Sunday, May 13, 2007: “Acts of the Apostles: Session 4”

St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
Lecture Series Led By Rev. Mike Kreutzer
Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Acts of the Apostles

Session 4: Chapters 15 – 20

15:1-35, the Council of Jerusalem – The church has had great success in its mission, but is now experiencing conflict within itself. “Certain individuals” had come down from Jerusalem to Antioch to insist on the necessity of keeping the law. Paul and Barnabas had “no small dissension and debate with them.” So the church decided to send them to Jerusalem to discuss the situation with the apostles and the elders. The church celebrates the new things that God is doing, but maintains its close contact with the tradition and with those who uphold the tradition.

6-11, Peter’s speech referring to his experience – Paul’s letters indicate that Peter may not have been so amenable to accepting the Gentiles, without them following the Law, as Luke portrays him here.

12 — Barnabas and Paul tell of what they have seen God doing among the Gentiles.

13-21, James presents his decision, although the consensus of the wider church is cited later. He quotes Amos 9:11-12 on God’s call “in those days” to the nations (Gentiles); there is no mention in Amos of the nations being required to follow the Law.

Willimon (pages 129-130) offers this scene as a model for how the church needs to address controversies. The church begins by listening to its leaders; they are not merely functionaries or managers, but have been entrusted by the church with giving a larger perspective on what God is doing in the church and in the world. They call upon Scripture and tradition, but also upon the lived experience of the present-day church to discern where God is now calling the church.

James’ “decision”, confirmed by the church, welcomes Gentiles converts, but not without limits. The four regulations that he cites were accepted in Jewish teaching at the time as laws that God gave to Noah after the flood, and so were applicable to all humankind.

It is important to note that, for Luke, the Law was not a means of salvation, but rather a way of signifying ones’ identity as a member of the God’s people.

22-29, the letter to the church and the delegation to Antioch – “Then the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole church” make the final decision. They send Paul, Barnabas, Judas Barsabbas and Silas to deliver the letter. “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials.”

30-35 — The delegation delivers the message. Judas and Silas depart. Paul and Barnabas remain at Antioch and continue the work of proclaiming the good news.

15:36-41, the beginning of the Second Missionary Journey (c. 50-52) – Paul calls on Barnabas to return with him to the churches they had founded in order to encourage and strengthen them. Barnabas wants to take John Mark along, but Paul refuses, and so the two of them part company. Paul chooses Silas; and, with the blessing of the church, the two of them take a land route through Syria and Cilicia.

16:1-10 – In this section, Luke will continue to develop his theme of the expansion of the gospel to the whole world across every barrier put in its way. He may well have tailored his narrative to address issues faced by the church in Theophilus’ day.

Paul has taken with him Silas, a prophet associated with the church in Jerusalem, and also Timothy, a native of Asia Minor (Lystra), who had a Jewish mother and a Greek father. In doing so, he has assembled an effective team for preaching to both Jews and Gentiles. To address Jewish sensitivities, he has Timothy circumcised. Willimon (page 134) notes that leadership in the church is not a matter of personal privilege, but a function of what the church needs to be done, what and whom the church needs in order to accomplish its mission.

There are things that Luke does not tell us, e.g. how the churches in Galatia and Phrygia were established, since Paul was instructed not to preach there (although by 18:23, he goes to those places to strengthen the churches that now exist there). But Luke’s intent was not “historical” in our sense, but rather relating the account of the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth.

9, Paul’s vision at Troas

10, “we” – The “we passages” comprise 97 verses (16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1 – 28:16).

16:11-40, ministry, captivity and release in Philippi – 

11-15, Lydia and her household; Willimon remarks on the way that the early church broke through class boundaries. Page 138: “The mixing of classes is particularly interesting, given the context of the Roman world where there was virtually no movement out of the social class to which one was born nor any expectation of movement. Classes were hereditary, fixed at birth. Only the Roman army (and sometimes the marriage of women into the ranks of the socially privileged) offered much hope of movement towards the more economically advantaged classes. Acts’ picture of relaxed familiarity and warm hospitality between classes in the church would not have been missed by Luke’s readers.”

16-24, persecution after the healing of the slave-girl – The healing of the slave-girl has cost her “owners” money. They accuse Paul and his companions of being foreigners, Jews, and people who are violating their “traditional values”.

17-34, freedom from prison and the conversion of the jailer and his family

35-40, the hearing; Paul uses his Roman citizenship to make the magistrates squirm.

17:1-9, Thessalonica – (6) “These people, who have been turning the world upside down, have come here also.”

17:10-13, success at Beroea, but persecutors have followed them from Thessalonica

17:13-15 – Silas and Timothy remain at Beroea, but Paul is sent to Athens for his own protection.

17:16-34, Paul at Athens

18:1-17, the mission to Corinth — In 49, the Emperor Claudius issued an edict expelling from Rome all Jews. According to Suetonius, the edict was issued because of disturbances over a man named “Chrestos.” Aquila and Priscilla (Prisca) arrived in Corinth (from Rome) before Paul’s arrival there. Here, Aquila is mentioned first; but later, Priscilla is mentioned first, possibly indicating that she was the leader of their missionary team. The restriction in 1 Tim. 2:12 on women serving in these kinds of roles obviously did not pertain everywhere. As in Lk, Luke in Acts shows women as full participants in the life and ministry of the church.

1-11, preaching first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles; The mention of Paul going to the Gentiles (6) does not mean that he had abandoned the Jews in all places, only that at Corinth he would now focus his work on the Gentiles.

12-17, accusations before L. Junius Gallio (proconsul in Achaia briefly in 52)

18:18-22, the conclusion of Paul’s Second Missionary Journey — The team sails to Ephesus, and Paul leaves “Priscilla and Aquila” there. He himself sets sail from Ephesus to Caesarea. He goes up to Jerusalem to visit the church there, and then goes down to Antioch.

18:23 – 20:38, The Third Missionary Journey

18:23 – Paul passes through Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening the disciples.

18:24-28, Apollos – Apollos preached in Ephesus, but was limited in his understanding of “the Way”. Among other things, he knew only the baptism of John. Priscilla and Aquila worked with him to instruct him further. The church Ephesus then sent him to Corinth to work there.

19:1-41, Paul at Ephesus – He further instructs the people, baptizing them in the name of Jesus; and they receive the Holy Spirit.

21-22, Paul’s plan to go through Macedonia and Achaia, then to visit Jerusalem and then go to Rome

23-41, a disturbance because Demetrius and the artisans felt that their work for Artemis of the Ephesians was being threatened by Paul’s teaching.

20:1-12 – Paul begins his journey back to Jerusalem, but it is interrupted because of a plot against him. He stayed for a time in Troas. Verses 7-12 recount a near tragedy at Troas.

20:13-38 – Paul travels by ship to Miletus, and there meets with representatives from the church at Ephesus. Verses 18-35 are his “farewell” speech to that church, noting (25) that they will never see him again. Verse 35 is the only NT quote from Jesus (after the Ascension) that appears in any NT book other than the gospels.