Acts Wednesday: Chapter 7, Stephen

The fulcrum of Acts’ cycle turns midchapter, as the explosion of growth in conversions began to affect even the inner sanctum of the temple mount itself. We read in Acts chapter 6 that “a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” That must have rocked the Sanhedrin to its core!

Stephen, one of the foreign-born Hellenistic Christians, was on fire, and on a roll, as powerful and persuasive as any of the original disciples. Luke described him as “full of grace and power” and doing “great wonders and signs among the people.” Anywhere you looked in Jerusalem, if there was a crowd gathering, chances are that was Stephen, preaching and teaching, with God authenticating his message by signs and wonders.

Now, look carefully at the kind of people who began to join these crowds to strenuously contend with him—Luke wrote they “stood up and argued,” and later plotted Stephen’s arrest.

Do you see it?

Though Jerusalem had the temple (the only place where Jews could bring their sacrifices) there were still lots of synagogues: the Greek stem simply means “to gather together.” The Synagogue of the Freedmen may have been Jews whose families had once been slaves or prisoners of Rome, and had later settled in Jerusalem after being freed. Synagogue members were from North Africa (Cyrene and Alexandria are in Libya and Egypt, respectively) and modern-day Turkey (Cilicia and Asia). They, too, were foreign-born Hellenists.

There is one person, in particular, though, who will occupy most of the rest of Acts, whose hometown was located in Cilicia. Know who?

So, here is the cycle’s swing, prayer over the seven Hellenistic deacons, powerful increase in church membership, then opposition through the persecution of Stephen. The whole drama focused into a typical day when Stephen was teaching yet another rapt and growing audience. Suddenly, scribes and elders who had been stirred up by lies and slander (coming from the Synagogue of the Freedmen plotters), began pouring through the massive temple gates, down the grand stairway and out onto the plaza, where they abruptly seized Stephen and hauled him back up the stairs, back through the gates, and into the private chambers of the Sanhedrin council for trial.

Picture the scene. They accused him of speaking against Moses, the greatest of God’s prophets.

We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God!”

Then, they dusted off the false accusations that had gotten Jesus crucified.

“This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.”

All eyes swiveled to glare at Stephen. With horror, they saw his face now radiated with supernatural light, purity, and power. Immediately, and ironically, it drew to mind the scripture’s record of how Moses’ face had glowed with the reflected glory of God, His Shekinah, whenever he had spoken face to face with the Lord of Hosts.

Then, with his face still shining, Stephen began his message. The charges against him were truths mixed with lies, so he began his defense by pointing out the great heroes of their faith. Abraham was a man of life-long faith who changed his whole life in order to obey God. Joseph was a man of faith who obeyed God regardless of his circumstances, even when his own family betrayed him.

Stephen spent most of his time talking about Moses, because his accusers had charged him with speaking out against Moses. Both Moses and Joseph had been rejected as deliverers, but they had persevered. The people rejected God, but God Himself persevered with them. Moses told the people to watch and wait for the prophet God would one day raise up for them. But what did God’s people really do?

Stephen accused the Sanhedrin of three things:

  1. They were resisting the Holy Spirit as they had always done.
  2. They were persecuting and killing the prophets, including The Messiah Himself, as they had always done.
  3. They were breaking the law of Moses, as they had always done.

The Sanhedrin was condemning Stephen for blaspheming against the law of Moses, but Stephen’s response was that God’s condemnation and judgment was on them for breaking the law of Moses and rejecting the truth about God’s Son.

It was not to be borne. “When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen.” So overcome with a sense of righteous rage and virtuous fury! Here, clearly, was a case of blasphemy and heresy all rolled into one, a foreign Jew daring to come here and preach religion to them, the holy anointed judges and spiritual guardians of all Israel. A Hellenist having the brazen arrogance to tutor them in Judaism. And worst, to fling Jesus in their faces, that ragged itinerant street preacher.

It simply was not to be borne. As Stephen gazed into the realm of heaven, and began to describe the glory of God, and of Jesus standing at His right hand, perhaps raising His hand to receive Stephen, they frothed to a frenzy, surged forward and stoned him.

It was only the beginning of an extended and horrendous time of persecution soon to be led by a young man named Saul, native of Cilicia, hailing from Tarsus, in fact, a fervent Pharisee and champion of God.

Again, carefully note what happens: “the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” Why? Why did the false witnesses, with their trumped-up lies, leave their things with Paul as they joined in the stoning? Add together Acts 6:9-14 with Acts 7:58-8:1 and you have the whole story. Saul was most likely one of the members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen, his family having been granted Roman citizenship in Tarsus (a fact Paul would regularly return to throughout his life). When they sent their brilliant young gifted and talented son to Jerusalem, to study under the famous Gamaliel, they surely contacted their extended connections through the Synagogue of the Freedmen to secure a safe place for him to stay.

This fiery young phenom may have even led the delegation that “stood up and argued” with Stephen. His pride injured, and his sense of self-righteousness bruised at the unexpected failure of his arguments (I imagine Paul was not used to being outsmarted in a debate), the evidence supports Paul being the instigator of the secret plot to bring Stephen down.

And Saul “approved of their killing Stephen.”

Here was Saul, chief persecutor exulting over the demise of Stephen, faithful martyr. But who really had reason to celebrate?

Every trouble that it is met in the power of the Holy Spirit will result in spiritual victory.

Stephen, who had been steadily growing into the spiritual gifts given him by the Spirit of Christ, reached the apex of his spiritual maturity in those last moments, when the overlap of physical and spiritual realms became visible and real to him. He saw the glory of God, he was even reflecting the very Shekinah of Lord Most High, and he was personally received by Jesus.

It was his worst ordeal, his final ordeal, yet also his best, most glorious earthly moment. I think, for me, that means determining to see adversity and ordeals as opportunities to see the spiritual realm more clearly, and to expect God’s glory to be revealed in that moment, even in me. Growth is not the goal, it’s simply the side-effect. The goal is to incarnate Jesus, reveal Jesus, and to become ever closer to Jesus. This is life’s finest victory.

Image courtesy


What does it mean?

