In a mini-fit of preparation, I spent 10-15 minutes with Acts material the afternoon before class.
I. During class, I was glad to find that I’d seen in advance some of the same textual notables as our teacher. . . .
- Two mentions of Lydia form bookends around a long section in Acts 16.
- The juxtaposition of the expressions “Holy Spirit” and “Spirit of Jesus” reminded me that aspects of God are not always termed identically. (Nor do the scriptures explicitly claim threeness per se.) Still, in Acts it is clearly seen that God’s Spirit is acting despite the new physical absence of God’s Son from earth.
- The mention of the “vision” sent me looking back at other such epiphanies/theophanies/dreams/visions/visitations in Acts. The word (which is related to one word for seeing) occurs 11x in Acts, in the course of 6 different events. It seemed to me that visions help to mark some significant incidents or directions of “missionary” activities in Acts 9, 10, and 16. Paul’s conversion, Peter’s move toward Gentiles, and Paul’s call to Macedonia all use this terminology. Acts 7’s speech by Stephen also uses the same word in referring to Moses’ theophanic vision of God in the burning bush. The appearance of the Spirit in Acts 2 is not phrased the same way and so might not be classed as a theophany by those who classify such things, yet it’s clearly an instance of God’s “showing up.” It is interesting to tie all these together, noting similarities and differences.
II. The teacher also brought new matters to my attention that I had not seen or considered. . . .
Geography—no matter how much or little I remember about “Asia Minor” (today’s Turkey) or Greece or Israel, there is usually new insight to be gained from considering locations and physical/topographical aspects of narrative.
Macedonian history—and, particularly, the historical request of the Macedonians for Philip the Great to come to save them from the threat of the warriors from Thrace. This mention made me wonder if there were a relationship with Paul’s vision: in both cases, someone from Macedonia is begging for help. I’d believe it if I heard that Paul learned the history while traveling, and then that the spirit of God worked through a dream in his subconscious—a dream in which the request for spiritual help resembled the request for military help from Philip 350 years prior.
Different “we” theories—famously in Acts, some passages use 1st personal plural pronouns while others use 3rd person for Paul and/or his companions. The notion that a) the “person” variation is a function of Luke’s stylistic choice as a writer was vaguely familiar, but I had not heard the theory that b) Luke had possibly collected and “re-tooled” fragments of other travel narratives (unrelated to Paul) and presumably had been rather carelessly inconsistent. Still, the most logical choice seems to be that c) Luke was himself with Paul during some phases and not others—thus the 1st person plural “we” sometimes but not other times. The class teacher noted that there are no “we” passages until well into the narrative. (Such insights are “academic” yet quite accessible to all!) If it were anything other than Luke’s actually having been with Paul at those very times, it seems odd that Luke would have waited until chapter 16 to start changing the style or utilizing other people’s writings.
Observation of Lydia’s household’s conversion and immersion is significant on several fronts. Primarily, it was suggested that Luke/Acts may be presenting the notion that all the Empire was Caesar’s “household,” and that even houses/households were being penetrated and changed by the good news of Jesus.
- I was gratified that I had seen in advance some of the same things the teacher had drawn out to present to the group.
- There is always more to learn, deeper insight to gain, a new handle that allows grabbing onto a text better, and I absolutely learned during this class.
Bible study is rewarding, progressive (in that one can attain to more and “better” with some experience and guidance) and perpetually challenging and educational.
B. Casey, 10/22/15