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NT Survey 111 Seminar 7 Acts

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Andrew Hodge                                                                                                        6th April 2007

New Testament Survey NTES 111

Seminar 7

The Acts of the Apostles

Acts; Irving L. Jensen Jensen’s Survey of the New Testament 1981, Moody Press, Chicago Ch 9; Libronix DLS; Guthrie, Donald  New Testament Introduction  Apollos, Leicester, England 4th Ed  1990 Ch 8

Examine the characteristics and the date of writing:

            Acts historically links the Gospels with the Epistles of the NT. It must be kept in mind that the link is historical and describes a transitional period between the formalism of Judaism and the idolatry of Rome and Greece to the new spiritual and moral life of Christianity. Care must be taken with Jensen’s statement (p 201) that “Acts provides the key for the fuller understanding of the epistles…”

            Acts continues the story of the immediate effect that the death, burial and resurrection of Christ had in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria and to the uttermost part of the earth. Strictly speaking Acts is not a history of men or of the Church, but that of the Holy Spirit as He uses individual men and women to spread the good news of salvation around the world - “the gospel in action” (p 202).

            It must be remembered that Luke is not a dispassionate arms-length onlooker faithfully recording everything that came his way. The Holy Spirit required him to be selective in what was written down, and inevitably Luke himself was a part of the making of this history - and he was probably thrilled to be so.

            Acts was likely written continuously after the Gospel of Luke, and as the Gospel was included with the other three at the beginning of the Canon in the order required by God, this separated off Acts into its appropriate place as a historical bridge between the accounts of the Gospels and the doctrines of the Epistles.

            Luke is likely to have accompanied Paul in his journey to Rome as a prisoner for trial by Caesar (Nero). It is suggested by Jensen (p 203) that Luke wrote Acts “toward the end of Paul’s two-year imprisonment there, or about A.D. 61”. Because the date of that imprisonment is historically fixed between 59 and 61 AD and is mentioned in Acts 28:30, the book could not have been completed until after this; but not long after, for it does not record Paul’s postulated additional journey(s) or death, nor the Jewish Wars culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, nor an account of the great fire in Rome of 64 AD which Nero blamed on the Christians.

            It is strange that Luke does not make any reference in Acts to the Epistles that Paul had already written on the journeyings over 9 years (47-56 AD) that Luke describes. The commencement of the “we” passages at 16:10 imply that Paul wrote all of the journey Epistles, with the possible exception of Galatians, while Luke was physically with him (Jensen Chart 1 p 20 cf Summary Table p 219); Paul also wrote the Prison Epistles while Luke was with him in Rome. Luke therefore should have been exposed to 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Romans, Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon and Philippians. One would have expected the existence of these letters to have been acknowledged in Acts, even if their theology was not relevant to Luke’s narrative.

            It is thought that Paul was executed by Nero shortly before the latter’s suicide on 8th June, 68 AD (Jensen p 204).


Expound the purpose of the writing of Acts:

            Jensen’s arrangement of this is useful (pp 209-210): Registration, Vindication, Edification.

            Registration By this Jensen means the written establishment of the history of redemption, beginning from Genesis. Acts’ place in this sequence is to show the Church’s relation to the past in the OT and Gospels, and its place in the future propagation of the Good News. The opening verses of Luke’s Gospel show the writer’s intention of recording and continuing the history “of the things most surely believed among us” (Luke 1:1) which was “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1); continued in Acts from the Ascension and covering the next 31 years (Jensen Chart 51 p 208). Rapid major progress is made by the early Church in this time - though not from its own initiative - as the Gospel presumably reaches the uttermost part of the known world and a universal audience.

            Vindication By this Jensen means the Church’s (history and message) claim to be of Divine origin. All Scripture is produced at the time and place foreordained by God. For Acts, it is assumed that “the church needed to make clear to the Roman government that Christianity was not to be associated with Judaism, though both claimed the same God and same Old Testament Scriptures” (Jensen p 210). Acts emphasises that “the leaders of Judaism considered Christians as heretical and blasphemous” (ibid) and makes it clear that Christians did not associate with the rebellion of traditional Jewry.

