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Commentaries on Acts

Commentaries on Acts

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

 

 

During the three years of public life, Jesus set down the foundations of the Church: he gathered his first disciples and associated them with his mission (Mk 3:13-16). He put Peter in charge of the community (Mt 16:18) and made him the guardian of the faith (Lk 22:31) within the new People of God. He made the twelve apostles and the disciples a community of witnesses (Jn 15:16) and promised them the gift of the Spirit who would help them come to know the fullness of the Light which Jesus came to bring into the world (Jn 16:13).

 

Now, the Lord is risen, and from the pierced side of Jesus, a new people, a new world is born, like the child coming to life in the blood and water flowing from its mother’s womb (Jn 19:34). This gospel community, enlightened by the word of Jesus, enlivened by his Spirit, sets out to announce God’s marvelous deeds to the ends of the earth and to gather together in unity, the scattered children of God (Jn 11:52).

 

Two great giants stand out in this evangelization: Peter and Paul. Peter will devote himself in particular to the evangelization of the Jews, while Paul will become the apostle to the Gentiles (Gal 2:7-8).

 

Luke, the author of the third gospel, writes about this nascent Church in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, which was probably first called Acts of Apostles. If, as in the case of the gospels, earlier accounts of the Acts existed which Luke would have drawn upon to write his text, the harmony achieved in editing these various texts is indeed remarkable since it is very difficult to identify these different texts today.

 

Certain scholars believe that at the outset the Acts of the Apostles and the third gospel were one and the same text that was only divided up later. One point is certain, however: by the beginning of the second century, the Acts of the Apostles were already a separate text. However, the testimony concerning the beginnings of the Church has come down to us in two different forms: the “current text,” coinciding with the majority of ancient manuscripts of Syrian and Egyptian origin, and the said “Western text,” which is longer and where the disputes between the Jews and the first Christians are more in evidence.

 

The Book of the Acts does not follow a rigorous outline. One can, however, pick out some clear-cut divisions in the text which allow us to glimpse Luke’s project. Without focusing exclusively on Peter and Paul, Luke devoted the greater part of his work to them. In spite of many exceptions, Peter dominates the first twelve chapters, while Paul dominates the second part of the book.

 

From the geographical point of view, one can notice that the Acts bring us from Jerusalem, through Judea and Samaria, to Rome, thus following the mission to which Jesus appointed his apostles on ascension day (Acts 1:8). In the first seven chapters we are in Jerusalem, then in chapter 8 and those following, we see – of course, with some exceptions – the Church taking root in Judea, in Samaria and along the coastal plain; from chapter 13 onwards, we accompany Paul to Asia Minor and to Greece and finally, in chapter 28, to Rome, to the Palace of the Emperor, that is to say, to the heart of the pagan world.

 

There, the Book of the Acts ends abruptly, as if Luke, like the runner whose job is to accompany the Good News of salvation as it is spreading out from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, has achieved his goal and thus fulfilled his contract. This in itself is sufficient to remind us that the Acts, no more than the gospels, do not pretend to be a biography of Peter and Paul, or a detailed history of the early Church, but a testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit.

 

Indeed, the Holy Spirit is the veritable actor in the birth of the Church: this is the reason why many commentators, ever since the first Christian centuries, have not hesitated to call this book “The Gospel of the Holy Spirit.” With only slight modification we could use here the words of John in Jn 20:3: “The Spirit has accomplished many other signs which have not been written of in this book. These have been recorded so that you may believe that the Spirit is at work in the Church of Jesus Christ.”

 

Luke’s intention in the Acts is to highlight, in particular through the diverse preaching of Peter and Paul, how the mystery of Christ and of the Church has been announced and prepared for in the Old Testament, but also how this double mystery – Christ and the Church – fulfills the Old Testament.

 

In this perspective, Luke readily highlights the parallels between Jesus and his Church, and also between the people of the Old Testament and the Church: by way of example, let us mention the parallels between the death of Stephen and that of Christ, between the journey to Jerusalem of Paul and that of Christ, but also the opposition between the Tower of Babel and Pentecost.

 

Continuing in this same line of inquiry, Jerusalem constantly flows from the pen of Luke, (58 times). As he has done in his gospel, where the Holy City is mentioned 30 times, Luke points to Jerusalem as the place where salvation is accomplished and from where the Good News is to be taken to all nations.

 

 

 

 

 

 1.1 Throughout the Book of the Acts, the apostles affirm that they are “witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus” (2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:41; 13:31…). This testimony is not based on vague sentiments or doubtful visions, but on the “proofs” that Jesus gave to his apostles after his resurrection and which are echoed in the gospels.

 

The reference to the forty days is important. Inspired by the number of weeks – forty – which the child spends in its mother’s womb, the symbolic number forty indicates both the time of trial or growth and that of maturity: it is the time of waiting for new life. During forty days in the desert, Jesus prepared himself for his mission of Savior; during forty days the apostles will prepare themselves for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and for their mission of witness. It is in Jerusalem that the apostles will receive the baptism in the Spirit that will make them into new people. The Spirit that hovered over the waters (Gen 1:2) during the first days of creation, will descend upon them and inaugurate the new dispensation. The Church of which they will be the “pillars” will be first and above all the work of the Holy Spirit. It is in the Spirit that the apostles will find the strength to be witnesses of the Risen One in the very midst of the world.

 

You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the earth. Luke outlines here the geographic framework of the Book of Acts (see Introduction to the Acts of the Apostles). At the same time, he demonstrates how the dynamic of the Old Testament is reversed with the death and resurrection of Jesus.

 

From the first pages of the Book of Genesis, we know that the sky and the earth belong to God: he is their Creator and all belongs to him.

 

Later with the call of Abraham and the journey of Moses, we discover that in this universe there is one country which is particularly blessed by God, it is the Land of Promise; when David settles in Jerusalem, this city becomes the city of David, and at the same time, the city of God. From then on the Psalmist can say: “God preferred Jerusalem to all the towns of Jacob” (Ps 87:2) and in this Holy City, it is on the Temple Mount that God has prepared his dwelling (1 K 8:29). Thus gradually, according as God walks side by side with his people, lighting up the way with his Word, all eyes become fixed on Jerusalem and on the Temple.

 

Now, it is when people have destroyed the true Temple (Jn 2:19), the humanity of the Son by nailing him to the cross, that God brings forth life from death, and from then on, a new dynamic will burst forth from Jerusalem towards the other countries of the Promised Land (Judea and Samaria), and from the Promised Land to the ends of the earth. Each of the gospels in their own way, finishes with the sending of the disciples. Similarly, from the first pages of the Acts, Jesus reminds his Church of the demands of mission: when the Church, or even when the smallest community ceases to be missionary, she is no longer the Church of Christ.

 

After Jesus said this, he was taken up before their eyes (v. 9). Jesus multiplied the “proofs” of his resurrection for those whose vocation would be to become witnesses of the risen Christ (v. 3), but now he must let the disciples know the significance of the resurrection. In this final apparition on the day of his ascension, Jesus revealed to them the meaning of his own story: having come from the Father, he returns to the Father but he does not return alone, he brings with him a “captive people” (Eph 4:8) whom he snatches from the power of darkness in order to bring them into his Kingdom of Light (Col 1:13), he goes to prepare a place for us, so that where he is, we may be too (Jn 14:2-3).

 

For the moment, the disciples are still in this world, where they must bear witness to the new reality of the kingdom of God inaugurated by Jesus: a Kingdom which is not like the earthly kingdoms founded on power and money (Lk 22:25-26), but a Kingdom of love, of justice, of peace. This Kingdom is not to be found in the clouds, it is already in our midst (Lk 17:20-21) and it grows each time we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit of God.

 

 

 

 12. The apostles cannot begin such a difficult mission before they have received the Holy Spir­it. They have done everything that depended on them and now can only put themselves in the hands of God and wait perseveringly in prayer for the time he has fixed.

 

As John has done in giving us the word of Jesus to his mother, present at the foot of the cross (Jn 19:26-27), Luke here reveals to us the spiritual maternity of Mary. She is there sharing in the longing of the apostles, she is the New Eve, the new mother of all the living (Gen 3:20).

 

Mary, mother of Jesus, played a decisive role during those days when the apostles tried to reflect together on all they had seen and learned from Jesus, in order to clarify the message they had to give to the world. Mary, only witness of the annunciation and of the private life of Jesus, helped them perceive the mystery of his divine personality.

 

Luke does not speak about this: from now on Mary keeps herself in the background. Different from those “brothers of Jesus” who long for power in the Church, she is but a praying presence. From that moment the Church has a hierarchy but all those called to receive the Spirit are full members of this community or communion.

 

 

 

 15. Peter is acting here as head of the primitive Church. The death of Judas has left a vacancy in the “college of apostles” whose twelve members bring to mind the twelve sons of Jacob. Just as the Israel of old never accepted being deprived of one or many of its tribes, so too, Peter, will not permit the group of the Twelve to have one of its members amputated.

 

Peter will find a way to allow God to make known his choice. We may be surprised today that such an important decision could have been made by casting lots. Is this not a sort of washing one’s hands of the decision-making process? We must not forget that this episode is happening in a community whose religious culture welcomes signs from God. They know the qualities they would want to see in the candidates and two are eligible. Now the question is which one to choose? They pray to God to make his decision known and promise to accept the outcome. This election process, in the spirit of prayer and of abandonment to God, is it not finally as good as certain election processes, not excluding those used by the cardinals in conclave, where the real challenges to the Church have often been compromised by the dishonest voting of interested parties?

 

It is good to focus in this passage on the conditions which Peter laid down: To have followed Jesus from John’s baptism until the day when he was taken from us.” The Good News begins with the preaching of John and culminates with the ascension (Acts 13:14-31). In this way Mark’s is the typical gospel, Matthew and Luke have both added an introduction, the infancy narratives, while John makes use of a prologue to act as a kind of preface. For each of the evangelists, it is the resurrection accounts that dominate their gospels and give them meaning.

