Sunday, August 1
Acts 22:6-21: Essentially identical with the story of Paul’s conversion in Acts 9, the present account does provide some additional details not mentioned in that earlier version. We now learn, for instance, that Paul’s conversion took place at the noon hour (verse 6), which we know was a prescribed time of prayer for Jews. Thus, we ascertain that Paul’s conversion took place while was stopped along the road, turned facing Jerusalem (cf. 1 Kings 8:48; Daniel 6:10), and reciting the Tefillah, or Eighteen Benedictions.
He was suddenly surrounded by an overwhelming light, flung to the ground, and dramatically addressed by name by the accusing Lord. By noting the specific hour of Paul’s experience, this version of the story relates it to the ecstatic vision of the apostle Peter, who was also praying at noon, in Acts 10. In each case the praying apostle is called by name (10:13; 11:7; 22:7) and answers the “Lord” (Kyrie in 10:14; 11:8; 22:8) in a brief dialogue. Each man is given a command (10:13; 11:7; 22:10). In each case the context is related to the calling of the Gentiles. In the instance of Peter, the experience leads directly to the baptism of Cornelius and his companions (11:9-14).
In the present instance, this point is made by describing a second experience of Paul, this one in the temple at Jerusalem after his return to that city three years later (cf. Galatians 1:18). This second experience is called an ecstasy (en ekstasei in 22:17), the same word earlier used to describe Peter’s experience (10:10; 11:5). This experience of Paul, which also occurs in the context of prayer (22:17), takes place in the temple.
This latter detail seems most significant within the general framework of Luke’s symbolic topography. We recall that his Gospel narrative both begins and ends in the temple (Luke 1:9; 24:53), and now it is in the temple, the very center of the Jewish faith and hope, that God commissions the Apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13) to take the Gospel to those Gentiles (Acts 22:21; 9:15). This mention of the Gentiles, the goyim, to the crowd of already angry Jews is what brings Paul’s brief speech to a swift conclusion.
Monday, August 2
Acts 22:22-29: It is clear that Paul’s life is in danger (22:22; 25:24). Since he had been speaking to the crowd in Aramaic, Paul’s message was not understood by the commander of the fortress, who is bewildered and troubled by the crowd’s violent reaction (verse 23).
The fortress commander’s own reaction is understandable. In due course he will be obliged to render an account of this recent disturbance to the Roman procurator of the region at Caesarea, but up to this point he has no idea just what has transpired. Since he can make no intelligible sense of the actions of the crowd and their clamor in a strange tongue (21:34), he orders Paul to be tortured by beatings, in hope of obtaining some solid information on the matter (verse 24).
Paul, however, will have none of it. When he was beaten earlier at Philippi by the governmental officials in Acts 16, Paul had not mentioned his Roman citizenship, the Lex Porcia, until after that event. On the present occasion, however, he speaks up ahead of time, indicating the high status that precludes his being tortured. Indeed, the commander has already gone too far by having Paul handcuffed without legal warrant (verse 29).
Thus, the matter of Paul’s Roman citizenship is introduced into the narrative for the second time. In due course it will be that special legal status that permits Paul’s recourse to a court in the capital city. Paul’s Roman citizenship, then, is an important component in the dynamism of the whole account in this book, which narrates the movement of the Gospel from Jerusalem to Rome.
Tuesday, August 3
Acts 22:30—23:11: Luke does not tell us if Claudius Lysias interrogated Paul further, but it is reasonable to think that he did. He would not have learned from Paul, however, any solid information that would clarify the legal situation. The fortress commander thus finds himself in a dilemma. He has arrested a prisoner on the basis of no identifiable offense. This is all quite embarrassing. How would he ever explain this serious irregularity to the authorities at Caesarea when official inquiries were made?
If, on the other hand, Claudius Lysias were simply to release Paul, he may be setting free a criminal, possibly a revolutionary and subversive. Caught in this conflict, he determines to consult the Sanhedrin, Judaism’s highest governing spiritual authority. Thus, Paul must now defend himself before the Sanhedrin, and he does this masterfully.
Well aware of the major theological division of that body into Sadducees and Pharisees (verse 6), Paul goes to some lengths to identify himself with the latter party. Why, after all, is he being held as a prisoner? Is it not because of his affirmation of the resurrection from the dead? And is not the coming resurrection from the dead one of the major and characteristic features of Pharisaic belief?
By this insistence, therefore, Paul succeeds in dividing his opponents (verses 7-10), this time not among a rioting mob but within the highest and most dignified religious body in Judaism. Lysias, frustrated that he has no more reliable information than he had before, has Paul locked up again. That night, when the Lord speaks to strengthen His apostle, He sets in parallel Paul’s preaching in Jerusalem with his coming preaching in Rome. Paul’s journey to Rome has been decreed by God (dei, “it is necessary,” in verse 11), no matter what strange human circumstances may serve to bring it about.
