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The Evangelist Philip

One of the unintended consequences of Saul’s persecution campaign was that the Christ followers were scattered all over Judaea and Samaria and the Jesus movement was expanded. One of the figures who lead the charge was the evangelist Philip who introduced the good news about Jesus to the Samaritans. This fits with Acts’ geographical outline with regards to how the mission advanced from Jerusalem to Judaea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1:8). Here is a brief biography about Philip:

  • Although there was a Philip in the lists of the twelve apostles (Mark 3:18; Matthew 10:3; Luke 6:14; John 1:43-48 [?]; 6:5, 7 [?]; 12:21-22 [?]; 14:8-9 [?]; Acts 1:13) and the apostles stayed in Jerusalem (8:1), the Philip mentioned in chapter 8 was one of the seven individuals from the “Hellenists” (Acts 6:5; 21:7).
  • Philip had a successful evangelism and exorcism ministry in Samaria, but the apostles Peter and John had to sanction his mission there and laid their hands on new converts so that they could receive the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 8:8:15-17).
  • One of Philip’s initial converts was a popular magician in Samaria named Simon who claimed to be possessed by a divine power (Acts 8:9-13). Simon’s later attempt to purchase the ability to confer the gift of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands is sharply rebuked by Peter (7:18-24). I have written about the later legends about Simon Magus here.
  • Philip meets an Ethiopian eunuch who served as a court official and expounds on the Christological interpretation of Isaiah 53:7-8. The eunuch may have been a proselyte, for Peter is credited with inaugurating the “Gentile mission” two chapters later. It is also interesting to note that this is one of a handful of clear citations of Isaiah 53 (Matthew 8:17; Luke 22:37; John 12:38; Romans 10:16; 1 Peter 2:22-25), though there may be subtle allusions to it in the Gospels or in the Christological title “servant.”
  • Philip continued his missionary journey until he resided in Caesarea, where he had a house and lived with his four unmarried daughters who were prophets (21:8-9). Papias, the earlier second-century bishop of Hierapolis, heard Philip’s prophetic daughters impart stories about miraculous healings (cf. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.9).
  • Eventually, the Evangelist Philip seems to have been accidentally conflated with the Apostle Philip by Polycrates of Ephesus (in Ecclesiastical History 3.31.3; 5.24.2), Tertullian of Carthage (On Baptism 18), and Eusebius of Caesarea (Ecclesiastical History 3.31.2; 3.39.9a; cf. 3.39.4; contra 2.1.10; 3.31.4-5). I made a similar case about the conflation of the Apostle John and the Elder John in this article.
  • There are two other options: Monte Shanks argues that it was the Apostle Philip who settled in Hierapolis where Papias met him and it is just a coincidence that both Philip’s happened to have daughters who prophesied (Papias and the New Testament, 169, 293-298). On the other hand, Christopher Matthews argues that there was only a single individual named Philip who was enshrined as an apostle and evangelist in most of the Christian traditions, but the book of Acts mistakenly distinguished the Apostle Philip and the Evangelist Philip as if they were separate individuals (Philip: Apostle and Evangelist).
  • There is an account of Philip’s martyrdom in the apocryphal Acts of Philip.

The Hebrews and the Hellenists: A Brief Bibliography

Bibliography on the Hebrews and the Hellenists

Dunn, James D. G. Beginning from Jerusalem: Christianity in the Making, Volume 2. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.

Hengel, Martin. Between Jesus and Paul: Studies in the Earliest History of Christianity. Translated by John Bowden. London: SCM, 1983.

Hill, Craig C. Hellenists and Hebrews: Reappraising Division within the Early Church. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992.

Kilgallen, John J. The Stephen Speech: A Literary and Redactional Study of Acts 7,2-53. AnBib 67. Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1976.

Koch, Dietrich-Alex. “Crossing the Border: The ‘Hellenists and their Way to the Gentiles.” Neotestamentica 39.2 (2005): 289-312. 

Matthews, Shelly. Perfect Martyr: The Stoning of Stephen and the Construction of Christian Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Penner, Todd. In Praise of Christian Origins: Stephen and the Hellenists in Lukan Apologetic Historiography. Emory Studies in Early Christianity. London: T&T Clark International, 2004.

Räisänen, Heikki. “‘The Hellenists’ – A Bridge between Jesus and Paul?” in Jesus, Paul and Torah: Collected Essays. Translated by D. E. Orton. JSNTSup 43. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992.