 

Like on so many occasions in the Old Testament (Jacob, Samuel, David…) God again chooses the second and possibly even the more simple person: let us examine the “calling card” of the first: Joseph named Barsabbas, also known as Justus while it is Matthias, without any other name or nickname, who is chosen by God.

 

 

 

 2.1 Pentecost was one of the greatest feasts of the Jewish calendar. Originally an agricultural feast, in the latter centuries of the Old Testament it became the celebration of the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. For this occasion, like for the Passover, many Jews from the countries around the Mediterranean came on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

 

It was during the Jewish Passover, which commemorated the liberation from slavery in Egypt, that Jesus, by his own death and resurrection, offered the world freedom from death and sin; it is on the day when the gift of the Law on Sinai is celebrated, the day when God made his covenant with the chosen people, that God now gives his Spirit to the “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16).

 

That very day the baptism of fire announced by John (Lk 3:16) takes place. God sends the Spirit of his Son and, with this, the Church is born. For the Church is not a human institution, or the work of a group of believers; it comes from God’s initiative, and God wills that individuals of every nation witness this event.

 

What happened at Pentecost was as unique as what was ac­complished by the resurrection. Nevertheless it follows the pattern of other interventions of God in history. On one hand, the Spir­it con­stantly brings about our apostolic renewals, religious awakenings, and dynamic communities that become the new blood of the Church, which constantly grows old and constantly needs renewal.

 

The Spirit comes to give life to the Church. It also comes to confirm or affirm the believers. The baptism of fire that the apostles receive is normally conferred on us through confirmation (see commentary on 8:9).

 

The rushing wind is a sign, because spirit means both breath and wind in the Hebrew culture. Inspired by the Spirit, Peter speaks up. He now knows the truth and believes, and this is why he can boldly proclaim it (Jn 15:26 and 16:13).

 

Each one heard them speaking in his own language. The repetition of this expression on three occasions (verses 6, 8, 11) is an indication to us that here is a key for understanding this passage. The miracle of Pentecost is not really in the fact that the apostles, all of Palestinian origin, began to speak in foreign languages, but in the fact that all the foreigners heard the proclamation of God’s wonderful deeds in their own language: that is the miracle of Pentecost. Many other New Testament texts refer to the “gift of tongues” (Acts 10:46; 19:6; 1 Cor 12; 14:2-19) but here in the Pentecostal text God outlines the basis of all evangelization: those who are called to have faith in Jesus, to become members of the Church, are not required to renounce their language and their culture, as the Jewish proselytes of old were expected to. On the contrary, God wishes to be praised and blessed by people of all languages and cultures: in this way the diversity of the members in the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-13) will be clearly visible for all to see, likewise the gathering together through Jesus and his Spirit of God’s scattered children will also be visible (Jn 11:52).

 

Throughout her history, the Church has tended to forget the miracle of Pentecost when she imposed her language and her culture while evangelizing new peoples. Throughout her history, the Holy Spirit has also warned the Church against such temptations in the persons of apostles who live by the spirit of Pentecost.

 

 

 

 14. This is the first proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection. Peter, once again, aware of his responsibility in the group of the Twelve, speaks on behalf of all. He cites the texts of the Old Testament: Joel, the Psalms, etc. and demonstrates their fulfillment in Jesus and in the nascent Church.

 

I will pour out my Spirit. The Father sends the Spirit of Jesus to all people; he makes of all people his prophets, his witnesses.

 

I will perform miracles in the sky… Peter continues quoting the prophet Joel who announces the day of Yahweh, that is to say, in the Old Testament, the day of God’s judgement. According to Joel it appears that the people of Israel alone will escape punishment; but Peter expands the text and affirms (v. 39), at the end of his speech, that the salvation which comes from God is promised to all, to those who are near and to those who are afar, to all those represented here by the foreigners of diverse nationality.

 

God raised him to life. Peter recalls how Jesus showed many signs of love during his public life: in spite of that, or more precisely, because of that, he was delivered into the hands of pagans: how mysterious it is that people reject God’s love. More than 700 years before the coming of Jesus, the prophet Hosea was already familiar with this rejection of God’s love (Hos 11:1-4) and Jesus, himself, announces it in the parable of the murderous vineyard tenants (Mt 21:33-39). However, God, whose love is more powerful than our sins (Rom 5:20), raised him from the dead and made him the source of salvation for all (vv. 33 and 36).

 

Repent. Peter uses these words of Jesus at the beginning of his speech (Mt 4:17) – the Church is beginning to fall into the steps of Jesus – now it is no longer a question of receiving the baptism of John the Baptist, which was only a ritual of purification, highlighting the desire to repent. We must receive baptism “in the Name of Jesus.”

 

What shall we do?… Repent. In those days, to repent and to be converted meant to share the life of the infant Church which showed to the nation the way of sal­vation taught by Jesus. The Church did not appear as a new religion opposed to Judaism, but as a center of more authentic life.

 

Save yourselves from this crooked generation (v. 40). This means that the entire generation was missing the unique opportunity they were given. For God asked them to take the most decisive step in Sacred History; even Roman oppression could be overcome by a people able to put the Gospel into practice. At the same time Jesus made them discover the love of God the Father for which the whole Bible had prepared them.

 

Some three thousand were added to their number (v. 41). They already knew of Jesus, but were not committed to him. They were converted by the common action of the Holy Spirit and the apostles. A church in which signs of the Spirit acting could not be seen could not say that Jesus lives in her midst.

 

 

 

 42. Those who have been baptized feel strongly united by the new faith and long for a communal life. As they gather in private houses and the communities are not too big, they can know each other and share everything.

 

Luke tells us what they did and we must note the order of priorities:

 

   first the teaching of the apostles

 

   then comes Christian fellowship, with more attention to the weak (chap. 4)

 

   only then may the breaking of bread, that is, the Eucharist, be celebrated

 

   finally common pray­ers of thanksgiving to prolong the Eucharist.

 

In some communities today life is lacking because the first point, which is the basis for all the rest, is not given priority.

 

The Spirit of Jesus comes to us through the Word and the Eucharist: these are the sources of the Church’s dynamism. By the word, we do not mean the study of the Bible merely to know the Bible. The Bible helps us realize how God continues to speak to us through the actual achievements of our life, the community and the world.

 

The expression breaking of the bread could mean any Jew­ish meal that began with a blessing. But very early the Christians reserved this word for reference to the Eucharist that they celebrated remembering the last supper of the Lord (Acts 20:7; 1Cor 10:16).

 

Joy and simplicity of heart gave witness to the change in their lives and the authenticity of their fraternal sharing. They were deeply reconciled per­sons.

 

It was not the naive joy that is easily found in Christian groups who have no thought for the problems of the world. Neither they nor their enemies could ignore that Jesus had taken on the prob­lems of national reconciliation. They were enjoying the favor of the peo­ple who considered them to be concerned and responsible persons.

 

 

 

 3.1 We might sometimes think that Jesus cured all the sick. This is not true, since he did not heal this cripple who was in the Temple every day. This new sign brings about another proclamation.

 

Why are you amazed at this? The miracle was done in the Name of Jesus, that is, by the Power over every creature that Jesus received from the Father at the time of his resurrection. Jesus was in their midst as the servant of the Lord (Is 42:1; 52:13), but speaking of his Name was a way of stating his divinity (Mk 16:17; Phil 2:9).

 

I know that you acted out of ignorance. Yet Peter de­mands that they ad­mit their guilt. All of us must confess a similar guilt in the injustices and crimes of our times.

 

He must remain in heav­en (v. 21). The coming of Jesus inaugurated the “last days” in which the Gos­pel reconciles hu­manity with God, and changes human consciousness thus speed­ing up the course of history which, in the end, forces humankind to solve their problems together. Humanity is on its way to the coming of Christ and the restoration of the world, namely, the Res­urrection.

 

He sends him to bless (v. 26). This blessing comes to those who accept reconciliation with God upon seeing the love he revealed to us in Jesus. The blessing is not for us alone, rather, through us – the people of God – it reaches all the families of the earth.

 

 

 

 4.1 The Jewish leaders judge Peter and John. The Holy Spirit judges the leaders of the Jews.

 

These leaders believe they possess the truth because they are learned and have authority. It is impossible for them to back down before ordinary men who refute their statements. Meanwhile Peter points out how strange it is to be arrested for having healed a sick man (v. 8).

 

These leaders were Sadducees and they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead: Acts 23:6.

 

This text suggests that all of us can be the witnesses of Christ and of the truth, if we are determined to be involved. Often­times, because we only rely on our own strength instead of counting on the Spirit of Christ, we remain silent before our co-workers or our leaders.

 

What we have seen and heard (v. ­20). It is John speaking: see 1 John ­1:1.

 

 23. We can meditate on the way this church gathering develops: an event (the arrest) is shared by all. For them this con­frontation with the authorities is some­thing new. They con­nect what happened with the Word of God. In this case they refer to Psalm 2; then they begin common prayer and ask for courage to continue to do God’s works.

 

 

 

 32. Here we might understand that this sharing had become a rule in the early Church. In fact, if we pay attention to 4:36 and 5:4 it becomes clear that everyone admired what some of them did.

 

Jesus did not ask­ for this; yet they were doing it, inspired by the desire of every true believer to re­move all divisions between brothers and sisters, especially those created by money. Placing everything in com­­mon, however, requires not only a spirit of detachment, but also a sense of responsibility and organization. The believers in Jeru­salem lived at a time when work and foresight were not very important, and they soon consumed what they had, without being concerned about work­ing, and eventually became the “poor of Jeru­­salem.” Paul was to organize collections in other churches in order to assist them (Gal 2:10; Rom 15:25; 2 Cor 8).

