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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.

Augustus-Caesar-StatueFirst, 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.” C 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.

After staying some time in Antioch, Paul suggests a return to the churches established in Galatia (15:36).  This tour of established churches is not unexpected since Paul has already made a return trip through Derbe, Lystra and Iconium for the purpose of continued development and encouragement of these churches.

The suggestion that John Mark re-join the ministry team results in a “sharp disagreement” (verse 37-38).  Barnabas wants to have John Mark travel with Paul once again.  Sometimes Barnabas is presented as acting like a protective uncle, hoping to give the young and inexperienced John Mark another “chance” to prove himself.  While this makes good preaching, that is not the way Luke describes the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas.

Paul “did not think it wise” (NIV) since John Mark has already abandoned them once.  The NIV’s translation is adequate, but the word has the sense of being  “worthy” or even “suitable to an activity” (BDAG).  This could be taken in a positive sense (Paul does not see John Mark as a good “fit” for his vision of the ministry team), or negatively, Paul sees John Mark as unworthy since he has already abandoned the ministry.

John Mark did not depart because he was afraid of the tough travels or potential persecution. Rather, Paul’s rather harsh words to the Jewish sorcerer Elymas on Cyprus was a bit of a shock and perhaps even the idea that gospel should go to a Gentile like Serguis Paulus was a theological error.  Luke uses the Greek word ἀφίστημι (afistemi, aorist participle).  This word can mean more than simply “depart,” it can have the sense of “fall away” or “become a backslider.”  The word appears in Daniel’s prayer of confession (Dan 9:9) and  LXX Jer 3:14 to describe “faithless Israel.”

More significantly, Luke used the word in the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8:13 to describe the seed which does not take root and “falls away” when persecution comes. Perhaps there is a hint here that John Mark was not quite “rooted” in Paul mission and when he experienced the theologically disturbing idea that Paul was going to turn to the Gentiles, he fell away.

The way Luke describes this disagreement is significant – Paul and Barnabas had a “sharp disagreement,” a word used for provoking one to “love and good works,” Heb 10:24, but also anger, exasperation, etc.  The word appears in the LXX for “furious anger of the Lord” in Deut 29:27 and LXX Jer 32:37.  Paul and Barnabas are in such a heated disagreement over John Mark that there is no solution other than to separate their ministries.

This is another chance to observe some diversity within the early church. Whatever the reason, John Mark disagreed with Paul and separated from him, then later Barnabas did the same thing.  If John Mark and Barnabas represent the “Jerusalem Church,” then I think there is a hint here of serious tensions between the Pauline Mission and the style of ministry happening in Jerusalem.

Silas is a Jewish Christian who appears to have been active in the Jerusalem church, assuming that the Silas mentioned in 15:22 is the same man (See Witherington, Acts, 473.).  That Luke should mention a character in one context then pick him up again later is a common feature of the book.

Silas is likely an Aramaic form of Saul. The Silvanus of 1 Peter 5:12 is likely the same man since Peter would have know Silas from Jerusalem.  Silas is mentioned frequently in Paul’s letters, 2 Cor 1:19, and he is a “co-sender of the Thessalonian letters (1 Thess 1:1 and 2 Thess 1:1).  It is therefore suggested that he functioned as a secretary for Paul in the writing of these letters (and perhaps others).  1 Thess 2:6 refers to the “apostles of Christ,” which may imply that he was considered an apostle like Barnabas, although not from the Twelve.

Silas was a Roman citizen since Acts 16:37 implies that he was imprisoned illegally. This would seem to imply he was a Hellenistic Jew.  His name confirms his: he is also known as Silvanus, a Roman cognomen meaning “wood,” and the same name as the Roman god Silvanus, a life-giving deity (Gillman, “Silas,” in ABD 6:22).

He travels with Paul for most of the second missionary journey.  In Acts 17 he and Timothy travel back to Berea and Thessalonica while Paul travels to Athens and then to Corinth.  R. C. Campbell suggests that since Silas was able to return to these locations indicates that Silas was “less controversial” than Paul (ISBE Rev, 4:509).  This might be true, but it may be that Silas was more acceptable to the Jews socially and theologically than Paul.

So why Silas?  Like Barnabas, he was a Hellenistic Jew yet he was firmly rooted in the Jerusalem church.  Paul seems to have wanted a companion who was “acceptable” to Jerusalem, perhaps to preempt any criticism of his Gentile mission by the more conservative elements of the Jerusalem church.  Paul would therefore represent the Antioch churches, Silas the Jerusalem churches, implying that any mission to the Gentiles was co-sponsored by both centers of Christianity.

