Category Archives: Bible

Bible Study 101: Translations

One of the most important decisions to make when it comes to studying the Bible is the selection of a translation, but with all the available choices in English it isn’t always easy, or clear, which one to choose. This decision however doesn’t need to be complicated or difficult if you know a few things about the translations.

First, recognize that no English translation is going to perfectly reflect the underlying Greek or Hebrew. Any time you translate from one language to another you lose something in the translation; it’s just going to happen regardless of how hard you try. Why? Mostly because every language works differently from other languages. There is different vocabulary, syntax, grammar, pronunciation, etc. Even between languages that are similar there is at least some difference. For example, in English the basic word order for a sentence is subject-verb-object [the student wrote a paper]. In Biblical Hebrew basic word order is verb-subject-object [wrote the student a paper]. In Biblical Greek the subject, verb, and object can be in any order they want.*

So if we did a word for word translation of say Jonah 1.16a it would come out like this in English: “Then they feared the men a great fear the LORD.” Not very understandable. So we have to change a few things in order for it to make sense in English. In the verse the subject is “the men” and “the LORD” is the object, so accounting for these we now end up with: “Then the men feared the LORD a great fear.” This is a little better than what we started out with originally since we now have a subject-verb-object word order, but it still isn’t very good because it doesn’t make sense of the phrase, “a great fear.” What “a great fear” is actually doing here is adding emphasis to the “fear” of the men. Hebrew does this by repeating the same root in the verb [“feared”] and the accusative noun [“fear”],** but in English we would use an adverb such as “exceedingly” or “greatly” in such a situation. If we take this into consideration then we end up with: “Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly.” 

Second, recognize that each translation takes a different approach to translation. Some translations [e.g. New American Standard Bible] emphasize a word-for-word approach to translation [our translation above followed this approach]. While this approach helps preserve aspects of the original text that are useful for study purposes it also requires you to know [or learn] certain nuances of some terms because the English word may not have the same nuance as the underlying Greek or Hebrew. For example, if you ask someone, “Do you fear _______?” You’re usually wanting to know if they’re afraid of something. If this was all you knew of the term you likely would conclude that men were afraid or terrified of the LORD. You would then read the next part of the verse with this meaning in mind and would conclude that their motivation for offering a sacrifice to the LORD and making vows was their terror.

You conclusion however would be incorrect. True, in Biblical Hebrew [and Greek] “fear” could refer to being afraid or terrified of something, but it could also refer to having reverence for something [the same Hebrew verb is translated as “feared” in Jonah 1.16 and “honor” or “revere” in Leviticus 19.3]. Some people recognized that a word-for-word translation such as “feared the LORD” does not easily convey the sense of the underlying Hebrew, and so they prefer a thought-for-thought approach to translation. In this approach you lose certain aspects of the original text, but the meaning of the text is more readily apparent because you do not need to struggle with foreign expressions and awkward syntax.

A translation that emphasizes this approach is the New Living Translation [NLT] and it translates Jonah 1.16 as, “The sailors were awestruck by the LORD’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.” In this passage then we see that the main emotion of the men [sailors] was not terror! The sailors had tried everything they could in order to survive the storm they were in and were at their wits end. So when the sea calmed after they threw Jonah overboard they were amazed that the LORD had the power to stop the storm and calm the sea! They were not scared! They recognized that it was the LORD, the God of heaven, who saved them and that He was more powerful than their gods, and so they chose to serve Him.

Third, know your own intellectual abilities and be honest with yourself about them. These two different approaches to translation result in different reading levels. Translations that follow a word-for-word approach generally have a higher reading level than those which follow a thought-for-thought approach. The following chart estimates the reading levels of certain translations [source]:

KJV — 12
RSV — 12
NRSV — 11
NASB — 11
ESV — 10
HCSB — 7-8
NIV — 7-8
CEB — 7
NKJV — 7
NLT — 6
GW — 5
Message — 4-5
NCV — 3
NIrV — 3

So if you’re trying to read a certain translation, say the KJV or NASB, and are having difficulty understanding it, choose one that has a lower reading level, perhaps the NIV or NLT. You will find your Bible Study to be much more rewarding when you understand what is going on in the text, which in turn will motivate you to continue to study and read the Bible. A site like BibleGateway has many translations available for free online that you can use and read. So if you’re not sure of which translation to go with you can compare them there.

