Acts 1:6 – “Will You Now Restore the Kingdom to Israel?”

In Acts 1:6, some disciples wonder if Jesus was now going to “restore the kingdom to Israel.” This question is reminiscent of the Olivet Discourse in Luke 21:5-37, where the disciples ask about the coming judgment on the Temple. When they asked “when will this happen” in Luke 21, Jesus’ answer implied that it would happen very soon, within a generation (Luke 21:32).

What prompts the question is Jesus’ command to remain in Jerusalem until they are baptized with the Holy Spirit “not many days from now.” As Keener observes, talk of the Spirit’s outpouring was de facto eschatological in character” (Acts, 1:682). Many texts from the Hebrew Bible indicate that the eschatological age would be characterized by the Spirit of God on all his people (Joel 2:28-31, which Peter quotes in the next chapter, but also Isa 42:1, 44:3, 59:21). If the Spirit is coming, then the time of the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel must be soon.

Return of the KingAfter the resurrection of Jesus, it was only natural for the disciples to think that Jesus would now enter the Temple in the power and glory of his resurrection and begin to reform the religion of Israel and begin the process of evangelizing the nations. This was a clear expectation of the Messiah’s activity. Beginning with the people of God, Messiah would either convert the enemies of Israel or destroy them. On a historical level, the question the disciples ask resonates with many other Jews living in the mid 30’s A.D.

The verb translated “restore” here (ἀποκαθίστημι) is a key eschatological term. It appears in Malachi 4:6 (LXX 3:23) and LXX Daniel 4:26, and it anticipates Acts 3:21 where the word appears in an eschatological context. The hope of Israel was that the kingdom would be restored to them as the prophets had predicted (Isa 2:2, 49:6; Jer 16:15; 31:27-34).

Isaiah 2:2-4 In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. 3Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

In fact, Luke began his first book with the hope of the coming Messiah in the Song of Zechariah (Luke 1:69-74) as well as the words of Simeon in the Temple (Luke 2:24-32).

The disciples expect Jesus to tell them that he is in fact about to restore the Kingdom and take his father David’s throne in Jerusalem. Much like the crowds in Luke 19:11, the disciples expect the Kingdom of God, as described by the prophets, to arrive at that moment.

Yet it is no surprise when Jesus reminds them it is not for them to known when the kingdom will be restored. The idea of an interim period between the present and the coming kingdom is well known in Second Temple Period Judaism. For example in 4 Ezra 4:33-37 the prophet asks “How long and when will these things be? Why are our years few and evil?” The answer in this late first century text is that “the time of threshing is delayed for the righteous—on account of the sins of those who dwell on earth.” The interim is to be used wisely. The new age will certainly dawn, but in the meantime the righteous will continue to labor. Many of Jesus’ parables have a similar theme (the Ten Virgins in Matt 25:1-14, for example).

As for the disciples, they are called to be witnesses to the good news of Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and all the earth. To some extent, the kingdom is about to begin in the Temple in a manner which is not unlike what many expected. That the kingdom would be given to a group of Galileans rather than a faction within Judaism (Pharisees, Essenes, etc.) was not expected at all. These men are quite literally the most unlikely group of people to be commissioned with the task of announcing the Messiah to Israel and then the rest of the world!

Book Giveaway – The Gospel of John and Christian Theology, edited by Richard Bauckham and Carl Mosser (Eerdmans, 2008)

Bauckham, Gospel of JohnSummer is over and it is time to get back into the swing of a new semester.Actually, I just finished teaching an Early Fall OT Survey course for freshmen, so I have been swinging things for a while. But I still want to celebrate the beginning of a new school year with the traditional Reading Acts book giveaway. As regular readers know, I occasionally purchase a book and when I put it on the shelf I discover I already owned the book. Although this is embarrassing (and possibly a sign of old age), it is good news for readers of this blog since I usually set the book aside for a giveaway.

First up this year is a volume of essays on The Gospel of John and Christian Theology edited by Richard Bauckham and Carl Mosser (Eerdmans, 2008). According to the Eerdmans website, the book is now out of print, although print on demand copies are available. The essays in the collection were first presented at the first St. Andrews University Conference on Scripture and Theology in 2003. This explains the diversity of essays in the book from biblical studies to theology, including “big names” such as Rowan Williams, Miroslav Volf and Jürgen Moltmann.

