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Acts 612: The Christian Mission Beyond Jerusalem

David S. Dockery Acts outlines the steps by which the church gradually broke with the synagogue and became an independent movement. In fact, one of the central motifs in Acts is the explanation of how a small group of Jews in Jerusalem, basically indistinguishable from their Jewish milieu, became a Gentile fellowship in the capital city of the empire, distinct from Jewish practices.1 In this article we address the issues and events surrounding the martyrdom of Stephen, the evangelistic ministry of Philip, the conversion of Paul, and Peters ministry to Cornelius. Each of these events enables us to see the significant steps taken by the church as the Christian mission expanded beyond Jerusalem. Obviously in an article of this length we cannot deal extensively with any issue. Our purpose will be to survey the entire section and highlight significant interpretive and theological issues.

Stephen: The Churchs First Martyr (Acts 6:18:3)

This new section of Lukes account, which is primarily an account of the Acts of Stephen serves a twofold purpose. First, it completes the authors picture of the early church while it was still for the most part confined to Jerusalem, identifying issues that arose regarding the distribution of food and how they were resolved. Second, these chapters set the scene for the later chapters that describe the churchs expansion beyond Jerusalem. This purpose is accomplished by tracing the course of events that forced many believers to flee the city, thus taking the gospel into Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Jewish antagonism reaches its peak in these chapters, moving from warning (4:21) to flogging (5:40) to death (7:58).2

The Selection of the Seven, including Stephen (6:17)

Luke has no definite reference to time in this part of the book, simply saying in these days. What Luke specifically emphasized is that throughout this period the number of disciples kept growing. The word disciple is used for the first time in the book as a title for Christians (cf. 6:1, 2, 7; 9:36; 11:26; 19:14). A feature of early church life was readiness to meet the needs of the poor. The growth of the church, however, prevented this ministry from being carried out as well as it should have been. It was inevitable that with the development of
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different groups in the church and the difficulty of ongoing communication between these groups, someone would be overlooked.

1. See George E. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1974), p. 354; A. C. Winn, "Elusive Mystery," Interpretation, 13 (1959), 144156.

2. J. C. ONeill, The Theology of Acts in Its Historical Setting (London: SPCK, 1970), p. 85, notes that Stephens death "marks the final failure of the mission to the capital." See also David John Williams, Acts (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985), p. 101.

No sooner was the complaint made3 by the Hellenists than the matter was addressed by the Twelve.4 Calling the entire group together, they observed that the distribution of the fund had not been carried out properly. The problem was the apostles lack of time. They had to give their first priority to prayer and the ministry of Gods word. To solve the problem, they chose seven others to superintend this distribution of food. The seven all had Greek names, probably indicating that they were Greek-speaking Jews reared in the Diaspora. But the most important feature described them as full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, evidencing practical wisdom that would enable them to manage the fund. The selection of the seven started the church on its world evangelism mission.5

The Arrest and Defense of Stephen (6:87:53)

The first evidence of a major breach between Judaism and the young church occurred as a result of the ministry of Stephen. Stephen was a man of the Holy Spirit (v. 5), of faith (v. 5), and of grace and power (v. 8). The opposition to Stephen, and to the Christian movement, came predominantly from the synagogue of the freedmen, since contention had moved beyond the controversy over the resurrection.6 The issues were now focused on the centrality of Jerusalem as the place for Gods work, the Law, and the temple. The persecution began with Stephen, but did not end with him (8.1). The great detail given to Stephens ministry in this section may be explained by the fact that he was the first martyr. He was also an effective preacher whose ministry was accompanied by great wonders and miraculous signs among the people (6:8). The charge brought against Stephen was blasphemy against Moses and God (6:11). No doubt, Stephen had taught that the Mosaic customs were transitory. In addition, he possibly had said or intimated something about Christian salvation being for Gentiles as well as for Jews. The Sanhedrin, in pressing their charges, resorted to bribery (6:11), mob psychology (6:12), and falsehood (6:13).7

3. It is interesting to note that the complaint was never denied. 4. This usage is the only place in Acts where the apostles are given this titlesimply the "Twelve."

5. The phrase "who prayed and laid their hands on them" most likely points the activity of the apostles, following the pattern of Matthias (1:15). The apostles initiated the process, the people were involved, but the apostles made the appointment. The grammar of the construction allows for the whole church acting in the presence of the apostles. Thus the people would have selected representatives for themselves as the Israelites had formerly made the Levites representatives by laying hands on them (Num. 27:18; Deut. 34:9). See the discussion in D. Daube, The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism (London: Athlone, 1956), pp. 237-238.