Hopefully this helps explains some of the reasons as to why there are so many English translations and is useful in selecting one.

* This is because Biblical Greek uses a noun case system in order to determine the function of a noun in a sentence. In this system the ending of the noun determines its function in the sentence. And if you know Biblical Greek you also know that technically there is a word order to it, but this is an article on English Bible translations, not New Testament Greek, and thus such a a topic is well beyond the scope of it. Here I am talking very generally.

** This is called a cognate accusative construction.

Book Recommendation: Truth Matters

“Truth Matters” is written to answer common objections raised against Christianity by skeptics, pundits, etc, and also to address legitimate questions that sometimes occur to people. It deals with matters such as the reliability and trustworthiness of the biblical manuscripts, why is there is so much evil, the claim of contradictions in the Bible, and also the claim that early Christianity was actually diverse, but then “orthodoxy” eventually stomped all the others out. It is written for high school students, so it is quite readable and understandable. And while it doesn’t go into all the intricacies of the arguments, it does give a fairly good overview of the basic contours of them.

Why Squirrels are Better

 

How to be happy: be a dog!

This just in from the stating the obvious department…

While I was still living in FL God provided me with a frequent image to consider: squirrels (don’t laugh! this is going somewhere serious I promise!). You see there is a tree in the backyard of my parent’s house that I would watch the squirrels play in every morning before I did my daily Scripture readings. I would often be jealous of them. They didn’t worry about their jobs, money, or many of the other things that I worried about. They simply ran around the tree chasing each other, gathered material for nests, and (after checking to make sure the dog was inside) hopped down to the ground to search for food. Their lives seemed so simple, happy and worry-free; I wondered why my life had to be so complex, sad, and worrisome.

I’m not sure that I truly learned the lesson God was teaching me back then (actually I’m not sure I’ve truly learned any lesson God has ever taught me), but it’s a lesson I am being taught again as I near the end of another semester of seminary. I even find myself worrying about the same things I did back then! What will I do after seminary? Am I currently pursuing the right path for after graduation? Will I have enough money? Actually I am even worrying about more things! Am I being called to marriage or singleness? Can I personally do ministry without the support of a wife? Will having a wife (and likely kids also) be a detriment to my ministry?

Squirrels have not been my only teachers regarding these concerns, but Scripture also. The Psalms address these concerns in numerous places I believe, but Psalm 95.1-7 has stood out to me in particular:

Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the LORD is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
Psalm 95.1-7a ESV

These verses recount God’s creation of the world and everything in it, including humans. As a result of this we, along with the rest of creation, should recognize that we not only exist due solely to God’s decision to create, but that we are dependent on Him for our daily sustenance (e.g. food, water).

Jesus explicitly teaches this several times in the New Testament. First in Matthew 6.25-34:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6.25-34 ESV

It doesn’t matter how much money we have or how big our house is, if God doesn’t send the rain to water the crops and fill the rivers and lakes, or the sunshine to grow the crops we won’t be alive for much longer. No matter how fit or healthy we are we will not live a moment longer than God has decided that we should live. So what should we do? God knows that we need food, water, and clothing, and He will give these things to us, just like he does to the birds (and squirrels!). And just like the birds (and squirrels!) are obedient to God and serve Him the way He intends for them, so we also should follow God and be obedient to His teachings and live the life he intends for us, a life of holiness. We should not be anxious about food, water, and clothing.

Jesus again teaches us not be anxious when He is in Martha’s house:

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10.38-42 ESV

Martha is busy with all the preparations* for Jesus and His disciples, but how does Jesus describe her? As anxious about many things! A rebuke! It is Mary who Jesus describes as having “chosen the good portion,” which is listening to the words of her God and Savior and following Him, rather than being worried about food and entertaining guests.

Even the Apostles struggled with being anxious! They were once worried that they had no food, even though they had already seen Jesus feed thousands of people with just a few fish and a few loaves of bread:

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Matthew 16.5-12 ESV

But why is it significant that we not worry about these things? Because they are symptomatic of what is in our heart. The passage I quoted above from Matthew 6.25-34 has a parallel account in Luke 12.22-31 and immediately following adds:

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Luke 12.32-34 ESV

I believe one of the fundamentals of the Christian life is to learn to set our hearts and desires on heavenly rewards rather than earthly rewards. This means learning to hear God’s voice and being obedient to what He calls you to do and trusting that He will provide for your needs along the way. The second part of Psalm 95 is instructive regarding this:

Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
Psalm 95.7b-11**

God has called us to follow Him and to trust Him to provide for our needs along the way. We should not be worried about whether we will have food, or water, or clothing, or whether we will be married because God knows what we need and will give us what we need. What we should be worried about is whether or not we are being obedient to Him, following Him where He is leading us, and trusting Him to provide for us. If we are not doing this it is a sign that we love the things of the world, such as money or power or prestige, more than the God who made us. It is a sign that Sin is ruling our lives.