 

 

 

 5.1 As children many of us were taught about the wonders God did in the past, as if God only acted in those days. The Jews of that time thought exactly the same way. The Bible spoke of the time of Moses when those who rebelled against God’s prophet were killed by divine inter­vention (Num 12:1; 16:1; 17:16). God continues to work in the Christian com­munity, and the ordi­nary believers of Jeru­salem suddenly discover that Peter, the fisherman, is not inferior to Moses. See also Acts 13:11; 1 Cor 11:30.

 

The couple’s sin does not consist in having kept part of their goods. Nobody was forcing them to sell their property and to give the money to the community. They wanted to deceive the apos­tles and give the impression they were donating everything, when in fact they were not.

 

We must be very careful when we speak of God’s punishment. For a Christian, the only punishment is to be forever separated from God. Death itself does not mean that God wants to punish us. Yet the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira served as a warning and a sign for the others.

 

Here the word church appears. Its exact meaning is “the assembly gathered by God,” and before Jesus’ time, the Jews used it to mean the new people that God was going to form in the messianic age. The believers continue to be proud of being Jewish, of being the people of God; nevertheless, little by little, the Holy Spirit separates them from the official community. They are already aware that they are the new people (Ps 22:32) gathered by God. The Church still means only the Christian community of Jerusalem. As other communities arise – other churches – “the Church” will refer to the entire people of God.

 

 

 

 12. So an ever-increasing number of men and women, believed in the Lord (v. 14). All the Jews believed in God who spoke through the prophets. It was easy for them to believe in the prophets of the past after the religious authorities acknowledged them and placed their warnings in all the books of the Bible. But it was quite a different thing to recognize Jesus as the prophet that God had sent them but whom they had rejected. The text states that to believe in the Lord and join the community are two inseparable steps. A person cannot belong to Jesus without belonging to the new people he has brought to life through water and the Spirit.

 

Verses 15-16 do not hesitate to compare Peter to Jesus.

 

 

 

• 17. Could this confrontation of the apostles with the rulers of the people be similar to what happens today in many countries when the Church denounces violations of human rights?

 

There are many Christians who say: it is not the same, since the apostles in their time were persecuted for proclaiming Jesus; whereas now, only Christians involved in politics are punished.

 

This, however, is not true. In Jesus’ day, the Jewish peo­ple were both dominated and divided. Jesus spoke as a totally free man, teaching a way towards free­dom, which today we would call non-violent action. The au­­thor­ities did away with him to defend the security of their nation (Jn 11:48) and their own political system. For the disciples of Jesus, to be con­verted meant to acknowl­edge com­plicity with those who put Jesus to death and to take the path indi­cated by him. Since they were living among op­pressors and re­sent­ful peo­ple, this was a very dangerous road (Lk 21:12-16).

 

In fact, when the priests judged Peter and John, they only demanded that they break away from this man (Jesus) whom they had legally condemned.

 

Proclaiming Jesus means preaching universal reconciliation (Eph 2:14), which is achieved at all levels of human life, including the economic and political. The Church would not be following Christ, nor would it be proclaiming Jesus as the only Savior (5:31), if it refused to be con­cerned that entire nations are condemned to die slowly through lack of food, edu­cation, and health. This crit­ical concern, however, would not be Christian preaching if it did not con­vince us to believe in the saving plan of God.

 

 

 

 33. Gamaliel was one of the most renowned among the masters of the Law. Here we see the open mind of this old Jewish teacher who knows that God’s ways are not always the ways of humans.

 

If their project or activity is of human origin (v. 38). Jesus had said something similar (Mt 15:13). Yet that does not seem evident. Are we not aware of many false doctrines that last? If they have lasted for centuries, perhaps it is due to the fact that in spite of the error and the evil they sow, they contain useful or necessary principles for a given time, or for certain human groups. Perhaps they make very important statements that the Church should proclaim but cannot or does not want to do. Experience shows that the majority of humans are not ready to embrace the Christian faith: must God abandon them because of that? Can we, who have Christ, say with certitude that such and such a one is not “the prophet.” Maybe God’s will is that he be the prophet of a certain group and help them in their searching for God (Acts 17:27).

 

Gamaliel was Paul’s teacher in Jerusalem for doubtless three or four years, a little after these events (Acts 22:3). Paul’s conversion will be providentially prepared through contact with this open and sincere man, and equally so through the death of Stephen (7:54-60).

 

 

 

 6.1 We must not think that Jesus indicated in every detail how the apostles were to organize the Church. A conflict took place between two social groups. It seems that these Hellenists followed the Essene party, who did not accept the legitimacy of the High Priests and who refrained from participating in the Temple rituals. The clash of ideas between “Hebrews” and “Hellenists” causes mutual mistrust so that it became necessary to give some autonomy to the Hellenists. Since the apostles identified more readily with the Hebrews, the others would have their own ministers for certain functions.

 

The community chooses sev­en men and the apostles give them a share in their au­thority, because any mission has its roots in Christ through the apostles.

 

The candidates must be filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, because they are not only entrusted with material services. And even if it were only for material services the Church would have much to suffer from competent administrators who lacked the Spirit of the Gospel. Were these seven men the first deacons? Luke mentions nothing beyond service, and “deacon” denotes servant, usually steward. In fact, this term, “deacons,” will from the start give the meaning of every ministry in the Church: ministry means “service” (1 Cor 12:15). Ministers are at the service of the community assembled by the Spirit to witness to the salvation given by Jesus. All through the centuries, the ministers of the Church would be tempted to misuse the role entrusted to them for the good of the community. Many will take advantage of their “service” to put themselves over the community: they will let others serve and honor them and will not hesitate to be called princes of the Church. What is true for those called to a high rank in the hierarchy is equally true for all those priests or lay people entrusted with lesser responsibilities: all must remember the words of Jesus (Lk 22: 24-27).

 

 

 

 8. Philip will be mentioned in Acts 8:5 and 21:8. Stephen is the only one remembered here.

 

Being a Hellenist (see previous paragraph), Stephen did not share the blind faith of the Jewish peo­­ple in their Tem­ple and its rituals. He understood that the Church had to become free from the patterns of the past and move away from the Jews, if they refused to believe.

 

Stephen’s long discourse before the San­he­drin (the Great Council) is an outstanding summary of the Old Testament. It emphasizes the increasing initiatives of God who calls, gives, promises, corrects and saves. Confronting this untiring love is the permanent rebellion of Israel who despises God and rejects those he sends. The prophet Hosea, eight centuries before Christ, already expressed the drama of the rejected love of God by his people (Hos 11:1-4). Stephen proclaims it again: this drama reached its culmination when Jesus, the Son-of-God-made-man, was nailed to the cross (Acts 2:23; 3:15; 4:10).

 

Stephen dies as Christ did. He becomes the first martyr (martyr means witness). He is a witness to Christ because he proclaims him, but even more so because he does as Christ did, he forgives his murderers.

 

Like Peter after Pentecost, Stephen still hopes for a conversion of the Jewish people: a minority at least will be converted. This hope will fade in time with the persecutions raised against the Church. The murder of Stephen would be the first sign leading the converted Jews to understand that apostolic work must be undertaken beyond the frontiers of the Jewish fortress.

 

Later, when it becomes clear that the Jewish community has rejected the Gospel, Paul will strive to build among pagan nations a network of communities, a new people of God. Then Paul and the other apostles will search for all those who, in any nation, have been predestined by God. They see the Church as a people of “saints.”

 

However, it again appears that many in the Church are not converted. As soon as the community grows and organizes itself, all the defects Jesus denounced in the Jewish Synagogue take place among the Christians and in the structures of the Church.

 

You always resist the Holy Spirit. This was and remains true in the Church that enjoys the assistance of the Spirit. The people of God always tend to take on the criteria and aims of any human group. Peace with those in political power, security for the future, unity and strength for the Christian organizations are more attractive than the words of the Gospel: sell all your belongings, preach on the rooftops, go to the poor, do not be called “father.”

 

The only way to escape from this return to “the Synagogue” is to do what the first Christians did after Stephen’s death: leave our beloved nest for the mission of proclaiming the whole Gospel.

 

 

 

 8.1 The death of Stephen leads to a resurrection. Instead of Stephen, the Church will have a new apostle in Saul who, after his conversion, will become “St Paul.” So God heard the prayer of Stephen for his murderers.

 

The illegal execution of Stephen unleashes the persecution against the Hellenist Christians. The apostles and others in the Hebrew group were not persecuted, because they were considered loyal to the Jewish religion and traditions.

 

Concerning Saul’s attitude, see what he himself will say later in Galatians 1:13.

 

 

 

 4. The persecuted Christians pro­claim their faith and start Christian communities in Samaria.

 

Evangelization brings happiness: God reveals himself, and through his Spirit he heals bodies and hearts. God becomes present. What a marvelous and moving thing! Joy, rather than fear and sectarianism, will always surround authentic Christians.

 

 

 

 9. Who is the most important person in this passage? Simon? No: it is the Holy Spirit.

 

Philip is one of the seven. He baptizes but he cannot communicate the gifts of the Spirit.

 

Baptism and the laying on of hands are the two stages of Christian initiation; they refer to two different aspects of life in the church. Baptism is the renewal of the individual through faith. While, the laying on of hands expresses the transmission of the Spirit in an uninterrupted way, be­ginning with those who received it at Pentecost.

 

This laying of hands (which has become confirmation in today’s Church) was then usually followed by these manifestations we read of in the Acts (19:6) and in Paul (1 Cor 12 and 14). The spectacular aspect of these gifts is often what impresses us most; they were part of a global experience that is still given in one way or another to those who have surrendered to the Spirit.

 

Simon, a magician, quack or hypnotist, gave Peter the opportunity to condemn a false understanding of spiritual gifts. Simon thought the apostles were more powerful magicians than he was, and wanted to buy the power of working certain miracles. Peter gives us to understand that looking for miracles is clearly not the way to prepare for receiving the Spirit. In any case, such things are not bought.

