THE ACTS OF APOSTLES
Lesson 3: Chapters 4-6
The Church's Mission in Jerusalem Continued:
Teaching at the Temple and Persecution
Peter's homilies in Acts of Apostles remind us of Jesus' promise that the Holy Spirit He sent to the Church on the first Christian feast of Pentecost will give us the words we need to speak when we are called upon to profess the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You have made us, Lord, the servants and handmaidens the prophet Joel spoke of upon whom the Spirit has been poured out in Christian baptism. Send Your Spirit to teach and inspire us to proclaim the Gospel fearlessly in theses, the last days of the Age of Man. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
+ + +
The Advocate, the
Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name "he will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.
If the world hates
you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world
would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have
chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.
Chapter 4: Peter and John are arrested by the Religious Authorities
The story of St. Peter's healing of a man who was born lame and who was carried to the gate of the Temple daily to support himself by begging began in chapter 3. Peter healed the man and gave his second homily, proclaimed the resurrection of Christ and announcing to the Jewish crowd that by faith in the name of Jesus the man had been made strong and restored to health (Acts 3:16). The healed man leaped for joy and for the first time in his life entered the inner area of the Temple complex. The event is a fulfillment of the prophecy of the prophet Isaiah who spoke of a redeemed Israel in the Age of the Messiah: They will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God. Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the dumb will sing (Is 35:2c-6). The healing of the man who was born lame and who lived as a cripple for more than forty years is a sign of the Apostles continuing Jesus' mission to heal and restore Old Covenant Israel, transforming those who receive the Gospel message in faith into the renewed New Covenant people of the Kingdom of the Church.
The story continues with:
Acts 4:1-4 ~ The Religious Authorities arrest Peter and
1 While they were still speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the Temple guard, and the Sadducees confronted them, 2 disturbed that they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3 They laid hands on them and put them in custody until the next day, since it was already evening. 4 But many of those who heard the word came to believe and the number of men grew to about five thousand.
An alliance of the chief priests and the Sadducees was formed to arrest Peter and John. The captain of the Temple guard was a Levite (lesser minister) and the officer in charge of the Temple security force. The captain of the Temple guard ranked next after the reigning high priest as far as authority over the Temple area was concerned. Jesus' enemies are also the enemies of Peter and the Apostles. This is the same group of men who arrested Jesus at Gethsemane and condemned Him to death; the sense of danger for Peter and John felt cannot be exaggerated (Lk 22:4, 52; Mt 26:65-66; Mk 14:63-64).
The Sadducees and the Pharisees were the two most influential religious groups. The faction of the Sadducees was composed of the chief priest and the aristocracy. They opposed the Pharisees who presented themselves as scrupulously pious and champions of the common people. Most of the chief priests were Sadducees but some were also Pharisees, including Flavius Josephus (Life, 2). Since it was the end of the day, there was not enough time to call the members of the high court of the Sanhedrin into session, therefore they put off the hearing until the next day and imprisoned Peter and John.
Question: Why were the Sadducees concerned that Peter
and John were teaching that Jesus was resurrected from the dead? See Lk 20:27-38 and Acts 23:6-8.
Answer: The Sadducees did not believe in a bodily resurrection of the dead. When Jesus was confronted by the Sadducees over the doctrine of the resurrection, He skillfully revealed the error of their denial of the resurrection.
Josephus also records that the Sadducees denied the resurrection of the dead (Antiquities of the Jews, 13.10.6 [297-298]; Jewish Wars, 2.8.14 [164-165]).
Luke's point is that those who are opposed to Peter and John's teaching are the men in authority and not the common people. In fact, so favorable are the common people that the number of believes grew by about five thousand men. Like the three thousand who came to believe and were baptized after St. Peter's proclamation of the Gospel on the morning of the feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:41), this number may be more symbolic than literal. The number three is the number symbolizing something important, especially something of importance in God's plan for man's salvation, while the number five is the number signifying grace and power. Any multiples of those numbers indicate an abundance of importance or grace and power. You will recall the number of five thousand men was also the number recorded as being fed in the feeding miracle in Luke 9:14 (also see Mt 14:21 and Mk 6:44).
As opposed to the Sadducees, the Pharisees agreed with the Christians on several doctrinal issues including the resurrection of the dead. This agreement and their hostility toward the Sadducees produced an alliance between Christians and Pharisees on several occasions (see Lk 20:39; Acts 5:34; 23:8-9; 26:5-8). St. Luke records that number of chief priests and Pharisees converted to Christianity (Acts 6:7; 15:5).
Acts 4:5-12 ~ Peter's 3rd kerygmatic
discourse before the Sanhedrin
5 On the next day, their leaders, elders, and scribes were assembled in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and all who were of the high priestly class. 7 They brought them into their presence and questioned them, "By what power or by what name have you done this?" 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, answered them, "Leaders of the people and elders: 9 If we are being examined today about a good deed done to a cripple, namely, by what means he was saved, 10 then all of you and all the people of Israel should know that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead; in his name this man stands before you healed. 11 He is the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.' 12 There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved."
