Acts 9-12

Paul goes to Damascus to persecute believers there, but Jesus appears to him on the road.  As a result, Paul begins to preach in Damascus.  Due to death threats, he escapes to Jerusalem, then to Tarsus.  Peter heals a paralytic and raises a female disciple from the dead.  In Caesarea, the Lord instructs a centurion (Cornelius) to send two slaves and a soldier to Peter as messengers.  Meanwhile, Peter sees heaven opening and a sheet with many animals on it; God tells Peter that he can eat even “profane” or “unclean” animals.  Peter receives Cornelius’ message and goes to his house, where he realizes that “God shows no partiality” between Jews and Gentiles and summarizes the gospel for Cornelius; everybody in his house is filled with the Holy Spirit, even Gentiles.  Peter had them all baptized.  The Jerusalem church criticizes Peter for baptizing Gentiles, but he explains his vision and his experience at Cornelius’ house, convincing them.

Believers scattered after Stephen’s death preach the gospel in Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch; some of them preach it to Greeks in Antioch, not just Jews.  Paul and Barnabas also start preaching in Antioch until they go to Jerusalem to relieve a worldwide famine.  King Herod kills James, brother of John; he arrests Peter, but an angel breaks him out of prison.  Herod is struck dead during a speech because the people kept shouting “the voice of a god, and not of a mortal!”

Commentary: A few interesting historical points.  First, Paul’s conversion is highly significant because 13 of the New Testament’s 27 books are attributed to him (although only 7 are almost certainly genuine, and 3 are probably forgeries).  Most scholars place his conversion in 33-36 AD.  Interestingly, according to Paul’s own account (Gal 1:13-24), he was “still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ” three years after his conversion; according to Acts, he had been viciously persecuting the church in Jerusalem, dragging off both men and women in their houses.

King Herod Agrippa’s death occurred in 44 AD.  The Jewish historian Josephus’ account of his death is similar to the one in Acts: one of his flatterers called him a god, at which point he fell ill and died after 5 days.  The famine that Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem to relieve probably occurred in 47 AD; according to Josephus, it wasn’t worldwide, but restricted to Judea.  In Acts 11:26, Luke claims that “it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians”.  According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible, this Latin word (meaning “partisans of Christ”) doesn’t occur anywhere else in the New Testament except Acts 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16.  It was likely gaining currency in Luke’s day, but was very uncommon in the 40’s.

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