In our previous post, Peter and Herod had an epic battle of the wills. Herod went crazy and tried his best to kill Peter. Peter does what he is best at, and has god kill Herod. Dead. Worm food. It really, really isn’t a good idea to fuck with Peter!
Well, after a chapter as fun as Chapter 12, I guess it is not unexpected that we’d get a rather dull chapter. And lord is it ever dull. The disciples continue to spread the word of Jesus Christ throughout the area. Paul strikes a man blind for blasphemy. (One quick note: already, the Christians are punishing people for blasphemy, just like the Pharisees punished Christ for blasphemy. I am just saying, is all.) Paul starts to take Peter’s place as the voice of the new church. And that about wraps this chapter up.
[sigh] Another dull chapter. The disciples continue to spread the gospel through surrounding towns. In one town, the priest from the Temple of Zeus sacrifices animals to the disciples. Paul tries to talk them out of it, explaining that he and Barnabas are just men, not gods. That doesn’t work so well, though.
The Pharisees and Jews aren’t done with the disciples. The Jews (Luke’s word, not mine) track the disciples to Lystra, where the Jews start trying to win over the crowds. The Jews are able to talk the Lystrans into stoning Paul. Ayup, you read that right, Paul was stoned. He was dragged out of the city and left for dead, but he was just mostly dead. After some rest and recovery time, Paul recoups from the stoning.
There are practical matters that are starting to rise up within the fledgling church. The first regards the tradition of circumcision. Those of Jewish descent were circumcised per the word of Moses. Gentiles had no such decree, so they didn’t circumcise their children. The various city churches wanted a definitive answer: did a person need to be circumcised to be a Christian? This question was raised all the way up to Peter and the church elders – along with input from some of the Pharisees in Jerusalem. (Don’t ask: I have no idea why any of the Pharisees get to give their opinion.) Peter gives a few arcane reasons, and then delivers the final answer: circumcision is not required, since that will allow the largest number of people to convert. It’s all a numbers game…
One note: the church is setting up a heirarchy. Peter and a group of unnamed elders were at the very top, underneath them were The Twelve, underneath them were the leaders of the various city churches. The Catholic church has codified this heirarchy, proclaiming Peter to be the first Pope. I don’t buy it, but I can see an internal logic to the Catholic’s argument.
There’s also a bit of a split in the church already. Well, specifically within The Twelve. Barnabas and Paul were going to go out on another evangelical mission. Barnabas wanted to take John with them, but Paul refused, saying that Mark had not done as much work as the others, and wasn’t worthy. After a lot of fighting, they ended up splitting up, with Paul going alone to Silas while Barnabas and Mark headed off to Cyprus.
And so it begins.
There is a rather jarring change in the narrative voice in this chapter. For just a few verses, Luke makes himself part of the story (“As soon as he had seen the vision, we immediately looked…”). This was so unexpected that it threw me off track. This is the first time in Acts and through his entire Gospel that Luke has cast himself in the story.
Anyway, the disciples are spreading far and wide proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. Interestingly enough, the holy spirit forbids the disciples from teaching in Asia and Bithynia. No reason is given. I thought this was a rather weird sidenote.
Paul and a few other of The Twelve (and Luke, apparently) go to Macedonia per a dream that Paul had. There they run into a merchant named Lydia, who they convert and then accept her offer to “come and stay at my home.” I am not reading anything into that. Seriously. I’m not!
They also meet a slave girl who is also a fortune teller. Her owners take advantage of the girl’s fortune telling ability to make a lot of money (one presumes by charging suckers to have their fortunes read). When she sees Paul and the others, she begins following them, shouting loudly that the men were servants of God. The girl does this for “many days” until Paul finally loses patience and casts away the spirit of divination.
The girl’s owners are enraged, since the girl can no longer tell the future. Seeing their main source of riches forever ruined, the owners storm forward and grab Paul and Silas. They take Paul and Silas before the city’s magistrates, who rule in favor the slave owners. Paul and Simon are immediately stripped and beaten with sticks, then thrown in prison. Yeesh!
While the disciples were in the jail, a massive earthquake struck. The earthquake was so strong that it opened all of the doors in the jail and shook the chains from the hands of the prisoners. The jailer assumes that the disciples have taken this opportunity to escape, and goes to kill himself with a sword! Paul stops him, and the man is overtaken by Paul’s selfless deed. He immediately has Paul and Silas fed, wounds tended and moved into his own house. While they were there, the man and his whole family were baptised.
As is his wont, Luke adds a small coda to the end of the story. The Magistrates agree to release Paul and Silas, but only if the two sneak out of town. Paul refuses, saying that they should not have to slink out of town, since they are Roman citizens and Romans deserve better. The magistrates are swayed by this, and Paul and Silas are publicly escorted out of town. But the disciples double-back to Lydia’s house for fellowship and encouragement.
Ayup, I really liked the last half of this chapter. Good stuff.
Up next: Peter who? It’s Paul’s ball now
New installments of The New Testament In Review will be posted each Monday and Thursday. The new posts will always be on my blog, http://biffster.org. The entire series is accessible via http://biffster.org/ntir. If you are one of my Facebook friends, you can get an advance preview on my Facebook page. You can also follow me (@biffster) on Twitter to be alerted to new posts.