When Paul and Barnabas arrive in Lystra, Paul heals a man who was crippled in the feet.  This miracle in intentionally parallel to Peter’s healing in Acts 3, although the results are much different!  In both cases, the man is crippled from birth (3:2, 14:8), in both cases the man responds to his healing by “leaping” (3:6, 14:9), and in both cases the verb “look intently” is used (13:4, 14:9).  While these seem like common enough vocabulary for such a healing, these words are only used in these two stories in Acts, indicating some intentionality on Luke’s part. In both cases, there has been a paradigmatic speech and then a miracle, with both positive and negative reactions to the miracles and the speech.  Eventually that reaction will turn violent, threatening the lives of the Peter (in Acts 4-5) and Paul (who appears to have been killed!)

However, the setting of the two miracles could not be more different.  In Acts 3, the miracle takes place in the temple courts, Paul is in a Gentile town which is more likely to believe he is Hermes incarnate than a representative of the Hebrew God!  When Paul was among Jews in Iconium he did many miracles and saw great success.  The working of a miracle among the Gentiles of Lystra is counter-productive and results in Paul being stone and left for dead.

There is only the briefest hint at the sort of “sermon” Paul might have preached to this crowd.  This is unfortunate, since this is the first time in Acts that Paul addresses a pagan audience.  Often Paul’s speech in Acts 17 at Mars Hill is set up as an example of Paul’s method of reaching the Gentile world, rarely is this speech in Acts 14.

Paul states that there is a living God, as opposed to the worthless idols that never show their power. Like Acts 17, Paul does not allude to the many acts of God in the Hebrew Bible.  Rather, he uses God’s preservation of men through the giving of rain and crops as an example of his power.  This might be called “general revelation,” since the crowd would neither know about the God of the Hebrew Bible, nor would they care what he did for the Jews.

But Paul is not giving up on the biblical story at all in this sermon.  He begins with God’s creation and provision.  He says that he represents the creator, something which this group can understand within their own world view, but Paul uses the language of Genesis (the heaven, the earth, and the sea, along with everything in them).

But notice that Paul more or less attacks the gods of Lystra: they are worthless things.  This is even more powerful when you realize that the priests of Zeus have brought out bulls to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas.  Paul could very well be pointing at these prepared sacrifices when he says, “worthless idols.”  The noun used here (μάταιος) means that these idols and their sacrifices “lack  truth” and it is pointless to worship them because they are not true at all!

This does not sound very modern or emergent to me. . .how can this brief sermon of Paul be used as a model for contemporary evangelism?  Should we directly attack another world view as “worthless”?  Or perhaps Paul learns something from this “failure” and changes the way he approaches the “pagans” later on in his ministry.

[This is Adam Renberg’s second contribution to the blog. Adam is an Advanced Studies in Acts student this semester.]

After Paul’s preforms the miracle in Acts 14:8-10, he is met with an unanticipated response from the crowd. While miracles have been used to authenticate prophets in the Jewish context, the case was very direct in a pagan society. Paul and Barnabas are mistaken for the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes, and the priests and worshipers bring out a procession of animals to sacrifice to them. Apparently Paul and Barnabas did not speak the Lycaonian language, as they did not stop them until they saw the sacrificial animals being brought to them, where they quickly refuted the claim that they were gods.

In 14:14-15, they tear their clothing, shout that they are only men and not gods in disguise, and begin to preach a short but unique sermon. Paul starts this discourse in saying that they have good news (the gospel) and that they should turn from “worthless idols” to the living God. This is obviously a very bold move, as the priest of Zeus and his followers were apparently directly in front of them. To call this group of gods “worthless idols” is a deep stab at their worldview, on a political, economic, and philosophical level. As the polytheistic way of life was so ingrained in Graeco-Roman culture (everyone at that time believed in the gods), a challenge to follow the one true God and turn away from idols would be offensive to say the least (it also makes it seem more apparent as to why Paul was stoned).

Paul continues in declaring who the one true God is, as the maker of “heaven and earth and the sea and everything in them.” Paul does not appeal to any scriptures through this sermon (as the Lycaonians would not have known them), but still uses the language of Genesis.  He declares in Vs. 17 that God has left testimony to this creation through the rain and crops, giving food and ultimately joy.

