Author Archives: SRQTom

Salvation, Baptism, and the Church

In the previous post the passage of Acts that we were looking at ended with this sentence:

And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Salvation is the most important aspect of the Christian life. In fact it is what the Christian life is all about. Yet in my Evangelical Protestant upbringing I noticed that it was also one of the least understood aspects of the Christian life and one of the least appreciated. This was quite alarming to me, especially since our salvation was the reason that Christ came to earth. As the Nicene Creed says:

We believe…in one Lord Jesus Christ…who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven…

At least part of the lack of understanding concerning salvation I believe can be attributed to two factors: 1)The Western proclivity for concrete definitions, and 2)The fact that salvation is, in the end, a mystery and a personal experience between an individual and God. In an effort to define salvation the West has articulated various and conflicting positions on salvation. In my native Evangelical Protestantism the end result of these varying positions has been not only divisions, but also seems to have led to salvation being primarily associated with getting into heaven. Thus to the Evangelical Protestant mind salvation is associated primarily with a completed past action: the moment they “accepted Christ,” became indwelt and sealed by the Holy Spirit, and were assured entrance into heaven upon death.* The downside to this association is that it can easily minimize, or even completely remove, the necessity and importance of following the commands of Christ and seeking to live more like him everyday.

Now to be fair Evangelical Protestants certainly agree that one must follow the commands of Christ, and if they aren’t then they have either abandoned their faith or were never really a Christian in the first place. However this is not called salvation in Evangelical Protestantism, but rather sanctification (becoming more like Christ). And while, technically speaking, sanctification may be included in the salvation process, dividing the process into different parts and defining different terms for each of the parts puts one at a significant disadvantage when reading Scripture because there does not seem to be such a distinction in terms made in Scripture. It is simply a form of “save” and could refer to the getting into heaven aspect, the sanctification aspect, the future glorification aspect (not discussed here), or could refer to someone being in physical danger, such as drowning, and in need of rescue.

Salvation is a personal experience between an individual and God and thus does not readily lend itself to definitions precisely because it involves multiple personal beings (i.e. a human and God). It also does not seem to be clearly defined and articulated in Scripture or in Christian tradition. It does involve coming to a recognition that Jesus is God and reconciled us to the Father through his crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection; and following Christ’s commands and becoming more like him; and being glorified in the future. Thus I propose that when we think of salvation, or being saved, we do not think of “accepting Christ” and being guaranteed a ticket to heaven when we die, but rather the following:

The process of being restored to our original, perfect state of being from our current evil and depraved state of being.

For an adult this process begins first with the recognition that Jesus is God and reconciled us to the Father, from whom we were separated at the Fall, through his crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. Then as soon as possible baptism should follow. This is the pattern that we have seen so far in the Act of the Apostles. First the “men of Judea” recognized who Jesus was, then they were baptized.

Baptism, I think, is best viewed as the initiation rite into the Church, regardless of what one believes happens during baptism. As such I do not have an issue with baptizing infants since I do not see any good reason why a child of Christian parents should not be initiated into the Church. In fact, for a child of Christian parents, salvation begins as soon as they are born and thus they should be initiated into the community that will guide them through the salvation process. Later on these children who were baptized do make their own decision concerning Christ as they learn for themselves who he is and what he has done.

Baptism will be featured multiple times as we continue through the Acts of the Apostles and is certainly an important part of the Christian life. If someone claims to be a Christian they should have either already been baptized, or be waiting to be baptized. I do not believe anything else to be acceptable for someone claiming to be a Christian.

The Church, what the baptized are initiated into, is in general terms the worldwide body of people who have been baptized and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (called “believers” in Christian circles). The Church is such an essential part of salvation that Jesus himself personally trained and appointed those who would lead it during its initial phases. These were the Apostles, whose acts, words, and deeds we are currently reading about. And not only were Apostles appointed, but the Holy Spirit was, and still is, given to all who are members of the Church in order to guide the Church and protect it. The Church is not a man-made institution, but a divinely appointed institution whose main purpose is to guide people along the way of salvation and help them avoid the snares the devil has laid with the purpose of leading people off the path of salvation.

Summary

In order to be restored to their perfect, original state of being from their evil and depraved state of being a person must be initiated into the worldwide community of believers by being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit. Then they should learn from others in the community of believers so that they will be able to discern where God is leading them and avoid the snares the devil has laid for them.

Next up will be chapter 3.

* Protestantism disagrees as to whether or not one can lose their “salvation,” i.e. their admittance into heaven.

Acts of the Apostles 2.37-47

Peter has now finished his speech defending the Galileans who were accused of being drunk (see 2.14-36) and in this passage we see the response of the people to Peter’s speech.

