Luke 1.1-4 (Acts 1) (GAN pg 180)
Luke begins his first volume with some words to the person he expects will be the first to read his
work. He does the same again in his second volume (Acts). Luke speaks briefly about himself, his
methods and his motives, then speaks to Theo (Theolphilus). Luke begins to show his gifts as an
author by using a wordy, flowery style, the first of four literary styles he demonstrates. It was
common in Greek literature to address the one you hope would read your work in this way. The
form Luke uses seems to resemble most closely those found in technical manuals, on medicine or
horse riding for instance, rather than those in histories. If the author is indeed Luke the much loved
doctor to Paul, this is not surprising.
Nothing whatsoever is known about Theo, but he is addressed using a word also used in 2 Luke
23.26 in a letter written by Claude Lewis (Claudius Lysias) , the Roman officer in Jerusalem, to
Felix, the Governor of the Province. This suggests Theo had some social and economic standing. It
is plausible he may have supported the author financially during the writing, and then helped to
fund the publication of these two books. Although the name literally means “God lover” it was in
use as a name in the Greek world, and the suggestion that the dedication was not to a real person,
but to any “God lover” seems unnecessary, and would be the only known example of a symbolic
dedication in the literature of the time. Perhaps the name was a happy coincidence!
Theo has some knowledge of Luke's subject matter, but this may be faulty or incomplete, or both,
so Luke may be seeking to bring him to faith, to correct his faith or to deepen it. This is the spirit in
which to read Luke, willing to be challenged and changed.
Luke is careful to let us know he makes no claim to be an eyewitness of any event in the Gospel,
which means we should take seriously the “we” passages in Acts, in which the author seems to be
present and involved in the events he describes. He also makes no claim to be the first to tell the
story of Jesus and his ministry. This accords neatly with the widely held view that one of the
sources he uses is our Gospel of Mark. Mark and Luke were friends. The very fact that Luke is
producing another Gospel, which he assures us will be orderly, looks like criticism of the others he
knew. While resembling the other three Gospels in the amount of space and attention given to the
final week of Jesus' life, Luke somewhat modifies the literary form by making his book resemble
the popular biographies of heroes of his time, and so be more familiar and acceptable to a general
audience in the ancient world. Thus, he tells of a remarkable birth and gives a glimpse too of Jesus
Luke's claim to authority rests in the careful investigations he has made. These claims seem to be
justified if we examine the use he seems to have made of Mark. The changes he makes are mostly
minor and concern style, the facts about Jesus and the words he spoke come through almost
It seems surprising that these verses do not tell us directly who the book is about, but Luke is a very
modest writer who will not use a name or title for Jesus when he writes as narrator until a reliable
character has used it, a prophet, messenger from God, or someone under the inspiration of the Holy
Spirit. So the name “Jesus” first appears in Gabriel' s words to Mary. Luke first uses it in his own
right when he speaks of the naming and circumcision of the baby Jesus.
Luke 1.5 – 2.40 (GAN pgs 180-185)
In this section, Luke copies the style of the Jewish Old Books, in the Greek translation which was
familiar to non-Jews, and to many Jews from outside the Holy Land who either spoke no Hebrew,
or whose first language was Greek, the everyday language of the Roman Empire. (As today, English
is the everyday language of, for instance, aviation, throughout the world). Luke's reasons could
well be two-fold. Firstly, he signals a continuity between God's dealings with the Jews and the
Christian story. This is made explicit in various ways, for instance, Kerry's words in Luke 1.69-70,
that God had kept his promises made to his people. ( Kerry=Zechariah) Secondly, he may be
signalling that the stories he is writing here he believes to have the same kind of authority as stories
in the Old Books, but that he has not been able to validate them by contact with eyewitnesses, in
contrast with the stories about Jesus and the early Church in the remainder of his books. This is
compatible with a date in the 50s or 60s C.E. when many eyewitnesses of the events of Luke and
Acts would have been alive and well-known, while there could have been very few of the small
number of people involved in the births of John and Jesus still alive.
The stories of the announcements of the births and the childhoods of John and Jesus are
deliberately intertwined, to show that both are part of the story of what God was doing. All the
Gospels agree that the story of Jesus begins with the story of John the Dipper, and one of the
qualifications the early Christians demand for someone to replace Judas as one of the Twelve is that
they should have personal experience of the life and ministry of Jesus back to that of John the
dipper. A common type of essay I was often asked to write at University was “Compare and
contrast....” and it is a very valuable exercise to do this with events in these chapters, and ask what
meanings there are in the comparisons, as well as in the events themselves. For instance, the births
are announced by the same angel, but in John's case, to an old man in a holy place busy with
religious affairs who had longed for a child but who responds with disbelief, while in Jesus' case to
a young woman in ordinary surroundings who expected no such event in the short term, but
responds with puzzlement and trust. It is worth noticing that Luke tries to write about as wide a
range of people as possible, here an old religious man and a young ordinary woman, illustrating his
deep belief that Jesus came for absolutely everyone,.
Women play the leading role in these stories. Kerry remains silent, while Lisa expresses her
gratitude to God (Luke 1.25) and Mary responds with more faith to God's messenger than Kerry.
Mary sets out on what is the first of many spiritually significant journeys which make up so much
of Luke's writings. Whether she feels it wise to make herself scarce as an unmarried expectant
mother before it becomes too obvious, or whether she goes out of kindness to lend a hand to an
elderly relative experiencing her first pregnancy, we are not told. But as in every journey described
by Luke, spiritual enlightenment comes either on the journey or as a result of it. Gabriel's message
about the importance of her baby is confirmed by Lisa, interpreting the movement of the unborn
John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Luke's words are that Lisa was “full of the Holy
Spirit” - an experience denied the male disciples until Pentecost (Acts 2)! Lisa and Mary, an older
woman thought to be under God's disfavour because of her childlessness and a young woman in
possible danger of being stoned to death as an adulteress make up the first community to celebrate
the coming if the Chosen One. Women continue to play a major role throughout Luke's books.
Mary's song is the first of four Psalm-like poems in this part of Luke. They are unique in the New
Testament, though there are what seem to be quotes from hymns or songs in Paul's letters, and in
Revelation (not included in “Good as New”). Mary's song reflects that of Hannah, the mother of
Samuel in the old books, and some people suggest that it fits Lisa's situation better than Mary's.
GAN suggests Mary improvised it for her. She would be congratulated and everybody would
rejoice about her baby after many years of childlessness. Like the songs of Kerry, the angels to the
shepherds and Simeon, it has become part of the worship of many Christians, which tends to hide
from us the fact that none of these songs has any specific content that necessarily applies to Jesus,
his teaching, ministry, death and resurrection. Instead they celebrate the coming of the Jewish
expected chosen one in a general way. The absence of any further songs of worship or praise,
though there are occasions in Acts when they would be appropriate, suggests Luke had them from
an existing source, perhaps the worship of early Jewish Christian Churches in Judea, rather than
composing them himself. Mary's song reflects God's bias to the poor and humble, sadly not always
followed by the Christian Church.
John is born in very happy circumstances; delighted parents are surrounded by happy friends and
relations. Jesus by contrast was born away from home and family – perhaps Joseph took Mary to
make sure she was safe from disapproving family or fellow villagers. At the ceremony for the
removal of John's foreskin, Lisa and Kerry break with tradition and give him an unexpected name,
John, which in Hebrew is a shortened form of a name meaning “God's gracious gift”, and Kerry
recovers his ability to speak. All the circumstances of his birth made people remember, take notice,
and think that he would grow up to be someone important. Perhaps this is why the story came into
In his song, Kerry again repeats the words of the angel, that John will prepare the way for the Lord.
His very life fulfils this role, not only because his birth comes before that of Jesus, but also his
ministry and significantly his death. In his second book, Luke often calls the lifestyle of the friends
of Jesus “The Way”, and maybe he understands John the Baptist as playing his part in making
opening up this “Way”. His preaching calls people to prepare themselves for what God was about to
do by radically changing their attitudes and lives. Some people have speculated that John was
orphaned young, and was brought up in the Dead Sea community at Qumran, whose library, known
as the Dead Sea Scrolls, was discovered in the middle of the last century.
There was no generally agreed system of dating when Luke wrote, so he does his best to pin down
exactly when Jesus was born by referring to the Roman Emperor (Augustus) at the time and the
Governor of Syria. He has already located Jesus in the story of God's dealings with the Jews, and
now locates him in the wider world of the Roman Empire, which controlled most of the then known
world. Luke tells the story of the birth of Jesus in a far more restrained way than popular Christmas
culture – no donkey ride, no gift of a lamb, and no magicians in his account. The feeding trough
(manger) is mentioned three times and in the original is called a “sign” - something spiritually
significant. Perhaps Luke is referring to the saying in the Old Books in Isaiah “Cattle know who
owns them, and donkeys know where their master feeds them, but that is more than my people
Israel know. They don't understand at all.” These sheep farmers did understand where to go to be
spiritually fed by their God, to the feeding trough containing the baby. Sheep farmers were not well
thought of at the time, partly for religious reasons, partly for more down to earth ones. Their job
stopped them being regularly in worship, and contact with blood from injured sheep or ewes giving
birth, and with dead bodies when sheep were killed by predators, made them ritually unclean. They
were not above rustling other people's livestock, or grazing their animals on other people's land if
they could get away with it. It is to people like this that the message of Jesus first comes, and would
continue to come during his ministry, and should always come.
Mary has the special nature of her baby confirmed for a third time by the sheep farmers who sing
songs of praise to God as they return from seeing him. Despite the importance the birth of Jesus
seems to hold in these opening chapters, and the emphasis put on it by much later Christians, it is
notable that it is never mentioned by Jesus, or by any of his followers in any of the sermons or
speeches Luke records in his second book.
Luke shows us that Jesus had a pious Jewish upbringing. His foreskin is removed, the rite by which
male Jews became one of God's people. Mary and Joseph then take him to the worship centre to
show that he belonged to God, the first of three journeys to Jerusalem by Jesus in Luke's story. The
only gift they offered there was the one to make Mary ritually clean after childbirth, not the one
needed to “buy back” Jesus from God as a first-born, so in Jewish thought, he belonged to God in a
special way. Perhaps that is why on his next visit, the 12 year old Jesus thinks Mary and Joseph
should have known he would be in the worship centre. After all, Samuel in the Old Books, who also
was not bought back by his parents, actually lived there! Simeon and Anne recognise the baby as
someone special, Simeon using the same picture of a new dawn which Kerry had used. For a fourth
time, Mary is told how special her son is, but that he will be hurt for speaking God's truth, and she
will share the pain. According to his regular pattern, Luke shows Simeon and Anne together, men
and women equally involved, and Anne is the first person to spread the news of Jesus.
Jesus' orthodox childhood ends with his second visit to Jerusalem when he was old enough to join
in the most important Jewish festival. Mary and Joseph's three-day search may point forward to the
three-day absence of Jesus when he was in the tomb during his third visit. The boy is clearly
anxious to learn about his religion. His humanity is stressed here. He seems to show the typical
teenage unawareness of the effect of his actions on people who care for him. When he returns to
Nazareth, Luke stresses his normal total human development – mental, bodily and social. Jesus
needed to learn and grow in all these areas, and there is no indication that this changed after
Luke now outlines the ministry of Jesus, beginning like the other accounts we have with John the
dipper. It is in this section, and later in the story of Jesus' death, that we find most of the material
also in Mark, which makes some scholars think that Luke had written a draft of his book before he
came across Mark's book, and incorporated most of the material he thought relevant in this part.
Luke 3.1-20 (GAN pags 186-187)
Once again, Luke dates the events to the best of his ability by naming the Roman Emperor and
other office holders, underlining the historical nature of what he is writing. Dipping is an obvious
way of symbolising cleansing and a fresh start. It was already used by the Jews as part of the way
foreigners joined their religion, but John is doing something new in asking Jews to be dipped. He is
also offering a way of forgiveness totally divorced from the system of forgiveness from the deaths
of animals given to God already on offer through the Worship Centre and commanded in the Old
Books, an important fact to notice since he came from a family with the right to lead such rituals.
This is almost the only place where Luke, when telling the story himself rather than telling us what
some of his characters did, uses words from the Old Books as predictions of what happened, and
this example he may have taken over from an earlier book he was using. His method with the old
books is very different from a writer like Matthew. Luke uses them more artistically; there in the
background, but given new meaning and only properly understood in the light of Jesus, his
teaching, life death and resurrection.
John makes it clear he is only doing a work of preparation, and what will follow is beyond his
understanding and imagination – he is only an unworthy servant helping his master to dress, so he
can only give poetic hints about it in pictures of forest fires, lumberjacks, harvest and judgement.
His message is not just that people should recognise their failings and feel sorry or guilty, but that
they should re-think and change their behaviour. This he applies to more than personal morals,
seeking a society with less unfairness and violence. The soldiers who came may have been Jews in
Herod's army, but if they were mercenaries or Roman soldiers, then John is including foreigners in
his appeal to turn to God, and so again preparing the way for what Jesus would do. John is not
afraid of political involvement – criticising Herod for his politically motivated marriage and other
“bad deeds” (whatever they were) was asking for trouble.
The followers of John the Dipper were probably rivals of the Christians for many decades, and it
seems likely that some of them would have argued that John was greater than Jesus because Jesus
came to him to be dipped, in effect, joining John's movement. Luke tells the story in such a way as
to play down the part of John as much as he can. It was a significant experience for Jesus of
acceptance and ownership by God, and awareness of God's spirit at work in him and through him.
Luke underlines the relevance of Jesus to Jew and non-Jew alike by means of his family tree, which
he extends all the way back to the beginning of the whole human race..
Luke 4.1-13 (GAN pg 188)
This story clearly contradicts any idea that Jesus did not have to think hard and make decisions, like
the rest of us. Jewish readers would have been reminded of the time when God's people spent 40
years in the desert, and lost their trust in God, as well as being fed by him. The words from the old
books all come from one telling of the story of that time. (Deuteronomy) Matthew has a very
similar story, but the order of the thoughts is different. In Luke, the one concerning Jerusalem
comes last, perhaps because Jerusalem is the centre around which everything happens in his two
books. This final trial makes clear the very important difference between real faith and testing God.
Doing something stupid in the confidence that God will rescue you demands very strong belief and
trust in God, but is not healthy faith because it tries to force God's hand, that is, it is an attempt to
have your own way.
Luke 4.14-30 (GAN pgs 188-189)
Luke likes to start an important section with a story which sums up what follows. The account of
Jesus' visit to his home village is one such. Jesus arrives with a reputation as a good preacher and
the attitude of the people of Nazareth shows that he was known as a healer too. He deliberately
chose some verses from the book of Isaiah, about the year of jubilee, something promised in the
laws in the old books, but probably never actually implemented. This would have brought
transformation of society, with all debts written off, all slaves freed, all land returned to its original
family owners. In his comments, he claims that because of the Spirit's presence with him, he is
chosen and equipped to bring in this great act of God. We seem to have here Jesus' manifesto, with
the programme of action later to be followed by him and his friends. Luke will give examples of
how this works out in both his books.
To start with, the people of Nazareth are favourably impressed. But when Jesus goes on to remind
them that God always had, and continued to have, loving concerns for other nations besides the
Jews, they were furious and tried to lynch him. Luke probably intends this story as a parable of the
way many of the Jewish nation, Jesus' own people, rejected him. As ever, Luke's story includes a
wide range of people – the foreigners Jesus used as examples were a powerful and influential
general, Norman, and an anonymous woman from the poorest of the poor. If these were indeed the
two illustrations chosen and used by Jesus, then Luke's regular pattern of showing God's equal
concern for male and female, rich and poor, foreign and Jew goes back to Jesus himself.
Luke 4.31-44 (GAN pgs 189-190)
Luke describes a typical day in the life of Jesus, heavily involved in teaching, counselling, healing
and taking time out to be alone with God. Luke's book has more emphasis on Jesus at prayer than
any other gospel. Nahum's town was an important fishing centre on the shore of Lake Galilee, and
archaeologists have discovered beneath an ancient Church the remains of a fisherman's house from
the time of Jesus, which looks from the graffiti on the walls as if it was an early place of Christian
pilgrimage. This fits in with Luke's account that Simon's house was a base for Jesus. Jewish writers
tended to call the the body of water in Galilee “a sea”, but Luke who sailed the Mediterranean uses
a more accurate name, “lake”. This is the first mention of a central theme in Jesus' preaching –
God's New World.
Luke 5.1-11 (GAN pg 190)
By giving a brief account of Jesus' varied activity, Luke diminishes the importance of calling
special helpers. (According to Mark, this is the first thing Jesus does). Luke's version also makes
their decision to join him more reasonable – they have some idea of what he is about. Simon's
expression of unworthiness is like that of some people in the old books when God called them,
Moses for instance. Jesus does not contradict Simon, who is to continue to show his unworthiness.