 

The manifestations of the Spirit are not always like the ones mentioned in Acts (see Acts 19:6 and 1 Cor 12). This is because God adapts his gifts to the needs of the Church.

 

Communities of simple, poor people are those that receive more gifts of healing for the sick. Because they lack normal resources, God becomes present. Prayer groups receive the gift of tongues, which is one of the gifts that strengthen piety. The gift of prophecy manifests itself in various ways according to context. Where faith leans heavily on the certainty of divine justice and the fear of God, we see predictions and revelations of the secrets of the heart. Where­as, among those with a more rational and intellectual bent, the prophet is often characterized by the gift of speaking with assurance and the ability to stress a point in such a way that the community or individuals recognize the voice of God.

 

The Spirit continues to be at work in many believers who, perhaps, neither speak in tongues nor work healings, but act under the inspiration of the Spirit. They produce the ‘fruits of the Spirit’ (Gal 5:22-24) and are thus authentic witnesses of Jesus.

 

Baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus (v. 16). See the note on 19:5 on that subject.

 

 

 

 26. Note how the Holy Spirit leads Philip towards a man who was neither a Jew nor a Samaritan, the first person of another race to receive the Gospel.

 

The Ethiopian who is baptized is simply a man who ‘fears the Lord.’ This is the way they referred to people of other races who were attracted to the religion of the Jews and to faith in the one God. Without following all the Jewish customs, they read the Bible and liked to take part in the Jewish ceremonies.

 

The conversation with Philip begins on the basis of a text from Isaiah 53:7. This poem, called Ser­­vant of the Lord, speaks of a just man unjustly condemned who, through his sufferings, atones for the sins of all humankind. In this text the apostles saw one of the passages which best prefigured Christ: see commentary on Mark 14:24 and 1 Peter 2:24-25. Isaiah’s poem concludes with a veiled reference to the resurrection of the “Servant of the Lord.” It is marvelous to see how Philip can give a testimony of the Resurrection with such conviction that the Ethiopian believes in him.

 

 

 

 9.1 This is a decisive event in the beginning of the Church. Christ comes in per­son to win over the fiercest persecutor of the Christians.

 

The conversion of Saul, who will become Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, is also found in Acts 22 and 26.

 

It would be wrong to present Paul as an evil man who finally finds the right path. As shown in Acts 22:3-4; Gal 1:14 and Phil 3:4-11, Paul from his youth felt the need to dedicate himself to the service of God. This is why he went to Jerusalem to study the Law, that is, religion, with the best teachers of his day. His interest in the things of God made him uninterested in looking for a wife: he did not marry. To this young man, dependable and responsible, the Jews entrusted the difficult task of eliminating from their communities the new and suspicious doctrine of the Christians. Paul is in charge of the repression of Christ’s followers and he does this in a very harsh way, for the good of his religion.

 

Why do you persecute me? (v. 4) Who is this Lord who calls me a persecutor, when my only ambition is to serve God? Until that time Paul felt good, like the Pharisee of the parable (Lk 18:9), and thanked God for having made him a responsible, dependable and active believer. Now, faced with the light of Christ, he discovers that his merits and ser­vices are of no use to God; his faith is mainly human fanaticism; his self-assurance as a believer is disguised pride. Paul sees himself as a sinner, violent and rebellious; but at the same time, he understands that God has welcomed him, chosen him and forgiven him: this man is my chosen instrument (v. 15).

 

Paul is no longer the Pharisee of the parable; rather he has put himself in the place of the publican. “My God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” This is the characteristic conversion of a militant Christian. However active we may be, we will be unable to present ourselves as witnesses to Christ, if we do not admit to being forgiven sinners. This is why there is such Christian concern for universal reconciliation.

 

From then on, Saul (who will take the name Paul) will be a chosen instrument of Christ to spread the Church to other countries. Until then the Church, which was led by and made up of Jews, did not go beyond the Jewish people. Paul was a Jew too, but had been educated outside his country. He enjoyed the culture of the Greeks as much as that of his own race. Because of that and because of his exceptional personality, he was to be the apostle to the Greeks.

 

The Church must constantly renew itself, and is renewed through the conversion of adults. Christian communities, even when they want to be open to people who do not participate in com­munity affairs (for example, workers, or at times, young people), are usually unable to be really open. Thus the Lord calls some people from different walks of life that, once they have received the faith of the Church, will be able to evangelize those of their own milieu and to preserve their freedom with regard to traditional groups.

 

In crucial times in history, Christ called new men and women whom his Church needed: Fran­cis of Assisi and, closer to us, John XXIII.

 

The Way: this is what Christianity was called; the word expressed the fact that it is not only a matter of religious teachings, but rather a new way of life enlightened by hope.

 

 

 

 19. For three years Paul preaches his faith and relates his own experience in the province of Damascus, also called Arabia (see Gal 1:17 and 2 Cor 11:32).

 

Paul is already going his own way. He does not separate from the Church, as his journey to Je­ru­salem shows, since he goes there to meet the apos­tles. Yet he preserves his independence as he waits for the promptings of the Spirit.

 

 

 

 32. Peter appears in his role of “inspector” of the churches (the word bishop means inspector).

 

It is said here that he visits the saints. In the years prior to Christ, the word “saints,” namely, those consecrated to God, was used especially to designate the new people of God since the coming of the Messiah (see Dn 7:27). Christians are the new people of God since they are the Church (see 5:11); they are also the saints.

 

The raising of Tabitha is similar to what Je­sus did. It is an echo of the Resurrection of Christ, as the raising of Lazarus (Jn 11) or the widow’s son had been (Lk 7:11).

 

God wished to grant these signs to strengthen faith in Jesus’ resurrection. Besides the people who had been witnesses of his Resurrection, it was necessary that, in var­ious places, the communities could see for themselves that God “raises the dead” (see Heb 11:19). Similar resurrections have been seen in the Church even in this century.

 

 

 

 10.1 This is a new intervention of the Holy Spirit so that the Church would go beyond the Jewish world and the Gospel would reach other people. Cornelius (like the Ethiopian of 8:27) is a God-fearing man, that is to say, a foreigner who believes in the one God of the Jews, without being a member of the Jewish community.

 

The heavens were open­ed to him (v. 11). He may have seen a tent coming down – an image of God’s dwelling place in the world – which contained creatures considered unclean.

 

The Jewish religion included a whole series of prohibitions for believers. It distinguished between clean animals, name­ly those that could be eaten, and unclean ones that could not. The same regulations applied to peo­ple; Jews could not mix with non-Jews. Thus Pe­ter’s vision, in which he is invited to eat unclean animals, means that he must not hesitate to go and stay in the house of Cor­nelius the Roman.

 

We do not know if Peter would have hesitated to baptize a non-Jew (and uncircumcised) as Cornelius was. The manifestation of the Holy Spirit forced his hand.

 

At last someone of another race is baptized! In many places today as well, the Church is in danger of being reduced to a closed social group, and, perhaps, of becoming antiquated. Popes and bishops invite us to go forward and to dialogue with all people. Yet it would seem that only the intervention of an angel could convince us to go to other people.

 

He sent his people (v. 36). Peter presents Jesus. Jesus’ life was that of an authentic pro­phet, who comes to continue the work of previous prophets, spokespersons of God’s word. But, in Jesus, God was offering the good news of peace, that is, God was reconciling humankind with himself, once and for all. We are easily reminded of one of Paul’s central points: see Rom 5:1-11; 2 Cor 5:11-21 and Eph 2:14-16.

 

Judge of the living and the dead (v. 42). This expression comes from religious concepts of the time, making a distinction between the judgment of those who would witness Christ’s return at the end of the world (the living) and those who had died before (the dead). See the same in 1 Thes 4:17.

 

One receives forgiveness through his Name. Through his Name, that is to say, through his own power and effectiveness. This confirms Jesus’ divine authority.

 

 

 

 11.1 That Peter went to baptize a non-Jew seems to us the most normal thing. Let us not forget that the Christians of Jerusalem remained Jews, with their education, their prejudices and their sensibility. They did not see how a person could be part of Jesus’ family without first belonging to the people of God who, for them, identified itself with the Jewish nation. Could someone become their brother without first being circumcised? The warning they gave Peter is the first witness of the constant pressure that Christians have always brought to bear on their priests and bishops through­out history. Everytime that someone would like to open our Church to people of another culture, a powerful group will only be willing to accept those who consent to lose their own identity and be Christians in the way we ourselves are. These believers in Jerusalem are not acting in bad faith and they accept Peter’s explanations. Like him, what courage the leaders of the Church will need to respond to the calls of the Holy Spirit when faced with the prejudices of a group!

 

 

 

 19. Antioch, 500 kilometers north of Jerusalem, was the principal town of the Roman province of Syria, a pagan country, where Greek was spoken but where there was an important Jewish community. Luke does not tell us who presented the Christian faith to the pagans for the first time, nor how that happened. The Christians of Jewish origin that did it would deserve a statue, or better still a feast in our liturgy. So there is at Antioch for the first time a community where Jews and non-Jews are assembled: the future of the Church was there. The Jerusalem community is the Rome of the primitive Church. It is conscious of its authority and immediately asks to examine more closely this extraordinary new happening: a Church where Jews accept to rub shoulders with the uncircum­cised.

 

The Jerusalem com­munity behaved as having auth­ority over the new churches; the case of Antioch would touch everyone since, for the Palestinian Jews, accepting pa­gans was something of a scandal. Did not the Law of Moses forbid living with “uncircumcised” people?

 

 

 

 27. There is mention of prophets. Among the gifts that the Holy Spirit granted to converts, the gift of “prophecy” was one of the most outstanding. On various occasions the “pro­phet” would receive from God an insight into future events of the community, or something concerning one of its mem­bers. They would also give homilies “in the Spirit.” Everyone would recognize the hand of God in the conviction and wisdom with which they spoke, discovering a word relevant to the present in a biblical passage.