The official high priest is Joseph Caiaphas who served as high priest from 18-36 AD (Jn 11:49; 18:24) and presided over Jesus' trial (Mt 26:57; Jn 18:24). Annas was Caiaphas' father-in-law (Jn 18:13) and the former high priest (6-15 AD). High priests were supposed to serve for life, but the Romans put an end to that extended office and high priests only served for a term determined by the Romans. Annas managed to retain power through his sons and son-in-law who all followed him as the reigning high priests; in fact Luke even refers to Annas as the high priest (see the chart on the Ruler of Judea in the handouts of the first lesson). John/Jonathan was a son of Annas who succeeded Caiaphas as high priest in 37 AD (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.4.4 ). Alexander is unknown, but was a chief priest who was also probably a leader in the party of the Sadducees along with John. He may also have been another member of Annas' family.
Acts 4:7 They
brought them into their presence and questioned them, "By what power or by what
name have you done this?"
This is same question the chief priests, scribes and elders asked Jesus in Luke 20:2.
Question: This is also St. Luke's question for the reader: "Who exactly is in authority now in the new age inaugurated by the events of the second great Pentecost?" Is it the religious authority of the Old Covenant Church or is it the leadership of Christ's Kingdom of heaven on earth? See Lk 22:29-30.
Answer: The answer, of course, is that a new age requires a new authority, and Peter and the Apostles, who Jesus has told that they will judge/have authority over the "twelve tribes of Israel," has been given that new and undisputed authority by Jesus Christ. It is an understanding of their divinely appointed authority of which the Apostles are fully aware.
Acts 4:8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, answered them, "Leaders of the people and elders ... this is St. Peter's third kerygmatic address. Perhaps he remembered what Jesus told him what would happen to the disciples before Christ's return: Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute (Luke 21:12-15).
Acts 4:9-10 If
we are being examined today about a good deed done to a cripple, namely, by
what means he was saved, 10 then
all of you and all the people of Israel should know that it was in the name of
Jesus Christ the Nazorean whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead; in
his name this man stands before you healed.
Peter begins by speaking about the lame man, not about his physical healing that was only a "sign" but about his salvation through the name of the resurrected Jesus the Messiah. St. Luke is picking up again on the theme of those "calling on the name of the Lord" being saved as in 2:21 and 2:47. Notice that Peter's answer to the religious leaders is a proclamation to "all Israel" in verse 10.
Acts 4:11-12 He
is the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the
cornerstone.' 12 There is
no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven
given to the human race by which we are to be saved."
And then Peter quotes loosely from Psalm 117:22 LXX (118:22 in the Hebrew O.T.), adapting the passage to the current situation: [literal Greek translation in LXX] He is the stone scorned by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.' Psalm 118 is the last part of the Hallel psalms that were sung during the 8 days of Passover/Unleavened Bread, and it was considered to be a Messianic psalm. Psalms 118:26 was sung by the crowd during Jesus' triumphal procession into the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Mt 21:9; Mk 11:9; Jn 12:13), and was quoted by Jesus as a sign of His future "coming" (Mt 23:39; Lk 19:38).
Question: Peter makes it clear who the "builders" are
in the prophetic psalm. Who are the "builders" and who is the "stone?"
Answer: The religious leaders are the "builders" and Jesus is the "stone" they rejected and crucified who has become the "cornerstone" of the New Covenant.
This is the second time Luke has used Ps 117:2 LXX. The first time was at the end of Jesus' Parable of the Wicked Tenants in Luke 20:17 when the religious leaders recognized that Jesus was addressing the quote specifically to them (20:19). In Peter's reference he has added the words "by you" before "builders" to make his point. The NAB translation doesn't reflect it, but in the Greek text the word "rejected" (apodokimao) has been replaced by the word "scorned"/"treated as worthless" (exoutheneo): the stone scorned by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone' (Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles, page 77; IBGE, vol. IV, page 330). Peter's point is that the religious leadership didn't just reject the Son of God but treated Him with contempt. For references in the Gospels to this psalms see Mt 21:42; Mk 12:10; Lk 20:17. St. Paul and St. Peter applied this passage to Jesus in Eph 2:20 and 1 Pt 2:6-7; and for an Old Testament reference to the "cornerstone" see Is 28:16, a passage that will be applied to Jesus by Peter in 1 Pt 2:4-8.
The literal translation of "cornerstone" (kephale gonias)
is "head of the corner." Many scholars suggest this means the keystone of
an arch that joins the two sides (Johnson, page 78).
Question: What is the force of Peter's accusation against the leadership of the Old Covenant concerning their rejection of the cornerstone?
Answer: Whether it is the keystone of an arch or the foundation stone of a building, the meaning is clear: the Old Covenant leadership have rejected and treated with contempt the capstone essential for the restoration of the people of God and the only means for mankind's salvation (verse 12).
Jesus is the stone prophesied by Daniel that was divinely hewn from the "mountain" of the Old Covenant whose religious center was the Temple on Mt. Moriah. He is the "stone" destined to break in pieces all these kingdoms and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever. That is the meaning of the stone you saw hewn from the mountain without a hand being put to it, which broke in pieces the tile, iron, bronze, silver, and gold (Dan 2:44-45). Peter courageously states there is no other way "Jesus Christ is the only path to salvation: There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved (Acts 14:12). Our faith does not rest in a building like the Jerusalem Temple. Jesus is the living foundation stone upon which the New Covenant Church is built, and those baptized into the covenant also become a part of Christ as "living stones" built into the fabric of the New and Eternal covenant in Christ Jesus (CCC 756). Also see CCC 432, 452, 1507 for Jesus as the only means of mankind's salvtion.