Book of Acts37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” 40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” 41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. 42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Before moving forward in this passage it is helpful to remember the identity of “they” in v.37. “They” refers to Peter’s audience who just heard his speech, which is specifically identified for us in v.14 as “men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem.” So then the crowd Peter was addressing was most likely predominantly, if not entirely, Jewish. Knowing this identity helps us understand their actions in the following verses and why Peter said what he said in vv.14-36.

The Jews had expectations (and still do) for the coming of the Messiah and the inauguration of a kingdom as prophesied in the Old Testament. Peter’s speech was aimed at convincing them that Jesus was the Messiah that they had been expecting. After hearing Peter’s argument they were “pierced to the heart” when they realized that they had crucified the Messiah they were expecting, so they ask the Apostles what it is they should do, and Peter tells them to repent and be baptized.

In the context of this passage what the Jews are repenting of is their lack of belief in Jesus’ Messianic identity. Up until this point they had rejected Jesus’ identity and even crucified him. So Peter calls them not only to cease rejecting Jesus as Messiah, but to accept Jesus as Messiah and join the 120 or so others who at this point comprise the Church by being baptized.

While Christendom disagrees over what happens during baptism, it does agree that it is an essential part of the Christian life. It was commanded by Jesus in Matthew 28.19, and is commanded here by Peter. V.41 indicates that baptism is one’s entrance into the Church, or the worldwide community of Christians, and that baptism should follow coming to some level of belief concerning Jesus. In this particular episode it seems to me the level of belief achieved was acceptance of Jesus being the prophesied Messiah. Today most churches expect you to understand not only Jesus’ identity, but the foundations and basics of the Christian faith. These are best summarized, I think, in the Nicene Creed.

43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

These verses describe the early community of believers and what was happening amongst them. I believe these verses to be fairly straight forward and not requiring much explanation. However I do want to emphasize a few things. First, they were devoting themselves to the Apostle’s teaching (v.42). They recognized that the Apostles had been chosen by Jesus and tasked with instructing others in what Jesus had taught them. We should imitate their humble attitude when we devote ourselves to the teachings of the Apostles (i.e. read the New Testament). Not only does Christianity claim to be historical, but it also claims to be revealed. The Apostles did not teach their own ideas, but rather taught what had been revealed to them by Jesus, and so to challenge the teachings of the Apostles is to challenge the teachings of God.

Secondly, they were devoting themselves to prayer (v.42). Prayer is an essential part of the Christian life and must be practiced throughout the day. Our prayers should be focused on things that will be spiritually beneficial for us, not things like new boats and cars. Written prayers are a great way to learn to pray for things that are spiritually beneficial. See the post on Acts 1.12-14 for more on this topic.

Thirdly, they were devoting themselves to fellowship and eating together (vv.42, 44-47). These verses are fairly self explanatory as to what this fellowship entailed, so I won’t expand much upon it. I do want to emphasize though that the Christian life is lived in community and this includes helping others in need (vv.44-45) and worshiping together (vv.46-47). The Christian life cannot be lived in isolation, it must be lived within a community of believers.

For the next post I’m going to explain more about salvation, baptism, and what it means to have joined the Church. It really does deserve its own post and I think it is important to understand.

Acts of the Apostles 2.22-36

Book of ActsIn these verses we have the last half of Peter’s response to the people who accused the Galileans of being drunk. In the first part Peter said that what they were witnessing was the fulfillment of the signs that the prophet Joel said would occur when Messiah comes. In this part we see Peter arguing that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah.

22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— 23 this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. 24 But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. 

Peter begins his argument by recounting the pubic nature of Jesus’ earthly ministry, which was known to everyone (see v. 22 “as you yourselves know”). Jesus’ ministry was not a private affair between him and 12 other men, but was instead a public affair. Jesus was out amongst the people teaching and performing signs and wonders. Even Jesus himself says this in John 18.20, “Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret.” Christianity doesn’t claim to be based on a private revelation given to one person or a select group of people, but rather claims that its founder taught and worked miracles in public.

The only way Peter could say, “as you yourselves know” and for his words to be taken seriously so that we have them not only preserved, but also believed 2000 years from when they were spoken, is if what he is claiming is true. Otherwise, if his words were false, they would not have been taken seriously and his words not believed nor preserved; he would have been laughed at and dismissed by his audience.

In vv. 23 Peter reminds his audience that Jesus was put to death publically by crucifixion and that they witnessed this event. Then in v. 24 Peter makes the claim that Jesus was raised from the dead, which he then moves on to support in vv. 25-32.