 

The first gesture of fraternal assistance among Christians of different coun­tries is un­der­lined. In this paragraph the elders or “presbyters” (it is the same word) are mentioned. The leaders of the Christian commu­ni­ty were so called, following the Jewish custom.

 

 

 

 12.1 This second persecution reaches the entire Christian community of Jerusalem (see 8:1). James (the great­er) was one of the pillars of the church together with Peter and John (Gal 2:9).

 

Peter’s second release (see the first in 5:19) brings out the po­werful intercession of the Church on behalf of its leader, and also the will of Christ to keep his church beyond reach of the power of evil (see Mt 16:18).

 

Report this to James (v. 17). This James is the “brother of the Lord”: he was already accepted as responsible for the church in Jerusalem.

 

 

 

 13.1 This is the beginning of Paul’s missions; for the time being he is sent as Barnabas’ assistant.

 

It is very difficult to know how the Church organized itself in the beginning. It did not have the same kind of hierarchy with three orders that we have now: bishops, presbyters (or priests) and deacons: this started only at the end of the first century. The Churches of Jerusalem and Antioch were certainly not directed as those in small towns. Most of the time, the communities chose their elders among the most trusted men. They had to be recognized or installed either by the apostles or some other superior authority and accepted by the neighboring communities. Their ministry as leaders included baptism, the celebration of the Eucharist and the anointing of the sick. This institution of the Elders (see 14:23 and 11:30) copied exactly the organization of the Jewish communities.

 

However, wherever there were prophets accepted as such (this was the case in Antioch), they enjoyed greater authority, somewhat like the apostles (1 Cor 12:28 and Eph 2:20).

 

Paul and Barnabas are not considered apostles yet, but they are prophets. As for the teachers: they are those who have the ability to teach doctrine and morality based on Scripture, for the ser­vice of the community.

 

Luke gives the details of the beginning of this mission. It emerges from the initiative of the Holy Spirit, but responds to the life of fervor of the community of Antioch. Note also that the community agrees to have two of its five leaders leave, and that Saul and Barnabas are ready to face the risks of this adventure.

 

The laying on of hands invokes the grace of God upon these two missionaries.

 

 

 

 4. This first mission begins in a very traditional way. Jews could travel through­out the Roman em­pire: in any impor­tant city they would find other Jews involved in trade and always gathered in communities, in “synagogues.” From Anti­och, Barnabas and Saul travel by sea to the island of Cyprus, Barnabas’ homeland.

 

The meeting with Ser­gius Paulus has the value of a sign: the Gospel not only convinces simple people, but also authorities. Paul is aware that he must witness before “kings and rulers” (Lk 21:12). The prophetic gifts of Saul are seen when he meets Sergius Paulus. From then on, the Book of Acts will no longer speak of Saul but of Paul: had the governor authorized him to use his family name? For Paul, who was already a Roman citizen (16:37), it is a further step in becoming integrated into the world of the non-Jews.

 

Paul and his companions. Once the mission began, Paul becomes the obvious leader. They do not stay in Cy­prus; they leave there groups of believers who have been hastily instructed.

 

When they arrive on the continent, at the inhospitable area of Perga, John Mark leaves them. Paul’s daring plans may have scared him. They go through the mountain range of modern Turkey and reach the heart of the province of Pisidia – Antioch (which must not be confused with the other An­tioch).

 

Luke gives all the details of the events at Antioch in Pisidia, because they were typical of the situations Paul was going to face in various parts of the Roman empire.

 

Paul speaks at the Sabbath gathering in the “syn­agogue” (house of prayer of the Jews). The worship involves psalms and biblical readings (obviously, from the Old Testament). Then, one or sever­al of the leaders make comments. Since Paul is a visitor, out of deference, they ask him to speak.

 

Paul’s discourse, this return to the history of Israel may seem to us to hold little interest, as was the case for Peter’s (chapter 2) and Ste­phen’s (chapter 7). But it was the Jewish way of preaching, and for all these emigrants, there was nothing more interesting than being reminded of this history that they knew by heart and which gave them their identity in the midst of other peoples. So Paul presents this history, highlighting a series of facts that gives it meaning and clearly leads to Christ. Paul shows that God’s promises to Israel have been fulfilled in the resurrection of Christ.

 

We have here a way of understanding the Gospel that we must not lose. We hold that the Jewish and later the Christian faith is “historical.” That means first of all that God has been revealed through history: our faith is not a doctrine developed by thinkers, nor has it sprung from legends. It also means that the resurrection of Jesus marks a new departure for all human history and that year-by-year history presses on towards an end where the sole issue will be Judgment and the Kingdom of God. We cannot simply preach a doctrine that is always true, we must show how the Gospel is a living power and how the Spirit of God is at work in events.

 

The audience reacts in various ways. Those who are listening are not all Jews; there are also those “who fear the Lord,” or “proselytes” whom we have already met in the Ethiopian (8:30) and Cornelius: these are considered second-class believers by the Jews.

 

From the first words, Paul greets them the same way he greets the Jews. Then, in his preaching, he does not emphasize the observance of the Law, which only the Jews could fulfill and which made them feel superior to others: instead, Paul declares that the Law is surpassed (v. 38). He stresses the promises of God addressed to all people. Those who “fear ­God” are delighted by a Gospel that makes them God’s children, just as the Jews are.

 

They all invite Paul to speak on the same theme the following Saturday. At that time Paul makes an important decision: Instead of restricting himself to the Jews during the week, he prefers to go to those who “fear God,” people whom he wins over because he is not racist in any way. These people, in turn, bring others to the gathering on the following Sabbath – pagans who had never been involved with the Jews but now mix with them.

 

Then a crisis occurs. The assembly divides into two factions. Those Jews who are most close-minded and proud are afraid when they see themselves surrounded by “unclean” pagans; they oppose Paul and even try to throw him out. Rich and pious women intervene. From that moment, a Christian community separate from the Jews is formed.

 

Is not all this factual? If we do not often have such crises in our own Church, it is perhaps because the apostles are few, as in Paul’s time and we have not yet had the visit of the one who will be heard beyond our walls.

 

All those destined for everlasting life (48). This expression does not condemn those who have not believed. It simply states that the coming to faith was a gift for those believers: God entered their life and made them bearers of a current of divine life that would transform the world (Jn 17:3).

 

 

 

 14.1 What happened in Antioch in Pisidia happens here as well: Paul and Barnabas speak fear­lessly. This is one of the characteristics of the genuine apos­tle, moved by the Holy Spir­it. This self-assurance has a powerful influence on the conversion of the audience, but it is not a natural human gift. Paul will indicate that God gives it to preachers who place their trust in God, especially when they feel the weakest and the least prepared (see 1 Thes 2:2 and 2 Cor 12:10).

 

 

 

 7. Once beyond the town of Iconium, where many citizens spoke Greek, there was nothing to help the missionaries, including the problem of language. There was also the weight of the traditional religion. It would seem to us at times that it should be easier to teach the faith in a place where everyone had a religion, and therefore a certain faith in God. This is not so. Having religion meant submitting to the totalitarian authority of customs and social traditions linked to this religion. People were enclosed in a system of interested relation­ships with their divinities where it was impossible even to imagine the reaction of a free per­son in relation to God. The non-believers in our modern societies have in fact been freed of many prejudices and confusions.

 

Paul saw that he had the faith to be saved. This man must have been still far from faith that recognized Jesus, Christ and Son of God, but it was the same faith of many of those Jesus healed in the Gospel. God does not call only theologians, even if they are needed in the Church; the others, the “little ones” should feel that they also are the very substance of the Church.

 

The crowd is astonished by the miracle, but it is clear they have not understood. They want to return thanks, as they always did, since God once more showed his mercy: Paul did not come for that. All happens as at Iconium and Antioch: the pre­sence of Jews in every city of the Empire, the close communications between their communities made them formidable enemies for those who had the central authorities of Jerusalem against them. The Jews were to persecute the Christian communities and indispose the Roman authorities against them up to the Jewish War of 66-70 that brought about the ruin of their nation.

 

The difficulties of Lystra in fact helped Paul to define his objectives: he will no longer risk going to the provinces where it is difficult for him to speak and to be understood, and where he himself does not feel at home. From now on, he will evangelize the cities situated at the great crossroads, as well as the ports, and will leave to others the care of spreading the Gospel in the inner regions.

 

 

 

 21. Derbe marks the end of the mission. Paul and Barnabas go back the same way they had come. They visit all the communities established on the continent. Then they will sail for Antioch without returning to the island of Cyprus.

 

In those days the Church did not have parishes, clergy, institutions, or books. The apostle had to organize the Church in such a way that it might continue. There was a book, the Jewish bible, namely, the Old Testament. The prophets inspired by God would draw new teachings from this book, by discovering a sign of Christ in the past. From time to time apos­tles or prophets coming from other churches would visit the community.

 

There will be gatherings around the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (see 1 Cor 11); besides the Eucharist, everyone will share with others their own spiritual gifts (see 1 Cor chapters 12–14). Just as the Jewish communities had leaders called “elders” or presbyters, Christians also lay their hands on leaders, “presbyters,” who will lead and preside over the Eucharist (see commentary on 13:1).

 

So we understand that a mission does not reach its goal if it does not succeed in forming adult communities, with their own leaders and with the active participation of their members.