            Acts also describes the conversion and divine call of Paul, thereby establishing subsequent acceptance of his ministry and letters. In a less extensive sense, this also applies to Peter and James.

            Edification Any part of the Word of God should be useful “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”. As Jensen points out (p 210), “a soul may learn how to be saved from Acts, but the book was written primarily for the believer’s instruction in how to live and serve God”. Because of its nature as describing the transitional history of the early developing Church, and as much is specific for the period 30-61 AD, care must be exercised in making Acts normative for today’s Church.

            In addition, Luke has not set out to record everything in chronological order as a diary might read. Much interesting history is omitted eg what happened to Philip and his family after Acts 8:40? Barnabas? Peter? Cornelius? Paul? Silas? The other Apostles? In places much detail is left out, and in others much rich detail is present. The hand of God is obvious in this.

            Guthrie posits several reasons why Acts might have been written (p 369): a historical narrative even though Luke was probably aware that this had been done before, a description of the acts of the Holy Spirit in the early Church, an apology to both Jews and Romans that Christianity was a threat to neither, a defence brief for Paul’s first trial in Rome, as a theological document showing the triumph of Christianity over idolatry and philosophy, and to show the error of Gnosticism. In my view these opinions become increasingly irrational, although there is a grain of truth in each. The hand of God is not in such suppositions as these.





Discuss Acts’ historicity:

            Acts does not need proof of historical accuracy. History is measured against the yardstick of Acts.

            The historical setting of the New Testament including Acts was covered in Seminar 1 (NTES 111 History, Geography and Settings of the New Testament).

            In addition to this Jensen adds a little more (p 211):

  • Judaism  Negative aspects: false sects, hard traditions, rejection of Jesus as Messiah, zealous patriotism

                Positive aspects: belief in one God, OT scriptures the revelation of God, an inherent search for salvation, salting influence of a believing remnant, a sense of destiny, faithful religious worship in Temple and synagogues, the diaspora a fertile ground for evangelism

  • Hellenism ultimately negative: spirit of philosophical enquiry the basis of its many religions, a culture that sought the “good” and “beautiful” (not too dissimilar from today). The only real positive contribution was that koine Greek was the world lingua franca (the English of today)
  • Roman Empire Positive: climate of law and justice, means of travel and communication, religious tolerance for new ideas



Scrutinise the sources Luke possibly used to write the book:

            As stated previously (the Synoptic Problem, Seminar 5) the writers of the whole of scripture were inspired by God and were not copyists of existing material. In my view it is misleading to imply - as does Guthrie - that Luke used other sources ie was not dependent entirely on God.

            Nevertheless Luke was prepared by God as a man with an orderly and inquisitive mind who had access to a large range of literature, important Godly people and personal experience including those listed in Chart 49 (Jensen p 204), bearing in mind that he was not an eyewitness to any of the events in the Gospel which bears his name, and the first mention of “we” in Acts is 16:10. Chart 49 somewhat arbitrarily breaks Acts into sections whereby Luke is presumed to have been influenced by certain specific characters, both intra- and extrabiblical.

            This exercise gives me the impression that from a rationalistic point of view the Scriptural account has to be supported by externals before it can be truly believed. What nonsense.

            Certain facts can be established, from the Scripture itself. Luke personally observed and participated in some of the action (the “we” sections 16:10-17, 20:5-21:18, 27:1-28:16) and it is not unreasonable to assume that he also witnessed some of the activity not described as “we” (eg some of the large section 20:5-28:31  Jensen p 205).

It can also be reasonably assumed that one of Luke’s main eyewitness informants was his companion Paul himself, who may have supplied early Church history eg Stephen’s defence and stoning. Luke may have been careful enough to check some events with other eyewitnesses, although our modern-day view of Paul is that he would not lie nor distort an event. Nevertheless he could only present his own point of view. Did Paul know that his career was being documented by his companion?

Where Luke acquired the remainder of the historical details of Acts remains even more conjectural than the above. The Holy Spirit knows.



