Acts of the Apostles begins with the ascension, and Luke actually contradicts himself! Did you notice that neither Matthew nor John mentioned Jesus’ ascension at all? But Mark (ch 16) and Luke (ch 24, who supposedly also wrote Acts) both state that he ascended on Easter, right after his resurrection. And now Luke changes his mind and says that Jesus appeared to his disciples for 40 days after his resurrection. This account in Acts obviously won the vote of the early church leaders, because this is how Christians celebrate it now – 40 days after Easter.
In the section on the ascension (v 6-11), the disciples ask Jesus when he will free Israel and restore the kingdom. Good question – we’re still waiting. And notice Jesus’ evasive answer (v 7-8), and the angel’s vague promise (v 11). I’d say this is part of ‘revising the expectations’ of early believers. Whereas in earlier gospels, Jesus promised to return within the lifetime of his followers, his assurance here is suddenly much more nebulous. Interesting trivia – the SAB claims that the first half of v 11 was used to discourage the use of telescopes, and that the phrase ‘men of Galilee’ was added because ‘Galilee’ is a sort of pun on the name ‘Galileo’.
Now the disciples gather and Peter addresses them regarding Judas. Almost everything he says contradicts the account of Judas’ betrayal in Matthew 27 (surprised?). He begins by announcing that the betrayal fulfilled a scripture of David, but gives no citation. I had a hard time finding such a scripture, but one apologist suggests that it’s Psalm 41:9, which was previously quoted in John 13:18. In v 18, Peter gives Judas completely different cause of death, and claims that Judas used his silver to buy the potter’s field himself. Then he quotes Psalms 69:25 and 109:8 as a reason for needing to replace Judas on the roster.
The last bit is preposterous. The disciples agree to choose a successor to Judas, and that “Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection”. WTF? Either the guy was a witness or he wasn’t! (And there’s no evidence in the gospels, or anywhere else, that anyone actually witnessed Jesus’ resurrection, anyway.) Nevertheless, they pray to choose a new disciple, and then roll the dice. Wow. Just wow…
When I was a kid, I remember hearing one of the Sundays/festivals on the church calendar referred to as ‘WhitSunday’ (not a typo). I never knew what exactly that was. Short lesson: 40 days after Easter, Jesus ascended into heaven (at least according to Acts), so Ascension Day is always a Thursday. And 10 days after that, the Holy Ghost descended upon the disciples, as promised (see John 14:15 and Acts 1:5). That means this happened 50 days after the resurrection (if you count Easter as the first day to make the numbers fit). And so the event is known to Christians as Pentecost (penta = 50). However, this date is also actually the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, or Feast of Weeks, an OT celebration of god giving the Torah to the Israelites on Mt Sinai, thus marking the birth of the Jewish religion. Christians co-oped the holiday by having god give believers the gift of the Holy Spirit on the same day, thus marking the birth of the Christian religion. (Convenient? deliberate?) And for some reason that Wikipedia cannot explain, Pentecost came to be known in England as White Sunday, elided to WhitSunday. And that’s how I knew it as a kid in the Anglican church. I never heard of Pentecost and had no idea until recently what a Pentecostal Christian was; I never heard of ‘speaking in tongues’, either. WhitSunday was just a day on the calendar. And we didn’t celebrate it much, either, because 50 days after Easter is well into spring or early summer, and church attendance always dropped off by then.
Well, read this chapter and it’ll all make sense now. Acts is the birthplace of Pentecostal Christianity, ‘speaking in tongues’, prophesying, and having ‘visions’. The claim made in v 5-12 shows the author’s limited knowledge of geography. Devout Jews from “every nation under heaven” (KJV) include only those from countries in the Middle East. Well, that’s all the author would have known about. The NLT removes the words ‘under heaven’ to make the error less obvious. And of course, there weren’t Jews in every nation under heaven anyway – China? Australia? Canada? Not back then! Kudos to the onlookers in v 13 who laughed and called the believers drunks. Too bad their reason didn’t prevail.
Peter then gets up on his soapbox and delivers a long oration. He hauls out end-times prophesy from Joel 2, claiming that Jesus was slain by ‘wicked hands’ and that god then ‘loosed the pains of death’ (v 24). Then he starts quoting Psalms, stating that David prophesied about Jesus centuries earlier. Hokum! Go back and read Psalm 16 – it’s clear that David was talking about himself, self-centered bastard that he was. And Jesus wasn’t descended from David anyway (v 30), if his father was god! And what about Peter’s claim in v 32 that they were all witnesses to the resurrection? More hokum – there were no witnesses.
Peter’s words in v 38 form the cornerstone of Christianity, especially for evangelicals. This is exactly what I hear fundie preachers say today – now I know where they get it. It wasn’t spoken about in my church. We all just took for granted we were Christians. But a lot of people must have bought into the spiel, because the number of believers jumped from just 120 in the last chapter to around 3,000 in v 41.
Summary of the last few verses – all the new Christian cult inductees took vows of poverty, pooled their possessions and formed a commune, worshiped together every day, and lived happily ever after. Somehow I think there will be more to the story…
Oh boy, now the fun starts. Peter takes over Jesus’ ministry, so he has to perform a few miracles, too. He starts healing in Jesus’ name – a scam that’s continued ever since.
Then Peter takes up street preaching, another time-honored nuisance. When I read v 12-23, I actually laughed. Find a modern translation of these verses, and in v 12 replace ‘Israel’ with the name of any American city. Now read the verses aloud with a twangy accent, and you’ll have a pretty good knock-off of a contemporary TV evangelist or faith healer. (Think Pat Robertson or Peter Popoff). There is nothing in these verses that couldn’t be said today – it’s just too funny.
In v 22-23, Peter is citing Deuteronomy 18, part of Moses’ parting speech to the Israelites before they enter Canaan. Does Peter – or anyone – seriously think that Moses was predicting Jesus here? The prophesy could have been referring to anyone, but bonus points to Luke for finding yet another OT scripture to link up. I should have been keeping score. And note the intolerance and condemnation in v 23.