transcends ethnicity (neither Jew or Gentile), gender (neither male or female) and social boundaries (neither slave nor free).

Authorized-PersonsFor Paul, if the Gentiles are forced to keep the Jewish boundary markers, then they have converted to Judaism and they are not “in Christ.”  This would have been radical in the first century Jewish world, but it is still remarkably difficult for Christians two thousand years later.  There is a perception people have to “act like a Christian” to be right with God. There are certain “boundary markers” defining who is “in” and who is “out.” Most of the time these are unacceptable behaviors: matters of food and drink, entertainment, etc. While doctrine is important as well, I have seen more exclusion based on how someone looked before finding out what they believe.

I do not want to reduce the controversy over circumcision to a trite discussion over whether Christians can get tattoos. Acts 15 represents the first time Christians thought about what the people of God were in the new age of the Spirit. To what extent does modern Christianity elevate practice to the level of a boundary marker? Do we still exclude people from the Body of Christ on the basis of ethnicity or social status? How does the decision of Acts 15 speak to these issues?

[This post was written by Adam Renberg, one of my “Advanced Studies in Acts” students. They are helping teach my undergrad Acts class a few times this semester, so I thought I would give them “guest blogger” status.]

In Acts 14:8-10, we see the first recorded miracle of Paul’s ministry as he heals a paralytic. This man, who was crippled from birth, was healed after he listened to Paul speak (presumably a sermon). Paul then calls to him to stand up, where he jumps up and starts to walk. While this is an astounding miracle, this type of miracle does not seem to be unique to Paul and his ministry. One very similar miracle account, recorded by Luke, can be found in Acts 3:1-10.

st-paul-healing-the-cripple-at-lystraIn this pericope, Peter and John are at the temple gate and heal a man who was also lame from birth. The similarities are as follow: Both start with a cripple, lame from birth (3:2, 14:8); Both Apostles stare at the cripples (3:4, 14:9); Both Cripples leapt up (3:6, 14:9). Many commentators see the parallels of these two passages as intentional comparisons by Luke to make a statement about the authority and ministry of Paul and Peter.

While the comparisons are obvious, there are also some large differences. In Peter’s case, he preforms the miracle in Jerusalem on a Jewish man, preaching to a Jewish audience (they would not let Gentiles into the temple gates). In Acts 14, the cripple and audience are completely Gentile at this point. In Acts 3, the healed man praises God, while the man in Acts 14 doesn’t have any recorded praise. Lastly, Paul doesn’t use the name of Jesus during his miracle, although he more than likely used it when talking to the paralytic before his healing.

Comparisons are often made between Peter and Paul for this account, but this type of miracle found its roots in Jesus. In Luke 5:17-26, we find another healing of a lame man. In this case, the man’s friends bring him to Jesus by lowering him into the house, where Jesus forgives his sins and tells him to “get up and walk.” While there are more similarities and differences in this passage, one of the most important phrases used is “when Jesus saw their faith,” where Jesus heals them because of their faith. This phrase, and its variations (such as, “your faith has made you well”) is very Lukan, not unlike Matthew’s use of “Kingdom of Heaven.”

With this in mind, what was Luke’s purpose in recording Paul’s miracle in Acts 14? If Luke intentionally compared it to Peter’s Miracle in Acts 3, it would seem that Luke is trying to compare Peter and Paul’s ministry to present validity and purpose to both of their missions. As it is the first recorded miracle of both Peter and Paul, one could argue that Luke was demonstrating that God ordained each of these men’s ministries. But as Peter’s miracle and sermon were successful in this passage, Paul’s seems to be a “failure” with little to no converts, and a stoning.

One the other hand, is it possible that Luke (in Luke 5) was alluding to Jesus when he uses the miracle account in Acts 14 to echo Jesus’ voice? Like Paul, Jesus was met with amazement, but also opposition from the Pharisees… the same party who more than likely sent the Jews to Lystra to stone Paul. If this were Luke’s intention, he would be giving Paul even more authority in comparing him directly to Jesus, making it obvious from whom Paul received his calling.