 

 

 

 15.1 We see the first internal conflict in the Church. Paul himself relates it in Gal 1:1-10.

 

Already for two or three centuries the migrant Jews in Greek-speaking lands had been attracting numerous pagans to their faith. These had, practically, to be integrated into the Jewish people since the Bible – the Old Testament – demanded without distinction, faith in the One God, circumcision, Jewish dress, respect for the alimentary taboos of the Jews…

 

A good number of Christians in Jerusalem did not see entry into the Church any differently. The Pharisees among them were more categorical in expressing their point of view (v. 5) while James did it with more nuance: pagans were saved by faith in Christ, but this remained linked to observance of the law. This signified that for these Christians, without being fully conscious of it, faith was integration with the people of God, but this people of God remained identified with Israel. Paul’s missions created a new element: communities formed in Greek countries with a majority of non-Jews and Paul laid down no condition for their baptism. For them the people of God was the Christian community. Would the Church be divided? Would Paul become the initiator of another “Christian” Church, more radical in its appreciation of salvation by faith alone in Christ? The meeting at Jerusalem was an effort of the whole Church to clarify its faith and safeguard its unity.

 

The manner of resolving the conflict clarified the communal aspect of the Church. The “elders” in charge of the mother-Church in Jerusalem met with the apostles who were the supreme authority in the Church. Simon Peter addresses them, referring to the experience he had in the case of Cornelius (chapter 11), and he opened the way to total freedom with regard to the Jewish reli­gion.

 

 

 

 13. The intervention of James, a firmly conservative leader of the Jerusalem Church, insisted on measures with the purpose of not scandalizing Chris­tians of Jewish origin. Even if the law is not obligatory, Christians of pagan origins would be asked to abstain from certain things most repugnant to Jews: the problem of blood (black pudding!) and unbled meat first of all, and also marriages between relatives, and food used in pagan sacrifices.

 

 

 

 22. If we re-read chapter 2 of Galatians, then Acts 21:25, we may think that Luke has combined here two events: the meeting at Jerusalem as well as a decision James took later for the Churches that depended directly on Jerusalem and where the Christians of Jewish origin formed the majority. That helps to understand the decree that follows.

 

The final decision of the “Council” of Jerusalem, as it is presented here, is doubtless the best the apostles and the Holy Spirit could do at the time. Let us frankly say that the settlement could only be provisional and lacked doctrinal justification. To impose Jewish laws was to penalize non-Jews; it was also a way of saying that the Church was unable to live according to the “newness” of the Gospel, free of the past, free of religious discipline. In fact, a few years later, there was no question of these laws since the Church had freed itself of the Jewish community, just as it had been rejected by the Jews.

 

The following expressions are to be noted: the apostles, the elders, and the whole community… it has seemed right to the Holy Spirit and to us: the decision of the community united to its apostles guarantees the presence of the Holy Spirit. On several occasions in history, similar debates have taken place, but then it was not a question of freeing the Gospel of the Old Testament laws; it was the laws and customs of the Church that had become the impossible burden to carry (v. 10) for a large human majority. Only when a debate is wide open, as was the one at Jerusalem, does it succeed in pointing out the obstacles and ecclesiastical taboos. As long as the central organisms stifle the liberty of expression, the mission weakens and encloses itself within a traditional clientele decreasing day by day.

 

 

 

 36. This is the year 50. It has been thirteen years since Paul encountered Christ on the road to Damascus and now another stage of his life is starting. He acts as the leader in charge. The apostles and the Church in Jerusalem officially recognized the mission that Christ had given him on the day of his conversion: he will be the apos­tle to the pagan nations of the Roman world (Gal 2:7-9; Eph 3:8-9).

 

The sudden breakup between Paul and his friend Barnabas should not surprise us: faith does not destroy one’s personality. Time and thanksgiving tend to lessen conflicts. Some years later Paul, who is imprisoned, will be helped by Mark (Phil 24), and much later, imprisoned again, Paul will ask Mark to come and help him (2 Tim 4:11).

 

 

 

 16.1 For Paul it is not enough to have established Elders in every com­munity; he also wants to have assistants who are to visit and strengthen the existing communities and form new ones, as Paul himself does. Timothy becomes the first of these. The apostle takes into account the good testimony that believers give of Timothy. When it is a matter of looking for leaders for the Church, Paul will always demand that they have a good reputation (see 1 Tim 3:7 and Titus 1:6).

 

A detail shows us how Paul was able to give in. He does not want pagans to be circumcised: this ­ritual has no value for a Christian. Yet, since Timothy is Jewish, Paul circumcises him according to the Jewish rite, so that he will not have any problems with believers of Jewish origin, and so that they will be better able to minister among them.

 

Luke gives but a few details of a journey that probably lasted two years. Paul’s letters give us an idea of the unremitting work he undertook to form believers and their leaders: a mission is more than gathering people together and preaching to them; it has to arouse and convert those who will give life to the community – a life of its own and which will continue to develop.

 

On two occasions the Holy Spirit prevents Paul from carrying out his plan to develop the Church in the Roman province of Asia. The Spirit shows him he must go beyond, to Macedo­nia that was the first province of Europe. Thus God’s will that the Gospel be taken as soon as possible to Rome, the center of the empire, is carried out. Paul, who is so dynamic and enterprising, follows the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

 

 

 

 9. Suddenly the text mentions we, that is to say, that Luke is beginning to relate his own involvement. We must conclude that in Troas, Paul and Silas met Luke, a doctor from Antioch who was waiting for them. He may have arrived by boat while the two missionaries were traveling inland.

 

 

 

 16. From the beginning, the Gospel proves its freeing power that in a first time results in the imprisonment of the apostles. Paul frees a female fortune-teller. This gift is condemned in the Old Testament (the Bible seems to recognize that it is not necessarily a question of fraud). This fortune-telling appears to be linked to dark powers that deny the absolute over-ruling power of God regarding the destiny of his children (Col 2:15; 1 Cor 2:8): wanting to know the future is in fact always to doubt God. The master of this girl put forward an argument that was meant to impress the authorities in a society where customs were sacred – the same argument the Jews used and will use against Paul (and later many “Christian” societies will use it against true believers): these people introduce customs which are not lawful for us Romans to adopt and practice.

 

In Roman jails there was a main room and in the center of the pavement a grill closed the opening through which the most dangerous prisoners were thrown into an underground cell. They throw Paul and Silas there. They are perfectly free in spite of their chains. Though they have been beaten and are wounded, they feel like praising God. In the silence of the night, the jailers and the other prisoners listen to them.

 

God is also listening. How many similar episodes, wherever a witness of Christian freedom has been at the risk of one’s life and liberty!

 

We who take the time, and rightly so to prepare for baptism, might be surprised by this very swift baptism of a whole family. It could be said that it was a special case: let us stress also that all this happened in a very different world from our own.

 

Note also that Paul knows how to defend his rights (v. 37).

 

 

 

 17.1 In this mission, we should note the case of Thessalonica, capital of Macedonia. The Christian community will begin with people of Greek origin, worshippers of God, whom Paul met in the synagogue, and with other Greek pagans. The few Jewish converts (v. 4) will probably become the pillars and the educators of the community. They had a lasting experience of God’s word and knew how to use the Bible. They sang the psalms, had some idea of a liturgy in the framework of a community, and had a better grasp of moral principles. Paul will always be careful not to let the Jews bring the converts back to a religion of commandments, but it was doubtless that among them he would, for a time, find the better prepared elements. Persecution prevents Paul from staying more than two months. How could a church formed under such conditions and consisting of pagans with little training survive? Yet it persevered: see the Letters to the Thessalonians.

 

 

 

 16. Athens was the most famous city in the Greek world. Even after the loss of political control, Athens remained the cultural center of the Roman world. Paul goes there, as he always aims for large cities or ports, where news travels from one place to another and spreads through sea travel.

 

He is offered the chance of speaking before the philosophers and the authorities of Athens, and he accepts. For these intellectuals he formally states his message, but it is a flop. It might have been expected. Usually those who accept the faith are those whose life draws nearer to Christ. His audience was only interested in novelties; they were masters, and Paul had no title. Paul confronted the Christian faith with the other religions, showing that for all peoples it was time to begin a new worldwide age. A first part recalled the fact of religious plurality: it was only a first stage in God’s plan. Then came the Gospel: all humanity was to unite in order to prepare for God’s judgment. It was there without a doubt that Paul would have given his own witness, but they did not allow him to finish his discourse.

 

Different than what the Jews often did (see again Wisdom 11–15), Paul does not attack images and the honor given to them. Paul knows that in all religions, many people give images their due place and do not confuse these traditional images and rites with the true and only God, for they have a certain idea of him. Paul only wants to show that this God is far beyond the figures we attribute to him, and immediately affirms the unity of humankind in the plan of God. From one stock he created the whole human race. Let us not resume the outmoded discussions to know if Paul condemns or not the theories of human origin from different individuals. Paul affirms that the race is one in God’s plan: the first among them, the model, the elder brother is not the little prehistoric ancestor but Christ, Son of God.

 

He wanted them to seek God by themselves – and eventually to find him. An astonishing affirmation of a humanity to which God has not said everything and which has to advance by groping and making many mistakes. God has so willed it, even if dictators think to impose a truth. Here, Paul does not condemn philosophers with­out faith, or whose theories have many harmful aspects.

 

How many interesting perspectives! Are we to be satisfied in just condemning our world in crisis? Never has humanity known such an upheaval in its conditions of life, such challenges to face, such changes to accept in everyday life. It is normal for a person to be disoriented, to have to grope and make enormous errors: this is part of God’s plan. Very often the Church is unable to say what is the best choice: are not Christians the Church? And they are divided. God has not the habit of supplying prophets who would think and know for others. We can only reaffirm what is our faith: every­thing should end with judgment and the judgment will be made before Christ. Peoples are saved and condemned according to whe­ther they accept or not this God who became one of us and one of those who serve.

 

Later, however, Paul points out that God prefers to overlook that time. Christ has come: starting with him, who is the head (Col 1:18), the dispersed children of God are going to be gathered in one body (Jn 11:52; Eph 1:10), and since he is the definitive truth, all must believe in the Gospel. God judges the world through Christ, that is to say, that people are saved or condemned depending on whether they accept or reject this God who appeared humble.