Wednesday, August 4
Acts 23:12-35: During the night after his hearing before the Sanhedrin, Paul was visited by the Lord in a dream, in which he was encouraged by the explicit assurance that he would be going to Rome. Consequently, in spite of outward appearances, Paul knew that his life was not in danger for the moment (23:11).
Such encouragement was exactly what he needed, for a new trouble arose on the next day. More than forty men, conspiring to murder him, vowed not to eat or drink until the deed was done (23:12-13). It is instructive to note that the plotters involved the Sadducees, the priestly party, in their conspiracy (23:14-15), but not the Pharisees. It was this latter group, we recall, that expressed sympathy for Paul’s message.
A plot involving so many people is hard to keep secret, and Paul, not confined by maximum security, was able to learn of it and, using the services of a nephew, to take steps against it (23:16-17). (We are perhaps correct in suspecting that Luke’s source for this account was the boy himself.) About nine o’clock that very night, Paul was moved out of the city under armed guard. Indeed, the large retinue included nearly half of the forces garrisoned at the Fortress Antonia. We are not told whether or not the frustrated plotters actually persevered in their vow of starvation!
A letter about Paul was sent to Antonius Felix, the well-known and often cruel procurator of Judea from A.D.52 to 59/60 (cf. Suetonius, Life of Claudius 28; Tacitus, Histories 5.9; Josephus, Antiquities 20.7.1 [137-138]; 20.8.9 ; Jewish War 2.12.8 ). Claudius Lysias, in his letter to Felix, painted himself in the most favorable light. The whole matter he explained as an obscure Jewish problem, and the Jews were to blame. Lysias, for his part, had done no more than rescue a Roman citizen from Jewish violence! The stress of the message was on Paul’s innocence (23:29), a point that Luke will continue to make as the story progresses (cf. 25:18,25; 26:31; 28:18).
When the retinue and its prisoner reached Antipatris, in largely Gentile territory, the large bulk of the force, no longer needed, returned to Jerusalem. The exact location of Antipatris is disputed, but it may have been the site of the modern Kulat Ras el’Ain, about twenty-five miles from Caesarea.
Thursday, August 5
The Second Epistle of Peter: The reasons often adduced for questioning the Petrine authorship of this epistle are not convincing. There is, for instance, the argument that this epistle, because it seems to rely on the Epistle of Jude, cannot have been written early enough for Peter to write it (that is, prior to Peter’s death in the Neronic persecution after the summer of 64). This argument, however, presupposes a late date for the Epistle of Jude, whereas there is nothing in that latter work that demands a late date for it. Jude could well have been written rather early in New Testament history (cf. our introduction to Jude).
Likewise, there is an argument that says that the great difference in style between 1 Peter and 2 Peter demands that there have been two separate authors for these two works. This stylistic difference, however, is easily explained in another way, if one bears in mind that 1 Peter was written through the pen of a secretary. This secretary, Silvanus, may very well have been translating from Aramaic to Greek even as Peter dictated the letter (cf. 1 Peter 5:12); if one remembers that Paul himself seems to have used Silvanus as a secretary sometimes (see the two letters to the Thessalonians), this would likewise account for the similarity in style between 1 Peter and the letters of Paul.
In short, there is no adequate reason for denying the Petrine authorship of 2 Peter. If, as seems likely (though not absolutely positive) the letter referred to in 2 Peter 3:1 is 1 Peter, then 2 Peter was obviously written later. Indeed, it seems to have been written near the end of the apostle’s life (cf. 1:14).
Moreover, the reference to 1 Peter in 2 Peter 3:1 suggests that the latter epistle was written for the same recipients; namely, the Christians of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (cf. 1 Peter 1:1). A reasonable estimate for the date of this epistle is sometime immediately prior to the fire in Rome during the summer of 64, because the epistle makes no reference to the Neronic persecution that followed that fire.
In the present reading Peter speaks of Jesus as “Savior,” a term more often used in the New Testament to refer to God the Father. Nonetheless, in these three chapters Peter uses the expression five times in reference to Jesus (1:1,11; 2:20; 3:2,18). In each case, except in 1:1, the use of “Savior” is joined with “Lord.” This is very rare in early Christian literature. Christians today are so accustomed to speaking of Jesus as “Lord and Savior” that they do not realize that, were it not for 2 Peter, this expression would probably never have become so standard a part of Christian vocabulary.
Verse 4 is the only place in the New Testament that describes Christians as “partakers of the divine nature” (theias koinonoi physeos), a very bold reference to divine grace. However, an identical theology of grace is expressed elsewhere in the New Testament with a different vocabulary (e.g., 1 John 1:3; 3:2,9; John 15:4; 17:22-23; Romans 8:14-17, and so on).
One also observes that this sharing in the divine nature is manifest as a particular “knowledge” (epignosis and gnosis) of God in Christ (verses 3,5,6,8). This knowledge of God, which is the substance of our call (klesis), must be made “secure” (bebaia Ý verse 9) by the cultivation of virtue (verses 5-8) and the avoidance of sin (verse 9).
