Here are some of my notes for Sunday, June 29, 2008 based on the Lifeway Explore the Bible curriculum
Reference works cited include:
1) The Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary by F. F. Bruce
2) The Acts of the Apostles: A Social-Rhetorical Commentary by Ben Witherington III
3)The Acts of the Apostles: Anchor Bible Commentary by Joseph Fitzmyer
4) Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament by Bruce Metzger
5) NET Bible
Act 22:4-16 NET. I persecuted this Way even to the point of death, tying up both men and women and putting them in prison, (5) as both the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. From them I also received letters to the brothers in Damascus, and I was on my way to make arrests there and bring the prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished. (6) As I was en route and near Damascus, about noon a very bright light from heaven suddenly flashed around me. (7) Then I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ (8 ) I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’ (9) Those who were with me saw the light, but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. (10) So I asked, ‘What should I do, Lord?’ The Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told about everything that you have been designated to do.’ (11) Since I could not see because of the brilliance of that light, I came to Damascus led by the hand of those who were with me. (12) A man named Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who live there, (13) came to me and stood beside me and said to me, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight!’ And at that very moment I looked up and saw him. (14) Then he said, ‘The God of our ancestors has already chosen you to know his will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear a command from his mouth, (15) because you will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. (16) And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name.’
Act 26:9-19 NET. Of course, I myself was convinced that it was necessary to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus the Nazarene. (10) And that is what I did in Jerusalem: Not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons by the authority I received from the chief priests, but I also cast my vote against them when they were sentenced to death. (11) I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to force them to blaspheme. Because I was so furiously enraged at them, I went to persecute them even in foreign cities. (12) “While doing this very thing, as I was going to Damascus with authority and complete power from the chief priests, (13) about noon along the road, Your Majesty, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining everywhere around me and those traveling with me. (14) When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? You are hurting yourself by kicking against the goads.’ (15) So I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. (16) But get up and stand on your feet, for I have appeared to you for this reason, to designate you in advance as a servant and witness to the things you have seen and to the things in which I will appear to you. (17) I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you (18 ) to open their eyes so that they turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (19) “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,
Gal 1:13-24 NET. For you have heard of my former way of life in Judaism, how I was savagely persecuting the church of God and trying to destroy it. (14) I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my nation, and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. (15) But when the one who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace was pleased (16) to reveal his Son in me so that I could preach him among the Gentiles, I did not go to ask advice from any human being, (17) nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me, but right away I departed to Arabia, and then returned to Damascus. (18 ) Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and get information from him, and I stayed with him fifteen days. (19) But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (20) I assure you that, before God, I am not lying about what I am writing to you! (21) Afterward I went to the regions of Syria and Cilicia. (22) But I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. (23) They were only hearing, “The one who once persecuted us is now proclaiming the good news of the faith he once tried to destroy.” (24) So they glorified God because of me.
Acts 9:1: the disciples of the Lord- important to remember Luke uses “disciple” of all Christians in most of Acts, rather than just to refer to the Twelve.
the high priest- Either Caiaphas (18-36 AD) or Jonathan, son of Ananus (36-37 AD) and Caiaphas’ brother in law.(Bruce)
Acts 9:2-requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, either men or women, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem-: so basically Paul asked for letters of extradition.
The Romans required the nations surrounding Judea to grant the rights of a sovereign state, including extradition, during the Hasmonean kingship (140-37 BC) in 139 BC. Judea became a Roman protectorate in 63 BC, and in 47 BC Julius Caesar confirmed his former enemy Hyrcanus as Ethnarch of Judea and High Priest, affirming these sovereign rights to the high priesthood. (Bruce, Wikipedia)
Presumably the charge against the Christians was some form of offense against the Temple, which was the one area of law the Romans left in the hands of the Jews, and which could lead to a death sentence.
Apparently the Christians, presumably mostly Hellenists, attended synagogue in Damascus, and were not quite so controversial there.
Damascus was an ancient city even in Abraham’s day. It sits at the foot of Mt. Hermon and was a crossroad for the main caravan route from Egypt to Mesopotamia. It was one of Alexander the Great’s conquests around 330 BC, and was redesigned on a grid pattern while under Greek control. A Nabataean king, Aretas III (85- 60 BC) took it from the Greeks, then the Romans under Pompey took it from them in 64 BC. The Romans made it a free city and chief of the Decapolis, a cultural and commercial center in the region. After Tiberius Caesar died in 37 AD, the Nabataeans under Aretas IV Philipatris (8- 40 AD) regained control of Damascus. (Bruce, Fitzmyer)
The Way- ancient shorthand used by religious sects for themselves, like the Essenes and the Christians. Opposing sects and observers typically called such sects haieresis, “sect, school”.
