Acts of the Apostles Online Commentary (10)

This is the tenth entry in the Bible Junkies Online Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles. The first entry covered some of the major critical, technical and background issues that will concern us as we read through and comment on the Acts. The second post, found here, considered the prologue to the Acts of the Apostles. In the third column, we began to examine the founding of the Jerusalem Church. In the fourth blog post, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the beginning of Peter’s speech was discussed. In the fifth post, the bulk of Peter’s speech was examined. In the sixth entry, Peter’s speech concludes with a successful response according to Acts. The seventh blog postdeals with the formation of the apostles and other disciples into a community and the practices of the earliest community.

 In the eighth columnPeter and John heal a man who was lame. In the ninth entry, Peter explains how the lame man was healed and what this means about Jesus and his salvific power. The tenth blog post explores Peter and John before the Council in Jerusalem.

Advertisement

3. Contents:

C) Work of Peter and the Apostles (3:1-5:42): I) Peter and John Before the Council (4:1-15):

1 While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, 2 much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. 3 So they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand. 5 The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7 When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, "By what power or by what name did you do this?" 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11 This Jesus is "the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.' 12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved." 13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. 14 When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. 15 So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. (NRSV)

Acts sets the apostles on the side of the people while opposed by the leaders of the people and Temple. So in the midst of their discussion with the people, “the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 4:1-2). It is clear, I think, why the priests and the Sadducees are at the Temple, since the Temple is run by priests and the Sadducees are a part of the high-priestly party. Who is the captain (stratêgos) of the Temple?  Stratêgos is a military term and while Luke is not “overly precise” (Johnson, Acts,76) it is clear that thestratêgos has a security or policing function. Josephus for instance has the Temple guards (phylakoi) reporting to a stratêgos, so we are to imagine the captain of temple security forces (Josephus, Jewish War 6.294).

Note again that the theological issue as presented by Luke is the Apostles’ proclamation that “in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead.” Why would they be offended by resurrection? The Sadducees rejected the idea of the resurrection as will be seen in Acts 23:6-8 and can be found in Josephus, Jewish War, 2.164-166. Luke certainly wants to locate opposition to the proclamation of the apostles to a specific group animus. The temple captain would simply be acting under their authority.

As a result “they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening” (Acts 4:3). Did they have this kind of legal authority? Certainly the priestly and Sadducean authority extended to concerns regarding the Temple and Jewish religious matters.

Nevertheless, whatever the religious authorities did, “many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand” (Acts 4:4). These numbers are rather huge and the Greek speaks of “men” (andrôn) not people generally, but more important than actual numbers Luke wants to stress that many more believed as opposed the message, just as with Jesus himself.

The 5,000 is the number of Jews who believed according to Acts, but what does it mean to believe? The Greek word pisteuô means specifically to “have faith,” so it reflects the people who believe that in Jesus “there is the resurrection of the dead.” As importantly, though, is the contrast being made with the authorities, who arrest them, and so have no faith, with the regular folks who “have faith.”

The next day after their arrest, just as with Jesus’ trial (Luke 22:66), “their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family” (Acts 4:5-6). According to Luke, they bring in the big guns, the Council, or Sanhedrin. “Their rulers, elders, and scribes” are in Greek the archontes, presbyteroi, and grammateis and would certainly include priests and Sadducees. The priests mentioned by name are the high priest Annas (6-15 C.E.), his son-in-law the high priest Caiaphas (18-36 C.E.), and John, who is probably Jonathan the son of Annas who was high priest after Caiaphas (according to Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.95). The final name Alexander is an unknown name in this family context.

When the Council “had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’” (Acts 4:7).  This is the heart of the matter and of the trial: what is the source of your authority? Two possibilities are offered: authority is by someone’s name or by some power; whether the name or the power are considered to be human or divine is not stated and perhaps Luke prefers it to be opaque.

Peter, once again, is the speaker and “filled with the Holy Spirit,” the driving force behind the scenes all throughout Acts, he responds to the Council:

Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed (euergesia) done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. (Acts 4:8-10)

Peter continues in the same vein as in his earlier speech to the people: it is through Jesus, whom you crucified, but who was raised from the dead, that this man is healed. This is a “good deed” or a “benefaction” (euergesia), a technical term for someone who aided a city or a people. There is, however, a play on another word here.

