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IS THERE SOMETHING IN THE BIBLE THAT PUZZLES YOU?

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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- PSALMS 1-50--- ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS

Questions and Problems in Acts.

1. In Matthew 27:3-5 it says that Judas returned the money he was given for betraying Jesus, yet in Acts 1.8, it specifically states that he bought a field with the "reward he got for his wickedness". How is this to be reconciled?

When a man had entered into a contract from which he wanted to withdraw for conscience sake and the other party refused to accept the money back, the means he could use was to take it to the Temple and officially offer it there. This is what Judas did. However Judas money was not acceptable to the Temple because it was blood money. It could not be taken into the Temple treasury. So it remained Judas' money and was used for assisting Gentiles (Jews could not be helped with blood money) on the giver's behalf. Thus Judas' money was used to obtain the potter's field to bury strangers in, and in essence Judas obtained the field

2. In Acts 1.20 Peter's use of the Psalms seems misleading and inaccurate. He changes Psalm 69:25 which refers to several enemies of David (may their place be deserted" to "may his place be deserted") so that the Psalm now applies to Judas. Again in Psalm 109:8 David is cursing a particular enemy, yet Peter quotes it as if David were prophesying about Judas. Is Peter not here taking both Psalms out of context to apply to a contemporary situation, and in the case of the first quote, deliberately altering the word? In Acts 2, in his first post-Pentecost speech, Peter again changes some words from the Scripture. In this case it is Joel's prophecy about the pouring out of the Spirit (e.g. "in the last days" - just one example) . I remember also reading a passage where Paul did the same thing, and I know that Matthew did several times. My concern is that if a piece of scripture is truly prophetic, why then do its words need to be altered at all? Wouldn't what it is saying be totally apparent when it is being fulfilled?

Firstly we must remember that prophecy in Scripture is not intended to be a forecasting of specific events in the future, although that sometimes necessarily comes into it. Its purpose is to enable those living in the present to be aware of trends of what God is going to do, and how He will finally bring all to fulfilment. Thus each ‘prophecy’ may have several partial fulfilments. Psalm 69 is a psalm of the Davidic house. It describes the suffering of a member of that house, and would be applied to one 'David' after another in succession. (See 1 Kings 12.16). That was why the psalms continued to be sung. They applied anew to each generation. They had continuing contexts.

There were apparently many who caused suffering to the house of David and suffered this fate, for God’s purposes were to be fulfilled through that house. Peter applies it to the greatest of the house of David and to His enemy and demonstrates that there was One especially here who fulfilled part of it to the letter. Often we take John 3.16 and apply it individually. 'God so loved Jim Bloggs that He gave His only begotten Son so that if Jim Bloggs should believe in Him --- he should have everlasting life.' Is that then wrong? Is it misrepresenting Scripture? Surely not, for Jim Bloggs is a part of the world. That is what Peter did here. He points out that of the persecutors of the house of David here was one, among many, who caused suffering to a member of the house of David in this way. If it was to happen with many, it would happen too to individual cases. And Judas was one example of it. Thus the ‘prophecy’ is being fulfilled.

The same principle applies to Psalm 109. A psalm of the Davidic house applied to each generation and finally applied to Jesus as the greater David. Peter was taking it right in context for Jesus summed up the house of David. For illumination and explanation it is justifiable to take the words of Scripture and apply them in this way on an ad hoc basis as long as we do not change the sense. Here the sense remains the same. It speaks of a member of the house of David, His sufferings, and the consequences of persecuting Him for He was God’s anointed. This was applying Scriptural principles to specific cases.

We must beware of laying down rules for how New Testament writers should have used Scripture. As we all are, they were free to use them as they saw fit as long as the result was Scriptural truth. Some preachers today quote exactly, others paraphrase in order to make the point more clear. That cannot be faulted as long as the sense remains unchanged. It does not mean that they do not see them as Scripture or as prophecy. They are rather making clear the sense.

Furthermore we must note that most of the early church only ever used translations (as we do). The original was in Hebrew, but the New Testament writers used Greek. In fact they often used the Septuagint, a Greek Old Testament translation. Just as we have varying translations, so had they in Greek. LXX was not the only one. Thus we often cannot be sure whether they themselves are translating or are using a version. They might even have been using an anthology of favourite verses. Not many had access to full manuscripts. Someone today might use AV, RV, ASV, RSV, NEB, NIV and so on. We would see it in each case as 'quoting Scripture' and say 'it is written'. It is only if we had grounds for thinking that it was a mistranslation that we would not do so.

But it goes deeper than that. Many prophecies had a near and a far meaning, and none more so than the Psalms. They looked to the future working of God. The Psalms 'to/for David' especially so. Sometimes that heading refers to David's authorship, at other times it is referring as a dedication to a psalm included in the Davidic collection because connected with the house of David. But they were seen as referring to 'the anointed king'. Each crowned son of David was an ‘anointed’ (Hebrew : messiach) king, was a new ‘David’ (1Kings 12.16). These Davidic psalms could thus be used through the generations as applying to each anointed king. When the One came who summed up the anointed kingship, the Messiah, it would especially apply to Him. This is clear from a number of Psalms.

This was the nature of much prophecy. Prophecy was intended to bless each generation as well as the final generation in which it was finally fulfilled. It described the principles according to which God worked as well as His final plan. Prophecies spoke of the trend of history. So yes the principles were often applied to a like situation without it being seen as an exact prophecy. And yes some were exact prophecies. Which was intended must be gathered from the context. Of the Psalms quoted in Acts 1 it can be said that they were both. Peter could have used the plural had he wanted to because the Psalm was fulfilled in the plural. Many had combined to bring about Jesus' downfall. But he chose not to. He wanted all specifically to see a partial fulfilment in Judas. Judas did not alone fulfil the prophecy for others were involved as well. But he was a genuine part of its fulfilment.

The same might be said of Acts 2. The quotation from Joel is an interpretive translation, an 'amplified version'. Peter was speaking to those who may not have been sure of the context (which was the last days) and so he brings out that 'afterwards' means 'the last days'. For they all saw the coming of Jesus as introducing 'the last days'. The coming of Jesus was the final stage in the fulfilling of God’s purposes. (It still is). And he wanted those listeners who did not know Joel very well to jump straight into the context

3. Why was it necessary to appoint a 12th apostle? (Acts 1.26). Weren't the other disciples required to evangelise just as much as the apostles? When one of the apostles died, why weren't they replaced so there were always 12 of them?

We are not told why the Apostles felt it necessary to make up the twelve by appointing Matthias. Probably it was partly because they saw the Apostles appointed by Jesus Himself as representing the twelve tribes of Israel and considered that twelve would be needed to act on God’s behalf (Matthew 19.28). They were the beginning of God’s new twelve tribes. On them Jesus would build His new ‘congregation (church) of the new Israel. It was an act of faith declaring their confidence in the future and looking forward to that day. They were delcaring in faith that the purposes of Jesus were to carry on in accordance with what He had said. Considering the depths of despair they had been in it demonstrated how the resurrection of Jesus had altered their whole horizon. Life had begun again! It must be remembered that they did see the early church as the new Israel (Galatians 3.29; 6.16; Romans 11.12-26; Ephesians 2.11-22; 1 Peter 1.1).

The Apostles would also see the making up of the twelve as filling a dark hole and blotting out remembrance of Judas. With only eleven there would be a constant reminder of Judas. Thus to them it was the sensible thing to do. Later they recognised that Jesus had more than twelve Apostles including James, the brother of Jesus, Paul and Barnabas. It may be that James the Lord's brother was seen as replacing James on his martyrdom, but that is only guesswork. By the time the others died no one active fulfilled the requirements of being eyewitnesses of Jesus.

