Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues (pt. 11)

So, after sending Peter to preach to the God-fearing gentiles in Caesarea, the Holy Spirit falls on the new believers suddenly and unexpectedly. As in Acts 19, one of the signs that shows he has infilled the gentiles is the tongues. As we already saw, the Greek word used here is the same word used in all other places in the New Testament where tongues refer to languages. There is no separate word for foreign languages and for ecstatic utterances (e.g. private prayer language; ‘tongues of angels’). Some theorize that here in Acts 10 these tongues must be ecstatic utterances because foreign languages would fall on ‘deaf’ ears (meaning there would be no one to understand them), but the text does not tell us that. This is a difficult argument since the very nature of ecstatic utterances means that it also falls on ‘deaf’ ears unless there is an interpreter present, another gift of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit gives tongues, it must always be interpreted for anyone to understand it, whether it is tongues of men or angels. (We’ll look more in depth into this when we get to 1 Corinthians.)
The reality is that if Luke had thought it was important for his readers to know whether the tongues here or in Act 19 was of men or of angels, he would have clearly stated it. Thus we see the same thing we saw in Acts 19 – the tongues is not the important part of this story. It is simply a small piece of the larger story of the Holy Spirit moving and creating a new people of God.
In my next blog, we will consider the similarities and differences between the episodes in Caesarea and in Ephesus.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues (pt. 10)

After Peter goes to Caesarea from Joppa, he tells the gentiles that there was a deeper meaning to his vision. More than animals were made clean: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean” (Acts 10:28).
When you’re reading the bible, one of the things to look for is repetition. Something said multiple times in a passage is probably important. The repetition of the vision and the continual reminders that these are gentiles tell us this is the heart of the whole passage. God, by coming to earth, dying on the cross and rising to eternal life, has restored the gentiles to him. No longer are they “unholy or unclean.” The Holy Spirit seals the deal with his infilling.
The fact that the Holy Spirit is the prime mover of this story is shown in his infilling, but the visions of Cornelius and Peter set us up to expect it. We are also on the alert because it is Peter, not Saul who is going to the God-fearing gentiles in Caesarea. In Acts 9, Saul was specifically named as God’s “chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles” (v. 15) and yet we do not see him making any inroads into that gentile mission before the action moves to Peter (9:32) who makes the first trust for Jesus into the gentile nations. This serves as a reminder that the Holy Spirit moves where and when he chooses – he is not bound by human agents, but it also tells us that the Holy Spirit’s gifts and callings aren’t exclusive – he will sometimes move believers to act outside of their area of calling. (This whole episode is also very important to later action in the church. It’s foundational to the circumcision debate, but we’ll need to explore that later.)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues (pt. 9)

As promised, we'll start to explore the context of Acts 10:44-48 in greater detail in this blog. The passage starts in Acts 10:1 (though it does have more backward connections that I won’t explore in this blog) with the introduction of the gentile centurion, Cornelius, a God-fearing man who is visited by an angel of the Lord. The reader knows what Cornelius doesn’t at that time; by sending for Simon Peter, he is asking for the Gospel story.
Meanwhile, Peter is being prepared for this adventure. We need to detour into the Old Testament to fully understand what’s going on in this part of the passage.
Peter is almost quoting Ezekiel when he responds to the command to kill and eat. In Ezekiel 4, God had told the prophet to cook siege food over a fire of human dung. This was to be a sign for the people that they would eat “defiled food among the nations where I will drive them” (v. 13). Ezekiel’s response was, "Not so, Sovereign LORD! I have never defiled myself. From my youth until now I have never eaten anything found dead or torn by wild animals. No unclean meat has ever entered my mouth" (v. 14).
Here in Acts 10, when God tells Peter to “kill and eat” (v. 13), Peter’s response is: "Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean" (v. 14). Like Ezekiel, Peter finds it absolutely appalling that he would ever violate the Jewish dietary laws. (See Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 for more about clean and unclean animals.) While God backpedaled a little with Ezekiel and said, “Very well, I will let you bake your bread over cow manure instead of human excrement" (Ezekiel 4:15), to Peter he said: "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean" (Acts 10:15). In fact with Peter, God was so adamant about abolishing the dietary laws that he repeated this three times. Luke reports that Peter was perplexed at this, but the reader knows that this is an unequivocal restatement of Jesus’ comment about unclean foods: "'Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him "unclean"? For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods 'clean.')" (Mark 7:18-19).
(To be continued of course! Don't you love the way a bible study can get so complex?)

