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New Tesament Lesson 28 (KD): Acts 1-5

Posted by Karl D. on July 16, 2011

Gospel Doctrine
Lesson: Acts 1-5
Reading: Acts 1-5

PDF Version of Notes

1 Approach

These represent the notes I made during my reading of the scriptural text for this lesson. It is not a lesson outline or a lesson plan but really notes about issues and questions that struck me as interesting during my reading. Consequently, the notes do not have a conclusion and very little mention of application. I like to let those things arise while I teach.

2 Outline and Structure

This weeks lesson really does cover a lot of ground: the first five chapters of Acts. I do want to give a sense for the big picture, the events, and the themes developed in these chapters. So let me outline the first five chapters. As always, there is more than one way we could outline the chapters but I think the following outline is useful.1

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I. The Development of the Church (1:1-26)
A. Witness’ Commission and Jesus’ Ascension (1:1-14)
a. The Prologue (1:1-5)
b. When, What, and How? (1:6-8)
c. The Ascension (1:9-14)
B. The Restoration of the Twelve (1:15-26)
II. The Mission in Jerusalem (2:1-5:42)
A. The appeal to Israel (2:1-3:26)
a. The Pentecost Event (2:1-13)
b. The Pentecost Sermon (2:14-41)
c. First Major Summary (2:42-47)
d. The Healing in the Temple (3:1-11)
e. Peter’s Temple Sermon (3:12-26)
B. The Trials of the Fledgling Apostolic Led Church (4:1-5:42)
Peter and John Before the Sanhedrin (4:1-22)
The Apostles’ Prayer (4:23-31)
Second Major Summary (4:23-31)
Singular Cases (4:36-5:11)
Third Major Summary (5:12-16)
The Second Persecution (5:17-42)
  • After reading this material, what parts stuck out to you? What themes were developed in these chapters? Did you notice any themes that were carried forward from the gospel of Luke?
  • Did you notice any contrast with the gospel of Luke?
  • What literary features are prominent? Can you make any characterization about how Luke likes to tell the story of the fledgling apostolic Church?
  • One feature that is prominent in the first five chapters (and can be seen in the outline) is the importance and prominence of speeches. Peter gives several important speeches. Why are the speeches given by Peter important? Do you think it is important that Peter is making speeches separate from the content of the speeches?
  • Ben Witherington notes in his commentary on Acts that “The popularity of speeches as historiographical devices is well documented in Hellinistic literature.”2 Thus Luke was certainly using an important and common literary device to convey information about the early church. The use of the dramatic speech as a focal point for Acts has led debate over the accuracy of the speeches. Ben Witherington points out that the speeches reflect the style, vocabulary and syntax of Luke. Thus, it may be better to think of the speeches in Luke as edited summaries of speeches rather than transcripts from sources used by Luke.
  • Another prominent feature in the first five chapters is that Luke often summarizes the situation or what has happened. Why does Luke summarize so often? Ho do these summaries affect the “feel” of the book? How do you characterize the summaries when you read them?
  • As an example, let’s look at Luke’s summary of the Pentecostal events. Read Acts 2:42-47:

(42) And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. (43) And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. (44) And all that believed were together, and had all things common; (45) And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. (46) And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, (47) Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

  • How is it a summary? Is this just a simple summary? How is it different from a simple summary?
  • What themes does Luke mention in his summary? What developments or part of the pentecostal events were most important in Luke?

3 The Prologue

Read Act 1:1-5:

(1) The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, (2) Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: (3) To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: (4) And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. (5) For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.

  • NT Wright suggests that even though we call this book “The Acts of the Apostles” it is probably better title something like “The Deeds and Teaching of King Jesus (II)” or “The Acts of Jesus (II)”.3 Do you agree? Are those better titles? Also do you think tht Luke would have preferred that his book become known as “The Deeds and Teaching of King Jesus (II)” rather than “The Acts of the Apostles?”
  • Luke, reminds Theophilus and any other readers of the previous volume (the gospel of Luke). Are you surprised by any of the details of the brief summary of the previous volume? Does it suggest what are the most important parts or elements of the gospel to Luke?
  • Some Scholars have suggested that Luke breaks with the literary convention of the time because the prologue doesn’t provide a preview of what is to come. Do you think this is true? Do you think there is a preview or a summary of what the book of Acts is all about in these verses? Or is really a review?
  • What is verse 1 and 2 about? Who is doing the teaching and what is the role of the Holy Spirit?

(1) In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning (2) until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. , Acts 1:1-2 –NRSV

  • The NRSV seems clearer to me, but what does it mean that Jesus was “giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles?” What is this referring to?
  • In Luke 24, Luke seems to pack all the post resurrection action into one day, but here in Acts he makes it clear that the post-resurrection activity lasted a prolonged period of time (40 days). Why? How does that affect the reader’s focus in each case? Why is it important to know of the extended length here in Acts and not in Luke?
  • Are you surprised that Luke doesn’t give any details about or discuss what happens in the 40 day window before ascension? Can you think of the reason why?
  • What do you think Luke means by “infallible proofs” or “convincing proofs” (NRSV)?
  • Why does Luke refer to the Holy Spirit the promise of the father? What does it emphasize? How does it affect the reader?
  • Luke tells us that the disciples were commanded to wait. Wait roles does waiting play? Is it an important detail? Should we attach importance to the fact that there was a wait?
  • Why mention the baptism of John? What does it remind the reading of? How does it help summarize the ministry of Jesus?