Sweeney, James P. “Stephen’s Speech (Acts 7:2-53): Is It as Anti-Temple as is Frequently Alleged.” Trinity Journal 23.2 (2002): 185-210.

The Speech of Stephen

Does the speech of Stephen, the longest speech recorded in the book of Acts, offer clues to the allegedly distinctive theology of the Hellenists? Does it attack the Mosaic Law and the Jerusalem Temple? Here is the evidence on both sides:

  • Stephen is accused by “false” witnesses of claiming that Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the Mosaic customs (Acts 6:13-14). Did the author of Acts suppress the legitimate grounds for these charges or were these clearly false accusations that were brought up in order for Stephen’s innocence to shine all the brighter?
  • Does Stephen stress divine activity among the heroes of the Hebrew Bible outside of the “Promised Land”: Abraham is located in Mesopotamia and Haran (7:2-5), Joseph in Egypt (7:9-16), the burial site of the Patriarchs in Shechem (7:16), the Israelite slaves in Egypt (7:6, 35-36), and Moses in Egypt and the wilderness (7:17-38)? Or does this over-read the geographical notices? Did Stephen want to rehearse the salvation history laid out in the Jewish Scriptures that he shared with his interlocutors before he gets into his polemical counterargument about how the consistent rejection of divinely-authorized messengers culminated with Jesus?
  • Before Jesus (7:52), Stephen emphasizes the prior rejection of Moses (7:27, 35), the golden calf incident (7:39-41), and the sin of idolatry that lead to the Babylonian Exile (7:42-43). Thus, Stephen counters that his opponents are the real antinomians (7:51-53) and there may be no deprecation in the statement that the law was given through the mediation of angels (7:38, 53; cf. Jubilees 2:1; Galatians 2:11; Hebrews 2:2).
  • Does Stephen contrast the tent that God directed Moses to build (7:44) with the “house” that Solomon built (7:47), with the latter act treated as equivalent to building an idol with “human hands” (cheiropoiētos) (7:48)? Was no contrast intended between the tabernacle and the temple, but the temple only became an idol when the divine presence withdrew from it in response to the peoples’ disobedience? Or is describing the temple as a house “made with human hands” just a neutral description and is Stephen only reiterating the scriptural point that no temple could literally contain the deity (cf. Isaiah 66:1-2; 1 Kings 8:27)?
  • Was Stephen put to death because of his attack on the temple, his lofty statement about how the Son of Man (i.e. Jesus) is standing at the deity’s right hand, or his prophetic indictment against the religious authorities that he claimed had divine authorization?
  • Saul’s persecution campaign commences with Stephen’s martyrdom and results in the scattering of all the Christ followers throughout Judaea and Samaria with the exception of the apostles (8:1). Does this indicate that Saul’s actions targeted the Hellenists, sparing the twelve apostles as they belonged to the Jerusalem-loyal faction of the “Hebrews,” or is this statement only made to show the courage of the apostles?

The Hebrews and the Hellenists

After reading about how the Jerusalem Church was completely united in sharing everything in common, the episode in Acts 6:1-6 may come as a surprise. The “Hellenists” complained to the “Hebrews” that they were being overlooked in the daily distribution of the food. The Apostles solved this matter by electing seven Jewish individuals (including one proselyte) with Greek names “to serve” (diakonein) tables, which may be the reason for the later conception of them in the Christian tradition as “deacons.” Was the divide between the two Jewish groups purely linguistic, so that one side tended to converse in Greek and the other in their native tongue of Aramaic? Although it is now a truism that Second Temple Judaism(s) cannot be artificially isolated from all Hellenistic influences, were the Hellenistic Jews perceived to have adopted Greek cultural practices to an unacceptable degree by their more traditionalist compatriots? Did these “Hellenists” hold a distinctive theological worldview that can be abstracted from the speech in Acts 7 by modern scholars? In the next post, I will explore this speech by Stephen, one of the leaders of the “Hellenists,” in more detail. In the last post, I will provide a biography of the key sources.


The Tragic Story of Ananias and Sapphira

In Acts 2:43-47 and 4:32-35, there is an idyllic picture of the Jerusalem Church. All its members share their food and fellowship together, witness the miracles performed by the apostles, and voluntarily sell all of their possessions and redistribute the earnings to help everyone in need. There may be a question about how long this structure could last, though it may also be a highly idealized account in Luke’s retelling, and we can look to the earliest New Testament data in the Pauline Epistles and the Letter of James to find Christ-followers across the socio-economic spectrum. The Jewish sect of the Essenes is also represented by Josephus (War 2.122-23; Antiquities 18.20) and Philo of Alexandria (Every Good Person is Free 84, 91) as sharing all of their goods in common. As a positive case study, a Levite named Joseph and nicknamed “Barnabas” sold a field and gave all of his profits to the apostles (Acts 4:36-37).