Acts 9:3- 7 A lot has been written over the apparent contradictions between the three accounts of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9, 22, and 26. Ben Witherington points out some essential points all three agree on:
1. Saul empowered by authority in Jerusalem to pursue Christians, even in foreign land, like Damascus.
2. As he neared Damascus, Saul a light and heard a voice
3. The voice said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
4. Saul asked, “Who are you, sir?”
5. The voice answered, “I am Jesus whom you persecute”.
6. Saul’s traveling companions are affected by the encounter to some degree as well, testifying to it’s objectiveness.(Witherington)
9:3 Greek astrapto, typically used of a flash of lightning.(Bruce)
9:4 Repetition of a name is common in divine speech. Gen. 22:11, Gen 46:2, Ex 3:4, 1 Sam 3:10, Lk 10:41, Lk 22:31(Bruce)
9:5 Twice Jesus refers to Saul persecuting him. As with Jesus’ standing in Stephen’s death vision, this indicates post-gospel much the Lord identifies himself with his people “What you do to the least of mine, you do to me”.
Acts 9:5 kick against the pricks: Not found in any Greek manuscript at this point, the ancient proverb found in several classical writers (Euripides, Aeschylus) was likely moved here by scribes who knew it in the parallel accounts of Acts 26:14 and 22:10. The proverb is found in Latin manuscripts, and it found its way into the KJV and the Greek text behind it, the Textus Receptus, when Desiderus Erasmus back-translated it from Latin into Greek and put it into his first edition of theGreek New Testament in 1516. Witherington explains its presence in Acts 26:14 as something Paul added in his speech to explain Jesus’ implied meaning, using a proverb that is essentially Greek, not Jewish.(Metzger, Witherington, Bruce)
Acts 9:7 The parallel accounts confuse at this point. In 9:7 Paul companions hear but don’t see. In 22:19 they see but don’t hear. The confusion can be explained, by realizing that in 9:7 the companions see no one, no man, while in 22:9 they see the light. Similarly, in 9:7 the companions hear but in 22:9 they don’t hear. The Greek akouo has an older usage as not only hearing, but understanding what one hears, so the companions heard something (a voice, thunder) but did not understand the words. (Bruce, Witherington)
Acts 9:8 Saul’s blinding was not so much a punishment as a way of rendering Saul helpless. This forced Saul to reconsider his ways, and also made him less dangerous in the eyes of Ananias, so that he would more readily approach him.(Fitzmyer)
Saul is both fasting and praying, as we later learn. This is no doubt a response both to Jesus’ appearance and also to the implication that the very pious Saul has been grossly sinning against God by persecuting Christians.
Acts 9:10 Ananias might have been a Jerusalem fugitive, but the implication of 9:13 is that he was not present in Jerusalem during Saul’s rampage. Later stories make him the bishop of Damascus. What he plainly is, is God’s representative, thus his absence from Galatians 1:12, 16 is understandable. Ananias is basically the hand of God here.(Bruce)
Ananias has a vision of Jesus of his own, but Ananias knows who speaks to him and he responds as the patriarchs and prophets did: Here I am. (Witherington)
Acts 9:11 Straight Street- created no doubt, when the Greeks laid out the city again. It is still a street running East-West in Old Damascus.(Fitzmyer)
Tarsus was an ancient city in Cilicia, a natural crossroad for trade routes from the Euphrates to the West and from Antioch to the North. It was probably founded by the Phoenicians, is mentioned as early as ancient Hittite records. Cilicia was made a Roman province by Pompey in 64 BC, and Tarsus was declared the provincial capital. In Marc Anthony’s day (40-33 BC) he made Tarsus a city free and exempt from Roman taxes, which amounted to Roman citizeship for many Tarsusians. Augustus later upheld this freedom, and Tarsus became a wealthy, intellectual and cultural center of the Roman empire. (Fitzmyer)
Acts 9:13 in a vision- thus Saul has 3 visions in immediate story:
1. On Damascus Road
2. In Judas’ house
3. At the Temple in Jerusalem during his 15 day return there (Acts 22:17-21)
Acts 9:14- How does Ananias know of Saul’s business? Presumably the rumor mill between Damascus and Jerusalem was busy, explaining Saul’s pursuit of Christians there and the Christians’ awareness of Saul impeding arrival.
Acts 9:15- chosen instrument: This explains Paul’s unique post-Ascension vision of Jesus. Saul is chosen by God to speak in Jewish synagogues before turning to Gentiles, as well as speaking to provincial rulers, King Agrippa, and perhaps finally, to the Roman emperor himself. (Fitzmyer)
Acts 9:16- suffer for my name: The paradox is that those God loves best he uses the worst, as it were, as exemplified by Jesus’ death. But then also, the eternal reward for a life of suffering is also exemplified by Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Saul in later years would treat his suffering as a badge of his apostleship.