Acts 4:13-22 ~ The Ruling of the Sanhedrin
13 Observing the boldness of Peter and John and perceiving them to be uneducated, ordinary men, they were amazed, and they recognized them as the companions of Jesus. 14 Then when they saw the man who had been cured standing there with them, they could say nothing in reply. 15 So they ordered them to leave the Sanhedrin, and conferred with one another, saying, 16 "What are we to do with these men? Everyone living in Jerusalem knows that a remarkable sign was done through them, and we cannot deny it. 17 But so that it may not be spread any further among the people, let us give them a stern warning never again to speak to anyone in this name." 18 So they called them back and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 Peter and John, however, said to them in reply, "Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. 20 It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard." 21 After threatening them further, they released them, finding no way to punish them, on account of the people who were all praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man on whom this sign of healing had been done was over forty years old.
The religious leadership probably didn't perceived Peter and
John as being illiterate men so much as men who had no formal education like
the educated elite, the class to which they belonged. Their comment shows
their contempt for these "ordinary men." However, they couldn't help but be
impressed by the force and eloquence of Peter's argument, and they recognized
them as Jesus' companions.
Question: Why did the presence of the healed man present a problem for them? Also see verses 16 and 22.
Answer: There was no denying to the people that the man had been healed. They could not accuse Peter of fraud because everyone knew the man had been lame from birth and was more than forty years old.
And yet the members of the Sanhedrin have denied what they have seen (the healed man in front of them) and they deny what they have heard (the voice of a prophet) like the rebellious covenant people to whom the prophet Isaiah was sent whose obstinacy would persist despite the prophet's warning: Listen carefully, but you shall not understand! Look intently, but you shall know nothing! (Is 6:9).
Acts 4:15-16 So
they ordered them to leave the Sanhedrin, and conferred with one another,
saying, 16 "What are we to
do with these men? Everyone living in Jerusalem knows that a remarkable sign
was done through them, and we cannot deny it.
They wanted to stop the Apostles from preaching in Jesus' name, but they had no legal grounds to imprison them. They even recognized the healing of the man as a "sign" "an act that pointed to something greater beyond the natural world. St. Paul will later write: For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.(1 Cor 1:22-24).
Question: When the assembly of the Sanhedrin demands
that the Apostles no longer heal or speak under the authority of Jesus Christ,
what judgment from them does Peter request and do they answer?
Answer: Peter asks them to judge who the Apostles should obey "them or God. Of course, they cannot answer that their judgment is above God's, therefore they do not answer.
That the lame man suffered from his condition for over forty
years is probably symbolically significant. Forty is the number of testing and
consecration in Scripture. Forty years earlier, at this man's birth, he was
chosen by God for just this moment in salvation history.
Question: What might be said concerning this man's testing and consecration after forty years of suffering?
Answer: He passed his test in his response in faith to Peter's healing in Jesus' name; and therefore he was consecrated through his faith that led to his salvation "a healing beyond the physical sign.
Acts 4:23-31 ~ The Jerusalem Community Joins in Prayer
23 After their release they went back to their own people and reported what the chief priests and elders had told them. 24 And when they heard it, they raised their voices to God with one accord and said, "Sovereign Lord, maker of heaven and earth and the sea and all that is in them, 25 you said by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of our father David, your servant: why did the Gentiles rage and the peoples entertain folly? 26 The kings of the earth took their stand and the princes gathered together against the Lord and against his anointed.' 27 Indeed they gathered in this city against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed, Herod and Pontius Pilate, together with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do what your hand and your will had long ago planned to take place. 29 And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and enable your servants to speak your word with all boldness, 30 as you stretch forth your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are done through the name of your holy servant Jesus." 31 As they prayed, the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
It is significant that the Christian community raised their voices to God with one accord. This is what believers do today in the liturgy of the Mass. We pray as though we were One because we recognize that we are One in Christ. In their prayer they turn to David, who is recognized as a Holy Spirit inspired prophet (Acts 2:30); they quote from the Messianic Psalms 2:1-2 LXX with no additions or alternations. St. Paul will quote from the same passage in Acts 13:33 and also in Hebrews 1:5 and 5:5: Why did the Gentiles rage and the peoples entertain folly? The kings of the earth took their stand and the princes gathered together against the Lord and against his anointed.
The words "against his anointed" in Psalm 2 is understood to be a reference to Jesus. The Gentile Romans took a stand against God when they condemned Jesus to death. In attacking the Apostles, the emissaries of the Christ, the Sanhedrin is also taking a stand against God's anointed Messiah. The 3rd verse in Psalms 2, which isn't included in our text, is especially relevant to the current situation: Let us break their shackles and cast off their chains! It will be fulfilled in Acts 5:19.
Acts 4:27-28 Indeed they gathered in this city against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed, Herod and Pontius Pilate, together with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do what your hand and your will had long ago planned to take place. In their prayer, they apply the psalm to the Passion of Christ and the circumstances of Apostles and the community. Herod (Antipas) and Pilate are the "kings" and "princes" in the psalm. That they "gathered" together against God's servant Jesus stands in contrast to the faith community that is "gathered together" in obedience to God the Son (verse 31). The reference to God's "hand" is a common biblical idiom for God's power as in verse 30 (see Ex 9:3; Ps 10:12; 54:20 LXX; 138:7; Sir 7:32).
Acts 4:29-31 And
now, Lord, take note of their threats, and enable your servants to speak your
word with all boldness, 30 as
you stretch forth your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are done through the
name of your holy servant Jesus." As they prayed, the place where they were
gathered shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to
speak the word of God with boldness.