Jesus has a job for him anyway. Some people think the lake at the time was being over-fished, so
that Jesus actually healed the lake itself to enable the enormous catch. The other two men here
named, James and John, together with Simon, made an “inner circle” among the helpers.
Luke 5.12-end (GAN pgs 191-192)
The old books had many laws about avoiding what was thought to be “contamination” of various
kinds. Skin diseases, corpses, menstruating women, foods like pork and shellfish are some
examples. The Strict set were also afraid of moral contamination by mixing with people who were
not orthodox or moral in their behaviour, for instance the tax collectors who had to be in regular
contact with the Romans. Jesus ignored all these taboos, and showed that far from being himself
contaminated by touching people with skin diseases, he brought healing, as he also brought a
difference to the lives of the people whose lifestyles the religious folk condemned. He saw himself
as the doctor who must meet with his sick patients if he is to help them.
Healings are always associated with trust, either that of the person who is healed, or a close friend
or relative who requests, or as in the case of the four men here, take action to engage Jesus' help.
People often associate Levi with Matthew the tax collector whose call to be a friend is
described in similar words in Matthew's story. However, there is no reason why Jesus should not
have had several tax collectors among his followers. Neither Mark nor Luke identify Levi with the
Matthew who was one of the Twelve. We find here the first of many meals in Luke's two books.
These meals are a sign of acceptance and fellowship, and a celebration of the banquet which the old
books said would come with God's New World. The Strict set were hostile to any celebration of
God's love, forgiveness and acceptance by means of a party. They thought more puritanical religion
was more fitting. The early Christians came to think of Jesus as the bridegroom and their
community as the bride he loved. Perhaps they came up with this picture based on the teaching of
Jesus' double riddle could well be suggesting that people needed to think and behave in a
new way to be part of God's New World He had not come to give the old system a new boost.
Luke 6.1-11 (GAN pag 192)
The idea of the Rest Day in the old books was very humanitarian, preventing uncontrolled
exploitation of people, animals and the land. However, the strict set had turned it into a matter of
religious performance, defining even trivial activities as work and trying to prohibit them. In these
two stories, Jesus re-claims the true purpose of the Rest Day, and defends his friends relaxing
harmlessly. He points to the example of David who had also overruled religious regulations in the
interests of human need.
Jesus meets an obvious human need on another Rest Day by healing the handicapped man.
His words are very effective – he points out that in healing, he is doing good, while in trying to
catch him out and find reason to condemn him, his opponents are doing evil – both he and they are
doing what they do on the Rest Day. It is obvious which is the more appropriate way to behave!
Luke 6.12-16 (GAN pg 193)
Once more Jesus spends time talking to God before choosing twelve of his followers for a particular
job. We know very little about most of them; there is even some uncertainty about the names if we
look in the different gospels. What seems to be most important was that there were twelve of them,
the same number as the founding tribes of the Jews, so Jesus is showing that he is re-founding God's
people. That is the prime reason why they are called. Later Christian tradition has magnified their
importance, but in Luke's two books, he emphasises that Jesus had many more friends and helpers.
The Twelve do not receive all the important teaching of Jesus, they are not shown as the leaders of
the early Church for very long, nor as the pioneers and controllers of its life and mission. The fact
that they were all men relates to the twelve sons of Jacob who founded the original Jewish tribes.
Luke makes it clear that among Jesus' special friends and helpers were many women, so the fact
that there were none of them among the Twelve is no logical argument against women ministers,
bishops and leaders. (John Henson believes the number 12 to be a symbolic round figure, or maybe
invented by some of the male disciples to boost their own importance.)
Luke 6.17-end (GAN pgs 193- 195)
Luke now gives us the first substantial teaching from Jesus, addressed both to the Twelve, and to the
wider group of followers, and to a crowd of Jews and non-Jews. This teaching is intended for
everybody. Jesus describes the life of God's New World which is also to be life of the new people of
God he is gathering. There must therefore be contrasts between life as we now know it and what
God intends. The gist of Jesus' teaching is to be big-hearted like God. People who claim to be
Christians should perhaps take special notice of the call to get on well with people who don't agree
with you – there is nothing very special if Evangelicals or Catholics or any other group get on well
together – what matters is crossing the divides.
This teaching is easy enough to understand, infinitely more difficult to put into practice. So Jesus
ends with a story from daily life easy to understand, encouraging people to do something about it,
not just admire it as a beautiful ideal!
Luke 7.1-17 (GAN pgs 195-196)
In the Roman occupying army, the officers were more educated than the foot soldiers, and often of
different nationality from them. Luke shows several of these officers as sympathetic to the Jewish
faith and to Jesus and his way in his two books. When he describes the one who is healed, Luke
uses a word that can mean “son”, “servant” or “boyfriend”. People of the time Luke wrote would
have known of the existence and acceptance of homosexuality in the Roman army and beyond, so
would have been aware of at least the strong possibility that the one healed was the officer's partner.
It is unlikely that either he or the officer was a Jew, so Jesus now follows the example of Elisha,
which he mentioned in his sermon at Nazareth, and heals a foreigner. The officer uses an illustration
from his own life in replying to Jesus. Any authority a Roman soldier had came from above, from
the Empire and Emperor he represented. The officer sees that in a similar way, Jesus' power too
comes from the God he represents. No wonder Jesus sees this as greater trust than he has yet found
among his own people, even his friends!
It is very unusual for the names of the places where Jesus healed people to survive, especially when
there is no other mention of them like Nain! This suggests a report coming from an eyewitness.
Luke links this story to the previous one by saying they happened close together in time. Jesus now
follows the example of the other prophet he mentioned in his sermon, Elijah, and raises a widow's
son from the dead. This connection is underlined in the original Greek where there are many
similarities in the language used with the story as told in the Old Books. It is not surprising the
people compare Jesus with one of God's great speakers from the old days.
Luke often introduces stories not in the other accounts of the life of Jesus to prove that women are
the equal of men. This story balances the one he will soon tell in which all the sexual roles are
reversed, and which is also in Matthew and Mark, when Jesus restores the daughter of a man called
Luke 7.18-35 (GAN pgs 196-197)
Although Luke shows John the dipper as the one who prepared the way for Jesus, this did not stop
John continuing his work once Jesus arrived on the scene – the two men continued in parallel. To
reassure John, Jesus points him to what he was doing, clearly referring back to his speech at
Nazareth and the promise of Isaiah in the old books. This translation hides what Jesus says, that
John “opens the way” . It is true he “sets the stage” for Jesus, but more than that, he first treads the
way of service and death and helps open up the Christian “way” or lifestyle for all who follow.
Jesus suggests that John was the greatest figure in Jewish religion before he came, but God's New
World is so much more wonderful, that anyone who is part of it has an advantage even over John.
By his illustration of the playing children, Jesus makes plain an aspect of human nature, that if we
are determined to find fault, we will. People argued that John was too unsociable to be sane and that
Jesus was too sociable to be really good, and so excused themselves from responding to two
different ways in which God was working in their time. Alternatively, Jesus may be suggesting that
people of his day were like the children, complaining that Jesus did not dance to their tune.
Luke 7.36-end (GAN pg 198)
Luke illustrates the last saying of Jesus in the previous section with this story of Simon from the
strict set and an unnamed prostitute. (It is remarkable how many people called Simon there are in
Luke's two books). Simon was presumably not totally hostile to Jesus if he invited him to dinner –
he would have avoided such contact with anyone he had thought immoral, mentally unbalanced
(demon possessed) or holding dangerous religious views. However, he seems to have acted more
out of curiosity rather than any real warmth, judging by what Jesus says about the way he was
received. The woman's attentions to Jesus would have been embarrassing for most people. A
woman's hair was covered in public in that society, and only revealed to husbands and close family.
To kiss a man's naked feet, dry them with her hair, and then anoint any part of him with perfume
was highly erotic behaviour – and all done publicly. Perhaps given her profession, this was the only
way she knew to show real love of any kind.
Simon mentally judges Jesus. Either he has no idea what kind of woman she is, or he doesn't care;
whichever is true, Jesus cannot be a real man of God, since he must lack either insight or morals!
Jesus is aware of what is going through his mind, so challenges him with a story about two people
who were both let off debts, one large and one small. This story cleverly explains the woman's
possibly excessive response – she felt a great burden of guilt had been lifted from her by the
acceptance and forgiveness she had from Jesus. But because it is about two debtors not just one, it
says to Simon that he too needs forgiveness, and suggests it is freely available to him as to anyone
else. Only God can say whether the debts caused by sexual goings on are greater than those caused
by hypocrisy, judgmentalism and similar less external failings.
According to official Jewish religion, the Worship Centre in Jerusalem and system of animals
given to God and killed in his honour provided the way to obtain God's forgiveness. Jesus, like John
before him, ignores all of this and offers a fresh start without ritual and expense on his own say-so.
This amounts to a challenge to Jewish religion, and the power and wealth of those running the
Worship Centre. It also raises questions about his authority with God, who alone could forgive
offences against him.
Luke 8.1-3 (GAN pg 199)
Luke always tries to show women as sharing equally with men in the benefits and responsibilities of
Jesus' ministry, and here we have the only mention in the whole New Testament that women not
only went with him in his work, but also used their resources to make it possible. The contact of one
woman with Herod's court may be the way Luke heard about Pilate sending Jesus to Herod during
his trials and other inside information about Herod and his doings in both his books
Luke 8.4-18 (GAN pg 199)
In Mark, from whose story Luke probably took the story of the sower, there are only two long
parables. This one comes from the early days of Jesus work, and the other one, about the tenants in
the vineyard, comes just before his suffering and death, and it seems that they are meant to throw
light on these two areas of Jesus' life. The sower teaches that in spite of setbacks and
disappointments, the work Jesus and his friends were doing was like sowing seed, and one day, the
harvest would show that in spite of some failures, it had all been worthwhile. The explanation
applies this to the ongoing work of the Church, and also challenges individuals to make sure their
lives have a worthwhile result in God's New World.
The next story makes a similar point – if God has lit a lamp in your life, it is meant to have a
beneficial effect on the world around you and the people in it.
Luke 8.19-21 (GAN pg 200)
This story is not so much Jesus rejecting his natural family as opening up a close relationship with
everyone who obeys God's words, making a similar point to the previous teaching.
Luke 8.22-39 (GAN pg 200)
In these two stories, Jesus demonstrates power over chaotic forces, a storm on the lake, and a badly
disrupted human mind. With experienced fishermen among his friends, the storm must have been
severe to make them panic. Jesus accuses them of a lack of trust. After all, he had said they were
going to the other side. The menatlly disturbed man was probably not a Jew because he lived in an
area where pigs were kept in numbers; pork was not eaten by Jews who obeyed the Old Books. His
inner distress and turmoil is shown outwardly by his nakedness, his choice of living place, his
uncontrollable behaviour and shouting. Various aspects of this man would have made contact with
him taboo to the strict set or other Jews who tried to keep the laws in the Old Books. Jesus simply
ignores these taboos, as also in the two stories which follow. When he calls himself Legion, the
word for a company of Roman soldiers, this may mean he felt he was many conflicting people at
once, but may also reflect that traumatic experiences associated with the occupying Roman army
had upset his sanity. Whatever his problems, he sensed that Jesus was a significant power, though
initially he experienced it negatively as torment. Jesus liberates the man, and to Jewish minds, the
demons responsible for his problems found a more suitable home, first in a herd of pigs and finally
at the bottom of the lake.
The herdsmen have suffered a major loss, so they ask Jesus to leave. Sometimes the work of
Christianity is opposed by vested financial interests, as for instance the campaign to end slavery
which hit the pockets of slave traders and plantation owners. The man is not allowed to leave home
and become part of the travelling company around Jesus. Instead, he is sent back to tell people,
probably not Jews, what God had done for him – the first person to receive and undertake such a
task from Jesus.
Luke 8.40-end (GAN pg 201)
Some ancient manuscripts of this book miss out the words about the woman spending all her money
on doctors without success. Even if they were included by Luke, he is less critical than Mark who
says that the woman had only got worse! Maybe Luke the doctor was sensitive about the reputation
of his profession. These two stories are linked together in Matthew, Mark and Luke. They both
concern women, the period of 12 years figures in both. The girl should have been on the verge of
womanhood, about to menstruate, while the woman suffered an excess of it. Both a menstruating
woman and a corpse would have been thought to make anyone in contact with them ritually
unclean, and debarred from company and worship. However, as in the previous story, far from
“contamination” spreading to Jesus, his contact brings health and healing to the unfortunates and
removes the imagined source of contamination. As always, there is trust in Jesus before the healing
happens, either by the person healed (the woman) or by someone close (Jay).
Luke 9.1-10 (GAN pg 202)
The twelve special helpers are sent out to help Jesus with his work of healing and announcing the
good news of God's New World. Unlike Mark, Luke does not say they went in pairs, and the whole
venture is described in a very low key way, especially when compared with the later account of
about 70 people sent for a similar purpose. The effect of the two stories is to play down the
significance of the Twelve, compared with the larger group. They are told to behave simply, openly,
not to move bases, perhaps in the interests of finding more luxurious hospitality, and not to try to
force themselves or their message on unwilling people. Luke interrupts the story with the account of
the death of John the dipper. Perhaps this is the first signal of the opposition which Jesus and his
followers will also meet. If Herod, even on the basis of hearsay, thought that Jesus was continuing
John's work, perhaps even John returned from the dead to haunt him, then Jesus was also in danger
from him. Luke is the only writer to tell us Herod finally does meet Jesus after his arrest.
Luke 9.10-17 (GAN pg 202)
Jesus plans a quiet break for his helpers after their special task, but his plans are frustrated when the
crowds follow him. His helpers want to get rid of the people and the problem they posed. However,
he responds not with irritation or rejection, but welcomes them, takes responsibility for them and
their needs. The whole crowd, 5,000 men and probably a substantial number of women and
children, go home well fed. This story appears in all four accounts of Jesus' life, so obviously made
a deep impression on the early Christians.
Luke 9.18-27 (GAN pgs 202-203)
Luke puts more emphasis on Jesus speaking with God than Matthew and Mark, helping to
emphasise his real humanity. Often he mentions it at important moments in Jesus' life, so it seems
that asking his close helpers their opinion of him was one such. Jesus makes it clear that being
special to God often is costly in this world, and will be both for him and probably for his friends
Luke 9.28-45 (GAN pgs 203-204)
The only reason Luke has for giving a timing to the next event is to signal a connection in meaning
with what has gone immediately before. This experience, traditionally called the Transfiguration, is
a moment of spiritual enlightenment for both Jesus and the three “inner circle” friends who were at
least partial witnesses, tiredness robbing them of full concentration. Moses and Elijah were two
great leaders in Jewish history. Moses had received and handed on God's rules, as well as leading
the people out of slavery in Egypt. Elijah was a great messenger of God. According to the old
books, Elijah was taken up into heaven without dying, and Moses' body was never found after his
death, giving rise to the idea that he too had been taken up bodily by God. They were talking about
what would happen in Jerusalem when Jesus would be put to death. The word Luke chooses in
Greek - “exodus” - means “departure“ It could be used simply to mean death, but was also the name
given to the second of the old books which told the story of the liberation of the Jews from slavery
in Egypt, a departure from slavery in a foreign land. All three meanings throw light on events in the
life of Jesus. He would die, he would also depart after his visit to earth when he left his friends and
returned to God, and he would also start a new people of God by God's great act of setting people
free for his New World. If the disciples shared any thoughts with popular opinion that Jesus might
be Elijah returned, this incident would remove them.
A cloud was often thought to be a sign of God's presence. Jesus is again affirmed by God as his
own, or as his son, and the only word from God himself ever addressed to the followers of Jesus in
the whole of Luke's writings comes here, when God says “Listen to him.” This means “ take notice
and do something about what you hear” not merely “hear it”! For Luke, the heart of being a
follower of Jesus is in taking notice of his teaching and living it out, not in having an emotional
response to his death!
It is easy to see Peter's suggestion of three shrines as stupid, but Moses himself had built one to give
a home for God's glory when he was leading the people through the desert. However, Jesus is
moving into new territory, so Moses and Elijah are left behind. It is a pity that some Christians still
try to give them an equal authority with Jesus by treating the Bible in a uniform way.
Luke 9.37-50 (GAN 203-205)
Again, the link “next day” invites us to see a connection. The special experience of Jesus' friends
does not turn them into good followers. This and the following three stories illustrate their lack of
understanding of Jesus and the ways into which he had called them. Jesus expresses his
exasperation, and also his sense that his life journey is coming to an end with his final rendezvous
in Jerusalem. He heals the boy with the fits which his helpers had failed to do. Despite his previous
prediction, they still cannot get their minds around his coming death. They were obsessed about
their status and the pecking order within their group; they tried to limit the work of Jesus to people
they knew and approved of; they took offence at what they saw as a racial slur by the villagers in
Samaria, and wanted to follow the example of Elijah and call down fire from heaven to destroy
those perceived as enemies, rather than leave Elijah behind and move forward with Jesus (implied
by the story on the mountain top). This is Elijah's third appearance in a short space in this book.