Articulate on the speeches found in Acts:

            In his treatment of this, Guthrie states at the beginning “The assessment of the Acts speeches forms an important factor in determining the historicity of the book, and some indication must therefore be given of the various ways of approaching the author’s method.”[1] As I have already established, the Holy Spirit is the Author of Acts, Luke is the writer; the Book has the authority of God and does not require ratification by historians. Guthrie goes on in the same opening paragraph to expose his rationalism: “But the major question regarding them all is whether they reproduce the content of the words spoken or whether they are inventions of Luke in order to represent what he considered would have been said.”[2]

            Further on in his arguments as to where Luke got his “speech” material from, Guthrie does not even allow the possibility of Divine inspiration (p 379).

            With regard to the theology of the book of Acts, Guthrie states that it “presents us with samples of early Christian mission preaching but gives no samples of didactic address to believers”[3] and “The importance of the book of Acts is in its preservation of the main doctrinal themes presented in apostolic preaching, even if there is no evidence of an attempt to develop a systematized theology.”[4]  

In other words, Acts preserves “pre-Pauline” theology, without any attempt to develop its own. What else would a Christian who knows that God wrote all the Scripture expect? The clear inference is that in this aspect Guthrie is not thinking like a Christian, or isn’t one.

            Nevertheless, as mentioned below, much Pauline theology was written while Luke accompanied Paul, especially Romans and possibly Galatians. None of this has “rubbed off” into Acts. Why not? Were Paul and Luke not communicating?

            Guthrie grudgingly admits “It may have been Luke’s intention to give samples of different kinds of mission preaching, and if this were so the samples would lose in weight if they were Luke’s own compositions. On the other hand, the manner in which they are introduced gives the impression that they are an integral part of the narrative.”[5] Hooray.

            In a sense, there are no ‘speeches’ in Acts unless they are defined - all of the account is the inspired Word of God. There are times when individuals give their opinion or assessment of a situation and address a gathering of others who are involved eg Peter at the election of Matthias (1:15-26), Peter after Pentecost (2:14-36, 38-40), Peter in Solomon’s Court after the healing of the lame man (3:11-26), Peter to the Sanhedrin after a period of imprisonment (4:8-12), the Church in praise to God (4:24-31), Peter with Ananias and Sapphira in the Jerusalem congregation (5:3-11), Peter before the Sanhedrin after being miraculously released from prison (5:29-32), Stephen before the Sanhedrin (7:1-56), Peter to Simon the sorcerer in Samaria (8:20-23), Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch (8:30-37), Christ to Paul and Ananias in Acts 9 and to Peter in Acts 10, Peter to Cornelius (10:34-43), Peter before the Elders in Jerusalem (11:4-18), Herod in Caesarea at his death (12:20-23), Paul to Elymas the sorcerer in Paphos (12:9-12), Paul to the rulers of the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia (13:16-41), Paul and Barnabas to the idol-worshippers in Lystra (14:15-18),  Peter (15:7-11), Barnabas and Paul (15:12), and James (15:13-21) to the Jerusalem Council, the letter written by the Council to the Churches of Antioch and Syria and Cilicia (15:23-31), Paul to those in the synagogue at Thessalonica (17:2-3), Paul to the Athenian Epicureans and Stoics at Areopagus on Mars Hill (17:22-31), Apollos to the Jews at Ephesus (17:24-28), Demetrius to his fellow silversmiths (19:25-27), the townclerk to the Ephesians (19:35-41), Paul preaching to those at Troas (20:7-12), Paul to the Ephesian elders at Miletus (20:18-35), the charge of the Jerusalem elders to Paul (21:20-25), Paul to the Temple mob at his arrest (22:1-21), Paul to the Sanhedrin (23:1-6), the chief captain Claudius Lysias’ letter to Felix (23:26-30), Tertullus before Felix (24:2-8), Paul to Felix (24:10-21), Porcius Festus to Agrippa (25:14-21), Paul before Agrippa, Bernice and Festus (26:1-23, 25-29), Paul to the stricken mariners (27:21-25), Paul to the elder Jews in Rome (28:17-20, 26-29).