Question: What petition does the community make to the Lord and what assurance do they receive that their petition is granted?
Answer: The sign that their prayer for boldness to speak the word of the Lord is granted in the physical manifestation of the Spirit shaking the room in which they are gathered.
Their mention of God's power to "heal" and "signs and wonders" in Jesus' name looks back to the events that led to this outpouring of prayer and thanks.
Life in the Jerusalem Church
In this next section (Acts 4:32-5:11) we read about how
powerfully Peter and the Apostles are demonstrating their leadership within the
community of the restored Israel. The section is set off by the terms
"community of believers" in 4:32 and "the whole Church" in 5:11.
Acts 4:32-37 ~ The Unity of the Community and the Generosity of Barnabas
32 The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 With great power the Apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them in all. 34 There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, 35 and put them at the feet of the Apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need. 36 Thus Joseph, also named by the Apostles Barnabas (which is translated "son of encouragement"), a Levite, a Cypriot by birth, 37 sold a piece of property that he owned, then brought the money and put it at the feet of the Apostles.
This is the second of three summaries describing the character of the Jerusalem community (see Acts 2:42-47 and 5:12-16). In addition to centering their religious life on the teachings of the Apostles and the Eucharistic liturgy (2:42), they also developed a system for the distribution of goods in which the wealthier members of the community sold their possessions when the needs of the community's poor required it (2:44; 4:32-27)(1).
Question: The wealthier members of the community are
living according to which of Jesus' teachings concerning the duty of those blessed
with many material wealth to care for the poor?
Answer: They are living according to the teaching in Jesus' Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:20-26 in which Jesus' taught that the wealthy who fail to use their wealth to take care of the poor will face divine judgment.
St. Luke describes the community of believers as being "of one heart and mind," which can also be translated "of one heart and soul" (verse 32 "mind/soul" = psyche). In the Old Testament the phrase mia phyche (one soul) only appears as the translation of the Hebrew leb yahad in 1 Chronicles 12:38 LXX, but the phrase "heart and soul," is found frequently, for example in the command to love God with all one's heart and soul in the first part of the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:5 and also in 10:12; 11:13, etc. This concept of the unity of the community as of "one heart and soul" is later expressed by St. Paul as being one Body in Christ (i.e. Eph 1:22-23; 4:12, 15-16).
Acts 4:33 With great power the Apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them in all. Everything about the message of the Gospel of salvation must begin with the resurrection.
Question: Who is Joseph Barnabas? See Acts 4:36;
9:27; 11:22-30; 12:12; 15:1-4, 36-39; and Col 4:10.
Answer: He was a Levite (a descendant of the lesser ministers) from the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean. He was a kinsman of John Mark (the inspired writer of the Gospel of Mark) and therefore a kinsman of John Mark's mother Mary of Jerusalem at whose house the disciples regularly met. He will be the first disciple to befriend Saul/Paul. The Jerusalem church will send Barnabas to Antioch to teach the newly formed Christian community, and a year later the Antioch community will send Barnabas and Paul take a contribution to the mother church in Jerusalem. The Antioch community will also send Barnabas and Paul to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles in Asia Minor. After their return, when a dispute arises concerning the baptism of Gentiles and their induction into the covenant, Barnabas and Paul will attend the Council of Jerusalem as representatives from the Christian community at Antioch to settle the question of the requirements for Gentile converts. Paul and Barnabas will separate and Barnabas will continue to spread the Gospel in his native Cyprus.
Early Christian tradition names Barnabas as the founder and first bishop of the Church on the island of Cyprus. It is a tradition that he was martyred in 61 AD at Salamis, and his feast day is celebrated on June 11. The non-canonical work called the Epistle of Barnabas was probably not written by him. That the Apostles gave him a new name is significant. The giving of a new name is always a sign of a life taking a new direction in a special mission or a sign of authority. That the Apostles called him "son of encouragement" or "son of consolation" is probably a sign of his cooperative disposition. It is one he certainly needed in working with Paul and mediating between Paul and the Jerusalem community (Acts 9:27; 11:22, 30; 12:25). A chief priest or a Levite was not supposed to own a portion of land in the Holy Land since God was his portion (Dt 12:12; 14:29; Josh 14:3, 4; 18:7). But as clans Levites did possess certain Levitical cities and could own property in those cities. Verse 37 does not identify the "property" as land; it could have been a house that belonged to Barnabas or perhaps inherited property. However, according to Josephus, Levites did hold property in the 1st century AD (Life, 68-83). The act of Joseph Barnabas in turning over the money from the sale of his property to the church is given as an example of the generosity of the members of the community. It will also serve as a contrast to the members of the community in the next story.
Chapter 5: Life in the Church in Jerusalem
Amen, amen, I say
to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater
ones than these, because I am going to the Father. And whatever you ask in my
name, I will do, so that the Father may be gloried in the Son. If you ask
anything in my name, I will do it.
Acts 5:1-11 ~ Peter Judges the Fraud of Ananias and
1 A man named Ananias, however, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property. 2 He retained for himself, with his wife's knowledge, some of the purchase price, took the remainder, and put it at the feet of the Apostles. 3 But Peter, said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart so that you lied to the Holy Spirit and retained part of the price of the hand? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain yours? And when it was sold, was it not still under your control? Why did you contrive this deed? You have lied not to human beings, but to God." 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last, and great fear came upon all who heard of it. 6 The young men came and wrapped him up, then carried him out and buried him. 7 After an interval of about three hours, his wife came in, unaware of what had happened. 8 Peter said to her, "Tell me, did you sell the land for this amount?" she answered, "Yes, for that amount." 9 Then Peter said to her, "Why did you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen, the footsteps of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out." 10 At once, she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men entered they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole Church and upon all who heard of these things.