It should be noted that the fact that the writer gives so much space to describing the event without any suggestion of disapproval suggests that he approved of it and considered it an important part of what was to follow. It indicated that the witness was again made full and complete. Only those who take literally Jesus’ words about sitting on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (which really meant having authority over the people of God) really have any problem with it. Jesus also of course said that to sit on His right and left was for those for whom God ordained it. But these were pictures of a greater reality.

4. Why did the Apostles use lots to make their choice (Acts 1.26). I know that the High Priest had the Urim and Thummim to make decisions, but the Apostles had the Spirit of God in them (John 20:22), even before Pentecost. Wasn't the Spirit their guide? Since they had the Spirit, prayed and still cast lots, is that method also viable for us, if we want to know God's will?

Note in the choosing that the choice was made first on other grounds, selecting according to suitability under God's guidance until they came down to the last two. But they wanted to ensure that God made the final choice from the final two, so they drew lots in line with Psalm 16.33, and also possibly on the basis of Urim and Thummim which also chose beteen two. That had been the ancient way of finding God’s will. No doubt they felt that they were directed to use this method and did so with much prayer. If so they recognised that they had replaced the High Priesthood as God’s authority, for only the High Priest was authorised to use Urim and Thummim. It is not however something to be recommended in general although might be used with much prayer of a final choice where nothing separates two final choices and someone does not feel spiritually able to make the choice, and possibly in order to counter accusations of favouritism. There is no suggestion that the result was anything but sound.

5. In Acts 3:18, Peter says that the 'ALL' the prophets foretold that the Christ would suffer. I know of Isaiah 53 which talks of the suffering servant, but am not aware of where all the other prophets say similar things. Do you know the references that Peter had in mind when he made this statement? When Peter said 'all the prophets' foretold that the Christ would suffer did he literally believe this? I can see how he could claim that all the prophets point to Christ, but that they all specifically claim that the Christ would suffer is difficult to accept.

The probability is that by 'all the prophets' (compare Luke 24.27) we have a technical term by which ‘the prophets’ from Joshua (these early books which we consider historical were called the ‘former prophets’) through to Malach1 (excluding basically 1 Chronicles to Song of Solomon) were known. Thus by 'all the prophets' he is really using a term meaning ‘the prophets in general’. We must not stress the ALL except as a generalisation. He could hardly be expected in a brief speech to pick out the individual prophets whom he thought specifically proclaimed Christ's suffering. We would put it, 'in the prophetic books they taught that Christ would suffer, and none of the prophets taught otherwise’.

This could have been said even with but a few references and both Isaiah and Zechariah especially are very clear on it, as were certain Davidic Psalms (also seen as prophetic). But there is also no question that by this time all the sacrifices described in the Old Testament were seen as foretelling Christ's suffering. 'Behold the Lamb of God' (John 1.29) comes as early as John 1. Jesus had come as the supreme sacrifice. So Peter who heard those words had come to see in the sacrifices a clear portrayal of what Jesus would suffer from the beginning, even though John's words had not come home fully until after the crucifixion. Jesus was Passover lamb, burnt offering and sin offering, all rolled into one. Thus every mention of these is a portrayal of His suffering. So Peter in his new found understanding would have seen Christ's suffering as portrayed wherever the sacrifices are mentioned, and such mention is regular in almost all the prophets. The result would be that he saw Christ's suffering everywhere.

We must not judge Peter from the standpoint of a modern scholar. To him in the newness of the resurrection he was no doubt filled with wonder that the whole of the Old Testament had pictured Christ's suffering in this way. His eyes had been opened. It sprang out from everywhere. The whole Old Testament declared His suffering. It was no longer a handbook of ritual but a vivid declaration of Christ's sacrifice of Himself. It was sufficient to make him recognise even at this early stage that Christ's death was predetermined (Acts 2.23).

6. No doubt you would have been asked many questions about the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11. I've read several explanations for their instant deaths and they mostly make sense. However what doesn't make sense is why they were punished instantly for lying to God and the Church and other Christians who have done or do the same thing are more fortunate. Were the other members of the early church sinless? If the point of the punishment was to scare people into not sinning, it could never work because we all sin.

Also how does the treatment of Ananias and Sapphira fit with the Christian teaching that God is forgiving, and nothing can separate us from his love. Every single day I sin against the Lord, and yet he forgives me when I ask. I deserve the same fate as Ananias and Sapphira, yet God is merciful to me. Why me and not them? Weren't they Christians? Are they saved?

The answer has to be found in the occasion on which it happened. There have been crucial times in history when the Spirit of God has been so active on earth that special measures were called for in order that the work might be continued. Lessons had to be taught. What God was forbearing of at other times He punished severely on these special occasions. The sons of Aaron were one example whan they offered strange fire at the altar (Leviticus 10.1-2). Another example was Achan in Joshua 7 at the time of entry into the land. The great revivals were another. Men were smitten in the Welsh Revial when they blasphemed against God, when at other times they were not. This example in Acts is another. This was no ordinary time or atmosphere. Here was a time when great power was at work. The Spirit was mightily active in an unusual way. God's presence was vividly known. Men knew the presence of God in an unusual way. And here were a man and woman who deliberately set out to deceive the church and God as to their way of life. They were professing the total surrender of all in the service of God. It was no ordinary sin. It was a deliberate attempt to gain credit for what they were not. It was deliberately thought out and acted out. They put on a pretence of total sacrifice, of offering all. They did not need to give all, they could have kept some back for themselves and been honoured for what they gave. But they wanted the extreme honour of being known as those who gave all, without actually doing so. And they did it in a highly charged revival situation when God was there in an unusual way. They came into the presence of God, vividly experienced, and lied to God. We must recognise that God alone knew what the consequences would have been for the revival if it had not been instantly dealt with. Such sin could have stopped the revival in its tracks. Furthermore in the highly charged religious atmosphere at the time it is quite probable humanly speaking that the exposure was so traumatic that Ananias’ body could not stand it and gave out. It may well be that the great fear that he felt caused his heart to give way. But his death brought fear on all and a recognition of the holiness of the God with Whom we have to do. Ask not why God smote him. Ask rather why He does not smite us who are so dilatory and often dishonest in His service, who pray so little and keep so much for ourselves. It was a warning that we must not presume on love. Were they saved? We do not know. Nothing is said about the eternal consequences of their action. But it was a great lesson for the early church at a crucial time that they must not pretend with God, that all must be open and true. It kept the forward movement of those early days very much alive

7. In Acts 5:32 the Apostles say that the God gives the Holy Spirit to those who OBEY him. What did they mean by this? I thought the Holy Spirit was given unconditionally to those whom God chose.

The point you bring out is an important one and brings out the lack in the modern church's doctrine. As far as the Apostles were concerned to be a believer was to obey. The one went with the other. No new convert in those days would have spoken of believing but not obeying, nor questioned the requirement. True faith obeys. Not for them 'first I take Jesus as Saviour, and then I will consider taking Him as Lord'. What an insult to God. On conversion He became their Lord Jesus Christ. There is of course a growth in recognition of what that Lordship involves. The new young believer did not appreciate all that that Lordship might involve, but he did not deny the requirement. The fact of it would not have been denied.