6. For a discussion of the "Synagogue of the Freedmen," see Martin Hengel, Between Jesus and Paul, trans. John Bowden (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983), pp. 16-18; J. Jeremias, "Libertinoi," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 4: 265; F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1954), p. 133.

7. James D. G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977), p. 270, suggests that Stephen may already have had a wider ministry within the Hellenistic circle, so that the picture of Stephen as a preacher should come as no surprise.

Acts 7:153 is the account of Stephens speech to the Sanhedrin. By virtue of the fact that it is the longest speech in Acts, we must believe that Luke considered the speech extremely significant. More than most of the speeches in Acts, Stephens words have been viewed with great skepticism regarding their authenticity.8 There is no denying that Lukes hand is evident in the literary style and vocabulary. But to attribute the speech entirely to Lukes art is to give him greater credit than he deserves.9 As James Dunn has observed: The speech is so distinctive within Acts and chapters 68 contain such distinctive features that the most plausible view is that Luke is here drawing on a source which has preserved quite accurately the views of the Hellenists or of Stephen in particular. Certainly the whole narrative explains the subsequent persecution of the Hellenists so well that there is no real reason to doubt its essential historicity.10
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Clearly Luke saw Stephen as a significant figure in the history that he was narrating. Stephen served as both paradigm and pioneer of the new direction in the churchs mission, serving as a link between Peter and Paul. Stephens speech was not calculated to secure an acquittal before the Sanhedrin. Rather, it served as an apologetic for Christianity as Gods appointed way to worship. Stephen sought to show that the charge brought against him rested on an improper understanding of Moses and the Mosaic economy. Stephen charged that instead of manifesting a true zeal for the Law and the temple, in their opposition to the gospel, they were actually displaying the unbelieving rebellious spirit which led their fathers so often to resist the will of God and reject his good favor. Within Lukes purposes, the speech prepared the readers for a witness to Christ that was to move beyond Jerusalem and the Jews to other peoples. Stephens argument admitted to the charge that Jesus had replaced temple worship and the Mosaic ritual.11 The speech took the form of historical narration. In verses 26, the speech centers around the period of the Patriarchs; verses 1743 address the Mosaic period; and verses

8. See W. Ward Gasque, "The Speeches of Acts: Dibelius Reconsidered," in New Dimensions in New Testament Study, ed. R. N. Longenecker and M. C. Tenney (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974), pp. 232250.

9. Williams, Acts, p. 116.


10. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, pp. 270-271. Lukes information concerning Stephen and the speech could have come from a number of possible sources, including Philip and Paul. M. Hengel suggests here a number of "distinctive and even un-Lukan expressions in this chapter that betray the bedrock of a source." See Between Jesus and Paul, p. 3.

11. We may infer that Stephen was the first to realize that temple worship and observance of the Law were no longer necessary for Jewish Christians.

4450 move the issue to the Temple and the tabernacle.12 The speech reaches its peak in verses 5153 where Stephen applies the meaning of the preceding narration. The address demonstrated that the worship of YHWH had not been confined in times past to Jerusalem nor had his habitation been the temple only. This is developed by showing that God had been with Abraham in Mesopotamia and Abraham had worshiped there (vv, 28). Likewise, God had been with Jacob and Joseph (vv. 924), and with Moses in Egypt (vv. 3038), and even with Israel in the wilderness wanderings (vv. 4446). Particularly, he announced that Solomon, at the dedication of the Temple, declared that heaven is Gods throne, the earth his footstool, and no one place on earth the place of his rest (vv. 4750). The primary point of the speech maintained that the rulers of the people had continually made the same mistake as his accusers. They had threatened and persecuted the prophets who, like Stephen, had proclaimed the true spiritual line of progress in the worship of God. They had gone so far as even to have killed the Messiah. This point was developed by pointing to Joseph, who though rejected by his brothers was Gods appointed messenger (vv. 916). Similarly, Stephen concluded that this experience was the same for Moses (vv. 35, 43) and Jesus (vv. 5153). Stephens argument was shaped by a typological interpretation of Old Testament persons and events, with special application to Moses (7:1743).13 The Mosaic period served as a model for the new age since Moses referred to himself as a type of the future deliverer (Deut. 18:15; Acts 7:37). In the new age, the fulfillment of the promises made to the nation of Israel was inaugurated. Moses actions, like those of Jesus (Acts 2:22) and the apostles (Acts 4:30), were accompanied by signs and wonders (Acts 7:36). Like Jesus, Moses became a man powerful in speech and action (Acts 7:27), though God gave him the honor of being a deliverer of his people. The description offered of Moses has led L. Goppelt to
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offer the following conclusion: By crucifying Jesus the present generation has completed what their fathers did to Moses, the prototype of the redeemer, and to all the prophets who predicted the coming of Christ (Acts 7:5153).14

The Death of Stephen (7:548:3)


12. It is beyond our purposes to examine the differences in Stephens speech with the O.T. accounts. These matters are adequately addressed in R. N. Longenecker, "The Acts of the Apostles," in The Expositors Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 9:337348.