3 But Peter, said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart so that you lied to the Holy Spirit and retained part of the price of the hand? Judas' betrayal of Christ was also attributed to Satan entering his heart (Lk 22:3). In contrast to the honesty and generosity of Joseph Barnabas, Luke presents the cautionary tale of Ananias and Sapphira. We are not told how Peter knew of their sins, but in verses 3 and 8 he gives each of them the opportunity to repent.
Question: What was their sin and who did they sin
Answer: Their sin was a betrayal in their conspiracy to lie to the community. They sold a piece of land and then lied in saying that they were donating the entire amount of the selling price to the community when in fact they kept a portion for themselves. Keeping a portion of the profit would not have been a sin if they had not lied about it. They sinned against the Holy Spirit in sinning against the community.
Question: What are the contrasts between the two
stories of Barnabas and Ananias and Sapphira?
Answer: Both stories are lessons for the community. The contrast is between the faithful Barnabas the faithless Ananias and Sapphira.
|Barnabas||Ananias and Sapphira|
|Barnabas gave truthfully and generously to the community from his sale of property.||Ananias and Sapphira conspired to defraud the community in lying about their gift of the sale of their land.|
|Barnabas' gift was an act of righteousness for which he received the gratitude of the community and a new name from the Apostles.||nanias and Sapphira used their gift and their lie to seek status within the community.|
|Barnabas laid his donation to the community at the feet of the Apostles (Acts 4:37)||In the divine judgment of her sin Sapphira fell down at his feet [Peter] and breathed her last.|
|Barnabas' righteousness came from both loving God and fear of offending God.||Ananias and Sapphira did not fear God in testing the Holy Spirit by lying.|
|Michal E. Hunt Copyright 2013|
Question: In their conspiracy to withhold from God what
they had sworn was His and the judgment for their sin, what Old Testament story
comes to mind where the same kind of sin was involved and the same judgment?
See Josh 6:2, 16-19; 7:1, 19-26.
Answer: It is a repeat of the story of Achan and his family who conspired to keep goods from the fallen city of Jericho that had been consecrated to God under the ban of destruction.
Acts 5:12-16 ~ Signs and Wonders of the Apostles
12 Many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the Apostles. They were all together in Solomon's Portico. 13 None of the others dared to join them, but the people esteemed them. 14 Yet more than ever, believers in the Lord, great numbers of men and women, were added to them. 15 Thus they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them. 16 A large number of people from the towns in the vicinity of Jerusalem also gathered, bringing the sick and those disturbed by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.
This is the fourth mention of "signs and wonders" (Acts 2:19, 22; 4:30 and 5:12). Verse 13 suggests that there were people who both feared and esteemed the Apostles and their mighty works in the name of Jesus the Messiah. The numbers of believers who joined the faith community continued to grow. The Apostles continued to heal the sick and the power of the Holy Spirit even poured forth from St. Peter through the casting of his shadow. About this miracle St. Bede wrote: At that time Peter visibly relieved the infirm by the shadow of his body. Now, he does not cease to strengthen the infirm among the faithful by the invisible screen of his intercession. And because Peter is a type of the Church, it is beautifully appropriate that he himself walked upright, but by his accompanying shadow he raised up those who were lying down. So the Church, concentrating its mind and love on heavenly things, passes like a shadow on the land, and here on earth, with sacramental signs and temporal figures of heavenly things, it renews those whom there [in heaven] it rewards with everlasting gifts (Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, 5.15).
Acts 5:17-26 ~ The Apostles are Arrested and Miraculously Freed
17 Then the high priest rose up and all his companions, that is, the party of the Sadducees, and filled with jealousy, 18 laid hands upon the Apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But during the night, the angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison, led them out, and said, 20 "Go and take your place in the Temple area, and tell the people everything about this life." 21 When they heard this, they went to the Temple early in the morning and taught. When the high priest and his companions arrived, they convened the Sanhedrin, the full senate of the Israelites, and sent to the jail to have them brought in. 22 But the court officers who went did not find them in the prison, so they came back and reported, 23 "We found the jail securely locked and the guards stationed outside the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside." 24 When they heard this report, the captain of the Temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss about them, as to what this would come to. 25 Then someone came in and reported to them, "The men whom you put in prison are in the Temple area and are teaching the people." 26 Then the captain and the court officers went and brought them in, but without force, because they were afraid of being stoned by the people.
Question: Why was the high priest so angry and why
were he and the Sadducees jealous? See Acts 4:18 and 5:28. You will recall
that Pilate perceived that the reason the chief priests wanted to put Jesus to
death was because of their jealousy (Mt 27:16-18).
Answer: He was angry because the Apostles deliberately ignored the Sanhedrin's order not to teach or heal in the name of Jesus. He and the others were also jealous of the attention the Apostles were receiving from the people. They were jealous that their position of authority with the people was being usurped by the teaching and works of the Apostles.
The miraculous liberation of the Apostles that could not be explained should have been a "sign" for the religious leadership. Instead, they arrested them again, although without any display of violence for fear of the people.