Jesus Himself said, "Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?" And his parable of the building on rock and sand in Matthew 7 was based on those who heard His words and did them, and those who did not. (Those who take the teaching of Jesus and say it does not apply to the church will have to give account for it in the day of judgment. The whole of the early church's teaching was based on the teaching of Jesus and the need to obey it). He assumed that to follow Him was to follow Him as Lord as well as Saviour. Of course one of the problems of being brought up in a 'Christian' country is that these distinctions come in because so many are brought up to know the Christian faith without actually being true Christians, while thinking that they are. And others who are converted very young at some stage recognise the need for a deeper commitment. But give me the man who says, 'Jesus is not my Lord, I do not need to obey Him' and I will show you a man who is not a Christian.

8. In Acts 5:36 my commentary points out an apparent anachronism about the character Theudas. Apparently Josephus also mentions Theudas. However Josephus dates Theudas activities after the events described in Acts 5, meaning that Gamaliel could not have said these words. Do you know anything about this?

As I am sure that you are aware one of the problems of history is the wrong identification of people because they bore the name of someone more famous (how easily we can mix up the Constantines, and we are in general more careful to identify people more specifically). This could especially arise because of the tendency to name children or grandchildren after their fathers/grandfathers, thus perpetuating a name. As you say, according to Josephus there was a Theudas who led a group of people towards the Jordan saying that it would open in front of him. They were attacked by cavalry and he was slain. But from the time of Herod the Great onwards Palestine was a hotbed of rebellions, outbursts, insurgencies, risings and so on. That was why as a small country they still had a procurator, and why a military man was always posted to rule there. It was infamous for its constant troubles and small risings, even in a world of trouble. Thus Gamaliel tells us of another Theudas who also rose with a band of four hundred men and had to be squashed. There were many Theudas's (it was a fairly common name. You may think it unusual, a Palestinian of that time would not), and whether one was related to the other we cannot know.

The fact is that we do not have enough information. Josephus' Theudas might have been the grandson of Gamaliel's, carrying on the family tradition. Or they may have been totally unrelated. But apart from the name there is nothing in the descriptions which suggests that we should identify them as one and the same person. And in a country where names were constantly passed on, and about which little in general is known, that would be a very unsafe thing to do. The historian should take each piece of information and hold it in its place until he gathers more information. There were so many small incidents like this in Palestine at that time that simply identifying them on the coincidence of a name in spite of the evidence is to ignore the complicated history of the time. Luke is recognised by historians as a reliable historian. Historians (in contrast with some Bible scholars) look on Luke as a source of reliable information. There is absolutely no reason for suggesting that he and Gamaliel got it wrong. Nor for suggesting that Josephus got it wrong. They are just speaking of different people.

The fact is that if the Theudas of Josephus was in mind Luke would have had to be very careless, no, criminally careless, to have got it wrong for it would have happened in his recent lifetime and would have been widely talked about. Luke just did not make that kind of mistake.

9. There appear to be some apparent discrepancies between the content of Stephen's speech in Acts 7 and the Old Testament. Explanations for this seem to rest on the notion that Stephen quoted from the Septuagint or possibly Samaritan sources. This bothers me a bit because if there is other true information about God not contained in the Old Testament why isn't it in our Bibles too? How could the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint be different and yet both true? If it's acceptable to use other sources apart from the Hebrew Bible how then can I be confident that when I read my Bible that I'm reading the pure word of God?

Before dealing with this question we must first recognise that Stephen's speech raises questions for us of another kind. The first is, how are we to discern what words in the Bible are to be looked on as conveying an inerrant divine message, and what, while an inspired record of what was actually said, are not directly conveying such a divine message? Take for example the book of Job. In the book of Job we have chapter after chapter of human speech. The Book of Job is inspired Scripture, but we are specifically told towards the end that what the three friends said was untrue (and it was God Who said so - 42.7). We see from this that while Job was an inspired record of what was said, the actual words spoken were not in themselves an inerrant divine message. We cannot, for example, turn to a speech of Eliphaz, or Bildad, or Zophar, and say with any confidence 'the Bible says' any more than we can turn to the words of Satan and say 'the Bible says'. They were not authoritative words of Scripture. They are a part of the inspired Scriptures which accurately tell us what false message these people spoke, but their words are not necessarily to be accepted as conveying divine truth (42.7). That is why the Book of Job is a favourite haunt for heretics.

We too must be discerning when we read Job. Suddenly, once we think about it, a lot of the words in Job cease to be acceptable authenticated truth simply because we wake up to the context. They were rather the opinions of men who were wrong. When reading Scripture we must use our brains and be discerning. Thus when quoting a verse in Job (or anywhere) we must always ask, ‘Who said it?’

Now in those cases the situation is obvious. But at what point can we say of someone's spoken words, 'this is the divine message?' Can we say of every 'goodie' that he is conveying a divine message, and of every 'baddie' that he is not? Clearly not, for that would then mean that we have to determine who is a 'goodie'. And what of the times when a 'goodie' is behaving like a 'baddie'? Even Job was said to have spoken wrongly about God (38.2; 40.2-5, 8).

In those first days in Acts we can turn to the words of the Apostles and say, 'this is the fulfilment of Jesus’ words that they would know all truth' when they spoke by the Spirit. Thus when Peter or John or Paul speak officially and are cited the readers were probably intended to see their words as divine Scripture. They had been given a unique divine gift in the Upper Room (or in Paul's case when he was set aside as an Apostle). But there is no reason why this should be seen as applying to others like Stephen when they were defending themselves.

You will in fact note that Luke makes no comment such as to the fact that 'Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, said'. There are no words of Scripture authenticating the words which Stephen uses in his defence as inspired Scripture (even though earlier they could not withstand the wisdom and Spirit by which he spoke - Acts 6.10). It is simply that we like and admire Stephen and therefore just assume it. But we should not do so. We must rightly divide the word of God. His words are cited because their gist was true, and because it was what he said. It is true that the Holy Spirit promised to guide God’s servants in such circumcstances, as he would us, but that does not make the words ‘verbally inspired’.

The truth is that Acts 7 is to be seen as an accurate record of Stephen's defence before the court. That God was with him there can be no doubt. That God was inspiring him to a certain extent, as He promised to inspire all Christians in such circumstances, we can have no doubt. But that is a very different thing from saying that it was inerrant Scripture. It was only of the Apostles that the promise was given of special understanding and inspiration, of divine accuracy of thought and words.

God inspires many people today at certain times, but we are foolish if we say that their words are inspired Scripture, however godly they may be. I may today sit and listen to an inspired preacher give an inspired message, but that does not mean that I accept all that he says as God's inspired Scripture. Often I disagree with him on something. I separate the good from the not so good.

So Stephen, helped by God, gives an impassioned speech, but he speaks extempore from memory and may have had lapses of memory, or even have cited from records that his listeners would accept, or from his own slightly wrong ideas (even godly men get wrong ideas). Should Luke have corrected his mistakes? That would not be good history. But Luke is careful not to give divine authentification to all that he said. He cites his general words approvingly and gives the stamp of his approval to the gist of what he says, but he does not convey the idea that it is inspired Scripture (except in the sense that it is a true record of what Stephen said). Citation of someone's words as speech in Scripture does not authenticate the divine truth of what was said, only of the divine truth that it was said. It is then to be judged as anyone else's speech is to be judged. The background is inerrant Scripture, the words of Stephen are not, they are an inerrant summary of what he said. So we cannot use Stephen's words as a test case for Scripture.

Now let us look at the second part of the question. 'This bothers me a bit because if there is other true information about God not contained in the Old Testament then why isn't it in our Bibles too? How could the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint be different and yet both true? If it's acceptable to use other sources apart from the Hebrew Bible how then can I be confident that when I read my Bible I am reading the pure word of God?'