I’m spending a bit of time on 1 Timothy 2:12, and especially on the word “authentein,” the infinitive form of “authenteo,” because this is one of the chief—or maybe even the chief—passage cited in support of the disqualification of women from leadership and teaching roles in the church. There are several broad issues that come under scrutiny because of this, including:

  1. How “literally” do complementarian theologians apply the rest of what’s written in 1st Timothy, the pastoral letters in general, Paul’s other letters, and the New Testament overall?

(The answer is, as you might have guessed, they don’t in a consistent manner).

  • How “literal” are translations of the Bible?

(None are exactly literal, for a variety of reasons, and all are translated in a somewhat biased manner, depending on the translation team’s biases.)

  • Is the complementarian reading of 1st Timothy the only accepted reading in the evangelical landscape?

(Though complementarian theologians are the most familiar, they are not the only voice in evangelical Christianity.)

  • How “new” is the view that women are to be seen as equal with men in terms of teaching and leadership in the church?

(The Quakers and Dissenters were outspoken on this issue fully four hundred years ago, and the 1st through 4th century church had women teachers and leaders.)

  • How did the early church read 1st Timothy?

(Because women leaders and teachers are documented in the first few centuries of Christianity, what we can surmise, before we take a deep dive, is that whatever they understood Paul to mean, they didn’t think he meant a unilateral and permanent disbarment of women from these roles.)

Before we wade into those issues, though, let’s start getting a feel for what the last 50 years’ worth of archaeological finds have discovered—that is to say, what the hundreds of newly unearthed inscriptions and papyri containing various forms of the word “authenteo” have to offer.

This week’s scholar: Cynthia Long Westfall in her paper, “The meaning of “authenteo” in 1 Timothy 2:12

This is a 36-page paper, exhaustively studying 80 of the 329 instances this word has been seen, so far, in the ancient record. The 80 instances she chose to study occur within the timeframe of Paul’s letter to 1 Timothy, therefore offer the most accurate renderings known to Paul, and used in his day.

Her research carefully delineated in what “register” this word was used, such as legal registers including lawsuits and enactments of law, astrology, philosophy, the political arena, and specifically the register of church leadership. She outlined how the word was used in relationship between the “actor” and the “goal.” She spread her research to take note of other words that tended to be used in conjunction with variations of “authenteo,” and what situations “authenteo” words found themselves in.

What she discovered was fascinating!

The “basic semantic meaning” of the Koine Greek verb “authenteo”

Can be described as the autonomous use or possession of unrestricted force.”[1]

Autonomous: The actor takes matters into their own hands.

Unrestricted: The actor uses whatever means necessary to accomplish their goal. No boundaries, including use of force, and railroading over resistance.

Force: The actor uses whatever powers they have to exert their will, including violence.

In fact, the only person who can legitimately claim authenteo in any positive sense is God Himself. Anyone else who might want to apply this word on their own behalf would indicate they are legitimizing the above definition of a person over other persons.

Westfall suggests a comparable English word to “authenteo” might be the word “eradicate.” Other possible definitions might be “put an end to,” “destroy,” or possibly, “tear out by the roots,”[2] with the basic “semantic meaning of an ‘autonomous user or possessor of unrestricted force/power.”

Study of this word used in the register of church leadership revealed it was never used in a positive way, but rather described activity in which a person was forced against their will in a destructive way.[3]

Here is one possible scenario which might have prompted Paul to write to Timothy, as outlined at the end of Westfall’s paper,[4]

It is likely that a woman, particularly a wealthy widow, would be present in an Ephesian house church with at least one male, who might be a slave if she was not accompanied by a husband or male family member. Furthermore, the worship services were most likely held in the largest homes available, and women who owned such homes (such as Lydia) would be the masters of male slaves who would be under their direction in serving the agape meal—and this would even be the case with women in their husband’s homes, because men were not involved in the overseeing of this kind of domestic arrangement.

Cynthia Long Westfall, The meaning of “authenteo” in 1 Timothy 2:12

This prohibition might be broadened to have included any time women in antiquity might have occasion to abuse a man within her power.

Stay tuned! Next week, we’ll take a look at another theologian’s close study of the word variations associated with “authenteo,” (Marg Mowczko)

Below is a short (7 minute) video of the well-known and eminent Bible scholar, N.T. Wright, offering his view on this passage in 1st Timothy.

N.T. Wright on 1 Timothy 2:11-15

In two weeks, I will offer some thoughts from another theologian, Jeremiah Vance, on groundbreaking scholarship he has done concerning the way to read 1st Timothy as a whole letter.

If you would like to get a head start, see what happens when you divide chapter 2 in this way:

Text Box: A: I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people

     B: for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and   

         C: This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a 
              knowledge of the truth.

              D: For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,

                   E: who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper 

                       X: And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle

                   E': I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

               D': Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or 
                     disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning 
                     themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,

          C': but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

    B': A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to    
         assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

A': For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
Jeremiah Vance, Chiastic of 1 Timothy 2

There is a similar “chiastic” structure for verses 10-15—see if you can come up with it on your own before two weeks from now.

In three weeks, I hope to offer some further thoughts from another theologian, Bruce C.E. Fleming.

[1]The meaning of “authenteo” in 1 Timothy 2:12, Cynthia Long Westfall, pages 166-167

[2] Ibid, page 169-170

[3] Ibid. page 171

[4] Ibid. page 172

Hand with a scroll | Needpix, Circe Denyer (

Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

Noah’s wife, sons, and daughters-in-law all helped in choosing the best from their small herds and flocks. Only seven pairs of each kind of clean animal had come with them into the ark, those creatures that chewed the cud and had completely cloven hooves. There were only ten of this category, oxen and sheep, goats and deer, and all the varieties of antelope and gazelle. They selected one from every group, all yearlings, the best males from those born within their cavernous boat. Each creature had come easily, naively, without hesitation, for they had been fed their whole lives by these human hands.

All stretched their necks to be patted and caressed, leaning in with their affection, as animals will do. Once the yearlings had been assembled, Noah took the first sacrifice, a beautiful ram with fine horns and a thick, creamy fleece. Solemnly, Noah raised his obsidian knife, as the guileless creature looked up with innocent interest. Only when the sharp blade bit into its trusting flesh, did the ram’s first bleat of terrified betrayal and pain crack the air, spraying out with it the acrid smell of fresh blood. Fear swept through the other creatures as the sacrifice’s cry echoed up and down Ararat’s canyons. Acting as a catalyst of frenzy and dread, a rapid wave moved undulating through the disembarking beasts. The stampede grew, animals running, galloping, swarming, teeming, spreading out of the ark and down the sides of the mountain.