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues (pt. 8)

As we step backward to Acts 10, please bear with me as I remind you that we are backtracking the chiasm created in Luke-Acts, the two books written by the gentile physician. The beginning of Luke and the end of Acts show us the Roman influence on Jesus birth and the arrival of the gospel in Rome. The next point of the chiasm is the Galilee-Gentile connection.
Luke shows the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as Galilean. He gives geographical references that place Jesus in Galilee (4:14-15, 31; 5:1; 7:11; 8:26; 9:10) until 9:51 when Jesus “resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Even then, Luke reminds us of the Galilean roots of Jesus ministry (10:13-15; 13:31-33; 17:11; 23:5-7, 55).
The corresponding point of the chiasm in Acts is the movement of the gospel, and thus the Holy Spirit, to the gentiles. This doesn’t seem to work well from our modern perspective, but the chiasm of Luke-Acts wasn’t written for us. It was written for first century believers who would have quickly picked up on the connection between Galilee and gentiles – In Isaiah 9:1, the prophet gave a Messianic prophecy in which “Galilee of the Gentiles” will be honored by the Messiah coming from there. (This is the same passage that Matthew 4:12-17 reports Jesus reading in the synagogue.)
The Luke-Acts chiasm and the immediate context of Acts 10:44-48 both point us to the gentile importance of this passage; the Holy Spirit and tongues are simply a part of the greater story. (Yes, the Holy Spirit is extremely important, but to the early church, he was already understood as the one who moved the gospel as it went out with the human activity. There was no need to specify it everytime.)
Next blog we will explore the context of Acts 10:44-48 in greater detail.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues (pt. 7)

One more question before we go on to see what else Luke tells us in Acts: Here in chapter 19, why would Luke specifically mention tongues if it isn’t the marker of the Holy Spirit? First off, remember that in more than twenty places in Acts the infilling of the Holy Spirit is not shown to come upon believers and yet we know it happened (1 Corinthians 6:19; 12:13). Second, as I showed previously, this isn’t the “private prayer language” tongues – it is foreign languages. Third, the new believers spoke in tongues and prophesied. I will show later that if we focus on the signs this, the prophecy, is what we should focus on. But as a direct answer to the question – think of all the “gifts” of the Spirit that were recognized by the first century church. What are the ones that are easiest to see? Tongues was not reported in Acts as a marker for all times and all people, it was simply the quickest way to show that the new believer had indeed received the Holy Spirit.
Tune in next blog as we look at the Holy Spirit and gentile believers in Acts 10.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues (pt. 6)

Does this incident in Acts 19 show us that laying on of hands is the standard for receiving the Holy Spirit? When we look at what Acts shows us, we see that two of the four infillings of the Spirit reported after the Day of Pentecost were done by laying on of hands (Acts 8:14-17 and Acts 19:6). The other two infillings the Holy Spirit accomplished without human agency. So how do you know if laying on of hands is necessary? From this context in Acts 18-19, the laying on of hands for the infilling of the Holy Spirit was used immediately after faith came. Apollos had believed for quite some time and he showed the fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit already in his life, therefore he was neither “rebaptized” into Jesus nor did they lay hands on him to receive the Holy Spirit, but the newly baptized believers did have hands laid on them and they recieved the Spirit. However, this passage does not say that the specific reason Paul laid hands on them was so that they would receive the Holy Spirit. In fact, of the eleven times “laying on hands” is spoken of in Acts and the epistles, only in these two places in Acts is it done in conjunction with receiving the Holy Spirit. (In fact, in Acts 6:5-6, the apostles lay hands on Stephen who was already filled with the Holy Spirit.) That is not enough evidence to build a point of doctrine on. We will look at that more in-depth when we explore the infilling of the Holy Spirit reported in Acts 8.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues (pt. 5)

So, I explored the story of Apollos and the twelve men, and said they are about faith and the heart. Lest you think maybe I’m reading too much into these two stories, let’s look at the story that follows in 19:8-20 – the seven sons of Sceva. These men had no faith at all yet they tried to use the Name of Jesus. They complete the story of Apollos who had great faith but needed a little more understanding and the twelve men who believed but didn’t know the one whom they claimed to believe in. Apollos is guided by fellow believers Priscilla and Aquila; the twelve are introduced into the true faith by Paul; the seven are sent running from the house, naked and ashamed when they are attacked by the demon because they tried to use what they didn't believe in.
When we look at it in context, we see that the story of the twelve in Acts 19 is part of a range of “believers.” The story is not intended to point to a separate “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Instead it shows us that by this time, the Church knows that the Spirit will be indwelling true believers from the moment of their conversion. If the Holy Spirit was not in the disciple, he needed to be guided into faith, baptized into Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit, but someone who already showed the fruit of faith didn't need to be "baptized" into anything else.
Next blog, I will consider the question: Is the laying on of hands supposed to be the standard for receiving the Holy Spirit?

