The Book of Acts Day 1

Saturday, September 02, 2006


A few friends and I signed for a 3-credit hour course on The Books of Acts, which will bring us through 2 weekends of lectures - a whole day today, half day tomorrow, Monday and again the same schedule 2 weeks from now.

The lecture today was fully packed. It would be actually quite impossible to cover so much in just 2 weekends, but I suppose it is better than nothing. I am not very familiar with Acts to start with. The brief introduction with a broad look into the first 2 chapters today was quite good for me.

It is too much to replicate here and therefore I'll just post these 3 discussion questions, which the lecturer got us into some interesting discoveries in smaller groups, but with more questions raised.

1. Was Paul really an apostle and can there be apostles today?

The criteria for being an apostle are four:
a. they are chosen, not by human decision but divinely by Jesus (all the 12, Paul and Matthias through casting of lots)
b. they are eye-witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus
c. they are commissioned by Jesus
d. they are promised the Holy Spirit

So in my initial opinion ,I have taken the mention of apostles to mean the Apostles. But as we discussed it, I realised I could be wrong, because there are quite some instances in the New Testament that the apostles may also refer to other people other than the 12, who meets the criteria.

For example:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
~ Eph 4:11-12

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.
~ 2 Cor 11:13

These surely do not refer to the 12, though Ep 4:11-12 is debatable.

With these criteria, Paul should not be an apostle in their strict terms. But he did witness the risen Christ in a vision. However, would this not open doors to other purported visions making more apostles out of eager men?

The lecturer however did mention that in general we are apostles but not so much as having an apostolic authority but having responsibility of mission and spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth.

2. Has the kingdom of Israel been restored?

Our group concluded that this is really not an issue to us as it was to the first century believers. "So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6) Jesus replied that the kingdom that they should be looking for is a spiritual kingdom.

3. Is it important that the ascension really took place?

This question is really interesting to me because I have never asked it before, or rather, never thought to ask it in the first place. To me the ascension was a given, Jesus died, he was raised up and therefore he will be taken up. But when the question was being asked, it raised some other very interesting questions. Why didn't Jesus just vanish? Why does he have to go up? Jesus can go any other way he chose, but why must he ascend up, since heaven is not really up in the skies as such?

To me, I would respond it this way:

a. True enough, heaven is not up in the skies but in the Graeco world and language, the word used for heaven and sky is the same (I may be wrong though). So in their context, heaven is up, as is the same in our context.
b. The disciples must see him go up. There are instances in the gospels that Jesus can vanish. Therefore, he cannot just vanish or the disciples would be set into confusion as to what next and they might as well get back into their fishing business. In seeing that the Lord was ascended after He gave them words through the Holy Spirit, they went back to wait for the Holy Spirit, sparking the next chapter of the mission and the spreading of the Gospel.
c. The lecturer reminded us time and again that Acts should be read as a Part 2 of the whole work of Luke including the Gospel of Luke. There is a chiasm between these 2 books culminating into the ascension as the crux of the matter. The ascension is a division between Jesus' work on earth and Jesus' work from heaven. So He has to be seen to go up to heaven, reassuring the disciples that He has been taken up and will work in them through the Holy Spirit.

Certainly good stuff!

Anyway, during the introduction, the lecturer, whose love for books is evident, was introducing some books and I could feel my wallet getting lighter and lighter as he went along! These are a few of the books I would love to get, but most probably never will:

Barrett, CK. The Acts of the Apostles. 2 Vols, International Critical Commentary (Edinburg: T&T Clark, 1994, 1998)

Witherington III B. The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI Eerdmans/Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1998)

Winter & Clark (eds.) Vol 1, The Book of Acts in its Ancient Literary Setting (1993)

Turner M. Power from High: The Spirit in Israel's Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996) - the lecturer said that this is THE book to get if you want to have a book on the Holy Spirit

Maeghan
Painting: John Singleton Copley, The Ascension, 1775, oil on canvas, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photograph © 1996 The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

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2 comment(s)

  1. Wow! Fun!

    I'm interested in all three questions. And, it goes without saying, I have opinions on them. :-O

    For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.
    ~ 2 Cor 11:13


    Aarrgh! Of course. Why didn't I ever notice this argument for current apostleship? Nothing could possibly make more sense.

    FTR, I believe in the existing gift of apostle, but I don't believe in succession, nor that anyone with the gift of apostle is a peer of the 12. There are 12 foundations to the New Jerusalem and that case is closed.

    Still, the gift is completely needed by the church today.

    2. Has the kingdom of Israel been restored?

    Our group concluded that this is really not an issue to us as it was to the first century believers.


    Ah. Now, that is because you are not an amillenialist. If you were an amilly, the presence and power of the kingdom today would be of utmost importance to you.

    The kingdom of Israel is less than the kingdom of Christ, which is here today in part of it's glory. The kingdom of Israel was a picture of the glory that has come. The glory that is here is a foretaste of that which will be, but it is of the same eternal substance.

    3. Is it important that the ascension really took place?

    I love your points on this.

    I would add to yours this crucial matter, though. There is flesh and blood on the throne of heaven today. There is a living, breathing, eating human being in heaven. Jesus was not phantasm, and He still is not. The Divine Man is still a Man, even on Sept 2, 2006.

    That is an amazing thing.

    Unless Jesus ascends, it is easy to imagine that He kind of "got over" the whole "body thing" that He was going through. But, since Jesus ascended into heaven bodily, we know that He is a physical being forever. Important message.

    I look forward to more!

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  2. FTR, I believe in the existing gift of apostle, but I don't believe in succession, nor that anyone with the gift of apostle is a peer of the 12. There are 12 foundations to the New Jerusalem and that case is closed.

    I would say I was uninformed previously on this, not realising verses like that of 2 Cor 11:13. But now, I'm with you.

    Ah. Now, that is because you are not an amillenialist.

    Ah ... I see. Yup, I am not amillenialist - found the test in Thinklings - as expected, I am a premillenialist. Oh no, another thing to study!! ;)
    Thanks for highlighting that - never thought of that, will pass on the thought to the group this evening.

    There is flesh and blood on the throne of heaven today.

    Amen!

    Unless Jesus ascends, it is easy to imagine that He kind of "got over" the whole "body thing" that He was going through. But, since Jesus ascended into heaven bodily, we know that He is a physical being forever. Important message.

    Excellent point. Will pass this on as well.

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