Saul Proclaims Jesus in Synagogues
I. THE SPIRIT EMPOWERS THE CHURCH FOR WITNESS (1:1–2:47)
II. THE APOSTLES WITNESS TO THE JEWS IN JERUSALEM (3:1–5:42)
III. THE HELLENISTS BREAK THROUGH TO A WIDER WITNESS (6:1–8:40)
The first five chapters of Acts have presented the picture of a Christian community in Jerusalem that was still closely bound to Judaism. The outreach effort of this group was strictly to the Jews. There was no conscious breach with Judaism, and the temple was itself the major site for the church’s evangelistic efforts. These first chapters thus comprise a development of Jesus’ injunction in Acts 1:8: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem.” Chapters 6–12 pick up this theme, showing the further realization of the commission—“in all Judea and Samaria.” The ministry of Paul in chaps. 13–28 extends its fulfillment “to the ends of the earth.” Chapters 6–8 may thus be described as transitional. They show Christianity breaking out from the bounds of its Jewish heritage, taking a first step toward its mission to the wider world. This is more than a story of the geographical spread of Christianity. It is much more the story of the gospel becoming a truly universal gospel, breaking the racial, national, and religious barriers in which it was born and carrying out a genuinely worldwide witness. It is the triumphant story of the inclusive gospel.
IV. PETER JOINS THE WIDER WITNESS (9:1–12:25)
Chapters 9–12 continue the story of the Christian breakthrough to a wider missionary outreach that began in chaps. 6–8 with the Hellenists Stephen and Philip. Chapters 9–12 are transitional, as can be seen in the roles played by the major characters of Acts: Peter and Paul. Paul was introduced briefly in connection with the martyrdom of Stephen (7:58; 8:1, 3). With the story of his conversion, the spotlight turned on him (9:1–30). Peter, on the other hand, was the primary figure in the first five chapters of Acts. The focus was once again placed on him as he witnessed in the coastal towns of Judea and served as God’s instrument in the conversion of the Gentile Cornelius (9:32–11:18). Peter’s escape from prison comprises the main subject of the last chapter in this portion of Acts (12:6–19) and is the last narrative in Acts that has Peter as its main character. From then on, Paul occupies center stage.
In content the major subject of these chapters is the Gentile mission. The conversion of Paul introduced at this point prepares for the major part he would play in taking the gospel to the Gentiles in chaps. 13–28. His conversion is closely linked to Peter’s conversion of the Gentile Cornelius in chap. 10. Peter was the first to witness to Gentiles, but Paul was the major figure who would carry out that witness. It is true that Philip had already witnessed to a God-fearing Gentile in the person of the Ethiopian eunuch. That, however, was an isolated incident and had no further repercussions for the church as a whole.
Such was not the case with the conversion of Cornelius and his household. That event attracted the attention of the Christians in Jerusalem and necessitated Peter’s defending it before them (11:1–8). Peter’s defense and the resulting endorsement of the Gentile mission by the Jerusalem church is absolutely programmatic for Acts and for the mission of Paul. It provided the church’s authorization and acceptance of the apostles’ Gentile mission. Paul, of course, was not alone in his outreach to Gentiles. The Hellenists who settled in Antioch began a major mission among them (11:20f.). Their concern for the Gentile mission must have had a profound influence on Paul, who worked among them for some time (11:25f.) and who was ultimately commissioned by them for missionary service (13:1–3).
Jerusalem’s role in these transitional chapters is instructive. It served primarily as the place where the apostles resided who guaranteed the authentic linkage of the church to the life and ministry of Christ. In these chapters the Jerusalem church primarily endorsed and authenticated the ever-widening Christian witness. This began with their acceptance of the Samaritan mission of Philip (8:14–25). It moved to their acceptance of Paul, who would become the primary missionary to the Gentiles (9:26–28). The Jerusalem church, even if somewhat reluctantly, finally conceded its approval to the Gentile witness begun by Peter with Cornelius (11:18). Finally, through its representative Barnabas, the Jerusalem church supported the mission of the Antioch Christians among the Gentile “Greeks” (11:22f.). Not all the problems had been resolved at this point, and a final settlement would be reached only in the Jerusalem Conference of chap. 15. The major principle of the mission to the Gentiles, however, had been accepted by the Jerusalem church; and this provided the authorization for Paul’s Gentile witness that began in chap. 13.
He was with the Disciples
Immediately He Proclaimed the Gospel
Is this not the man...
Now he confounds the Jews
Saul increased in strength
Luke described him as “proving” (symbibazō) that Jesus is the Christ. The Greek word means to join or put together and seems to picture his assembling Old Testament texts to demonstrate how Christ fulfilled them. No wonder the Damascene Jews were astounded and totally unable to respond to the skillful interpretations of the former student of Gamaliel.