Course Hero. "New Testament Study Guide." Course Hero. 27 Apr. 2018. Web. 20 July 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/New-Testament/>.
Course Hero. (2018, April 27). New Testament Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved July 20, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/New-Testament/
(Course Hero, 2018)
Course Hero. "New Testament Study Guide." April 27, 2018. Accessed July 20, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/New-Testament/.
Course Hero, "New Testament Study Guide," April 27, 2018, accessed July 20, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/New-Testament/.
After Jesus ascends to heaven, his disciples begin an evangelizing mission in Jerusalem under the leadership of Peter and guided by the Holy Spirit.
The apostle Peter and a new Christ-believer, Paul, expand the mission beyond Jews, inviting gentiles (non-Jews) from cities throughout the Mediterranean to join the community.
The text focuses on Paul's mission, which eventually leads him into conflict with both Jewish and Roman authorities.
Acts depicts the growth of the Christian community, and the author concentrates on who is included in the community and what is required for those who would follow what he sometimes calls "the Way" (Acts 9:2). This "Way" is not just a set of beliefs but also a manner of life. Initially the circle of Jesus's apostles expands in Jerusalem and the immediate area, incorporating Jews who already think of themselves as the people of God into the group of Christ-believers; this early expansion effort shows how deeply the Christ-believing movement was embedded in Judaism and the teachings of the Jewish scriptures.
Following "the Way" means becoming part of the people of God who were first called by God as described in the Jewish scriptures. Certain rituals and practices also play a role in marking the Christ-believers as a unified community. The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 lays out a more limited set of legal requirements than the Torah; circumcision is no longer required, but gentiles who join the people of God as Christ-believers should still "abstain ... from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood" (Acts 15:20).
Other rituals also become important for the community. The early chapters of Acts depict the addition of followers through the ritual of baptism, and those who join the Christ-believers also "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:41–42). These ritual acts served to unite the early Christ-believers through communal practices.
But one particular belief is essential: Paul's conversion story appears three times in the narrative (Acts 9, 22, 26), highlighting the importance of the moment when he came to believe that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the promised Jewish Messiah (or "anointed one"). It is worth noting that the Paul depicted in Acts is somewhat different from the Paul depicted in his own authentic letters. In the Letters he strongly objects to any Christ-believers needing to follow the Jewish law; this opposition is tempered in Acts (compare Galatians 2:3 and Acts 16:3). Perhaps most surprisingly, Acts does not ever say that Paul wrote letters as part of his missionary activity.
Importantly, the Acts story introduces the Holy Spirit as an agent in the growth of the Christ-believing community. Although the authors of the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and John all mention this divine being, the author of Luke and Acts goes into greater detail about the role of the spirit: it inspires, empowers, and guides the apostles and all those who join the Christ-believing movement.
From its first appearance in the text at Pentecost (Acts 2), the Holy Spirit plays an important role in the Christian ritual of the laying on of hands, which accompanies baptism as a way of incorporating people into the community. At the end of the book Paul also notes that the Holy Spirit, speaking through the prophets, had correctly predicted the fate of the Christian movement. Some scholars have even proposed that Acts can be read as a history of the Holy Spirit working in the early church.
Throughout Acts readers see the apostles and Christ-believers empowered by the Spirit but facing human disbelief and even outright opposition. There is a repeated pattern in Paul's journeys; for example, the apostle preaches first to Jews and then, after being rejected or imprisoned, moves on to share the message with gentiles. Paul describes these breaks with the Jews in passages such as Acts 13:46–47, 18:5–6, and 28:23–28. The shift from a mission to the Jews to a mission to the gentiles does not just happen city by city. Some scholars identify this shift of focus as a major theme of Acts. It could even explain the focus on Peter, apostle to the Jews, in the early books and the change to a focus on Paul, apostle to the gentiles, in the second half of Acts.
Some of the most striking moments of cultural contact include Christian meetings with gentiles who are devoted to deities in the Greek pantheon. When Greeks in Lystra and Derbe mistake Paul and Barnabas for the Greek gods Hermes and Zeus (Acts 14), the text seems to show that many people in the ancient Roman world were trying to find commonalities between this new Christian message and kinds of theology or religious stories that were more familiar.
The conflict between Christ-believers and worshippers of Artemis in Ephesus (Acts 19), however, shows that the growing Christian community was sometimes perceived as a threat to traditional gentile practices. Despite moments of tension and conflict, the text seems to suggest that some opposition to Christ-belief can have a positive effect, because it can lead to an expanded mission and a wider distribution of the gospel message.