Sadly, the obsession with status continued right until the death of Jesus, happening again at he last
supper, and all too easily continues among his followers today, together with the other two failings
– condemning other Christians' ways and manner of working for Jesus, and hostile attitudes to
people perceived as opposing them.
With the words “Jesus was determined to go to Jerusalem”, Luke starts a new section of his first
book, which he wants us to see as the third and final journey of Jesus to Jerusalem. Luke probably
did not know Galilee personally at all and it is impossible to trace on a map because the
geographical indications are vague or missing, but it is spiritually symbolic of “The Way”, Luke's
name for Christianity. So it is during this section that much of Jesus' teaching on how to be a
follower is found. It begins with hard sayings about the cost - no settled home; the priorities – Jesus
comes before family and respectability; and the necessity of a total new start and commitment – no
Luke 10.1-24 (GAN pgs 205-206)
Luke is at pains throughout his books to underline the role of helpers of Jesus, other than the Twelve
often called Apostles. Here Jesus chooses another 70, implying that there was an even greater
number of close followers to allow him a choice. Paul in his first letter to Corinth speaks of a group
of more than 500 sufficiently close to Jesus to witness his resurrection, which agrees with the kind
of numbers Luke is suggesting. Not only are the 70 given fuller instructions than the 12, but they
are also told that they are such close representatives of Jesus that rejecting them amounts to
rejecting him. Although in the commission to the 12, they were told they had power to heal the
mentally ill, there is no report that they achieve it. The 70 are not specifically given such power, but
are delighted to report back that they have achieved it. Jesus interpreted their success as sure sign of
a victory over evil powers – he makes no such comment on the mission of the 12. The effect of this
story, only found in Luke, is to diminish the significance of the 12 during Jesus' ministry. For once,
Luke tells us the content of Jesus' prayer, rejoicing in his relationship with God who rules time and
space in love, yet is readily available to ordinary people.
Luke 10.25-end (GAN pags 206-207)
The man who questions Jesus probably thought that pleasing God meant keeping a set of rules.
Jesus makes it very plain that pleasing God comes about by loving attitudes to and relationships
with him and fellow human beings, which issue in loving action. The man finds it hard to accept;
even when told to love the person next to him, he asks for a definition, to make the demand of love
more manageable by drawing boundaries round who is to be included (and who excluded!). The
story of the Samaritan illustrates the second great command; the story of Mary and Martha the first.
The message of the story is more than neighbourliness. Otherwise an ordinary Jew would have
served as the example for the third character. The help comes from someone orthodox Jews
regarded as a half-breed heretic. This story is more than an example of kindness in action, it also
challenges all prejudices and stereotypes. A despised outcast is to be taken as a role model by a
Jewish expert! Christians still need to remember that they too can learn from people of other
religions and races! Jesus' final question makes the man from the strict set change his perspective to
think about who is neighbourly from the victim's point of view, rather than that of the giver of help.
In Luke, the stories of Jesus are often open-ended. We do not know whether the traveller survived,
and if he did, how long his convalescence or the final size of the bill faced by the Samaritan.
Martha's fault was criticism of her sister. Mary makes the better choice in playing the role of a
loving learner, rather than organising perhaps unnecessarily lavish hospitality. In John's story of
Jesus at the well, he asks the Samaritan woman for a drink, but tells her if she had any idea who he
was, she would seek to benefit from what he could offer her, an inner spring of life. Mary does have
some idea of what Jesus can offer, and opts to receive rather than try to give.
Luke 11.1-13 (GAN pgs 207-208)
Here we get a hint of the way that John the dipper trained his friends, perhaps yet another way in
which he prepared the way for Jesus. What Jesus gave was an example of the type of prayer to be
offered, not a form of words to be repeated mindlessly. He begins with bringing to mind God and
God's interests, before asking for basic needs and examining failings in our relationships with other
people, finally seeking aid for everyday living.
It is worth noting that in the story, food is being requested for someone else, not the one asking. The
teaching that follows tells us that if a human friend will help out in an emergency when we are
stuck; how much more will a God who is a loving parent give the necessities of life, but will not
give anything dangerous or damaging. We can be open and confident in our prayers, because unlike
magic wishes granted in fairy tales, there is no way God will do anything unworthy of the divine
parent, even if we ask it! Prayer is not about manipulating God.
Luke 11.14-23 (GAN pg 208)
Jesus makes it clear that there are not two different kinds of good, the good done by people we
approve of and good done by others. Any refusal to recognise and welcome good from whatever
source is working against Jesus and the coming of God's New World. Evil powers can never do
good; if they did, they would be in a state of civil war with themselves.
Luke 11.24-36 (GAN pgs 208-209)
Jesus' story of the unwelcome squatters draws out his teaching that it is more important to fill our
hearts and minds with good things, positive ideas, love, than seek to focus on the evil and second-
rate and try hard to expel it. The woman's sentimental words didn't impress Jesus. True religious
feelings result in obedient action, not cosy sentiment – a thought that should be applied to much
popular Christian “worship” song, and which would ruthlessly prune most Churches' songbooks! If
the woman in the crowd had actually known Mary and her story, she would have known that her
response to the angel's message of the birth of Jesus was one of humble obedience.
Luke 11.29-36 (GAN pg 209)
The antics and popularity of the more extreme television evangelists and their “promises” of “great
miracle healing crusades” suggest that human nature has not changed greatly since Jesus' time. A
yearning for spectacle and sensation is a betrayal of true spirituality. It is ironical that Matthew
using this teaching cannot refrain from mentioning the resurrection of Jesus as a miracle even more
spectacular than Jonah's three days in the belly of the great fish! The people of Nineveh only heard
Jonah's preaching; the African Queen put herself to great trouble to hear Solomon's teaching. The
people of Jesus' time had a clearer and fuller chance than either of them to see God's light in the
teaching and personality of Jesus. Any light we have from God is both for our own benefit, and for
the benefit of other people with whom we come into contact. The parable Jesus tells is of a lamp put
on a stand at the entrance to someone's home to allow visitors to see their way, like our outside or
Luke 11.37-53 (GAN pgs 209-210)
The Strict Set wanted to make their whole nation ultra holy, so they tried to apply the rules for
washing the vessels used in the Great Worship Centre in Jerusalem to all the eating and drinking
crockery of everyday life, something the Old Books never asked for. The writers in the Old Books
had often made it clear that God is not interested in such religious goings on. Isaiah 58.1-10 for
instance deals with fasting. Giving up food for its own sake, or to make a religious impression does
not interest God. But giving up things you might keep for yourself to feed the hungry or clothe the
naked is what God approves.
Jesus denounces the ultra religious people of his time. He criticises those who regard every word in
the Old Books as being equally important and binding, when clearly some are more important than
others. He criticises those whose real motive for religion is to magnify their own power or status.
He criticises those who use their religion to make other people's lives more difficult or miserable.
He criticises those who applaud the achievements of past prophets and reformers, while themselves
opposing any progress in their own day. All of this provokes a vicious reaction. A few moments'
thought will bring much similar behaviour to mind from religious people today, even to the
vindictive and bitter hostility so-called Christians pour out in letters to people in the public eye who
Luke 12.1-12 (GAN pgs 210-211)
Personal integrity and loyalty to the truth as we experience it are core values for followers of Jesus.
Play-acting is an absolute denial of such integrity. Jesus himself is the heart of that truth, and he
promises to stand by those who stand by him, something more important even than physical life.
His friends are not to be afraid of standing by him, even in hostile situations, including law courts.
God's Spirit, who is closely identified with truth, both here and particularly in John's gospel, will
always help. When Jesus spoke of the sparrows, he was talking about birds sold as food, a tasty if
small meat addition to a mostly grain diet for poor people. God's love and care do not guarantee
long life and security to sparrows or humans.
Luke 12.13-34 (GAN pgs 211-212)
The rules in the old books were all believed to come from God and covered every aspect of life -
criminal, civil, religious, and moral, and so religious leaders were expected to be expert and
authorities in them all. Jesus will not act as judge or arbitrator in a civil disagreement, but concerns
himself with the more important matters of God's New World, to which greed is a grave threat.
Jesus illustrates this with a story about a rich farmer who is pictured not only as wealthy, but also as
totally self-centred and thoughtless about anything or anybody beyond his immediate life and
possessions. The word used of him in the Greek is rather stronger than “chump”, suggesting
someone foolish rather than clownish.
The rich farmer can't make his life longer by planning, nor can anyone extend it by worry or
anxiety. While the flowers just are, the birds spend their time finding food, they don't sit back
waiting for it to fall into their beaks. God's love and care for human beings go beyond that for the
birds, whether sparrows or crows! Jesus underlines God's knowledge of people, his care for them,
the high value he sets on them, and the plans for good he has for them. How sad that so many who
claim to be his followers emphasise human failure and unworthiness in God's eyes instead.
Luke 12.35-13..9 (GAN pgs 212-213)
Jesus in this section warns of three crises, one for his disciples, one for himself and one for the
Jewish nation of his day.
Jesus tells stories about the people who ran the household of a wealthy man whose return was
certain but unpredictable, and will make something of a crisis for them. The friends of Jesus are
warned that they will never know when a crisis might overtake them in a similar way. Their best
strategy is to get on with the job he has given them, and do it in his way, and then it does not matter
when it happens, they will not be caught napping. In Luke's mind, and probably that of Jesus, the
crisis is probably the death of Jesus, with consequences for his friends, and resulting judgement for
the Jewish nation. However, these stories later came to be understood as speaking of the crisis of
Jesus' bodily return to the world at some future point in history. Even though Luke shares this
understanding, in his two books the time when Jesus may return is not a topic for speculation, let
alone calculation. The return of the boss goes against the norms of society when he acts as waiter to
his employees. But God's New World is about the reversal of normal standards, and Jesus when he
does return will still be the servant.
Jesus looks forward to a difficult time for himself, using the phrase “I have an immersion to be
dipped with” (or more familiarly, “baptism to be baptised with”). This translation does not do
justice to this. John the dipper had predicted that Jesus would bring a dipping in fire, a way of
speaking of God's judgement, but had never thought that Jesus would be the first to undergo it on
behalf of others. Jesus' words indicate some inner turmoil – he experiences a mixture of impatience
Jesus makes a final appeal to his own nation to choose the ways of peace. The political climate was
becoming increasingly unsettled, with a growing wish to be free of Roman rule and become an
independent nation again, expressed in outbreaks of patriotic fervour and threats of violent revolt.
The signs were there for anyone to see, and the wise course would have been to continue to accept
rule by the Romans, rather than provoke them, as illustrated in the story of a man dragged before
the magistrate by his accuser, which is not translated in this version. Jewish nationalist fervour did
lead to a fruitless and tragic rebellion against Roman rule, which failed dismally, bringing immense
suffering and damage to the nation, including destruction of the great central worship centre in
Jerusalem. Jesus points to two examples of presumably what were recent violent deaths in
Jerusalem, and points out that the victims were no more deserving of their fate than any other
inhabitants of Galilee or Jerusalem, and warns that similar slaughter will happen again unless there
is a change of attitude and behaviour.
Jesus finally repeats his main point through the story of the fig tree which bore no fruit. Fig trees
tend to do best in wild places in poor soil, so the one in Jesus' story has unusual advantages growing
in a garden or vineyard, and is treated very leniently in being given yet another chance, with the
gardener's attention and a dressing of manure. As so often in Luke, this story is left open-ended. Did
the tree improve, or was it chopped down? By this technique, Jesus draws us in to completing our
own stories – do we take God's patience for granted, or change our ways and become useful to him?
Matthew and Mark both include an account of a real fig tree with no fruit which Jesus cursed, and
which died very rapidly. Luke omits it, but includes this story instead, presumably a deliberate
choice. Perhaps what started as a story told by Jesus, became exaggerated and distorted in re-telling
and changed into a story about Jesus, as reported by Matthew and Mark
Luke 13.10-21 (GAN pg 214)
This story illustrates most vividly Luke's emphasis on women in his story of Jesus. He seems to
have included this one partly to parallel the story of the handicapped man healed in a place of
worship on God's special day to show women as equal beneficiaries of Jesus' work. As usual, he is
willing to break taboos and set a woman in the most prominent place, embrace her in public, though
she could have been menstruating. He did not criticise when she publicly praised God. However,
this story goes much further. In his manifesto sermon at Nazareth as he began his public work, Jesus
had said he had come to “bust the jails and set folk free.” This is the only time when Jesus speaks of
one of his healings in terms of liberation; she will be free of her infirmity, her disability had made
her a virtual prisoner, and she was released on God's special day. In his words he also uses a phrase
not found anywhere else in the Bible or Jewish writings of the time. Literally, he calls her “a
daughter of Abraham.” This means that she is one of God's special people in her own right as a
woman, not because of who was her father or husband! The very nature of her complaint meant that
she could not look people in the eye, she appeared to be bowing down all the time. Conceivably, her
condition could have been terminal, as vital inner organs like heart and lungs became increasingly
restricted. After meeting Jesus she can “walk tall” with new health and new status. Jesus has begun
the work of women's liberation in God's name.
The conventionally religious people are again shown up as more interested in rules and appearances
than the well-being of God's children, and in this case, the person in charge of the place of worship
is revealed as a coward too, criticising the woman for being healed, rather than daring attack Jesus
for doing the healing. Whereas Jesus cared about her; the worship leader abused her as a way of
getting at Jesus.
Luke says that this woman's liberation was the reason he told the two stories which follow.
Both are about remarkable, even miraculous, growth making it clear that the liberation of this one
woman is only the beginning of what will come about in God's New World, and is still developing
in the Christian Church, painfully slowly in some branches.
Luke 13.22-35 (GAN pgs 214-215)
Jesus saw his last visit to Jerusalem as a final appeal by God to the Jewish nation to change its
ways, and a final opportunity to do so. Speculating about how many will take the chance is
pointless – the only question is whether or not each person becomes part of God's New World,
whatever the struggle and cost. The Old Books had seen the gathering of God's scattered people for
a party as a sign that God's New World had arrived, and both are reflected in Jesus' teaching, and in
his lament over and appeal to Jerusalem. Particularly in these verses, Jesus speaks on behalf of God,
rather than just himself, in saying that over and over again he had wanted to protect the people of
Jerusalem with mother love.
Meals become increasingly important in Luke's two books, and he seems to have understood that
meals with Jesus, and the meals together which his friends continued to have after his departure,
were to be understood as anticipations and celebrations of God's New World. As we shall see, this
probably applies to the way Luke understood the Last Supper, rather than as anything sacrificial.
The incident in which the strict set warn Jesus of a threat from Herod is probably a set-up. Herod, a
wily politician, probably thought he could frighten Jesus away from the territory he ruled, and
enlisted the help of the strict set, who pretended to be helpful to Jesus. Jesus sees through the trick,
calling Herod a fox, and making it plain that he will follow his own agenda in his own, or God's
Luke 14.1-24 (GAN pgs 215-216)
Here, a meal is the setting in which Jesus heals and teaches. His teaching uses the guests' behaviour
as an illustration, and he gives instructions about how his followers should give hospitality. Finally,
he tells a story about a meal to point to a proper understanding of God's New World.
The meal took place on the Rest Day, and Jesus once more healed, even though the strict set
interpreted this as work, so against God's rules Also, the invalid's condition, once known as dropsy,
at the time of Jesus was thought to be a consequence of excessive sexual activity. Jesus' critics
would have thought the man deserved to suffer! ("Jesus: the image of humanity" by Anselm Grun
Continuum 2003 pp42-43.) It seems slightly odd that Jesus links a son and an animal together in his
explanation – an animal's value in the ancient world was mostly as wealth and usefulness; a son was
a precious member of the family. Perhaps he means that if humans can be motivated to mercy by
protection of assets as well as love, how much more would God want to care for his children. The
strict set will not answer, they are afraid of being labelled lax about keeping the rules on the one
hand, or unmerciful on the other.
The man was suffering from a disfiguring condition, and Luke's language probably means that Jesus
hugged him, which must have been affirming to him if he was embarrassed about his diseased
body. When he has recovered, he goes home, so he was probably a bystander, not a guest at the
meal. The meals given by the well-to-do were a public entertainment in those times and that culture.
Jesus' later teaching says the man should have been a guest!
Jesus uses a lesson about good manners to make the point that being pushy and assertive doesn't
work in the spiritual world either. God honours only those that he knows are true, not those who
push themselves and think they are better or more holy than other people. This incident about
jostling for position at a meal happens again at the last supper, when the guilty guests are the
disciples. In this way, Luke signals a connection between the two meals, as well as showing that the
friends continue to fall short of the teaching and example of Jesus, something which continues in
the second book.
