By Isaac Watts
Archive for July, 2013
THE CONVERSION OF THE Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40) marks an important extension of the Gospel across several barriers.
We need to understand who he was. He was “an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians” (Acts 8:27). Candace was a family name that had become a title, quite like Caesar in Rome. In certain matriarchal governments, it was not uncommon for the highest officials, who would have had ready access to Candace, to be eunuchs (whether they were born that way or castrated), for the obvious protection of the queen.
This man was equivalent to U. S. Secretary of the Treasury or the like. But although he was an honored and powerful political figure at home, he would have faced limitations in Jerusalem. Since he had gone up to Jerusalem to worship (Acts 8:27), we must assume that he had come across Judaism, had been attracted to it, and had gone up to Jerusalem for one of the feasts. But he could not have become a proper proselyte, since from the Jewish perspective he was mutilated. The Word of God had seized this man, and he had traveled for several weeks to see Jerusalem and its temple.
In the sheer providence of God, the passage the eunuch was reading, apparently out loud (Acts 8:30 –a not uncommon practice in those days) was Isaiah 53. He asks the obvious question (Acts 8:34): Who is the Suffering Servant of whom Isaiah speaks? “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35).
Thus the Gospel reaches outward in the book of Acts. All the first converts were Jews, whether reared in the Promised Land or gathered from the dispersion. But the beginning of Acts 8 witnesses the conversion of Samaritans — a certain people of mixed race, only partly Jewish, joined to the mother church in Jerusalem by the hands of the apostles Peter and John. The next conversion is that of the eunuch — an African, not at all Jewish — sufficiently devoted to Judaism to take the pilgrimage to Jerusalem even though he could never be a full-fledged proselyte; a man steeped in the Jewish Scriptures even when he could not understand them.
Small wonder that the next major event in this book is the conversion of the man who would become the apostle to the Gentiles.
from D.A. Carson’s Blog
If I had to name my theological pet peeves, right near the top would be what I’ve called pendulum-swing theology. You grow up hearing one particular view of something, you get sick of it, and you swing to the opposite extreme. Grow up a hyper-Calvinist, something happens and you swing to Open Theism. This happens a lot in atonement theology too. Sometimes when Evangelicals who’ve grow up on a steady diet of penal substitutionary preaching find out that Jesus did some other things, like defeat the powers, demonstrate God’s love, and so forth, instead of integrating them all into a holistic doctrine of reconciliation, they end up chucking PSA altogether. Luther described the history of theology as a drunk man getting on his horse only to fall off the other side, only to repeat the process. This irks me.
Of course this means that finding even-handed treatments of just about…
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THE OLD TESTAMENT historical psalms offer plenty of examples in which writers review the shared history of the Israelites for some special theological or ethical purpose. Something similar occurs when 1 and 2 Chronicles retell 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings, so as to focus on the southern kingdom and on certain theological perspectives. This form of address continues in certain New Testament sermons. Paul in Pisidian Antioch begins the historical recital with the Exodus, and aligns his storytelling priorities to show that Jesus really is the promised Messiah (Acts 13:16ff). Here in Acts 7, Stephen, the first Christian martyr, begins with Abraham.
What are the advantages of this approach? And what does Stephen, in particular, set out to prove?
One of the advantages is that historical recital gains the attention of the audience — and in this case the audience was overtly hostile and needed calming. Their personal identity was bound up with their national history; initially, at least, this recital was bound to be soothing, to establish common ground, to show that Stephen was within the pale.
A second advantage lay in the fact that the shift that Stephen was trying to establish in the minds of his Jewish audience was big enough that it could only be adopted within the framework of a changed world-view. In other words, not only Jesus’ identity, but even more, his death and resurrection, could not finally be accepted by thoughtful Jews unless they perceived that this is what Scripture teaches — and this point could not easily be established unless it was anchored in the very fabric of the Old Testament storyline. So the story had to be told and retold so as to highlight the most important points.