This would have been directly applicable to this city, as the main occupation would have been agricultural, so most of the audience could have been able to relate to this statement. While it is a direct appeal, it could also be considered a challenge against their pagan gods as they worshiped and underwent rituals and sacrifices for rain to their Greek gods. In this sense, Paul is not only calling their gods worthless, but also telling them that the gods that they depended on for the sustaining of crops and foods don’t actually do anything, that the one true God has been sustain their lives and crops from the beginning.

An interesting element of this sermon is that neither Jesus nor the cross is mentioned in any capacity. While it is possible that this is a summary or portion of a larger discourse by Paul, you would have assumed to see some trace of the Savior. This passage (as well as the similar Acts 17 sermon) has been long used in showing that in a missional sense, we need to meet people where they are. The pagans knew nothing of a monotheistic worldview, so Paul had to start from the ground up before he declared the cross of Christ.  In comparison to Acts 17, where Paul used stronger vocabulary and philosophical rhetoric when talking to the Athenian council, he chose simpler language to engage with his less educated audience in Acts 14.

While there can be missiological applications from this passage, should it be used as a main passage in talking missionary strategy? What was Paul’s missionary strategy when it came to Lystra in Acts 14:8-20?

[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.

Like Jesus (Luke 4:22) and Peter (Acts 2:40-41), there is a great deal of interest in Paul’s message. The apostles are invited back for a second Sabbath to continue this discussion. Luke mentions those who were most attracted to Paul’s message were the “devout converts,” or people who were ethically Gentile, but are at some advanced level in their conversion to Judaism as a religion. If Paul’s message was understood as acceptance of the God of the Hebrew Bible, the ethical and moral standards of the Law, and an ultimate salvation through Jesus apart from the sacrifices of Judaism, then perhaps many of the Gentiles were eager to accept Paul’s message.

On the next Sabbath “the whole city” gathers to hear Paul, sparking jealousy. Luke is likely using some hyperbole here, he means all the adult males who would be part of the Synagogue have turned out to hear Paul, although it is possible that many of the gentile converts brought other gentiles to hear them preach.

angry-mobThe Jews begin to argue against Paul (ἀντέλεγον, is an inceptive imperfect, focusing on the beginning of the action). The verb has the sense of contradicting an argument or reaching. In Titus 1:9 one of the functions of an elder is to “contradict” false teaching. In 3 Macc 2:28 the verb is used for anyone who opposes the poll tax imposed by the Selucids; if anyone “speaks against” this new law, they are to be executed! They make this argument against Paul not through rational debate, but by “speaking abusively” (βλασφημοῦντες) against Paul. The verb has the sense of slander, “to speak in a disrespectful way that demeans, denigrates, maligns” (BDAG). In an honor-shame culture, this kind of an attack is intended to cast doubt on speaker by pointing out their personal flaws.

Paul “answers boldly” this slander of his Gospel. The word had to go to the Jews first, reflecting Paul’s mission statement in Romans 1:16-17.  This does not mean that Paul did Jewish ministry only up to this point and now he will do exclusively gentile ministry; in terms of salvation history it is true the gospel went to the Jews exclusively (Acts 2-8), and not it is going into socially and culturally Gentile people.  But Paul’s ministry will always be to the Jew first and then to the Gentile, in order to win his own people first before turning to the gentiles.

Paul then quotes Isaiah 49:6 for his mission statement: he is the light to the Gentiles. This looks back to his own calling and commission from the Lord, but also to the same messianic texts he cited in the synagogue a week earlier.  He is the one that fulfills the messianic role of light to the Gentiles in the present time.

Many believe and join Paul, but there was enough angry rejection that the Jews persecuted Paul and Barnabas, thus they “shake the dust of their heels” in protest and continued their journey. This “shaking of the dust” is symbolic of a rejected negotiation, or a pronouncement of judgment.  Paul is saying that these Jews have rejected his teaching, and he is turning from them to go where he will have an audience, the Gentiles. This is not unlike what Jesus tells the disciples in Matthew 10, that they were condemn any city that rejected their teachings.

To what extent is this a “rejection of the Jews” (as it is sometimes described)? Paul continues to target Jewish audiences in the Synagogue and he will continue to argue persuasively from the Scripture that Jesus is the Messiah. But this is the first of three times Paul says he is now “turning to the Gentiles” What does this rejection mean in the overall plot of the book of Acts?

Paul WritingPaul’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.

PaulusSchnabel 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 (v. 16-25). In the second movement, Paul declares the importance of Jesus in the light of this history (v. 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.

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