25 For David says of Him,

‘I saw the Lord always in my presence;
For He is at my right hand, so that I will not be shaken.
26 ‘Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue exulted;
Moreover my flesh also will live in hope;
27 Because You will not abandon my soul to Hades,
Nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.
28 ‘You have made known to me the ways of life;
You will make me full of gladness with Your presence.’

29 “Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. 32 This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. 

Peter quotes a passage from Psalm 16.8-11 and then proceeds to explain how these verses cannot refer to King David himself since David died, was buried, and his tomb is (or was during Peter’s time at least) still with them (v. 29). David thus did go to Hades (i.e. the place of the dead, everyone goes there regardless) and his body did suffer corruption. This is in contrast to what Peter claims about Jesus. According to Peter Jesus was raised from the dead (v. 24) and is thus not in Hades nor is his body decaying and suffering corruption. Peter is saying that David was predicting the resurrection of the Messiah in these verses, and that since Jesus was resurrected he fulfilled this prophecy and that all the Galileans, those who are accused of being drunk, have witnessed Jesus’ resurrection as well (vv. 30-32).

33 Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. 34 For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says:

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
35 Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”’

Peter continues by saying that not only has Jesus risen from the dead, but is seated at the right hand of God (representing supreme power and authority). He supports this assertion by citing Psalm 110.1, a passage which was believed to be describing the Messiah (Matthew 22.41-46; Mark 12.35-37; Luke 20.41-44).

36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Peter’s conclusion can be summarized this way: “Based on everything  that I have just said, that what you hear with the people speaking in your native tongues is the fulfillment of the signs the prophet Joel said would accompany the coming of the Messiah, and that it was predicted that the Messiah would be raised from the dead and would ascend into heaven, and that these Galileans have witnessed these events, know for sure that this Jesus, whom you crucified, is the Messiah that you have been waiting for.”

Next week we encounter the response of the people to Peter’s speech.

Acts of the Apostles 2.14-21

Here’s a recap before we get started:

 1.1-11 – IntroductionThis book is a continuation of the author’s previous account, the Gospel of Luke. The author informs us that this account will deal with the coming of the Holy Spirit, which was promised by Jesus during his Earthly ministry.
1.12-26 – Replacement of Judas: When the Apostles were praying after having returned to Jerusalem following Jesus’ ascension it is revealed to Peter that someone should be selected to occupy Judas’ apostleship since it is now vacant following Judas’ suicide. Matthias is selected to occupy the vacant office.
2.1-13 – The Coming of the Holy Spirit: During the Jewish festival of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came and rested on each one of “them” (probably referring to the group of people that were gathered to pray together in 1.12-14) and they were speaking in foreign languages so that those who were also in Jerusalem struggled to explain to themselves how it was possible that they were hearing people from Galilee speaking in their own native languages, since the Galileans most likely did not know the languages in which they were speaking.

Acts of the Apostles 2.14-21

Book of ActsIn the previous section we saw some of the Jews who had come to Jerusalem from foreign lands explain to themselves the phenomenon of the Galileans speaking in the languages native to those foreign lands by saying that they were drunk, or “full of sweet wine.” In this next section we have Peter’s response to those who alleged that the Galileans were drunk.  Just to be sure, the women who were gathered with the Apostles to pray in 1.14 are also included in the group referred to as “Galileans.”

14 But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: “Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. 15 For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; 16 but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says,
‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
And your young men shall see visions,
And your old men shall dream dreams;
18 Even on My bondslaves, both men and women,
I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit
And they shall prophesy.
19 ‘And I will grant wonders in the sky above
And signs on the earth below,
Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke.
20 ‘The sun will be turned into darkness
And the moon into blood,
Before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come.
21 ‘And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Interestingly, Peter is said to “take his stand with the eleven,” referring to the eleven Apostles. However we have already seen Judas’ vacant office be occupied by Matthias in 1.12-26. The text seems to indicate a clear progression of events up to this point, meaning that the events happened in the order in which the text places them, so there should be twelve Apostles at this point in the account. The most likely explanation to me seems to be to take the phrase to mean Peter in addition to the eleven Apostles.*

The third hour of the day referred to in v. 15 is 9 a.m., so it is highly unlikely that they would be drunk so early in the day. Instead Peter says that what is happening is what the prophet Joel said would happen and quotes from Joel 2.28-32. Unlike in chapter 1, this passage that Peter quotes is actually predictive of something, that something being the coming of the Holy Spirit. The passage that Peter has quoted here lists several signs that will accompany the coming of the Holy Spirit:

  • The Spirit will be bestowed upon men and women, slaves and free. In short there will be no distinctions made when the Spirit is bestowed; it can be bestowed upon anyone. And everyone who receives the Spirit will see visions, dream revelatory dreams, and prophesy.
  • There will be wonders in the sky above and on the earth below including: “blood, fire, and vapor of smoke;” a darkened sun; and a moon of blood.
  • Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.