4 Some Information

Read Act 1:6-8:

(6) When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? (7) And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. (8) But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.

  • Are you surprised that the disciples ask if Jesus will restore Israel? What does this tell us about the disciples? In what sense could it have been a natural question to ask even after the resurrection? What do you think the disciples meant by the phrase “restore again the kingdom of Israel?”
  • What do you think of Jesus’ answer to the disciples?
  • Do you think it is fair to suggest that Luke in this book answers this question for us as readers?
  • How is verse 6 related to verse 8? Does verse 8 answer the question raised by the disciples in verse 6? Does Jesus equate the restoration of Israel and the coming of the Holy Ghost? How are they related? Do verses 4-5 also suggest a close relationship between the Kingdom of God and the Holy Spirit?

5 The Ascension

Read Acts 1:9-14:

(9) And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. (10) And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; (11) Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. (12) Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day’s journey. (13) And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James. (14) These all continued with one accord in prayer and suppl ication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.

  • Luke is the only gospel writer the mentions the ascension. Why? Can you think of a reason why Luke would include the ascension while the other gospel writers do not (beyond, a simple they didn’t know about it)?
  • One thought that came to my mind is that the other gospel writers leave the reader with an image of the Jesus reunited with the disciples. Adding the ascension scene would detract from the ending image. Whereas Luke narrative continues on into the development of the apostolic church. I think the ascension plays a critical role in underscoring the role of the Holy Ghost.
  • NT Wright suggests the following about the first century context of Luke’s description of the ascension:4

Second, many of Luke’ readers would know that when a Roman emperor died, it had become customary to declare that someone had seen his soul escaping from his body and going up to heaven. If you go to the top end of the Forum in Rome, stand under the Arch of Titus, and look up, you will see a carving of the soul of Titus, who was emperor in the 80s of the first century, ascending to heaven. The message of this was clear: the emperor was becoming a god (thus enabling his son and heir to style himself ‘son of God’, which is a useful title if you want to run the world). The parallel is not so close this time, since Luke is clear that it was not Jesus’ soul that ascended into heaven, leaving his body behind somewhere, but his whole, renewed, bodily, complete self. But there is then a sense that Jesus is upstaging anything that the Roman emperors might imagine for themselves. He is the reality, and they are the parody.

  • Suppose NT Wright is right about the fact the first century readers would have made this connection. Is it an important connection? Is the contrast between the power of Rome and the power of the Jesus important?
  • Is this a theme that will show up in other parts of the book of Acts? Is it important by the end of Luke’s book that the gospel is preached in Rome?
  • How does the ascension provide contrast with what is to come? With what the early church will face and have to deal with?
  • Does the ascension remind you of any Old Testament stories or scriptures? Does it, for example, remind you of the ascension of Elijah (2 Kings 2)? In what sense is the ascension of Elijah an appropriate allusion given the themes developed so far in the chapter? Does the story capture any other Old Testament imagery
  • Did the two men in white apparel rebuke the disciples? Comfort them? What is going on in verses 10-11?
  • What does verse 14 tell us about the early Christian community?

6 Replacement

I know this is kind of long passage but I really don’t want to split it up. Read Acts 1:15-26

(15) And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,) (16) Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus. (17) For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry. (18) Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. (19) And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood. (20) For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take. (21) Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, (22) Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. (23) And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. (24) And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, (25) That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. (26) And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

  • Jim F. in his notes explains that following about the underlying Greek of “Bishoprick”:

Note that the word translated ‘bishoprick’ in verse 20 means simply “office.” The literal meaning of the Greek word is to have the duty of watching over others.”

  • What do we learn about early the Christian community from this story?
  • What do learn about Peter?
  • What is the role of the speech by Peter? What does it do? Why is Peter’s speech persuasive to his audience? What does the nature of the speech tell us about the Christian community?
  • How does Luke affect the speech? How does the narrative insertion in verse 18-19 affect the speech and how we understand as readers? What does this verse tell us about the original audience?
  • Note in some modern translations verses 18-19 are put in parenthesis to help the reader see it is a narrative comment but even in the King James Version I think the reader can tell it is a comment by the narrator. How?
  • What do we learn about the requirements of Apostleship? What are they expected to do?
  • Are you surprised that they chose the first new Apostle by casting lots? Why would they choose such a process? What does this tell us about the early Christian community?

Footnotes:

1 The New Jerome Bible Commentary, 724.

2 Witherington, Ben,
1998, The Acts of the Apostles: A Social Rhetorical Commentary, Eerdmans, 64.

3 Wright, NT, 2008, Acts for Everyone, 2.

4 Wright, NT, 2008, Acts for Everyone, 14.

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