 

 

 

 18.1 Corinth, the main port of Greece and capital of the province of Achaia with 600,000 inhab­it­ants, of whom 400,000 are slaves, is a religious, commercial and cultural center. It has countless temples with thousands of prostitutes serving in them. The city is famous for its luxury and its corruption. Paul goes there and remains eighteen months – until the end of the year 52. This date is exact: history tells us that Gallio was governor of Achaia during the year 52.

 

Aquila and his wife, Priscilla, had just arrived in Corinth. They were perhaps already Christians, but Jewish Christians were not different from others before the decree of the emperor.

 

Aquila and Priscilla sim­ply place themselves at Paul’s service to help him. They will assist him on other occasions with the natural availability of peo­ple who do not feel tied to any city or country.

 

A vision: there are not many in this book. Perhaps Paul was wondering whether it would not be better for him to retire for a time as he had already done and as Jesus had advised in case of persecution (Mt 10:23). The devil increases the opposition when someone sets foot on his field: in this center of corruption, grace would triumph.

 

The Jews brought him before the court. Here we have a new example of the problems Paul met in the great Roman centers. Different peoples co-exist and many conflicts are settled within communities according to their proper laws and customs. Gallio, the Roman governor, has no wish to be dragged into the jungle of traditions and disputes, especially with the Jews who enjoyed religious privileges within the Roman Empire.

 

The Jews are furious in seeing the success of Paul that relies on the Word of God, that is, on their own sacred books. They fear that the boldness of the Christians might stir a reaction from the pagans, in which case they, too, would be the victims.

 

They seized Sosthenes – and beat him. A sure bet would be that this Sosthenes, a Jew, is the one mentioned in 1 Cor 1:1. Even if he already acted as a prominent member of the Christian group, it is doubtful whether the Jews would have attacked him before the authorities: most probably it was a group of bystanders falling on a well-known Jew.

 

Paul had made a vow (v. 18). He shaved his head as it was said in Numbers 6:5. All that Paul had written to turn converted pagans away from the Jewish Law did not prevent him, a Jew, from feeling at ease with the traditional forms of Jewish piety. He knew that faith alone saves, but it was his wish to mark with a vow some secret agreement he had made with the Lord.

 

 

 

 23. In this short paragraph Luke combines the end of the second journey and the beginning of the third.

 

Paul does not stay in Ephe­sus, the capital of the province of Asia. He is in a hurry to return, after two and a half years of mission. He goes up to Jeru­salem and returns to An­­tioch, which is the first and the main among the churches in the pagan world. Paul goes there to rest after every journey. The life of this large community, with years of experience, and the contact with its apostles, helped him to see what the future of the Church would be.

 

When he leaves again, Paul visits the churches established on his second mission. This takes him several months, so he will only arrive at Ephesus in 54. Meanwhile a church had been established there.

 

 

 

 24. During Paul’s absence, Aquila, Priscilla and others resumed the first contacts that he had established in the Jewish community. An important success: the integration of Apollos who will be one of the most valued missionaries (1 Cor 3:6; 4:6; 15:12). Apollos, we are told, knew something of The Way (v. 26). We have already met this term which denoted Christianity: not only a religion, nor only a faith or morale, but all that together and more. Apo­llos, like the twelve men mentioned in 19:1-7, had probably been in Palestine when Jesus was already known there. His teaching had not yet given rise to a movement nor made a stir equal to that resulting from John the Baptist’s preaching, which was followed by baptisms and commitments.

 

 

 

 19.1 For three years, Paul wanted to evan­gelize Ephe­sus. Ephesus was one of the most beautiful and largest cities in the empire.

 

Luke wanted to relate the baptism of these twelve disciples of John the Baptist. As we have just said they knew something of Jesus’ teaching, but as for being his disciples, they lacked what was most important: they had not received the Holy Spirit.

 

The Holy Spirit came down upon them (v. 6). See Acts 8:14-17. We must not forget that in the beginning, the Christian language was limited. We know that the Holy Spirit is much more than the manifestations that follow the laying on of hands. So we have such statements as: we have not heard that there is the Holy Spirit, while other texts state: that the Holy Spirit be received. The laying on of hands is meant to confirm the change worked at baptism through the experience of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:7). Many Christians would be surprised today if they have never had this tangible experience of God. Let us not say that these gifts are no longer useful or that such things do not happen today. What is important, surely, is to believe and live one’s faith rather than to feel it. Such an experience, however, is often the shock that gives rise to a re-blossoming of our faith: it shows us that God is near, and he is master of our inner self. Perhaps our rationalist temperament and our Church life, mistrust­ful of all that is a personal expression, serves as a dampener of the gifts of the Spirit; perhaps it is rather the poverty of our commitment to Jesus.

 

They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Are we to presume that in the beginning baptism was in the name of Jesus and not in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? It is not certain.

 

In the name of signifies: by the power of; maybe the baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit was called the baptism in the name of Jesus to distinguish it from the baptism of John and the baptisms of other religions. It is also possible that at the moment of receiving the water in the name of the Holy Trinity, the person baptized had to make a personal invocation in the Name of Jesus. Possibly also in early times, baptism was given “in the Name of Jesus” and later the Church modified the formula in order to distinguish itself from groups that believed in Jesus but without recognizing him as Son of God, born of the Father. There would be nothing to astonish us in such a change: the Church of the apostles had given the first formula; the same Church gave the second formula attributed to Jesus in Mt 28:19.

 

 

 

 11. Many are the signs that Jesus promised for those who would believe (Mk 16:15-18). Similar things happen today when the Church becomes missionary again.

 

We are impressed by the cures. Perhaps the in-depth conversion of those who confess their magic practices and burn their precious books is more important. Apparently they did not do it at the time of their baptism but later, when they were more convinced of their faith.

 

 

 

 21. The success of the Gospel was so great that it staggered idolatry. It appeared, however, alongside many other religions. The Roman world was full of religious restlessness, and from Asia in particular came many doctrines, cults and teachings that claimed to free people from death. The Gospel was different from all of them since, while those doctrines were merely theories, the apostles were proclaiming a fact: a Jew named Jesus has risen and we have seen him risen.

 

There is a chaotic disturbance. The group of idol-makers defend their interests. The Jews who lived quietly among the pagan population are worried, lest they be confused with the Christians, so they try to excuse themselves.

 

 

 

 20.1 Paul remained two and a half years in Ephe­sus, and some details in his letters let us see that Luke’s account is very incomplete. The great­er part of Paul’s activity is not mentioned, in particular the evangelization of the neighboring towns of Ephe­sus by a team of his assistants: see the Introduction to Ephe­sians. Paul had much to suffer, and was perhaps imprisoned (Introduction to the Philip­pians). It was at this time that he wrote his letter to the Galatians and the First Letter to the Corin­th­ians.

 

Paul goes to Mace­donia (where Thessalonica is located) and to Greece (where he spends some­ time in Corinth). There in Co­rinth, as he perseveres with his plan to go to Rome, he wri­tes to the Romans.

 

 

 

 7. Luke tells us that the Eucharist took place on the day after the Sab­bath – already our Sunday: the Christians had separated from the Jews, replacing the Sabbath with the following day, the first day of the week, the day of Jesus’ resurrection. Doing so they were putting on their calendar the major event of their faith.

 

Naturally they meet in a home and this is the beginning of the Christian gathering. They share instruction and re­flection, concluding with thanks­­­­giving (or Eucharist) and communion with the body of the Lord.

 

Each one could speak, and Paul as pro­phet and apostle had a good deal to say, prepared or inspired. What might have been Paul’s long discourse? He read and interpreted texts from the Scripture that were referring to Jesus; he gave witness of his own commitment to Christ; he related the many happenings in his mission when the Spirit of Christ was at work.

 

This part of the celebration could be prolonged: the prophets, even Paul, tend at times to overdo it, but they could not separate without ending with “the breaking of bread”, the Eucharist.

 

With the unlucky fall of one of the youth and the intervention of Paul, the participants witness God’s power over death (see 10:36).

 

 

 

 17. Paul returns to Palestine. He had a presentiment or he knew by a revelation of the Holy Spirit that another phase of his life was about to begin: the years of prison and trials. So he wished to say goodbye to all the leaders of the Church in the Roman province of Asia. He did not know all of them well, since the evangelization of this province had been the work of his team of assistants (20:4). These leaders are called elders in verse 17 and inspectors (or “epis­copes,” from which we have bishops) in verse 28. See on this subject the commentary on Phil 1:1.

 

Paul gives his own example and develops the obligations of “pastors” in the Church (v. 28). He then invites them not to enclose themselves in the role of president or admin­istrator of the community: they must prepare it for difficult times. Let them compare themselves with Paul and ponder on the sacrifices that the apostolic task demands of him. Is it good for them to rely on another – an apostle of course – when they are confronted with difficulties?

 

In verses 28-30, we have the warning of divisions and heresies in the Church: the same message will reappear in the Pastoral Letters (2 Tim 3:1-9). We are used to seeing Christians divided. For Paul, it was unthinkable. When he speaks of “the Churches of Christ” (Rom 16:4 and 16; 1 Cor 4:17; 11:16), he is only thinking of the local communities who communicate among themselves and all accept without discussion the same faith and tradition of the apostles. Paul alludes to what awaits him: all that we can do is to follow Christ, who has acquired his Church by his own blood. Only in heaven will a leader of the Church find rest and retirement (20:32).

 

In verses 33-35 Paul takes up the resignation discourse of Samuel (1 S 12:3). How quickly can a person be self-serving and look after self in any apostolic work.

 

The text also mentions the “bishops” (that word means inspectors). We do not know if they are the elders themselves, or only some of them, those with greater responsibility.

 

 

 

 21.5 Paul goes up to Jerusalem, and manifestations of the Spirit follow. Paul is warned that he should not go, and this happens when he himself leaves chained by the Spirit (20:22) that means without the possibility of making any other decision. It is the right moment to see how the Spirit of God is one with the spirit of the person he inspires: those who warn Paul know and declare that he will meet with trouble and they would not want it. Paul knows and he wants it. Today, such manifestations are not part of the ordinary experience of Christians, with the exception of certain charismatic groups. Yet on looking into the subject it would seem that many people do receive such warnings but attach little importance to them.