13. Behind this approach are the following hermeneutical presuppositions: (1) corporate solidarity, (2) correspondences in history, (3) eschatological fulfillment, and (4) messianic presence. See E. Earle Ellis, "How the New Testament Uses the Old," in New Testament Interpretation, ed. I. Howard Marshall (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975), pp. 212-214. Also see R. N. Longenecker, Christology of Early Jewish Christianity (London: SCM, 1970), pp. 32-35.

14. Leonhard Goppelt, TYPOS: The Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament in the New, trans. Donald H. Madvig (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1982), pp. 122; also see W. D. Davies, Torah in the Messianic Age and/or the Age to Come (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952), pp. 84-94.

The reaction to Stephens speech was vicious. A. T. Robertson described their response as one like a pack of hungry snarling wolves.15 By contrast, Stephen is pictured as exhibiting an air of calmness and peace with his eyes intently fixed on heaven. At the moment of his death, Stephen saw the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God (7:56). The significance of Jesus posture in standing rather than being seated seems to indicate that he was standing as a witness in vindication of his oppressed disciple.16 The messianic title Son of Man, drawn from Daniel 7:13, was Jesus favorite title for himself, yet Lukes usage was the only time it was adopted by someone other than Jesus himself.17 There are few more striking examples anywhere of how Jesus victory over death robbed it of its sting for his followers than Stephens response to death (cf. 1 Cor. 15:5456). The death of Stephen was accomplished through stoning. Stoning ordinarily consisted in throwing the victims over a downgrade and rolling a heavy stone over their chest. A second witness could roll down another stone if the first stone did not kill them (Deut. 17:7; Lev. 24:14).18 As the stoning proceeded, Stephen kneeled and asked the Lord not to lay this sin to their charge (cf. Luke 23:34). Then he fell asleep and was ushered into the presence of his savior.19 At this point in the narrative, Luke introduced Saul. In Acts 8:1 we read, And Saul approved of his murder. Saul became a prime mover in the new persecution of the church because he was zealous for the traditions of his fathers (Gal. 1:13). He began to devastate the churches. Luke, however, wants us to see that out of a seeming tragedy there was advance in the Christian mission. Out of Stephen came Saul (hereafter referred to as Paul).

The Evangelistic Ministry of Philip (8:440)

Lukes story is carried along by reference to a handful of people, indicating what they said and accomplished. As Luke concentrated on the churchs expansion, he next turned to Philip as his example. As the believers were scattered everywhere by the persecution, Philip, one of the Seven, and influenced no doubt by Stephen, went to Samaria. Philips ministry accomplished

15. A. T. Robertson, "Acts," Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. 3 (Nashville: Broadman, 1930), p. 97.

16. C. F. D. Moule, "From Defendant to Judge," SNTS Bulletin, 3 (1952), 47.


17. Many critics have suggested the theory that the Son of Man was not a self-designation of Jesus, but that he used it to point to an eschatological figure, not himself, who would come to inaugurate the eschatological kingdom of God. Cf. Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, trans. K. Grobel (New York: Scribners, 1955), 1:3335. Yet there is no evidence in the entire New Testament aside from the presuppositions of extreme form criticism, that the title "Son of Man" was placed on the lips of Jesus by the early church. Cf. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, pp. 337-338.

18. See the discussion in Bruce, Acts, pp. 168-171; also see Joseph Klausner, From Jesus to Paul (London: Macmillan, 1944), pp. 292-293.

19. "Fell Asleep" is the characteristic expression for Christian death (1 Thess. 4:15), though never applied to Christ. Because he died, we need only "fall asleep." Cf. Williams, Acts, p. 134.

two important things in the mind of the early church. First, he preached to Samaritans. This episode marked the initial advancement of the post-resurrection Christian mission to a nonJewish community (cf. John 4:5-42). Second, he baptized a Gentile. While this baptism had no great impact on the young church, it is quite possible that in Lukes mind and in his readers as well, the gospel reached the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). In ancient geography and the ancient fathers (see Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.12.8; 4.22.2), Ethiopia was regarded as the far southern
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boundary of the habitable world.