As a negative case study, the couple Ananias and Sapphira held back some of the proceeds from their sale of a piece of property, falsely claiming to hand over everything to the apostles, and they both died in response to Peter’s words of condemnation (5:1-11). There are exegetical issues concerning the nature of their misdeed, the question of how Peter’s speech effected the death penalty, and the Jewish or Graeco-Roman traditions influencing the account. There are also theological issues about the compatibility of violence with divine attributes such as compassion and justice. I found a few articles available online and monographs that may assist you in wrestling with this passage: see J. Albert Harrill, “Divine Judgment against Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11): A Stock Scene of Perjury and Death JBL 130.2 (2011): 351-369; Anthony Le Donne, “The Improper Temple Offering of Ananias and SapphiraNTS 59.3 (2013): 346-64; David R. McCabe, How to Kill Things with Words: Ananias and Sapphira under the Prophetic Speech-Act of Divine Judgment (Acts 4:32-5:11) (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2011); Richard S. Ascough, “Benefaction Gone Wrong: the ‘Sin’ of Ananias and Sapphira in Context” in Text and Artifact in the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean (ed. Stephen G. Wilson and Michel Desjardins; Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2000). Some readers may also be interested in Greg Boyd’s reading of the story from a theological perspective endorsing non-violence at his website.

The Pharisees in Luke-Acts

The ministry of Peter and John eventually gets them in trouble with the religious authorities and they defend themselves before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:1-22 and 5:17-40. In the latter trial, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, the grandson of the important sage Hillel, advised the council to treat the apostles with caution. There are questions about Gamaliel’s speech: while curiously both Acts 5:36-37 and Josephus’s Antiquities 20.97-98 have anecdotes about Theudas and Judas in the same order, Josephus describes Judas the Galilean as the “Zealot” founder who incited a small uprising in response to the census under the governor of Syria Quirinius in 6 CE and Theudas as a deceiver who promised to part the Jordan River for the people to cross around 44-46 CE. Either Acts referred to a different Theudas and Judas than Josephus or one of the authors was in error, perhaps based on a garbled memory of the other’s writing. What I wish to highlight is how this episode can serve as a corrective for Christian lay readers who, unaware of the nuanced scholarship on the Pharisees and the lines of continuity and discontinuity with the later Rabbis, often unfortunately view the Pharisees as synonymous with “hypocrites” or as stereotypical opponents of Jesus. It is true that popular Christian conceptions of the Pharisees have been shaped by verses in the Gospels and especially by the polemical rhetoric of Matthew 23, which itself was a product of an intramural Jewish debate, but Luke-Acts presented another side to the Pharisees. The Pharisees dined with Jesus (Luke 7:36; 11:37; 14:1) and warned Jesus about Herod Antipas’s plot to kill him (Luke 13:31). Like in Acts 5:33-39, the Pharisees defended Paul when he was on trial in Acts 23:7-9. Finally, it is interesting to note that both Paul (Acts 23:6) and some of Paul’s critics (15:5) in the Christ-movement continued to be identified as Pharisees.

Comparing the Speeches in Acts to Seminary Classes

I came across an interesting conference paper by Fr. Andreas Hoeck entitled “The Apostolic Speeches in Acts and Seminary Teaching Methods.” The article may be useful to those of us who teach in the context of a Seminary.

The Speeches in Acts

There has been extensive scholarly debate about the speeches assigned to various characters in the book of Acts. Approximately one third of Acts is speeches which include the following characters:

  • Peter (Acts 1:16-22; 2:14-40; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 5:29-32; 10:34-43; 11:5-17; 15:7-11)
  • Paul (Acts 13:16-41; 14:15-17; 17:22-31; 20:18-35; 22:1-21; 23:6; 24:10-21; 26:2-23; 28:17-22)
  • Stephen (Acts 7:2-53)
  • James (Acts 15:13-21; 21:20-25)
  • Christians in general (Acts 4:24-30)
  • Gamaliel (Acts 5:35-39)
  • The silversmith Demetrius (Acts 19:25-27)
  • The town clerk in Ephesus (Acts 19:35-40)
  • The lawyer Tertullus (Acts 24:2-8)
  • The Roman procurator of Judaea Festus (Acts 25:14-21, 24-27)