Only the clean creatures were left, and perhaps the dogs. Two camels, which had been roped to a tree, now bucked and tugged at their moorings, coughing and screaming. Oxen and goats, deer and sheep, all the small flocks and herds, corralled in their makeshift fences, could only throw themselves at their enclosures, terror shaking their sides, and ululating from their gaping jaws.

One by one, Noah solemnly sacrificed the clean yearlings, beautiful as they were, without any mark or deformity. Some of his family wept. Others looked grim, as they gathered from the plentiful fallen wood, to build up the fire Noah had started on his heap of unhewn rocks.

“We are not giving from our poverty,” he had told them, assembled before him, his little clan. “We are offering back to the Lord from the abundance of His faithfulness to us.”

Ham had shifted uncomfortably. It did not seem like abundance, to try to grow all the earth’s herds from these few dozen cattle and sheep. On what would they live? They had already spent over a year in scarcity, carefully husbanding their dwindling supply of food, patching their clothes from even more ragged clothes, living in near squalor with nowhere to go but out the window with all the manure.

“We will give to the Lord in humble thankfulness, for He has given us a new earth, and a new chance to live in peace and prosperity, goodness and joy, in righteousness.”

Noah had then paused to look intently at each of his beloved family members, his wife and sons, and their wives already heavy with their own sons and daughters soon to be born. “We are the new humanity,” he had said quietly, his voice catching. “God has given us Shalom, and we will praise Him with all our hearts.”

His wife had brushed a strand of hair from her eyes and tucked it behind her ear. It felt so good to feel the dry ground under her feet, to breath the fresh, sweet air. She had looked out over the stands of trees, climbing up the mountains’ sides, the birds gliding and wheeling in the sky, the beautiful clouds, the beautiful sun, the beautiful outside of the ark. She thought briefly about how they would restructure it to become a home for their growing tribe.

She did feel thankful, overwhelmingly so. But…she also felt angry. God had not answered their questions, nor explained His long silence. And she felt scared. God had not given them any reassurances about the days ahead, nor offered any comfort for the long and difficult sojourn they had just endured. What did lie ahead? Their hope had come only by faith. God had sealed them within the ark as His act of grace, to save them. Surely, she thought to herself, surely He would complete what He had begun? Finally, underneath all those feelings was a deep, soft, heavy sorrow, mourning for the life she once had, her home, her family, her friends.

And now, they were celebrating their new life with more death. She felt her throat tighten, and tears push through her lashes. She bit her lip. Salvation had come at such great cost.

How their hearts had broken as they watched Noah open neck after neck, as each creature yelped in panic and pain, then convulsed in its death rattle, blood spurting onto the altar, onto Noah, onto his wife, and sons, and their wives…

How their arms had ached, their bodies wearied, their stomachs sickened, as they lifted each animal onto the altar, the fire crackling and spitting with each new carcass, the reek of burning hair and hide, the fetor of muck as the sacrifices’ bowels had emptied.

“This is the stench of death,” Noah finally said. For they had offered up each animal unto the Lord in silence. “This is the wretchedness of sin, the horror of sin. We must let these images burn themselves into our eyes, and our minds. We must never forget this day.”

And they would not forget. The screams of terror and horror from those who had perished in the flood. Their own sense of pervading guilt and survivor’s shame, for they knew they too had done wrong things, and thought wrong things, even while in the ark, even while being saved from the destruction of the entire earth. And now it was all symbolized in their offering of thanksgiving, which was also a reminder that, though they were the new humanity, their condition was unchanged, their hearts still had the capacity to conceive of evil.

Again, Ham had shifted uncomfortably, looking away with a furtive fear. He had dark longings, darkness itself was lurking within him, he could feel its oily tendrils uncoiling, winding round and round his soul. Would the others see?

Noah and his family offering sacrifices | Joseph Anton Koch [Public domain]

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 6, Hungry Widows

Phaidra turned to study the woman standing beside her.

“Have we met?” she asked.

The older woman shook her head. She seemed worn, sad, resigned. Phaidra tried again.

“Were you there when the one named Peter, friend and disciple of the Risen Lord, spoke in our language with such power?”

The older woman smiled a little and gave a small nod.

“Did you believe and were you baptized on that day? I myself was one of those who thought they had been drinking wine all through the night, all those people pouring out of that house. ‘You’re drunk’ I shouted! Yet, when Peter began to speak, I was pierced to the heart. I joined the Lord’s assembly that very day!”

The older woman’s smile had grown as Phaidra told her story.

“I, too,” she said, quietly.

“What’s your name, sister?”


The older woman ducked her head. She had been named “Wisdom,” by parents who had rejoiced at the birth of a daughter. How she had loved her name, especially when spoken in the voice of her husband, Aeneas. “Come, Wisdom my love,” he would say, then quote from the Proverbs. They had been a good match. Times had been very hard with him gone.

Phaidra and Sofia had been waiting in the temple complex with many of the other believers, to pray, worship together, and break bread together. They had come empty-handed, as they most often did, for as widows their means were meager. Finally, one of the Hebrew-speaking believers approached them to say the bread had already been broken, the meal was over. Both of their faces fell, and Phaidra could feel tears well up inside her.

“But, this is the fourth day running.”

She spoke in a soft, hurt voice, entreating him in Greek, second language to them both, but the tongue everyone could speak. Rome had been trying to make Latin the language of their sprawling empire, but Greek was rooted deep.

The messenger simply shrugged, palms up.

“Be blessed, sister,” he said, and walked away.

The church was growing rapidly, having now surpassed a membership of five thousand, including people from several language groups and cultures. But, there appeared to be racial, or at least cultural, discrimination in the distribution of food. A number of the Hellenistic Christians went to the twelve disciples of Jesus, now called apostles of the Risen Lord, with their unhappy report that Hebrew widows were getting preferential treatment in the sharing of food.

This complaint had to have cut the twelve to the quick. Had they not been a part of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of five thousand Jewish men (not counting their families)? And had they not later been with Jesus for His miraculous feeding of the four thousand in the Decapolis, many of whom were gentiles? How could they fail to feed all whom the Lord had now brought into their care?

Peter, especially, must have felt deeply troubled. The Lord had asked him three times, “Do you love Me, Peter?” How that question had pained Peter, especially after his betrayal of Jesus during His darkest hour.

“Yes, Lord, of course I do!”

“Then feed my lambs, my sheep.”

Yet, if the apostles succumbed to the pressure of personally overseeing the daily distribution of food, then their ministry of prayer and teaching and preaching would be undermined. They needed the Spirit of Jesus within them to guide them in wisdom.

The church still struggles with this balance. Social work often tempts churches to stop concentrating on the more inward practices of prayer, teaching, contemplation, depth of spiritual growth and connection with God, in order to serve the people. Sometimes churches go in the other direction, and make the mistake of letting the government and charities deal with social work while they concentrate only on Sunday school and sermons.

But social programs and spiritual practices are both needed. So, God gave the apostles a solution that would allow the church to concentrate equally on feeding hungry hearts as well as hungry bodies.

Notice what happens – after praying and following God’s guidance, there was another explosion of growth! Even many priests were now being won over by the gospel. Here’s the cycle again: a great problem of inequitable treatment among the brethren, prayer over the newly appointed deacons, powerful increase in church membership … and then opposition through the persecution of Stephen, which we’ll look at more next week.

Image | courtesy Biswarup Ganguly [CC BY 3.0 (

“Twisted Scripture”

At the end of today’s blog is a lecture on 1 Timothy 2:12, delivered about five years ago by Greg Boyd and Nikole Mitchell. It’s 48 minutes long, so definitely a commitment to watch! Here are some bullet points about the points being made:

(1) When approaching a teaching, it is important to gain perspective on that teaching’s place within the body of all our teaching. In other words, what basic category does this teaching fall under (in this descending order)?

  • Salvation (in other words, teaching that describes and explains what it means to become a believer in Jesus)
  • Character and Attributes of God
  • Timeless Truths and Principles
  • Life Application

Another way to categorize teaching might even be: is it salvific, or not?

(2) Is the teaching consistent throughout the scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, or is the topic treated differently in various parts of the Bible? Here’s an example: What does the Bible teaching about alcohol?

  • Consistent teaching: Use alcohol in moderation, do not drink to the point of drunkenness.
  • Variable teaching:
Proverbs 23:29-32 (Anti) Deuteronomy 14:25-26 (Pro)
Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
    Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
    Who has redness of eyes?
30 Those who linger late over wine,
    those who keep trying mixed wines.
31 Do not look at wine when it is red,
    when it sparkles in the cup
    and goes down smoothly.
32 At the last it bites like a serpent,
    and stings like an adder.
25 then you may turn it into money. With the money secure in hand, go to the place that the Lord your God will choose; 26 spend the money for whatever you wish—oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your household rejoicing together.

(3) Is the teaching a timeless truth, or does it speak to a cultural circumstance? Our best example has to do with how scripture speaks about, and teaches on, slavery. From earliest human history, slavery was a cultural and societal reality.

Therefore, God instituted commandments and judgments that necessitated the humane application of slavery. Particularly in the New Testament, the apostles gave life applications that encouraged both the slave to submit to their master as to the Lord, and the master to view their slave as their brother or sister in Christ.

Finally, 150 years ago, the demise of slavery was won in the west, due to the right understanding and application of the deeper, timeless truths of God’s love and grace, and the equality of all people under God, as taught in the scriptures.

Now, teaching on how to comport oneself as a slave or a master is, in one sense, anachronistic and no longer applicable, and in another sense, valuable only when spiritualized, or contextualized.

(4) What is the historical and textual context of the teaching? This speaks to what scholars call

exegesis”—the critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture.


eisegesis”—the process of interpreting a text in such a way as to introduce one’s own presuppositions, agendas, or biases. It is commonly referred to as reading into the text.

The way to properly “exegete” a text is to include an understanding of

  • the historical context it was written in.
  • the cultural context it was written in. (Add in politics, economics, ethnicities.)
  • the language it was written in.
  • the words surrounding this particular passage, in other words, its textual context.
  • the audience who received these words.
  • the author who wrote the words.

That’s a tall order! Which is why scholars understand how important it is to not only do their homework, but to hold their interpretations with humility, because new information may change how the text is to be understood.

Okay! So, here’s the lecture, below, and next week I’ll weigh in on the Geek word transliterated as “authentein,” which has traditionally been translated as “have authority over” or “usurp authority.” Since the 1970’s hundreds of new inscriptions and papyri have been unearthed which shed a whole new light on what this word means.

Before the 70’s, there were only a few extrabiblical references to this word, and none of them came from the 1st century, Paul’s time. In the whole Bible, “authentein” appears only once, right here in 2 Timothy 2:12, so “doing our homework” means getting a solid understanding of what this word actually means.

Greg Boyd and Nikole Mitchell speaking on 1 Timothy 2:12

First Ordained Woman | | Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In 1970, the former Lutheran Church in America (LCA) of which Messiah was a part ordained The Rev. Elizabeth Platz at the University of Maryland’s Memorial Chapel. The first woman ordained a Lutheran pastor in North America, Platz has served her entire ministry as UM Lutheran campus pastor. On Nov. 22, 2010, the ELCA marked the 40th anniversary of her ordination. She has since retired.


Genesis chapter 8 begins with Noah and his family as eyewitnesses to the recreation of the world. To read these opening lines in Hebrew is to evoke the Spirit of God once again moving upon the waters, closing the fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens, so that once again the firmament divided the waters, and these two unique forces, which have never been active in quite the same way since that time, were reversed.

God’s recreation took time, for though the waters subsided, the process was gradual. Each morning, the expanse of the waters looked the same, and what was happening underneath the water, the nearing of land, was invisible. With no word from the Lord, no reassurance of what was to come, these must have been anxious days. Would their food supplies hold out? Would all the animals survive, or would there be some species extinction before this ordeal was through? What if the new earth was mostly water? How would they learn to survive in such an environment?

And what would they see, if the waters were to fully recede? Would there be massive piles of the dead? Would there be rotting vegetation, ruined cities, filth and garbage everywhere? Or, would the earth have been scrubbed clean by the turbulence of the storm? Would there be any vegetation at all? Would they have to reseed the entire earth?

What a collective sigh of relief they all must have had when the first mountain peaks appeared. As God once again separated the dry ground from the water, the progress of recreation became ever more evident. Finally, Moses sent out his raven, then his doves. And so, let’s pause for a moment, and think about how God revealed His creation and recreation.

  • Day 1: God separated light from dark, for after the forty days of storm, when all was darkness and chaos, the storm clouds softened and the sun began to shine through.
  • Day 2: Now God repaired the firmament, and once again the waters above and the waters below were separated.
  • Day 3: As the land appeared, there must have been hints that at least some vegetation had survived. Then came the dove with proof that God had preserved the trees, and the flowering plants.
  • Day 4: All throughout the passage, the narrator offers times and dates, for the ark’s occupants must have begun to look up into the night sky and notice the position of the visible planets and stars acting as a calendar “for signs and for seasons and for days and years,” just as God had commanded.
  • Day 5: At least the raven and the doves were now flying through the sky, and the water was already teaming with life. Perhaps the buzz of insects, woken from their hibernation by the sunshine, and the other birds within the ark now released, filled the air.
  • And now, the moment had come to re-enact Day 6. Look at these two passages, side by side:

Genesis 1:24-26: Creation Genesis 8:16-19: ReCreation
24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.  

26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”  
17 Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.”          

15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you.  18 So Noah went out with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19 And every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out of the ark by families.

  • Day 7: Noah and his family rightly understood this was a sacred moment, and they were standing upon holy ground. The great drama of creation had been portrayed before them, and they, now, represented the Adams and Eves of the new age.

Noah gazed intently at the seven pairs each of all the clean animals, perhaps now increased by births throughout their harrowing year. God had given in abundance to them. All had presumably survived their grueling right of passage. These few animals were to once again fill the earth. They must have looked so small and vulnerable, standing there, on the peak of Mount Ararat, the whole mountain range spread before them, empty of all life save trees, grasses, flowers, and insects.

Yet Noah did not see scarcity. He saw abundance. He saw the fruit of faithfulness before him, the Lord’s faithfulness. Now he would match God’s abundance with his own abundant thankfulness.

Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 

Genesis 8:20

And God was pleased. Just as God had taken such great pleasure in His creation, giving His blessing and hallowing the day of His enjoyment and rest, so now,

When the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.

As long as the earth endures,

seedtime and harvest, cold and heat,

summer and winter, day and night,

shall not cease.”

Genesis 8:22

The Dove Returns to Noah | James Tissot [Public domain]

Acts Wednesday, Chapter 5, Ananias and Sapphira

Levites tended not to be very wealthy, since the tribe of Levi had been given no physical inheritance in the land. The Lord was to be their inheritance. That meant they were dependent, even to putting food on their table, on the gifts the people brought to the temple. There was no set salary. There were no guarantees. When the years were really lean, they could temporarily try to farm, but most of the time, they simply had to make do with whatever was given.

So, for Joseph, the Levite from Cyprus, to be wealthy is already unusual. It’s also unusual that he was from Cyprus (that’s a very important detail you should tuck away for later).

Cyprus | Wikimedia Commons

As you can see from the map, Cyprus was an island near the northernmost coastline of Palestine, actually what had been Phoenician territory—Tyre, Sidon, and Akko (which, though technically given to the tribe of Ashur, was never integrated into old Israel).

Cyprus itself was—and still is—a beautiful land, and a wealthy land. Well-known for its wine, ceramics, and dyes, Cyprus was the gateway into the Bay of Akko, and the connecting point between near east Asia, and western Europe. In the Diaspora, Joseph’s ancestors somehow ended up on this lovely isle, and, without the temple to tend, they must have developed other careers.

And Joseph was known for his gift of encouragement. In fact, people affectionately called him Barnabas, which is the Greek form of an Aramaic name meaning “Son of” (bar) consolation, or exhortation, or comfort. Luke wrote that he was a “good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith,” and  a man of such dignity and authority the people of Lycaonia mistook him for the god Zeus. We’re going to see a lot of Barnabas in the Book of Acts.

Now, so far in these chapters, we’ve seen the Holy Spirit, come at Pentecost, and now indwelling every new believer, create a profound unity among the brethren. They had a greater desire to sacrifice and share with each other. They saw themselves as stewards of what God had given them, not owners. God gave them great power in their testimony, He gave them great grace in everything.

Barnabas himself was deeply affected. He saw the practical need for money to take care of those who had nothing. So, he sold some of his property and gave the money to the disciples to do with as they wished, no strings attached.

This left a considerable impression on everyone, but in particular on a married couple named Ananias and Saphira.

They must have admired Barnabas, along with everyone else, but they also must have felt somewhat envious of all the honor he received, and gratitude, and affection. They, too, wanted to get in on all the admiration and prestige of being viewed as one of the big donors. But, they didn’t really want to sacrifice like Barnabas, they just wanted people to think of them as giving like he did.

Having integrity means living what you truly believe, even if what you believe isn’t very popular.

Ananias and Sapphira lacked integrity. They had made a conscious choice to gain glory for themselves by pretending to be giving to God. No doubt everyone had been impressed by the size of Barnabas’ generous gift. But it wasn’t the size that would have mattered to God. God, as he so vividly put it once, owns all the cattle on a thousand hills. God can rustle up money when God needs it. It’s the heart that matters to God.

What we give is prompted by the Spirit, it’s an act of worship, a thanksgiving, and it is also an act of trust, that God will provide. It’s a conscious and intentional statement that our hands are open to give and to receive, as the sluice gate of a dam, the depths of God’s riches are ready to pour through us so long as we are open.

God gave Peter discernment into what was happening, and once again the Holy Spirit filled his mouth with what to say, “Ananias! Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!” The public accolades Ananias had been scheming for turned into horrifying public humiliation, as his plot was exposed.

But nothing prepared any of them for Ananias falling down dead, right in front of Peter. Horror turned to terror. What were they to make of this? Their Lord of love and life had seemingly struck dead one of their own. What did this mean for them? They dared not even consider what the risk of sin might now mean.

One way I make sense of this story is to see it not as God’s judgment on a man, but rather God’s severe rescue of Ananias, and judgment on Satan. God’s enemy had slipped into the intimacy of God’s restored relationship with His people, seeking to tear it apart again. The church had faced opposition from without, but now here was opposition from within. Ananias, if we accept what Jesus described, went straight from the floor at Peter’s feet into the arms of God Who loved him.