The Evangelist in Samaria (8:425)

In Samaria, many responded to Philips evangelistic work, even a sorcerer named Simon. Yet Simons profession was motivated out of his interest in power and superstition, in signs and wonders, rather than the redeeming message of the gospel. Even after the arrival of the Jerusalem apostles, Simon did not change his convictions, even though there was a strong rebuke by Peter. Lukes point apparently was simultaneously one of assurance and warning. With the scattering of seed and the movement of God, there are always some false professions.20 Interestingly, the conversion of the Samaritans and the coming of the Spirit were separated chronologically. Roman Catholic sacramentalists have taken this passage as a biblical basis for the separation between baptism and confirmation. Charismatics have developed a second blessing theology. Both of these readings miss Lukes point. Lukes theological intention is bound up in the importance of the Jerusalem church for the advancement of the mission beyond Jerusalem. God in his providence withheld the gift of the Holy Spirit until Peter and John laid their hands on the Samaritans. Peter and John, two leading apostles who were highly thought of in the mother church at Jerusalem, were accepted at that time as brothers in Christ by the new converts in Samaria. Lukes story communicates that in this initial advance of the gospel outside Jerusalem, God was not only working to advance the gospel in Samaria, but also was working to bring about the acceptance of these new converts by the church in Jerusalem.

The Evangelist and the Ethiopian Official (8:2640)

Philip apparently returned to Jerusalem with the apostles and from there set out for Gaza (8:26), as commanded by an angel of the Lord. The angel should most likely be identified with the Spirit of the Lord as was common in Jewish thought (cf. Acts 23:9). Regardless, Philip was on the road by divine guidance.21 Out on this deserted road Philip met an Ethiopian official (8:2728). The description of the man enables us to see that he was an extremely important and powerful person who had much

20. See the insightful exposition at this point in William H. Willimon, Acts (Atlanta: John Knox, 1988), pp. 68-71. Since the time of Justin Martyr Apology 1.26, Simon Magus has been identified as a great cult leader in the first century. R. McL. Wilson identifies Simon in Acts 8 with the Simon Magus of later patristic references, but suggests that much of Simons Gnosticism was probably attributed to him by later adherents. See R. McL. Wilson, Gnosis and the New Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968), pp. 49, 141.

21. Longenecker, "Acts of the Apostles," p. 359.

authority and power as treasurer and minister to the queen. Yet, he had no power to understand the word of God. He beseeched Philip to interpret for him and then to baptize him (8:3037). Philip interpreted the passage from Isaiah 53:78 in light of Jesus as the suffering servant Messiah. Both concepts, suffering and messiahship, appeared in Jewish treatments of Isaiah 53, but always separate. In Jesus, however, these ideas were brought together, and the disciples used this passage to confirm Jesus death and resurrection by the scriptures (see Luke 22:37; 24:25 27, 4447).22 Psalm 68:31 was similarly fulfilled, Let Ethiopia hasten to stretch out her hands to God. This section of Lukes account is characterized by excessive divine prodding and interventions. We have observed an angel giving directions, the Spirit commanding the presence of water, and the Spirit carrying Philip away. Only in
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the story of Cornelius do we see similar examples of divine intervention.23 All of these actions underscore that the mission beyond Jerusalem was undeniably the work of God.

The Conversion of Paul (9:131)

As far as Luke was concerned, as previously noted, the most important result of Stephens martyrdom was the conversion of Paul. There are three accounts of Pauls conversion in Acts: 9:131; 22:616; 26:1218. The repetitions were employed because Luke rightly considered Pauls conversion to be something extraordinarily important and wished to impress it unforgettably on his readers.24 R. Longenecker suggests that Paul would have had no great problem with either Judaism or Rome had he contented himself with a mission to the Jews, and Christianity would have been spared the head-on collision with both Judaism and Rome. Yet Luke wants to emphasize that Christ himself brought about the change in the strategy of divine redemption.25 Pauls conversion and mission strategy came to him by divine revelation, and he had no choice but to obey. Luke concluded his portrayals of three significant personsStephen, Philip, and Paulin the advance of the gospel to the Gentile world by an account of Pauls conversion that stressed both the divine nature and miraculous circumstances of the events.