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

 

*The word translated “serving” probably refers to the preparations for a social event, such as a meal. See BDAG, διακονία 2.b.

**The incident at Meribah and Massah is found in Exodus 17.1-7 where the Israelites grumbled against Moses and did not trust that God was with them and would provide for their needs on their journey to the land He had promised, even though they had already seen Him provide bread for them from heaven (Exodus 16). Also, Hebrew 3.7-4.13 has an excellent exposition of these verses which I highly recommend reading.

 

Propaganda Disguised as “Scholarship”

Recently Newsweek ran a rather lengthy article entitled, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” which claims to be an exploration, “of the Bible’s history and meaning” and “is not intended to advance a particular theology…” but this is simply not true. That a particular theology is not being advanced is blatantly obvious in light of the fact that rather lengthy sections are devoted to attempts to counter the claim that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior. Sorry, whether or not something is or isn’t taught in the Bible is a theological claim.

Secondly, the article isn’t really even an exploration, it’s a propaganda piece. There is no mention or discussion or even an attempt at the articulation of the actual beliefs of the “Evangelicals” that are the target of the author’s rant. An actual exploration of the religious text of any community should include an unbiased and fair investigation into the beliefs of that community and an accurate articulation given as to what that community has to say about their own religious text. Once such beliefs are understood and articulated then counter perspectives and arguments can be given.

So since such a perspective never made it into the article, probably because it would have made the article boring and far less controversial, I offer the following Evangelical responses to it, none of whom I know to, “wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals.”

Dr. Dan Wallace (biography and credentials): Predictable Christmas fare: Newsweek’s Tirade against the Bible

Dr. Darrell Bock is responding in parts, thus far two parts have been published:
Responding To Newsweek’s Take on the Bible, Part 1 On the Base Biblical Text- Do We Really Know What We Have?

Responding to Newsweek’s Take on the Bible, Part 2 Translation Issues and Constantine

Responding to Newsweek’s Take on the Bible, Part 3 On Three Kings and Claims about Differences and Contradictions

Responding to Newsweek’s Take on the Bible, Part 4 More Claims of Contradictions and Conclusion

His blog (where future response will show up), along with his biography and credentials is: Bock’s Blog

Dr. Ben Witherington (biography and credentials): News Weak—- The Problems with Mr. Eichenwald’s Article

Father Lawrence Farley is an Eastern Orthodox priest who serves in Canada. While not the recognized scholar that the other authors are, his response is no less valuable because of it. He touches briefly on all the points the article makes. And for clarity’s sake, he probably wouldn’t label himself an Evangelical, but nonetheless he at least is in agreement with Evangelicals on this issue. Newsweek Nonsense: an Expanded Response

Commentaries. One of the articles refers the reader to commentaries, thus I will offer two quality ones that are available for free online so that they may be used by those interested for reference and investigative purposes.

Dr. Constable’s Expository (Bible Study) Notes

Bible Study Resources by David Guzik

I feel at this point these responses are a representative and a fairly complete Evangelical response to the Newsweek article, so I don’t think I will be adding any more at this point. If however I happen to run across one I will be sure to add it to the list.

Christianity is Not a Contract!

Diablo 3 - Tyrael

Tyrael of Diablo fame.

“Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.” — C.S. Lewis

A fairly common question I see asked regarding Christianity is, “Is it okay to do _________?” I recently saw such a question posed again and I thought to myself, “Why is this question even being asked? What theological framework allows for such a question to even be asked in the first place?” As I thought about the answer to these questions I realized that to ask if a certain behavior is “okay” is to approach Christianity with the assumption that it is a contract entered into between a person and God, an assumption I believe is invalid.

