Wednesday this week marked the last Bible study at church for the summer. We will reconvene in late August or early September. This Wednesday, we studied Luke 24 and Acts 1. Here are some items:
A. Scholars debate whether Luke was a Hellenized Jew or a God-fearing Gentile. A God-fearer was a Gentile who accepted the authority of the Old Testament but had not been circumcised or washed away his Gentile self through Jewish baptism. An argument in favor of Luke being a God-fearer is that, in Colossians 4, Paul mentions names of people who are of the circumcision (vv. 10-11), then he mentions Luke later, in v. 14. The implication is that Luke is distinct from those who are of the circumcision, the Jewish Christians. That would make him a Gentile, and his intimate knowledge of the Old Testament may point to him being a God-fearer.
B. On the topic of Hellenized Jews, the pastor said that the Sadducees (the priestly party) were Hellenized Jews, so they believed in the immortality of the soul but not the resurrection of the dead. The pastor seemed to be treating the Sadducees’ belief on the afterlife as an importation from Hellenism, which held to the immortality of the soul while dismissing bodily resurrection because it saw the body as corrupt. I wondered about this, though, because I have read scholars who suggest that the Sadducees were actually the conservative party on the afterlife, for they reflected the Hebrew Bible, which largely lacks a rigorous concept of the afterlife. Indeed, Ben Sira, a priest, talks as if there is no afterlife at all. Josephus in Antiquities 18:16 and Jewish Wars 2:165, it turns out, denies that the Sadducees believed in the immortality of the soul. The pastor is not getting his depiction of the Sadducees from nowhere, for there are secondary sources that say that they were Hellenized. The question would be how, and to what extent.
C. The pastor said that eating is prominent throughout Luke and Acts. Meals are times of fellowship and of hearing Christian teaching, but they are also places to meet Christ, as when the risen Christ in Luke 24 breaks bread and eats fish before disciples. Some scholars argue that the emphasis on eating points to the Eucharist. That is not to suggest that those meals are all communion ceremonies, but the meals are harbingers of, or comment on, the Eucharist, where Christ meets his people.
D. To quote from the handout: “For Luke, the out-pouring of the Spirit at Pentecost is through the exalted/ascended Christ—-as opposed to John, who has a version of the Spirit being given in John 20 after His resurrection.” Christians have tried to reconcile these things. One explanation that I have heard is that Christians in John 20 are receiving the Holy Spirit to dwell inside of them, whereas they are being empowered for mission in Acts 2. Does this entirely work? Well, John 14-16 does portray the Spirit as one who continues Jesus’s presence among the disciples and brings to their remembrance the things that Jesus taught them; the Spirit is there for the benefit of the disciples. The Book of Acts, however, depicts the Spirit moving the church and empowering the apostles to preach the Gospel to outsiders. But there are arguably similarities between John and Acts. In John 16, the Spirit convicts the world of the sin of not believing in Christ; in Acts, as the pastor noted, the Spirit testifies to Jesus and the truth of the Gospel before the world. In John 20:23, Jesus, after breathing on his disciples and instructing them to receive the Holy Spirit, tells them that they can forgive and retain sins; this may refer to their Gospel proclamation, which carries with it forgiveness for those who acceptance and unforgiveness for those who reject it. The disciples in Acts, empowered by the Holy Spirit, proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins through Christ (Acts 5:31; 13:38; 26:18).
E. The pastor noted examples of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke beginning and ending with common themes. The Gospel of Matthew begins with Jesus being called Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23), and it ends with Jesus promising to be with his disciples always (Matthew 28:20). Luke’s Gospel begins in the Temple, with Zechariah the priest, and it ends with the disciples praising God in the Temple. In Luke 2, angels bring tidings of peace before shepherds; in Luke 24, the risen Christ greets his disciples with “peace.” In Luke 1:35, Gabriel promises Mary that the Holy Spirit will come on Mary and the power of the Most High shall overshadow her; in Luke 24, Jesus tells his disciples that the Spirit will come upon them and they will be clothed with power from on high. In Luke 1, Zechariah and Mary respond to God’s promise with worship and joy and bear witness in song; in Luke 24, the disciples also respond with worship and joy, but they will bear their witness in the Book of Acts.
F. In Acts 1, the disciples ask the risen Jesus if he at that time will restore the kingdom to Israel, and Jesus responds that it is not for them to know the times or the seasons. The pastor said that this was probably included in Acts because people in Luke’s day were discouraged that Jesus had not yet returned, since Jesus had promised to return in “this generation” (Luke 21:32). I asked the pastor how he interpreted “this generation.” The pastor interprets it, not as forty years, but in reference to the time between Jesus’s birth and second coming. When Jesus speaks against the faithless generation, he is not just talking about his contemporaries but is saying that many will be trapped in unbelief until the second coming.
G. At the end of Acts, in Acts 28, Paul is preaching in Rome, the capital of paganism, to which and from which all roads go. Paul quotes Isaiah 6:9-10, applying it to Jews who will hear and shall not listen or understand, and Paul proceeds to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, saying they will listen. The pastor seemed to be trying to interpret the holy seed of Isaiah 6:13 as Christ: through Christ, the curse of Isaiah, and later of Christ when he preached in Luke 8, would be lifted, for the seed would be planted among the Gentiles; the Gospel would find a receptive audience. I am not sure if that works, since Isaiah 6 seems to imply that the Israelites will begin to hear after they are desolate and there is a holy seed. It does not mention the Gentiles. Perhaps more needs to be unpacked here. After all, Romans 11 ties the Israelites’ receptivity to the Gospel to the inclusion of the Gentiles into the church.