The last option is that Luke was not trying to allude to any other passages of scripture, and simply liked the phrase “your faith has made you well” when recounting miracles. He may have used a specific methodology for miracles, and all of these accounts fell under that “template.”

Do you think that Luke was trying to create allusions and comparisons between the ministry of Paul and Peter? Or Jesus? If this were the case, what should we infer from this comparison today?

 

After leaving Antioch, Paul and Barnabas travel 85-90 miles southeast to Iconium.  Like Psidian Antioch, Iconium was a large Roman city with a Jewish population. It is possible that Iconium was a Roman colony; it was given the privilege of calling itself Claudiconium just before Paul’s visit, and may have been awarded colony status at that time (Keener 2:2110 suggests the honor was not granted until the time of Hadrian). In Acts 14:1 Luke reports that among those who believed were “Hellenes,” perhaps an indication that these are not Roman citizens but rather the native Greek population.

Hercules Sarcophagus (ca. 250–260 AD)

Hercules Sarcophagus (ca. 250–260 AD)

Paul and Barnabas go “as usual” to the synagogue to preach. Luke intends this episode to be parallel to Antioch.  Paul did the same sorts of things in whatever town he visits; first seeking out the synagogue he teaches from the Hebrew Bible that Jesus is the Christ.  At some point he separates from the synagogue and begins to develop the converts into leaders who can take over that ministry when he leaves.

Luke reports a “great number” of Jews and Gentiles believe, but they are influenced by the Jews who “refused to believe.” These Jews are described as disobedient; the Greek word ἀπειθέω is always used for disobedience toward God in the New Testament (Rom 11:30; Deut 1:26).  They are not sinful or evil people, but there is more going on here than “they were unpersuaded.” They have rejected Paul’s message and they incite the Gentiles in Iconium against Paul.  This is the same word (ἐπεγείρω) Luke used in 13:50 when the Jews in Antioch stirred up trouble for Paul.

In addition, they “poisoned the minds” of the Gentiles against Paul and his message (ἐκάκωσαν τὰς ψυχὰς τῶν ἐθνῶν).  The verb κακόω has the sense of making someone angry or embittered; here it is used idiomatically to indicate that Paul’s rivals are putting ideas into the heads of the Gentiles in order to make them change their positive view of Paul.  It is perhaps significant that this verb is used in LXX Is 53:7 to describe the suffering of the messianic servant.

Both Jews and Gentiles plot to kill Paul because of the controversy, and he is forced to flee the city.  We are not given the details, but it appears that opposition to Paul went to the authorities of Iconium.  To mistreat is a fairly rare Greek word which Luke used in 18:32 to describe the treatment of Jesus. The verb ὑβρίζω has the idea of scoffing, insulting, etc., but is often associated with other words which indicate an escalation of abuse from “scoffing” to physical torment and death.  In Matt 22:6 the verb describes the treatment of the king’s servants, some of whom were killed. In 1 Thess 2:2 Paul used the verb to describe his own treatment in Philippi, which included flogging and imprisonment in stocks.

Paul and Barnabas find out about the plot and leave Iconium for Lystra.  This is not necessarily to be understood as an act of cowardice. Paul is willing to be beaten and die for his message (as he will in Lystra in this same chapter).

In the context of Acts, this is really the first time Paul has preached his message to Gentiles in a public forum. In Antioch the reaction was anger and he was forced to leave. In Iconium Paul’s message is also soundly rejected by some, but others accepted it and a church is founded in the city. What is significant is the violent response to his message. What is it about Paul’s message that evokes this level of violence from the Jews in the Synagogue? While it is possible a resurrected messiah is enough to provoke committed Jews into a strong, even violent response, perhaps there is more to Paul’s preaching in the region.

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