In a contract two parties agree to fulfill certain responsibilities and it remains in effect as long as the terms of the contract are not breached. Such an approach sets up the expectation that as long as we do not breach the “contract” God will still fulfill His side of the deal and give us a place in heaven. And since we are by nature sinful and evil beings we then try to seek out what the bounds of this contract are; we ask ourselves, “How far can I go? What sort of loopholes can I find that will allow me to do what I want and fulfill my desires without breaching this contract?” It is this mindset I believe that leads to the question, “Is it okay for a Christian to do _________?”

Such a mindset is, I believe, taught nowhere in Scripture. We are taught that we were created by God, in His image, and were commanded to multiply and fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1.26-28). In order to sustain us He gave us the plants and the trees and their fruits (Gen. 1.29) and of the trees the only prohibition was from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and if we did so we would die (Gen. 2.17). So we see that one tree leads to death, while all the others (including the tree of life [Gen. 3.22]) lead to life. Thus we had two ways set before us, one of life and another of death, and we had to walk in one or the other, there were no alternatives. For if we ate of the trees that were allowed, we would live and fill the earth and subdue it; and if we ate of the tree of which eating was prohibited, we would die; and if we had tried to be “neutral” and not eaten of any of the trees we also would have died as we require sustenance by our nature.

Even though we chose the way leading to death, the way to life was not thereby made unavailable to us, for we were prevented from eating from the tree of life, which would have resulted in us living forever in our fallen state (Gen. 3.22). Thus God cast us out of the Garden in order to work the ground from which we were taken (Gen. 3.23-24) in order that we might learn that the way of life was now through repentance and trust (Isa. 30.15).

The Commandments given through Moses were given in order that we might know more clearly which way leads to life and which leads to death. For at the beginning of the list of blessings for following the commandments it is written, “Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 28.1. Or in other words, they would subdue the earth. But concerning the curses it is written, “So all these curses shall come on you and pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you would not obey the LORD your God by keeping His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you.” – Deuteronomy 28.45. Or in other words they would die.

The New Testament also presents two ways, one of death and another of life, and these two ways are opposed to each other. Representative of this are the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians 5.16-26:

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Thus Scripture does not present us with a contract, but with a choice, a choice between two ways, one which leads to life and another which leads to death. In Advent we are called to recognize our sinfulness and repent as we await the coming of our Lord. Let us do this so that when He comes we will be found working as the wise servant and serving others (Matt. 24.45-47) and not as the unwise one and be found exploiting and beating them (Μatt. 24.48-51). Let us continue on the way of life. Let our prayer throughout this Advent season truly be:

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

 

 

Acts of the Apostles 6.1-15

Book of Acts

Up until this point in the narrative the episodes and events have primarily involved the Apostle Peter. Now the focus will shift from Peter and onto others, the first of whom is Stephen. His time in the narrative is short, but there is quite a bit that we can learn from him.

Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. 2 So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

I remarked earlier that the events recorded in the Bible are not necessarily arranged chronologically, but are instead arranged according to the purpose of the author. Here we have another episode that does not necessarily follow chronologically from the previous events. The only clue we are given as to where it falls chronologically in the narrative is the phrase in v. 1, “Now at that time while the disciples were increasing in number…” Thus it is possible for these events to have occurred at any point after the bestowing of the Holy Spirit in chapter 2.

What transpired was a complaint from the Hellenistic Jews (Jews who had adopted the Greek language and probably some of the culture as well) against the native Hebrews regarding their widows being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. This was no small matter since in those days these widows likely would have been dependent on others for their daily needs.

Recognizing the seriousness of this matter the Twelve (the remaining 11 appointed by Jesus and Matthias) gathered all the disciples together and told them to select “seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.” The Twelve recognized that this was a task that needed to be done, but they also recognized that it was not for them to carry out since they said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables… But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

The lesson here is that there are a variety of ministries within the Church and none is inferior to the other and each is necessary. The Twelve recognized that their place was in the teaching and ministry of the word of God.* They had each spent time with Jesus while he was on Earth and had heard him teach regularly for 3 years. They had been chosen and prepared by God for the positions they were in and they recognized that they should not neglect the duties and responsibilities of their positions (e.g. prayer and “ministry” of the word). However they also recognized that ensuring all the widows were provided and received food, so they decided to appoint others to be in charge of this task.

The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. 6 And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.

Remember earlier that the requirements for this position were to be a man “of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom,” so all these men listed here had to have met that requirement. Thus mentioning that Stephen was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” seems unnecessary and redundant. However, as we will see shortly, this is done in order to place special emphasis on Stephen and to seemingly put him above the others in terms of being full of the Spirit.