 

The Spirit passes through our spirit as does light through thick colored glass and takes its color. Many manifestations that certain people seek are current mainly in primitive religions, even the non-Christian: must we take it that they are the most desirable religious experiences? However, if the Spirit of God wills to use our parapsychological senses to let us feel his presence in this firmly closed fortress that we call “our own self” and where we pretend to be the only rulers, “Praise the Lord! Alleluia.” Let him have us speak in tongues, laugh and cry, if such breaks the ice and opens the doors of our reason that has already seemingly known everything.

 

A good number of Christians make fun of such happenings. They are free to believe or not: there are so many illusions and much charlatanism. All they have to do is to ask themselves whether or not they are systematically denying any divine manifestation in a world we believe we know well, through human experience. If God no longer has the right to intervene in a world given up to reason and the laws of science, how can there be a true and trustful communion with him?

 

That is important. Whoever renounces and gives self to God sees the Spirit becoming more and more active in her life, not through visions and marvels, but through silent inspiration. This becomes so habitual that a person cannot live without it and knows through experience that the inner inspiration is right even though reason suggests another way of acting. Such a person mistrusts her own projects and follows this spiritual instinct.

 

The primitive Church had its pro­phets, but always wanted community discernment to judge whether it was truly God’s Spirit (1 Cor 14:29; 1 Thes 5:21; 1 Jn 4:1-3). The Bible already spoke of prophets who spoke without being sent, or dreamed what they wanted to dream (Jer 29:16). The account of the journey helps us to get an idea of how these first communities welcomed brothers and sisters from other parts at a time when communication was limited. Besides, would there have been a Eucharistic celebration with these foreigners without at least asking about themselves and their Church? It was quite different when apostles or prophets were passing by for then they were granted manifestations of the Spirit, with a more developed knowledge of the Word, as well as news of the universal Church.

 

 

 

 17. The Christians of Jewish origin praise Paul when he gets to Jerusalem but, at the same time, they humiliate him. There is a rumor among them that Paul, besides not imposing the Judaic Law on Christian converts from paganism, also suggests that the Jews abandon the Law. They asked him to prove his fidelity to the past by becoming godfather to a few believers who had made a fairly costly vow – because if Paul had come from the Greeks, he would have money and could pay well!

 

Those who insist are the elders working with James “the brother of the Lord”: all are Jews from Palestine who, in spite of their faith, are still attached to the customs of the Old Testament.

 

They point out the importance of the Jeru­salem community: thousands of Jews in order to make their demands respected. They may still have been more numerous than the Christians in the pagan world: this was the inheritance of the past. Paul accepts for the sake of peace, but it will be his downfall.

 

 

 

 27. There are several si­mi­larities between Paul’s arrest and Ste­phen’s a few years before (see 6:9). The Jews from Asia draw up several accusations: the most serious one being that Paul brought an “uncir­cum­­cised” man into the Tem­ple; this profanation was pun­ishable by death. This is the man who is spreading his teaching everywhere against our people, our law and this Sanctuary. There were simi­lar accusations against Christ and Stephen.

 

This is a false accusation. Nevertheless, the Jews are not totally wrong: through his teach­ings, Paul forms Christians who replace the Temple wor­ship with faith in Christ; they replace the Law with a life of obedience to the Spirit and Jewish na­tion­alism with universal Christian community.

 

The Roman troops occupying Jerusalem and seeking order were stationed in a fort­ress adjacent to the Temple and overlooking it. Thanks to this, the soldiers were able to intervene before Paul met the same fate as Ste­phen.

 

 

 

 22.1 Paul here gives personal witness. He will stress he is still faithful to the religion of his fathers: but he has not been able to prevent Christ, the Lord, from imposing himself on him. Paul will quote Gamaliel (Acts 5:34); and then a Christian Jew very faithful to the Law, Ananias (v. 12). The crowd listens. The reaction comes when Paul says that the pagans will share the privileges of the Jews. The pagans: our enemies, impure people and enemies of God! The same affirmation had been decisive in the condemnation of Jesus (Mt 21:42).

 

 

 

 23.1 To understand the chapters dealing with Paul’s trial we have to remember that justice in the Roman empire was very well organized. The supreme tribunal was in Rome: this was the Tribunal of Caesar, and Roman citizens fearing a mistrial in their province could appeal to the Tri­bunal of Caesar. There were governors (or procurators) who administered jus­tice in each province. In the Jewish territory, the Romans who occupied the country kept the important cases for themselves, but they left the rest to the Jewish tribunals, especially religious affairs. Paul was to go through various tribunals, beginning with the Sanhe­drin, or religious court of the Jews, all the way to the tribunal of Caesar.

 

Thus, through Paul, the words of Jesus entrusting to his apostles the mission of proclaiming him before Jewish and pagan authorities was to be fulfilled.

 

Paul tries to make the resurrection of Christ the theme of his declaration. There was a trial to condemn Jesus. Now, Paul tries to have the governors pay attention to the cause of the risen Jesus, and he succeeds.

 

In every age, such will be the zeal of the witnesses of Christ when they are accused: to demonstrate that they are not acting out of self-interest, nor from any human motive, but because they are the servants of Christ.

 

 

 

 26.1 Paul did not have the best audience for his speech: an operetta king, Agrippa, to whom the Roman governor, the real authority, wishes to make a gesture; the famous Bernice, sister of Agrippa, who is his concubine before going off to make other conquests; and then all those who have come for a moment of relaxation before the cocktail, including the Roman officers who know very little of the religious quarrels among Jews. So we have a third account of Paul’s conversion (see chpts. 9 and 22). This time, Paul shows his conversion is not surprising: he has found what God had for so long promised his people: the resurrection of the dead.

 

I asked them to repent. It is precisely what the prophets said. It was not enough to proclaim oneself a Jew; all had to convert. And here, Paul speaks openly before this audience who are not outstanding in their moral virtue, except perhaps the Roman Festus.

 

That the Messiah would rise from the dead. Here again is the decisive point. Paul questions the religion of many Christians, who, according to polls accept Christ as Word of God but do not believe in the resurrection. Something beyond death? Perhaps… “I am not like those who think they know everything, I’m searching…” Precisely, as long as we are searching we have not taken the leap of faith. To accept Christ, is to renounce the totalitarian reason with its proven truths. Reason is at home in science but shortsighted in the face of essential truths. As long as there is no belief in the resurrection, there is no understanding of human destiny: a person may be educated, have a religious culture but be unable to grasp the truth. Even if the words of St. Anselm shock us, they are true: “Believe in order to understand.”

 

Paul is not so preoccupied about defending himself as he is about convincing others: Agrippa and Festus are people like everyone else and they need Christ. Festus is amazed by Paul’s biblical background and his enthusiasm: Agrippa, moved, says nothing. In fact, if they have been impressed, uneasiness will soon pass: “serious matters” will again take up their time.

 

 

 

 27.1 Paul is taken to Rome with a group of prisoners. It is not difficult for us to imagine that even if the officer shows him much consideration his situation is not all comfort. This officer has his own authority besides that of the ship’s captain: the soldiers know that if a prisoner should escape, his guard would be executed (see 12:19 and 27:42). This account is a very interesting document on navigation in the Mediterranean at that time. Luke has given plentiful details: what a contrast with the account of Jonah and the tempest, written doubtless by someone who had never sailed. It is obvious that Paul was familiar with this kind of journeying: in 2 Cor 11:25, he states having been shipwrecked three times. Paul’s inner strength stands out in the description of the storm: Paul knows he is to testify before the tribunal of the emperor.

 

 

 

 28.1 Paul almost perished at sea; on approaching the shore he narrowly escaped being butchered by his guards, and then the episode of the viper: see the promises of Jesus in Mk 16:17-18. Note the first gesture of Paul on arriving at a place the Gospel had not yet reached: he will heal the sick in the name of Christ. Would that he come and do the same in our peripheral urban areas where it seems, the Church has not yet disembarked.

 

 

 

 11. When they get to Rome, Paul is treated fairly well. Instead of being put in jail, he is allowed to stay in the city, handcuffed (with his right arm tied to the left arm of the guard).

 

 

 

 17. In Rome, Paul immediately wants to meet the authorities of the Jewish community. At this particular time, even if Judaism generally rejected Christian preaching, there had been no official condemnation. Christianity was for them a “sect,” a group, such as Pharisaism or the Essenes. Aware of how news traveled from one community to another in the Jewish world, Paul wanted to make the first move.

 

For him, it is important not to be considered as a traitor to his country for accusing the Jewish authorities. He is even more anxious to openly attack the refusal to believe in Jesus. The Christian community has already done what it could do among the Jews in Rome but he wants to strike harder.

 

Luke wished to end his book with the account of this meeting. Here Paul repeats almost all that he said when he first preached at Antioch of Pisidia (13:46-47): the Gospel is to be first preached to the Jews, but if they reject it, that will not prevent the word of God being proclaimed to all the nations.

 

Without any hindrance. That is the last word: the Gospel has gone out to conquer and nothing will stop it (Rev 6:2). Paul remained two whole years in this house, that is to say, in partial captivity: it was the delay fixed by the law for preventive detention. It is most probable that all ended with a not proven verdict. Some authors, in a hurry to consider as fables elements given in the Pastoral Letters on a later activity of Paul, assert that he was then condemned to death. There is no reason why Luke would have hidden it; it is still less probable when Luke alludes to a change of residence.

 

 

 

 

June 25, 2007 - Posted by | Acts, Christian Community Bible, Commentary, New Testament

1 Comment »

  1. […] Matthew Mark Luke John Acts Romans 1st Corinthians 2nd Corinthians Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians 1st Thessalonians […]

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