The Damascus Road Encounter (9:19)

The section opens with Saul (Paul) still breathing out murderous threats against the Lords disciples. Perhaps he validated his actions against the young church with such precedents as: (1) Moses slaying of the immoral Israelites (Num. 25:15); and (2) Phinehas slaying of the Israelite man and Midianite woman in the plains of Moab (Num. 25:615). Similarly, the Qumran psalms in the Dead Sea Scrolls read: The nearer I draw to you, the more am I filled with zeal against all men of deceit. For they that draw near to you cannot see your commandments defiled, and they that have foreknowledge of

22. Williams, Acts, p. 148.


23. E. Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles, trans. B. Noble and G. Shinn (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1971), p. 315.

24. Ibid., p. 327. 25. Longenecker, "Acts of the Apostles," p. 367.


you can brook no change of your words, seeing that you are the essence of right, and all your elect are the proof of your truth. (IQH 14:1315) These precedents, along with the rising tide of messianic expectations within Israel, obviously provided Paul with the justification he needed to mount a full persecution against the Christians. In his task, he doubtless expected to receive Gods commendation. As Paul was entering the city of Damascus, he experienced an unusual light (cf. Acts 22:6; 26:13) and sound or voice (cf. Acts 22:9; 26:14). No doubt he was very confused when he heard his name called followed by the words: Why do you persecute me?26 Paul thought that he was defending God and his laws. The
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heavenly vision and voice confirmed for Paul that he was seeing the Lord (v. 5). The words must have been unbelievable for Paul as he heard, I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. The effect on the traveling companions is described in verses 79. We can draw the following conclusions concerning the events effects on Paul. First, Paul began to understand that his zeal for God and the Law was misguided and thus his life was under Gods judgment. Secondly, Jesus, the one Paul had persecuted, was alive and exalted. Paul had come to understand that Jesus death on the cross failed to discredit his messianic claims. On the contrary it fulfilled the scriptures and served as Gods provision for sin. Thirdly, since he recognized Jesus as Messiah, Pauls eschatological understanding had to be redirected away from a future-only concept to one that recognized the kingdom had been inaugurated. Fourthly, he came to recognize that he had a mission to be carried out for Christ, recorded in chapters 1328. Finally, and extremely important for the development of Pauls theology, Paul came to recognize that an indissoluble unity existed between Christ and his people. Though Paul was persecuting the followers of Jesus, in reality he was persecuting the risen Christ himself.27

The Ministry of Ananias to Paul (9:1019a)

A disciple in Damascus named Ananias was directed by the Lord to minister to Paul. We know little about Ananias other than that he obediently comforted Paul and accepted him as a brother (vv. 12, 17; cf. Acts 22:12). He found Paul praying, a passage that shows the importance of prayer for Paul and the mission of the church (10:2, 9; 13:2, 3; 14:23; 16:13, 16, 25; 20:36; 21:5; 22:1721; 27:35; 28:8). Also, it is the first of many passages in which visions are associated with prayer (10:26, 917; 22:1721; 23:11; 26:1319).28 While there was a link between his new Christian life and his Pharisaism reflected in his devotion to prayer, new insights were nevertheless revealed. Paul was Christs chosen instrument instead of a persecutor. His concern no longer focused on Israel alone, for his mission was to

26. The repetition of address, "Saul, Saul" is not unusual in the biblical record (Gen. 22:11; 46:2; Exod. 3:4; 1 Sam. 3:10; Luke 10:41; 22:31).

27. Longenecker, "Acts of the Apostles," pp. 371-372. Also see J. Jeremias, The Central Message of the New Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1965), pp. 35-37.

28. Williams, Acts, p. 155.

carry the name of Jesus to Gentiles and their kings. He also learned that he was to suffer for Jesus name.29

Pauls Ministry in Damascus (9:19b25)

This brief section emphasizes the genuineness of Pauls conversion. He spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.30 Behind this section rests Lukes larger concern: providing the theological groundwork that served to justify the Gentile mission. Luke contended that the bringing of the gospel to the Gentiles was not something that came about through human initiative but through divine leading. As Willimon notes, each step was validated through divinely given signs and visions, including the visions which were given to Paul.31 Luke describes the hearers as so astonished they had to ask themselves if this was indeed the same person who had previously persecuted the Christians. The
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account highlights the ironic turnabout. The persecution Paul once directed was now focused on him. Paul supplied some of the gaps in this story in Galatians 1:1524.