Clearly there is a great deal of true information about God not contained in the Old Testament. Even in the days of the personal computer no computer could contain all the truth about God ever spoken. The point, however, is that the Scriptures do contain the authenticated truth about God by which all other truth must be judged. When we go to the Scriptures and rightly divide it we know we have the authenticated truth (in the end authenticated by Jesus). Then we can test other truth by it.

How could the Hebrew Bible and the LXX be different and both true? It depends on what you mean by true. If you mean finally Scripturally authenticated then of course they are not both necessarily 'authenticated truth'. Jesus’ words about the authenticity of Scripture applied to the original Hebrew text. Nevertheless they can both be true in a general sense unless they directly contradict each other. It is at that point that we have to ask which conveys authenticated truth.

The LXX is a translation, sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes a paraphrase, sometimes even changed to suit particular views. But it has blessed many. No translation is authenticated truth. In the end for authenticated truth we have to go back to the original. But that does not mean that we cannot read the KJV, the ASV, the RSV, the TEV, the NIV, the LXX and so on and in general say, 'this is Scripture'. What it does is remind us that none of these versions are the last word on the subject and that we have to assess how accurate they are. If we want to know how reliable they are we have to go behind them.

The authenticated truth is found in the original. But Scripture is such that a translation can be fairly inaccurate but still better than nothing, and can convey much truth, because in the end Scriptural truth does not depend on nuances of a word but on the whole picture. Many Christians have been blessed by translations which were far from accurate, for God can overrule. But they are only God's authenticated truth where they are absolutely accurate .

If it is acceptable to use other sources apart from the Hebrew Bible how then can I be confident that when I read my Bible that I'm reading the pure word of God?

It is certainly acceptable to use other sources apart from the Hebrew Bible as long as we recognise them for what they are. We are doing so when we use a commentary. What we must not do is see them as authenticated inspired truth. Every commentary will disagree with every other commentary. It is to the Hebrew/Aramaic (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) texts that we must finally go for that, and then we have to decide how reliable even those are and try to get back to the original text.

We are fortunate in that we have many Greek texts of the New Testament from many different sources, which enable us to get a very accurate picture of the original. And in the Old Testament we have a text which was preserved in the Temple archives and is therefore very reliable. So we are in the happy position of being able to be choosey. Many throughout history have not been able to be so choosey. They had to make do with what they were able to get hold of. However, in the end Scripture, like all else, is God's tool. And God can use any tool He likes. He is unlimited in what He can do.

Stephens’ speech.

Now we come to Stephen's speech which is interesting as an example of the views that first century Hellenised Christian readers of Scripture had in the light of the background of teaching that they had received. Like us their views were not always accurate. They depended on 'scholars' and scholars are not always reliable. They are fallible like the rest of us. But as we consider his words we must remember that they were his words as recorded by an inspired writer, not in themselves necessarily words of Scriptural truth. They were an impassioned defence before a court. And one thing we must recognise. While we may pick holes in Stephen’s statements there was no doubt in the minds of his hearers. He was only stating what they themselves believed.

One of the reasons, however, for recording them in such detail was because the gist of what he said was seen as true. The general message he conveyed showed the new way in which the early church were looking at things, guided by God. Thus the speech was included in the narrative. But his speech is not in its content 'Scripture'. It is Scripture telling us what he said. Nevertheless we must assume that he had some basis for his words. We must not just dismiss them because they puzzle us. We must give them fair treatment. With this in mind let us consider questions that may arise.

1. In verse.3 Stephen says that Abraham was called to leave Mesopotamia and go to Canaan before he lived in Haran (v.2), but in Genesis 12:1 the call to Abram comes once he is in Haran.

We should note that in Genesis the first original aim of Terah is stated to have been to go from Ur to Canaan (Genesis 11.31). Thus in Genesis as well as in Acts the impetus to go to Canaan is seen as beginning in Ur. Genesis 12.1 then refers the movement to Canaan to God’s command. We (and Stephen) could thus well be justified in translating Genesis 12.1 as ‘and God had said’ (the Hebrew ‘perfect’ or ‘definite tense’ can signify English perfect or pluperfect. It merely states that it happened not when it happened). This could then indicate that God’s call came at Ur as Stephen said.

Indeed we are probably intended to see that God’s call to Canaan can be seen as having arisen in both Ur and then, as a result of delay, in Haran. God’s overriding pressure can probably be seen as continuous. What Genesis is emphasising is that the call came from God, not when it came. This is what Stephen also sees, and he reads back the call to Ur, as Genesis 11.31 suggests. But whatever is true about that, both occasions were certainly seen by Scripture as indicating God’s intention for Abraham, with God being seen as behind what happened. Nor incidentally did Stephen say that he was citing Scripture. Whether Stephen was quoting a specific source or just stating a generally accepted view we do not know. Furthermore Josephus and Philo both convey the same idea as he does, so that it was clearly a generally accepted view. And it was no doubt a right one for Who but God started the impetus? If He wanted Abraham in Canaan clearly He must have been behind the move from Ur to Haran, (which was on the route), as well as the move from Haran to Canaan.

2. In verse 4 Stephen says that Abraham left Haran for Canaan after his father's death. In Genesis 11:32 it says that Terah was 205 years old when he died. Abram was born when Terah was 70 (11:26). This means that Abram was 145 years old when he left Haran according to Stephen, but Genesis 12:4 says that Abraham was 75 years old when he left Haran.

The first question must be as to how far these numbers were intended to be taken strictly (note that they are all round numbers) and how far simply symbolically. Some numbers in Genesis 1-11 are almost certainly symbolic. We can cite the 365 for Enoch (number of days in the year indicating his heavenly character) and the 777 for Lamech (three sevens indicating threefold perfection in contrast with the 77 used of the Cainite Lamech), to say nothing of the 900 for Noah (threefold completeness - 3x3x100). They indicate the character of the persons, and the nature of their lives, rather than their ages. Note how many of the ages of the patriarchs end in nought or five. They were not intended to be exact. They told a story.

In the same way ‘Seventy’ is a typically symbolic number indicating divine perfection (seven intensified). Note how in Genesis 46.27 there were ‘seventy’ with their households who ‘came into Egypt’ from Canaan (the divinely perfect number). But a careful examination of the passage indicates that that number is reached by including a number of people who did not leave Canaan in the Jacob’s party. It includes for example Joseph’s sons who were born in Egypt. This was not an error, it was deliberate. Nor was it deceitful for it is clearly stated. Every reader of that day would recognise the reason for it. It was in order to show that the whole of Israel who now dwelt in Egypt were a ‘divinely perfect number’. Genesis 11.26 is probably saying that Terah had his children at the divinely perfect time because they included Abraham. But it is very doubtful if the three were triplets. Thus if anyone was born at seventy it would have been the firstborn. Abram need not have been the firstborn. He is mentioned first because of his subsequent importance. It was possibly Haran, who died ‘early’, who was the firstborn. Or even more likely Nahor who bore his grandfather’s name. So we do not really know for sure how old Terah was when Abram was born.

Furthermore ‘Two hundred’ may have been indicating that Terah had died prematurely, not attaining a complete ‘three hundred’ (two regularly indicates ‘a few’, signifying coming short of the completeness of ‘three’ which could mean ‘many’. Compare how Saul reigned for ‘two years’ signifying a fairly long reign but not a very long one - 1 Samuel 13.1. And see the widow who sought for ‘two’ sticks, meaning ‘a few’ (1 Kings 17.12). The additional ‘five’ would then hint at living just a little more than ‘two hundred’ or at covenant connection (the movement had been at God’s command). Abraham’s ‘seventy five’ may also have been indicating divine perfection with covenant connection (70+5) in a similar way. Abraham left in the divinely perfect time in accordance with the covenant. Thus Stephen may have recognised that the numbers were symbolic and have ignored them for practical purposes for this reason, taking the general sense of the passage which, in line with Jewish tradition, certainly gives the impression that Abraham left after the death of Terah (Josephus and Philo both agree with him).

