Acts 1-4

Introduction: The Acts of the Apostles is a sequel to the Gospel of Luke, written by the same author around the end of the 1st century.  This book describes the creation and expansion of the Christian church, starting with Jesus’ ascension and ending with Paul’s missionary activity in Rome while under house arrest.  In between, it describes the growth of Jerusalem’s Christian community, the welcoming of Gentiles into Christianity, and the missionary activity of Saul (also known as Paul) in what is now Greece and the Middle East.  Although the author of Luke-Acts is traditionally assumed to be a traveling companion of Paul due to the author’s use of “we” in several situations (i.e. Acts 16:10), many modern scholars doubt this assumption, pointing out that Acts’ portrayal of Paul’s travels and theology contradicts Paul’s own letters.

Acts 1-4:  Roughly 120 believers, including the eleven disciples, gather in Jerusalem shortly after Jesus’ ascension.  The disciples choose Matthias to replace Judas as the twelfth.  On Pentecost, another crowd gather together and are filled with the Holy Spirit–they begin to speak in other languages, and Jews from across the known world could all understand each other.  Peter gives a speech, quoting from the Psalms and explaining that God made Jesus Lord and Messiah; he tells the audience to repent and be baptized, so that their sins may be forgiven.  Three thousand people were converted on that day–they sell their possessions and share all their belongings.

One day, Peter sees a crippled man by the Temple and heals him; Peter then accuses the watching Israelites of killing Jesus and calls them to repent.  Five thousand more believe.  The priests and Sadducees are annoyed and arrest Peter and John, but have to let them because they feared “the people”.  The believers all sell what they had and share everything in common.

Commentary: Peter speaks extensively in these four chapters.  Two verses are particularly intriguing:

Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified. (2:36)

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved. (4:12)

The first, 2:36, is taken by many scholars (i.e. Bart Ehrman) to mean that Jesus was “adopted” as the son of God at his resurrection.  The verse doesn’t specifically mention the resurrection, but it appears after Peter says that Jesus was crucified (2:23), raised up by God (2:24, 2:32), and exalted (2:33).  Many other scholars disagree, especially because Luke himself seemed to describe Jesus as “adopted” at his baptism in Luke 3:21.  Luke 3:21 reads:

when Jesus also had been baptized […] the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.'”

4:12 is remarkable for being close to, but not quite the same as, what would become the orthodox Christian view on salvation.  Strangely, this view is absent from Luke’s gospel.

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4 Responses to Acts 1-4

  1. Linuxgal says:

    The dating of Luke-Acts to the end of the First Century is important. Since it does not include the destruction of Jerusalem that it has Jesus “predicting” (said destruction being the most important event to happen to the Jesus movement in that century), the work can be viewed as a deliberate forgery attempting to pass itself off as a journal written before the event transpired. And that, in turn, makes the agenda of the work suspect. This can be seen in the nearly total erasure of any mention of James the Just, who led the Jerusalem group after Christ’s execution. The Jewish-focused variety of the Way as taught by James was adamantly opposed by Paul’s group.

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    • mzzhang says:

      Acts ends with Paul preaching in Rome, and since Paul died c. 67 AD, it doesn’t make sense to mention the temple’s destruction in 70 AD. I think Luke was trying to paint an optimistic picture: according to him, the Jesus movement spread quickly and in an orderly way (both of which are historically implausible), from Jerusalem to Samaria to the ends of the earth. Ending with Paul preaching openly in the capital of the Roman Empire was perfect for his purposes.
      I don’t think Luke was trying to pretend his work predates 70 AD. For one thing, Jesus’ prediction doesn’t exactly come true. Luke 21:6 reads “the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” You can still visit Jerusalem today, almost 2000 years later, and see the Western Wall. Luke almost certainly copied this verse from Mark 13:2, and Mark predates 70.
      Based on my (very limited) research, I think you’re probably right about Acts minimizing the role of James the Just. It seems Luke didn’t have a very high opinion of Paul, either: Paul repeatedly calls himself an apostle in his letters, but Luke never calls him by that title.

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      • Linuxgal says:

        You make a valid point about the stones, however in the synoptic gospels there are allegories to the effect that the vineyard, the land of Israel, was to be taken from the Jews and given to the gentiles by the owner (God). If we date Mark before the fall of Jerusalem, then we are making the claim that the audience of that gospel (and also Matthew) was to both Jew and gentile, which I believe is false, particularly when I see how even brutal Romans such as Pilate come off rather well while the Jews are blamed for the execution of Christ. So I do not put a lower bound for the authorship of Mark before 70 AD. Unfortunately, there are is no compelling evidence either way.

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  2. mzzhang says:

    I think a strong piece of evidence in favor of a pre-70 date is Mark 13:14: “So when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it out not, then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains…”

    In Daniel, the abomination of desolation refers to something set up in the Temple, possibly an altar to Zeus set up by Hellenistic Jews. So Jesus is saying that somebody will defile the Temple again, and after they do, the world will end; all of this will happen before his generation passes away (13:30). Someone living after 70 would know that this prophecy can never come true, and Luke was bothered enough to change the abomination verse to something else (“when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies…”)

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