7 The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

Before we move on to Stephen however it is again mentioned that the disciples, or the Christian community, continued to increase in Jerusalem. What is significant about it this time however is that the Jewish priests were also becoming part of the Christian community.

8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. 10 But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” 12 And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council. 13 They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” 15 And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.

The account of Stephen here is remarkably similar to what has been recorded of Peter and the other Apostles. Like the Apostles he performed miracles among the people (v. 8); was then opposed by some of the Jews (v. 9); those who opposed him could not answer him (v. 10); so they raise up false witnesses against him and get the Jewish leaders involved (vv. 11-14). However they all recognize that there is a certain power at work in him that is quite formidable (v. 15).

This is not the end of Stephen in the narrative, but rather just his introduction. His story continues in the follow chapter, which will be discussed next time.

*What exactly is meant by “ministry of the word” isn’t exactly clear from the context. I believe however that teaching, preaching, and administering of sacraments are included in this idea.”

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and [h]signs among the people. But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and [i]Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. 10 But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” 12 And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him [j]before the [k]Council. 13 They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” 15 And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the [l]Council saw his face like the face of an angel.

Acts of the Apostles 5.12-42

Book of ActsIf you’ve been paying close attention to the previous chapters you’ve probably noticed that the incidents described have a single person in common: the Apostle Peter. In addition to providing us with examples of God’s faithfulness and commitment to the community (i.e. the Church) that He established on Earth, these incidents also authenticate for us the authority of the Apostles within the Church. The Apostles simply couldn’t claim to speak for God and expect people to believe them; anyone can do that. They had to provide tangible, irrefutable proof, usually in the form of miracles, that they spoke for God. We have already heard one account of Peter and John performing a miracle when they healed the lame beggar (3.1-10), and in the opening paragraph of this passage we have more accounts of Peter performing miracles:

12At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico. 13 But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. 14 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number15 to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. 16 Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.

Unlike the people who “held them in high esteem,” the Jewish leaders had no such affections towards the Apostles. So they put them in prison:

17 But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. 18 They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail.

God however is not willing that His witnesses be in prison and unable to continue teaching the people everything Jesus taught them. So:

19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, 20 “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” 21 Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.

The Jewish rulers did not expect an angel of the Lord to free their prisoners, so they were confused when they were not found in the prison, but instead in the temple teaching the people the very things that the Jewish rulers had instructed them not to teach.

Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought. 22 But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back, 23 saying, “We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this. 25 But someone came and reported to them, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” 26 Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).

Earlier in this passage we saw the attitude of the people contrasted with the attitude of the Jewish rulers towards the Apostles. The people thought highly of them, but the Jewish leaders thought low of them and had them imprisoned. Now we see a contrast between the attitudes of the Jewish rulers and the attitudes of the Apostles. In v. 26 we see that the Jewish rulers are afraid of the people. In the following verses we see that the Apostles are afraid of God since Peter says that they must obey God rather than men:

27 When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 31 He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

The contrasts continue with the reaction of the Jewish rulers to Peter’s words:

33 But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them.

After Peter’s Pentecost speech in chapter 2 the people were also pierced to their hearts (cut to the quick), but instead of recognizing what they had done and repenting like the people did the Jewish rulers instead want to kill the Apostles. However a Pharisee named Gamaliel offers the following advice:

34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”

Regardless of his intentions, Gamaliel offers good advice to the council. At this point the newly formed Church is too large and causing too much of a stir for the Jewish leaders to simply execute the Apostles; doing so would anger the people and likely cause a riot. But the Apostles are undermining the authority of the Sanhedrin, so something must be done. Gamaliel reminds the council that this situation has been encountered before and that movements like these have died out on their own because they were not of God. However, if this movement is of God it will not be able to be stopped, and those who do fight against will be found to be fighting against God. So in the end the best thing for the Jewish rulers to do at this point is nothing and see what comes of this movement.

40 They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. 41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

The Jewish rulers apparently recognize that Gamaliel’s advice is wise since they take it and simply beat the Apostles and release them. The Apostles however did not listen to the order to not speak in the name of Jesus, but in fact directly disobeyed it and continued to teach and preach in the name of Jesus. If it wasn’t already clear that the Apostles were not going to listen to the orders of the Sanhedrin, it is now.

Thanks for reading. More next week.