About three hours later, here came unsuspecting Sapphira. Peter tried to warn her, asking her if she was sure, sure, sure the sale of the land was the amount she was donating? Oh yes, yes that’s definitely the amount! Once again God’s judgment came down against Satan, and against the deceit that would have harmed the new church’s intimacy with God, by gathering Sapphira up to Paradise as her body fell dead before the horror-stricken gathering.

The church had great power and great grace. Now there was great fear, a deep awe and trembling reverence for the purity of God and His holiness. Later, no doubt remembering this early chapter in the life of the church, Peter would write,

Let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker. Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name. For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

1 Peter 4:15-17 (NRSV)

So, here we have the full cycle, again.

  1. The church had prayed together in Acts 4:31
  2. The Spirit filled them and they all “spoke the word of God with boldness
  3.  The Spirit worked powerfully among them as well, 4:32-36, for everyone took care of everyone
  4. And now came opposition from within

Which was now to be matched by persecution. Peter and John had not obeyed their official gag order, and the church was refuting the doctrines held by the Sadducees by claiming Jesus was resurrected and now alive. The religious rulers were filled with a teeth-grinding jealousy and envy at the amazing success of this movement. Their plan? Haul all twelve apostles to prison.

That oughtta do it!

The Sanhedrin thought they were shutting down the miracles. But, what they really did was to create the opportunity for another spectacular supernatural event—an angel releasing all the apostles from prison so they could preach and teach again in the temple!

So, having now jumped from the frying pan into the fire, the Sanhedrin became frenzied with fury. Gamaliel ended up being the one cool head in the room. (That’s another important data point to tuck away for later).

The big takeaway from this tumbly turvy chapter comes right at the end: As the twelve apostles left the council (and what, I wonder, did Matthias make of all this, the newest member of their crew?), they actually rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name of Jesus.

Wow, huh?

[Death of Ananias | Jan Steen [Public domain]

Has God Appointed Men as God Appointed Levites?

(This post begins a new series called “Monday Musings” which will be archived on the “Say What?” page)

One argument supporting the role of men as sole teachers and leaders in the church is God’s ordinance in the Old Testament for the Levites, and the Aaronic priesthood. This argument contends there is Biblical precedent for God to set aside a people for the priestly role based solely on biology, and not on ability or inclination, because that is exactly what God did with the Levites, and specifically Aaron.

In fact, not only did God maintain solely the descendants of Aaron were to serve as priests (carried through into Jesus’ day), but only those descending from David might rightfully occupy Israel’s throne. Again, solely based upon biology, not character, giftedness, inclination, or even connection with God Himself. This was proven over and over again as corrupt and godless men occupied both the royal and priestly duties of Judah (Israel being completely off the chart, having rebelled and established a country of their own).

On the two occasions where kings sought to perform a priestly duty (Uzziah, a good king, and Jeraboam, a bad king) God Himself intervened with serious repercussion, underscoring how important to God it was that only Levites, and only those descended from Aaron serve Him in these offices.

It seems a compelling argument, doesn’t it? God is consistent, the Bible says, unchanging. The whole people of Israel, all twelve tribes, heard God say He would make them into a nation of priests. Yet only Aaron’s line would actually be permitted to be priests. Even Moses was not permitted to be a priest. Only Aaron. Therefore, would it not be consistent of God that even in the New Testament, when this promise was reiterated in a fresh way, that only men would actually be permitted to teach and lead?

Surely some of you are asking why. Why would God say the Levites were to be priests? Guess what. There is an answer to that, but it’s a triggering kind of story, if you have a low tolerance for evil and violence.

Way, way back in Genesis, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi took their swords and killed every male in the city of Shechem because the prince had had sex with their sister before they were married. They then plundered the city, took all the flocks and herds, all Shechem’s children and women, all their wealth, and kept it all for themselves.

Jacob, their father, asked them why they had done such a horrifying thing. They both answered it was in defense of their sister’s honor, and by inference, their family honor. But, it seems, Jacob was circumspect, and he never again trusted them, especially when near Shechem. In fact, it was this very distrust which prompted Jacob to send his young and favored son Joseph to go check up on his brothers, one fateful day.

God, through Jacob as he prophesied over his sons, told Simeon and Levi their descendants would never have an inheritance in the promised land for the terrible thing they had done.

Yet now, a good 500 years, at least, later, the Levites’ same fierceness in defending the honor of the One they loved would be used for the Lord during the infamous Golden Calf Incident. They gathered together the worst offenders and killed them, even if they were part of their own family. In vindicating God’s honor with such fearless and focused devotion, to the death, the Levites proved the truth of their ancestor’s motivation in defending his sister’s honor.

God therefore honored this tribe, including even Aaron, who had repented from his central role in the creation of the golden idol, by giving them Himself as their portion, their inheritance, in the Promised Land. They would care for the tabernacle, make the sacrifices, and read the words of the Law to the people. In return, their food would be whatever the people brought to them, a portion of the sacrifices, and their beds would be wherever they could find a place, in the cities. They would never own property.

Their work would be to represent the people to God in repentance, brutal work which would include daylong slaughter, even on the Sabbath and during the festivals, of all the people’s sacrifices. It would include the upkeep and repair of the tabernacle, the backbreaking work of keeping the fires stoked, the bronze basin full of water (in a desert), the offal and waste dealt with from all the sacrifices, keeping the incense altar burning, and many more similar tasks. The work would be so demanding, only men at their physical peak would be able to do it.

This constant bloodshed and work of repentance was to be the Levites’ continual inheritance, a continuation of the bloodshed of their ancestor Levi, and of their repentance and purification.

The Aaronic priests would read the words of the Law to the people, adjudicate on cleanliness and family issues, and inquire of God for specific answers to prayer. They alone could bring the blood of Atonement into the Holy of Holies once a year.

When another branch of Levites protested the more desirable work of Aaron and his sons, the high priestly work, God dealt swift and severe judgment. God would never sanction even one exception to His appointment of priest (Samuel, by the way, was not a priest, and did not act as a priest or Levite, but as a prophet and judge).

So, that’s the whole story in a nutshell.

