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Conversation just now…

Son: Why does God let bad stuff happen to Christians?

Wife: Well God can bring good things even out of bad stuff

Son: Well the only good things to come out of me being sick were my lunch and dinner. So that’s actually bad!

I think that one of the purposes of Acts is to show continuity of the Petrine and Pauline missions. I don’t go for Baur’s idea that Luke is wilfully smoothing over a vicious rivalry between Peter and Paul; but he does want to highlight continuity. One place where we see this is in the parallel reports of two directions of scattering after Stephen’s martyrdom.

Here’s my sense of the big picture of Acts:

Acts overview

If we zoom in on those two directions of scattering in 8-14, we see a number of differences and parallels:

Acts scattering

The thing that I’m intrigued by at the moment is the confrontations between the key apostles and magicians. Simon Peter confronts Simon Magus in 8:14-21. The word ‘Simon’ is not used for Peter, but the contrast between the two Simons was noticed immediately in the interpretation of Acts in church history, and went on to become important in the church’s view of Peter. Saul confronts Sergius Paulus’ magician Bar-Jesus in 13:4-12 – and it is within this section that Luke moves from using the name ‘Saul’ to using the name ‘Paul’ for the apostle to the Gentiles. The fact that this magician is known as ‘Bar-Jesus’ is, of course, another irony. Although there are differences in the accounts, they do seem to carry enough similarities to be an intentional parallel. I guess the point is that Paul has the same penetrating authority that Peter has in confronting evil.

‘God went North’ by Nothing More is an awesome song about death, committing a dying mother into God’s hands:

If you won’t save her, please just take her

Nothing breaks her away from the promise of a better day

Today in class, I played ‘Who am I?’…

Who am I?

  • I did nothing against the Jewish people or against the customs of the Hebrew ancestors
  • I was arrested in Jerusalem
  • I was handed over to the Romans
  • The Romans examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death
  • My own people objected

The point of this little exercise was that, although this sounds like the way the Gospels depict Jesus, it is in fact Paul’s own words about himself in Acts 28:17-19. Surely this is intentional: as in many other instances, Luke is drawing a parallel between Jesus and his followers.

But could this also explain why Acts ends before reporting Paul’s trial before Caesar? Other explanations exist, of course, such as the idea that Acts was prepared as a brief for Theophilus, seeking his influential support for Paul in advance of his trial. But another possibility is that maybe Luke expects his readers to realise that we already know what the endpoint will be, because we’ve already seen it with Jesus: the initial endpoint is execution. And the ultimate endpoint is resurrection.

Indeed, because Jesus suffered and died, and yet was raised by God, those who belong to Jesus can have every expectation of suffering like him, and yet being raised by God when Jesus himself is revealed.

What sort of an ending would you want for the narrative of Acts? Would you want to see Paul vindicated by Caesar, and set free to go to Spain? Paul himself, perhaps surprisingly, was never so intent on immediate vindication, because he had his sights set on ultimate vindication, at the time of Christ’s return. So in Philippians, he wrote:

20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far…

Paul seems perhaps less desperate than we might be to have his earthly story end with vindication, because he is convinced that the gospel he lives to proclaim assures him that even if his earthly life does end in suffering and death, he remains in the hands of the God who raises the dead.

This is one of my favourites. It’s impossible to capture it all in a sentence, but here’s a key thing I take away from it…

Rhetoric may be allowed in the service of truth, but true knowledge comes from dialogue with the wise.

I’ve just added this video by Ian Paul to my resources for my students looking at 1 Corinthians. It’s a nice video about Corinth.

My own little video relating Corinth & 1 Corinthians is here.

On the weekend I was put onto the band Nothing More by my cousin. So I’ve begun listening to their 2014 album. They have a lot of biblical resonances in their lyrics, apparently coming from an annoyed-with-certain-elements-of-religious-upbringing-but-still-positive-about-God sort of perspective. Their song ‘Christ Copyright’ is interesting. You can hear it as akin to a Psalm, crying out to God in distress that his Messiah has been hijacked by fundamentalists:

See our minds become conditioned
As we swear by these traditions
Lose our hearts and breed division
Oh my God why can’t we wake up

They’re selling heaven tonight
Sign on the dotted line
They got your Christ on copyright

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