This is a new type of blog post for me: the public note pad.
I spent this evening reading through the book of Acts (yeah, the whole thing) in preparation for my New Testament II class with Dr. Robert Brawley. In true twitter style, I thought I would just shout out the first thoughts that came into my head out of this reading, before giving myself, or my readers, the benefit of careful reflection.
• Reading books of the Bible in their entirety, in one sitting, is something I should do more often; so much is missed when we break up our readings — whether done in the interest of spiritual enlightenment or intellectual stimulation — into short pericopes. A lot is happening in Acts in a short amount of time, and most of it is very interconnected.
• Paul really knows how to get to the point. I could take a lesson or two from him in that discipline, and many others as well. He finds words that connect to people in their current contexts. He doesn’t waste time with flattery;* he doesn’t sugarcoat his messages; he doesn’t weigh people down by giving out more information than the present moment requires. And man does he know what to say when you want to put a room on edge. (Acts 23:6)
• Don’t fall asleep when the sermon get’s too long; you just might fall out of a window.
• Acts seems to make some strong differentiations between traditional baptism, such as the kind administered by John the Baptist, and the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” From Pentecost through the episode at Cornelius’ house, no one really seems to understand what’s going on with the Holy Spirit. Paul acts like he has a handle on it later on, but doesn’t really take the time to explain what is happening. What is the second baptism, and what relation does it have to the “baptism of repentance” that John called for? Why is it granted to some and not others? Was the fiery phenomena the early apostles experienced unique to that time in the life of the church, or is it something believers should be looking for today?
• Pentecost was apparently marked as a holiday of the church year early on; Paul was hurrying to get back to Jerusalem to celebrate pentecost after several years of missionary work, although he was still persecuting the church when the actual “Day of Pentecost” occurred.
• Apparently, in chapter 16 Paul is kept from going to Asia so that Luke, the author, can join the trip for a while. The only indication readers have of this, however, is the abrupt change from the third person “they” style of narration to the first person “we” and “us.” The perspective shifts back and forth at several points later in the account as the journey progresses from city to city, and year to year.
• Secular life and religious life seem very compartmentalized in Acts; i.e., even in the midst of intense religious controversy — such as dueling pharisees and sadducees debating the doctrine of immortality while simultaneously stoning a man to death — life goes on. The normal Roman citizen is completely oblivious, and, other than in the interest of pursuing an odd sense of curiosity, probably couldn’t care less. The exception, of course, is Paul’s life. He blends ministry, work and daily life together in a way that seems to either baffle or captivate everyone else.
• Apart from the sadducees, most of Paul’s opposition comes from people with financial interests at stake: the men exploiting the young prophetess, the magicians, rival philosophers and the silversmiths who sell idols to pagan worshipers. None of these people are confronted by Paul, but they all take offense to him and his work.
• Peter seems to step up and take control of the Jerusalem church right away. No one seems to question this, but how his leadership role came to be is not really spelled out either.
• Paul is the man.
• Barnabas seems to be the nicest guy ever.
Well, that turned out to be a little longer than I thought. In an effort to both write more blog posts and spend more time reading, I plan to begin doing more of these on-the-fly lists of thoughts. Dangerous, I know.
* In most of Paul’s letters, eloquent, theologically rich salutations seem to be the norm. In public speaking, however, at least within the narrative of Acts, he has little space for extraneous words.