I am wondering how this story correlates to the contention that men alone have been chosen by God to teach and lead in these New Testament times? What great vindication have men displayed that God would be speaking to? You see, Simeon, the other brother, also fathered a tribe. But that tribe did not distinguish itself in the wilderness years. Later, when the Israelites entered Canaan, Simeon was the smallest and weakest of all the tribes and had received no blessing from Moses. When every other tribe received their land allotment, the tribe of Simeon was spread throughout the inheritance given to the tribe of Judah, literally “scattered throughout the land,” just as Jacob had prophesied would happen.

Well, one of you might say, what about men vindicating Adam having not taught Eve well about the Tree of Good and Evil, and repenting from Adam not being the leader during the serpent’s deception of Eve?

And I might say Jesus Himself is that second Adam, and what Jesus has done is redeem both men and women at once, as the one flesh Adam and Eve were to be before the fall. Paul taught this not only in his letter to the Romans, but also in writing

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

1 Corinthians 15:22


If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we[g] bear the image of the heavenly man.

1 Corinthians 15:44-49

This is the inheritance given to both men and women, to all who have put their faith in the second Adam.

In His ministry, as particularly narrated through Luke and John, Jesus as the second Adam gave some of His deepest revelation to women (the woman at the well, Martha, Mary of Magdala), insisted the gospel always include Mary of Bethany’s contribution, and gave the highest honor of delivering the news of His resurrection to Mary of Magdala. As the second Adam, Jesus gave both teaching and leadership back to women, who had, since Genesis 3:16 been suffering under the curse of men’s rule.

But still, you might be thinking.Still, what about 1 Timothy 2:14, where the whole Adam and Eve issue is directly addressed? What about that? Wouldn’t that whole passage seem to be predicated exactly upon this Levite theme?

So, let’s talk about that. You do your homework, I’m going to do mine.

Actually, I’d like to pursue two lines of reasoning. One of them takes us to 1 Timothy 2, and since there’s plenty of research on that passage, we’ll have lots to talk about.

The other line of reasoning pursues what is meant by Jesus explaining He has come to fulfill the Law. The book of Hebrews delves into the ramifications and implications of that in terms of Jesus as both sacrifice and high priest, and as the bodily representation of the temple itself, in all its parts. Because the Law is fulfilled, it no longer has a claim on the lives of believers. The temple worship is fulfilled, therefore the levitical priesthood is no longer necessary. The King of kings is on the throne, therefore the kingly line is fulfilled. The Holy Spirit has regenerated a people to God who are holy and clean, therefore the Law is fulfilled.

This being the case, all the curses and consequences of the fall have been rescinded, and humanity restored to God. This is what every believer is invited to live in, the state of grace. We’ll pursue this second line of reasoning once we’ve had our fill of studying and discussing the 1 Timothy 2 passage.

Here’s that text in Greek, and some websites to help you try to dig into the actual meaning and grammar of what’s written. Let’s get back together a week from today, and see what we come up with.

If you come across what other theologians have written, let’s bring that into the conversation as well.

1 Timothy 2:11-15

11 γυνὴ ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ μανθανέτω ἐν πάσῃ ὑποταγῇ·

12 ⸂διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ⸃ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω, οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός, ἀλλ’ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ.

13 Ἀδὰμ γὰρ πρῶτος ἐπλάσθη, εἶτα Εὕα·

14 καὶ Ἀδὰμ οὐκ ἠπατήθη, ἡ δὲ γυνὴ ⸀ἐξαπατηθεῖσα ἐν παραβάσει γέγονεν.

15 σωθήσεται δὲ διὰ τῆς τεκνογονίας, ἐὰν μείνωσιν ἐν πίστει καὶ ἀγάπῃ καὶ ἁγιασμῷ μετὰ σωφροσύνης.

Study tools: (This will give you the latest definition of these words, including the latest archaeological discoveries of inscriptions and papyri) (This will give you the parsing of each word)

Moses, Aaron, and the Ten Commandments | Aron de Chaves \ de Chavez. (Painter at Amsterdam in 1700.)The original uploader was F67HGBVN at Hebrew Wikipedia. [Public domain]

Please Remember Me

The rhythm and flow of the end of chapter 7 almost feels like the ebb and swell of waves. The waters swelled and increased…” in verse 17, and in 18, then 19, and again in 20. Can you feel the movement of the creaking boat, taking the swell aft, the water lapping and splashing, the keel groaning, the swell pushing up and up, then releasing leeward. The wave of death moves as well, through the end of this passage, for as the water swells and increases over even the highest mountain peak, all that has breath is blotted out in verse 21, again in 22, and then in 23.

This slow, rhythmic movement continued for almost half a year. Nearly six months. Of silence, swells, sorrow.

I wonder if Noah and his small clan of eight survivors felt prepared for the weight and burden of God’s gracious redemption. After the first few days of terror and trauma, there were the animals to care for, their food and stable mucking, their pregnancies and births. There was the pitch-and-wood ark itself to tend to, surely shredded in that horrendous hurricane and in great need of repair. There were their own mundane needs for food, sleep, cleaning, and comforting.

And so, they set about their work, their world telescoped into the cavernous innards of their ship, all the land plants and air-breathing creatures of the entire planet living in their unlikely terrarium. Did they begin to wonder if this was now their new reality? It was blessing to be saved, yet…did they feel blessed?

Noah had been so close to God! For one hundred years he had faithfully done everything God had asked of him. The narrator of the Epic of the Flood made sure we would know that, in chapter 6 and in chapter 7, Noahdid all that the Lord commanded him.” Yet now there was no word from the Lord, no instruction for this long, rhythmic waiting, no sign of what would come next, or if there would even be a “next” after this.

(Think how comforting this story was for the people, living in exile as they were when the redactors published what we call today the Old Testament. Their beautiful nation destroyed, their beautiful holy city razed to the ground, their beautiful temple—God’s holy house—looted and torn down. Had God abandoned them? Or was this only a period of waiting?)

Chapter 8 opens with the strengthening words, “But God remembered.”

God had been preparing the earth to receive those waiting in the ark by sending a great wind. As the wind blew, the strange forces which produced the Flood were reversed, and the waters began to subside (imagine the very first scene in the Bible, as the Spirit of God moved across the waters, and God separated them to reveal dry ground…). Isn’t it interesting we are given another date—for another five or so months had passed, and now it was the seventh month, the 17th day, when the ark ran aground on a submerged shoal.

Three more months, and the mountain peaks of Ararat appeared.