The immediate accompanying sign that Peter likely has in mind is prophesying, since in v. 11 it says, “…we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” The second accompanying sign Peter likely has in mind is the darkened sun and moon of blood. The Gospels record that during Jesus’ crucifixion the sky was darkened from about the sixth hour (noon) to the ninth hour (3 p.m.), and Luke adds the detail, “because the sun was obscured” (Matthew 27.45; Mark 15.33; Luke 23.44-45). What is likely being described here is a lunar eclipse since it can last for several hours and turns the moon a reddish color, giving it the appearance of blood.

Peter interpreted Joel’s prophecy to be referring to the kingdom of Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament, which is why he changed the words “After this” to “In the last days.” To a Jew the “last days” refers to the coming of Messiah when he will restore Israel politically and reign forever. This is the first stage of Peter’s argument that the promised Messiah has come since the sun was darkened and the moon appeared red like blood, the Spirit was bestowed, and men and women are prophesying.

The proper response of the Jewish people then is in the last line of Joel’s prophecy that Peter quotes, “Anyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” It is only by belonging to the kingdom of the Messiah that they will be saved, otherwise they will perish. Here saved seems to mean in the sense of delivered from punishment; e.g. spending eternity with God rather than separated from God.

So to summarize Peter’s speech so far: these people are not drunk, but this is the fulfillment of the signs that the prophet Joel said would occur in the last days when Messiah comes, and you all should recognize this and join us and receive the Spirit as well.

In my opinion Peter could have stopped here and would have made his point quite clearly. Peter however continues his speech, and we will continue also, but in the next post.

* The other possibility I can think of is that there was some distinction made between Matthias being an Apostle and the remaining eleven Apostles that Jesus himself had chosen. My main problem with this explanation though is that 1.26 says that Matthias was added to the eleven Apostles, which seems to go against there being any such distinction made.

Acts of the Apostles 2.1-13

Book of ActsNow we finally come to the event that the opening verses of the book prepared us to expect: the coming of the Holy Spirit. This is a very significant event as it marks the beginning of the Church. Since there is so much to cover with this event I will be breaking this up into several posts.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of

Book of ActsMesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” 12 And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.”

First, the author provides for us the date on which the Holy Spirit was given: the day of Pentecost. This is a Jewish feast and it is dated 50 days from Passover. So, since Jesus was crucified on (or near) Passover*, rose 3 days later, and presented himself alive to the apostles over a period of 40 days following his resurrection before he ascended (see 1.3), we can conclude that approximately 10 days have passed since Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

It’s easy to skip over details like this, that seem to have no other purpose than to provide a date, but I would advise you not to do so. Such details are incredibly important. Details like this, and the genealogies (especially the ones in Matthew and Luke), tie Christianity to historical events, dates, and people. Christianity is based on historical events, such as the resurrection of Jesus, his ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit (all of which have been recounted to us by this point in the book). Christianity is not a philosophical system that someone produced in a vacuum. Christianity doesn’t hinge on a particular doctrine, but rather on the historical event of Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. Christianity is only false if these events did not happen.

As a side note, Mike Licona has some great resources (free and paid) to take advantage of if you are interested in investigating the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. His site is: RisenJesus.com.

It is this relation to actual historical events that sets Christianity apart from most, if not all, of the other major religions of the world. It is also this relation to historical events that I personally find to be the most persuasive aspect of Christianity. If there lived a man who claimed to be God, was killed, rose again, and ascended into heaven I have to explain those events somehow and come to a conclusion about them; I can’t merely dismiss them as fiction if they actually happened.

We can see an example of people trying to explain to themselves a supernatural phenomenon in this passage. When the Holy Spirit came there was a noise, and tongues of fire came and rested on the Apostles. When the noise was heard the people who were in Jerusalem, people from every nation under heaven,  gathered together and were perplexed because they heard men who were from Galilee speaking in their (the people in Jerusalem, i.e. not the Apostles) own language (for the languages see the list in vv. 8-11). We can see two different attitudes to the event: 1) some are perplexed and bewildered and seeking to understand how this could be possible; 2) others are dismissive of the event and mock the Apostles as simply being drunk. Neither group is doubting the event happened, but rather is trying to make sense of it.