He “has been healed” plays on the fact that the man has been physically healed, but the Greek could also be translated as he “has been saved.” The verb sôzô is in the perfect passive tense, denoting an action already completed in his life, and this action probably reflects spiritual salvation as well. This will become clear below in Acts 4:12, but sôzô was also already used in Acts 2:21 and 2:47 with the sense of spiritual salvation.

As Peter’s speech builds, he describes Jesus as "the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone” (Acts 4:11). Peter cites a verse central to early Christian proclamation, Psalm 118:22 (LXX Psalm 117:22). This verse was cited by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke 20:17, and the scribes and chief priests there recognized it was directed at them (Luke 20:19). Peter uses the verse here to stress that authority to heal – physically and spiritually - and to lead rests with Jesus, the cornerstone. This Psalm is also significant for being the last one recited at Passover (JANT, 206); for Peter it indicates that Jesus was the one prophesied, the one who was rejected at Passover, but through his resurrection made the cornerstone.

In the next verse we learn that physical healing of the lame man was not the most significant issue, but only a sign of God’s power, for spiritual salvation is the central concern, which we see in the noun form of sôzô, sôtêria: “there is salvation (sôtêria) in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). This is a remarkable claim, namely, that salvation is unique to Jesus. It is linked back to the “name” of Jesus, the power of which has been seen already a number of times in Acts, and the question asked by the leaders in Acts 4:7 (“by what name did you do this”).[1]

The Council recognizes “the boldness of Peter and John” – though John again does not speak – but also knows they are “uneducated and ordinary men” who were “companions of Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Parrêsia in Greek is boldness, or “frank, free, or fearless” speech (Johnson, Acts, 78; Page, Acts, 105). It is used of the apostles’ speech also in Acts 9:27-28, 13:46, and 14:3. Johnson compares this sort of speech with the unfettered speech of Cynic philosophers (e.g., Dio Chrysostom, Oration 32.11; see Johnson, Acts, 78 for other examples). They speak boldly because of the Holy Spirit.

This is the case even though “they were uneducated and ordinary men.” The words in Greek are  agrammatos and idiotês. Agrammatos meansto be “illiterate” literally and idiotês is to be uncouth and ignorant, or someone lacking in professional knowledge (Johnson, Acts,78). Page’s reading is that this phrase refers to someone unschooled in a professional sense, without credentials, “men who had never studied in the rabbinic schools” (Page, Acts, 105). I think this is correct, that it does not necessarily indicate an inability to read and write but that they are by the standards of the Council unlearned. Interestingly, it seems to be the recognition that they are unlearned which sparks the acknowledgement that they are disciples of Jesus.

After Peter has finished his speech, though, they have nothing to say to these unlearned men, for “when they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition” (Acts 4:14). The proof of the reality of the healing leaves them speechless – it is the proof that they cannot dismiss. The verb used to render the English “to say in opposition” (anteipein) is also used in Luke 21:15 where Jesus says that he will give his witnesses wisdom so that no one will be able to contradict (anteipein) them. This is not just the power of Peter’s speech, but for Luke the fulfillment of that prophecy.

Rendered speechless according to Luke, the Council “ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another” (Acts 4:15). It seems they need to work on their response Peter and John.

 

Next entry, the Council renders a verdict on the case of Peter and John.

 

John W. Martens

I invite you to follow me on Twitter @Biblejunkies

I encourage you to “Like” Biblejunkies on Facebook.

This entry is cross-posted at Biblejunkies

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Dec. 13. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)
"We don't go to Mass to give something to God, but to receive from him that which we truly need."
A reflection for the second Thursday of Advent
Elizabeth Kirkland CahillDecember 13, 2017
"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" hits theaters on Dec. 15th.
Jason WelleDecember 13, 2017
I never wanted to be a priest. But here I am. Newly minted Father Brendan, and still wondering how I got here.
Brendan BusseDecember 13, 2017