The next point is as to the meaning in Stephen’s mind of ‘removing from Haran’. Was Stephen (and the Jews generally) intending by this phrase a permanent leaving of Haran as the family centre once his father was dead and the setting up of a new family centre in Canaan, as opposed to his first ‘temporary’ movement to Canaan to find pasture for his flocks and herds while his father was alive? It is quite possible. The idea being that while his father was still alive, he would still look on Haran as the family ‘home’ even when wandering in Canaan (as Canaan was always ‘home’ to Jacob even when he lived at Paddan-aram)? Loyalty to the family may well have been seen by the Jews as binding him to seeing Haran as ‘home’ (as with Moses wandering near the mountain of God, while still seeing the camp of Midian as ‘home’) even though for the sake of his flocks he had wandered farther afield into Canaan. Later observers may well thus have considered that it was only once his father was dead that the movement could be seen as permanent, and as being ‘coming home’. Certainly close contact was kept with his family in Haran as is evidenced by the knowledge of the family history (Genesis 22.20-24), and Jacob’s welcome there. In those days it was quite common for semi-nomads to be ‘living’ far from home while still attached to ‘home’ (compare Genesis 37.12, 17)

All in all we must beware of simply saying that ‘the writer was wrong’ or that he was citing a tradition that was wrong. Viewpoint must be taken into account. And all the above explanations are possible.

3. In verse 14 Stephen says that Jacob's family were 75 in all, but in Genesis 46:27 it says they were 70.

The numbering of Jacob’s family on their move to Canaan is a clear example of the artificial and symbolic use of numbers. The number in Genesis 46.27 is clearly deliberately and overtly contrived by including sufficient relatives to make up the final ‘perfect’ number. The point being made is not actually the number who moved but the divine perfection of the constituents of the party moving to Egypt who in fact probably numbered, with wives and servants (their ‘households’), a few thousand. Tacking the five on (seventy five is found in LXX) thus simply stressed their connection with the covenant. It would not be seen by the ancients as signifying a greater number overall than the artificial ‘seventy’. It just conveyed a further message of covenant connection, which may have been why LXX used it.

4. In verse16 Stephen says that Abraham bought the tomb at Shechem where Jacob and his sons were buried, but in Genesis 33:18-19 it says that Jacob purchased that tomb. Furthermore in Genesis 23:16-20 it says that Abraham bought a burial place near Hebron. As far as I know only Joseph was buried at Shechem, but Jacob was buried in the tomb that Abraham bought near Hebron (Gen 49:29-30). I don't know where the other sons were buried.

We must remember here that Stephen is trying to abbreviate a very complicated situation. We must firstly recognise that in Jewish eyes Jacob came from the loins of Abraham so that what Jacob did could be seen as having been done by Abraham. He could mean that Abraham bought the land ‘in Jacob’. This was a typically ancient way of thinking. Thus when Jacob bought a tomb it was also being bought by ‘Abraham’. No one listening would have questioned that for a moment, and it had the advantage of bringing in to his argument the revered name of Abraham.

With respect to the actual burying he did not say that Jacob was buried at Shechem. He said that ‘they’ were. True he was previously speaking of Jacob and the twelve patriarchs (our fathers) but if the majority of the latter were buried at Shechem, and the Jews presumably believed they were, the statement can be seen as generally true (it was not the time or place for going into detail as to who were buried where in detail. He was simply conveying a total picture to people who already knew the facts).

5. What does Stephen mean in verse 53 where he said that the "law was put into effect through angels"?

Strictly speaking he said that ‘the Law was ordained by angels’. It was in fact the general Jewish view in the time of Stephen that the law was mediated to Moses through the hand of angels (compare Galatians 3.19). God Himself was seen as so holy that intermediaries were considered as necessary. Stephen was thus simply stating the accepted view. As we can have no idea as to what happened when Moses was with God in Sinai in the cloud we can neither say whether it was true or false. The idea was partly based on Deuteronomy 33.2-3. But all who listened to Stephen would have accepted it as fact.

10. The questions below are based on Acts 8:15-24

How do you explain the situation in vs.16 where people were baptised but had not received the Holy Spirit. Were they genuine converts? If they were, how could they have believed without first receiving the Spirit? Also how do you think Peter and John could actually tell that they had not received the Holy Spirit. Apart from faith in Christ, the only way I could tell if someone had the Holy Spirit was if they demonstrated charismatic gifts as well as profess faith in Christ. What were the apostles looking for? Finally why is Peter uncertain whether God will forgive Simon if he repents (verse 22). Doesn't God always forgive a genuinely penitent sinner? I also found it interesting that Simon got the chance to repent unlike Ananias. What is the difference between the two cases?

In those early heady days of the first coming in profusion of the Holy Spirit it is clear that His coming was usually manifested in signs, whether of prophecy, tongues (Acts 10.46) or an effusion of divine joy (Acts 13.52), or other similar phenomena. We note that Simon 'saw' that the Holy Spirit was given. It was a time of many signs. Miracles were occurring everywhere. (It is a sign of the soberness of the records that while this is made clear no emphasis is laid on it). Philip healed widely and extensively and cast out evil spirits (Acts 8.7). And he preached Christ. The Samaritans believed concerning the Kingly Rule of God and the name of Jesus Christ and were baptised. Why then was there no manifestation at that point of the Holy Spirit's coming? We need not doubt that they were born again of the Spirit as the earlier Samaritans had been in John 4. But the actual manifestation awaited the Apostles.

Philip seems to have been a man before his time. He preached to Samaritans, and he later preached to the Ethiopian eunuch. And he is the only one mentioned as doing so. But it is doubtful whether many other Jewish Christians were approving of his actions. They would not be happy with Philip, and they would be doubtful of these so-called converts. The Samaritans were still looked on as not really Jews, but as second class religionists, barely tolerable. And while the Ethiopian eunuch was a God-fearer he was certainly a Gentile. Great barriers still had to be broken down in men's minds (although not in Philip's). Furthermore God was concerned for the unity of His people. He did not want separate 'Philipite churches' being established who owed nothing to the Apostles. It was important that the church was seen as one with the Apostles at the head.

Thus to these great events the Apostles were called. Many (who knew nothing of the John 4 incident at this stage) possibly expected Peter and the others to come down heavily on Philip. But when Peter and John came they remembered how Jesus Himself had laid his seal on the conversion of Samaritans. Thus they were willing to welcome Samaritans into the Jewish Christian fold (but not at this stage Gentiles, unless they converted to Judaism. That came later as a result of God's direct intervention). So on their arrival they no doubt taught the Samaritans further and then laid hands on them and the coming of the Spirit was manifested in some way (not necessarily tongues otherwise it would surely have been mentioned to justify the reception of Samaritans in the eyes of all). This proved to all that the Samaritans were being welcomed under the Kingly Rule of God by God Himself under the auspices of the Apostles. All knew that there was still one Apostolic church and it consisted of both Jews and Samaritans. At this stage it was vital that the unity of the church be preserved.