Here is the table of contents:

  • Johannine Dualism and Contemporary Pluralism, Stephen C. Barton
  • Johannine Dualism and Contemporary Pluralism Miroslav Volf
  • Christianizing Divine Aseity: Irenaeus Reads John D. Jeffery Bingham
  • Anglican Approaches to St. John’s Gospel, Rowan Williams
  • Glory or Persecution: The God of the Gospel of John in the History of Interpretation, Tord Larsson
  • The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel; From What Perspective Should It Be Assessed?, C. Stephen Evans
  • The Fourth Gospel as the Testimony of the Beloved Disciple, Richard Bauckham
  • Bridging the Gap: How Might the Fourth Gospel Help Us Cope with the Legacy of Christianity’s Exclusive Claim over Against Judaism?, Stephen Motyer
  • Anti—Judaism, the Jews, and the Worlds of the Fourth Gospel Judith Lieu
  • “The Jews Who Had Believed in Him” (John 8:31) and the Motif of Apostasy in the Gospel of John, Terry Griffith
  • “The Father of Lies,” “the Mother of Lies,” and the Death of Jesus (John, 12:20-33), Sigve K. Tonstad
  • The Lazarus Story: A Literary Perspective, Andrew T. Lincoln
  • The Raising of Lazarus in John 11: A Theological Reading, Marianne Meye Thompson
  • The Lazarus Narrative, Theological History, and Historical Probability, Alan J. Torrance
  • The Prologue of the Gospel of John as the Gateway to Christological Truth, Martin Hengel
  • The Testimony of Works in the Christology of John’s Gospel, Murray Rae
  • On Guessing Points and Naming Stars: Epistemological Origins of John’s Christological Tensions, Paul N. Anderson
  • Narrative Docetism: Christology and Storytelling in the Gospel of John, Kasper Bro Larsen
  • “The Truth Will Set You Free”: Salvation as Revelation, Anastasia Scrutton
  • God in the World—the World in God: Perichoresis in Trinity and Eschatology, Jürgen Moltmann

To have a chance at winning this book, leave a comment with your name so I can contact you if you win. I will randomize the names from the comments and select one winner at random.  There are no geographical limits, I will ship this book to the winner where ever they live.

I will announce the winner (and the next giveaway) on Friday morning, August 31, 2018.

Book Giveaway – Paul Borgman’s The Way according to Luke (Eerdmans)

To celebrate the beginning of a new school year I thought I would give away several books. Hopefully this happens to other people, but I occasionally purchase a book, and then when I put it on the shelf I discover I already have the book. Although this is embarrassing (and possibly a sign of old age), it is good news for readers of this blog.

First up is Paul Borgman’s The Way according to Luke: Hearing the Whole Story of Luke-Acts (Eerdmans, 2006). I accidentally bought two copies of this excellent study of the Luke and Acts together as a literary work. Joel B. Green said “In this exploration of Luke’s literary art, Paul Borgman displays his significant gifts as sensitive reader and trusted guide. Although fully engaged with contemporary study of Luke-Acts, he is no slave to ‘the experts’ as he demonstrates again and again how Luke’s narrative works to shape our grasp of Luke’s literary and theological agenda. Biblical studies is the richer on account of this sort of interdisciplinary work.”

To have a chance at winning these books, leave a comment with your name so I can contact you if you win. I will randomize the names from the comments and select one winner at random. I will announce the winner (and the next giveaway) on Wednesday, August 30.

Acts 27 – Luke’s Theology and Shipwrecks

If Luke has carefully designed his two-volume history, we should probably pause to wonder why he includes such lengthy description of the journey to Rome. This must be more than an exciting story (did he think readers were getting bored?), nor was Luke trying to fill out a scroll (as if he was a student trying to make it to 10 pages for a paper). Was Luke with Paul in the shipwreck? There are literary and theological reasons for Luke’s inclusion of Paul’s shipwreck.

Paul's Shipwreck

First, Luke is traveling with Paul. On the one hand, this accounts for the details. But often ancient historians narrate a story up to the time in which they are living and then include themselves in the story in order to build credibility. Josephus summarized all of Jewish history up to the time of the Jewish revolt and included himself in the story as a leader in Galilee. Thucydidies wrote a history of the Peloponesian War and included his own participation at various points. This shipwreck functions to give Luke credibility – he witnessed the events himself and was a participant in the history he tells. A Greco-Roman reader would expect this sort of thing if the book of Acts was to be seen as credible.