Much human hospitality is really only some kind of mutual benefit society. The strict set generally
tried to make this self-interest into a virtue, arguing that they were avoiding contact with unworthy
and bad people, and so pleasing God. Jesus suggests that his followers should use hospitality to do
good by inviting needy people to their homes, people like those Jesus concerned himself with, as
for instance in his answer to John the dipper in Luke 7.22. The same categories of people actually
get to the feast in the story which Jesus tells next of a big party. This big party represents God's
New World. So if the poor, the disabled, the lonely and people with special needs get invitations
from us, then our parties are copies and anticipations of God's New World celebrations!
Luke 14.25-end (GAN pg 217)
Jesus never pretended that it was cheap and easy to be one of his friends. He demands top priority,
over family ties and personal needs. His two illustrations put the pros and cons of following him.
His story about the house extension warns about starting something and not carrying it through; his
second story about a nation thinking of war makes the point about the folly of facing superior
forces, as everyone does who tries to ignore or defy God. Can people afford to follow Jesus – can
they afford not to?
Salt in the ancient world was not the pure product we are used to. If, as is likely, the salt Jesus was
talking about was gathered in the vicinity of the Dead Sea, where it resulted from natural
evaporation in the hot sun, it was contaminated with other chemicals, which though harmless had
no power to flavour or preserve. It damp conditions, the salt could dissolve away, leaving behind
just useless impurities.
Luke 15 (GAN pg 217-219)
Meals figure prominently again in this chapter. The setting is criticism of Jesus by the strict set for
eating with people they defined as disreputable. Jesus defends his behaviour in three related stories,
two of them unique to his version of Jesus' life. Each story includes a celebratory party, and the
third, often called the Prodigal Son, hints at other meals, riotous parties as the younger brother
squanders his money; a mockery of a meal with the pigs; imagined or remembered meals back at
home and the party with his friends which the elder brother secretly longed for, never had, and
probably never asked for. Another of Luke's themes, the journey, also figures largely in the third
story – two journeys by the younger brother, to and from home, and a short physical journey, but a
long one emotionally, when the father leaves the party to go out to the older brother.
All three stories are about lost and found. “Good as New” interprets the first two as ironical, and it
is certainly true that human beings would not behave as the (male) shepherd did in leaving most of
his sheep to their own devices in potentially dangerous circumstances, and make so much fuss
about the recovery of the lost one. Nor would a woman (in the original) call in her neighbours and
give a party to celebrate the recovery of the smallest coin in circulation! It would cost her far more
than the coin was worth! However, God by contrast values infinitely those who are the least use and
biggest nuisance to him. Luke again pairs a man and a woman, and the woman's pictured
celebration points to God's delight on being reunited with the least significant of his children.
The third story takes the message on to a higher level – children are infinitely more precious than
livestock or possessions, and the heart of being human lies in relationships with each other. Here, a
father finds himself out of relationship with both of his sons, one who wanders far from home and
behaves very badly; ending in total degradation in Jewish eyes of the time, looking after pigs,
animals they regarded as “unclean”. The other remains nearby, but nurses grudges, thinks the worst
of his brother; sees himself not as part of a caring family, but as some kind of slave and also
behaves badly. The younger brother did have a good time with his friends; the older one sulked
because he hadn't! There are all kinds of barriers to be overcome before the younger brother can
return home, but he finds to his amazement they were barriers in himself, not in his father who
welcomes him, and restores him with joy to the family and and the village – he orders enough food
for more than just a small family party, and music and dancing needed more people too. The older
son is totally out of sympathy with what has happened, and disowns his brother by calling him a
worthless son of his father, not a brother! By refusing to come into the party, he is himself a bad
son, humiliating his father in public. The parable ends on a question mark, will the older brother
join the party or not? And so Jesus makes an appeal to the strict set. By their criticism of what Jesus
was doing and refusal to join in the party, they were showing how little understanding they had of
God's loving nature, they were insulting him and diminishing his celebrations, because he wants to
gather all his children to him, including them. Will they see the error of their ways and make the
story end happily?
This story is perhaps the heart of the good news about God's new world, and makes it clear that
relationships with each other cannot be separated from relationship with God. The father firmly tells
the older brother that the younger one is his brother, whether he likes it or not.
Luke 16 (GAN pgs 219-221)
This chapter starts and ends with stories of men and money, and various sayings about it come
between them. The key to the chapter is probably the saying “So use all your money to befriend the
friendless. One day it will be they who are welcoming you into their eternal homes”. The meaning
is further unpacked by the other teaching on money that follows. The two stories concern men who
are very soon going to lose their access to the wealth they have been handling. The accountant,
whether acting honestly or not, makes sure when he has lost his job there will be a whole lot of
people grateful to him, who will help him through the difficulties of unemployment. By contrast,
Desmond lives a life of blatant selfish luxury and is blithely uncaring about the plight of Larry.
Since he knows his name in the next world, he must have been aware of him in this one. When he
dies, he is consequently friendless. He was obviously a good family man, concerned about his own
flesh and blood and wanting them to avoid his fate, but this was not sufficient. This story is unique
in having a named character, and it seems more than a coincidence that John's story includes
someone also called Larry who does return from the dead.
This story is a piece of fiction and it would be mistaken to try to work out a neat theory of life after
death from it. (For a possible connection between this parable and the story of Larry in 'Sources
Close' see John Henson's article 'The last piece of the Jig-saw'. Google John Henson Sycamore
Luke 17.1-10 (GAN pg 221)
Here we have rather miscellaneous teaching from Jesus. He first of all defines the sin of getting
others to sin, particularly new followers of Jesus, or perhaps, little children (the original language
could mean either or both). Next comes guidance on settling disputes. Someone wronged should
take it up directly, not criticise or grumble to others, and be willing to forgive.
Jesus' friends wanted their trust deepened, but Jesus tells them the least amount can have far bigger
effects than they might think.
The story of the master and servant may be a warning about any idea that we can build up a credit
balance with God so that he owes us something – we are his workers and do no more than our duty
no matter what we may do for him. However, Jesus has already spoken of a master who waits on his
employees (Luke 12.35-38) God is so generous that he acts in ways which most humans would not,
and which continually surprise them.
Luke 17.11-19 (GAN pg222)
All ten victims of skin disease were healed, only the Samaritan returned to say thanks. All healing
was understood as coming from God, but only the Samaritan understood the role of Jesus, the
channel through whom God acted. He did not get as far as the central worship place in Jerusalem,
where the health officers operated. He probably would not have been admitted anyway, such was
the hostility between Jews and Samaritans, so being excluded from the central worship place turns
out to be no loss to him.
Luke 17.20-end (GAN pgs 222-223)
It is clear that Jesus promised a future event, the full arrival of God's New World and the public
appearance and rule of the Complete person. Sometimes he spoke of it in picture language,
borrowed and adapted from the old books. Also, he sometimes gave warnings about a future event
at the time he spoke, the Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire which resulted in the destruction
of Jerusalem and all it contained, including the central worship building. It is not always clear to us
which he was talking about, and whether his language is literal or poetic. What is clear is his call to
live by the standards and power of God's New World, and not to be influenced by (or worse,
become!) cranky people who try to calculate future dates and interpret current or past historical
events to know when God's New World will come. When it does, it will be obvious to everybody,
believers or not - “the whole world will be aware …... in a split second.”
Luke 18.1-7 (GAN pg 223)
There are only two requests in the model prayer Jesus gave his friends (Luke 11.1-13), for God to
bring in his New World, and for him to give us our daily needs. The latter seems to be illustrated by
the earlier story of the friend asking for bread in the middle of the night, whose request is granted.
This story concerns a widow looking for justice – one of the promised features of God's New
World. The woman is said in the original to be a widow – and the fact that she approaches the
lawyer herself means either that she had no man to speak for her, or that her male relatives didn't do
their duty. Despite her apparent weakness, she gets her way over the lazy judge. The story illustrates
the reversals which are part of God's New World. The important and powerful are overcome, the
weak and unconsidered are raised up by God. If Luke's explanation of why Jesus told the story is
correct, to encourage an upbeat relationship with God, then we have to introduce a contrast – if a
lazy and corrupt judge can be nagged or threatened into doing the right thing, how much more will
a just and consistent God do what is right. Notice that all the woman has at the end of the story is
the lawyer's decision, which we're not even told he communicated to her, the story teller has let us
know his inner thoughts. At the end of the story, we know that through her resolute behaviour,
justice will come to her one day. But she does not have any proof of it! So our requests to God for
the coming of his New World remain for the present only promises, we have to rely on God to keep
– which is trust in him, something rare both in Jesus' time and today.
Luke 18.9-14 (GAN pg 224)
Jesus tells another story about prayer, one of only two of his stories with a precise setting, the
worship centre in Jerusalem. Probably everything the member of the strict set said was true, but his
words were centred entirely on himself, and were all about his superiority in religion and morals to
most people, and particularly to the other man he spotted, the outcast. Such a self-satisfied,
judgemental and competitive attitude rather separates him from God than brings him close. By
contrast, the outcast is honest, and trusts himself entirely to the goodness and love of God, the only
possible approach capable of bringing him close to God.
Luke 18.15-44 (GAN pgs 224-225)
The friends of Jesus probably meant well in trying to keep the children away – children can be
demanding and tiresome, and in that society were really only valued as potential adults, so were
hardly worth the attention of a busy important teacher. However, they mattered to Jesus, and he
holds them up as examples to be followed and learned from. Unless they have been abused, they
have no hangups about receiving and being dependent and trusting. Even in his second book, the
importance of the followers of Jesus is not as heroes or examples, but as witnesses to what Jesus did
and taught. They fall far short of his example from time to time, as Christians still do.
The community leader asks the same question as the member of the strict set reported in Luke 10.
The very question shows a dissatisfaction with his experience of life. In his reply, Jesus misses out
love of God, and gives a summary of the Ten Rules rather than condensing them into one ( to love
the person next to you) as he did on the previous occasion. Living a decent life is not enough This
man deep down found his ultimate security in his wealth, and would not risk that for fullness of life,
which can only come about through a relationship with God, in this case, with Jesus face to face.
Obsession with wealth is not restricted to the wealthy – poor people can use all their ingenuity to
work out ways to make money, or fill their mind with it in wishful thinking about it, or through
lottery tickets, or they can be very miserly. However, those who actually have wealth do tend to
depend on it for power, and for “security”, which is likely to close them off from God's New World.
However, God can break through all such barriers. Rocky is reminded that being a follower of Jesus
has made him part of a great family, a challenging way of speaking of the Christian community.
This has many compensatory advantages
Once more, Jesus speaks about his coming death, and his friends fail to understand him. As they
approach Jericho, Jesus hears the cries of a man unable to see, who is regarded as of no importance
by the crowd. They would silence him if they could. His expression “new David” is a kind of
statement of faith. The first David had been the greatest Jewish king, and one with whom God had a
very special relationship. The man's insight about who Jesus was, and his belief that Jesus could
help him, amount to real trust, and Jesus grants him his sight. In contrast with the community leader
who seems to have drawn back, he immediately throws in his lot with Jesus, singing the praises of
God – who had worked through Jesus – and becomes one of the large crowd of friends of Jesus who
accompanied him on his final entry into Jerusalem.
Luke 19.1-10 (GAN pg 225)
By no means all the characters in stories about Jesus are named, so when they are, it seems likely
that the source of the story is the person named, or someone who knew them. Keith abandons his
dignity by running and climbing a tree in public – proving how deep was his wish to see Jesus. As a
tax collector, he had to collaborate with the Roman occupation forces which made him an
unpopular outcast from religious and Jewish patriotic society. This did not put Jesus off - he invited
himself as a guest. The encounter changes Keith, who voluntarily decides to give half his
possessions to charity, unlike other rich people in Luke's story. He also commits himself to make
amends for money dishonestly obtained - though this does not necessarily mean that he had
regularly cheated people. Jesus makes a similar pronouncement about Keith to the one he made
about the woman bent double – Keith is a descendant of Abraham, that is, he belongs to God's
Luke 19.11-27 (GAN pg 225)
This story is very odd, and seems to be two stories telescoped into one. One story concerns an
unpopular client ruler who has his position confirmed by the supreme authority in another country,
despite a petition from his subjects not to let him be their ruler. Once confirmed in post, he takes
his revenge on those who had opposed him. Something very like this had happened in living
memory. When Herod the Great died in 4 BC, one of his sons travelled to Rome to ask the Emperor
there to make him ruler of Judea. A delegation of fifty Jews also went to oppose his request,
unsuccessfully, though there is no evidence of reprisals. The other story concerns a man who is
away on business, and entrusts his affairs to deputies, of whom two trade successfully, while the
other does nothing at all, simply keeping the original capital safe. The story speaks of ten servants,
but only gives the outcome for three, promotion for the hard-working risk takers; humiliation for
the lazy one.
Luke explains why Jesus told this particular story at this particular time. In his understanding, the
future crisis of which Jesus had been speaking was his trial and death and the fate of Jerusalem, not
the final total coming of God's New World. Although Luke believed this would happen, and would
be sudden and unexpected when it did, he did not believe it was necessarily to happen soon.. For
him, the deputies left to trade in the temporary absence of their boss are followers of Jesus, waiting
however long it takes for their master to return as ultimate ruler, and getting on with his business in
Jesus may well have told the story of the deputies to challenge the defensive and protective attitudes
of the Strict Set to their beliefs and practices, trying to keep their religion safe, rather than using it
to further God's affairs in new areas (like the man burying his capital to be sure of keeping it safe).
However, the sympathies of ordinary people hearing the story for the first time would probably
have been with the deputy who was not into exploitation and money-making, rather than with an
extremely wealthy absentee landlord, whose wealth almost certainly came from exploiting ordinary
people. The deputy who is brave enough to opt out of the system and express his real views about
his boss may well have been a hero, and a pointer to Jesus, who also got into trouble by opting out
of the system and telling the truth about it and those who ran it.
Luke 19.29-end (GAN pgs 226-227)
Jesus leads the large crowd of his followers as they approach Jerusalem. He sends two of his friends
to one of the nearby villages to bring him a donkey – he had probably arranged in advance with
local friends or supporters to have the use of the animal. We know from John's story and Luke's
second book that Jesus had friends in the Jerusalem area. He is deliberately acting out a story with
meaning, and has made sure there will be no technical hitches. The unbroken colt has never been
used at all, so is fit for a holy purpose. In the old books, Solomon entered Jerusalem on his late
father King David's mule (50% donkey!) as part of the way he claimed the throne against his older
brother. In another place in the old books, one of God's messengers had promised a future leader
who would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. Jesus' followers seem to understand at least part of his
meaning; allowing his donkey to walk over their clothes is a great sign of honour and respect, and
in their song, they greet him as ruler, using words slightly adapted from a song in the Old Books.
The Strict Set also understand, and think Jesus should put a stop to such extreme ideas, but by
refusing to do so, Jesus accepts that they are valid.
Jesus is enough of a realist to know that Jerusalem and its leaders are not likely to change
dramatically, so he weeps over the fate that was coming to it, and which happened when the Roman
Emperor Titus attacked, besieged and destroyed it in AD 70, with much suffering for its people.
Sceptical scholars think these words were written after the event and read back into the mouth of
Jesus, but the methods of attacking and besieging armies were only too well known in the ancient
world, described in places in the old books, and talked about in tales of the exploits of the Romans
and Alexander the Great, among others.
When Jesus drove out the merchants, he was again doing something symbolic, because he knew
that his actions would not change things permanently. No merchants meant no animals available to
be killed in God's honour (as it was thought), so predicting the end of this way of worshipping God.
The area in which the merchants operated was the only part of the worship centre complex open to
non-Jews who might want to come and pray and worship, so Jesus is also clearing the way for
them. His actions greatly annoyed the Strict Set and other leaders, especially because Jesus was so
popular. Luke never shows us Jesus worshipping in any way in the Worship Centre in Jerusalem He
is only shown using it as a location for teaching.
Luke 20.1-8 (GAN pgs 227-228)
The authorities try to undermine Jesus by a series of trick questions. First of all, they question who
gave him the right to teach in the worship centre. Although Jesus does not answer directly, he
implies that the source of his authority is God's. As we have already noted, all the stories of Jesus'
life and work start with John the Dipper, who prepared the way for him. So if John truly was God's
speaker, which the authorities dare not deny, then Jesus was also part of what God was doing.
Luke 20.9-18 (GAN pg 228)
This story is also found in Mark, where it is one of the only two long stories recorded. Mark
included it, and probably Jesus told it, at this point in his life to throw light on the meaning of his
coming and death. Although it is often known as “the wicked tenants”, the main characters are the
patient owner, and his son. A 1st century Jewish audience would have known that the old books used
a vineyard as a picture way of speaking about the Jewish people. The son was willing to undertake
the task of making one last appeal to the tenants on his father's behalf, though knowing perfectly
well their track record of dishonesty and violence. As a responsible agent in the story, he must have
been an adult. The son is willing to sacrifice his life to try and further his father's generous and just
intentions. This story gives us a glimpse into how Jesus understood his death, as a final appeal from
God to his people to act responsibly. Like many of Jesus' stories, the behaviour of the owner is very
irrational from a human point of view, but makes more sense if he represents God, who loves all
humans, and is patient, generous, forgiving and willing to do whatever is necessary to re-establish
relationships between himself and people.
Jesus' popularity gave him some protection from the authorities who felt threatened by him, so they
tried to show him up in front of the crowds listening to him. The next trick question concerning
taxes could have got him into trouble with the Romans if he had said anything encouraging anyone
not to pay, while a simple statement that they should be paid could have branded him a traitor to
people of a nationalist mindset. By asking to see a coin, Jesus tricked them into producing one,
showing that in practice they accepted Roman society, and used a coinage that was blasphemous,
according to Jewish understanding, because it had an image of Caesar on it. Images were forbidden
in the rules in the Old Books. Jesus then made a very important statement which is the basis of a
Christian attitude to the State – the good follower of Jesus seeks to do his duty both as a citizen, and
as one who tries to obey God. If the State starts to make absolute claims or makes laws that are
unjust or oppressive, the Christian must put his duty to God first.
The following trick question tries to make Jesus look silly because he believed in life beyond death.
If a woman married a whole succession of men who died, how could she possibly belong to them
all in any next life? Jesus justifies his belief in resurrection life by basing it on the loving
relationship between God and people. In the old books, Moses spoke of God as “the God of
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” long after they had all died. He does not call him “the God that
Abraham used to believe in!” The Christian hope of eternal life today rests in the experience of
being in a loving relationship with God through Jesus, and trusting in God to maintain that when
life on earth ends.
Jesus now questions his questioners. It was the belief of Jesus and his listeners that all the old
songs were written by David. But in the one he quotes here, David says that God himself invited a
figure that David called “my Leader” to share his throne, that is, to reign, and promised him that he
would be victorious over all his enemies. Such a figure goes so far beyond anything that David
himself experienced or achieved that it is clear that someone quite different is intended, so calling
him David's son (literal translation – a phrase meaning someone like David, an earthly king fighting
wars of liberation) is totally inadequate to describe the chosen one, Jesus. (Notice that whatever
ideas others may have had, Jesus does not seem to regard his genealogy as a matter of great
Luke 20.45 to 21.4 (GAN pgs 224-230)
It is worth pointing out that chapters and verses have nothing to do with the original text of these
books, and sometimes introduce quite unsuitable breaks. Both the teaching of Jesus and the incident
of the generous poor woman illustrate the difference between religion done for good reasons, and
religion done for show or other profit. The religious leaders Jesus criticises are obsessed with
themselves and their image or wealth, while the poor woman forgot herself by giving all she had.
Perhaps she is pointing the way to what Jesus is shortly to do – to give all he had - even life itself.
A few notes on Jesus and the future.
Jesus during his lifetime spoke about three aspects of the future. He foresaw his own death; he also
predicted that simmering political, religious and nationalist concerns of his people would lead to a
devastating war with the Romans, and the destruction of Jerusalem, its worship centre and its
leadership. He also spoke about God's New World, and the public appearance and acceptance of
God's Chosen One as leader as future realities. Particularly in this latter area, he often used highly
symbolic and poetic language, as did the Old Books. It is very clear that his friends did not really
understand his meaning, and confused the closeness of his death with the more distant coming of
God's New World. The New Testament bears witness to this confusion. 'Sources Close' (John)
21.21-23 is an example, in which the early followers of Jesus thought the beloved disciple would
live until God's New World came, and so never have to pass through a normal human death. Later,
in his second book, Luke tells us that Jesus' close friends thought that political independence would
soon come back to their nation, as part of God's New World. To illustrate the way people of those
times did not take picture language literally, we look at Luke's second book, Acts 2. When Peter
explains the coming of the Spirit, empowering Jesus' friends to communicate in new ways with a
wide range of nationalities and cultures, he refers to words from Joel saying that the moon would
turn red (literally, turn to blood) when God was among his people. There is no suggestion that any
such thing had occurred, but this does not stop Rocky saying Joel's words had come true.
The various sayings of Jesus about the future are not easy to understand, and may have been
confused by the witnesses who pass them on to us. They are certainly greatly distorted by bigots
who take everything in a literal way, and who put different versions of them together to calculate
the date of the arrival of God's New World, and try to find contemporary events predicted.
It is clear that Luke believed that a proper Christian understanding of when God's New World
would finally arrive is to be totally open-minded, trusting it entirely to God, in the meantime living
by the values of the New World. It is because he understood that there may be a long historical
period between the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and final arrival of God's New World that
he wrote his second book, which begins to tell the story of the Christian community, and begins to
draw out lessons from the way God continues to reveal himself and lead his people as history
Luke 21.5-37 (GAN pgs 230-231)
Jesus is not impressed by aesthetics, but predicts the end of the worship centre. He warns his
disciples not to waste time trying to calculate the dates of future events, and not to over-exaggerate
the significance of the events of history such as wars, revolutions and natural disasters, nor even
their own experience of suffering and persecution. All of these things will happen - the world as
humans know it won't disappear until the Complete Person emerges. Jesus' followers must keep
their nerve, and not be distracted from what is important in God's eyes
Luke 21.38-22.6 (GAN 231-232)
A large crowd of his friends had travelled with Jesus from Galilee, where he seems to have had a
substantial popular following. They formed part of the great crowds who had gathered in Jerusalem
for the Jewish Festival, with whom he was popular. The Jewish authorities, political and religious,
see him as a threat, but are afraid of causing a riot if they try to arrest him when there are excitable
crowds around. Luke in his second book describes an out-of-control mob trying to lynch Paul in the
Jerusalem Temple, giving us a flavour of how unstable things were. The authorities want to pick
Jesus up quietly, so bribe one his closest friends to help them. There have been many imaginative
explanations of why Judas became a traitor, but there is insufficient evidence to come to any
Luke 22.7-13 (GAN pg 232)
As with the provision of an unbroken donkey for his entry into Jerusalem, it seems likely that Jesus
had planned ahead with friends and sympathisers in Jerusalem to have the room available and ready
for his final meal with his friends. We know from elsewhere in Luke's book, that he had friends at
Dategrove and Emmatown, which were near Jerusalem. We also know from his second book, that
John Mark's mother lived in Jerusalem, and her house became a base for the early Church. It is
interesting that Rocky and John's task is described as preparing the food. There is no mention of
buying a lamb, and having it ritually killed first. Luke nowhere in his two books speaks of Jesus'
death as a sacrifice, and neither Jesus nor any of his friends is ever described as involved in offering
the sacrifices laid down in the old books. Luke understood this last meal as one of a series of
fellowship meals which Jesus ate with all kinds and conditions of people. Luke even links it with
the last previous meal he described (Luke 14) because the guests' argument about status there was
repeated by Jesus' friends. He also looks forward to the resumption of such meals after the
resurrection, in words about eating with his friends in God's new world. One piece of strong
evidence for this understanding of the meal of bread and wine that almost all Christians continue in
their worship, is that from the earliest days, it was held frequently on the first day of the week
(Sunday), the day of the resurrection, rather than only annually at Easter, which might have been the
expected timing if this meal is the Christian equivalent of the annual Jewish festival of bread made
without yeast, which included animal sacrifice. Jesus predicts his betrayal, and shows his love for
Judas by lamenting his fate.
Luke 22.24-30 (GAN pg 233)
Jesus here promises a special role for his twelve close friends in God's New World as leaders and
judges (who in that culture did not simply pronounce on rights and wrongs, but actually
implemented justice). This probably explains why in Acts 1, they ask Jesus if this special task is to
start, but are then told that it remains in the future – and that in the meantime they are to join in with
the rest of his disciples in being witnesses throughout the world.
Luke 22.31-38 (GAN pg 233)
Rocky undoubtedly had a leadership role during Jesus' ministry and in the early Church. However,
like all disciples, his behaviour fell short of what he himself hoped for, which was no surprise to
Jesus. The quotation from Isaiah in the old books may mean that Jesus understood that the friends
who were armed were the criminals with whom Jesus was associated, rather than the two criminals
later executed alongside him because carrying weapons was a criminal offence. The golden days of
their mission in Galilee are gone; Jesus is about to be arrested as a criminal, and they will be
regarded as his accomplices. The footnote in “Good as New” is not wholly convincing, nor is its
translation of “sword” as “knife” - a much more neutral word. The meaning of Jesus' statement
which ends this topic, literally, “That's enough” brings out well that he is ending the conversation,
not saying that two swords were adequate.
Luke 22.39-46 (GAN pg 233-234)
Luke shows Jesus talking with God more often than any other gospel writer. Jesus intends that his
disciples too should be praying in view of the critical situation they all faced, but while Jesus does
pray, they fail again and doze off. For Jesus, as it should be for any human being, the ultimate
prayer is for God's will to be done, not as a get-out clause if we can't have our own way, but
recognising God's superior wisdom and love, and trust God's intentions above our own. Jesus
reveals his true humanity by shrinking from the appalling fate that he knew awaited him.
Luke 22.47-53 (GAN pg 234)
The authorities arrest Jesus under cover of darkness in a quiet place, helped by one of his close
followers, Judas, away from the crowds among whom would have been many supporters. Perhaps
they saw possible propaganda value in Judas deserting the cause, as well as the practical help he
gave. While Jesus' words to him betray no animosity, rather sadness, they still confront Judas and
challenge him to consider in depth what he is doing. The other friends of Jesus are alerted by this
exchange, and a scuffle breaks out, in which a boy or servant of the religious chief has his ear
damaged or cut off. Jesus for the last time heals someone, in this case one who could be seen as his
enemy. Jesus not only taught love for all, even those hostile to us, but also modelled it. He also
confronts those who had come to arrest him over their motives and methods.
Luke 22.54-65 (GAN pgs 234-235)
The story of Rocky's denial is found in much the same form in all four stories of the life of Jesus.
By trying to stay close to Jesus, Rocky showed more bravery and loyalty than any of the other
friends. Luke alone tells us that Jesus and Rocky were close enough to each other to make eye
contact, and that it was the look of Jesus that provoked Rocky's tearful response. Rocky was
suspected of being one of Jesus' close allies because he was recognised as coming from Galilee.
Probably his accent gave him away. The questioner assumes that a Galilean is more likely to
support Jesus than someone with a southern (Judean) or Jerusalem accent, suggesting that the
hostility to Jesus was centred in Jerusalem.
The guards then mock and torment Jesus. By inviting him to prophesy, that is, display knowledge
that could only have come from God, they indicate that Jesus was generally thought to be or to
claim to be one of God's special speakers.
Luke 22.66-23.11 (GAN pg 235)
Unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke defers the trial of Jesus until daylight. A night-time trial would
have been irregular according to Jewish regulations at the time. Jesus' words to the council show
that he regarded his trial as a mockery, because he would not be listened to seriously. However, he
predicts that the whole balance of power will soon change. Luke believed, and so have Christians
ever since, that the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus give him a supremacy in God's
purposes for the whole universe. Those interrogating Jesus try to get him to make a statement they
would regard as blasphemous, that Jesus was God's “True Likeness”. Literally, this would be
translated “Son of God”, a statement made about Adam, the supposed ancestor of the whole human
race who begins Jesus' genealogy in Luke chapter 3 (not fully translated in this version). The same
phrase is used by Gabriel when he tells Mary of the birth of Jesus. Its validity is questioned during
Jesus' temptations, and it is blurted out to Jesus by mentally disturbed but spiritually perceptive
people. Luke would have believed that it was true about Jesus, and hoped his readers would share
his faith. However, he never uses the designation himself when speaking as narrator , and the phrase
hardly appears in his account of the early years of the Christian Church.
The Jewish leaders knew perfectly well that Jesus was no direct threat to the public order imposed
by the Roman occupying forces. However, they misinterpret his words to suggest he was dangerous,
something which they believed the Governor would take very seriously. There is no evidence the
Romans had ever thought Jesus was any kind of threat, and they had their spies and agents keeping
careful watch on a restive nation (who caused them recurrent problems and rebelled disastrously in
the next generation). Pilate therefore dismisses their accusation as implausible, and lacking in
evidence. They persist, suggesting that Jesus' subversive activity started in Galilee, and this gives
Pilate what he sees as an escape from the situation. Herod (son of Herod the Great) was responsible
for the province of Galilee, so Pilate sends Jesus to him for further investigations, in case there is
any truth in their claims.
The Jewish leaders could have arranged for Jesus to be stoned for blasphemy, which happened to
his follower Steven as described in Luke's second book (Acts 8). It therefore looks as if they wanted
to engineer not only Jesus' death, but his death by a method Jews regarded as particularly shameful,
and indicating rejection by God according to the Old Books. Paul writing to the Church at Corinth
(1 Corinthians 1.23) admits that the crucifixion of Jesus was an obstacle to Jews, so their strategy
had some success.
Luke has already told us that one of Jesus' women friends and supporters, Joan, was the wife of a
senior official in Herod's court. This may be why Luke alone tells us of the examination of Jesus by
Herod – he had access to inside information from within Herod's close circle. Jesus had earlier
dismissed Herod as a fox, and was unwilling to cooperate with his idle curiosity. Herod and his
soldiers mock Jesus and dress him in royal robes to make any claims of earthly power look
ludicrous, then send him back to Pilate. Herod may well have been resident in Jerusalem at the
time, perhaps to observe the Jewish festival of bread made without yeast, making the timing
The trial by Pilate resumes, and he recognises that Jesus is guilty of no political crime.
Nevertheless, the crowd of Jewish leaders demand his execution. Acts 4.26 records a prayer quoting
Psalm 2, implying that Pilate and Herod conspired together to destroy Jesus. In one way, this is true,
yet in another way, they agree in finding Jesus innocent, against the opinion of the Jewish
leadership. The crowd that shouted for the death of Jesus, contrary to many pious sermons, is not
the same crowd as Palm Sunday and thus fickle, but a mob assembled by and including the Jewish
Jerusalem leadership. They had, after all, arrested Jesus secretly by night because they knew their
actions would be unpopular and perhaps frustrated by the ordinary people, including those from
Galilee present for the festival (Luke 22.1-6). Their hatred of Jesus is so great that they prefer to
have a convicted murderer free to wander their streets than to allow Jesus to continue his ministry.
Barry's name carries an irony - in the original, Barabbas means literally “son of the father”. Pilate
gives the maintenance of good relationships with the Jewish authorities a higher priority than justice
for someone he thought a nobody. Sadly, he is not the only or last politician or leader to act in this
Luke 23.26-31 (GAN pg 236)
As usual in Luke, Jesus on his way to be executed is accompanied by male and female: Simon from
Africa who was forced to carry his cross, and a group of women who wept and lamented for him,
anticipating his funeral rites. Jesus is more concerned for them than for himself, and makes the
shocking statement that women without children will be regarded as more blessed than those with,
the reverse of normal Jewish thinking, so terrible will be the circumstances and suffering which
were to come upon Jerusalem. Jesus was also followed by some of his friends, including the
women, who probably kept at a safe distance, but were able to witness what went on.
Luke 23.32-43 (GAN pgs 236-238)
Some scholars have tried to say that Luke shifts the blame for the death of Jesus on to the Jews, but
crucifixion was a Roman method of execution, and the fact that two other criminals were put to
death at the same time, at least one of them accepting the justice of the verdict, indicates clearly that
this was a Roman affair. It was the done thing to fix on the cross the charge which had brought the
death penalty, and in Jesus' case, this was that he claimed to be Leader of the Jews. This charge
provides the grounds for mockery from the Jewish authorities, the soldiers and also one of the
criminals. Jesus prays for forgiveness for those who were executing him, claiming that they did not
know what they were doing. On one level, this was true. We do well to remember that ignorance
with good intentions produce bad results and suffering, as well as deliberate malice. In the midst of
all the suffering and mockery, two people stand out by taking a different point of view. One criminal
speaks from his cross to defend Jesus, by stating his innocence, while the army officer in charge of
the operation also expresses his admiration for him and declared him to be a good man.
The criminal who spoke up for Jesus, and who expressed some kind of faith in the future power or
influence of Jesus is promised the reward after death of being with him in God's garden, a picture of
heaven, perhaps based on the idea of a restored garden of Eden. Matthew, Mark and Luke all say
there was darkness during the crucifixion, and that the Temple curtain was torn in two. This curtain,
which had an embroidered representation of the heavens, shielded the most holy part of the worship
centre from sight. Only the Chief religious official was allowed in there, and then only once a year
after careful preparation. Some Jews thought God lived there in a special way; more sophisticated
people thought it symbolised the presence of God. In any case, the death of Jesus destroys any
secrecy about God and what God is like, and opens the way into God's presence for all. Jesus hangs
naked, open to public view – a window to the heart of God's reality.
Even as he dies, Jesus expresses his trust in God as loving parent. Luke once more shows Jesus
speaking to God; his last words are a prayer, using a phrase from the Old Books (Psalm 31.5)
Luke 23.50-56 (GAN pgs 237-238)
Although Luke has shown us the hostility of the Jewish authorities to Jesus, it now becomes clear
that this hostility was not unanimous. Joseph, a member of the Council, bravely approaches Pilate
and buries the body of Jesus, not afraid to be known as a sympathiser. As so often, other people
make up for the deficiencies of the close friends of Jesus. His women followers are witnesses to the
burial, again drawing attention to the absence of the men. The women make their preparations for
what they think will be their final service to Jesus, to embalm his body, a task which was regarded
as work, so forbidden to them as faithful Jews on the Rest Day.
Luke 24.1-12 (GAN pg 238)
The women make an early start for their sad task, but then find themselves involved in an amazing
series of events. Firstly, the stone over the mouth of the cave tomb has been moved away. Secondly,
the body has disappeared. Thirdly the women meet a couple described in Good As New as 'two
strangers'. John Henson believes that most of the angels in the scriptures are humans entrusted with
a message from God. Indeed the Greek here means 'two men'. However many believe Luke has a
special interest in supernatural beings and the way he describes the sudden appearence of these two
seems to point in that direction. Or the 'two men' in bright clothes (only one in Mark) suggests that
Luke could have in mind Moses and Elijah, heralding Jesus' Resurrection as they had previously
prophesied his death.
The women bow in reverence and fear, and hear the message that Jesus is not among the dead, but
among the living. The strangers do not explain this as fulfilment ofthe old books, but as fulfilment
of the teaching of Jesus, who by implication carries the greater authority. (Luke himself, with one
exception concerning John the Dipper, never says things happened to fulfil the Old Books, though
he records the apostles making such claims in his second volume.)
The women “remembered his words”, making it clear that Jesus had instructed them equally with
the men about the meaning of his life and work. The women, a larger group than we would realise
from the other gospels, begin to make sense of the passion. However, the eleven special friends and
the rest do not believe them, and think they are talking rubbish. Some old manuscripts say that
Rocky went to the tomb, perhaps to harmonise with 'Sources Close'; perhaps because the almost
total exclusion of the male special friends from the resurrection narratives in Luke's story was felt to
be offensive to later thought in which their importance was exaggerated.
Luke 24.13-35 (GAN pgs 238-239)
The beauty of this story and artistry of its telling can make us overlook some of its remarkable
features. It is amazing that the main resurrection story Luke chooses to tell concerns one otherwise
unknown disciple Clover, and another, plausibly his wife, who were not among the inner circle, and
who had certainly not left everything to follow Jesus, because they had a home in Emmatown. This
is a slap in the face to the close friends, a slight felt by some Roman Catholic piety which has
identified the unknown disciple as Rocky! For the last time in his first volume, Luke recounts a
journey which is the occasion of profound spiritual enlightenment. The pair, gloomily discussing
the death of Jesus and of their hopes and aspirations centred on him and his work, are joined by
him, though in the twilight, they do not recognise him. Jesus helps them to understand the Old
Books – they need to see them and understand them in the light of his death and resurrection and
through his eyes – something which Fundamentalist Christians have not learned. When they reach
their destination, Jesus would have continued. He is soon to tell his friends that they must be
witnesses for him from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria and to the ends of the earth – his journey
from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth with his friends is only just beginning. However, the two
invite him into their home, where they recognise him in the fellowship meal by the way he said
thanks for the bread – a clear link back to the Last Supper, the feeding of the five thousand, and all
the many fellowship meals Jesus ate with all kinds and conditions of people, a point underlined
when it is repeated in the account given to the other disciples back in Jerusalem.
Their tiredness evaporates, and as they re-interpret their journey, recognising signs of the presence
of Jesus, which they had not realised before, they rush back to Jerusalem to share their good news,
only to discover they also have some learning to do, because Rocky has also met the risen Jesus.
True Christian witness always involves listening to others as well as speaking of what we know.
Luke 24.36-end (GAN pgs 239-240)
Jesus now appears to the whole group of friends, maybe as many as 120 (see Acts 1.15). All the
New Testament evidence points to the difficulty the disciples had in understanding what had
happened when Jesus came back. Here, they first assume that they are seeing a ghost, but this idea
is disproved by the words of Jesus, the opportunity to examine his hands and feet, presumably with
damage visible from the crucifixion, and .his consumption of food (mentioned by Rocky when he
preaches to Neil (Acts 9.41) The return of Jesus is not a resuscitation either, because he seems to
have a freedom from the limitations of time and space which allows him to come and go at will, and
his life does not end in death again, but in withdrawal from visible presence and return to God.
Based on this evidence, the Christian hope of life to come after death is not a crude resumption of
bodily existence, nor the survival of a “soul” or spiritual part, but a renewed totality of life more
complete than this one in a super-body, with extra possibilities for action and experience.
In both of only two resurrection appearances reported in full, Luke mentions meals. This is in line
with his whole understanding of the significance of fellowship meals with Jesus, and suggests that
the regular celebration of a meal together by Christians on Sundays (the day of the resurrection)
arose out of the resurrection fellowship meals more than the Last Supper.
Jesus now teaches the whole disciple community to understand the Old Books in the light of the
whole Jesus event. He commissions not just the eleven special friends, but the whole community to
take the message of forgiveness and new life to the whole world, beginning in Jerusalem, but not
until they are properly equipped with God's special gift of Holy Spirit (Acts 2), as promised at the
beginning of his work by John the Dipper (Luke 3.16). As eye-witnesses, they have a vital role in
propagating the message.
If we only had Luke's first book, we might think Jesus departed from his friends on Easter Day, but
his second book tells us there was a period of forty days (Acts 1.3) during which he continued to
meet with them. For pious Jews to worship Jesus would have been unthinkable without a total
revolution in their thinking about who Jesus was and his relationship with God, and this worship
they see as part of their devotion to God, because they continue to offer thanks in the worship centre
– though Luke again says nothing about participation in the killing of animal as gifts to God,
though this was a central part of what went on there.
Acts 1.1 (GAN pg 242)
Luke does not so much repeat the dedication as refer back to the beginning of his first book,
showing we have the same author and intended reader. In contrast with his first book he does not
refer to any previous attempts to write the story of the early Church, suggesting that he knew of no
previous try. It is interesting that neither Luke nor anyone else continued the story where he leaves
off at the end of this book. Some scholars think there are places where Luke's style and clarity in
this second volume are not as good as usual, and that perhaps he intended to revise it, but for some
reason never did. We would love to know the outcome of Paul's trial in Rome, and hear the story of
the Jewish rebellion against Rome and the destruction of Jerusalem and its worship centre from the
perspective of early followers of Jesus. There were no doubt many fascinating stories of the spread
of the faith in those early years that are lost to us. During this book, Luke often gives the impression
that he is summarising a lot of his material. When he says that in his first book he spoke about what
Jesus did, it could be translated “what Jesus began to do.” Perhaps his words are meant to make us
understand that the events recorded in this book are the continuing acts of Jesus, now mostly
achieved through his followers. Whatever they are, they are not the “Acts of the Apostles” as this
book is most inappropriately usually known! It also concerns among others the acts of Steven,
Philip the evangelist, Cheery, Cilla and William, as well as Paul, who Luke never calls an “apostle”
in any technical sense.
He tells us that Jesus further instructed his friends on “God's New World”, something they
obviously needed to re-think in the light of his death and resurrection. Luke shows his acute sense
of history, not only telling of events in order, but also how ideas changed with time. As the Christian
message spread in the ancient world, and perhaps because language about “kingdom” (the original
term for God's New World) could be misunderstood politically by the Roman authorities, the
friends of Jesus very soon stopped using this picture when speaking the message, as shown by the
later preaching and teaching recorded in this book, and also the evidence of the letters in Good as
New. Perhaps this is why he does not refer to the early communities as “disciples”during the first
five chapters, indicating a gradual separation from Jewish beliefs and behaviour, to a new faith..
Although Jesus wants his friends to be witnesses to him, starting in Jerusalem, and then moving out
to the whole world, he makes it clear that they must not undertake the task in their own power, but
wait for God's Spirit to drench them, as promised by John the dipper (Luke 3) at the beginning of
Acts 1.1-11 (GAN 242)
In the original, Luke makes it clear that Jesus here is speaking only to the Eleven remaining special
helpers, and their question uses the same word (kingdom) here translated “political power” as used
a bit before and translated as “God's New World”. Clearly, they did not find it easy to distinguish
between the two ideas, as “Good as New" seems to suggest! Shortly before, at the last supper with
Jesus before his death, he had promised them a role in the political life of their people (Luke 22.30
– literally, “you will eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom and you will sit on thrones to rule
over the twelve tribes of Israel.” [GNB]). It is not surprising they ask him if this special job of theirs
is soon to begin. Jesus tells them sharply not to bother themselves about when promised future
events will happen, but to join in with the general task of all his friends, already entrusted to the
whole community, not just them (Luke 24.45-49), namely to be witnesses to more and more of the
Jesus leaves them from a mountain top, disappearing in a cloud, often regarded as a sign of God's
presence in the old books. Once again, two men dressed in bright clothes appear and pass on a
message to the friends, promising that one day, Jesus will re-appear from heaven, but querying
whether they should be standing staring there. (The Greek word andros means 'men'. The 'two
people' of Good As New is an example of cultural translation. The Greek word leukos means white
or bright.) Sadly, too many fundamentalist followers of Jesus and members of persuasions such as
the Jehovah's Witnesses ignore the words of the men in bright clothes, and metaphorically at least,
spend time staring into heaven and fruitlessly calculating the precise timing of Jesus' return! Who
these men were is left uncertain – friends of Jesus not known to the Eleven but who had better
understood his teaching; Moses and Elijah for a third and last time, or angels? (John Henson
believes they represent other friends of Jesus who understood his teaching better than the 'apostles.)
Some branches of the Christian Church have made much of the ascension of Jesus, but as with the
birth in Luke's first book, this event is never mentioned again, and forms no part of the preaching or
teaching given in any of the speeches or sermons which come later.
Acts 1.12-26 (GAN pgs 242-243)
The Eleven gathered frequently to pray with the wider group of friends of Jesus, including the
women, and now for the first time, the brothers of Jesus (in harmony with what Paul tells us in 1
Cor 15, that Jesus appeared to his brother James). Rocky takes the lead in proposing that Judas
should be replaced, justifying his idea with a quotation from the old books about a job vacancy.
Matthew, Mark and Luke are all clear that Jesus appointed twelve friends to be special helpers,
though it looks as if the number is more important than exactly who they were because the lists do
not exactly agree, and most of them play no significant role, so far as our evidence suggests. Rocky
here shows that he also thinks it important that the number should be made up to twelve again. The
number suggests that in Jesus' mind, he was re-founding God's special people (which consisted of
twelve tribes originally). This is in line with his saying at the last supper, the only clear indication of
how he saw any unique role for them, namely the task of ruling the twelve tribes in God's New
World. This explains why when later James the brother of John, another of the original twelve, is
beheaded there is no move to replace him. He had not, unlike Judas, deserted his position. The
Twelve had a single symbolic foundational role, and once their numbers had been completed, there
was no need to appoint more. (This contrasts with later Church opinion that they had an ongoing
controlling role, and appointed successors to continue their task, and the view of some charismatic
new churches that Jesus has again appointed apostles to restore his Church to its true nature.).
The criteria for choosing candidates are that they travelled with Jesus throughout his ministry,
beginning with the work of John the dipper and continuing to his departure back to heaven. Perhaps
this is why James, the brother of Jesus is not a candidate – he missed some of Jesus' ministry when
the family generally opposed what he was doing. Once again, Luke makes it plain that the disciples
of Jesus were a much wider group than the Twelve, and two of this wider group are named, Joseph
and Matt. Although Rocky proposed the course of action, it looks as if the whole group of more
than 120, including men and women, made the nominations, and they relied upon God to choose
through the mechanism of chance who should be appointed. This is the first of very many different
ways in which Luke shows Christian leaders being appointed, and those who want to make tidy
patterns of Christian leadership based on the Bible are very hard pressed to justify their ideas from
this book! So are those who believe in a kind of apostolic dictatorship; decision-making was shared
by the whole community (as again in Acts 6).
This incident is the only one Luke records in which Rocky takes the lead alone. It also records the
first of many speeches in this book, which contains a higher proportion than normal in histories
from the ancient world, probably reflecting the importance of preaching and speaking in the spread
of the Christian message. All the early speeches are by Rocky. At the centre of the book is a pivotal
speech by James, and then most are by Paul.
Luke's account of the fate of Judas does not accord with that recorded by Matthew 27.3-10, though
both accounts involve a field called “Bloody Field” which was somehow associated with him and
the money he was paid to betray Jesus. Judas' precise fate was perhaps not a matter of great interest
to the early Christian community, and by the time the gospels and this book were written, various
stories were in circulation which could not be verified.
Acts 2: 1-41 (GAN pgs 243-246)
The spring festival was the time when the Jews celebrated the beginning of harvest, and also the
giving of their law to Moses. According to some Jewish thinking, the law was offered by God to all
the nations of the earth, and only the Jews accepted it at that time. If this story was in Luke's mind,
then he is showing that symbolically, all nations are now receiving God's latest better gift of the
Spirit. In writing his account, he may also have in mind the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis
12) from the old books, which told how God disrupted human communication and scattered people.
God is now making it possible for different peoples to understand each other and communicate. Just
as the story of Jesus preaching in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4) largely sets the scene for all
that is to follow, so this event anticipates the rest of book two, where peoples all over the known
world hear and respond to the message delivered by the friends of Jesus. Luke lists most of the
nations that had substantial Jewish populations. His final reference to people from Rome might
mean “Roman Citizens.” Luke in this second book shows how all classes responded to the message
about Jesus. The experience of being drenched with the Spirit happens to the whole community,
including the women. He is careful to tell us that whatever happened was like wind and flames, not
a literal description. When Luke uses the word “drench” of the Holy Spirit in his writings, he
always means a first gift for particular service, or to inspire someone to speak God's message.
Elsewhere, he uses other words like pouring out, or receiving, or dipping, but these are
interchangeable, and not as some pentecostal Christians teach, stages of individual spiritual growth.
At some point, the action moves from the house where the Spirit comes to the worship centre,
where Rocky, backed up by the other eleven special friends (perhaps special helpers would be a
more accurate translation), acts as spokesperson for them to explain what was going on. Luke
makes it clear (2.40) that he is only recording a summary of what Rocky said.
The way he quotes from the Old Books shows that he takes their meaning loosely and poetically,
not as a detailed textbook of future history or science. Joel's words speak of “blood, fire and thick
smoke, an eclipse of the sun and the moon turning as red as blood,” before all who acknowledge
God can be healed. So far as Luke tells us, none of these things happened literally on this day, yet
Rocky still says the words have come true and says the invitation to healing is universal (Acts 2.39).
(John Henson thinks Luke may be referring to the events of Good Friday.)
Rocky's words are primarily meant for the people of Jerusalem, with whom he identifies closely,
calling them “my people” and “brothers and sisters”, modelling the correct approach for friends of
Jesus, even when they have differences with non-believers or think that they are doing wrong. His
message is a call for a change of mind, heart and behaviour from the Jewish nation. He shows how
Jesus fulfils promises in the old books, and how he was proved to be God's Chosen Leader by God
raising him from death. So all those Jews who had rejected him were in the wrong, and opposing
what God was doing. However, forgiveness for the wrong and mistakes was freely available. Those
who accept his words are dipped. (In the New Testament dipping is always a response to the
message that is announced beforehand, unlike the practice that has developed over the years among
many Churches, where babies are symbolically dipped, and expected to respond later in late
childhood or adulthood.) There is an amazing response from about 3,000 people, which must have
led to a total re-organisation of how the friends of Jesus met and functioned, though spending
quality time with other friends of Jesus, learning more about their beliefs and new way of life,
talking with God and sharing in fellowship meals remained central. Rocky's large-number success
should not mislead us. He was speaking to people with a Jewish background and at least a basic
knowledge of the old books who also had very recent personal knowledge and experience of Jesus,
either themselves knowing him or having evidence from eyewitnesses as to who he was and what
he said and did. When friends of Jesus are working with people totally unaware of these things,
both later in this book and ever since, much patient work is needed before any commitment can be
Acts 2.42-end (GAN pg 246)
The life of the first group of Christians is presented in glowing terms. One question which cannot
be ignored when we read of the social and ethical behaviour of the early followers of Jesus is “Did
they behave like this partly because they expected Jesus to return and wind up history very soon?”
We hear later (Acts 4) that people realised the capital of their lands and fields, and used up the
money to meet their current expenses. This can only be a short-term way of behaving because when
the capital has gone, cash is still needed for daily necessities. Luke does not report that the example
of the Jerusalem Christians was recommended or followed elsewhere. However, they obviously felt
a very strong sense of community and responsibility for and to each other, which not only gave
them a positive reputation, but also helped encourage others to join them. These glowing summaries
should never be taken in isolation from some of the stories they link, which make it clear in the
overall picture that not everything in the garden was lovely in the earliest church.
Acts 3 (GAN pgs 246-247)
The friends of Jesus frequented the central place of worship for prayer, but no mention is made that
they ever offered any animal sacrifices, an important element of the services, though nor is it
denied. Rocky and John go there at the time of the evening sacrifice. John plays no independent part
whatsoever in the stories of the Jerusalem Church. If all mention of John were missed out, we
would not have realised anything was astray, indirect evidence that Luke is honestly passing on
traditions he had received by mentioning him. The lame man sits at the gate because he was
excluded by the laws in the old books that said that people with certain handicaps were not allowed
inside. The healing power of Jesus acts through them to give the man the ability to walk, which he
does with obvious joy, immediately taking advantage of his right to enter the worship centre and
praise God. Luke uses words to describe him which reflect Isaiah 35.6, describing the blessings to
be expected when God's Chosen Leader comes. Rocky delivers an impromptu speech, explaining
what has happened, clearly directing his message to a Jewish audience, and particularly, to one in
Jerusalem. They had special responsibility for the death of Jesus, who was God's Chosen One, a
successor to Moses, as predicted by God's messengers in the old books. They have the evidence of
the special position of Jesus, as demonstrated by the restoration of the lame man. However, having
deliberately brought about the death of Jesus, they would have to re-think their ways and admit that
they had been wrong. Rocky invites them to re-think their attitudes and respond to Jesus, stressing
that they will then be able to join in God's original plan for his people. This promised their ancestor
Abraham that they would be a positive influence and a source of good for every nation. Christianity
can never be just about our personal ticket to heaven – it is always joining in God's plans to set the
whole world and human race to rights.
Acts 4.1-22 (GAN pgs 247-248)
The people who ran the central worship centre and other dignitaries, arrive with the Guard and
arrest John and Rocky for teaching. A power struggle has begun between the friends of Jesus and
those who had the religious and political power in the wider society. Perhaps they remembered that
Jesus had often similarly challenged them, and didn't want his followers to do the same. They
particularly disliked the teaching about life after death. The wealthy ruling classes rejected this idea,
which they believed could not be found in the first five books of Jewish scripture. These books were
known as “The Law”, which they thought was more authoritative than the rest. Despite his sermon
being cut short, a significant number of Rocky's listeners respond. Imprisonment at that time was
never a punishment, but only a way of keeping someone on remand.
A special court is convened, and Rocky attributes everything to Jesus, once more accusing the
Jerusalem authorities of being complicit in his death. But he invites them to rejoice in the healing
which without question has taken place. Despite themselves, the authorities are impressed by Rocky
and John, and find themselves at a loss what to do – the now healthy man is walking proof of what
Rocky and John say. In private session they decide that their only option is to try to intimidate the
friends of Jesus. So they order them never to speak of him again in the hope of ending the growth in
numbers of those following him. Nothing is said about not continuing to do good, or bringing about
Rocky expresses a timeless truth for all who seek to follow God's way. Loyalty to him and his
wishes takes priority over anything and anyone else. After a further threat, Rocky and John are
Acts 4.23-31 (GAN pgs 248-249)
Rocky and John share with their friends (clearly not the whole believing community, now more than
5,000 strong) what has happened, and draw a parallel between it and what had happened to Jesus.
Followers of Jesus when they do find themselves being persecuted always need to check that the
persecution is not because their behaviour is stupid or offensive, but because they are genuinely
following Jesus and doing what he wants. In his first book, Luke seems to show Herod and Pilate
united in finding Jesus innocent – now they are shown as bringing about the words of Psalm 2,
which portrays foreign leaders uniting in enmity against the leader of God's people. The prayer of
the group is not for relief or deliverance from the adverse circumstances in which they find
themselves, but for the courage and power to continue with their God-given task. The whole group
finds itself deeply inspired.
Acts 4.32-37 (GAN pg 249)
For a second time, Luke paints an idyllic picture of the life of the Christian community in
Jerusalem. They take their responsibility for each other so seriously that they practice a kind of
voluntary communism. This was not entirely successful in the long term, as the next story shows,
and as becomes clear in Acts 6 when the community is in danger of splitting over language and
culture because of unfairness or lack of confidence in fairness in distribution to the needy among
them. Some people suggest that this early realisation of capital also made the Jerusalem Church
vulnerable a few years later when famine struck, and Paul had to organise a relief collection in his
churches (Acts 11.27-30). Central to the life of the community was the story of the resurrection of
Jesus, as witnessed by the friends of Jesus, and especiallu the twelve..
Luke here introduces Joseph from Cyprus, as one deeply committed to the corporate life in
Jerusalem. This is typical of Luke's style – introducing a character who will later play a more
important part. Joseph will play a key role in introducing Saul/Paul to the Church at Jerusalem. He
feels the need to explain who he is, and also the meaning of his (originally Aramaic) name
suggesting that Theophilus would not have heard of him, and would not have understood Aramaic,
the most likely everyday language of Jesus and his friends.
Acts 5..1-11(GAN pgs 249-250)
This is a very tragic story, and we must not assume that because Luke includes it in his book he
approved of the action of Rocky and the leaders. Friends of Jesus fell short of his example and
teaching during his earthly life, and continued to fall short during the period of Luke's second book,
as they still do today. Nye and Sapphire wanted the kudos of being thought generous and whole-
hearted in the Christian community, without paying the full cost. It is clear from Rocky's words that
the sharing of possessions was purely voluntary – their wrong-doing was not in holding back
money, but in deception and hypocrisy. They would have seen it as against their Christian friends,
but Rocky interprets it as against God's Spirit. Nye is buried hastily without mourning or the
presence of friends and family – even his wife is unaware of his death. If we compare Rocky's
behaviour towards Nye and his wife with that of Jesus towards Judas (Luke 22.21-22), he is shown
up very badly. Particularly towards Sapphire, who faced the double shock of her husband's sudden
death, and exposure before her friends for deception, hypocrisy and lying. Though in fairness,
Rocky first offered her the chance to be honest about her conspiracy with her husband, a chance she
spurned, sticking to her lie. The story of Nye and Sapphire has some similarities with that of Judas –
again we find money, land, “the Evil One” entering into someone, and no recorded mourning of
their deaths. It is not surprising that people present and others who heard of what happened were
very afraid. This is the first mention of fear in the followers of Jesus after the coming of the Spirit.
Often in Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus sees fear as the opposite of trust or faith, so its presence
means the early community has been badly damaged. No doubt Rocky felt the whole community
had been badly betrayed by this couple, but his actions did nothing to heal the situation.
Acts 5.12-16 (GAN pg 250)
Luke gives another thumbnail sketch of the life of the early Church. They continued to teach in the
precincts of the worship centre, as Jesus had before them, and they exercise a significant healing
ministry. Luke makes it clear in the original that the healing power “came through the hands of the
leaders” - they were channels for God at work through them, not having any human power of their
own. The more superstitious assume that Rocky had such amazing powers, that even his shadow
could heal them – something Rocky would have denied (Acts 4.8-10). We get the impression that
Luke had access to many stories of healings, but condenses them into this short summary. At the
beginning of this section, he says people were too afraid to join the Christian group – because of
what had happened to Nye and Sapphire? - but then goes on to say the Church continued to grow,
without explaining the apparent contradiction. Maybe it means, as Good As New would suggest,
that people were still joining the ranks of Jesus' followers without identifying themselves with the
official organization, run at that time by Rocky and his colleagues. This appears to be an increasing
trend at the beginning of the twenty first century. Again Luke emphasises the part that women
played in the growth in the numbers of those who put their trust in Jesus.
Acts 5.17-end (GAN pgs 250-252)
The popularity and success of the friends of Jesus makes the Jewish leaders feel threatened, so they
decide to take action. The friends of Jesus had ignored their earlier warning, so the next stage of the
law comes into play and they are re-arrested, pending another trial. Whether miraculously, or by the
action of a sympathetic friend, they escape from prison, and continue with their public preaching
and teaching in the worship centre, refusing to be intimidated or look for safe refuge. They are
respectfully arrested by the guards, and brought before the court. The Chief accuses them of
disobeying his previous order not to speak of Jesus, but Rocky defends himself. The Christian
group are faithful in keeping to the instructions given them by Jesus, that they are to be witnesses to
him, to his teaching and what happened to him. They make the claim that Jesus is God's chosen
leader and healer in the work of bringing about a change of heart and behaviour among God's
The powers that be are so infuriated, they want to kill the followers of Jesus – something which was
to happen not long afterwards when Steven was lynched (Acts 7). However, one of the court, Liam,
was a very famous and wise Jewish teacher. Paul was very proud to have been one of his pupils
(Acts 22.3) and may have heard of this incident from him and passed on the story to Luke.
However, Paul did not act as wisely when he approved of the murder of Steven, even though not
actively involved in it. Liam reminds them of various pretenders who had started short-lived
religious and or political movements that had died a natural death, and suggests they leave the
future of this new movement in God's hands. If God is behind it, they cannot stop it and will find
themselves in opposition to God. If it is just a human affair, it will come to an end by itself. On this
occasion, they take his wise advice. Christians have not always followed Liam's wisdom in dealing
with breakaway groups and new movements!
The friends of Jesus were flogged – the penalty could have been the 39 lashes (40 which Jewish law
allowed, less 1 to avoid any unintentional breach of the Old Rules by the one inflicting the
punishment). This punishment could cause serious injury, and could prove fatal. However, they took
it as a privilege that identified them closely with Jesus, and continued to break the order not to
speak of him.
Acts 6.1-7 ( GAN pg 252)
There was a significant population with Jews living in Jerusalem whose first language was Greek .
Some may have been born in other countries, and come back to the Holy Land, others may have
been converts. The early Church included people from this community as well as the Hebrew or
Aramaic speaking Jews, and this incident could easily have blown up into a cultural/ethnic conflict
within the total Christian community. The Twelve handle it very sensibly, by admitting the
problem's existence, by consulting the whole community, and then by widening the leadership
group and delegating responsibility. They will focus on their primary role as witnesses to the Jesus
event. The Catholic and Orthodox communities see this as the establishment of an order of
Christian Ministry, the Deacon, but the word used at this stage has no technical significance, and
just means one who serves. Similarly, the seven are chosen because they are already “full of the
Spirit” (literal translation), not as having it conveyed by Apostolic ordination! Some Pentecostal
and Conservative Evangelical Churches find here justification for lay leaders, Deacons, who are
responsible for the practical organisation of the Church, in contrast with Elders who are in charge of
its spiritual direction. This cannot be justified either, because the seven men are chosen on the basis
of their spirituality and wisdom, not their particular skills in organising, catering or book-keeping,
as is proved by the later careers of at least two of them, Steven and more particularly Philip. It is not
clear from Luke's language whether they are chosen to organise the catering, or to be responsible
for the finance involved, or both.
The leadership of the Twelve is not anything resembling dictatorship – they propose a course
of action, the whole group approves it and chooses the people concerned, who then receive the
prayers and blessing of the Twelve. The just internal behaviour of the group, and its continued
internal peace probably help in its continued growth in numbers, including people who officiated at
services in the worship centre. There were large numbers of them living in Jerusalem and its
environs – Luke told us about one, Kerry, father of John the Dipper, in his first book. Every man
who could trace his descent back to Aaron was entitled to take a turn. They should not be confused
with the chief priests, a small, wealthy, powerful ruling family who were in Jerusalem permanently.
Acts 6.8-8.1 (GAN pg 252)
Luke tells the story of the first known friend of Jesus to die for his faith. He tells the story in such a
way as to bring out similarities with the passion of Jesus. Among them are false allegations
concerning the worship centre; trial before the chief religious leaders; prayer for forgiveness for
those responsible for his death, mention of the Complete Person in glory, and the relaxing of the
dying man into God's hands. Steven's words express the same experience as the words of Jesus on
the cross. (1Luke 23 Jesus says, "Loving God I'm in your hands now." 2Luke 7, Steven says, "Jesus
my Leader, let me come to you.") Luke shows here and elsewhere how the friends of Jesus are most
effective when they stay closest to Jesus' teaching and example.
The speech of Steven at his trial is the longest in the book, signalling its importance. Luke even tells
us that there was a wonderful expression on Stephen's face as he spoke – such detail is almost
unique in Biblical story-telling. Did the description perhaps come to Luke from Saul/Paul who was
present for at least some of this incident? The speech is not a defence against the false charges laid
against him, namely that he spoke against the worship centre and against keeping the rules in the
Old Books. It begins and ends with God's glory (7.2 and 7.55) linking Steven with Abraham as a
pioneer of faith. Steven ten times quotes from the Old books said to have been written by Moses, so
clearly affirms their importance, and indirectly answers the false charge that he taught against the
rules in them. Like all those in this book facing a hostile audience, he starts by trying to establish
rapport with his listeners. He then undertakes a survey of the history of their ancestors, showing
how time and time again, leaders sent by God were opposed by the people, so that the rejection and
death of Jesus (7.51-53) was the latest example of repeated behaviour. His other main point is that
God's presence cannot be confined to any man-made structure (7.44-50), a lesson many Christians
find it difficult to learn, becoming over-attached to buildings. He also makes a brief mention of the
willingness of non-Jews to accept the message more readily than the Jews.
Steven's claim to a vision of heaven's glory is taken as blasphemy, and he is summarily executed by
stoning to death outside the city.
The two references to Saul/Paul are typical of the way Luke introduces a character who is soon to
become important. While not actually violent himself, Saul was complicit in and sympathetic to the
murder of Steven.
Acts 8.1-3 (GAN pg 256)
The death of Steven signals the beginning of a difficult time for the early followers of Jesus. Saul
played a leading part in hunting them down, as he more than once said in his letters. The
persecution was general – including the Hebrew as well as the Greek speakers, to which group
Steven belonged. It is not clear why the Twelve were not included. Maybe as Galileans they did not
belong to Jerusalem synagogues, or maybe they were protected by the advice Liam gave, shortly
before (5.33-39). It is not clear who the group were who organised Steven's funeral. Possibly not his
Acts 8.4-25 (GAN pg 256-257)
The persecution is counter-productive from the point of view of the Jewish leaders, and results in
the Christian message spreading to a new geographical and cultural area, Samaria, under the
leadership of Philip. This Philp was not one of the special friends, who all remained in Jerusalem,
but one of the seven who had supervised the food distribution. Luke does not show the Twelve as
either the pioneers of the spread of Christianity, or in charge of what happens. The Samaritans were
closely akin to the Jews, with some common history, but they held beliefs the Jews regarded as
false. The Jews who had gone into exile in Babylon viewed the ones who had remained behind, and
intermarried with foreigners, the ancestors of the Samaritans, as half-breed. Like the Jews, they
were interested in and expected a Chosen One from God, as Jesus' conversation with a Samaritan
woman in John's story illustrates (John 4.25). Philip's activity fulfils the words of Jesus (1.8).
Philip's message is received, and is accompanied by healing miracles, called “signs” by Luke to
show that they had an inner message and were not just wonder-working. They brought general
rejoicing. The message concerns God's New World, and facts about Jesus as the Chosen One. Luke
again tells us that women as well as men respond and are dipped. It is very important that the way
people are welcomed into the Christian Church is equally open to male and female, unlike
circumcision which inevitably puts women into a different category, as in Judaism and Islam. This
explains in part why the battle not to make circumcision compulsory for Gentile converts was
fought so hard in the early days of Christianity.
Only one convert is named, Simon, who had been a celebrity in the locality as a magician. There is
evidence from archaeological inscriptions that some people at the time believed in a god who,
though less powerful than the supreme god, was still very powerful and was called “the Great
Power”. The words about Simon seem rather similar. As a wonder-worker himself, Simon may have
been obsessed with the wonders God was doing through Steven, and shadowed him so as not to
miss any of them. But it is unfair to expect a mature faith from a new convert!
Rocky and John are sent by the Jerusalem leaders to investigate what is going on in Samaria, and
obviously accepted that the people had come to faith. They had been dipped only in the name of
Jesus. Rocky and John prayed for the God's Spirit to come on them, and when they hugged them, it
happened. Luke never shows us tidy patterns. Faith, dipping and receiving the Spirit are all part of
becoming Christians, but do not happen in any consistent order.
Simon is impressed, and would himself like be able to help others to receive God's Spirit. He offers
money for the secret. Not for the first time, Rocky responds harshly and judgementally. It is true
that God's gifts cannot be bought and sold, but Rocky attributes the worst possible motives to
Simon. We need to note that Luke himself as narrator does not tell us that “Simon was full of bitter
envy and a prisoner of sin”, but that Rocky claimed to perceive it supernaturally. He does not say
whether he thought Rocky was correct! Simon responds humbly, asking for prayer. This looks like
better Christian behaviour than Rocky has shown!