Acts 5:27-33 ~ The Apostles are brought before the Sanhedrin
27 When they had brought them in and made them stand before the Sanhedrin, the high priest questioned them, 28 "We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and want to bring this man's blood upon us." 29 But Peter and the Apostles said in reply, "We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus, though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit that God has given to those who obey him." 33 When they heard this, they became infuriated and wanted to put them to death.
Acts 5:28 "We
gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name. Yet you
have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and want to bring this man's blood
Question: The high priest (Joseph Caiaphas) accused the Apostles of wanting to bring the judgment of what man's blood down upon them?
Answer: The blood of Jesus who Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin condemned to death.
The Apostles as a group give the same courageous reply that Sts. Peter and John gave when they were arrested in 4:19-20 "they must obey God and continue to proclaim Jesus Savior and Lord.
Acts 5:34-42 ~ Rabbi Gamaliel's Counsel
34 But a Pharisee in the Sanhedrin named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up, ordered the men to be put outside for a short time, 35 and said to them, "Fellow Israelites, be careful what you are about to do to these men. 36 Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be someone important, and about four hundred men joined him, but he was killed, and all those who were loyal to him were disbanded and came to nothing. 37 After him came Judas the Galilean at the time of the census. He also drew people after him, but he too perished and all who were loyal to him were scattered. 38 So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. 39 But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God." They were persuaded by him. 40 After recalling the Apostles, they had them flogged, ordered them to stop speaking in the name of Jesus, and dismissed them. 41 So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. 42 And all day long, both at the Temple and in their homes, they did not stop teaching and proclaiming the Messiah, Jesus.
Gamaliel was a respected Jewish teacher and a member of the
Sanhedrin. He was also the teacher of Saul/Paul of Tarsus (Acts 22:3).
Question: What is Gamaliel's advice to the Sanhedrin?
Answer: He gives examples of contemporary movements that died out after the death of the leaders. His argument is if God is not the author of the Jesus movement, then the movement will die out, but if God is the authority behind the works of the Apostles, then they must be careful that they do not find themselves in opposition to the divine plan of God.
Question: In the unfolding events, Luke demonstrates
how Peter's mission parallels Jesus' mission. The mission of Christ continues
through Peter and the other Apostles and disciples. What parallels can you see
between Jesus' earthly mission in the Gospel of Luke and the continuation of
that mission through His Vicar, Simon-Peter in Acts? Also include the miracle
in Acts 9:36-41.
Mission inaugurated by the Holy Spirit
Mission inaugurated by the Holy Spirit
Jerusalem Sermon on the Last Days
Jerusalem Sermon on the Last Days
(Lk 7:22; 14:13)
Miraculous healings including curing the sick and casting out demons
(Lk 4:33-35; 38-42; 5:12-13, 17-25; 7:1-10; 8:22-25, 27-31; 9:37-43)
Miraculous healings including curing the sick and casting out demons
(Acts 5:12, 15-16)
Raising the dead
(Lk 7:11-15; 8:41-42, 51-55)
Raising the dead
Arrested by the
priests, Temple guard and elders
Arrested by the priests, Temple guard, and Sadducees
(Acts 4:1; 5:17)
Trial by the Sanhedrin
Trial by the Sanhedrin
(Acts 4:5-21; 5:17-41)
Beaten by the order of the religious authorities
Beaten by the order of the religious authorities
|Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013|
Chapter 6: The Succession of Prophetic Authority
For this reason,
the Apostles or the successors of the Apostles throughout all the churches now
decide upon seven deacons who would be of higher rank than the others and who
would stand closer around the altar, like the columns of the altar. Their
being seven in number is not without some symbolism.
St. Bede, Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, 6.3
Acts 6:1-7 ~ The Appointment of the Seven
1 At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, "It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve [diakonein] at table. 3 Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, 4 whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. 5 The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6 They presented these men to the Apostles who prayed and laid hands on them. 7 The word of God continued to spread, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly; even a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith. [..] = literal translation (IBGE, vol. IV, page 336).
The "Hellenists" are Greek culture Jews who probably only spoke Greek and not Aramaic, the common language of the Judeans during this time. Many, but not all of the Hellenists, were probably from Roman provinces outside Judea. There were a great number of widows in Jerusalem. It was the custom for Jews from the Diaspora to return to Jerusalem in their old age to die in the land of their ancestors. Unfortunately, they often left their surviving widows destitute. The Jewish-Christians who were disbursing the food were accused of favoring local Aramaic speaking widows over the Greek culture Jewish widows.
Acts 6:2 So
the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, "It is not
right for us to neglect the word of God to serve [diakonein] at table.
Question: Why is dealing with this dispute and issues like it seen as a problem for the Apostles? What was their solution to the problem?
Answer: This issue and other administrative issues concerning the community was taking the Apostles away from the most important part of their ministry "prayer and preaching the Word to the Jews of Jerusalem and Judea. They decided to ordain Spirit-filled men to serve the community of believers so they would be free to pray and preach.
Those that were selected were seven reputable men, filled
with the Spirit and wisdom chosen to serve the community and to assist the
Question: Since the times of the Apostles, what have been the three orders of ecclesial ministry? See CCC 1554.
Answer: Bishops, priests, and deacons.
