Peter and John carry on with their preaching, and they must be very charismatic, because the numbers of Christians are increasing rapidly – now up to 5,000. But the traditional Jews are upset with their teachings about the resurrection. Remember from the OT that they had only a very nebulous concept of a ‘place of the dead’ (sheol) and no afterlife. Only towards the end of the OT do we start to see hints of change – and that’s after the Babylonian exile. Jews who were exiled came into more contact with other religions in the area, many of which had dying and rising gods. So they began to incorporate some of these ideas – hence Jesus. But the traditionalists, esp those descended from the Jews who had remained in the area and not been part of the exile, considered these ideas blasphemous.
Peter insists that the scriptures all refer to Jesus and that there is no salvation in anyone else (v 11-12). Notice that Yahweh has been usurped here? No one in the NT even uses that name anymore. Modern translations, aiming to soften the edgier verses in the bible, change v13. In the KJV, Peter and John are ‘unlearned and ignorant men’; in the NIV they are ‘unschooled, ordinary men’, and in the NLT they are ‘ordinary men with no special training in the scriptures’. Note the progressive image upgrade? But no matter how the editors try to smooth over their lack of education, does it sound like they were capable of writing all the NT books attributed to them?
In v 23-31, believers claim persecution and pray for courage – another time-honored tradition that persists today. They dredge up another scripture (Psalm 2) to support their outrage. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose! And at the end of the chapter (v 32-37), we get a repeat of the happy-happy commune propaganda. Reading it makes me feel like I’m at a revival meeting. Hallelujah!
God strikes Ananias and his wife dead for lying about the amount of money they received for a piece of property. Seems like good old Yahweh hasn’t changed much since the OT, even though he no longer goes by that name. A dastardly tale – but there are actually apologists out there who think it’s a suitable morality lesson for children. I kid you not.
V 12-16 – miracles for sale! I wonder how all this notoriety escaped the historians of the day? V 17 to the end – more tall tales without any corroboration. The angel teleports the apostles out of the jail. Peter again accuses the Jews of murdering Jesus and claims that the apostles were all witnesses to the resurrection. I like Gamaliel, though. His statements confirm that the Jesus cult was only one of many in the area at the time, something history does corroborate. He’s wrong in v 38-39, though; if the success of a cult were dependent upon its veracity, Mormonism and Scientology would never have made the cut.
The first sign of unrest. I knew the happy-happy couldn’t last! There’s a division between the Jewish Christians and the Greek Christians. (Something tells me that’s only gonna get worse.) And a conflict between spirituality and practicality. So there’s a meeting for all the believers – somehow I doubt that, since there are now over 5,000. But anyway… 7 guys are appointed to look after the day-to-day stuff, and the apostles prayed over them as they laid their hands on them – another practice that continues to this day. (The term ‘laying on of hands’ refers today to the ordination of priests.) Last in this chapter, Stephen is arrested on charges trumped up by those plotting against him. There sure is an undercurrent of paranoia and persecution in Acts.