Acts 9:17- brother Saul: a brother Israelite, now a brother Christian as well.
Lord Jesus- here, only a few years after the first Easter, the basic Christian tenet is already established. Jesus is Lord.
Laid hands on him- Here Ananias is fulfilling the same role as sponsor for Paul that just before Peter and John played for the Samaritans, both of whom were naturally distrusted by Christians. Perhaps this indicates that Ananias was indeed an important Christian in Damascus, then.
be filled with Holy Spirit- and again, Ananias like Peter and John. Only surely Ananias was a more anonymous Christian than Peter and John. So again the implication is the Spirit comes of his own will, not by man. This filling of the Spirit is not only a badge of Christian membership, but also a prophetic necessity, as Saul has a very large role to play ahead.
Immediately…he could see again: Nothing natural about the blindness or the cure. It comes quickly, it goes quickly.
he got up and was baptised: no new believers class for Saul, who has been visited by the Lord Jesus himself, and had at least one vision in the days afterward.
Acts 9:19- For several days he was with the disciples: Though Paul always maintained he got his message straight from Heaven, he surely learned his ritual and early hymns with these disciples.
This is where most scholars must place Paul’s stated time in Arabia alone, from Gal 1:15-17 NET. But when the one who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace was pleased (16) to reveal his Son in me so that I could preach him among the Gentiles, I did not go to ask advice from any human being, (17) nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me, but right away I departed to Arabia, and then returned to Damascus.
Discerning the exact order is nearly impossible. Did Saul go straight into Arabia after receiving his sight, or did he spent these few days among the disciples, then go to Arabia?
Acts 9:20 Jesus… son of God: As large as Damascus’ Jewish population was, it likely had many synagogues.
son of God: as a term this was used of:
1. nation of Israel
2. anointed king of Israel
3. ideal king, the Messiah , as shown in Mar 14:61 NET. But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest questioned him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” (Bruce)
Acts 9:22- more capable: in preaching, thus explaining the growing opposition to him.
confounding the Jews: when you think of it, essentially Saul has become a second Stephen, as if God decided that one of those responsible for removing Stephen should rightly take his place. The similarity will continue.
Acts 9:23 Jews plotted to kill him: how like Stephen that is!
Acts 9:24- plot became known to Saul: How he learned we don’t know. Was it miraculous or mundane sources?(Fitzmyer)
Acts 9:25 Parallel account : 2Co 11:32-33 NET. In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to arrest me, (33) but I was let down in a rope-basket through a window in the city wall, and escaped his hands.
Acts 9:26- Jerusalem- Saul went back about 39 AD. Disciples would mean the common Christians, either Hellenists returned from the scattering or new Hebrewist Christians from the intervening three years or so.(Fitzmyer)
afraid- Saul must have been quite fierce, if he was still feared after three years’ disappearance.
Acts 9:27- Barnabas: He acts as Saul’s sponsor as Ananias had in Damascus
apostles – Gal 1:18-19 show only Peter and James the Just, Jesus’ brother, are the only leaders Saul saw at this time.
explained how… Saul had seen the Lord: The Greek is ambiguous, and it could be saying that Barnabas explained, or that Barnabas brought Saul to the disciples, and Saul explained. (Fitzmyer)
preached fearlessly in Damascus: We return to the Greek parrhesia, fearless honesty in speaking, that Luke like so much. This fearlessness in speaking the Gospel is one of Luke’s signs of true Christianity. (Fitzmyer)
9:29 coming and going, speaking fearlessly: for a mere fifteen days, but it must have been a busy two weeks, as subsequent verses show
Acts 9:29: He conversed and debated with the Hellenistic Jews- Again we see Saul acting as the replacement Stephen, here returning to the same synagogue where Saul and Stephen had perhaps debated, only this time Saul is in Stephen’s place, proclaiming Jesus.
they attempted to kill him- And again, like Stephen, Saul inflames the Hellenistic Jews enough to want to kill him.
Acts 9:30: the brothers learned of this: so again the Christians have friends among the Jews, and the rumor mill is running full on.
they took him down to Caesarea: Caesarea was built by Herod the Great on an ancient Phoenicia site called Strato’s Tower. Herod the Great built a Hellenistic city with a great harbor there which he completed in 13 BC and named for Caesar, Herod ever mindful of who kept him in power. After 6 AD it fell back into the lands controlled by Rome, this time under the province of Judea.(Bruce)
sent him off to Tarsus- From the great harbor city of Caesarea one would expect that Saul went to Tarsus by ship, but a land route through Syria into Cilicia might fit Galatians 1:21 better.
Acts 9:31- Without Saul’s zealous ways to create uproar, the church in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and grew in numbers and Godliness.