Simon was a wonder worker who was converted to Christianity. It is understandable that he wanted to be able to continue wonder-working in his new religion. It is very probable that he had been able to pass on the secrets of his own 'wonder-working' to others in the past who had paid him well. (Religion was often very profitable for those involved at the centre). Thus he took up the same attitude to the Apostles. It was then that he learned how different this new Christianity was. It was concerned with genuine truth not money. So Peter calls on him to repent. Peter's doubt is not as to whether God's forgiveness was open to Simon but as to whether Simon would truly repent. It would seem he was probably just a little suspicious about Simon's conversion which had resulted from seeing wonders greater than his own. But the difference between Simon's sin and that of Ananias was that Simon's was done in ignorance. He did not think that he was doing wrong. Ananias acted knowing that he was deliberately doing wrong and in the midst of powerful working of the Spirit deliberately lied and tried to cheat God. It was a sin with a high hand not one done through ignorance, and in times of great revival such sins are dangerous. (They are dangerous at any time, but thankfully God gives us more time to repent).

11. I've just read the section on the Jerusalem council and have a couple of questions that I hope you can help me with.

1. James quotation of the prophets causes me problems (vs. 16-18). I looked up the reference to Amos 9:11-12 and found that he has not quoted the scripture correctly and has changed it's original meaning. Compare Acts 15:17 to Amos 9:12 - How are these two the same? Also where does Acts 15:18 come from? - my Bible provided no cross reference.

2. What point is James trying to make in verse 21? How does it relate to the previous verses?

3. Given that the Septuagint seems to be quoted more by the New Testament writers than the Massoretic Hebrew Bible (and hence seems to have been held in higher esteem than the early church), why is it that our modern Bibles have the latter as our Old Testament and not the former?

Firstly we must remember that in those days knowing what the Scriptures said was far more difficult than it is today. They could not buy a pocket Bible at the local bookshop, or pop into a local library to check up on various texts. They had to make do with whatever manuscripts were available and they were expensive. Fortunately they could go to a synagogue and find copies of the Scriptures but they were very bulky and not easily available.

As you know, today we have many versions including amplified ones, modernised ones and so on. We accept them as ‘Scripture’ but recognise that they will differ. They had the same situation, but much, much fewer in number. There were of course the basic texts in Hebrew preserved in the Temple and carefully copied by men who already knew the texts off by heart, and these were the texts most carefully preserved and were the basis for the Massoretic text. Then there were a number of other Hebrew texts which differed somewhat, as the Qumran scrolls have evidenced, and some of these were closer to the LXX text. Then there were a number of Greek translations such as LXX and Aquila, and these were of various quality so that the LXX is better in some books than in others. But until people started copying them these would be mainly limited to synagogues and very rich people.

And then there were smaller 'books' of quotations or special texts, such as Messianic texts, which were seen as especially significant. And people used what they could get hold of. Once people became Christians copying would take place apace. Someone would copy a portion from the synagogue LXX text, then others would copy that extract, and even others would copy the copies. And so written copies would spread, but only of limited portions. For the whole they had to go back to the synagogue.

And they would prize their copies because it was ‘the word of God’. The Hebrew Temple texts were the original basis (just as we can go back to the Massoretic Text) but were not easily available, and few Greeks could read them or understand them. The situation was really no different from today except for the sparsity of texts. Most Americans use English versions not the Hebrew text. In many places today in other parts of the world their translations of the Bible in their own language are not necessarily awfully good (they may have only one version) but they are the best that they have. And they treasure it and quote it as the word of God. That is why the Bible societies are trying to get good translations into every country and tribe.

But God's word is such that it overcomes these difficulties remarkably. And each of us quotes the version we use as the word of God. In the days of Acts many Jews knew Hebrew as well as Aramaic but Aramaic and not Hebrew was the language used in the affairs of everyday life in Palestine, and as the Gospel spread it reached large numbers of people who knew no Aramaic but spoke Greek. To them the LXX was a God-send. It was to the LXX that they would naturally go. Thus in writing to Greeks the LXX might well be quoted so that they could compare it with their own versions. James may have been using the LXX for this reason, (there were Greek speakers present) but quoting from memory and changing it round slightly as preachers do to emphasise his point and to make it more understandable, or it may be that the Hebrew text most easily available to him in the local synagogue may have been similar to LXX. Preachers often follow that pattern today of putting a text in their own words to bring out a point. That cannot be criticised, but care is necessary that they do not deviate from the truth.

As you have noted the quote by James is similar to LXX and added on to it is an extract from Isaiah 45.21 paraphrased. Divine inspiration does not guarantee that the Temple text (which was accessible to very few - how privileged we are) should be quoted. All it guarantees is that what is said will be the truth from God. God did not directly interfere with the practicalities of translations. Anyone who chose to do so could make a translation and anyone who wanted to do so and had the facilities could make a copy of any book or part book in the Bible. While we may be sure that God ensured the preserving of good texts He did not control everything that anyone ever did with regard to the Bible. However James' quotation gives the sense of the text and the point he makes was also in agreement with the Hebrew text.

James’ point in verse 21 seems to be that they will give instructions to Gentile believers about certain things so that Jewish Christians will not be prevented from fellowshipping with them (as they would have been if meat with the blood still in it was eaten) and points out that he does not need to tell Jewish Christians what they are to observe and what Moses says because they already have sufficient teaching from their local synagogue. We must recognise that many Jews who became Christians often continued to observe Jewish traditions and attend synagogues for they saw their Christianity as springing out of Judaism, recognised that Jesus had observed the traditions of Judaism and still saw themselves as Jews, albeit Christian Jews. But they also met with the wider Christian church and could only do so because these strictures given by the Council were observed. They were not necessary in order to be Christians, they were necessary so that Jewish Christians could meet with Gentile Christians. They were a concession of love. It was only later that Jews turned against Christians and would force Jewish Christians to choose whether to be Jews or Christians.

It was not that LXX was held in higher esteem it was the fact that it was understood. They could not understand Hebrew. How many Christians do you know who use the Hebrew Bible and quote from it? Apart from the occasional scholar probably none. And most of the copies of Scripture available to Christians in the world outside Palestine, apart from in some synagogues, would be LXX. And they could read and understand it straight away. Paul did sometimes make use of the Hebrew text when he had a special point to make and it was found there. But writing to Greeks it was otherwise more sensible to use the version which they used by necessity.

12. My understanding of Acts 15:17 is that a time will come where a remnant of Jews will seek God, and so too will Gentiles. However Amos 9:12 seems to say that Israel ("they") will possess the remnant of Edom (Israel's enemy) and other nations.

Now here's my problem.

1. I just can't see how these two verses are saying the same thing?

2. If James quoted Amos from the Septuagint and came up with Acts 15:17 and this is different to what the Massoretic says then surely one of them is wrong. How can two sentences with different meanings both be the same and both be right? Isn't this illogical? I have no problem with paraphrasing or not having exactly the same words quoted from the OT, but when the meaning of the words has been altered, I find this hard to accept. Particularly when James ascribes his quote to the prophets, but the prophets, according to the best translation, didn't say those words.

Firstly we should note that James was not necessarily using the LXX. His words, while fairly similar to LXX, differ slightly from it. However they are very close to a manuscript of the Hebrew text found at Qumran, which was presumably similar to the one being used by James.

The main point that James was stressing in his quote was that the Gentiles would seek His name. That was why he quoted the verses, because they said that. (And MT says that too). To be 'possessed by the people of God' resulted in them seeking after the Lord. It is only saying the same thing in a different way. To be possessed by Israel meant being brought under the covenant that the Lord had made with Israel, and so did seeking the Lord.