Second, there is more going on here than Luke’s interest in travel. If someone (say, Theophilus) has been reading through Luke and Acts, he would notice some similarities between Paul and Jesus. Both are arrested by the Jews and handed over to the Romans, both are tried by a secular authority (Pilate and Herod; Felix/Festus and Agrippa) and both are the victims of a miscarriage of justice motivated by the religious establishment in Jerusalem.  Will Paul suffer the same fate as Jesus?  Will he be executed by the Romans as a political undesirable, or will he receive justice from Rome?

Third, we need to remember Luke’s theme for the whole book: “beginning in Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria, then to the ends of the earth.”  Luke knows that Paul will go to Rome to testify before the Emperor, but the reader may think that Paul will be killed along the way.  As James Dunn has observed, Luke is trying to show that “come what may, God will fulfill his purpose by having Paul preach the good news in the very heart of the empire.”

Fourth, some scholars question the historicity of the shipwreck based on parallels with other ancient literature, including Homer’s Odyssey.  Often a guilty man will try to escape justice (or fate), head out to the seas to avoid capture, but ultimately he will suffer and die anyway.  Paul is escaping from the Jews, yet is shipwrecked and eventually nearly killed by a snake, it is thought that Luke is patterning this story after the archetypal Greco-Roman novel plot-line.

There is something to the parallels and it may be Luke tells this story in such detail because shipwrecks were popular in literature at the time. But this does not necessarily negate the historicity of the story.  Paul went to Rome, the best way to do that is by ship. It is entirely plausible Festus would send him off in this way.  Shipwrecks were in fact common, so much so that Paul has already suffered shipwrecks twice in his travels (2 Cor 11:25)!

While I think Paul did travel to Rome by ship and experienced a shipwreck, Luke’s theological motivation is that nothing will hinder the Gospel getting to Rome.

Paul’s Missionary Strategy in Acts (Part 2)

[This is the second guest post from one of my Advanced Studies in Acts students, John Caprari. John is a senior undergraduate Biblical Studies major with an emphasis on Pastoral Ministry. He and his wife will be going to Africa soon after graduation to explore a church planting ministry. He has therefore focused his attention on Paul’s missionary method.]

It amazing to reflect on the many Christian works Paul began. He had a strong desire to win as many people as possible (1 Cor. 9:19). In Paul’s epistle to the Romans he declares his inner yearning for the gospel’s proclamation: “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:20).

romans-1-16Paul set this framework in which he would preach the gospel, and he did just that. Although there were not many places where Christ had already been proclaimed, he certainly fulfilled this internal passion. He had a “commitment to pioneer evangelism, to pursue his mission only in virgin territory” (Dunn 544) Can you imagine entering a city that not only has a population of 0% Christians, but also live in a culture that worships pagan gods? Where and how do you even begin telling people about Jesus? Paul’s answer? The synagogue.

Luke communicates in Acts over and over that upon arrival in a city, the first thing Paul did was go to the Jewish synagogue (Acts 13:5; 14:1; 17:10). Wait a second… Wasn’t Paul supposed to be the light to the Gentiles? Why is he going to the Jewish gathering place?

There are some who understand Paul to believe that the gospel was meant to be proclaimed among Jews before Gentiles (Rom 1:16). They believe that Paul’s custom was to go to the Jewish synagogue because he had a theological understanding that the gospel must be heard by the Jews, and then upon rejection, the Gentiles (Acts 14:36). The following is an excerpt from a scholar who understands Paul’s custom of going to the Jewish synagogue as a theological issue rather than strategic:

Although Luke’s plain intent is to show how the gospel of Jesus Christ was carried from Jerusalem, the center of Judaism, to Rome, the center of the Gentile world, he records of Paul’s ministry in the Roman capital only his customary initial ministry to the Jews (Acts 28:17 ff.). In Acts too, therefore, the theme is clear, the gospel is “to the Jew first.” (Stek 17)

Paul went to the synagogues first because he thought it would be the best way to carry out his mission: to be a light to the Gentiles. These gathering places were mostly filled with Jews. However, it was common for there to be a couple of God-fearing Gentiles who would congregate with the Jews. Dunn writes, “for it was in the synagogues that he would find those Gentiles who were already most open and amenable to his message” (Dunn 560).

Why do you think upon arrival Paul would immediately go to the synagogue? Was it a theological understanding or a strategical method? If theological, how come? If strategical, what made the synagogue, a Jewish gathering place, the right place to be a light to the Gentiles?

 

Bibliography: Dunn, James D. G. Beginning from Jerusalem (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009); Stek, John H. “To the Jew First.” Calvin Theological Journal 7.1 (1972): 15-52