Paul at Jerusalem (9:2631)

The story of Pauls conversion concludes with the reception of Paul by the Jerusalem church. This incident is consistent with Lukes account of the evangelization of Samaria (8:425), as well as the later accounts of the conversion of Cornelius (10:111:18), and the founding of the church at Antioch (11:1930). As in Lukes depiction of Pauls preaching in Damascus (9:19 25), this section reveals some differences when compared with Pauls own account. Yet, these differences dissipate when it is seen that Pauls concern was to stress his lack of dependence upon the Jerusalem church, whereas Lukes purpose was to trace the lines of continuity with the Jerusalem church. Paul is not mentioned in the period between the Jerusalem account and his ministry in Antioch (11:2530). His words in Galatians 1:2124 suggest that he continued his ministry to those in Caesarea and Tarsus.32 The section on Stephen, Philip, and the conversion of Paul concludes with one of Lukes characteristic summary statements describing this period as a time of peace and growth (9:31).

The Conversion of Cornelius at Caesarea (9:3211:18)


29. David M. Stanley, Boasting in the Lord: The Phenomenon of Prayer in Saint Paul (New York: Paulist, 1973), p. 42; also cf. Daniel P. Fuller, Easter Faith and History (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1965), pp. 192-194.

30. Charles Talbert, Acts (Atlanta: John Knox, 1984), pp. 41-43, discusses two types of disciples: those twelve who were with Jesus throughout his earthly ministry and those called later, like Paul. The twelve represented the tradition of the community, the stories of origins which were retold and zealously guarded as time went on for the church. Those like Paul, who were not with Jesus from the first, witnessed on the basis of their present experience with Christ.

31. Willimon, Acts, p. 81. 32. It is uncertain, but perhaps the material in 2 Corinthians 12:15 finds its place here.


With Paul in the wings, Peter is returned to the limelight. This section picks up the narrative from 8:25. The indication from the text (vv. 3132) shows that the apostles made frequent journeys throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. The next two chapters recount one of those journeys which had extremely significant consequences. Luke used the accounts of the healing of Aeneas and the raising of Dorcas (9:3243) to shift the focus from Jerusalem to the west country, setting the stage for Cornelius conversion at Caesarea. The ministry of Peter in Lydda and Joppa served as an ideological and geographical hinge to prepare the reader for understanding the range of the Christian mission.

Cornelius Vision (10:18)

The Christian mission was expanding beyond Jerusalem, and it was time for the gospel to cross the barrier that separated Jews from Gentiles and to be proclaimed directly to Gentiles. The significance of the Cornelius story can be observed by the space that Luke devoted to it (66 verses). Cornelius conversion stressed four matters which received special emphasis, providing insight into Lukes purpose in presenting this material.33 Luke demonstrated the early churchs resistance to the idea of Gentiles being directly evangelized and accepted into the Christian fellowship apart from a prior relationship to Judaism (10:14, 28; 11:28). Similarly, it was God himself who introduced the Gentiles into the church and miraculously evidenced his blessing (10:3, 1116, 1922,
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3033, 4446; 11:517). Thirdly, Luke insightfully emphasized that it was Peter, not Paul, who served as the human instrument to open the door to the Gentiles (10:23, 3443, 4748; 11:15 17). Lastly, the Jerusalem church subsequently accepted the Gentile convert, apart from any allegiance to Judaism, because God obviously validated the conversion (11:18). This strategic event took place in Caesarea, an area about 65 miles northwest of Jerusalem. Cornelius was a centurion, indicating he was captain over a regiment. Luke described Cornelius as a devout and God-fearing person. To such a pious Gentile God first reached out his hand in the advance of the Christian mission. Cornelius experienced a divine vision and responded in fear. Through the vision Cornelius was prepared to respond to God. He sent for Simon Peter who was in Joppa.

Peters Vision (10:916)

Peter was not by training or upbringing an overly scrupulous Jew, but Luke indicates he was not yet ready to minister directly to Gentiles.34 A special revelation was needed, and God took the initiative in overcoming Peters reluctance. Peters repugnance at the vision was expressed with his astonishment and reply. The vision took place while Peter was praying at noon on the flat roof of a home. A large sheet was lowered

33. Cf. Longenecker, "Acts of the Apostles," p. 383; also see Curtis Vaughan, Acts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974), pp. 70-78; Leon Morris, New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), p. 192.

34. Cf. Ralph P. Martin, New Testament Foundations (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1978), pp. 101102; also cf. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, p. 354.

containing a variety of animals. Peter was then told to slaughter and eat. Three times Peter was exhorted to eat. The violation of the dietary laws was not a matter of etiquette or preferred habits. Rather, they visibly represented Jewish identity and survival. It was no wonder Peter was baffled and responded Surely not, Lord.35 Certainly this reply was inconsistent with Peters confession of Jesus as Lord. But he had to learn that the range of the vision extended much more widely than he had originally understood (cf. Mark 7:1723).