            This list is by no means exhaustive because there are other very numerous occasions where speeches are given but the content is either summarised or not detailed. These occur when the verbs “reasoned”, “discoursed”, “preached”, “testified”, “spoke boldly”, “expounded”, “exhorted”, “disputed”, “persuaded” and other such like words are used.

            It could easily be argued that only a small proportion of the above list qualifies as “speeches”. Tough. Depends on the definition.


Outline Pentecost and Peter’s apologetic speech in chh 1 and 2:

            These speeches are included in 1:15-2:40.

  1. the final scene in the life of Judas Iscariot (1:15-19)
  2. the appointment of Matthias as Apostle (1:20-26)
  3. the Holy Spirit fills believers (2:1-5)
  4. the gift of tongues astonishes (2:6-13)
  5. Peter explains this phenomenon as a fulfillment of prophecy (2:14-21)
  6. the foreordained plan of God (2:22-24)
  7. King David predicts the resurrection (2:25-31)
  8. the resurrection of Christ (2:32-33)
  9. Jesus’ Lordship proven (2:34-36)
  10. the penitence of those who listen (2:37-40)5a

Determine the purpose and outcome of the persecution of the Church in Jerusalem:

            Jensen (p 218) makes the point that Christianity was Jewish - it was the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy, Jesus and His disciples were Jews, His mission was primarily to the house of Israel, the commissioned church was made up entirely of Jews. It was natural for these first Christians to suppose that Christianity was only for the Jew. Further, it was natural for them to suppose that Christianity was an add-on to Judaism. God deals with the first through persecution and the experiences of Peter (Acts 9:32-12:25), and with the second through the ministry of Paul and, amongst others, the doctrines of his epistle to the Galatians.

            The persecution of the Church, just three years after its beginning, was designed by God to scatter the believers into the nations and cultures that needed to hear the Gospel.

Nobody moves unless they are forced to. Jerusalem Jews were like anybody else - unless persecution was bad and personal to them, they would stay put. A little

bit of heavy-handedness here or there does not do it. Many individuals were personally threatened by the persecution (unto death in the case of Stephen) from the ruling Jewish bodies, and left Jerusalem fearing for their safety. It is likely that those Christians most active in their faith attracted the most attention from the ‘authorities’ eg [James and] Peter (Herod joins the Jews in persecuting Christians Acts 12:1-3). These were just the people God needed to be witnessing elsewhere.


5aThompson Chain Reference Bible  Fifth Improved Edition B.B.Kirkbride Bible Co., Inc. Indianapolis, Indiana 1988 marginal notes



Is Ch 6 normative for the Church today and explain your answer:

            On the face of it, the opening verses of Ch 6 describe a plan whereby the congregational servants - the Apostles - want to recruit seven other men to replace them as congregational servants - the Deacons. “And the saying pleased the whole multitude……….”  Why aren’t the congregation doing more to help themselves?

            Disorganisation is not a Godly characteristic. 1 Corinthians 14:33 “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints”.[6]  

“The church is neither a highly contrived corporation nor a loose commune, but an organism.” [7] That is, an organisation in which the Holy Spirit can have free reign, scripturally compared to a living body with Christ as its head.

            The external testimony of the unity and power of the early Church had rapidly enlarged its numbers and organisation became essential. The congregation could have been at about 20,000 at this time. Some organisation was already present eg meeting in homes, distribution to those in need, attending at tables - someone even kept count of the number of converts. But it would have been wrong to meet a new challenge by putting a programme in place and then expecting the Holy Spirit to ratify it. This is the cart before the horse.

            The apostles did not choose seven of their favourites and then expect it all to work. It is not unreasonable to assume that the Holy Spirit nudged them into remembering that they should “give themselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” and that distractions from this were not right. It is also not unreasonable that the Holy Spirit nudged them into thinking that additional help for the body - chosen by the people, for the people - would be a good way to resolve their organisational difficulties.

            It is not normative for today’s Church to be controlled by Apostles, have 20,000 members each, to have a difficulty at a particular time with Hellenistic widows nor fix problems by having seven deacons.