The Seven are seen as the Church's first deacons even though Luke only uses the term diakonia (service) and the term diakonos (deacon) will not be used until St. Paul defines the three ministerial orders of bishop, priest and deacon. In any event, the diaconate is a sacred office of apostolic origin. In the ordination a deacon takes on the obligation to serve, under the direction of the diocesan bishop, in certain duties within the community that are concerned with evangelization, catechesis, the organization of liturgical ceremonies, initiation of catechumens and neophytes, baptism, to administer the sacramental, to officiate at funerals and burial services, charitable works and social justice works of the community (see Vatican II, Lumen gentium, 29).
Between the Twelve and the Seven there is to be a division of labor within the community with the Twelve praying and preaching the Gospel and the Seven assisting the Twelve, especially in works of charity. This does not mean, however, that the Seven did not also proclaim the Gospel, which is the duty of all Christians. The Greek word translated "reputable" in verse 3 is martyroumenos which means "having one's character and actions witnessed to by others" (Johnson, page 106). The noun "deacon" (diakonos), which St. Paul will use in Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:8-13 is from the Greek and means "one who serves." Years later St. Paul will advise St. Timothy on the selection of deacons, suggesting the same kind of critical examination: Similarly, deacons (diakonos) must be dignified, not deceitful, not addicted to drink, not greedy for sordid gain, holding fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. Moreover, they should be tested first; then, if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons... Deacons may be married only once and must manage their children and their households well. Thus those who serve well as deacons gain good standing and much confidence in their faith in Christ Jesus (1 Tim 3:8-10, 12-13).
Acts 6:5 The
proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man
filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon,
Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. All seven of the
men have Greek names, as is fitting since they will be assisting Greek culture
Christian widows who probably do not speak Aramaic.
Like Barnabas in 4:36-37, Stephen will become a pivotal figure in the continuing narrative as will Philip. The martyrdom of St. Stephen in 7:59 will end the Jerusalem section of the Church's mission and St. Philip will open the movement of the Church's mission into Samaria in chapter 8. St. Philip (like St. Stephen in 6:8) will be given the spiritual gifts of a teacher and a prophet who proclaims the "word" and through the Holy Spirit and does "signs and wonders" (8:1, 6, 13, 29, 39). He will proclaim the Gospel to a Gentile Ethiopian God-fearer who is a high official in the court of the queen of Ethiopia (8:29). Philip will continue his mission along the coast from Azotus (formerly Ashdod of the Philistines) to Caesarea (8:40), and St. Paul will visit Philip there on his last journey to Jerusalem (21:8). St. Philip was the father of three daughters who also had the gift of prophesies (21:9). The other five men are not mentioned again in the New Testament. Nicholas is identified as a Gentile convert from Antioch (6:5). The church founded at Antioch in the Roman Province of Syria will play an important role in Luke's narrative beginning in Acts 11:19.(2)
Acts 6:6 They
presented these men to the Apostles who prayed and laid hands on them.
The seven men who were ordained by the Apostles by "the laying on of hands." The laying of hands was a means of transferring power as in the ordination of the Levitical lesser ministers (Num 8:10), or the commissioning of Joshua (Num 27:18), or the symbolic transfer of life for atonement or consecration in the sacrificial rites (Ex 29:10). Some examples of the ritual of the "laying on of hands" in the Bible:
This event is the precursor of the Church's institution of the ministry of the deaconate "men selected for prayer and service to the Lord. It is one of the three divinely instituted ecclesiastical ministries which are exercised in different degrees by those called, since ancient times, bishops (episcopate), priests (presbyterate), and deacons. The diaconate is intended to help and serve the Church's priests and bishops. Catholic doctrine teaches that the degrees of priestly participation (episcopate/bishops and presbyterate/priests) and the degree of service (diaconate) are all three conferred by a sacramental act of ordination that is the Sacrament of Holy Orders (see CCC 1554). In c. 107 St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote: Let everyone revere the deacons as Jesus Christ, the bishops as the image of the Father, and the presbyters as the senate of God and the assembly of the apostles. For without them one cannot speak of the Church. For the laying-on-of-hands in the sacramental rites of the Church today, see CCC 699, 1150, 1288, 1504, 1538, 1558, and 1573.
Acts 6:7 The word of God continued to spread, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly; even a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith. As Peter and the Apostles continue to teach daily in the Temple, more and more Jews become part of the faithful remnant of the new Israel "even from among the chief priests. This is St. Luke's fifth notice of the growth of the Christian community (also see Acts 2:41, 47; 4:4; 5:14). The growth of the Church in Jerusalem is a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy: In days to come, the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations stream toward it; many peoples shall come and say: "Come, let us climb the LORD's mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths." For from Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem" (Is 2:1-3).
Acts 6:8-15 ~ Stephan is Accused and Arrested
8 Now Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Certain members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen, Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and people from Cilicia and Asia, came forward and debated with Stephen, 10 but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke. 11 Then they instigated some men to say, "We have heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God." 12 They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes, accosted him, seized him, and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They presented false witnesses who testified, "This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law. 14 For we have heard him claim that this Jesus the Nazorean will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us." 15 All those who sat in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
The Holy Spirit has not only prepared Stephen for service to the community, but has given him the spiritual gifts of a prophet (Acts 6:5, 10; 7:55). He has the gift of wisdom and works "wonders and signs" with great power among the people. These are all the marks of a holy prophet of God (Acts 2:19, 22, 43; 4:16, 22, 30; 5:12).
Working among the Hellenistic Jews of the Diaspora has led to an organized resistance to Stephen's ministry within a synagogue of Freedmen from various parts of the Roman Empire "former Roman slaves or the descendants of former slaves who received their freedom and returned to Jerusalem. It was not uncommon for a Roman to free household slaves in his will or for some service that deserved special recognition. It was also possible for a slave with special skills to save enough money to purchase his freedom. It was the law in Rome that all freed slaves also received Roman citizenship.