So to recap this passage: when the Holy Spirit came there was a noise, the people of Jerusalem gathered together when they heard the noise and found the Apostles speaking in their (the people of Jerusalem, i.e. not the Apostles) own native languages. This perplexed them because they identified the Apostles as being from Galilee who likely did not learn the languages in which they were speaking. Pay attention to these events and remember the signs that accompanied the coming of the Holy Spirit, it will be important later.

That wraps up this post. Maybe finishing chapter 2 in the next post. And that’s a big maybe, there’s a lot to cover in the rest of the chapter.

*I’m not going to reconstruct a timeline here, but you can see the sequence of events by starting with Matthew 26.17; Mark 14.12; Luke 22.1; and/or John 13.1 and reading the rest of the account(s).

Acts of the Apostles 1.15-26

Book of ActsWhen we last left off the 11 disciples had returned from Mt. Olivet to Jerusalem and were devoting themselves to prayer, presumably for the coming of the promised Holy Spirit. They were joined by others for a total of about 120 people gathered together in prayer. We pick up the action beginning with verse 15:

15 At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons was there together), and said, 16 “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out. 19 And it became known to all who were living in Jerusalem; so that in their own language that field was called Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms,

‘Let his homestead be made desolate,
And let no one dwell in it’;

and,

‘Let another man take his office.’

“At this time” indicates that it was during prayer (again, presumably for the coming of the Holy Spirit) that Peter stood up and spoke the words that follow. I believe that this is a significant thing to note as it is indicative of Peter’s state of mind when he spoke these words. His mind was concentrated and focused on God (he was in prayer after all) when he spoke these words. Thus we can be confident that the words he spoke were of God, and not of himself.

The point of vv. 18-19 in this account is to inform the readers about Judas’ fate as this is left out of Luke’s gospel. I will briefly mention that vv. 18-19 do not align exactly with Matthew’s account of Judas’ death; Matthew 27.5 simply says that Judas went out and hanged himself. An exhaustive attempt at reconciling these accounts is not something I wish to do, so I will simply say that they can be reconciled this way: Judas went out and hanged himself over a cliff and after he had been hanging for some time the branch broke and when he fell his intestines burst open. The accounts do agree however that the field became known as the “Field of Blood” (Matt. 27.8).

Going back to v. 16 Peter says “the Scripture had to be fulfilled” and then in v. 20 he quotes two separate passages from the Psalms. The first, “Let his homestead be made desolate, And let no one dwell in it,” is from Psalm 69.25. The second, “And let another man take his office” is from Psalm 109.8. Both of these Psalms are describing someone who has been betrayed by those to whom he has shown nothing but kindness and is suffering as a result. By betraying Jesus and delivering him into the hands of the chief priests Judas fulfilled these passages by living out the actions described of the betrayers; he caused an innocent man to suffer harm. Peter then is quoting these passages not to say that these Psalms are predicting Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, but rather to say what should happen to Judas as a result of his betrayal of an innocent man.

The first thing that Peter says needs to be fulfilled is: “Let his homestead be made desolate…”; this is essentially asking for someone’s destruction. This “destruction” could be the loss of everything he has worked for his entire life, such as in the case of Job, or it could include the loss of his life. Judas fulfilled this by taking his own life.

The second thing that Peter says needs to be fulfilled is: “Let another man take his office.” This has not yet been fulfilled at this point in the account, thus Peter is calling those who have gathered to pray to take up this task of selecting someone to take Judas’ place.

21 Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— 22 beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” 23 So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen 25 to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Peter specifies two criteria that must be met for Judas’ replacement: 1) he must be a man, and 2) he must have been with disciples during the entirety of Jesus’ earthly ministry (this started with Jesus’ baptism by John and ended with his ascension). Peter’s prayer in vv. 24-25 before they draw lots indicates that it is Jesus who revealed to Peter that someone should be selected to occupy the office that Judas left vacant following his death. Then they draw lots and Matthias is selected and added to the eleven apostles.

After reading this passage I ask myself: “Why did someone have to be selected for Judas’ vacant office before the coming of the Holy Spirit?” Or in other words, “Why is this event significant enough to be recorded in Scripture?” It is evident that Peter was directed by Jesus to select a replacement for Judas’ office, but why I cannot say. Perhaps the best explanation I can offer (I emphasize that this is just my opinion) at this point is that since there were twelve tribes of Israel and it was important that no tribe lost its inheritance in the Promised Land (pre-exile of course), so it was important that of the twelve appointed apostles no one lose his inheritance. Since Judas lost his inheritance with his suicide someone then had to be appointed to replace him and receive his inheritance. I’ll avoid going into more detail regarding this for now so this post doesn’t get too long, but if a further explanation is necessary I will be glad to provide it.