The point was that house of David would be re-established and all peoples would seek to Israel's God and be 'possessed' by Israel, subscribing to the covenant. They would come under the covenant of God with Israel that bound Israel together, which meant seeking the Lord. And the residue of men who would so seek after the Lord did include Edom. The remnant of Edom was actually finally absorbed into God's people in 1st century BC. Israel thus did possess the remnant of Edom. So by the time of James the remnant of Edom had 'sought the Lord'. They were already absorbed into God's people.

But why does the text quoted by James fail to mention Edom? Probably it has to do with the fact that 'Edom' and 'Adam' (man) have the same consonants in the original Hebrew text which had originally no vowels. Thus both rendered the Hebrew original but interpreted/translated differently. The ‘residue of Edom’ or the ‘residue of men' (adam) would be possessed by Israel, seeking the Lord. They would come within the covenant of Israel. They would be possessed by Israel. So LXX and the text used by James simply expanded the residue to include all men, translating 'dm as 'men' instead of as 'Edom'. Amos actually confirmed that all men would be involved in what followed.

So the MT and LXX were not saying anything contradictory to each other. The only thing is that LXX does not personalise it and mention Edom. Otherwise the message is the same in slightly different terminology

13. I have some questions in respect of Acts 16:11-40. There are a many parts of the story about the mission to Philippi which I find odd and hope that you can provide logical explanations for.

1. Why were members of Lydia's household baptised when only her heart was opened by the Lord? (14-15)

There is no word for ‘only’ in the Greek. Lydia’s heart was opened first. She was God-fearer, one who worshipped the God of Israel. No doubt her household were also people who had faith in God as a result of her piety. There is little doubt that we intended to see that they too responded to Paul’s message, so that all were baptised together. They were ‘prepared ground’.

2. How can demons know the future? Judging by the reaction of the girl's owners in vs. 19, she must have been an accurate fortune teller otherwise she would not have been profitable. If she was lying, her exorcism would have made no difference to her fortune-telling ability!

Superstitious people are easily persuaded by fortune-tellers. Clever fortune-tellers know how to extract information from their clients by subtle questions on the basis of which they then ‘foretell’ what is likely to happen to them in sufficiently vague but seemingly detailed terms that they are unlikely to be proved wrong. A widely worded prophecy is certsain of fulfilment.

Thus when the Delphian oracle was approached by a great king, who asked whether he would be successful in his invasion, he was informed that ‘a great king will return laden with spoil’. Satisfied that he was a great king he paid up and went off. When defeated he returned in anger only to learn that a great king had returned laden with spoil. It was his enemy. That is why the Delphian oracle was never wrong. It covered all its options.

Remember that people would remember the times when she got it right, and would forget the other bits. After all they wanted to believe her. Furthermore it may well be that evil spirits have wider knowledge of events than we have. A limited foretelling of the future is not difficult for a clever and knowledgeable person.

3. Why did Paul wait many days before exorcising her? Why didn't he expel the demon from her once he was aware of its presence? (v. 18).

Only Paul can answer that one. It may be that he was awaiting an indication from the Lord that it was what he should do. Or possibly it took some time for him to discern the facts about the spirit that was in her. Discerning whether a person was simply clinically depressed or genuinely possessed by spirits is not always easy. Or possibly he had so much on his mind that he had not had time to consider her situation. For like Jesus his first concern was not to heal but to save. .

4. v.28 How did Paul know the jailer was attempting suicide? If he could see the jailer surely the jailer could see that Paul was still in the prison. Were all the prisoners so silent that the jailer would not have heard that they were there? It's also strange that the other prisoners didn't escape - how is that explained?

THE JAILER WOULD LIVE AT THE PRISON AS WOULD HIS FAMILY. HIS HOUSE WOULD BE A PART OF THE PRISON COMPLEX. THE PRISON WAS PROBABLY AN UNDERGROUND PRISON UNDER THE JAILER'S HOUSE (AFTERWARDS HE BROUGHT THEM 'UP' INTO HIS HOUSE). IF AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE THE JAILER CAME TO THE EDGE OF THE PIT HE COULD EASILY HAVE BEEN SEEN BY THOSE IN IT AGAINST THE SKYLINE WHILE HE MAY NOT HAVE BEEN ABLE TO SEE CLEARLY WHAT HAD HAPPENED IN THE DARKNESS OF THE PIT, ONLY THE FACT THAT OUTWARDLY ESCAPE WAS POSSIBLE. HIS ACTION WAS ONE OF PANIC KNOWING THE CONSEQUENCES TO HIM OF THE ESCAPE OF ALL THE PRISONERS. AND HE WAS STILL IN SHOCK. HE WOULD BE HELD TO ACCOUNT, SHAMED, AND POSSIBLY TORTURED. IF HE TOOK OUT HIS SWORD TO SLAY HIMSELF PAUL COULD WELL HAVE SEEN. WE MUST REMEMBER THAT IN A SEVERE EARTHQUAKE LIKE THIS ONE WAS PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED IN DIFFERENT WAYS. MANY ARE TRAUMATISED AND LOSE ALL SENSE OF DIRECTION. MANY OF THE PRISONERS WERE PROBABLY TERRIFIED AND COWERING IN HOPE OF ESCAPING FALLING MASONRY. AND IF THEY HAD BEEN HELD IN FETTERS OR STOCKS FOR SOME TIME THEY MAY WELL HAVE BEEN IN NO CONDITION TO SCRAMBLE FROM THE PIT. AND SURVIVAL RATHER THAN FREEDOM WAS THE FIRST THING ON THEIR MINDS. MANY WERE PROBABLY SILENT WITH THE SILENCE OF TRAUMA. PAUL WITH HIS TRUST IN GOD WAS UNUSUAL..

5. How can Paul say that if the jailer believes in Christ that his whole household will also be saved? Isn't our salvation dependent on our individual response to Christ, not on the faith of the leader of our household? (v. 31) What were the jailer's family doing in the prison? (v33).

Paul would certainly have witnessed to the jailer when he was first imprisoned, and this earthquake may not have been on the first night. Thus he could also have witnessed to him when the food was brought round. Being recognised as an important person the jailer would pay special attention to him. Besides he may have heard Paul preaching earlier and out of interest have come to see him so that could have a discussion. All kinds of possibilities present themselves. And the same would apply to his family. It was probably a private prison so that the prison was a part of his house and the whole family would sometimes help to cater to the prisoners. Thus some of them may also have expressed interest to Paul, and he may have become on fairly good terms with them.

When Paul says that if he believes, he will be saved and all his household, we are justified in making the assumption that a believing response is also required from them (as we are later told did happen). He is simply saying that each one who believes will be saved.

Already the Spirit had been remarkably at work in Philippi. It was not therefore difficult for Paul to believe that the whole household were ready to believe his message. As in fact we are told that they all later believed it is clear that they too recognised that he meant this. It is also clear that they were all old enough to believe. No infants in mind here.

Many prisons at that time were private prisons. The owner of the property would have a prison attached to his house, possibly an undergound cellar, and he would be paid a rate for each prisoner he looked after. And all his family could well be involved in looking after them. Similar situations could apply to public prisons, but it was often simpler to use a self-employed jailer. Then there was always someone to take the blame if anything went wrong.

7. v. 34 How could the jailer take prisoners to his home? Wasn't this a dereliction of duty - especially since he is now converted, surely he is doing something that his employers would not approve?

The jailer would be free to guard his prisoners in any way he wanted. They were his responsibility and as long as he could produce them when asked, no one cared how he fulfilled his responsibilities. The city were probably his customers, not his employers. Thus if he liked to take them to his dining quarters, as long as he accepted responsibilty for them, no one minded. His house was after all a part of the prison.