Acts 6:10-11 ... but
they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke. 11 Then they instigated some men to say,
"We have heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God."
Jesus promised His disciples that the Holy Spirit would instruct them in what to say (Lk 12:12) and that He would give them wisdom that none could oppose (Lk 21:15). Since they cannot best Stephen in rhetoric and are unable to find some legitimate violation of the Law to bring against him, they conspire to bring forward false witnesses to condemn him.
Acts 6:12-13 They
stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes, accosted him, seized him,
and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They
presented false witnesses who testified, "This man never stops saying things
against this holy place and the law. 14 For
we have heard him claim that this Jesus the Nazorean will destroy this place
and change the customs that Moses handed down to us." Stephen's enemies
were so concerned with violations of the Law and yet they set out to violate
the Law from the beginning. Witnessing falsely is fiercely condemned by the
Law and the penalty for making false statements is the same penalty that would
have been inflected upon the accused; in a death penalty case the penalty is
death (Ex 20:16; Dt 19:16-21).
Stephen did not blaspheme, which in Scripture is narrowly defined as cursing the name of God (Lev 24:16), nor did he blaspheme the Law of Moses or the Temple. However, Stephen may have spoken of Jesus' prophecy concerning the destruction of the Temple and the end of the old purification and sacrificial rituals that are no longer valid in the new age of the redeemed Israel, as Paul will do later in his epistles to the faith communities he founded in Asia Minor and Greece and in his letter to the Romans.
|His opponents could not withstand his wisdom||
No one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day
on did anyone dare to ask him any more questions (Mt 22:46).
And they no longer dared to ask him anything (Lk 20:40).
Also Mt 22:46; Mk 12:17; Lk 20:19, 26, 40
|... but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke (Acts 6:10).|
|His enemies conspired against him to arrest him||
For the chief priests and the Pharisees had given
orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should inform them, so they might
arrest him (Jn 11:57).
Also Mt 26:3-4; Mk 14:1; Lk 22:2; Jn 11:47-53, 57
|They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes, accosted him, seized him, and brought him before the Sanhedrin (Acts 6:12).|
|They brought forward false witnesses||
The chief priests and the entire Sanhedrin kept trying
to obtain false testimony against Jesus ... (Mt 26:59)
Also Mt 26:59-62; Mk 14:56-57
|They presented false witnesses who testified ... (Acts 6:13).|
|The charge of blasphemy||
He has blasphemed! What further need have we of
witnesses: You have head now heard the blasphemy ... (Mt 26:65-66).
Also Mt 26:65-66; Mk 14:56-57; 64
|Then they instigated some men to say, "We have heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God" (Acts 6:11).|
|Michal E. Hunt Copyright 2013|
Acts 6:15 All those who sat in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face of an angel. The same description associated with those in peril upon whom the Spirit of God rests can also be seen in Daniel 3:92 where the LXX replaces "looks like a son of God" with "looks like the face of an angel" for the face of the one who protected the young men consigned to the fiery furnace. The same change in the countenance of one about to be martyred is recorded in the martyrdom of St. Polycarp whose face was "filled with grace" before his death in the Martyrdom of Polycarp, 12:1 and in the Gospel accounts of Jesus' glowing face in the Transfiguration. In the last verse, Luke prepares us for what will follow after the trial when Stephen proclaims the Gospel as God's authoritative spokesman. His glowing face is a sign of the indwelling of God's Holy Spirit.
Question for reflection or group discussion:
Review the homilies that Peter has given thus far proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ (see Acts 2:14-39; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 5:29-32). Notice how he used passages from the Old Testament to demonstrate that the coming of Jesus Christ was part of God's divine plan from the earliest stages of salvation history. Compare St. Peter's homilies with the readings and homilies you hear in the celebration of the Mass in your faith communities. What is the same and what, if anything, is different? What makes a good homily?
1. Hellenistic culture expresses the concept that true friendship is based on being of mia psyche, "one soul," which includes the sharing of everything including material possessions. This idea was commonly attested in Hellenistic writings; for example by Euripides in Otrestes, 1046, which is quoted by Aristotle (Nichomachean Ethics, 1168b) and is expressed as the same definition of true friendship at a later period in the writings of Plutarch (On Having Many Friends, 8), and likeness in friendship by Cicero (On Friendship, 14.50; 69.21), and Plato (Lysis, 214B). Professor Luke Timothy Johnson suggests that St. Luke's roots in Hellenistic culture are apparent in expressing the Hellenistic ideal of true friendship that was found in the Jerusalem community being of one "heart and mind/soul" and in sharing "everything in common" (Johnson, page 86).
2. There is no real evidence to suggest that Nicholas was the founder of the Nicolaitans, a heretical sect condemned twice in the Book of Revelation (Rev 2:6 and 15). The Fathers of the Church identify their belief as an early form of Gnosticism, a heresy that proposed a system of religious thought that emphasized a secret knowledge of salvation apart from the Gospels and the teaching of the Apostles ("gnosis" means "knowledge" in Greek).
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2013 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Catechism references for Acts chapters 4-6 (*indicated that Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the citation):
|4:12||432, 452, 1507*||5:21||584*|
|4:21||2640*||5:29||450*, 2242, 2256|