Another six weeks went by until the time was right for God to give Noah a sign through the return of the dove. This image of the dove carrying an olive branch was so moving it is used as a symbol of peace to this day.  Be encouraged, the dove seemed to say, keep enduring in patient faith, know that your loving and wise God, with whom you have always found favor, is being attentive to you and is working everything together for good.

Noah and his family did persevere in faith as they watched the earth dry, the water recede, until finally, in the second month, on the 27th day of that month, after over a year of silence, God spoke. The last words God had spoken were an invitation to come into the ark.  Now God invited everyone to come out onto a new world, a new beginning, a picture of new birth.

For the ancient audience of this Epic, these dates hold special significance. When their ancestors had received the Law from God through Moses, while in the wilderness, God reset their calendar. What had been counted as the seventh month was now to become their first month, marking their new covenant relationship with God. To this day, there are two Jewish calendars, the civil and the religious. The 17th day of the seventh month, when the ark came to rest on Mt. Ararat, was the same date as the 17th day of the first month (Nisan) on their religious calendar.

Several key historical events occurred on this day throughout Israel’s story.

  1. The first event was here, new life coming to the earth through Noah, his wife, sons and their wives, and the animals saved in the ark.
  2. The first Passover occurred on the 14th of Nisan. Three days later, on the 17th, the Israelites passed through the standing walls of the Red Sea’s waters, symbolizing death to their old life, and resurrection to new life with God as freed people. Significantly, as God collapsed the mighty walls of water, the ensuing torrent drowned all of Egypt’s army, along with Pharaoh.
  3. The Feast of Firstfruits, symbolizing new life. When God gave the Israelites the Passover, their first festival, He instructed them to celebrate it on the 14th day of Nissan. On the first Sabbath after Passover, they were to celebrate the Feast of Firstfruits. Some years, that Sabbath fell on the 17th day of Nisan.
  4. Israel feasted on food of their Promised Land, the day after God’s provision of manna came to an end on the 16th day of Nisan.
  5. Queen Esther won protection for her people. It was on this very day that God made provision for the Jewish people living in Persia to be spared annihilation.

Now think about what happened three days after Passover, about two thousand years ago. Jesus had died, and lay in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb…

Here’s how the apostle Paul described the Lord’s resurrection,

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

1st Corinthians 15:20-23 (NRSV)

The apostle Peter picked up on much the same theme by writing,

“…God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God fora good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

1 Peter 3:20-21

Image by | Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 4, Persecution…Prayer

“Break it up! Break it up!”

The captain of the temple was shoving people right and left, his sword out and at the ready. Right behind him came at least a dozen priests, half running, clutching their robes so as not to dirty their tassels. The Sadducees were last, but far from least, thunderclouds in their expressions.

Sounds from the growing crowd had broken their concentration as they led prayers in the temple courts. As soon as they had heard Peter’s familiar baritone ringing like a cymbal, reverberating up the temple steps, they had quickly ended the prayer meeting, called the captain, and rushed to put a stop to his preaching.

Already, thousands of pilgrims had taken up with this new teaching, a repercussion they hadn’t foreseen when they arranged for Jesus’ crucifixion. But they were not going to tolerate it anymore. It took some doing, but they arrested both Peter and John, over the howls of everyone gathered there, and hauled them off to the temple lockup.

So begins the rousing fourth chapter of Acts!

Every ruling body and power base in Jerusalem was in on this. They had first gathered together, then suddenly appeared out of the crowd as an intimidation tactic, to seize Peter and John. They didn’t have to throw the apostles in jail. But, they did, as another way to intimidate and humiliate them, to break their spirit.

Of the 71 men in the Sanhedrin, it is estimated about 3/4s of them were Sadducees at this time, a wealthy ruling class who cooperated with the Romans and did not believe in the resurrection. Peter was preaching not just resurrection in general, but that Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the one they thought they had gotten rid of, was raised from the dead.

Talk about provocative. 

Jesus had told the apostles they would be brought before governing bodies for interrogation, and the Holy Spirit would fill their mouths with words. I wonder if Peter had any idea what was going to come out of his mouth when an explanation was demanded of him.

Peter accused the Sanhedrin of having crucified Jesus, but not succeeded in thwarting God.

Right at the end of his powerful delivery, Peter said something that has been rattling people ever since.

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

Acts 4:12 (NRSV)

You may be asking the question – what about the people who have never heard the gospel? Never heard about Jesus? What about them? 

My answer – What do you know about God? 

God is love, and God’s love is compassionate and long suffering. God is the source of justice and righteousness. The Lord is good and everything God does is good, right, merciful and just. When That Great Day arrives and God judges all people, you and I are going to be swept up in the beauty of His right judgements. We will be completely satisfied that He has been just and merciful, and that goodness has prevailed in every person’s life.

I can tell you this, I am faint with relief that God is the Judge, and not you or me. We simply cannot out-love God. The fate of people who have never heard the gospel is in good hands. Thankfully, we do not need to do the heavy lifting on this one!

This statement of Peter’s is actually for the ears of people who have heard of Jesus, and know His story. We’re not responsible to figure out anyone else’s story but our own.

The Sanhedrin was astonished, Peter and John were so courageous, and they spoke with such power and authority but they had no graduate degrees, no doctorates of divinity. And the proof of their authority was standing right there – did you catch that? The lame beggar everyone knew was standing. The word in Greek actually is the root for resurrected.

They had a resurrection right in front of them. 

But they didn’t like it!

After boldly proclaiming the gospel and promising to preach it even after the Sanhedrin’s threats, Peter and John returned to the rest of the church and prayed together. So, part three, trouble came pounding through the crowd, which drew the church together to pray, and the cycle began all over again. 

As they prayed, they focused on one of God’s attributes, His sovereignty.  Nothing was out of God’s control. That will do wonders for putting people and problems and burdens in their proper perspective. Did you notice they did not ask for easier circumstances, but for a greater boldness and equipping? And God answered powerfully with a fresh infilling of His Spirit. 

Everyone was so filled with the Spirit that their tangible response was enormous generosity, not just with money, but with their attitude that “nothing is mine.” They saw themselves as stewards of what God had given them, not owners

Barnabas sort of set the tone with selling an income property and giving the whole thing to the church. That’s important to remember, to help understand what happened next.

[Psalm 118:22, Leonard J Matthews]

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