At the very least, these speeches cannot be verbatim transcripts. They were summaries written up in the author’s own language, style, and theology, which is evident in the unifying features of the speeches attributed to different characters in different times and places. Debate centers on whether the Lukan speeches were rooted in oral traditions – one could note distinctive elements in individual speeches such as the uncommon Christological titles like “righteous one” (3:14; 7:52; 22:14) or “child/servant” (3:13, 26; 4:27, 30) or “leader” (3:15; 5:31), the polemic against the Jerusalem temple ascribed to Stephen (7:47-50), the justification language put on the lips of Paul (13:39), or the athletic and pastoral images in the Miletus speech (20:24, 28-30) –  or were composed by Luke based on his written sources (e.g., the Septuagint, the Gospel of Mark, the Pauline Epistles) and his own theological interests. Often commentators will appeal to the statement of the “father of history” Thucydides about his efforts to capture the gist of what his subjects had pontificated on, despite the difficulties in recalling their words exactly, and the convention of writing speeches in character in ancient historiography in History of the Peloponnesian War 1.22.1. If you want to research this question further, check out Marion L. Soards, The Speeches in Acts: Their Content, Context and Concerns (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994). There is a more recent volume by Janusz Kucicki entitled The Function of the Speeches in the Acts of the Apostles: A Key to the Interpretation of Luke’s Use of Speeches in Acts (Leiden: Brill, 2017). Also, here are some sources available online (HT https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/acts.php and http://www.ntgateway.com/gospel-and-acts/luke-and-acts/articles/):


The Early Christian Kerygma in Acts

The Greek word κήρυγμα can be translated as “proclamation” or “preaching” (Matthew 12:41; Luke 11:32; Romans 16:25 [14:24]; 1 Corinthians 1:21; 2:4; 15:14; 2 Timothy 4:17; Titus 1:3). Many New Testament scholars use it as a technical term that encapsulates the central elements of the apostolic message about the saving significance of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. For instance, if one were to look for the unifying features in the preaching of Peter and Paul in Acts 2:14-36, 3:12-26, 10:34-43, and 13:14-41, we might come up with the following list:

  • The fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures
  • The baptism of John
  • The ministry and miraculous deeds of Jesus
  • The rejection and crucifixion of Jesus
  • The resurrection of Jesus from the dead
  • The exaltation of Jesus by God to the status of universal lordship before the eschaton
  • The apostolic witnesses of these events
  • The call to repentance and offer of forgiveness of sins

Baptism in the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost

In the story of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), people were scattered all over the earth when they were no longer able to speak the same language. In Acts 2:2-11, the curse was overcome when the Spirit empowered Galilean Christ believers to converse in the languages of diaspora Jews who arrived in Jerusalem from many different nations to participate in the Jewish “Festival of Weeks” (cf. Exodus 23:16; 34:23; Leviticus 23:15-22; Deuteronomy 16:16) or “Pentecost” (“fiftieth”). There are further instances in Acts when the Spirit enabled new initiates to the Christ movement to speak in foreign languages (10:46; 19:6) and, curiously, Acts occasionally separated the initial acceptance of the (deficient?) missionary preaching of Philip or Apollos from the later reception of the Spirit through the ministries of the Apostles Peter and John or of Paul (cf. 8:14-16; 19:1-7). Turning to Paul, he seems to identify “tongues” with ecstatic speech and treats it as one of several “gifts of the Spirit” that may be exercised by various members of the congregation (1 Cor 12:4-11) and that needs to be regulated (1 Cor 14).

There is a spectrum of belief about this issue among contemporary self-identifying Christians, ranging from charismatic Christians who may distinguish conversion from the endowment of charismatic gifts through the “baptism of the Spirit” to “cessationist” Christians who insist that such spiritual gifts ceased at the close of the apostolic era. Two questions may be asked when moving from exegesis to theological interpretation. Do isolated episodes in a narrative account set a precedent for how the Spirit acts among Christians in all times and places? Is not the logic of the discussion in 1 Corinthians 12-13 that Christ followers do not possess the same gifts, yet remain united as equal partakers of one Spirit and members of one body of Christ who practice the preeminent gift of love (cf. other lists of “gifts” in Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:7-16; 1 Peter 4:10-11)? Here is a short bibliography if you want to research this further: