Saturday, December 5, 2009

ACTS - Chapters One and Two





The introductory verses, both of his Gospel and of Acts, stamp Luke as a typical man of letters of his day. Such prefaces were used neither by ancient Greek nor ancient Semitic writers, but came into fashion in the Hellenistic age among both Greeks and Romans. They usually followed conventional lines. References would be made to earlier writers on the same subject--often with unflattering comparisons with the author's own work--claims put forward to special knowledge, and an explanation given of the author's purpose in writing. When the work was divided into several logoi or books, the whole work began with a general preface or prooimion setting forth the author's method and aim. This we have at the beginning of Luke's Gospel. At the beginning of each subsequent volume came a subsidiary preface or proekthesis linking this volume with the preceding one and noting the stage reached in the work. This we have here; and the natural deduction is that the two books are by the same author. A good example of the proekthesis is found at the beginning of the fourth book of Polybius' Histories: "In the preceding book, after pointing out the causes of the second war between Rome and Carthage, I described the invasion of Italy by Hannibal. ... I shall now give an account of the contemporary events in Greece. ..." True, the proekthesis of Acts is incomplete: we have a summary of the first logos, but not the usual sketch of the contents of the second. This suggests to some critics that the preface has been mutilated by a later editor, who at the same time has introduced a second and discordant account of the Ascension, an incident already narrated in the Gospel, and alluded to in vs. 2--until the day when he was taken up. It is surely better to recognize that Luke is not slavishly bound by literary convention, and that the opening sentence is in fact balanced by the whole succeeding narrative.

1:1. There is no reliable tradition about Theophilus, and it has even been suggested that the name, "lover of God," means merely "Christian reader." But the title "most excellent" (Luke 1:3) suggests a real person. It is thrice used in Acts (23:26; 24:3; 26:25), always of persons of high official rank. B. H. Streeter (The Four Gospels [New York: The Macmillan Co., 1925], p. 539) suggests that Theophilus may have been the secret Christian name of Flavius Clemens, cousin and heir of Domitian. His wife Domitilla was secretly an adherent of the church, and he himself at least an inquirer. He was put to death by Domitian in A.D. 96. Acts would thus be the first of those "apologies" addressed by the church to prominent members of the Imperial House. The Clementine Recognitions speaks of Theophilus as a wealthy resident of Antioch, the probable birthplace of Luke. Later Christian writers transform him into a bishop, and finally confound him with the apologist of the same name at the end of the second century, Bishop Theophilus of Antioch. First (prw'ton, not pro6teron) in the Greek of Luke's day need not imply that the author had written, or intended to write, more than two books in the present series. Began to do in Semitic idiom means little more than "did." The first book narrates Jesus' activities "from the beginning" (Luke 1:2) till the Ascension. The idea that Acts narrates what the ascended Christ continued to do is true. but too subtle.

2. The order of the Greek words shows that through the Holy Spirit should be taken with given commandment rather than with had chosen. The text here is doubtful; and after he had given commandment, without any explanatory object, is left curiously vague. Possibly dia6 ("through") is here used to translate an Aramaic preposition meaning "in the case of," and the original sense may have been "when he had given commandment concerning the Holy Spirit"--a reference forward to vss. 4-5.

3. The Greek word for appearing to them occurs only here in the N.T., but is used in the LXX in Num. 14:14 of Yahweh's self-manifestation in the wilderness. These appearances occurred during forty days--a number traditional in sacred history (Exod. 34:28; I Kings 19:8; Matthew 4:2). In Luke's Gospel there is nothing to indicate that the Ascension did not take place on the same day as the Resurrection--a view perhaps shared by Paul who seems to regard the two as synonymous. The acceptance of the longer period by church tradition was probably due to the desire to make room for the imparting of secret instruction to the inner circle of his disciples by the risen Jesus, in particular concerning the kingdom of God. The kingdom in Acts is much more closely identified with the church than is the case in the Synoptic Gospels, though nowhere in Acts is the earlier eschatological meaning excluded by the context (see 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31).

4. While staying with them is the translation of a difficult Greek word (sunalizo6menov) variously taken as meaning (a) being assembled together--a rare word from the root aJlh6v, "crowded"; (b) "eating salt together"--presumably with reference to Luke 24:42; (c) "lodging together"--a spelling variant of sunaulizo6menov, and on the whole the most probable rendering. The word might even mean "camping with them in the open"-it is a military term, to "bivouac"--as according to Luke 21:37, he had done during the week before the Crucifixion. The disciples are charged not to depart from Jerusalem--the suggestion being that it had been their intention to do so. Is Luke deliberately contradicting the variant "Galilean tradition," according to which Jesus' first appearances took place at a distance from Jerusalem? According to our author, it is in Jerusalem that they are to wait for the promise of the Father, i.e., for the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise, says Jesus, you heard from me (in Luke 24:49), and to its fulfillment at Pentecost Peter makes reference in 2:33. For the promise of the Spirit see also Gal 3:14; Eph. 1:13.

5. Here, as also in 11:16, Luke puts on Jesus' lips words elsewhere ascribed, not to Jesus, but to John the Baptist (Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16). The idea, evidently here present, that this promise was fulfilled, quite apart from any specifically Christian baptismal rite, by the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, is genuinely primitive. Later the words were understood as referring to a Christian baptism with water which differed from John's baptism, not because it was Spirit-baptism rather than water-baptism, but because though still water-baptism it also bestowed the Spirit, as John's baptism did not (see on 19:1-6 and a fuller note on 2:37-41).

2. THE ASCENSION (1:6-11)

For the first Christians the two cardinal events after the Crucifixion were the Resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Ascension holds a peculiar middle position. There is little reference to it in the earliest Christian teaching, and it was probably not felt to mark so complete a break in Jesus' earthly fellowship with his disciples as it is now often regarded as doing. Paul, for example, in 1 Cor. 15, enumerates the resurrection "appearances" without any reference to the Ascension, and evidently felt no radical difference between the appearances to the eleven before the Ascension and that to himself later on the Damascus road. For Paul the risen Christ, even when he appeared to the eleven, was already clothed in a "spiritual" or "glorified" body; and the Ascension, as symbolical of his passage to heaven, was in fact identical with the Resurrection. But with the growth of the tradition of the "forty days," the Resurrection implied first a temporary renewal of earthly intercourse with the disciples, followed by the Ascension as a separate event. Acts gives us the only explicit account of the Ascension in the N.T., apart from the Marcan appendix (Mark 16:19), for Luke 24:51-52 is textually suspect and the best texts bracket the words "and carried up into heaven" (KJV). Yet the exaltation of Jesus at the right hand of God quickly became an integral part of the earliest Christian creed; and this, given ancient cosmic ideas, presupposes an "ascension." Such a happening would also help to explain the cessation of appearances of the risen Jesus. But the silence of Matthew and Mark, apart from the appendix, suggests that the Ascension, as an event separate from the Resurrection, had no place in the most primitive tradition.

6. The disciples are pictured as misunderstanding the meaning of the "promise" (vs. 4). They still connect it with the expected restoration of the national theocracy and therefore ask, Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? It is quite likely that the disciples' earliest expectations would in fact take this line. They would be looking for the personal return of Jesus as the herald of the kingdom. In the Gospels Jesus speaks much of the coming of the kingdom, but little of the Holy Spirit. But by the time Acts was written the church had realized that the truest return of Jesus was in the manifest power of the Holy Spirit.

7-8. The Western text here reads "no one can know," which makes the parallel closer with Mark 13:32, a verse which Luke omits in his Gospel. It has been noted that Acts not infrequently thus compensates for an omission of Marcan material from Luke's Gospel (cf. 5:15; 6:13; 12:4). Power implies the ability to work miracles, and such ability, according to contemporary ideas, was the chief evidence expected of witnesses of Jesus. Mark 16:17-18 reads like a later elaboration of this promise, which is itself the Lukan form of the universal commission in Matthew 28:19, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (RSV). The widening circle--Jerusalem ... Judea ... Samaria ... the end of the earth--suggests the plan of Acts. Note again how in place of the promise in Matthew 28:20, that Jesus in person will be "with you always," we have here a promise of the Spirit. If Jesus had in actual fact commanded such a universal Gentile mission, would the apostles have shown the hesitation which is so evident in the first half of Acts? (See on Matthew 28:20, Vol. VII.)

9. A cloud took him out of their sight may be understood metaphorically; but the spiritual reality could not be better conveyed pictorially to Luke's readers. Daniel speaks of one like a Son of man who "came with the clouds of heaven" (Dan. 7:13); in the O.T. the incomprehensibleness of Yahweh is represented by the cloud that hides him from view; now Jesus is received into the same cloud of the Shekinah or divine glory.

10-11. In the message of the men in white robes, the garb of angels (Mark 16:5), the belief in Christ's personal return, which is one of the central tenets of the earliest creed, is set in the very forefront of Acts.


The first act of the new community was to appoint one of their number to take the place of the traitor Judas. The filling up of the number of the twelve was evidently considered of great importance. This is the more remarkable in that the twelve as such play a small part in the rest of the book, only three of them being again mentioned (Peter, James, and John), and Matthias never at all. At their original appointment the number twelve certainly had a symbolic reference to the twelve tribes, and in some ancient lists a tribe is assigned to each apostle. In the kingdom the twelve are to "sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Luke 22:30). The disciples presumably wished to preserve this national symbolism by keeping the number intact. It is interesting that later no successor was appointed to James, possibly because it was felt that the martyr, unlike the traitor, would still judge the tribe allotted to him. At this time the disciples anticipated neither an apostolate to the Gentiles, which would deprive the symbol of its significance, nor such a long delay of the Parousia as would make it impossible to keep the number twelve intact.

What was the significance attached to the twelve in the most primitive tradition? Apparently they held no "official" position, nor were they commissioned with authority to govern the whole church. It was not the twelve as a "college" who headed the Jerusalem church, but certain individuals--Peter, and John, and later James the Lord's brother. Matthias is here appointed, not as an office-bearer, but as a witness to his resurrection (vs. 22). An "apostle" was a shelîah--the Aramaic word for one "sent out" by Jesus, of which "apostle" is the Greek translation (cf. Luke 6:13, "whom he named apostles"). The title was perhaps originally confined to the twelve. But very quickly it was extended to others like Paul and Barnabas, who worked as traveling missionaries without necessarily holding any "official" position in the churches. Indeed, even in the case of the twelve we have a hint here that they were "apostles" primarily as missionaries. They have been commanded to wait in Jerusalem (vs. 4), not permanently as resident officials, but until they "receive power" to become "witnesses."

But a later conception of the significance of the twelve soon becomes apparent in Acts. Already they are beginning to be thought of as constituting an "apostolic college" which remained in being for some years at Jerusalem, had in its hands the first organization of the church, and provided the official heads, not only of local congregations, but of the church at large (cf. 6:2; 8:14; 11:1; and vs. 20, his office let another take). But such a conception is out of accord with the facts even as they appear in Acts, and will not square with what we know from Paul's epistles concerning the Jerusalem church.

12-13. The disciples then returned to Jerusalem in expectation that Jesus was about to appear as the triumphant Messiah. The list of the eleven agrees with that in Luke's Gospel (Luke 6:14-16), save that John now ranks next to Peter, as throughout the following narrative, while Thomas is coupled with Philip, perhaps because both are prominent in the resurrection stories. The eleven are regarded as the nucleus of the new community, and they have their rendezvous in the upper room, probably the scene of the Last Supper (Luke 22:12), and perhaps in the house of Mary the mother of Mark (12:12).

14. Devoted themselves to prayer: Probably in the temple, where it was expected that the Messiah would appear (Mal. 3:1). But the Greek may mean "attended the place of prayer," i.e., the synagogue (cf. 16:13, 16). But the similar phrase in 2:42 seems rather to mean "attended the service of prayer," presumably in the temple. With the women may be purely general--"with their wives," rather than a reference to "the women" mentioned in Luke 8:2; 24:10.

15. It is noteworthy that from the first, Peter, in spite of his cowardly denial, takes the leadership. The obvious explanation of this rapid recovery of authority is that it was to Peter that the risen Lord first appeared (Luke 24:34; I Cor. 15:5), and that his sturdy faith had rallied the others from despair. Jesus' words that "upon this rock" he would build his church (Matthew 16:18) had found literal fulfillment.

How much of the content of these first speeches in Acts rests on an earlier tradition is debatable. Attention has often been called to the primitive Christology of the sermons attributed to Peter. But generally speaking there is doctrinally no essential difference between Peter's speeches and Paul's. Nor should we look for it; for Luke can hardly have had any idea of an "evolution of theology." No doubt he sometimes skillfully adapts thought and language both to the occasion and to the speaker. The present speech certainly reflects a primitive stage of Christian thought, such as might be expected in Peter's teaching. If vss. 17-19 are regarded as an insertion of the author, there remains nothing that might not fittingly have been said by Peter. But on the whole it is safer to assume that the theology underlying the speeches is neither Peter's nor Paul's, but Luke's own--the average point of view of the Gentile Christianity of Antioch.

In all, ejpi6 to; aujto6: see note on 2:47. A hundred and twenty: Is it a coincidence that the tract Sanhedrin (1:6) states that the number of officers in a community (here the twelve) shall be one tenth of the membership?

16.The scripture had to be fulfilled, i.e., presumably that freely quoted in vs. 20 (Pss. 69:25; 109:8). The tense in the Greek implies that the prophecy had already been fulfilled.

18-20. A field: or perhaps better "a farm" or "estate" in the country. Reward of his wickedness: Or, by a common Semitic idiom (cf. Luke 16:8-9; 18:6; II Pet. 2:15), simply "with his unjust reward." There are three traditions concerning the death of Judas: (a) the account here in Acts; (b) Matthew 27:3-10, according to which he hanged himself; (c) the story preserved by Papias that, on account of a loathsome disease, he suffered from excessive swelling (prhsqei6v) and was crushed by a wagon in a narrow place where it could normally have passed him (see J. A. Cramer, Catenae in Evangelia S. Matthaei et S. Marci [Oxford: Typographeo Academico, 1844], on Matthew 27:1). It has been suggested that Papias is really dependent on the same tradition as Acts, and that the somewhat strange phrase prhnh;v geno6menov, falling headlong, is an obscure medical term with the same meaning as prhsqei6v (see The Beginnings of Christianity, ed. F. J. Foakes Jackson and Kirsopp Lake [London: Macmillan & Co., 1933], V, 22-30). His habitation is presumably the estate Judas had bought, while his office is his commission as apostle.

21-23. The baptism of John: The more natural meaning would be "from Jesus' baptism by John till his ascension"; but the parallel in 10:37 suggests "from the time when John was baptizing" (cf. 13:24). They put forward: According to the Western text it is Peter, and not the community, who makes the nomination. Of Joseph called Barsabbas (to be distinguished from Judas Barsabbas in 15:22) all that we know is that Eusebius numbers him, like Matthias, among the seventy, while Papias is said to have related that, according to Jesus' promise in Mark 16:18, he drank poison and came to no harm. Matthias means the "gift of Yahweh"; about him also there is no trustworthy tradition. He was later constantly confused with Matthew; Clement of Alexandria identifies him with Zacchaeus, and the Clementinc Recognitions with Barnabas.

24. Lord, who knowest the hearts would more naturally refer to God. But the word for chosen is the same as that used in vs. 2 of the original choice by Jesus of the apostles (Luke 6:18), and this would seem to indicate that the prayer is addressed to Jesus.

26. Cast lots: The story strikes a very primitive O.T. note. There is no mention yet of ordination by the laying on of hands. The method of "casting lots" would be to put stones with names written on them into a vessel and shake it until one fell out. But the natural verb would be e[balon, not e[dwkan, and it is just possible that the phrase here means "gave their votes."



In 2:1-40 we have, according to Harnack, the first of several sections derived from Jerusalem Source B (see Intro., p. 18 and note on p. 69). Vss. 41-47 are more probably a summary by Luke himself. The story of Pentecost falls into four parts: a description of the descent of the Spirit and the accompanying phenomena (vss. 1-13); an explanatory speech by Peter (vss. 14-36); a description of the effects produced (vss. 37-41); and an account of the beginnings of communal life (vss. 42-47).

1. GIFT OF THE SPIRIT (2:1-13)

The conviction that shortly after the Resurrection the Christian community "received the Holy Spirit" is a constant factor in N.T. writings; but there appear to have been more than one tradition concerning the time and circumstances of the gift. In the Fourth Gospel the Spirit is bestowed by Jesus himself on the day of Resurrection: "He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'" (John 20:22). According to Acts, the Spirit descended on the day of Pentecost, fifty days after the Resurrection. But both traditions bear witness to the fact that, as a result of the Resurrection, the disciples became conscious of a new inward power which completely transformed their whole outlook; and this they attributed to the possession by the Spirit of God. It is indeed this new sense of power that is the significant factor in the experience of Pentecost. For Pentecost can hardly have been the first occasion when the little community felt the presence of the Holy Spirit; it must have been through the Spirit's enlightening influence that they had already reached the conviction that Jesus had risen. But now they became conscious of the Spirit as power--in accordance with the promise of 1:8--wherein they might go forth to their work of witness-bearing. Accordingly the great central fact of the day was not that on it the Spirit was given for the first time, but that it marked the beginning of their active missionary work (cf. 4:31).

But this is not the conception of our author, for whom Pentecost does mark the first descent of the Holy Spirit. The accompanying miraculous phenomena are set forth as evidence that this was a completely new and strange gift, marking the birthday of a new community. Even the gift of "speaking with tongues," apparently a common enough experience in the later Pauline churches, is described as if it were something abnormal and unique, and is given quite another significance than it has in the epistles. There this glossolalia quite clearly means the outpouring of inarticulate sounds under the stress of an overpowering religious emotion, a phenomenon to which there are many parallels in the history of all religious revivals down to our own day. It was evidently regarded as a supreme proof of possession by the divine Spirit and as such was earnestly coveted. But it is a gift to which Paul gives no very high place in his list of charismata (see I Cor. 12:4-11 and ch. 14 throughout), because it did not edify unbelievers, tended to disorder, and could be easily counterfeited. It is among the "childish things" which are to be put away while we "earnestly desire the higher gifts" (I Cor. 13:11; 12:31).

The "speaking with tongues" at Pentecost was almost certainly the same common phenomenon, and not something unique as is suggested by Luke, who undoubtedly intends us to understand that the disciples were miraculously endowed with the power to speak foreign languages. But this idea is quite inconsistent with the evidence elsewhere, even of Acts itself. There is, of course, no hint elsewhere that the apostles ever made use of such a gift in their missionary labors; nor would it have been necessary in a world where the Greek Koine was almost universally understood. In 10:46 and 19:6 glossolalia is mentioned in the true Pauline sense with no hint of misunderstanding. Even in the present context the impression produced is that they are filled with new wine, which exactly suits the known phenomena, but not Luke's conception. In the following speech Peter draws a comparison with the expected messianic outpouring of the Spirit foretold by Joel, and makes no reference to foreign tongues, even in his defense against the charge of drunkenness. We must probably assume that the glamour surrounding the birth of the church has, either for Luke or for the compiler of his source, invested even familiar occurrences with unique marvel and mystery, so that to add to the wonders of "wind" and "fire" he creates a similar unique miracle out of the everyday phenomena with which the church of his day was familiar.

2:1. Pentecost is the Hellenistic name for the Hebrew feast of Weeks, the institution of which is described in Lev. 23:15-21. They were all together: Either all the Christians (the 120 of 1:15?); or all the apostles, if it is held that vs. 4 implies that it was upon the apostles only that the Spirit fell.

3. The tongues ... of fire are distributed so that one rests on each disciple. The promise of baptism "with the Holy Spirit and with fire" is fulfilled (Luke 3:16). The word tongues is chosen probably to suit the glossolalia that follows; and if the twelve only are involved, the suggestion may be that each apostle spoke one of the languages.

5. There is some textual evidence for the omission of the word Jews. It is omitted by Codex Sinaiticus, and the fact that in vs. 10 Jews and proselytes are treated as merely component parts of the crowd suggests that it is not wholly composed of Jews.

It would then follow that the crowd at Pentecost represents the whole world, Jewish and heathen alike, and Luke presumably considers this as the beginning of the worldwide mission entrusted to the disciples in 1:8.

6. The multitude here apparently means the whole company of devout men just mentioned, rather than the entire Christian community or the general populace. There are undoubtedly signs of confusion in the language, due possibly to the author's having written up the earlier source--perhaps transferring the scene from the house to the open air, and converting the glossolalia into the novel phenomenon of speaking in foreign languages. As Lake says: "The facts would be adequately covered if it were supposed that the original source ran 'and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance, and when this voice arose the populace came together, and they were all astonished and perplexed, one saying to another, "What does this mean?" But others jeered and said, "They are full of sweet wine"'"(Beginnings of Christianity, ed. F. J. Foakes Jackson and Kirsopp Lake [London: Macmillan & Co., 1920-33], V, 119).

9-11. The list of people is intended to cover every nation under heaven (vs. 5). Parthians and Medes and Elamites represent Eastern races outside the Roman Empire. Then come the residents of the districts around the eastern Mediterranean, followed by visitors from Rome (i.e., temporarily resident in Jerusalem), and Cretans and Arabians, who perhaps represent the two extremes of West and Southeast. But the classification may be one of language rather than geography, Judea perhaps meaning Aramaic--speaking Palestine and Syria.

2. PETER'S SPEECH (2:14-36)

Peter's speech at Pentecost appears to be derived from a very primitive tradition concerning, if not his own teaching, at any rate that of the earliest community. The Christology is very elementary, and there is little trace of Pauline ideas which must have been current in the environment in which Luke wrote. For example, any reference to faith as a necessary condition of sharing in the blessings of the messianic age is noticeably absent. Only once in these early speeches does Peter mention it: in 3:16, where it is stated to be the ground of the healing of the lame man--a close resemblance to the view of faith characteristic of the Synoptic Gospels. As Christianity for Luke and his contemporaries was above all the proclamation of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, the absence of such ideas in the early Petrine speeches argues strongly for the use of primitive documentary sources.

In this speech numerous parallels have been traced with the thought and language of I Peter. Foreknowledge occurs in the N.T. only here (vs. 23) and in I Pet. 1:2. The following ideas are prominent both here and in the epistle: that Christ is Lord (vs. 36; I Pet. 3:15); his rejection by his own (vs. 23; I Pet. 2:4, 7); his ascension and session at the right hand of God (vs. 33; I Pet. 3:22); the promised gift of the Spirit (vs. 33; I Pet. 1:12; 4:14); the glory that follows upon suffering (vs. 36; I Pet. 1:11; 4:12-14); salvation and baptism (vs. 38; I Pet. 3:21). E.G. Selwyn (The First Epistle of St. Peter [London: Macmillan & Co., 1946], p. 12) has suggested that the echoes of I Peter which are heard in Acts may be due partly to the fact that Silvanus, who was the joint author with Peter of the epistle (I Pet. 5:12), was also a friend and companion of Luke.

The speech may be said to be the earliest Christian apology. The first aim of the Christian preacher was to show to his fellow countrymen that Jesus was the promised Messiah. The Crucifixion seemed to have given the lie to Jesus' claims to be the revealer of God, and till this impression was dispelled all preaching of the Christian message was futile. Hence the defense of the gospel rather than its exposition is the need of the hour, and the stress is not so much on the content of the gospel as on the evidence of its truth. To judge by these early sermons the first preachers contented themselves with the demonstration of the messiahship, and did not ask what the messiahship involved for Jesus himself. There is no reason to suppose that at first their idea of messiahship differed greatly from that of their fellow Jews. It was only when the original messianic expectations had somewhat waned that Christians began to fill in or add to the picture with its original Jewish content, probably by drawing on their recollection of Jesus' own words, the full meaning of which they had at the time missed. Only when it dawned upon them that Jesus' work was something more than the founding of a national messianic kingdom did they begin to speculate upon the person of Jesus himself. Hence the complete absence here of any developed Christology.

The supreme argument for the messiahship was the Resurrection, for it effaced the impression left by a disgraceful death, proved that Jesus was no impostor, and vindicated all his claims. Hence the effort, so well illustrated in this speech, to show that such a resurrection, though no part of common messianic expectation, had nevertheless been foretold in Scripture. To a Jewish audience no other argument would be necessary; that an event had been prophesied was sufficient reason for believing in its truth and its divine significance. So Peter (vss. 25-28) appeals to Ps. 16 and claims that it foretells the resurrection of the Messiah. This would both make Jesus' resurrection credible and be convincing proof that he was Christ. Peter argues also (vss. 32-35) that the Messiah must be exalted to the right hand of God, and Jesus' ascension becomes yet further proof of his claims. Such an exaltation is evidenced by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which in turn is a final proof, after Joel, that the messianic age has arrived; for the gift of the Spirit is the work of the glorified Jesus and shows him to be Lord and Christ (vs. 36).

The view taken of Jesus' death is also very primitive. The Cross is an obstacle to faith, to be overcome by stressing the Resurrection; it has not become a central doctrine of the faith. The conception of a suffering Messiah was completely strange to contemporary Judaism, and there is little sign that the disciples saw at first in Jesus' death, as did Jesus himself, any positive contribution to the advancement of the kingdom of God. Such a development of thought may well have taken place before Paul, for one of the truths that Paul "received" was that "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures" (I Cor. 15:3). But there is little trace of such a thought in these earliest days, and its absence here seems again to confirm the authenticity of the primitive tradition underlying the speech.

15-17. The third hour: about 9 A.M., the hour of morning prayer, before which a Jew would not customarily eat. The prophet is Joel 2:28-32. The Western text omits the name and also makes several alterations in the quotation to suit it to the occasion more exactly, and to suggest that the promise was made to all flesh and not only to the Jews: e.g., "your sons and daughters" becomes "their sons and daughters," and the "my" is omitted before "menservants and maidservants" (cf. the similar omission of "Jews" in vs. 5).

18-21. Do the words and they shall prophesy indicate that Luke thought that the "speaking with tongues" was such prophecy? In I Cor. 12:10 Paul of course clearly distinguishes between "prophecy" and glossolalia as he knew it. Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke: omitted by the Western text, again presumably to make the quotation suit the circumstances. The manifest day is in the Hebrew original the "terrible day"; but owing to the confusion of similar Hebrew roots meaning respectively "fear" and "see," the LXX translation is ejpifanh6v, which may here mean "conspicuous" in the sense of notable (KJV) or "splendid." The Lord in Joel is of course Yahweh; but in Luke's thought the title, as in vss. 34-36, is transferred to Jesus as Messiah.

22. Jesus of Nazareth: literally "the Nazoraean." Two forms of the word are found in the N.T.: Nazwrai'ov (regularly in Acts), and Nazarhno6v (in Mark and Luke 4:34; 24:19). In spite of the attempt, based on Matthew 2:23, to make the words the name of a religious sect, there seems to be no decisive philological argument against deriving both forms of the adjective from the name of the town Nazareth (see on 24:5; also G. F. Moore in Beginnings of Christianity, I, 429). Attested: The Greek is ajpodedeigme6non, which would mean, as frequently in contemporary papyri, designatus, proclaimed or appointed to office. Jesus is the "elected Messiah," and was actual Messiah here on earth. The Western text reads dedokimasme6non--translated destinatum by Tertullian--which would suggest rather that Jesus was "Messiah-elect," and entered on his actual messiahship only at his ascension.

28-24. A hint, in spite of what was said above, that even thus early the Cross is seen to be part of the definite plan of God for salvation. Lawless men may mean either "wicked men" or merely those "outside the law," i.e., the heathen. Pangs (wjdi'nav) is also used in the LXX to translate a Hebrew word really meaning "cords" or "bands" (e.g., Ps. 18:4-5). Hence perhaps the somewhat strange expression loosed the pangs, a phrase which actually occurs in the LXX of Job 39:2.

25-28. Accurately quoted from Ps. 16:8-11 in the LXX which, as here, has my tongue rejoiced in place of the Hebrew "my glory rejoices." Curiously enough the latter phrase is the very one on the basis of which the Midrash gives the psalm a messianic interpretation. Elsewhere in rabbinical literature the psalm is not applied to the Messiah. My flesh will dwell in hope: The Hebrew has "shall dwell safely," i.e., with God's help the psalmist need have no fear of death. But for Luke the LXX variant in hope gives to the quotation its main point: Peter's whole argument is that this hope was not fulfilled in the person of David, but only in Jesus' resurrection.

29-30. The site of David's tomb is uncertain, but it was probably on the southeastern hill. It is only since the Crusades that it has been located on "Mount Zion" (southwestern hill). That he would set (RSV) is a more accurate translation than would raise up Christ to sit (KJV), and better suits the original in Ps. 132:11: "Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne."

32-33. Of that (i.e., the Resurrection) rather than "of whom" (i.e., Christ) suits better 1:22, where the function of an apostle is to be "a witness of his resurrection." Vs. 34 supports the translation at the right hand of God (RSV), rather than by the right hand (KJV), in spite of a curious Midrash on Ps. 118:16, which states that "the right hand of the Lord exalts."

34. Since the psalm quoted (110:1) cannot refer to David, who did not ascend to the heavens, it must refer to the Messiah; and Jesus in virtue of his ascension is proved to be that Messiah and also to have the right to the supreme divine title Lord. For a similar confession by Paul see I Cor. 12:3; Rom. 10:9; Phil. 2:11; and for Jesus' own treatment of the same verse from Ps. 110 see Mark 12:35 and parallels.


Vss. 37-41 describe the immediate results of Pentecost and of Peter's speech, and summarize the requirements for membership in the new community. Special emphasis is given first to the need for repentance, which in the most primitive preaching means primarily repentance for the failure to recognize Jesus as the Messiah and for the consequent crime of the Crucifixion (cf. 3:17-19). If there is any more general idea of the necessity for repentance as a condition of God's blessing, this too is purely a Jewish conception. There is as yet no trace of the specifically Christian idea that every man is a sinner, and that repentance, as contrasted with the keeping of the law, is a universal precondition of salvation. Second, closely linked with repentance is baptism. Here too there is nothing essentially novel, for baptism as such was in line with Jewish rites of purification for the admission of proselytes, and John the Baptist--a great Jewish prophet, quite apart from his intimate connection with Jesus--had already associated baptism with repentance (Mark 1:4). But throughout Acts the conception of the significance of baptism, and in turn of its relationship to the gift of the Holy Spirit, varies to such an extent that we can only assume that several traditions have been inconsistently combined. There is no evidence that Jesus himself ever baptized--except in John 3:22, corrected in 4:2. The earliest idea seems to have been that the Christian equivalent of John's baptism was not a similar water-baptism, but rather a baptism with the Holy Spirit such as is pictured at Pentecost (see on 1:5). Later the distinction between Christian baptism and John's baptism--both alike being with water--was held to be that the former bestowed the Spirit as the latter did not (cf. 19:1-7). Similarly there is no consistent view of the part played by baptism in the gift of the Spirit. Perhaps in the beginning the Spirit is given before there is any question of baptism, which is added rather as a seal upon a gift already bestowed; so in the case of Cornelius (10:44-48). Later, baptism is regarded as a necessary condition of entrance into the community and an opportunity for public confession, but the gift of the Spirit is still distinct from it. So in 8:12-17 Samaritans are baptized, but they do not receive the Spirit until Peter and John, dispatched from Jerusalem for that very purpose, lay apostolic hands upon them. And finally the stage is reached when baptism with the Spirit becomes the direct consequence of baptism with water, so that Christian baptism becomes the essential condition of Christian spiritual experience (19:5-6). Although the present narrative is in general so primitive, 2:38 seems to reflect this final stage of development.

It has been suggested that baptism may have been adopted by the Christian community only as part of the Hellenistic mission which followed the appointment of the seven (6:1-6). It seems much more likely that with the beginnings of organization the fitness and indeed necessity of some such initiatory rite would be recognized, and baptism, at first simply as a rite of incorporation into the fellowship of those who professed "the name of Christ" and awaited his Parousia, would readily be adapted from the practice by which his forerunner had symbolized repentance in preparation for the coming kingdom. All that was necessary was the addition of the distinctively Christian formula in the name of Jesus Christ. This phrase (cf. 8:16; 10:48; 19:5) sometimes means "with the authority of" (e.g., Mark 9:38-39), but as a primitive baptismal formula the invocation of the name implies primarily recognition of Jesus as "Lord and Christ." There is as yet no trace of the trinitarian formula of Matthew 28:19, which is not to be taken as part of Jesus' original commission, but comes from later liturgical use.

38-40. Does our author hold that baptism not only confers the gift of the Holy Spirit but also conveys the forgiveness of your sins? Probably this latter thought should be linked up as closely with repent as with be baptized, for the ideas of repentance and forgiveness are constantly associated in Luke-Acts (Luke 3:3; 24:47; Acts 5:31). Far off may refer either to space or time, and mean either "to those who live far away" (for which cf. Isa. 57:19, quoted in Eph. 2:17; Acts 22:21), or "to you and to your children and to your distant descendants." Crooked generation: a proverbial phrase drawn from Deut. 32:5; Ps. 78:8.

41. So (me;n ou\n) is a regular formula in Acts summarizing what has just preceded and looking forward to a new section (cf. 1:6; 5:41; 8:25; 9:31; 11:19; 12:5; 13:4; 15:3, 30; 16:5). If Harnack's source division is accepted, it here marks the end of the first section extracted by Luke from Jerusalem Source B. Three thousand souls: The use of yuch6, "soul," in the sense of an "individual," comes from the LXX, where it is used to translate the Hebrew néphesh, which has the same meaning.


The paragraph seems to be composite; vss. 42 and 46 read like two parallel summaries, and may be doublets. Possibly vss. 42 and 43 are Luke's summarizing link by which he joins his account of Pentecost with a more ancient fragment, vss. 44-47, describing the life of the primitive community. Four characteristic features of the early church are emphasized. First, concern with the apostles' teaching--chiefly, it may be supposed, their personal recollections of Jesus and his teaching. It would not be long before a comparatively fixed body of such teaching would take shape. Thus Paul speaks of the "standard of teaching" (Rom. 6:17) and the "pattern of the sound words" (II Tim. 1:13). Out of this would be formed the tradition which ultimately was reduced to writing in the logia, to which on one theory Papias refers, and which may supply the Q material in Matthew and Luke. Such "teaching" would no doubt also include renewed study of the O.T., especially such passages as appeared to foretell Jesus as the Christ--the testimonia, or "proof texts," of later days.

Second, fellowship (koinwni6a)--first perhaps with the apostles, but also with reference to the wider fellowship of all believers. It is Paul's favorite word to describe the unity of believers with each other and with their Lord. In I Cor. 1:9 ("called into the fellowship of his Son") it seems almost to take on the concrete sense of "the body of believers." Its equivalent in Aramaic (habhûrA)) seems to have been in common use to describe a group of companions who shared a common life, particularly those who united to celebrate a common Passover meal. Thus there may possibly be a reference here to the tablefellowship which becomes more explicit in the breaking of bread. Again, this fellowship found practical expression in experiments in Christian communism (vss. 44-45; for a fuller discussion see on 4:32-37). The original habhûrA) of Jesus had shared a common life (cf. John 13:29), and the communism of Jerusalem was simply a continuation of that practice. The word koinwni6a sometimes has the sense almost of "almsgiving" or "relief" (cf. Rom. 15:26, "to make some contribution for the poor"). What is in view here is clearly not absolute communism, but a sharing of goods for the benefit of those in need. Nevertheless the motive was probably not mere charity, but the recognition that the claims of the Christian family are superior to those of the individual, and that brethren must have their share, not only because they are needy, but because they are brethren. No doubt the vivid expectation of the Parousia and the consequent undervaluing of possessions made this "communism" easier, but it does not explain it.

Third, we have mention of the breaking of bread, picked up in vs. 46 by the words breaking bread in their homes. The association of this in vs. 42 with teaching and prayers shows that it has a religious significance, and immediately following the reference to fellowship it appears as the peculiar symbol of that fellowship. For this same word koinwni6a is, of course, the word used of the "communion of the blood of Christ" and the "communion of the body of Christ" at the Lord's Supper (I Cor. 10:16), which is the central pledge and symbol of a common life and a common faith. At the same time the close conjunction in vs. 46 of breaking bread and they partook of food proves that the former, though already of religious significance, was still part of a regular nourishing meal. It may be indeed that the poorer members of the community found in it their chief means of subsistence. It was only later that the Eucharist became differentiated from the agape. The exact phrase breaking of bread occurs only in vs. 42 and in Luke 24:35; but the verbal phrase "to break bread" occurs also in Luke 24:30; Acts 2:46; 20:7-11; 27:35; and in connection with the feeding of the multitude, and the institution of the Lord's Supper. The phrase springs from the Jewish custom of beginning a meal with the prayer, "Blessed be thou, O Lord our God, that thou didst make bread to be on earth," followed by a ceremonial breaking of bread. In vs. 46 breaking bread in their homes seems to be contrasted with attending the temple together. Regular attendance at the public worship of the temple would mark the disciples as still being loyal Jews. It was the common religious meal in their own homes that provided them with the opportunity for distinctively Christian fellowship and worship.

Fourth, they devoted themselves to ... the prayers. So far as public worship is in view this would still be through attending the temple together, and in the regular meetings of the Jewish synagogue. As yet there was no idea of establishing separate places of public worship. But once again the specifically Christian side of this devotional life would find expression in family gatherings for prayer, and in daily intercourse in the homes of members of the new community. Christian public worship, when it did take shape, closely followed Jewish models, as is seen by a comparison of the prayers of the Didache with the Jewish liturgy. But meantime the emphasis would be on domestic family worship and private prayers at home (see references in 1:24; 4:23-30; 12:12).

43-44. The mention of fear at this point appears strange; but it suits the context exactly in 5:5; 5:11, where this "summary" reappears (see on 4:23-5:16 for the theory of possible "doublets"). Wonders and signs is a common O.T. description of miracles. It is frequent in the first half of Acts with its marked Aramaic background, but does not occur in the second half. Paul uses it in Rom. 15:19; II Cor. 12:12; II Thess. 2:9.

45-46. The tense of the verb sold is imperfect, "used to sell," not in one great sale, but occasionally as the need arose. Possessions and goods are properly "real estate" and "private possessions"; the meaning probably is that they sold the former and divided the proceeds, while they distributed the latter. In their homes may mean (a) merely "at home," in contrast with attending the temple, or (b) from house to house or "in separate houses," implying a possible contrast with the preceding together.

47. The phrase translated to their number (ejpi6 to; aujto6) has given much difficulty, as is evidenced by the confusion in the text. Usually it seems to mean "together" (Luke 17:35; Acts 1:15; 2:1; 2:44; 4:26); but here it is so awkward that Torrey suggests the mistranslation of an Aramaic adverbial compound meaning "exceedingly." The word has this meaning only in the Judean dialect, of which Luke may well have been ignorant, ú and is also regularly put at the end of a clause, as here. The Western text tried to solve the puzzle by adding ejn th' ejkklhsi6a, and the omission of the ejn gave us the KJV translation added to the church. Lake and Cadbury (Beginnings of Christianity, IV, 30) point out that in the papyri ejpi; to; aujto; is used in financial statements as being "in total," and wonder whether a number should follow it here as in 1:15. Saved is an echo of Peter's quotation (vs. 21) of Joel 2:32.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Regular Sunday Gathering - 7 PM to 9 PM - New Semester Starts November 29th

Regular Sunday Gathering
7 PM to 9 PM
10202 Vanderbilt Drive
Revs. Sam and Bunny Sewell
591-4565 or

See recent article about CHURCH WOW below:

The Book of Acts
First century Christianity gets a rocky start and then conquers the Roman Empire

Church Without Walls Biblical Scholarship series
New Semester Starts November 29th
Class Meets Sundays - 7 to 9 PM.

The ongoing biblical Scholarship Class meets every Sunday from 7PM to 9PM in the media room at 10202 Vanderbilt Drive, Naples, FL. There is no tuition fee, but love offerings are appreciated. Class is led by Revs. Sam and Bunny Sewell. The Biblical Scholarship series is sponsored by the Theological Center of Naples.

Directions? – More information? – and please RSVP - Rev Bunny at 591-4565 or 10202 Vanderbilt Dr, Naples, Fl 34108

Biblical scholarship is not the same thing as Bible study. Those who want Bible study can find high quality Bible study programs at almost every church in town. The Church Without Walls Biblical Scholarship Program aims to provide the public at large with a curriculum similar to that which must be mastered by clergy at accredited seminaries.


PO Box 1196
Naples, Florida 34106

The Theological Center of Naples is proud to endorse the Church Without Walls Biblical Scholarship Program led by the Reverends Sam and Bunny Sewell. Sam and Bunny are active supporters, contributors and leaders of the TCN.

The TCN partnership with the Church Without Walls demonstrates the commitment of TCN in providing high quality biblical education programs to lay persons interested in expanding their understanding and appreciation of the scriptures & their relevancy to personal and spiritual growth.

The TCN encourages clergy to promote and support The Biblical Scholarship Program. The program meets on Sundays from 7 -9PM. For more information contact Rev Bunny at 591-4565 or 10202 Vanderbilt Dr, Naples, Fl 34108

Peace and Blessings,

Rev. Michael Harper
President, TCN


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Introduction to The Book of Acts

I. Luke-Acts: Its Unity and Common Authorship
It is of the utmost importance to visualize the Third Gospel and the book of Acts as two parts of a single whole. Scholarship has been greatly handicapped by their conventional treatment in introductions and commentaries as separate books, and a commentary which will deal with the whole of Luke's work as a single unit is still greatly to be desired. Amidst the sharpest division of opinion concerning many of the critical problems of Acts, modern scholars are almost unanimous that Luke and Acts have a common author. Even among radicals, Norden and Loisy (see pp. 14, 20) stand almost alone in attributing to the author of the Third Gospel, not the whole of Acts, but only its principal source--the travel diary. Apart altogether from the witness of tradition, the linguistic evidence (see pp. 7-8) seems conclusive that however diverse the sources of his information, one ultimate editor has left his own hallmark upon the whole of his varied materials from the beginning of Luke to the end of Acts. For conservative and radical scholars alike to accept or deny the "Lukan" authorship of Acts means the acceptance or denial of the "Lukan" authorship of the Gospel.
A study of the major interests of the two books (see Intro. to Luke's Gospel, Vol. VIII) confirms the impression of unity of authorship. Both regard Christianity as the new universal religion that recognizes no limitations of race (Luke 2:32; 4:23-27; 10:29-37; 17:15-18--and note the omission of the material of Matthew 7:6; 10:5-6; 15:21-28; 18:17--Acts 10:34-35; 13:46-47; 17:26-28; 28:28). Both continually emphasize the power of the Holy Spirit at work, first in the ministry of Jesus himself, and subsequently in the apostolic missions (Luke 1:15, 35; 2:25-27; 3:22; 4:1, 18; 10:21; 24:49; Acts 1:2, 8; 2:14, 38; 8:14-17, 29, 39; 10:44-47; 13:2, 4, 9; 15:28; 16:7; 19:1-7; etc.). Both show a marked sympathy for the poor (Luke 3:11; 4:18; 6:20; 16:22; Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-35; 9:36, 39), a certain antipathy to the rich (Luke 1:53; 6:24; 12:13-21; 16:14, 19 ff.; Acts 8:18-24), and stress the duty of the proper stewardship of wealth (Luke 12:42-48; 16:1-13; 19:12-27; Acts 4:36-37; 5:1-11; 20:35). Both seem specially interested in the part played by women in the Christian community (Luke 1:39-56; 2:36-38; 7:37-38; 23:27-29; 24:10; Acts 5:1 ff.; 9:36 ff.; 12:12-13; 16:13-15, 16-18; 18:2; 24:24; 25:13). Both give much attention to such subjects as prayer (Luke 11:5-13; 18:1-5, 9-14; 22:39-46--and note the references to Jesus at prayer, not in Mark, in Luke 3:21; 6:12; 9:28-29; 11:l--Acts 1:24-25; 2:42; 4:31; 6:6; 10:2, 9; 12:12; 13:3; 16:25; 21:5), "grace" or "favor" (the word ca6riv, which is used by neither Mark nor Matthew, occurs nine times in Luke and seventeen times in Acts), and the forgiveness of sins (Luke 1:77; 7:47; 11:4; 15:11-32; 24:47; Acts 2:38; 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18). We even have hints in the Gospel of what we shall find to be one of the main postulates of Acts--that Christianity is not to be considered a subversive sect, but on the contrary was in general regarded with favor by the Roman authorities, who but for the inveterate hatred of the Jews would have refused to condemn either Jesus or his apostles (Luke 20:20-26; 23:4, 13-16, 20-22, 47; Acts 13:7, 12; 16:35-40; 18:12-17; 19:31, 37; 23:26-30; 24:23; 25:25-27; 26:30-32; 27:43; 28:30-31).
But not only have Luke and Acts a common author; they are two parts of one continuous work. Nor should we think of Acts as a mere "sequel" to the Gospel, written it may be years later as an afterthought. The second volume was almost certainly part of the author's original plan for a two-volume work. Indeed it has been conjectured that he orginally intended to write a third volume, and that only so can the abrupt ending of Acts be satisfactorily explained (see Exeg. at end of ch. 28). However that may be, that Luke planned at least two volumes seems conclusively proved by the twin prefaces (see below, p. 20 and Exeg. on 1:1). Both volumes are addressed to the same The ophilus. The opening verses of Luke appear to be a general prooimion covering both volumes, for the words "the things which have been accomplished among us" (Luke 1:1) obviously have reference not only to the contents of the Gospel, but to the whole story of the birth and growth of Christianity, which is the theme of both books. Similarly the preface of Acts is a conventional proekthesis, which refers to "the first book" (Acts 1:1), or "volume one," as we should say, and picks up the thread of events where it was there broken off. The Gospel ends with Jesus' assurance that he will "send the promise of my Father upon you," with his command to "stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high," and with the briefest possible account of how "he parted from them." Acts opens with a reminder of this promise and command, a picture of the disciples waiting at Jerusalem for its fulfillment, a fuller account of the Ascension, and a vivid description of the fulfillment of the promise by the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. Just as volume one looked forward to volume two, so does volume two look back to volume one. Both are parts of a single planned whole.
The unity and common authorship of Luke and Acts being thus assumed, how are we to explain the early separation of the two books in the arrangement of the New Testament writings? The first volume corresponded in character and contents with other outlines of Jesus' life and teaching, and together with the three other "Gospels" it passed into the New Testament canon as one of a clearly defined group of four which, with certain variations in order, were also transmitted together. The second volume, the Acts, appeared to belong to a different category of writings. It too had a number of close relatives in early Christian literature, memorabilia about the apostles, but alone in this class of writings it won a place in the canon. It thus became separated from its companion volume, and its place in the order of the New Testament books varies according as it is related more closely to the Catholic epistles or to the Pauline epistles.
The book was canonised first of all as a supplement to the catholic epistles,--to make up for the fact that many of the apostles had left no writings behind them,--and, in the second place, as a link between the Pauline and the catholic epistles, by way of documentary proof that Paul and the twelve were at one.2
The most ancient tradition seems to have closely associated Acts with the Catholic epistles, and we have the order: Gospels, Acts, Catholic epistles, Pauline epistles. This is the order of the codices A, B, and C, of the Fathers Athanasius and Cyril of Jerusalem; and among modern editors Tischendorff, Westcott and Hort, and von Soden have adopted it. A rarer order, but one which still associates Acts with the Catholic epistles, is: Gospels, Pauline epistles, Acts, Catholic epistles. This is the order in Codex Sinaiticus, and it is also attested by Epiphanius and Jerome. Sometimes, on the other hand, Acts is associated more closely with the Pauline epistles, so that we have the order: Gospels, Acts, Pauline epistles, Catholic epistles. This order is found in none of the more ancient manuscripts, but it is attested among other authorities by the Muratorian Canon, Eusebius, and the Codex Amiatinus of the Vulgate. Most of the early editors--Erasmus, Stephanus, Théodore de Bèze, the Elzeviri--followed it, so that it became the recognized order in the Textus Receptus and consequently in nearly all modern translations.
What title, if any, the author gave to his two-volume work, we do not know. Ancient writers commonly entitled their books "Concerning So-and-So," or used the name of their patron: in Luke's case the title would be, if dedicated in Latin, Ad Theophilum. Only after the separation of the two volumes would the title Acts (pra6xeiv) of the Apostles be applied to the second. The word pra6xeiv had previously been used as a book title, as, for example, by Callisthenes, a contemporary of Alexander the Great, who wrote The Acts of Alexander. The title Acts of the Apostles does not correspond particularly well with the contents of the book, which has nothing to say about any of the original "apostles" save Peter and John. It probably reflects the point of view of the second-century church for which Peter and Paul were the "apostles" par excellence. But pra6xeiv was a simple and natural word to employ as a title, and it was probably not originally intended to indicate any formal literary classification. Nevertheless once it had been applied to the canonical "Acts," the latter became in fact the prototype of a succession of apocryphal "Acts" which, however inferior in quality, were felt to belong to the same literary genre.
II. Luke-Acts: The Witness of Tradition
Tradition is unanimous in ascribing both the Third Gospel and Acts to Luke, but it is not till the latter part of the second century that Acts is expressly quoted as his work. The writings of the Apostolic Fathers contain what may well be echoes of Acts, but they are never so precise as to demand direct dependence. Clement of Rome, for example, speaks of "giving more willingly than receiving,"3 which recalls the words of Jesus quoted in Acts 20:35, "It is more blessed to give than to receive," but is hardly a direct quotation. Similarly the fact that in the same epistle Ps. 89:20 and I Sam. 13:14 are combined in the same manner as in Acts 13:22 may indicate no more than that both writers are dependent on the same collection of "testimonies," or messianic proof texts.
In Did. 4:8 we have the words, "Thou shalt share everything in common with thy brother, and thou shalt not say that it belongs to thee personally," which again reads like an echo of Acts 4:32, but is not close enough to be regarded as an actual quotation.4 Similarly Barnabas, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Hermas all contain phrases which are more or less closely reminiscent of Acts and create a presumption, which however fails short of certainty, that they were familiar with Luke's work.5
In the last quarter of the second century the evidence becomes perfectly definite. In the Western church Irenaeus regards Acts as holy Scripture and cites it as Lucae de apostolis testificatio.6 The Muratorian Canon is still more explicit: "The Acts of all the Apostles are written in a single book. Luke compiled for 'most excellent Theophilus' everything that happened in detail in his presence ..."--a statement evidently intended to exclude from the canon the various apocryphal "Acts." Similarly Tertullian in the church of Africa speaks of Acts as a "commentary of Luke," and in Alexandria Clement7 recognizes it as an authentic Lukan writing.
Thereafter the testimony of tradition regarding Acts no less than the Third Gospel is so unanimous that it is unnecessary to cite witnesses. As Moffatt puts it: "What helped eventually to popularise [Acts] and to win canonical prestige was its ecclesiastical emphasis on the apostles and Paul as leaders of the catholic church--a trait which became particularly grateful in the controversy with Marcion."8
III. Luke the Physician in the New Testament and in Tradition
Apart from what we can deduce from Acts, on the assumption that it, or at least the diary source, is to be ascribed to him, the New Testament tells us little of Luke. In Col. 4:14 Paul calls him "the beloved physician," and he is mentioned as if in Paul's company along with Aristarchus, Mark, Jesus Justus, Epaphras, and Demas. The first three are called "the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers" (Col. 4:11), whence it may be deduced that Luke was a Gentile by origin. The same names, except that of Justus, are mentioned in Philem. 24:1 and are called by Paul "my fellow workers." In II Tim. 4:10-11 Luke is again mentioned alongside Demas, which suggests some possible relationship between them. But "Demas ... has deserted me ...; Luke alone is with me." Doubt as to the authenticity of the Pastorals lessens the value of this allusion.
Efforts have been made to find references to Luke elsewhere in the New Testament. Theophylact and Gregory the Great wished to identify him with the unnamed companion of Cleopas on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13 ff.); but this is pure speculation. Tradition numbered him among "the seventy" (Luke 10:1), but this is most improbable if he was of pagan origin. An allusion to him has been supposed in "the brother, whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches" (II Cor. 8:18 KJV), who was sent by Paul with Titus to Corinth. But the correct translation is "the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel" (RSV); and to see in a letter written as early as II Corinthians, as do Origen and Jerome,9 an allusion to Luke's Gospel is of course an anachronism. Luke has been identified also with one or other Lucius mentioned in Acts 13:1 (see Exeg., ad loc.) and Rom. 16:21 on the supposition that the Greek form Loukas is an intimate abbreviated form of Loukios, which inscriptions show was used in the vernacular koine for the Latin Lucius. Finally the attempt to identify Luke with Silvanus (Silas)--on the ground presumably that the Latin term lucus is a synonym for silva--can only be pronounced with Alfred Plummer "a caricature of critical ingenuity."
Later traditions outside the New Testament have little if any historical value. In some lists of apostles Luke is given a place beside Paul and Mark to the exclusion of Philip, Thaddaeus, and James the son of Alphaeus. He is said variously to have conducted missions in Italy, Greece, Dalmatia, Gaul, Bithynia, Africa--in fact over all the known world. One legend makes him a notable painter. In others he appears as bishop either of Alexandria or Laodicea. Traditions about his death are equally conflicting. Sometimes he dies a natural death, both at Thebes in Boeotia and at Ephesus; sometimes he suffers a martyr's death, either by decapitation at Alexandria or in a mass slaughter with "169 brothers" at Rome. His relics were allegedly transferred to Constantinople in A.D. 357 with those of Andrew and Timothy.10
The one tradition which is so ancient and widespread as to appear likely to have some substance is that Luke hailed from Antioch in Syria. Eusebius expressly describes him as "being by birth of those from Antioch and by profession a physician," and his statement reappears in Jerome who speaks of "Luke the physician, an Antiochian."11 The Western text after Acts 11:27 reads: "And there was great rejoicing; and when we were gathered together one of them stood up and said ..."--as if Luke himself were present. Even though this is only a Western addition, it may witness to the early belief that Luke was associated with the church at Antioch during the first stay there of Paul and Barnabas. Harnack12 has attempted with some success to show from the internal evidence of Acts its author's special interest in Antioch. On the other hand it is possible that the tradition merely grew out of a false Western reading which, by introducing a "we" at Antioch in Acts 11:27, invited the deduction that this was Luke's place of residence. It has even been plausibly suggested that Luke's alleged Antiochene origin is a deduction from that of Theophilus. The title "most excellent" indicates a man of rank. The romance called the Clementine Recognitions13 pictures Theophilus as a wealthy resident of Antioch. Later Christian writers transformed him into a bishop, and finally confounded him with the famous apologist at the end of the second century, Bishop Theophilus of Antioch. Has Luke simply been assigned to the same city as his patron? Nevertheless only one other city seriously rivals Antioch as Luke's possible birthplace. Ramsay, following Renan, claims the honor for Philippi, arguing that the "man of Macedonia" (16:9) whom Paul saw in a vision at Troas, was in fact Luke, who had visited Paul to plead the claims of his own city to hear the gospel. The first authentic "we passage" begins in the very next verse, and Paul makes his way directly to Philippi. Luke's native pride is evidenced in 16:12, where he calls Philippi "the leading city of the district of Macedonia." S. C. Carpenter ingeniously suggests that "the two views [as to Luke's place of origin] may perhaps be combined by supposing that he was an Antiochene who was in medical practice at Philippi."14 To the much-debated question when Luke became a Christian, many possible answers have been suggested. Was it at Antioch when Paul came there with Barnabas? Or at Troas, when according to Ramsay, he met Paul for the first time? Or at Antioch in Galatia, when, as Rackham suggests, Paul may have called him in to attend him? Harnack's conclusion is the wisest: "We have no knowledge when and by whose influence he became a Christian, nor whether he had previously come into sympathetic touch with the Judaism of the Dispersion; only one thing is certain--that he had never been in Jerusalem or Palestine."15
IV. Luke-Acts: Its Style, Vocabulary, and Literary Character
The author of Luke-Acts is an accomplished and versatile literary artist, and his style is very supple and varied. As is evident from a study of the Synoptic parallels, he does not hesitate to polish and embellish the language of his Marcan source to a much greater extent than does Matthew. In Acts some of his narratives--the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost, the story of Philip the evangelist, the conversion of Cornelius--are written in an archaic, redundant style which is characteristically Hebraic; while others, such as the account of Paul's appearance before the Areopagus, are so wholly Greek in color and outlook as to suggest that they could be written only by a pure Hellene. The truth is that the book is written, not in one style, but in several; and this can be explained, not merely by the use of varied sources, but by the author's practice of skillfully adapting his style to suit the atmosphere of the situation which he is describing. As J. H. Moulton has said, "He steeps his style in Biblical phraseology, drawn from the Greek Old Testament, so long as his narrative moves in Palestinian circles, where the speakers use Greek that obviously represents a foreign. idiom," whereas he "instinctively departs from that style when his subject takes him away from the Biblical land and people."16 As Cadbury has pointed out, it is sometimes difficult to decide whether imitation is conscious or unconscious. The "biblical flavor" of writers like Bunyan and Lincoln was unconscious; but Luke belonged to an age in which imitative style was not uncommon, so that it is likely enough that some of the more obvious Semitisms, especially in the speeches of Acts, are deliberate biblical imitation. Note too the Hebrew prepositional use of parts of the body: "to the face of" (before), "from the face of" (away from), "on the face of" (upon), "by the hand of," "by the mouth of." Nor, one feels, would any Greek man of letters, as was Luke, use except by way of imitation such characteristic Semitic parallelisms as "in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity" (8:23) or "that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God" (26:18).17
In a series of elaborate linguistic studies Harnack and in particular J. C. Hawkins18 claim with justice to have proved a unity of style between the Third Gospel and Acts. There are undoubtedly more affinities of vocabulary between these two books than between any other two New Testament writings. There are, for example, seventeen words found both in Acts and Matthew but nowhere else in the New Testament; fourteen words found only in Acts and Mark; thirteen only in Acts and John; but no fewer than fifty-eight found only in Acts and Luke. By similar methods of analysis the linguistic unity of the whole book of Acts can be demonstrated, for the characteristic "Lukan" expressions occur in all sections--in the early chapters as well as in the diary source. This would seem to suggest either that the writer of the diary is the author of the whole book, which is the traditional view; or that the author of the book as a whole has imposed his own style on someone else's diary; or even conversely that a later editor has assimilated his own style to that of the Lukan diary source which he is incorporating. Of the three alternatives the first appears much the most probable. The third alternative seems very unnatural, though Maurice Goguel pleads in its favor that Harnack's statistics show the "we-sections" to be "not only Lukan but hyper-Lukan." They are the fountainhead of the Lukan style, which is more diluted throughout the rest of the book.19
Much weight has also been put on the linguistic argument that the author of Luke-Acts is a physician.20 It is questionable whether this line of research would ever have suggested itself were it not stated in Col. 4:14 that Luke the companion of Paul was a physician: it would therefore be strong confirmation of the traditional theory of authorship if it could be proved that the author's language is characterized by technical medical terms. There are in fact numerous points of contact between the vocabulary of Luke and that of Greek medical writers such as Hippocrates (ca. 460 B.C.) and Galen (ca. A.D. 130), and technical terms are more numerous and more precise in the stories of healing in Luke-Acts than in the other Gospels. But more recent work, particularly that of H. J. Cadbury,21 has largely undermined the purely linguistic argument. Of the 400 supposed medical terms listed by Hobart 360 are found in the Septuagint; other nonmedical authors, such as Philo and Lucian, supply as many "medical terms" as does Luke. Practically all Luke's alleged technical terms are used also by nonmedical writers; both Plutarch and Lucian use 90 per cent of them; if Josephus and the Septuagint are taken together, no less than 390 out of the 400 can be paralleled. The truth seems to be that the language of Greek doctors was not highly specialized, and that the use made by Luke of so-called technical terms does not exceed what might be expected of any writer of wide general culture. It would indeed be equally easy to prove from the number of nautical terms used in ch. 27 that Luke was a sailor, or that he was a lawyer from the considerable number of legal expressions used in the closing chapters.
The fallacy of most of the linguistic statistics must be admitted. But the argument is not one from language only but also from medical interest, and it is indubitable that the whole of Luke-Acts shows this to a remarkable degree. In the Gospel, to a greater extent than in any of the others, attention is focused on the healing and care of the sick. Luke alone tells the parable of the good Samaritan. For him Jesus' cures are a signal proof of his messiahship (Luke 7:18-23). In Acts great emphasis is laid on the numerous cures wrought by the apostles in general at Jerusalem (5:12-16) and by Paul at Ephesus (19:11). Such cures are proof that the power of Jesus himself is still at work (3:12-13; 4:7-10). Harnack indeed rightly calls attention to Luke's disposition to see in miracles of healing the chief function of the mighty forces of the new religion. When we recall such vivid descriptions of healing as Luke 4:38-41 or Acts 3:1-10--or note how tactfully Luke 8:43 modifies Mark 5:26 in the interest of the good name of the medical profession!--the impression is cumulative that the author may well have been a doctor. This would probably be generally admitted by scholars were there not other reasons--some of them undoubtedly strong--which have prejudiced them against the traditional view that the author is Luke the physician. But as Windisch, himself an opponent of the traditional view, confesses: "We cannot demand unconditionally that the medical calling of an author should appear in an evangelic and apostolic history. If, however, we do find traces of such a professional education, we appear to have an unexpectedly brilliant confirmation of the tradition."22
Finally it may be asked under what literary genre Luke-Acts should be classified stylistically. The truth is that it belongs, strictly speaking, to none of the recognized literary types of antiquity. The Gospels appear at first sight to fall under the category of "biography" alongside, for example, Plutarch's Parallel Lives, Suetonius' Lives of the Caesars, Tacitus' Agricola. An even closer parallel might seem to be provided by memorabilia, such as Xenophon's Recollections of Socrates or Philostratus' Life of Apollonius of Tyana. But it is of the nature of memorabilia that the author should claim to be present at the events he records, and this, apart from the diary source, the author of Luke-Acts does not. Moreover Cadbury23 well remarks that, quite apart from their admitted apologetic and religious purpose, the factor distinguishing the Gospels from ancient literary "biography" or "memoirs" is their "popular" character--not in the sense that they are written for plain folk in a popular style, but rather in the sense that they grew out of the common popular life of the church. The material is the spontaneous creation of the Christian community, and the final recorder is content to set it down much as it came to him. Though Luke's Gospel has more claim to be literature than have Matthew and Mark, it is still "popular" in this sense. And this is just as true of Luke's second volume. Still less can it be classified as biography, for though full of biographical interest, it makes no attempt to trace the full career of the principal characters--Peter, Stephen, Philip, Paul--who pass across the pages more like the actors in a drama than the subjects of a formal biography. For Acts "history" might appear to be a more apt classification; and indeed it has many points of contact with typical histories of antiquity--the working up of earlier sources, the introduction of speeches, the use of a series of outstanding names as a thread on which to carry forward the continuous narrative. But once again, only with many reservations can Acts be classified as formal history. The narrative is too disjointed, and too noticeably lacking in balance and proportion;24 the gaps in the story of the church's growth are too obvious; the selection of the material is determined too clearly by motives which are not primarily historical. Once again Luke appears as a transmitter of popular Christian tradition rather than as a formal littérateur. This of course is not to deny that his book contains a vast amount of valuable and reliable history. But it does mean that other motives than that of pure historical research lie behind his writing, and that we can understand his book only as we appreciate that fact.
V. The Greek Text of Acts
The problem presented by the text of Acts is unique in the New Testament. The manuscripts have preserved two types of text, and the divergent readings in this or that family are so general and consistent as to suggest to some scholars that we have to do, not merely with a large number of independent variants, but rather with two separate recensions of the original text. The "Neutral" text as given in most modern critical editions is based on our oldest uncials--Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus--supported by the Vulgate Latin, the Peshitta Syriac, and the Greek fathers such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Chrysostom. The "Western" text, which in Acts differs much more widely from the "Neutral" than in other New Testament books, derives chiefly from Codex Bezae (D) and Codex Laudianus, supported by the Old Latin, certain Syriac authorities, in particular the margin of the Harclean Syriac, Irenaeus, and the Latin fathers such as Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine. The regular occurrence of the same variant (for example, the important variants in the text of the "apostolic decrees" in ch. 15) in all the manuscripts of a Western type has led to the theory that they must all come from a common source, and that we are dealing, not with a collection of more or less fortuitous variants, but with a separate edition of the original text.
The most important development of this theory is that of Friedrich Wilhelm Blass. Following up the work of Bornemann25 and of Paul de Lagarde,26 both of whom gave preference to the Western text, Blass27 propounded the hypothesis that Luke had in fact issued two editions of Acts. Having composed the book at the end of the two years of Paul's imprisonment at Rome, Luke carefully revised it and sent a copy of the revision to Theophilus at Antioch. This copy was the prototype of the Neutral recension (Blass's a text). Luke then handed over his original draft to the Christians of Rome, and this in turn became the source of the Western or Roman recension (Blass's b text). Curiously, while in Acts the Western readings are uniformly longer than the Neutral, in the Gospel the reverse is usually the case. This Blass explained by the converse theory that in the case of the Gospel the original draft, written before Luke arrived in Rome, lies behind the Neutral text, while the Western text has its origin in a revised edition which Luke specially made for the Roman church.
There would seem to be three tenable views concerning the relationship to each other of the two types of text: (a) The view of Blass, which though ingenious has found little support, that Luke did in fact himself issue two editions. (b) The view that the Western text is nearer the original, the Neutral representing a later scholarly revision. Though the tendency today is certainly to pay greater respect to Western readings, and the priority of the Western text has been urged with great cogency by A. C. Clark,28 this view has not yet found general acceptance. Matthew Black, an Aramaic expert, has emphasized the value of the text of the Bezan Codex and holds that "D represents the Aramaic background of the Synoptic tradition more faithfully than do non-Western manuscripts."29 (c) The view that the Neutral text is most nearly primitive, while the Western readings are merely the corrections, paraphrases, and expansions of successive scribes, or are possibly in part at least due to a later redaction of the Lukan text, as is argued by Harnack and more recently by J. H. Ropes.30
The more interesting Western variations are noted throughout the commentary. A study of them in detail seems, generally speaking, to confirm the priority of the shorter Neutral text. Some of the Western variations are evidently designed to bring the text into line with some parallel passage: for example, the Western expansion of 9:5-6 (cf. KJV with RSV) is evidently based on 22:10 and 26:14; and the addition in 13:33 of the words "Ask of me and I shall give thee the Gentiles for thine inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession" merely completes the quotation from Ps. 2:7-8. In 18:27 the Western addition that "some Corinthians urged him [Apollos] to go with them to their country" can perhaps be explained by reference to I Cor. 16:12. Other additions aim at giving greater precision to circumstances of time (1:5, "at Pentecost"; 5:21, "rising up early"), or of place (12:1, "some who belonged to the church in Judea"; 12:20, "they came to him in a body from both the cities"). Others again appear to be purely stylistic and due to a scribe or editor who, as Adolf Jülicher says, "occasionally even altered from the mere joy of altering."31 See 2:37 and especially 19:14, where in both passages, particularly the second, the text is greatly expanded without anything essentially new being said. If it is the Neutral scribe who is responsible for a later abbreviation of such passages, it is difficult to understand how his zeal for abridgment could have spared him room for three accounts of Paul's conversion and all the redundancies of the story of Cornelius.
When the Western variant is not merely stylistic but factual, it is again usually most easily explained as an expansion of an originally shorter text. In the Western text of 5:39, where Gamaliel says, "You will not be able to overthrow them, neither you nor emperors nor tyrants," we see reflected the church's later experience of state persecution. The confession of faith in 8:37 (KJV) is evidently added under the influence of later baptismal practice. For the very important variants in the text of the apostolic decrees in 15:20, 29 see Exeg., ad loc., where again the Neutral text is preferred.
It is true that certain Western readings leave the impression that they are based on good authority. Such are the first occurrence of a "we" in 11:28, the mention of the "seven steps" in 12:10, of Trogyllium in 20:15 and of Myra in 21:1, the remark in 28:16 that "the centurion delivered the prisoners to the stratopedarch." But even in these cases, if the readings were indeed original, it is difficult to understand why such vivid details should have been deliberately excised at a later editing, whether by the author, by a subsequent redactor, or by a mere scribe. The conclusion is that while certain individual Western readings may have some claim to originality on their own merit, the Western text as a whole is almost certainly secondary, and has probably resulted, except perhaps in the case of certain key passages such as the apostolic decrees, from a fortuitous accumulation of scribal alterations, paraphrases, and expansions, rather than from a systematic redaction of the entire Lukan text.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Peter and Paul the Movie - Starring Anthony Hopkins as Paul - Oct 25th and Nov 1

Did you ever wonder what life was like in Jesus’ times?

Church WOW Biblical Scholarship Series Special Presentation –
October 25th and Nov 1 - Peter and Paul the Movie–
Starring Anthony Hopkins as Paul

Church Without Walls Biblical Scholarship Special Presentation for two Sunday evenings October and 25th and Nov 1 from 7 to 9 PM. This special film will serve as an introduction to the group’s study of the Book of Acts

The regular class meets every Sunday from 7PM to 9PM in the media room at 10202 Vanderbilt Drive, Naples, FL. There is no tuition fee but love offerings are appreciated. Class is led by Revs. Sam and Bunny Sewell. The Biblical Scholarship series is sponsored by the Theological Center of Naples.

Winner of Two Emmy Awards
"Two key pillars of Early Christianity and Western Civilization. But in their own day, the world didn't want them."

This epic mini-series brings to life the precarious existence of early Christianity. The new movement is beset by violent opposition from without and constant turmoil from within. Two key leaders emerge--Peter and Paul--who struggle to keep the faith alive. This dramatic presentation follows the pair, together and separately, through three epochal decades.
"This is the best. Great acting with Anthony Hopkins, Raymond Burr, Jose Ferrer. Filmed beautifully. The entire three hours presentation follows very closely to the Scripture. It will give you a marvelous visual of new testament times." You will be blessed by this film! You'll be blessing your friends by inviting them watch it. They don't make them any better than this.”

Directions? – More information? – and please RSVP - Rev Bunny at 591-4565 or 10202 Vanderbilt Dr, Naples, Fl 34108

PO Box 1196
Naples, Florida 34106

The Theological Center of Naples is proud to endorse the Church Without Walls Biblical Scholarship Program led by the Reverends Sam and Bunny Sewell. Sam and Bunny are active supporters, contributors and leaders of the TCN.

The TCN partnership with the Church Without Walls demonstrates the commitment of TCN in providing high quality biblical education programs to lay persons interested in expanding their understanding and appreciation of the scriptures & their relevancy to personal and spiritual growth.
The TCN encourages clergy to promote and support The Biblical Scholarship Program. The program meets on Sundays from 7 -9PM, beginning on April 6th. For more information contact Rev Bunny at 591-4565 or 10202 Vanderbilt Dr, Naples, Fl 34108

Peace and Blessings,

Rev. Michael Harper
President, TCN
Also see:
Ordinary and Marvelous AND The Secrets of the Universe
Ordinary and MarvelousANDThe Secrets of the Universe


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ordinary and Marvelous AND The Secrets of the Universe

Ordinary and Marvelous
The Secrets of the Universe

A note to help understand the background and context of this article:
The first article, “Ordinary and Marvelous” was assigned to the class to read in preparation for the lecture that follows, entitled “The Secrets of the Universe”

Ordinary and Marvelous!
A Peek at the Peak
by Sam and Bunny Sewell

When human beings in every culture have a common behavior, that behavior is considered a part of basic human nature, rather than the product of cultural conditioning. For instance; marriage occurs in all cultures. Thus, marriage is part of human nature, and has what anthropologists call “cross cultural verification.” This brief essay is an introduction to a special kind of universal human experience that remains a mystery for most people. It is important to note that this mysterious phenomenon has cross cultural verification. This ordinary and marvelous event is something that comes from our fundamental human nature. Our challenge is to define this mystery that occurs in every century and every culture, and to understand its effects.

What does this experience feel like? Here are some quotations:

1. “I suddenly became vividly aware that every blade of grass had its own life.”

2. “Time seemed to stand still.”

3. “I lost awareness of my separate existence. I realized I was part of everything.”

4. “Everything -- the flowers, birds, and trees -- seemed alive with a buzzing or glowing energy. It was like someone had sprinkled 'pixie dust' everywhere.”

5. “It was so beautiful! It was still the ordinary world, but now I realized its perfection. Tears began to roll down my cheeks. I wasn't sad! I have never been so
happy in my life; true rapture! It was as if an absolutely perfect reality had been there all along, and suddenly I could see lt.”

6. “Somebody turned reality up a notch. Everything was brighter. Somehow everything was more real.”

7. “Every detail was perfect. Nor could it possibly have been any other way!”

8. “Even while I watched it happen, I knew ... as though I had known all along. There was a feeling that of course this was how things really were.”

None of these statements would sound strange to an ancient mystic. Mystics have always been aware of these special states of consciousness. Mystical literature is full of such references. What is surprising is the dawning awareness that we all have mystical experiences. Very ordinary people who don't write poems, burn incense, meditate, see visions, use hallucinogenic drugs, or experience miracles, often report “peak experiences.” Remember, this is a common phenomenon in all cultures.

In our discussion of this subject we use the phrase “peak experiences” which is borrowed from the American psychologist, Abraham Maslow. Maslow and other psychologists have extensively researched this phenomenon, and they have applied the label “peak experiences” to what has been called “inspiration,” “the Divine ecstasy,” “enlightenment,” “satori,” “being born again,” or “seeing the Glory of God,” etc.

Different Peaks

The psychological exploration of peak experiences has revealed some astounding facts and spawned fascinating speculations. Below are some of the types of peak experiences:

Insight experiences -- Newton when the apple hit him on the head -- Einstein when the general and special theories of relativity were “revealed” to him -- Bohr's discovery of quantum theory -- the “gift” of the perfect solution to a complicated problem, without any conscious problem solving on your part. Knowledge through revelation is a common peak experience for many people.
Spiritual rapture -- St. Paul on the road to Damascus -- Buddha under the Bo tree -- Jesus in the desert -- the rapture of the prophets -- feeling God's presence around a camp fire -- religious literature abounds with examples. For a good discussion on this subject see William James, “The Varieties of Religious Experience.”

Creative experiences -- an entire symphony with full instrumentation playing in the mind of a great composer for the first time -- the rush of ideas pressing the mind of the novelist so that his typing can not keep up with the flow of ideas and words. The states of consciousness associated with peak experiences are resident in the poet, artist, composer, musician, writer, actor, orator, dancer, the theoretical physicist, the sub-atomic physicist, and the astrophysicist.

Nature experiences -- stars take your breath away one special night, even though the same stars are there every night -- things seem more real, more alive, brighter, perfect, beautiful -- a fraternal connection with an animal (i.e. Martin Buber's description of his experience with a horse). Nature is the setting for the most common kind of peak experience.

Impossible events -- Football’s “Immaculate Reception” -- the “hole-in-one” you knew was a hole-in-one before you hit the ball -- that sense of perfect action which you “know” will turn out perfectly as you do it -- feeling “in synch” with things and action -- sports, ballet, martial arts, and many other things that happen in “perfect synchronicity.”

Trauma experiences -- near death experiences, like men in combat -- people near death from sickness -- people who belong to the “zipper club” -- near fatal accidents, are commonly reported as changing peoples’ lives forever. Also included are trance states induced by tribal dancing, prolonged fasting or other deprivations. Groups who experience trauma (like earthquakes) are often bonded by the shared peak experience associated with many kinds of extreme stress.

There are other kinds of peak experiences. These examples are offered to stimulate memories of your own peak experiences.

After the Peak

For many people the aftereffects of peak experiences are every bit as real as the experience itself. The aftereffects are profound and long lasting. They seem to establish the validity of peak experiences in people's lives. Below are some of the reported aftereffects of peak experiences:

l. Peak experiences have a therapeutic effect in the sense that they remove problems from peoples lives. Long standing neurotic symptoms sometimes disappear. Occasionally, addictions are instantly overcome. Physical healings are reported in the aftermath of peak experiences. Such therapeutic effects are plentifully recorded in human history.

2. Peak experiences can change a person's view of himself in a healthy direction.

3. Peak experiences can change a person's view of other people and one's relationship to them in many ways.

4. Peak experiences can permanently change a person's world view or one's understanding of the meaning of life.

5. Peak experiences often release greater creativity, unique traits of personality,
spontaneity, expressiveness, and joy.

6. People often have exceptionally vivid recollections of their peak experiences, see them as desirable, enjoy reliving them in memory, and eagerly anticipate the occurrence of similar experiences.

7. The person is more apt to feel that life in general is worthwhile. In the midst of the ordinary, the person knows at his core that beauty, wholeness, goodness, truth, and meaningfulness, really do exist. Faith no longer means believing without evidence. He has personal experience of the divine nature. He has known his perfect self and experienced a perfect universe. Life itself is validated!

Personal Peaks

Maslow summarizes aftereffects this way: “I think that these aftereffects can all be generalized and a feeling for them communicated if the peak experience could be likened to a visit to a personally defined paradise from which the person then returns to ordinary life.” Maslow goes on to quote the mystic poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “If a man could pass through paradise in a dream, and have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his soul had really been there, and if he found that flower in his hand when he awoke - Ay! And what then?” Peak experiences give us a glimpse of a reality that is stripped of our personal and cultural perspectives. It is nothing less than the direct experience of a reality that is unsullied by human limitations.

Your Peaks

Maslow asked thousands of people about their peak experiences. Here is Maslow’s first research question: “I would like you to think of the most wonderful experience or experiences of your life: happiest moments, moments of rapture, perhaps from being in love, or from listening to music, or suddenly ‘being hit’ by a poem or a work of art, or from some great creative moment. Would you please make a list of your experiences, and your impressions of how they have affected you?

The Secrets of the Universe
A lecture by Dr. Sam Sewell to a class sponsored by
The Theological Center of Naples

Church Without Walls
Beyond the Physical
This is a Two Way Cosmic Street
The Rise of Mystical Religion
The Founding of Christianity
The Outhouse Theology
The Rise and Fall of Religion
The Sum of All Things

Church Without Walls
I want to take this opportunity because, in our study of the history of the Judeo/Christian religious tradition, we have arrived at this Intertestamental period. We have gotten to this idea of mysticism, or the direct connection that human beings have to absolute reality, without reference to the institutions that have cropped up around that direct connection; the idea that we can all access the sacred without the benefit of stained glass windows.

That does not mean that we shouldn’t value the institutions and the symbols that have grown up around religion. We need to honor that, recognized it, respect it, and also have our own personal connection to the Sacred. It is your personal connection to the Divine that is, to me, more satisfying and more significant. The two are kind of hard to separate, one from the other.

We have talked about how community, the whole idea of community; to get together with other people who are seeking the Sacred, is part of what all that is about. So I guess you could call what we’re doing a church, although I would be aghast at the idea. That is why we call this gathering Church WOW! (With Out Walls)

Beyond the Physical
So what I wanted to do here is to share with you folks the conclusions of a lifetime. I’ve been working on this stuff for a long, long time, ever since I was a young boy. People frequently see seminary as an experience that gets you the training and the education you need, but that wasn’t the case for me at all. Seminary didn’t answer a pauper’s part of the questions that I had, and I’ve gone on studying and learning from that point forward. I was on a quest for ultimate truth. Seminary gave me particular truth.

I have joked with folks that I came into the church through the back door. What I mean by that is that it wasn’t until I became acquainted with subatomic physics and astrophysics that I was able to allow, (notice how arrogant that is) a God into “my” universe. I am more a philosopher, theologian and behavioral scientist than a physicist. I have no formal training as a physicist, but I am an interested amateur.

In other words, like so many people, it was in studying God’s creation that God’s face finally showed through for me in such a way that I could then start looking at, ‘What is the nature of that which lies beyond the seeable reality?’

Metaphysics is one of the ways of looking at that. Metaphysics investigates principles of reality transcending those of any particular science. Cosmology and ontology are traditional branches of metaphysics.

· Cosmology is the branch of astrophysics that studies the universe as the totality of all phenomena in space and time.
· Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence or reality in general.

Metaphysics is concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the universe. The word metaphysics means ‘beyond the physical.’ So in many ways metaphysics transcends the physical sciences.

Let me put it this way: At the subatomic level, the physical and the non-physical are even interchangeable, so we can’t really talk about a physical reality as opposed to a non-physical reality. I think most of you know that Einstein’s famous theory, E=mc2, E is energy, M is mass, and c2 is the speed of light times itself. What that formula represents is that energy and matter are interchangeable. Another way of looking at it is that matter is just thick energy, compressed energy, because when you crack a uranium atom, energy is given off which is non-tangible, so we are converting the tangible into the non-tangible with nuclear fusion and nuclear fission.

Then there is the reverse of that process, which is also demonstratable. In a Wilson cloud chamber, (which is a device that you can build, believe it or not, it’s that simple) a gaseous atmosphere is created, through which you can see visible contrails - not the particle or the wave itself - but you can see the condensation of the particle passing through a Wilson cloud chamber, or the condensation trail of a wave passing through the Wilson cloud chamber. You can see it with the naked eye. But when you start looking, sometimes the particle trail turns into a wave trail right in the middle of the chamber; right in front of your eyes, matter turns into energy. Likewise, you’ll watch a condensation trail come in on one side as a wave and turn into energy as it exits. At the subatomic level there is this constant interplay between the tangible and intangible; between energy and matter.

Now, there is a third element in this process that has not yet been formulated.

This is what Einstein was talking about when he spoke of the Unified Field Theory. That, if we have two variables, energy and matter, which are interchangeable, then what science says about any kind of variable, is “look for the constant.” There can’t be two variables without there being a constant which underlies those two variables. I know what that is. The rest of the scientific world has not yet discovered it.

Let me be honest about what I’m saying here. This whole conversation is about the degree to which knowledge comes through revelation. Most of the things I’m going to talk to you about tonight are things that have been revealed to me. They are not things that I can prove scientifically.

One of the things that I get annoyed with scientists about is the phrase “Well, there’s no scientific evidence for that.” They use that phrase, ‘There’s no scientific evidence for [fill in the blank],’ to put down speculative thinking. I turn it around the other way, ‘Well if there is no scientific evidence, that only shows how inadequate the scientists are. Go out there and find some evidence because I know it’s true. Just because you, Mr. Scientist, have not yet found evidence to support my hypothesis, does not mean that my hypothesis is inadequate. Your gathering of scientific information is inadequate.’ Scientists would not agree. They would say that knowledge through revelation is not possible. Do you know why they say that? “Because there’s no scientific evidence….”

So what we’re left with when we start studying the outer reaches of scientific knowledge, the outer reaches of astrophysics or subatomic physics, is the conclusion that we’ve got a far more flexible universe than we think. One of the ways I like to say it is, “Reality is really there, but then again, it’s just barely there; because it can shift from one expression of reality to another expression of reality. ” Believe it or not, it can shift depending upon whether or not you are observing it.

Individual human consciousness (we have these little consciousness generators up here in our brain) has the ability to interact with absolute consciousness. Consciousness IS that which underlies all existence. Consciousness is the constant that underlies the two variables of energy and matter. We have the ability as sentient beings, self-aware beings, to interact with that sea of consciousness in which we live, and move and derive our very being. “Consciousness is the ground of all being” is another way to think about it.

Now, theologians will talk about that, philosophers will talk about that, and scientists are beginning to talk about it. The main reason that they’re not able to quantify or put it into a formula is that the only thing science has available is finite instruments. You cannot measure the infinite with finite instruments. So, science is always going to be ‘a day late and a dollar short’ when it comes to understanding the fundamental nature of reality. They’re not able to do it with a finite scientific paradigm or finite scientific instruments.

There are some people who overdo mankind’s ability to influence reality through the manipulation of collective consciousness. There are those who say that the world really was flat until people started thinking of it as round. In other words, they’re way over on the other side of the influence of human consciousness. These are tiny little influences; this human consciousness that we have. All of us put together can only slightly influence the outcome of events or reality, as we perceive it. If matter is extremely concentrated (thick) energy, then energy and matter are concentrated (thick) consciousness to a degree that is unknowable. Our puny personal consciousness generators (our brains) are less than a drop in the ocean. Our collective human consciousness, what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called the “noosphere” isn’t a thimble full in the ocean of Absolute Being Consciousness.

Don’t get me wrong, we do make a difference! I think that God actually functions mostly in the area of barely perceptible phenomenon. That’s where all the really neat stuff happens, where it’s trembling on the brink anyway. It is the influence of spiritually minded people that can affect the outcomes that are trembling on the brink of going one way or the other. Our collective consciousness has just enough influence to tip the scales of reality. For example, if it is in God’s nature to sustain life and health, our prayers and healing thoughts will add influence to what God is doing anyway.

That brings me to the whole idea of subatomic physics and what that has to do with our understanding of the nature of God. Essentially, what Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty says is, “Things can change location or can change their nature, depending on whether or not they’re being observed.” What the whole thing boils down to is that all reality is suspended in many potentialities, unlimited possibilities. And those unlimited possibilities are all inherent in every moment. When you start observing that moment, you influence those many infinite possibilities, and the so-called probability wave, or possibility wave if you want to call it that, “collapses” - that’s the phrase the physicists use - and the reality manifests. Of all of the infinite probabilities built into a moment, there are all kinds of ways the moment could turn out, but your feeding into that probability is the thing that makes it turn out the way it finally manifests in perceivable reality. In other words, the universe is visibly living up to our expectations every moment that we exist. We have an influence on the probability wave collapsing, and for reality to manifest the way it does.

Our consciousness influences reality as we experience it to an unknowable degree. In thermodynamics for example, a standard mercury-in-glass thermometer must absorb some thermal energy to record a temperature, and therefore when withdrawn it changes the temperature of the body which it is measuring. Granted, the influence is small; however, we know that we do influence reality by measuring it.

There’s a joke based on Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty. Here is the joke intended for subatomic scientists: “You might be a subatomic physicist if you’re afraid to look at your life for fear the probability wave might collapse and you’re really someone else.” It’s just a joke to illustrate the idea that if you involve yourself in it, you are changing the outcome of it. There is no pure experiment! The scientist always affects the outcome of the experiment he’s working on. There really is no such thing as objective observation of anything. If we’ve observed it, we’ve already lost all objectivity. And, of course, you can’t know what’s going on without observing. Once we become involved, the whole experiment becomes subjective rather than objective. Not only that, our influence and our consciousness is affecting the outcome of something, either in the process of observing it, or in making whatever it is to happen. That is the basic idea behind Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty.

The idea of things popping in and out of existence depending on whether or not they are being perceived is a metaphysical problem more than a century old and predates quantum theory. George Berkeley (March 1685 – 14 January 1753) in the 18th century developed subjective idealism, a metaphysical theory to respond to these questions, coined famously as "to be is to be perceived" or “If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, is there a sound?”.

If you want to see a confident Quantum Physicist blanch with fear mention the “measurement effect: or the “observer effect”. Click here if you want a technical discussion on the Observer Effect.

The problem was cleverly solved by means of a limerick found in Bertrand Russell’s “History of Western Philosophy.

God in the Quad
By Ronald Knox

There was a young man who said, “God
Must think it exceedingly odd
If he finds that this tree
Continues to be
When there’s no one about in the Quad.”

Dear Sir:
Your astonishment’s odd:
I am always about in the Quad.
And that’s why the tree
Will continue to be,
Since observed by
Yours faithfully,

Later developments like Fynman’s (Richard Feynman May 11, 1918 – February 15, 1988) Quantum electrodynamics (QED) posit a universe with matter popping in and out of existence even in the vacuum of outer space.

Now, when you know scientists think like that, is it really that much of a stretch to think that your own individual consciousness is influencing events and circumstances to be attracted to your life? Does your individual consciousness act like a reality magnet, which draws the circumstances and situations into your life because of the nature of your consciousness? Is that which we have in our minds, attracting into our lives the reality that eventually manifests itself? Is it that hard to think that way, when you know how flexible, how indeterminate, reality really is at the subatomic level, and how reality is affected by human consciousness and human interaction with that reality?

Our premise is that our individual human consciousness can influence absolute consciousness, the ground of all being. Now let’s just let that one sit there for a minute. For now, we’ll leave the topic of this kind of indeterminate reality that is subject to all kinds of influences and subject to different outcomes, depending on our involvement.

This is a Two Way Cosmic Street
Now I want to take on another piece of information about what goes on at the subatomic level. Absolute Being Consciousness influences our individual human consciousness.

Bunny and I deal with brain science a lot. It is important for a good therapist to understand brain science - at least the beginning of it, to know what brain function is, and, for the matter of diagnosing a patient who might be having a problem, deciding “How we are going to find a solution for that problem.” If we know brain science, we might find out that the symptoms that are manifesting from that client might have something to do with brain function.

For instance, thoughts cause emotions. Every thought we think releases neuropeptides (emotional chemicals) that affect every cell in our body. Patterns of thinking cause emotional patterns. This is what causes most of the emotional problems people have. Cognitive therapists teach their patients to adopt habits of thinking that make them happy, healthy, and whole. That is my job. I do it every day with demonstrable long lasting results. These emotional chemicals also affect our immune systems and our overall health. Epidemiologists can solidly track specific diseases to specific thinking patterns. So it really is true that we can think ourselves sick or we can think ourselves well. Other people's thinking can also make us sick or well because of the "empathy" effect. Second hand thoughts can hurt our health just like second hand smoke.

But Bunny and I were fascinated enough with the whole subject of the brain that we went a few steps further, taking it well beyond what we needed to know about the brain as psychotherapists, and began looking at it as a phenomenon we simply wanted to study.
The first thing I want you to know about is the so-called synaptic gap. “Gap” is really a pretty inaccurate word for it, because when you think of a gap, you think of the Cumberland Gap, or other kinds of gaps; a sparkplug gap, you can think of it that way. There are tools that mechanics have that set the spark gap to a certain distance.
Look guys, I want you to understand this; the so-called “gap” is indistinguishable by the naked eye, and only barely distinguishable under an electron microscope. The distance of the so-called synaptic gap is 250 angstroms and smaller. As you know Fahrenheit was a scientist, and when you come up with something good, you get to put your name on it. The angstrom is named after the Swedish physicist Anders Jonas Ångström and is an internationally recognized unit of length equal to 0.1 nanometre or 1 × 10−10 metres. The ångström is often used in the natural sciences for expressing the sizes of atoms, lengths of chemical bonds and the wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation.
Angstrom is a unit of measure that is used in very small measurements of distance. The place where quantum affect would begin to happen is down at the smallest level. Most physicists will tell you that there is one set of rules about how the universe works with things that are bigger than an atom, and another whole set of principles for how the universe deals with things that are smaller than an atom. And when we get down to 250 angstroms, some of these really strange things that happen in the quantum or subatomic level begin to manifest themselves. For comparison, visible light may have a wavelength of 4,000 angstroms.

So what I’m saying is that every one of your brain cells is separated from every other brain cell by a gap that is less than 250 angstroms. What that means is that, from my point of view, and again this is one of those things that I know from revelation, the Holy Spirit as an aspect of Absolute Being Consciousness has the possibility, has the potential, has the ability, to influence the human mind by hooking up neuron pathways that otherwise would not be hooked up if the person were left with nothing but the faculties of their own biological brain with which to hook up those neuron pathways. That is how God talks to us, which is how peak experiences happen.

Basically what happens with a peak experience is that a whole bunch of neuron pathways get hooked up, because of the Holy Spirit quickening the human mind, and we have experiences, insights and awarenesses that would simply not be available to us with the normal biological mind.

That is the next thing that I wanted to make clear; the ability of the Holy Spirit to quicken the minds of humans by influencing activity at the synaptic gap. So we have God speaking to us, we have us influencing reality, the underpinnings of which is God, and we’ve got this interface going on between human beings and the ultimate reality. That spirit of which we live and breathe and move and derive our very being is not some static reality to which we are subject; it is a dynamic reality with which we interact and which we influence. We are co-creators with God to a greater extent than most of us realize.

Taking it one step further, I want you to know that it is also the conclusion of my knowledge through revelation that, when we start talking about peak experiences, these mystical experiences, and the ability that God has to stimulate the human mind to hook up neuron pathways that otherwise would not hook up, that this is the basis of all the major religions. Absolute Being Consciousness affects individual human consciousness. We now know, I now know, so do you if you believe it, that this is the basis of all religions. Essentially, it is this God-induced mystical experience that Abraham Maslow called “the peak experience.”

Someone has a mystical experience, and they have to share it, they have to do something with it. They’ll write stories about it that become holy books, they’ll build a temple or a shrine, and if it’s the kind of revelation that catches on, soon you have other people accepting that peak experience that you had, and there is now a collective consciousness surrounding and sustaining that premise. That is what most of us call “religion.”

The Rise of Mystical Religion
Let me give you an example. The last thing that we studied before we got to the Intertestamental Period was the Prophetic Period. I’m telling you, these prophets were having mystical experiences right and left. They were redefining how we understand God. I believe that it’s in God’s nature that he wants his creations to understand him. “I want you to know who ‘I am’.”

What most powerfully influences the Intertestamental Period (400 BC to 50 BCE) is the rise of Greek culture and Philosophy. The Greeks influenced the rise of mystical religion in the world the same way a supercharger influences a race car.

And thus these insights that special people experience were more numerous. God was revealing Divine nature to us at an accelerated pace. And when those insights are disseminated, written down in scripture, there’s a lot more that happens.

Essentially what the Prophet Isaiah was saying is, “there is but one God and it is a universal God. There’s no longer one god for this territory and one god for that territory, or that my god is stronger than your god and we’re going to go to war and my strong god will make me defeat you.” That kind of old type of religious thinking simply went out with the prophetic age.

Then we entered into this Intertestamental period, which is what we’re studying right now, and the form of religion, which is called mysticism, which is a direct connection to the Divine, became a lot more prominent to the point where we had some things happening in rapid succession.

Jesus, I have no doubt at all, is one of these people who had many peak experiences. You can probably see the record of Jesus’ peak experiences showing up several times in Scripture, probably the most prominent one is the story of the temptation and his outcome from that, another one is in the Garden of Gethsemane. There are other examples apparent to a person who knows about these kinds of states of consciousness. They can read through the scriptures and say when it was that Jesus’ mind was full of the Holy Spirit. It’s rather easy to pick out.

The ultimate conclusion of that is that Jesus became so conformed to the nature of the Absolute Being Consciousness that He, as a human being, became so conformed with the Nature of God that He sensed when the two became one. That the creation that was separated out from God, the creation that was alienated from the Creator, the alienation that is symbolically talked about as original sin, where mankind became separated from God because mankind is the creation and God is the Creator; that separation was wiped out, which is talked about symbolically in the scriptures as “The veil in the temple was rent asunder.” Which in essence means that which separates man from God was torn apart to the point where it could no longer be put back together.

There is no longer a separation between Creator and creation. That cosmic event happened through the agency of this man Jesus, whose soul took on the consciousness of God in his own personhood, and the distinction between Creator and creation was wiped out.

That’s the reason why I talk about the Christ event. I see Jesus as the focus of a cosmic event. As something that happened that didn’t just result in the religion called Christianity. It actually transformed the very nature of the cosmos; a fundamental shift in the nature of all things.

The Founding of Christianity
There was another peak experience that happened to another guy named Saul. He changed his name to Paul after the peak experience. The religion known as Christianity was started by Paul, not by Jesus. You can make this truth so clear to yourself. Read the scriptures. The Bible publishers have had sense enough that sometimes they publish Bibles that are called red-letter edition Bibles and all the words that Jesus spoke show up in red letters. If all you do is go through and read what it was Jesus said and then try to reconcile Jesus’ personal theology with what we know as Christianity, it would be a challenge.

In other words, close to the time of Jesus another person had this amazing peak experience. That was Paul. Paul’s mission that came out of his peak experience was to spread this idea that the Christ event had already happened. That we were no longer waiting for the Messiah, that the universe is already perfected, that everything is made clean, that everything is made Sacred. That’s the reality that we now live in, and it was Paul’s job to take that message to the world. That was Paul’s revelation; that he had a mission.

His peak experience was the understanding that the nature of the universe had been fundamentally changed, and it was his job to go tell people about it. This is amazing if you think about it. Here is this guy, a Jewish lawyer, not only that, a Jewish prosecuting attorney. He gets this message as an adult and he only lived to be about 65 years old. So how much time did he have? Maybe 30 years to spread the message, and in his own lifetime Christianity was already being spread through the known world. There were Christian churches all through the Mediterranean. Everywhere you went you could find Christians. Within 250 years of Paul’s death, Christianity was the official religion of the Roman Empire, even though in Paul’s day, Christians were being killed by the Roman Empire.

It was the most sweeping victory of consciousness that has ever existed on the face of the planet. That one man was Paul, not Jesus. Of course we could all make the point that Paul had a close friend who was now Lord of the Universe, so maybe his efforts had more impetus perhaps than they otherwise might have.

So, we have first of all, this flexible universe that “reality is there, but just barely there” and it’s really open to change in very improbable ways. Reality is open to change and the universe can be influenced by faith. By faith, I mean the paradigm of reality that you have in your own mind, will influence reality as you experience it. And that reality is also influenced by prayer. When we pray, and we anticipate our prayer being answered, that anticipation actually adds to the likelihood that that event will manifest in our lives. So through faith and prayer, individual human beings are able to influence reality as they experience it. That’s how flexible reality is. Our own consciousness can influence it.

The Outhouse Theology
Now let’s talk about this thing called religion. Here’s my theory, I want to warn you that I am an Iowa farm boy. My nickname on all of the forums that I visit on the internet is Aristotle the Hun. Aristotle the Hun was a name given to me by a friend of mine more than 30 years ago who realized that for all my intellect I was still an Iowa farm boy. He saw this dichotomy of my being; slightly crude, probably too straight forward, not all that concerned with diplomacy and yet backed up by this monster brain, so he called me Aristotle the Hun. The minute he gave me this title I knew it fit and I’ve accepted it and used it for a lot of purposes since then. I’m telling you this to brace you for what is coming next.

Here’s the basis of my Outhouse Theology. An outhouse maybe a necessary structure, particularly where I came from in northern Iowa, we did not have indoor plumbing. We were one of the better families in town because we had a three-holer; also because we had a big family, the three-holer was a necessity. And the three-holer outhouse was the premise for my outhouse theology.

The Jewel of Great Price, that thing that we have been talking about that is the source of all religion, is a direct connection to the Divine that happens to us human beings. I call it that because, not only is it so valuable that you can’t say how much it’s worth, but it’s also multi-faceted.

You know that old story about the blind men and the elephant. Basically four blind men come across an elephant and the first blind man touches the side of the elephant and says, “It’s a wall.” Another man gets hold of one of the legs and says, “No, it’s a tree.” The third gets hold of the tail and says, “What’s the matter with you guys, it’s a rope.” The last one grabs the trunk and says, “Watch out it’s a huge snake.”

They were also experiencing the same thing but their senses were telling them different things depending on what “facet” of the elephant they experienced.

You know the mirrored orb in the ceiling of a ballroom that flashes light in every direction? I call it a “truth ball.” That could be a metaphor for my many-faceted jewel. There are so many facets, and the light is so brilliant, that when the flash strikes one facet of the Jewel of Great Price, the intensity of the reflection can blind you to the awareness that there is any other facet.

We Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims, we’re all looking at this truth ball, this Jewel of Great Price, and we think that the facet we see is the only possible way to look at it. Because that single facet is so magnificent we exclude any one else’s perception of the same thing, much as the blind men thought everybody else was wrong about the nature of the elephant they were touching. But if that were not bad enough, we’re blinded by the magnificence of the one aspect of the jewel which we are observing.

So, here is what happens when we see one of those facets: “I’m going to write a story about this,” which becomes Scripture. “I’m going to build a shrine,” which eventually becomes a temple or a church. And so we have the Scriptures and we have the building. Now the relative value of the building where the Jewel of Great Price is housed is like the value of an outhouse with a Jewel of Great Price buried underneath it.

Next come the priests, the theologians and the philosophers to the “three-holer,” depositing their ‘load’ in this outhouse, soiling the pages of the scriptures with cleaning themselves up, and then throwing down onto the Jewel of Great Price the soiled scriptures that have been stripped away from their Source to the point where any serious seeker after the Jewel of Great Price must go to a very unlikely location and dig through centuries of accumulation of human waste in order to actually locate the Sacred Treasure.

However, if you think that the outhouse serves no purpose, look what it does. It is a landmark. Underneath every one of those outhouses there is buried a Jewel of Great Price.

Now you may have to endure some very uncomfortable experiences, digging through the rubbish, to get to the Jewel of Great Price, but don’t put the church down. Granted it’s not worth anywhere near what it covers up and hides from humanity, but it does mark the location as to where this Jewel of Great Price is buried.

So don’t look to the church to sustain you. Don’t look to the church and expect to see one of those facets that blind you. The church is a human institution which obscures the Jewel of Great Price, but which also marks its location. So what we are faced with is that all of the world religions in essence obscure what it is they’re about. In other words, the very thing they want you to pay attention to is obscured by the traditions and even the building where the church exists.

I was once at a garage sale with my darling wife. That’s how dedicated a husband I am. The lady holding the garage sale had her dog there. She had put the loop on the dog’s leash underneath the leg of a card table. The dog, of course, kept being interested in the people and was constantly tugging on his leash and in essence tugging the table. As the table would move along the driveway things would fall off the table. The woman, without thinking, would point and she’d say, “Go back over there.” Now, did the dog once ever look where she was pointing? No. The dog looked at her pointed finger, confused, wondering, “What is my master wanting me to do.” There is this hand pointing, but the poor dog doesn’t know to look where the hand is pointing.

We human beings are very much that way with our churches. Why do you think there is a steeple? So the church can point away from itself. Yet, dog like, we look at the building and not what it is pointing toward. Any church that is not pointing away from itself, any religious institution that is not pointing to the Jewel of Great Price, as opposed to their own clergy, their own scriptures, or their own traditions, is doing a disservice to the cause they claim to serve. Just like that dog who can’t see where the hand is pointing. Essentially all good religion points away from itself to that Sacred Core Essence, which is the many-faceted Jewel of Great Price.

The Rise and Fall of Religion
I have read Alfred North Whitehead; an amazing guy; one of the most brilliant people that ever lived. He was not only a mathematician and a philosopher, but he was also a theologian. He wrote an essay called, “The Making of a Religion.”

There was a metaphor that he used which I thought was just perfect for the natural development of a religion. He said that a spring pops up in the desert, and it is a clear-flowing, beautiful spring. And because it is beautiful, and nurturing, and sustaining, things begin to grow around it. And when things begin to grow, that attracts people. Pretty soon the trees that grew up around the spring begin to die and fall into the spring, and the plant life starts polluting the spring waters, and the human beings and their pack animals come by and they further pollute the spring waters, until it’s hard to tell what the original spring was like, and what kind of nurturing and beauty came out of it. And that is the history of what happens to most religions.

I’ve heard it said that every religion has been spoiled by the master’s disciples. The master comes up with this great religion and then all the disciples come by and pollute the spring.

Buddha’s dying words were, “Do not make a God of me, I am nothing but a man.” What do you suppose the first thing it was that the disciples did? I guarantee they sat down and carved some Buddhas. I suspect that it was Jesus’ disciples that first got Christianity headed in the wrong direction. Certainly Paul and the others took Jesus’ message in a direction Jesus never intended it to go.

Constantine, by making Christianity an arm of the Roman Empire, politicized Christianity to the point where it might be the biggest crushing load on Christianity that there ever was.

The Old Testament talked about how the Jews wanted a king. They were a theocracy with God Himself as their leader. They didn’t want God over their lives. God and Samuel were both upset by the fact that the people wanted their religion tied up to their political life. But God said, “Okay, give them what they want, but warn them about what they’re going to get.” And when you read that part of 1 Samuel 8:1-22, and does it ever sound like exactly what we’ve got today, as far as our government influencing our lives in every way, shape and form?
So I realize there’s a lot more to it, and the details of it are the reason we have classes like this, so we can get the history, the context, the philosophical teaching and the theological teachings to further understand a religion.

The Sum of All Things
I’d like you to know that what I just talked to you about; how physics tells us that we have a very flexible reality, that God has the ability to influence the human mind at the synaptic level, that we, because we’re sentient beings, have these little consciousness-generating machines up here between our ears, and we are able to influence absolute reality - that consciousness which underlies everything - with our faith and our prayer, and that all religions come out of that phenomenon, of us being able to do this interface between Absolute Being Consciousness and individual human consciousness.

We need to remember that all religions are of very little value compared to the Central thing that they actually represent. So I hope you’ll forgive me for using my metaphor of an outhouse underneath which a Jewel of Great Price is buried, as my way of describing their relative value and their relative appeal. It really is sort of true.

Add the other part too; don’t get into being a church hater. Don’t get into being hostile or angry or disrespectful to the church. It serves a very useful function. It reminds us where the really good stuff is buried.
For skeptical minds with curious motives see:

For really curious minds here is a 3 part series on the history of sub-atomic and astrophysics. “Best I have ever seen”

Episode 1: The clash of the Titans

Episode 2 The Key to the Cosmos

Episode 3: The illusion of Reality