Summary
Before we move on let’s recap what has happened so far. The author has told us this is a continuation of his “first account,” which we identified to be the Gospel of Luke. Thus Luke-Acts is best read as one continuous book. He begins the second account by telling of Jesus’ ascension and that he (Jesus) commands his disciples to go into the city and wait for the Holy Spirit to come. Thus the expectation going into this account is that the Holy Spirit is going to be featured prominently. But before the Holy Spirit comes Peter is directed by Jesus, while in prayer, to select someone to replace the office that Judas left vacant with his death, and that for some reason it was necessary for someone to replace Judas before the Holy Spirit was bestowed.

Up next, the coming of the Holy Spirit. Finally.

Acts of the Apostles 1.12-14

Book of ActsIf you get a little angry when television programs delay the part you’ve been waiting to see after having just advertised it, you may feel the same way about this next passage. The previous passage (1.1-11) left us with the expectation that the Holy Spirit was going to come, but this next passage does not contain that event. Instead the author has decided to tell us of the decision to fill the office that Judas Iscariot left abandoned following his suicide. This post will focus on vv. 12-14 as it provides an opportunity to teach a very important lesson concerning prayer. The next post will finish the passage with vv. 15-26.

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. 14 These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

Following Jesus’ ascension they leave the place where it occurred, Mt. Olivet, and went back to Jerusalem to the room where they were staying and devoted themselves to prayer. This is in accordance with Jesus’ command in 1.4. The author also pauses here to tell us that there were more present and praying than just the Apostles. While the exact identity of the women present here is unknown I will point out that several women are mentioned in Luke’s gospel as having either accompanied Jesus or provided for him during his ministry: Mary Magdalene, Joanna (Herod Antipas’ household manager), and Susanna (see Luke 8.1-3). Jesus’ mother and His brothers were also present. The word translated “brothers” in this verse is adelphos. It can refer to physical brothers, but it is also translated “brothers and sisters” and is translated as “brethren” in the following verse. In the next verse we find out that the total number of people gathered and devoting themselves to prayer was around 120.

There aren’t “right” or “wrong” ways to pray, but I do think there are profitable and and non-profitable ways to pray. I often see prayer described as “bringing your requests before God,” but what I don’t often see described is what these requests should be. I have found not knowing what to pray for to be quite detrimental to my personal spiritual life, and I imagine it has had the same effect on others as well. We can certainly pray for things like a spouse, a new job, a baby, healing for a friend or family member, etc, but if we only pray for these things our thoughts will be primarily focused on these requests being granted and we will feel disappointed and angry with God should they not be granted. These are not bad things to pray for, but they should not be the only things that we pray for, nor should they be the primary things that we pray for. If our prayers are focused on these things God becomes a divine cosmic genie whose sole purpose is to give us what we want, rather than the purifier and sanctifier of our souls.

Instead, I believe, that our prayers should be primarily focused and concerned with requests that will make us more like Christ. This is the goal of the Christian life while on Earth after all, at least to the extent that it is possible to achieve in a Fallen world. I’ve found that praying written prayers everyday is one of the best ways for me to learn what I should be praying for and where the emphasis of my prayers should be: on requests for sanctification (becoming more like Christ). Prayer is profitable when we focus our requests and mind on things that will sanctify us, and is unprofitable when we focus our requests and mind on personal desires (e.g. spouse, baby, healing, etc).

My morning and evening prayers consist primarily of written prayers with personal requests being brief (e.g. one sentence or so for each one). Doing it this way allows me to focus on what I am praying for rather than on composing my prayer. I was surprised at how much easier prayer became and how much more eager I was to do it when I removed from myself the burden of having to compose my prayers each day.

Most likely any liturgical Christian tradition (probably all actually) is going to have written prayers or prayer books that they use regularly. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer is great since it contains the services of Morning and Evening prayer which can be used for personal devotion by omitting some of the parts (you can find it online here: http://commonprayer.org/offices.cfm), but will be of limited benefit if not used within the Anglican liturgical cycle (I don’t think you should use it outside the Anglican liturgical cycle). The Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions also have prayer books available as well, just make sure that you don’t get one that is intended for use in monasteries and convents; monks and nuns have devoted their lives to prayer and can afford to do it for hours a day, everyone else cannot and is not expected to. Also be aware of prayers to Mary and other saints if you have objections to that sort of thing.

So that wraps up this post. I didn’t get as far as I wanted to, but the prayer thing is pretty important and I think real instruction in prayer that is profitable is quite lacking in Evangelicalism these days. Next up is 1.15-26.