Peter and Cornelius (10:1748)

This section includes four important scenes: (1) Messengers from Cornelius came to Peter; (2) Peters reception by Cornelius; (3) Peters sermon in the house of Cornelius; and (4) Gentiles received the Spirit. The messengers, as described in 10:1723a, shouted out their question at the gate, Is Simon (known as Peter) staying here? Peter was deep in trance, and the Spirit awakened him to their presence.36 The messengers pictured Cornelius to Peter as a God-fearing man. Peter, in obedience to the command in the vision, received these Gentiles into the house as his guests, acting more as host than visitor at Simon the tanners home. The setting for the next scene (10:23b33) is again Caesarea. After a two-day journey, the traveling party arrived in Caesarea about midafternoon the next day (v. 30). They found Cornelius ready and waiting with relatives and friends with him (v. 24). Cornelius and Peter described their vision to one another. The details differ slightly from the earlier verses, but only for the sake of variety.37 The
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primary point for Lukes story was that the gospels advance to Cornelius was a Spirit-initiated mission.38 The third scene in this section focuses on Peters sermon. The recipients were almost entirely religious people like Cornelius himself, and were therefore familiar with the Jewish scriptures. Also knowing something of the story of Jesus, they were prepared to hear Peters words. Peters sermon followed the lines of the apostolic Kerygma.39 It included five parts: (1) Jesus life and works; (2) Jesus crucifixion and death; (3) Jesus resurrection as accomplished by God and attested by witnesses; (4) Jesus appointment and authority; and (5) Jesus offer of forgiveness for all. In other respects, the attention to Jesus earthly life (vv. 3740) was unique


35. Willimon, Acts, p. 96; cf. Bruce, Acts of the Apostles, p. 220.


36. There is a seeming interchange here between the angel of the Lord, the ascended Christ, and the Holy Spirit. See Acts 8:26, 29, 39; 16:67; Rom. 8:911; and 2 Cor. 3:1718.

37. Williams, Acts, pp. 175-176. 38. James D. G. Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977), pp. 80-82.



39. Cf. C. H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Development, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963); and Robert H. Mounce, The Essential Nature of New Testament Preaching (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1960).

among the speeches of Acts.40 In addition, this sermon evidenced a theological development compared with Peters earlier speeches (cf. Acts 2:1447; 3:1226). Several commentators have observed the grammatical problems present in this speech.41 This feature plus those distinctives mentioned above, give us assurance that this section faithfully represents what Peter said on that occasion. R. P. C. Hanson has observed that this is one of the most ungrammatical pieces of Greek Luke ever wrote. One cannot avoid the impression that though, as usual, Luke has fixed its final form, other elements are included in it.42 The final scene (10:4448) in this section pictures the Gentiles reception of the Spirit which authenticated the Gentiles conversion.43 This authenticating work of the spirit was unusual, unsought, unexpected, and undemanded. The new Gentile believers were baptized,44 and Peter was invited to stay with them. The fact that Peter accepted Gentile hospitality gave practical expression to the theological truth he preached (vv. 34ff.).

Peters Report to the Church (11:118)

The final scene in the story of Gentile conversion took place in Jerusalem, where Peter had to defend what he had done. Cornelius conversion was important to Luke not only because of the advance of the Christian mission, but also because of the response of the Jerusalem church to it. As Luke focused on the advance of the gospel, he was also emphasizing lines of continuity and agreement within the church. The leadership in Jerusalem accepted the validity of Cornelius conversion apart from prior affiliation with Judaism. The church did not require entrance into the church through the synagogue door, thus serving to prepare the way for the later Gentile mission.45

Barnabas at Antioch (11:1930)


40. These verses could well have formed the ground plan of Marks gospel. In view of the traditional association of Peter with Mark, this can hardly be accidental.

41. Williams, Acts, p. 182, for example, has observed the grammatical looseness of the speech. There is no main verb (in v. 36) to govern "the word." In v. 37, "beginning" is wholly ungrammatical. It is a participle in the nominative masculine singular and can apply to no noun in the sentence, but must assume Jesus as its subject.

42. R. P. C. Hanson, The Acts (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1967), p. 124. 43. James D. G. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975), pp. 154-155.



44. Williams, Acts, pp. 184-185, has insightfully summarized the issue of baptism in this section. The subjects of this baptism were Cornelius and the many people gathered to hear Peter. That the whole family and entire household should be baptized with the head of the house would have been a natural assumption in that society and as much a mark of family solidarity as of their own faith (cf. Acts 16:15, 33; 18:8; 1 Cor. 1:16; 16:15).