Verse 11 identifies eternal life as “the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” an idea rare in early Christian literature (cf. Ephesians 5:5), which more often refers to the “kingdom of God.” The expression here in 2 Peter forms the biblical basis for that line of the Nicene Creed that says of Jesus, “of whose kingdom there shall be no end.”
Friday, August 6
2 Peter 1:12-21: After they have been initially catechized, it is imperative that believers be repeatedly instructed in the foundations of the faith, considering its various aspects in their mutually interpretive connections (what is called the “analogy of faith” in Romans 12:6), and more profoundly reflecting on its implications in their lives (traditionally called the moral sense or tropology).
In the Holy Scriptures this ongoing endeavor of the Christian experience is known as “reminding,” in the sense of a renewal of mind. It is also known as “remembering,” in the sense of “putting the members back together again,” seeing the diverse parts of the faith afresh, in relationship to the whole. This repeated pedagogical exercise of “calling to mind” is not an optional extra in the Christian life. (The only recognized “graduation ceremony” from Sunday School in the Christian Church is called the Rite of Burial.) It is, rather, an essential exercise of loving God with the whole mind, and the Bible often speaks of such remembrance (cf. 2 Peter 3:1-2; John 2:22; 12:16; Jude 3,5,17; 1 Corinthians 11:2,24). The present text represents such an exercise (verses 12,13,15), in order to bring Peter’s readers more consciously into what he calls “the present truth,” or, if you will, the truth as presence.
By way of pursuing this living remembrance, Peter narrates for them a story they must have heard many times, the account of the Lord’s Transfiguration (also told in Mark 9, Matthew 17, and Luke 9), and he does this to serve, as it were, as a final testimony to them before his death (literally exodus in verse 15).
Peter himself, that is to say, conscious that he will be outlived by one or more generations of Christians, writes this text as a legacy. This perspective is quite different from the earlier epistles preserved in the New Testament (Paul’s, for instance), all of them composed, not with a direct view to the future generations of the Church, but in order to address concrete questions of the hour. In this respect, the Second Epistle of Peter more closely resembles the four canonical gospels, which also bear the mark of “legacy.”
Saturday, August 7
The Gospel according to Luke: Most of our Gospel readings for the rest of this year will come from Luke's version of the deeds and sayings of Jesus.
While much of the Lukan material is also found in Matthew and/or Mark, and some in John as well, there are other most memorable Gospel stories that we owe exclusively to Luke. These include the accounts of the Gabriel's annunciations to Zachary and the Virgin Mary, Mary's visit to Elizabeth and the birth of John the Baptist, the Lord's presentation in the Temple and his visit there at age 12, the Prodigal Son, Mary and Martha of Bethany, the Good Samaritan, the Lord's first sermon at Nazareth, the raising of the Widow's son, the fig tree that gets a second chance (Luke likewise leaves out the story of the cursing of a fig tree!), the crippled woman in the synagogue, the lost and found coin, Zacchaeus and the sycamore tree, as well as several parables about wealth, including the shrewd steward, the foolish barn-builder, and the rich man and Lazarus. Several of these Lukan stories, one may note, have to do with women; indeed, the presence of more women in his account is one of Luke's distinguishing characteristics (E.g., 8:1-3).
There is a heightened emphasis on prayer in this Gospel; Luke is the only one of the evangelists to tell us that the Lord was praying at the time of his baptism, at his transfiguration on the mountain, and just before the choice of the Twelve Apostles. Certain parables on prayer are proper to Luke: the widow and the unjust judge, the importunate friend knocking on the door at night, and the two men who went up to the Temple to pray. Luke's Gospel begins (1:10) and ends (24:53) with prayer.
Since the same man wrote both works, it is not surprising that there are many parallels between this Gospel the Acts of the Apostles. Of particular importance in this respect is the accent on the Holy Spirit. Each work begins with the descent of the Holy Spirit — to effect the Incarnation (Luke 1:35) and to establish the Church (Acts 2 passim).
While Luke's authorship of this Gospel is abundantly clear from early Christian sources, the work itself is notoriously difficult to fix by time and place. Since most of it follows the sequence of the Gospel according to Mark, it does appear that the book was written after Mark, that is to say, after A.D. 65. Still, if the Gospel was written so late, how comes it that the narrative in the Book of Acts ends about the year 62?
Where was Luke's Gospel written? It is far from easy to say. The events in chapter 1, particularly their intimate details, the author most certainly had to learn from the Mother of Jesus, because no other living person was witness to them. Now early tradition places the final days of the Mother of Jesus at the city of Ephesus, where Paul and his companions had earlier founded the local church. Indeed, it is not hard to imagine Luke making many trips to Ephesus and interviewing the Mother of Jesus.
Still, Ephesus in Asia Minor as the place of composition is not without difficulties. For example, if this Gospel were written in Asia Minor, it is difficult to explain the fact that a major churchman from that region, Papias of Hierapolis, probably an immediate disciple of the Apostle John (cf. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 5.33.4), apparently did not know of it (cf. Eusebius, Church History, 3.39).