The Acts of the Apostles 1.1-11

Before I get into the post let me first apologize for not have written anything recently. My absence has been due to a number of factors including being too busy write and not being inspired to write anything anyway. That being said you “should” start seeing regular entries here for the foreseeable future as I have decided to embark on a study of the Acts of the Apostles and share my insights and thoughts here. So without further ado, let’s begin.

Book of Acts

The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach,until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.

The first sentence is actually quite informative for us as it gives us a clue as to the identity of the author of this book. The Gospel of Luke begins with the author saying that he is composing an orderly account of the “things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word…” The “things” referred to are the teachings and works of Jesus, as evidenced by the content that follows in the Gospel of Luke.

Thus since Acts begins with a statement mentioning a “first” account written to a Theophilus about the teachings and life of Jesus we can conclude that whoever wrote the Gospel of Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. This is important to note as it helps us identify what the “orders” given to the apostles were. These orders the author is referring to are recorded in Luke 24.44-49, which can be summarized as the apostles being witnesses to Jesus being the Messiah that was prophesied by Moses, the prophets, and the psalms and should stay in Jerusalem until the promised Holy Spirit comes.

To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Having already identified the author of this book being the same as the author of the Gospel of Luke we already know that Jesus said these things at the conclusion of that Gospel (for verse 5 see Luke 3.16). So why is the author repeating it for us here? I believe for 2 reasons: (1) to emphasize that this account is not separate from his first account, but rather is a continuation of it and thus should not be thought of as a separate, unrelated account; and (2) to introduce what the focal point of this account will be, the main theme if you will: the coming of the Holy Spirit and the “acts” that this event brought about.

This book is all about what happened after the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles and the acts that were done through them as a result of this. The Holy Spirit will figure prominently in the rest of the book and I will be paying attention to the times when He is mentioned.

So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

Here we see reflected in the comments of the apostles the Jewish expectation, which remains until today, that when Messiah comes he will found a political kingdom and restore the nation of Israel politically. Jesus’ response indicates that this will indeed happen one day, but that the apostles should not worry about when this will happen. Instead they should wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit so that they will be empowered to be witnesses to Jesus being the Messiah the Jewish people were expecting.

And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. 11 They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”

This concludes the author’s recounting of the end of his first account, the Gospel of Luke, and also his introduction for second account. With Jesus’ ascension the expectation now is that the Holy Spirit will come soon as it is taught in the Gospel of John in chapters 14.16 and 16.7 that unless He (Jesus) goes away the “Helper” will not come.* Jesus had already told the apostles twice (vv. 4-5, 8) to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit and now the realization of this event is at hand.

To summarize what has been said so far: the author wants us to know that this is a continuation of his first account, the Gospel of Luke, and that it will be focused on coming of the Holy Spirit and the subsequent acts the apostles performed as a result of being given Him.

That concludes this post, next up will be 1.12-26.

* It is my position that it was known throughout the church by the time Acts was written that if Jesus didn’t go away the Holy Spirit would not come (this is said in John’s gospel, which was probably written after Acts). The early church first taught things orally and only later were they written down.

The Sun Shines Even in the Cold

There’s a weather phenomenon that I’ve become familiar with since moving to Texas: sunny and cold. To a native Floridian like myself it seems quite strange that it could be sunny and yet the surrounding air feel cold at the same time. These two things should not go together. The sun is warm. It produces heat and makes things warm. How could the sun be brightly shining and yet the air around me be cold? Is the sun somehow defective?

There’s a spiritual phenomenon that I’ve become familiar with during my life: sunny and cold. To a life-long Christian like myself it seems quite strange to have fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and yet for them to feel distant at the same time. These two things should not go together. God indwells me. God is near me. How can God indwell me and yet feel distant? Is God somehow defective?

In reality I know that the sun is not defective; it is producing as much heat as it always has. Yet this does not make me feel any warmer.

In reality I know that God is not distant from me; He is as close as He always has been. Yet this does not make Him feel any closer.

If I put on a coat I will feel warmer, but this will not change the fact that the air around me feels cold.

If I spend time praying, reading Scripture, worshiping with others, and fellowshiping with others I will feel encouraged and persevere in my faith, but this will not change the fact that God feels distant.

I know that it is only a matter of time before winter ceases and the air around me feels warm once again. I must persevere through the winter if I want to feel it again.

I know that it is only a matter of time before winter ceases and God feels near to me once again. I must persevere through the winter if I want to feel it again.

When winter comes around again, and you are huddled around the dying fire of your faith, clinging desperately to every scrap of warmth, wondering why things are not the way they seem like they should be, take note of those around you because they have passed the test. The spiritual winters in our lives, those times when God feels distant and we struggle with our faith, are tests not only for those of us who are in the midst them, but also for our Christian brethren who see us in the midst of them.