45. Longenecker, "Acts of the Apostles," pp. 396-398.

The acts of Peter in Lukes story are briefly silenced so that the readers can be prepared for the forthcoming Pauline mission. This brief account, combined with Pauls conversion and the ministry to Cornelius, demonstrates the legitimacy of Pauls later mission. Here we learn of the founding of the church in Antioch of Syria, which became the sending church for the great missionary
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effort to the Roman Empire. We are introduced to several significant issues that are beyond the focus of this essay, such as: (1) the importance of Antioch; (2) the strategic role of Barnabas; (3) the believers were first called Christians; (4) the role of New Testament prophets; (5) the role of elders; and (6) the possible relationship of this section to Galatians 2:120. In sum, three things emerged from this episode: (1) a new center for missionary work (Antioch); (2) a new name for disciples (Christians); and (3) a new team for spreading the gospel (Barnabas and Saul).

Gods Intervention for the Jerusalem Church (12:124)

With the events recorded in the past three chapters, the Jerusalem church was straining the forms and commitments of Judaism to the breaking point. Yet, Luke wanted to show that the gospel advances within the Gentile world did not mean God was finished with the church at Jerusalem or the Jewish world. Divine activity among the Gentiles does not mean divine inactivity among the Jewswhich has been a heresy that has often afflicted Gentile Christians with very negative results.46 This chapter also serves to illustrate both the suffering entailed in the service of Christ (12:119) and Gods judgment on those who inflicted it (12:2024).

Suffering in the Service of Christ (12:119)

Verses 12 describe the death of James, the brother of John, as a part of the affliction that came upon the church. The account is mentioned specifically because of his prominence in the church and because of his death by martyrdom.47 James was the first of the disciples to die, and his brother the last. After he observed that the execution of James gratified the Jews, Herod went further and arrested Peter also. Certainly if the murder of James pleased the Jews, putting away Peter would please them more. Luke, however, surprised his readers with the surprising intervention of God. Peters arrest and deliverance are recorded in detail in verses 319.48 Following the churchs prayers (vv. 5, 12), the church was surprised when Peter was delivered, as was evidenced by their reluctance to believe that it really happened. Luke was teaching his readers that even when

46. Ibid., p. 406.


47. Reference to "the sword" indicates that James was beheaded, a punishment generally reserved for murderers and apostates (cf. Mark 6:27). According to the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 7:1, the Sanhedrin had power to inflict four kinds of penalties: (1) stoning, (2) burning, (3) beheading, and (4) strangling.

48. It has been commonly assumed that Peter was held in the Antonia at the northwestern corner of the Temple area. As for the manner of his escape, F. F. Bruce, has suggested that "it must be admitted that there are indeed some features of the narrative which would lead a police detective to conclude that it was a skillfully planned inside job." The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1954), p. 249.

Christians prayers are lacking in faith, God still answers and intervenes according to his goodness. We must all remember that God often gives us more than we ask and always more than we deserve.

Death of Herod (12:2023)

Following the episode of Peters deliverance, Herod left Jerusalem and went to Caesarea, which was the seat of government and his permanent residence. The verses serve as a footnote to the previous section, adding little to Lukes narrative, except to provide a point of reference with secular history.49 Theologically, the brief account of Herods death provided the readers with a genuine warning
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that God reigned as judge, as well as the one who provided salvation and intervened in the lives of his people. According to Luke, the angel of the Lord struck Herod because he usurped the honor due to God.50

Conclusion (12:24)
Herod died, but the church grew and multiplied. The continuous tense verbs employed by Luke indicate the continuing and ongoing growth of the church. The Christian message and mission extended far and wide. Lukes characteristic summary statement (cf. Acts 6:7; 9:31) brought the first half of his story to a conclusion. The section on the mission beyond Jerusalem enabled the readers to focus on Pauls mission to the Gentiles (12:2528:31). All things were in place for the mission to the Gentile world.


49. The death of Herod Agrippa I can be dated in the early months of A.D. 44 on the basis of Josephus (Antiquities 19.8.2). According to Josephus, Herod died after three years as King of Judea and in the seventh year of his reign. The festival during which he died was the quadrennial games instituted by Herod the Great in honor of the emperor and to commemorate the founding of Caesarea. These games must have been held in A.D. 44. Cf. Richard Niswonger, New Testament History (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), p. 244; Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1987), p. 334.

50. Cf. I Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1980), p. 213; and W. Neil, The Acts of the Apostles (London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1973), p. 152.

Review and Expositor, Review and Expositor Volume 87, vnp.87.3.423-87.3.434 (Review and Expositor, 1990; 2004).