Who was guarding the other prisoners? Did they really allow him to lock them up again - I find that incredibly hard to believe?

8. v. 35 The officers go to the prison to say release the men, yet he had taken them to his house for a meal. Does this mean that he returned them to jail after feeding them at his house? This seems bizarre.

The house would be seen as part of the prison and its doors were probably kept locked. Thus all he had done was allow Paul and his companions up to the eating quarters. He was entitled to use any methods that he liked to control the prisoners, and as long as they were in his house no one wouild doubt that they were undere his care..

14. In Acts 18:25 it says that Apollos had been instructed in the way of the Lord and taught about Jesus accurately, but only knew John's Baptism. What does it mean that he only knew John's Baptism? It implies that he's missing knowledge of some sort - what didn't he know? Does it mean he doesn't know about being baptised in the Spirit? Do you think that he had the Spirit at this time?

From one point of view of the very earliest church the religious world was split into five (although life, and especially religious life is never quite that simple). There were the Christians, non-Christian Jews, who included many who not yet heard the Gospel and who truly believed in God (including Proselyte converts who had been circumcised from among the Gentiles and God-fearers who were Jewish converts who had not been circumcised), Samaritans, Gentiles, and disciples of John the Baptiser. The last named were a very large group spread around the known world. John had preached for many years and large numbers of Jews, proselytes and God-fearers who had flocked to Jerusalem for the feasts had been baptised by him. They had then gone back to their home cities and like Apollos had spread the word. They had gained a new enthusiasm in witness. They had undoubtedly experienced a work of the Spirit through John, but they would not have entered into the full experience of the Holy Spirit as He came at Pentecost. Most of them would never have heard of Jesus except as proclaimed by John as 'the coming One'. (Visits to Jerusalem would in many cases be rare because of distance).

Thus we know that a large group of 'disciples of John the Baptiser' had grown up (compare Acts 19.1-6) around the known world. Thus at the time of Pentecost what we might call 'believers could also be split into three. There were firstly those who believed in Jesus and were recognised as Christians; then there were those pious Jews and God-fearers who truly believed in God and clung to His word, but had never heard of Jesus and had never heard John; and then there were the truly believing disciples of John. It was vital for the unity of the church that each of these groups should eventually recognise their oneness with the Christian church which at the beginning was looked on as an offshoot of Judaism. This explains the very unusual examples of the coming of the Holy Spirit given in Acts which were not the norm. In order to confirm this unity, God seems to have ensured that when those in these groups heard of Jesus they did not at first enter into the fullness of the Holy Spirit without Apostolic intervention. Thus as Acts proceeds we have incorporation of previously non-Christian Jews (Acts 2), incorporation of Samaritans (Acts 8), incorporation of God-fearing Gentiles (Acts 10-11), and incorporation of disciples of John the Baptiser (Acts 19.1-6). And in each case they 'received the Spirit' through the Apostles.

Thus was guaranteed that all looked back to the Apostles as their founding fathers. So Apollos and other disciples of John the Baptiser knew of 'the coming One', and possibly by now connected Him with Jesus, although without having any depth of knowledge. In many cases they would not even be aware of the cross and resurrection, and certainly they would never have entered into the full experience of the Spirit which commenced with the inundation at Pentecost. It would appear that God ensured that this latter only occurred, except in individual cases, on contact with the Apostles so that they looked to the Apostles as the first spiritual guides of their new found faith. (This explanation is of course a simplification of a most complicated situation, but this seems to be one of the main lessons of Acts).

15. I notice that in 19:5 the 12 disciples of John the Baptist needed to be baptised a second time in order to receive the Spirit. Does this mean that all those who were baptised by John the Baptist also needed to be rebaptised? Also is it essential for someone to be literally baptised in order to become a Christian or was this a unique situation?

When I was born again, I wanted to be baptised again to show my commitment, but my minister (Anglican church) said that it wasn't necessary as I had already been baptised as a child (even though this was under the Catholic system) so I was confirmed instead. As an infant I had no idea about God so really the baptism from my perspective was meaningless, yet when I wanted to make it meaningful as an adult, I wasn't allowed to do it. Yet in the Acts episode these men were rebaptised! What's the difference between my situation and that of these men?

While we may probably presume that the Apostles were not rebaptised, nor those who left John to follow Jesus prior to the resurrection, it would seem that disciples of John who believed on Jesus after the resurrection did have to be rebaptised. However that was a unique situation.

Paul clearly distinguished being saved by responding to the word of the cross from being baptised. He concentrated on the one and left the baptising to others. He even rejoiced that he had baptised so few (1 Corinthians 1.17-18) because of the wrong impression it could give. But there is no doubt that he and all the others did expect people to be baptised. It was a declaration to the world that they now belonged to Christ, that they had put their old lives behind them.

How to apply it to the modern day is more difficult. Many are rebaptised (for example in Baptist or Pentecostal churches) because they feel that their infant baptism was meaningless. But they mainly see it as a wholehearted response to Christ not as necessary in order to be saved. However there is no Scriptural position on this because in Scripture there is no mention of infant baptism. Different ones see it in different ways. The Anglican position would be that as you have already been marked off as belonging to Christ in His church once for all, what was needed was personal confirmation, a personal 'entering in' to your baptism, not another baptism. What God's view is we have to work out for ourselves. It really depends on how we view baptism. Some are satisfied with the Anglican position and look to their confirmation as a kind of ‘rebaptism’, that is, a renewal of their baptism. Others are not satisfied until they have been baptised as adults. That is a huge subject. Those who in past centuries were rebaptised in this way were called anabaptists.

16. . In Acts 25-26, Luke recounts private conversations between Agrippa and Festus. As I was reading them I wondered how he would know what they were talking about. The commentary I'm using says that he couldn't have known, so Luke is imaginatively recreating what he believes they were talking about. I don't know whether you agree with this conclusion or not, but if it's true, then how can we be certain that these words that Luke records are the historical truth?

It has been said that no man is a hero to his valet. He sees too much of his inner moments. A similar thing might be said of powerful men and their servants. Nothing that they say is not picked up by the servants. It is quite probable that there were Christians among Festus' servants who could report (probably better than their masters) exactly what Festus had said. Indeed they would race out and report it to the church as soon as they had some free time, so that all could pray. Luke may well have been there with them at the time for he is present in the city and sails with Paul on the next stage of the journey (27.1 - 'we').

In fact many things in Scripture probably resulted from servants overhearing things. (Of course God could have told Luke directly what was said, but the above is more likely).

17. In 26:10, Paul recounts how many saints were put to death by the Jewish authorities. My understanding was that the Jews didn't have the authority to inflict capital punishment - that is why the handed both Jesus and Paul over to the Romans. If Paul did behave in this way along with his fellow Pharisees, weren't they breaking Roman law? How could they get away with it?

The Jews almost certainly had the right of execution when the charge was blasphemy. Consider Stephen. In the Temple there was a notice (of which we have examples) which stated that any Gentile passing that point would immediately be put to death. That was an example where Roman law was not required. Blasphemy probably became the favourite accusation for executing Christians, although the Romans may have called a halt when it happened too often. However even if the seal of approval was necessary from the Romans it was not too hard to obtain. In the case of Jesus the Jewish leaders did not want to charge Him with blasphemy. They were afraid of the people. They wanted the Romans to kill Him for treason. Then they would be free of blame. Paul was saved by Roman soldiers or he may well have been stoned for blasphemy

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