Epistles of Thomas

October 20, 2008

Acts 13-15

Filed under: New Testament — Thomas @ 14:47
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Acts 13:1 includes a list of prophets and teachers including Simeon called Niger whose “nickname” indicates he was black skinned. In light of racism against those of darker skin it is important to recognise that Africans were involved in the spread of the gospel during this period, not just as recipients (Ethiopian Eunuch) but as prophets and teachers. Holy Spirit was very active during this time selecting men and sending them to certain places (13:2ff).

In Pisidian Antioch we see the pattern that Paul and the others followed when they entered new areas. They went first to the Jewish synagogue and recited the Jewish history, explaining how that history led to Jesus as messiah. This culminates with “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses” (13:38-39). He then warns them not to fall into the same mistake as their ancestors by rejecting Jesus. Usually this message was rejected by the Jewish leaders and then Paul would explain: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles” (v46). Many Jews did believe but their leaders generally stirred up trouble and attempted to drive the apostles from their cities (just as Paul had one previously). Some even followed them to other cities and stirred up animosity there as well (14:2, 19). In contrast to Herod (12:22), when people tried to worship Paul and Barnabas “they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: ‘Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you’” (14:14-15). This again demonstrates the need for a clear perspective on the part of the early Christians when dealing with so much power.

Chapter fifteen is the Jerusalem council which sought to deal once and for all with the issue of Gentiles entering the Kingdom of God. For most Jews this was the sine qua non of Judaism. They needed to understand that the gospel was not “Judaism” and thus the rules for entry into the covenant people had changed. Peter makes it clear that God has accepted the Gentiles just as they are and they Jews should not force the Law on them. In conclusion a letter is sent out saying “You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things” (15:29). Obviously, this is not the totality of commandments that Gentiles should follow, e.g. thou shalt not murder still applies. This list allows Gentiles to have freedom while allowing them to associate with Jewish believers without unduly offending them. The first three allow them to have table fellowship while the last dealt with a problem that seemed to be widespread among Gentiles (as the discovery of Pompeii has clearly demonstrated).

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