Day 321

Acts 11-13

Chapter 11

The first section of this chapter is subtitled, in the NLT, “Peter explains his actions” but it seems to me that it would more rightly be titled “Peter defends his actions”. He is accused of breaking the Levitical laws by entering a Gentile’s house and not keeping Kosher.

V 4-14 is just a rehash of the story from the last chapter, as Peter explains it all. In v 16 he quotes Jesus (see Mark 1:8; Matt 3:11; Luke 3:16). Clearly, being baptized by the Holy Spirit must be a step up from plain water. And they all lived happily… seriously, I don’t find v 18 believable. Is it reasonable to think that all the Jewish believers would have unanimously and quietly accepted the Gentiles without further protest?

V 19 to the end begin to describe the mission efforts of the early converts, preaching and establishing churches in cities throughout the area. This will continue through the next chapters, so a map may be helpful in following the action.

Acts of the Apostles Map

I find all these glowing success stories of the missions a little far-fetched and suspect they need to be taken with a grain of salt. Claudius (v 28) was emperor from 41-54 CE. Apparently there were several famines in the area around that time, and apologists try to pinpoint the exact year of this passage to prove its historicity; however the ones I checked disagreed, with the mid-years of Claudius’ reign (44-47) being common guesses.

Chapter 12

This story takes place around the time of death of Herod Agrippa (11 BCE – 44 CE). Brief bio – he was the grandson of Herod the Great, and according to accounts by the historian Josephus, showed favoritism towards the Jews during the time he governed Judea. So that explains the claims of bias toward the Jews and persecution of Christians in v 1-3.

After Passover in 44, Agrippa went to Caesarea, where he had games performed in honor of Claudius. In the midst of his speech to the public a cry went out saying “this is not the voice of a man but of a god” and Agrippa did not publicly react. At this time he saw an owl perched over his head. During his imprisonment by Tiberius a similar omen had been interpreted as portending his speedy release and future kingship, with the warning that should he behold the same sight again, he would die. He was immediately smitten with violent pains, scolded his friends for flattering him and accepted his imminent death. He experienced heart pains and a pain in his abdomen, and died after five days.” (Wikipedia)

So the account of his death in v 22-23 has some credence (except for the worms???)

The Liberation of St Peter, Gerard van Honthorst, c 1616

The Liberation of St Peter, Gerard van Honthorst, c 1616

Peter’s miraculous escape, though, sounds like tall tale or legend. A dream maybe? (v 9) If god went to such lengths to rescue Peter, why didn’t he make any effort to save James (v 2)? And if James is dead, then who is the James of v 17?

V 20 proves that Tyre was still inhabited during the first century CE. (And it’s still inhabited today. You may remember that Ezekiel 26 and 27 prophesied that it would be completely destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar.)

Chapter 13

Exactly who is this “Holy Spirit” that talks to people? (v 2) A vision? A drug-induced hallucination? Ever wonder how many of the wildly improbable stories in the bible could be attributed to hallucinations or drug use? Well check this out

In v 9, Saul suddenly becomes known as Paul. But I don’t see any dramatic reason given for the name change. I always thought that god had renamed him, or that he had renamed himself, for some noble reason, but all I see here is that he becomes ‘also known as Paul’ when he arrives in Greece. Perhaps the change is language-related (like John/Juan/Jean/Johann)? Paul is now on the first of his several missionary trips, which supposedly took place from 46-48; maps will be helpful in following these in the next few chapters.

Paul_first

In Cyprus, Paul meets a fellow sorcerer, and curses him, resulting in blindness. Is this a demonstration of ‘love thine enemies’? More like dueling wizards! And isn’t there a better way to persuade the governor to believe Paul’s message than a malicious act?

In v 13 Paul begins preaching in the synagogue – here we go again! Another long boring recap of Jewish history, chock full of scriptural quotes and a few minor contradictions with the OT accounts. V 22 probably refers to 1 Sam 13:14, but it’s misquoted (or Paul fudged it to suit his purpose). V 23 again refers to Jesus as a descendant of David; not possible unless his father was actually Joseph, rather than god. You can’t have it both ways! V 25 quotes the gospels (Mark 1:7; Matt 3:11; Luke 3:16; John 1:27), so Acts was either written later or used the same source. Paul goes on to quote Psalm 2:7 (v 33) and Isaiah 55:3 (v 34), which in the KJV refers to the ‘sure mercies of David’. Ha! If you read the OT you know that David was anything but merciful, and perhaps to avoid that issue, modern translations change the wording to ‘sure blessings promised to David’. Next quote is Psalm 16:10 (v 35); then Habakkuk 1:5 (v 41), and lastly Isaiah 49:6 (v 47). Is Paul trying to prove his scholarship by fitting in a record number of scriptural quotes?

Note that v 38-39 support the ‘salvation by faith alone’ side of the faith vs works argument. And lastly, Paul turns to convert Gentiles again, claiming that the Jews rejected the message. Well, obviously not all of them did; it just said so in v 43. But there’s a definite anti-Semitic slant to this chapter.

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