Sunday, May 20, 2007: “Acts of the Apostles: Session 5”

St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
Lecture Series Led By Rev. Mike Kreutzer
Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Acts of the Apostles

Session 5: Chapters 21 – 26

21:1-16, warnings about returning to Jerusalem: the cost of discipleship – Paul and his companions make their way from place to place on their journey toward Jerusalem. From Asia Minor, from island to island and on to Phoenicia, they meet with groups of disciples all along the way. Willimon (p 159) notes: “The church has become a counter-cultural, global network of communities caring for their own subversive missionaries who are now traveling to and fro throughout the Empire. Prayer and fellowship (20:36; 21:5) keep Paul going along each step of his foreboding journey toward Rome.”

In the power of the Holy Spirit, fellow believers warn Paul not to go to Jerusalem. This happens at Tyre (4) and again at Caesarea (10-12). It is obvious to the reader that the end is approaching for Paul. Yet Paul is determined to return once again to Jerusalem, just as Jesus himself had done despite those who warned him. It will be through his own imprisonment and suffering that he will finally bring the gospel to the ends of the earth, i.e. to Rome.

21:17-26: Paul arrives in Jerusalem – False rumors have circulated that Paul was teaching Jewish Christians not to obey the Law. The leaders of the church at Jerusalem called on Paul to undergo a rite of purification to show those critics that he was, in fact, still obedient to the Law. Luke portrays Paul, and the ancient church as a whole, as constantly returning to their roots, to their tradition, in order to understand and interpret the new things that God is doing in the present.

21:27-36 – Due to a false rumor, Paul is grabbed and beaten by the crowd. He survives only because the Roman soldiers step in.

21:37-39 – The tribune is surprised when Paul speaks to him in Greek, thinking that he was an Egyptians who had recently stirred up a revolt. He gives Paul permission to speak.

21:40 – 22:22 – Paul speaks to the people in “Hebrew”: most probably Aramaic. He recounts his Jewish background and training and the story of his conversion and call. His call is described as one of a loyal and zealous Jew. The story differs in several ways from the account given in chapter 9, and from the one that will be given in chapter 26. The crowd listens attentively to Paul, until the final verse where he mentions God sending him to the Gentiles.

22:23-30 – The crowd is ready to kill Paul. The tribune arrests him and orders him to be examined by torture. Paul mentions that he is a Roman citizen from birth: a very high distinction. The tribune orders him released and brought the next day before the Jewish council. Paul will never be completely free again.

Willimon (pp. 170-171) points out that, even as a captive, Paul is still in control of the exchange. He notes: “Paul is craft, shrewd, humorous in the face of Caesar’s power, the master of his would-be oppressors.”

23:1-10, Paul before the council – 

1-5, Paul begins to speak; Paul and the high priest

6-10 – “I am a Pharisee.” Paul uses the conflict between the Pharisees and the Sadducees to divide his accusers.

23:11 – “That night the Lord stood near him and said, “Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.”

23:12-35 – Paul‘s opponents plot against him. They connive with the chief priests and the elders in order to have an opportunity to kill him. This is the second of three attempts on Paul’s life (with 21:31 and 25:3). Paul’s nephew discovers the plots and reports it to the tribune. The tribune immediately orders Paul to be taken to Felix, the governor, in Caesarea. He dispatches 470 troops to protect Paul. He sends along a letter to Felix, declaring that Paul’s so-called offense was a matter solely of Jewish religious law, and nothing that deserved Roman punishment, much less death. He declares further that he sent him in order to protect the rights of a Roman citizen. Felix orders Paul to be held until his accusers arrive and present their charges against him.

24:1-23 – Paul’s accusers present their charges against Paul, and Paul refutes them. Felix delays further proceedings until the tribune, Lysias, arrives.

24:24-26 – Felix and his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, listen again to Paul. Felix then orders him to be held for a later hearing, hoping that Paul will offer him a bribe.

24:27 – In order to win the favor of the Jewish leadership, Felix leaves Paul in prison for two years, allowing his friends to care for his needs. Felix is then succeeded by Porcius Festus.

25:1-5 – Three days after his arrival in Caesarea, Festus goes to Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders ask that Paul be brought there for questioning; their real intent is to kill him on the way. Festus refuses and insists that he himself will hear the case in Caesarea.

25:6-12 – Paul and his accusers appear before Festus at Caesarea. To appease the accusers, Festus appears willing to send Paul to Jerusalem for a hearing there. Paul, knowing that he would never reach Jerusalem, uses a privilege of his Roman Citizenship: he appeals to the emperor. Festus accedes to the request: “You have appealed to the emperor; to the emperor you shall go.”

25:13-27 – King Herod Agrippa II and his sister, Bernice, come to Caesarea. Festus has Paul appear before them. He is about to send Paul as a prisoner to Rome, but has not been able to find anything with which to charge him. He hopes that Agrippa can help.

26:1-32, Paul’s defense before Festus, Agrippa and Bernice – In Lk 21:12-13, Jesus says, “You will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.”

Agrippa II and Bernice were children of Agrippa I. Agrippa was not a practicing Jew, but would have been very familiar with their beliefs and practices. In verses 4-11, he recounts his Pharisaic Jewish background. In 12-18, he tells of his encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. In 19-23, he insists that everything he has proclaimed is in accordance with the law and the prophets. This is Paul’s final defense in Acts. The story of his “conversion” is really the story of his “call”.

24-26 – Felix breaks in to insist that Paul is out of his mind. Paul begins to defend his words and to turn the discussion back to Agrippa.

27-29 – Paul begins to preach even to Agrippa, but is quickly stopped.

30-32 – Festus, Agrippa and Bernice all agree that Paul has done nothing to deserve death or imprisonment. Agrippa adds that Paul could have been set free if he had not appealed to the emperor.