            It is normative for Churches of any size to have a Pastor(s), to have problems, and for the congregational body to elect Deacons when necessary in a needed number. It is not normal for the effort of today’s scriptural Churches to have “a great company of the priests….obedient to the faith”; but it would be nice.

            Chapter 6 has 15 verses.

It is not normative to have a Stephen in a Church today, doing great wonders and miracles. It is normal for there to be opposition to the testimony of a scriptural church, but in Western civilised society this is largely in the form of apathy and disregard. In a sense, more active opposition would strengthen the testimony of today’s churches, but this would have to be widespread and severe to make a difference in our societies. Persecution which makes a difference is a terrible thing, but it has always been the Lord’s method of rapid and solid Spiritual progress.



Interpret the martyrdom of Stephen in God’s plan:

            This is the spark that ignited the necessary scattering of ardent Christians into the “uttermost part of the earth” to begin spreading the Gospel.

            Part of the scenario of this scattering is that the stranglehold that the Jews wanted to impose on the Christians would be made impossible - the wider the dispersion, the more difficult for the Jews to contain or control.

            In addition, it forced the Jews to consider their exclusivism. As the newly-saved lived amongst other cultures and religions, naturally expressing their relationship with Christ, it was inevitable that non-Jews would be saved, although ‘official’ confirmation of this had to wait until the event of Peter taking the Gospel to Cornelius (Acts 10 ff)

            An example of this early conversion of non-Jews (in both cases Greeks) is told in Acts 9:32-35 and 9:36-43. Peter, now an itinerant evangelist (Acts 9:32), heals Aeneas of the palsy and raises Dorcas from the dead. In both towns (Lydda and Joppa) there were already ‘saints’ living, and many more came to salvation as a result of these miracles (eg Acts 11:19-21). It should not have been a surprise to the Christian hierarchy in Jerusalem that the Gospel included Gentiles.

            Not all of the Jerusalem Christians left after Stephen’s death. Not all of them would have been eyewitnesses of his martyrdom. Nevertheless, Stephen’s testimony would have rapidly become known, and may well have gone a long way to strengthening the faith of this remainder so that they also were able to face the coming and escalating persecution with spiritual power.

            The scattering pushed Christians into Samaria. Acts Ch 8 describes Philip’s ministry there: he establishes the Church, and goes on to witness to the Jewish Ethiopian eunuch (with the subsequent tradition that the eunuch establishes Christianity in Ethiopia).

            Perhaps the most important consequence of Stephen’s martyrdom is the conversion of Saul. Saul is instrumental in the zealous Jewish persecution of Christianity (and therefore Christians) and is present at Stephen’s death. With Stephen’s testimony fresh in his mind, Saul encounters Christ and immediately recognises Him as Lord, the very same that graced Stephen at the end.



Compare and contrast Paul’s three missionary journeys:

            A short summary of this is given by Jensen in table form (p 219). It shows dates, regions travelled, distances and the relevant passages in Acts. Further detail is given in Jensen pp 220-226 (Charts 55, 56 and 57; Maps N, O and P), and Paul’s journey to Rome (Map Q  p 228).

            In general terms, Paul (and a specific companion) are commissioned to travel by the Holy Spirit and are directed along the way by the same means. They journey to specific places where they minister, then return home. All three journeys begin and end in Antioch (which supplants Jerusalem as the missionary capital), with the exception of the third which ends in Jerusalem where Paul is arrested.

            Areas ministered to are Cyprus and South East Asia Minor (#1), SE Asia Minor reviewed, Macedonia and Greece (#2), and SE Asia Minor reviewed, Galatia, Phrygia, Ephesus, Macedonia, Greece and Ephesus reviewed (#3). This territory by no means covers the then known world and is not the “uttermost part of the earth”. Scripture does not complete the story of when this command was (is, or will be) achieved.

            Paul does not skimp on time taken in each location to proclaim his message, unless forced to curtail it eg in Thessalonica, Ephesus, Lystra. The first journey takes 12 to 18 months (47-48 AD), the second 3 years (49-52 AD), the third 4 years (52-56 AD). Along the way and in various places Paul pens the ‘journey’ Epistles of Galatians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans. Note that all of these are directed toward Churches in different locales, not individuals.