One of the points that Stephen makes as he retells the story emerges slowly at first, then faster and faster, and then explosively. That point is the repeated sin of the people. When Stephen begins the story, at first there is no mention of Israel’s evil. Then the wickedness of Joseph’s brothers is briefly mentioned (Acts 7:9). Corporate wickedness re-surfaces in Moses’ day (Acts 7:25-27, 35). Now the pace quickens. The people refused to obey Moses “and in their hearts turned back to Egypt” (Acts 7:39). The golden calf episode is brought up, and likened to idolatry in the time of Amos (Acts 7:42-43). We skip ahead to David and Solomon, and the insistence that God cannot be domesticated by a building. Finally there is the explosive condemnation not only of past generations of Israelites who rejected God and his revelation, but also of all their contemporary Spirit-resisting descendants (Acts 7:51-53).
What bearing does this point have on the lessons we should draw from the biblical history?
from D.A. Carson’s Blog
“Now faith cometh not of our free-will; but is the gift of God, given us by grace, ere there be any will in our hearts to do the law of God. And why God giveth it not every man, I can give no reckoning of his judgments. But well I know, I never deserved it, nor prepared myself unto it; but ran another way clean contrary in my blindness, and sought not that way; but he sought me, and found me out, and showed it me, and therewith drew me to him. And I bow the knees of my heart unto God night and day, that he will show it all other men; and I suffer all that I can, to be a servant to open their eyes. For well I know they cannot see of themselves, before God hath prevented them with his grace.”
– William Tyndale
by Michael J. Kruger
1. “The New Testament Books are the Earliest Christian Writings We Possess”
2. “Apocryphal Writings Are All Written in the Second Century or Later”
3.“The New Testament Books Are Unique Because They Are Apostolic Books”
4.”Some NT Writers Quote Other NT Writers as Scripture”
5.“The Four Gospels are Well Established by the End of the Second Century”
6.“At the End of the Second Century, the Muratorian Fragment lists 22 of Our 27 NT Books”
7.“Early Christians Often Used Non-Canonical Writings”
8.“The NT Canon Was Not Decided at Nicea—Nor Any Other Church Council”
9. “Christians Did Disagree about the Canonicity of Some NT Books”
10. “Early Christians Believed that Canonical Books Were Self-Authenticating”
THE ACCOUNT OF ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA, whose names are recorded in the earliest Christian records because of their deceit (Acts 5:1-11), is disturbing on several grounds. Certainly the early church thought so (Acts 5:5, 11). Four observations focus the issues:
First, revival does not guarantee the absence of sin in a community. When many people are converted and genuinely transformed, when many are renewed and truly learn to hate sin, others find it more attractive to be thought holy than to be holy. Revival offers many temptations to hypocrisy that would be less potent when the temper of the age is secularistic or pagan.
Second, the issue is not so much the disposition of the money that Ananias and Sapphira obtained when they sold a piece of property as the lie they told. Apparently there were some members who were selling properties and donating all of the proceeds to the church to help in its varied ministries, not least the relief of the needs of brothers and sisters in Christ. Indeed, the man called Barnabas was exemplary in this respect (Acts 4:36-37), and serves as a foil to Ananias and Sapphira. But these two sold their property, kept some of the proceeds for themselves, and pretended that they were giving everything.
It was this claim to sanctity and self-denial, this pretense of generosity and piety, that was so offensive. Left unchecked, it might well multiply. It would certainly place into positions of honor people whose conduct did not deserve it. But worse, it was a blatant lie against the Holy Spirit — as if the Spirit of God could not know the truth, or would not care. In this sense it was a supremely presumptuous act, betraying a stance so removed from the God-centeredness of genuine faith that it was idolatrous.
Third, another element of the issue was conspiracy. It was not enough that Ananias pulled this wicked stunt himself. He acted “with his wife’s full knowledge” (Acts 5:2); indeed, her lying was not only passive but active (Acts 5:8), betraying a shared commitment to deceive believers and defy God.
Fourth, in times of genuine revival, judgment may be more immediate than in times of decay. When God walks away from the church and lets the multiplying sin take its course, that is the worst judgment of all; it will inevitably end in irretrievable disaster. But when God responds to sin with prompt severity, lessons are learned, and the church is spared a worse drift. In this case, great fear fell not only on the church but also on all who heard of these events (Acts 5:5, 11).
It is written: “He whose walk is upright fears the LORD; but he in whose ways are devious despises him” (Prov. 14:2).
from D.A. Carson’s blog