The sun does not cease to shine during winter.

God does not cease to be near us during our winters.

We should not cease to be near our Christian brethren in their winters. They are not expecting us to bring about spring. They just don’t want to be alone during the winter. Do not merely pray for them, but huddle with them around their dying fire, however low it may be. God has not abandoned either of you and will see both of you through. Spring will come, and it will be evident then that God is in you because you have loved as God loves.

The Useless(?) Doctrine of Inerrancy

Disclaimer: This is still an issue that I am thinking through, so I reserve the right to flip-flop on my position laid out in this post as I study it more since I may indeed discover that some of my reasoning is based on faulty information and/or assumptions.

There has been a question floating around in my head for the past few weeks that I have been pondering and trying to answer: “Why is Inerrancy even a doctrine in the first place? It just seems a bit redundant if we believe that all scripture is “God-breathed” to say that it is also Inerrant since we believe that God does not make errors. Over the course of thinking about this I discovered a few things and would like to share them with you. Some of these I knew before and they became clearer to me as I was thinking about this, others I had not realized prior to this.

Initially my thoughts centered on trying to figure out why in the world there even exists what seems to be a redundant doctrine with Inspiration (Scripture is “God-breathed”). Isn’t it enough to say that Scripture was “breathed” out by God so that the words He intended to be part of Scripture came to be Scripture, and since God is perfect that it would therefore be without error? Why add this doctrine of Inerrancy to specify that Scripture is without errors in all areas upon which it touches? Isn’t that implied with it being “God-breathed?”

The first thing I realized is that Inerrancy seems to be in place because of a deficiency in understanding of the doctrine of Inspiration. In our times it seems quite likely for someone to take the inspiration of the Bible to be the same as the inspiration that an artist has before creating something. There may indeed be something “divine” behind the inspiration, but it is also combined with the thoughts of the artists and thus is subject to error.

In this case the solution to the problem is not Inerrancy, but to make sure people have a proper understanding of Inspiration (which may also include making sure people have a proper understanding of God). A deficient understanding of the doctrine of Inspiration is not going to be corrected by adding the doctrine of Inerrancy.

The second thing I realized was that Inerrancy seems to be used by people to support their own viewpoints, and if you disagree with them then you are accused of violating Inerrancy. As I thought about this second point I realized that this behavior likely stems from a misunderstanding of where theological authority comes from. As Protestants when asked about this we are quick to respond with “the Bible!” and nothing else, which displays an insufficient understanding of authority. In Family Biblereality many (if not all) Evangelical Protestants actually accept two sources of authority in spiritual matters: the Bible and Tradition. Or at least you do if you accept the doctrines of the Trinity, the full humanity and deity of Christ, and the New Testament canon, among others because these things are not spelled out in the Bible, but were determined by the church (in response to heresies that were also based on the Scriptures) after the documents that would eventually become the New Testament were written.

Conclusion
This leads me into what I find to be the reason that Inerrancy exists in the first place: Evangelical Protestants need a way to preserve the orthodox teachings of Scripture (what everyone has always believed about them) without appealing to Tradition as a source of authority (we wouldn’t want to be like those crazy Roman Catholics now would we?).

The problem with doing things this way is that I don’t see how it actually accomplishes preserving the orthodox teachings of Scripture because it sets up a subjective basis for determining whether or not something is “orthodox.” In order to determine whether or not something violates Inerrancy the first thing that has to be determined is what the passage is talking about and touching on (e.g. is it talking about an actual historical event, or is it meant to be taken metaphorically or allegorically), which means that we have to engage in interpretation, which leads to a subjective conclusion that may or may not be in line with what has always been believed. Basically it seems to turn something that is indeed objective (what has always been believed) and turned it into something subjective (an interpretation).

So, to conclude this analysis, my basic question is: “Why are defending something that can be determined objectively with something that has to be determined subjectively?” Why not just simply point to the objective evidence and say that this is what has always been believed about this passage, so this is what we believe about it, nothing more and nothing less? Or in other words, instead of adding a doctrine which doesn’t seem to really accomplish anything, why not simply acknowledge Tradition as a source of authority?

I could say much more about this topic, but I think this captures the essence of my thoughts accurately. I am not trying to deny Inerrancy. I do not think that there are any errors in the Bible. I just think that this doctrine seems to add an unnecessary layer of theological complexity, and I all for avoiding making things more complicated than they need to be.

If you have an opinion on this matter by all means share it. I just ask that you be nice, constructive, and respectful with your comment.