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues (pt. 4)

My last blog ended with the question: Why does the Holy Spirit go underground in the last part of Acts? As I promised, that question takes us back to the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.”
In the first part of Acts, Luke firmly established that the Holy Spirit is the one who moves the Gospel as he indwells believers. Now he no longer needs to remind his readers of this fact as often.
This is proven in Acts 19 in Ephesus when Paul asks his wary question of those who called themselves disciples: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" To which they responded: "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit" (v. 2). Paul discovered these disciples didn’t know the true Gospel story; they had only been baptized into John’s baptism for repentance. Paul gives them the Gospel story, baptizes them into Jesus when they receive the story, then lays hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit.
When we try to understand this story on its own, we get tied up with the laying on of hands and the tongues. The context puts a different focus on the story which is actually about the faith of believers, not about “the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” In this case, the believers’ faith is based on an incomplete Gospel. It is simply based on the baptism of John for repentance without the true Messiah playing any part. The problem is not in the baptism of John – which does not demand a “rebaptism” into Jesus. The problem is that the baptism for repentance was not followed by faith in the Messiah. If it had been, there would have been no need for the twelve men to be baptized again after the baptism of John. How can I say that with certainty?
Look up at Acts 18:24-28 and you will see the beginning of this story. Also in Ephesus, Apollos is a man who, like the other twelve men, was only baptized into the baptism of John. But this man “had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately” (v. 25). When he comes to the attention of the Christian missionaries, he is not rebaptized, nor does he need to receive the Holy Spirit by laying on of hands as his misguided Ephesian brothers need. Instead “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately” (v. 26, emphasis added). Apollos is already a true believer, already filled with the Holy Spirit. He just needs a little better understanding of how to properly understand the scriptures he already knew. (Doe he sound like someone you might know?)
But this isn't all we see in this passage in Acts. Come back to examine the rest of the story with me.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues (pt. 3)

Before we can understand the so-called “baptism of the Holy Spirit” as it occurs in Acts, we must first lay groundwork of understanding about the book itself. In Acts, Luke completed a chiasm he began in his gospel. A chiasm was a typical literary device in the bible where parallel points move from the beginning and from the end toward a central idea. In Luke Jesus moved toward Jerusalem then in Acts the Holy Spirit moved out from Jerusalem. (Luke ends with the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, Acts begins with it.) In this chiasm we see: The decree of the Caesar Augustus, the Roman ruler, that sent Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem where the Messiah was to be born (Luke 2:1-7; Micah 5:2); Paul’s appeal to Caesar which takes him to Rome in fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that “repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations” (Acts 25:11-12, 26:32; Luke 24:47; see also Acts 1:8). We also see that Jesus fulfills the requirements of the Jewish law (Luke 2:21-40) and Paul fulfills the requirements of the Jewish law (Acts 21:20-26).
Interestingly, these points of the chiasm show God moving through human agency – in Luke the Son of God is in his infancy and therefore moved by the actions of his human parents; in Acts, God the Holy Spirit is not specifically shown as moving toward Rome, but we know he is because in Acts 19, we were clearly reminded that he moved in and through Paul. The Spirit was indwelling the apostle Paul so as Paul continues on his journey toward Rome, the Spirit moves with him. (Of course he’s not limited by Paul’s movements, but that’s a theological discussion for another time.)
When we read the bible, one of the things we always need to remember is that each author had a theological (truth about God) point to prove. They chose the stories they used to emphasize that point. It was necessary to pick and choose because there are so many things that could be said about God that if they said them all, it would be hard to prove any single point. (See John 20:30-31; 21:25.) When we carefully study what a biblical writer said, how he put his stories together, shifts in style or form, repetitions, etc., we pick up clues to what’s important to the writer. We need to look beyond what we think is important and find what the author intended to be important.
In the first part of Acts (chapters 1-12), Luke writes about the Spirit or the Holy Spirit forty times. Half of them show the Spirit at work in the narration, the rest of are in dialogues that refer to the Spirit. In the rest of Acts (13-28), the Spirit is only spoken of seventeen times, eight of which show his actions. Three of those are in chapter 13 where Saul becomes Paul who becomes the main actor in Luke’s story of the spread of the Gospel. Paul’s stated mission was to take the Gospel to the Gentiles – all nations (Acts 9:15; 22:21; 26:17; Romans 1:5; 11:13; 15:16; Galatians 1:16; 2:2, 7). This is why he became the primary player of the drama in Acts. But why does the Holy Spirit go underground? The answer to that is rather detailed and takes us back to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, I’ll have pick up on it in my next blog.