Study Guide

Acts of the Apostles Tradition

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In those days Peter stood up among the believers […] and said, "Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus[…] "For it is written in the book of Psalms, 'Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it'; and 'Let another take his position of overseer.'" (Acts 1:15-16, 20, NRSV)

In those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said […] brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus[…] For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take. (Acts 1:15-16, 20, KJV)

The disciples have to look no further than Jewish scripture (which is a pretty major player when it comes to Jewish tradition) to find all the evidence they need that Jesus is the Messiah. Case in point: David predicted that Judas would betray Jesus and die. Nice prophesying, David.

"Moses said, 'The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you. And it will be that everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out of the people.' And all the prophets, as many as have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, also predicted these days. You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, 'And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.' When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways." (Acts 3:22-26, NRSV)

For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people. Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days. Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities. (Acts 3:22-26, KJV)

Even thousands of years ago, Moses and Abraham knew Jesus would turn out to be the Messiah. Oh, they're good.

"The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins." (Acts 5:30-31, NRSV)

The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 5:30-31, KJV)

Nothing says tradition quite like invoking ancestors. God really wanted Jesus to be the Messiah, but humans didn't agree. Sad, we know. God's still working on it though and he's really excited to bring lots of good things to the Jewish people, just like he always promised he would.

"You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it." (Acts 7:51-53, NRSV)

Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. (Acts 7:51-53, KJV)

Stephen kind of has a point. If you take a look back at the Hebrew Bible, God's chosen people have been persecuted for a really long time. These current naysayers are just part of that vicious tradition. "Uncircumcised in heart and ears" was a pretty big insult (meaning their hearts weren't properly aligned with God). The crowd stones Stephen for his trouble. Yikes.

The passage of the scripture that [the eunuch] was reading was this: "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth." The eunuch asked Philip, "About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?" Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. (Acts 8:32-35, NRSV)

The place of the scripture which [the eunuch] read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth. And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. (Acts 8:32-35, KJV)

The eunuch is reading from Isaiah 53:7-8, but we're guessing there probably isn't a Bible verse Philip can't make about Jesus.

Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders. (Acts 15:1-2, NRSV)

And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. (Acts 15:1-2, KJV)

More in-fighting. This one is actually a pretty big deal. For the first time ever, the church meets to decide some of the rules for membership in the community. Before this, you believed and got baptized and that was it. Now the leadership realizes the growing community needs some clearer guidelines.

There was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead. (Acts 17:1-3, NRSV)

Where was a synagogue of the Jews: And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead. (Acts 17:1-3, KJV)

The disciples first try to bring their message to their fellow Jews. Paul's favorite thing when he hits a new city is to visit the synagogue and start arguing about all the things Jewish scripture says about Jesus. It's his tradition to argue with tradition (ha ha). Not everyone is thrilled.

The Jews from Asia, who had seen [Paul] in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd. They seized him, shouting, "Fellow Israelites, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place; more than that, he has actually brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place." (Acts 21:27-28, NRSV)

The Jews which were of Asia, when they saw [Paul] in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him, Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place. (Acts 21:27-28, KJV)

Paul, more than anyone else in the story, really butts heads with Jewish tradition. Because he doesn't see the need to keep following all those pesky Torah laws, he makes his fellow Jews (and even some Jewish-Christians) really, really mad.

"I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today." (Acts 22:3, NRSV)

I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day. (Acts 21:3, KJV)

Okay, so Paul might not think Gentiles need to be circumcised, but he's no dummy. He's affirming his proud Jewishness here. Paul isn't ignorant of tradition. He just thinks Jesus has improved on it a little.

They said to [Paul], "You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow. Join these men, go through the rite of purification with them, and pay for the shaving of their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law." (Acts 21:20-24, NRSV)

They said unto [Paul], Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law. (Acts 21:20-24, KJV)

Paul can't even get a break from his fellow Christians. The followers of Jesus who are still devoted to Jewish customs and tradition are pretty ticked at Paul for the things they think he's been saying (and probably the things he has been saying). He's gonna have to make a show of proving his Jewish roots in order to appease them.

Paul made one further statement: "The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah, 'Go to this people and say, You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn—and I would heal them.' Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen." (Acts 28:25-28, NRSV)

Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it. (Acts 28:25-28, KJV)

Paul is pretty disappointed that his fellow Jews haven't all dropped everything to follow Jesus. Here, he finds support in Isaiah for moving on to the Gentiles.

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