Of interest is that ‘scripture’ lists Galatians as being written ‘from Rome’ (post Galatians 6:18). Paul is not known to have been anywhere near Rome at the time (48 AD, first journey). The writing of the remaining ‘journey’ Epistles correlates with appropriate dates and places.

Also of interest is that Paul did not write between the end of the third journey and his arrival in Rome - a period of 5 years when he was imprisoned in Caesarea. Why?

There is a rest of up to one year between the first and second journeys, and little or no gap between the second and third.



Evaluate the importance of the Jerusalem Council:

            This occurs between Paul’s first and second journeys and is described in Acts 15:1-35. It is the very first of a number of great Church Councils which convened to correct erroneous teaching, mostly concerning the exact nature of the Saviour. The fact that there was a Council at all indicates that the leaders of the early Church were willing to communicate over difficulties with a spirit of humility.  

It was wise of the Christians at Antioch to submit these questions to the authority of the Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem - the ‘capital’ of Christianity - for the items at issue would cause the downfall of Christianity unless they were properly resolved. In addition, the men who had sown the discord in Antioch were from Jerusalem (15:1).

The primary purpose of the men involved in the Council is to secure the mind of Christ so that Christianity could present a united front, in the absence of ignorance, presupposition and prejudice. The two issues were how a Gentile should be saved, and how Jew and Gentile could function together in the Church. The issues were resolved under the prohibitions from “pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood” (15:20, 29).

            Historically, Peter had already been criticised for eating with Gentiles (Acts 11:3) and Paul had had to challenge Peter’s and Barnabas’ practices with regard to eating with Jews and Gentiles (Galatians 2:11-18). Jensen (p 442) places this latter rebuke after the Jerusalem Council but as the two events occurred very close together (48/49 AD) it makes more sense for this dissent to be a stimulus to hold the Council in the first place.

            Another stimulus was that pushed by the Judaisers in Antioch that a man could not be saved unless he was circumcised according to Jewish tradition/the Ceremonial Law of Moses. What about women?

            Both of these issues are covered under ‘circumcision and the keeping of the law’ (15:24).

            For the traditionalists (Pharisaic Christians), the very idea that the Law should be interfered with was “treason against Moses and against God”.[8] “All the pride and selfishness of their hearts rebelled against the idea of others being admitted to an equality of privileges with themselves.“[9]

“They would, indeed, admit a Christianity which left the Law of Moses intact, and obliged all Christians to become Jews, so to speak. That exalted their nation, flattered their pride, increased their self-importance, (and) left the prejudices of their childhood undisturbed.”[10]

            The sequence of the Council is summarised: the Pharisaic traditionalists put their case, Peter reminds everyone that God has clearly included Gentiles in the Gospel by making no distinction between Gentile and Jew, Paul and Barnabas describe their eyewitness accounts of their experiences with Gentiles, James sums up using OT prophecy and a letter is written to the Churches of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia (but not to all Churches). Significantly though, the folk in these Churches are addressed as “brethren” (15:23) indicating solidarity, whatever the supposed differences had been. Paul and Silas thought this letter important enough to also share with the Churches in Galatia (Acts 16:4).

A united front was achieved - the letter is from “the apostles and elders and brethren” (15:23) and makes it clear that ceremonial Judaism has no place in the Grace of God (15:24 and see below). The decision was also arrived at under the auspices of the Holy Ghost (15:28).

            Paul’s contribution to the Council is not detailed but he and Barnabas testified to the works of God which He had wrought among the Gentiles (15:12). It is clear from Paul’s epistles that “he had as much reverence for Moses, as full a conviction of the Divine origin of the Law, of the inspiration of the prophets, and of the infallible authority of Holy Scripture,” [11] as did the traditionalists, and his appreciation of God’s grace to the Gentile was from personal experience, which theirs was not.

            During discussion on this issue in the Council, Grace was shown to be the only element that allowed salvation, demonstrated by Peter’s previous experience with Cornelius (15:7), the gift of the Spirit was to both Jew and Gentile (15:8-9a), cleansing from sin (15:9b), the inability of the Law to save (15:10-11), the miracles done by God among the Gentiles (15:12), and OT prophecy (15:13-18).[12]

            In a sense, the items of dissension that threatened to destroy the early Church were not appropriately solved. The letter that came out of the Council touches on the hassles created by Judaisers (15:24) but did not enter into any discussion of Grace. In lieu of this, the Council decided to send representatives to personally communicate what the Council had determined concerning how Gentiles were saved.

The second issue was addressed by prohibiting Gentiles from eating animals that were “strangled, and from blood”. This sounds like the imposition of a ceremonial law in which the Jews ‘win’, and the latter has been taken as such by the JWs. We should discuss this.

Looking back from today, it would appear that Christians did not need to be told to abstain from fornication or from meats offered to idols, but in the first century context in SE Asia Minor, this is not unreasonable. Nevertheless, the full Council decision clearly decided the issue of Gentile salvation, and produced a compromise which allowed Jew and Gentile appropriate social contact. See Genesis 9:4, Romans 14:14, 1 Corinthians 10:25.

It is Calvin’s opinion on the decision of the Council that  “Let the readers know (which is sufficient for this present place) that the apostles pass not the bounds of the word of God when they set down an external law, as time requireth, whereby they may reconcile the Churches among themselves.”[13] That is, he says its OK to compromise in order to have harmony. In most cases this is bad theology. Is it here?

It is Macarthurs’ opinion that “The apostles and elders successfully resisted the pressure to impose Jewish legalism and ritualism on the Gentile believers. In other words, they forbade the inclusion of works as a part of salvation. They affirmed for all time the truth that salvation is wholly by God’s grace through faith alone, apart from any human efforts.”[14] This is true when applied to the issue of circumcision for salvation, but it seems to me that refraining from eating anything offered to idols, from fornication, from things strangled and from blood are all works, not related to salvation at all, and only relevant to the issue of Jewish-Gentile interaction.

Perhaps this all works on a quid pro quo - if the Jews promise not to trouble the Gentiles over circumcision, the Gentiles promise not to trouble the Jews over blood. This is unsatisfactory because the principles concerning the one should not be confused with the principles governing the other.



Review Paul’s imprisonment and his defence of his faith:

            Paul the Missionary becomes Paul the Prisoner (from Acts 21:18 to the end of the book -28:31) through the 5 years from his Jerusalem arrest to his house arrest in Rome. It is not clear from Scripture why the Holy Spirit had Luke terminate this Book at this point. Paul was not executed, there were probably more journeys to be done, and Luke was still with him.

            In the last 6 ½ chapters of Acts Paul has the opportunity to defend his faith six times:

  • before the mob on the steps of the Castle Antonia next to the Jerusalem Temple - 22:1-21
  • before the Sanhedrin - 23:1, 6
  • before Governor Felix - 24:10-21
  • before Governor Festus - 25:6-11
  • before King Agrippa - 26:1-29
  • before the Roman Jewish leaders - 28:17-20, 23-24, and anyone else who would listen - 30-31.

On each occasion Paul recounted exactly what happened to him with no embellishment, although he did include features which were relevant to his audience. He frequently used his testimony to appeal to his hearers to believe in the Saviour personally for themselves.


[1]Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, Series taken from jacket., 4th rev. ed., The master reference collection, 378 (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996, c1990).


[3]Ibid 353


[5]ibid 382

[6]  The Holy Bible : King James Version. electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version. Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995.

[7]John MacArthur, Acts, 173 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994, c1996).

[8]The Pulpit Commentary: Acts of the Apostles Vol. II, ed. H. D. M. Spence-Jones, 7 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004).



[11]The Pulpit Commentary: Acts of the Apostles Vol. II, ed. H. D. M. Spence-Jones, 8 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004).

[12]John MacArthur, Acts, 326 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994, c1996).

[13]John Calvin, Calvin's Commentaries: Acts, electronic ed., Logos Library System; Calvin's Commentaries, Ac 15:28 (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998).

[14]John MacArthur, Acts, 326 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994, c1996).

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