On their way home, Rocky and John continue the work Philip has opened up, by preaching to the
Acts 8.26-40 (GAN pgs 257-258)
According to some ancient Greek writers, Ethiopia was “the ends of the earth”. So Luke may have
thought this story of the conversion of a man from there foreshadows the fulfilment of Jesus' words,
Acts 1.8 (translated in Good as New as “all over the world”). Philip shares the good news of Jesus
with someone right on the boundary between Jews and Gentiles. The man was the treasurer of the
Queen of Ethiopia, and as was common in the ancient world, had been castrated as a safeguard
because of his ready access to royal women and to render him ineligible as a usurper. It is quite
likely that he had also been dismembered. He was clearly interested in the Jewish religion. His
journey to Jerusalem could well have been a pilgrimage or voyage of discovery, and he was
sufficiently interested to have bought a scroll of one of the Old Books (Isaiah), not cheap when all
publishing was by hand copying. Nevertheless, he is the first non-Jew we know of who became a
Luke tells the story in a way that reflects his account of the road to Emmaus (Luke 24.13-32) with a
puzzled figure on a journey, joined by a stranger who initiates a conversation,
speaks of the death and resurrection of Jesus (explaining the quotation from Isaiah), followed by a
sacramental act after which the stranger vanishes and the traveller is deeply affected. There are very
many journeys in Luke's books which result in spiritual enlightenment, either during them or at
Philip is guided to his mission by God, through a messenger, and is then inspired by the Spirit. Luke
shows us God directly in charge; the work is not being organised by the Jerusalem leaders or the
Church. Philip recognises what the man is reading (he could hear it – silent reading was not known
at this time). The man may well have felt an empathy for the figure being described by Isaiah,
someone humiliated with no descendants. He may also have felt that he was denied justice – as a
eunuch he was not allowed to participate in Jewish worship in the Temple, being excluded by rules
in the Old Books. Also, if he had been dismembered, then he could not be circumcised and so could
not convert fully to the Jewish faith. Philip explains Jesus, who through his suffering is able to
sympathise with us, and the eunuch requests dipping which Philip gladly undertakes. His physical
defects are not obstacles to becoming one of God's people in the new order. The official continues
on his journey full of joy, frequently a symptom of faith in Luke's writing. Is it significant that
Philip does not send the man back to Jerusalem to be “confirmed” by Rocky and John ( after their
unsympathetic handling of Simon?)
Perhaps he felt personally drawn to the figure described in Isaiah, particularly if he had been
rebuffed as a potential convert to Judaism, and who like Isaiah's figure, could have no descendents,
feeling that this person would empathise with him. It is significant that the scroll which Philip and
the Ethiopian read together also contained the promise (Isaiah 56) that one day eunuchs would be
able to take their place among God's people. Philip's affirmation of someone with a sexual
orientation that excluded him from the place of worship is a source of encouragement for those
Christians and churches who are opting to be inclusive of all types of sexuality, including the
transgendered and transexual.
God leads Philip to continue his travels, preaching at every town from Azotus to Caesarea, probably
laying the foundation for the work Rocky does later when he travels to the same locality.
Acts 9.1-19 (GAN pgs 258-259)
Luke now returns us to the story of Saul. This section is often referred to as Saul's
conversion, but it is much more than that. According to Saul/Paul, it was one of Jesus' resurrection
appearances (1 Cor 15.3-9, especially 9), and also his commissioning as a missionary to Jews and
Gentiles (Acts 9.15). It should therefore not be taken as a template for ordinary Christian
conversion, as has often happened in evangelical churches. Nor is his conversion quite so instant as
sometimes thought. It is a process that involves a vision, three days of (psychosomatic?) blindness,
fasting, healing, dipping and receiving the Spirit.
Paul's extended hostility is in agreement with his own witness that he persecuted more than one
Church (1 Cor.15.9; Gal.1.13; Phil.3.6)
'New ideas'. 'New way of living' would be closer to the Greek and to Luke's description of the
Christian community “followers of the way of the Lord.” For Luke, following Jesus is primarily a
lifestyle, not a set of ideas.
This account of Saul's conversion is the first of three in Acts, indicating how important it was in the
story Luke is telling. This account is the only one in which Luke as narrator tells us what happened,
so we can take it as the one setting out the facts as he understood them. The next two, Luke tells us
how Paul described what happened on two different occasions to two different audiences at
progressively later dates.
Saul hears a heavenly voice, which he does not identify, asking why he is being persecuted by Saul.
Jesus so closely identifies himself with his friends that action against them is action against him.
Perhaps this later gives rise to Paul's understanding that his sufferings were in some way those of
Jesus too (Rom 8.17; Phil.3.10) and also his understanding of the Church as the body of Christ. The
speaker in the vision identifies himself as Jesus, and tells Saul to go into the city and await further
Saul is not the only one having a vision. Ian, a friend of Jesus, also receives instructions in a vision,
though he knows who is speaking to him. We have no idea how the Christian message got to Ian,
reminding us of how much of the story of the spread of Christianity Luke does not tell us. It is not
likely that he has moved from Jerusalem recently, because he only knows of Saul's hostility by word
of mouth. He is told to go to Saul, place his hands on him and bring him healing. Not surprisingly,
Ian is reluctant to identify himself as a Christian to someone with such a reputation. In protesting,
he describes Saul's activity literally as “creating havoc”, an unusual Greek word only occurring
twice in the whole New Testament, the other instance being Gal.1.13,23 when Paul himself is
describing his activity. Is this coincidence, or is it a hint that Luke really was the colleague of Paul
who heard him talk about this time? According to this account, it is Ian who is first informed of
God's plans for Saul, not Saul himself, and Saul would have heard of them from Ian as he explained
all the circumstances causing his visit.
Ian takes the risk, goes to the address he has been given, and welcomes Saul to the Christian
community and calls him "friend” ( "brother" in the Greek). Saul recovers his sight, breaks his fast,
is dipped, and we presume, Ian's words are fulfilled and he receives the Spirit.
Acts 9.19-25 (GAN pg 259)
Paul almost immediately throws his enormous energy into preaching in the in the Jewish
places of worship. His volte face is something of a wonder. With practice, his preaching and
arguments that Jesus is the expected Chosen One and God's likeness become even more powerful.
After some time, the Jewish community decided to murder him, and kept a watch on the city gates,
presumably to do the deed when he was outside the walls in a lonely place. He is smuggled out
under cover of darkness by friends by being lowered down the outside of the walls in a basket, an
adventure mentioned by Paul in 2 Cor .11.12-13.
Acts 9.26-31 (GAN pg 259)
Saul returns to Jerusalem, but the Christians there are too suspicious and fearful to welcome him
until Cheery steps in and vouches for him. Saul again throws himself into preaching and arguing,
but finds particular hostility from the Greek-speaking Jews who plan to murder him, so the
believers arrange for him to go to safety in his home town of Tarsus, travelling via Caesartown.
The Church enjoyed a quiet period of freedom from persecution, and steady growth. The Churches
of Galilee are included in the Greek text. Resurrection appearances of Jesus took place in Galilee
according to Matthew and John, but we know nothing of the way the churches there were founded
and grew, and it seems probable Luke had little personal information either. This reminds us of how
much of the early story we do not know.
Acts 9.32-43 (GAN pg 259- 260)
Luke now turns his attention back to Rocky, who is the agent for two healing miracles. We are
given their names, both are described as "God's people", both are invited to rise, and their healings
lead to spread of the faith. Maybe Rocky is inspecting Churches founded by Philip, Ludd being one
of them. These stories are generally reminiscent of some stories of healings by Jesus, and by God's
speakers in the Old Books. One concerns a man, the other a woman, typical of Luke's interest in
pairing male and female in benefiting from the good news of Jesus.
Luke's words about Aidan are ambiguous, and could mean he has been bed-ridden either since he
was eight years old, or for eight years. Luke gives more attention to Gazelle. Her role in the Church
and importance to it is stressed. The leadership specially send for Rocky on her death. Although not
apparently practising sharing of possessions, the church clearly took care of its poorer members,
and this service in which Gazelle took a leading part was valued both by the people who received
her help, and the whole Church. Like Jesus when he healed Jay's daughter (Luke 8.40ff). Rocky
looks for relative privacy, addresses the dead woman telling her to wake up and takes her hand.
Unlike Jesus, Rocky first speaks with God, making it clear he is not acting on any power of his
own, but is the agent of God and Jesus. Luke calls Gazelle a lady disciple, using the feminine
version of the word for the one and only time in the New Testament. Women are less prominent in
Acts than in Luke's first book, which may well reflect the historical reality, but he nevertheless is at
pains to emphasise their presence among Jesus' friends, and shows them as providing hospitality for
visiting missionaries and local Churches, passing on God's messages as his speakers, and also
teaching male evangelists.
Luke often records addresses in his second book, and here mentions a prolonged stay with Simon
who was a leather-maker in Jaffa. More detail, that he lived by the sea, is added in 10.6. It is
plausible that Simon's house became a regular guest house for travelling Christians, and so a
repository for stories and news about Christians that were shared there with new guests. This could
explain the preservation of Simon's name, who plays no part in any of the stories, and also of the
names of Aidan and Gazelle.
Acts 10.1-11.18 (GAN pgs 260-263)
In this story, organised Christianity makes a further breakthrough. Luke has already signalled that in
God's plans the good news of Jesus is for everyone. This was already made clear during the first
two chapters of his first book, and the way he shows God directing Philip to the man from Ethiopia.
The process now continues to completion as God leads Rocky and Neil and welcomes Neil and his
friends with the Spirit. However, it takes the the friends of Jesus a while to catch up! The man from
Ethiopia was the first Gentile baptised, so far as we know, but he was only one, probably as close to
being a convert to the Jewish faith as possible. He disappeared to his home country, so gave no
problems to Jewish Christians, even assuming they knew about him. In this story of Rocky and
Neil, a significant group of Gentiles become Christians at the same time, not only Neil himself, but
also his close friends and members of his family. Rocky gives authority for them to be dipped, and
accepts hospitality in a Gentile house for a few days, and all these events are witnessed by a group
of Jewish Christians from Jaffa. The importance of this narrative is signalled by Luke, who repeats
the story in the report made by Rocky to the Church at Jerusalem. The whole incident decisively
raised the issue of whether the message of Jesus was for all, without conditions, or whether Gentiles
needed to accept the Jewish religion as well as Christianity. It was not finally settled until later at a
meeting in Jerusalem (Acts 15).
For a second incident in succession, Rocky is sent for, and makes a journey for God to use him. The
number of journeys with spiritual significance or outcome is quite staggering in Luke's two books –
a sign that Christianity is the Way, a walk of faith in God's company.
Although Caesartown was in the Holy Land, it was the base for Roman power, so it was an area
with many Gentiles in residence, and Herod had built there a theatre over the sea for the
performance of Greek drama. Clearly, Neil was already in close contact with the Jewish religion,
because he was performing many Jewish duties, charitable giving, fasting and prayer. No mention is
made by Luke or Rocky about Neil repenting or needing to repent. Luke's mention of the time when
Neil had his vision is very significant. 3.00 in the afternoon was a set Jewish time for praying and
offering God gifts in the worship centre in Jerusalem. The God's messenger's words literally speak
of his prayers as a “memorial offering” to God, language used in the Old Books about gifts made to
God in the worship centre So God is accepting Neil's prayers in lieu of gifts he would not be
allowed to make in Jerusalem as a non-Jew. Sacrifices, or gifts to God, play very little part in the
books of Luke, who unlike other New Testament writers does not seem to have thought of the death
of Jesus in these terms. Neil is immediately obedient to the instructions from God's messenger, and
sends a delegation for Rocky.
The scene shifts to Jaffa, where Rocky has sought the quiet and privacy of the roof for prayer at
noon. His circumstances seem to have contributed to the form of his vision. He was hungry, and he
hears a voice that Rocky addresses as 'Lord', which might mean God or Jesus or just be a polite
response to someone unknown, as in the Good As New 'with respect'. The voice tells Rocky to
slaughter an animal and eat it. Staying as he was with a leather-maker, he would have been
surrounded by the skins and smells of dead animals. He may well have thought he was being open-
minded, and like Jesus, moving among people frowned on by the Strict set. It might have brought
him into contact with animal corpses, and also the dung and urine used in the tanning processes. If
so, God was challenging him to be even more open minded. His vision resembles many accounts of
the end of history, or the second coming in glory of Jesus, with heaven opened and a sheet
descending. Interestingly, the sheet holds all kinds of animals, reptiles and birds, both those
acceptable to Jews as food and those taboo according to the Old Books. In contrast with Neil, who
obeys without question, Rocky will not even kill a “clean” animal to eat, even though he was
hungry, presumably because it was in the company of “unclean” ones, and so “unclean” by
association. The voice from heaven reprimands him, and tells him that only God has the right to
categorise as “clean” or “unclean”. If God has said anything is acceptable, Rocky must not
contradict. The whole process is repeated three times, with Rocky apparently disobeying three times
(calling to mind his three-fold denial of Jesus during the passion).
Rocky is trying to make sense of his vision, when the Spirit tells him of the arrival of Neil's three
delegates, and also tells him to go with them.
They deliver their invitation from Neil, adding that he was told by the messenger to expect Rocky
to address him. The three men are given hospitality for the night – Rocky has already understood
his vision. God has no problems with any human beings, and there must be no barriers between
different groups. Next day the three men, Rocky and a group of six Jewish Christians (Acts 11.12)
set off from Jaffa for Caesartown more than a day's journey away. Neil has gathered quite a number
of people together, and greets Rocky by bowing to the ground to him. Perhaps he identified Rocky
with the messenger from God he had seen, but Rocky insists on his humanity, and will not allow
exaggerated respect. Rocky now shows he has interpreted his vision as a parable. It concerned
people, not food. However, the issue of people and food cannot finally be separated. If Jewish
people insist that some foods are forbidden to them for religious reasons, either because of what
they contain or how they are prepared, then they have problems about full contact with homes and
people who do not keepthe same rules. One Israeli ambassador to the Court of St James during the
reign of the present Queen, before she organised her kitchens to provide kosher food, used to take a
hard-boiled egg and a banana when invited to a State banquet. BSoth could be eaten without any
contact with crockery and cutlery, and at least he was eating something while the other guests were!
Rocky is invited to address the waiting company, and it is fascinating to note the contents of what
he says. There is no direct quotation of the Old Books, instead Rocky gives what is in effect a
condensed version of Luke's first book! The Good News is not just the death of Jesus, but the whole
story of his life, ministry and death and resurrection. (We shall see later that Paul takes a similar
approach when preaching to non-Jews, not basing what he says on the Old Books). In contrast with
his preaching to Jews in the Holy Land, Rocky does not suggest Neil or his friends are in any way
to blame for the death of Jesus. An unspecified “they” brought it about. His reference to peace calls
to mind the message of peace to the “unclean” shepherds in Luke 2. As so often in Acts, Rocky's
speech is interrupted by God when the Spirit comes on his listeners. Rocky himself compares this
with what happened to the first friends of Jesus in Jerusalem Acts 11.15-17 (compare Acts 2.1-7). In
this case, the languages could be ecstatic speech. GAN suggests a variety of actual human
languages.Perhaps there was a mixture of both. Neil, his family, friends and servants who have
gathered are dipped on the orders of Rocky, on the plain evidence that God had brought them into
Not surprisingly, news of what has happened reaches Jerusalem, and causes considerable
unhappiness among more conservative Jewish Christians. The Jerusalem Church was no more ready
for this development than it had been for the inclusion of Samaritans. Although some of Luke's
summaries tend to paint a picture of the early Church in Jerusalem as a golden age, this is not the
whole story. We need to remember it only gradually became clear that Christianity was a new faith,
rather than a new direction in Judaism. If the latter had been true, then Gentiles would need to
submit to the various provisions of Jewish law, including removal of foreskin for males, and food
and Sabbath day restrictions.
Rocky gives two pieces of evidence to justify what happened, the witnesses with him and the signs
of God at work. It is highly significant that when he saw what happened to Neil and the rest, Rocky
thought of the words of Jesus to his close friends (Acts 1.5; Luke 3.16), that is, he compares their
experience with that of the friends of Jesus, not with that of the Jerusalem crowd when the friends
were first drenched with the Spirit in Jerusalem (Acts 2). Rocky's account causes the issue to die
down, though only temporarily. It remained a problem for Paul, as his letters prove. Rocky, true to
his ironic nickname, was not firm about it until the matter was settled later under the leadership of
James the brother of Jesus at the consultation in Jerusalem (Acts 15).
Acts 11.19-21 (GAN pg 263)
Luke summarises stories of how the Christians forced to flee Jerusalem spread the message
over a wide geographical area, though only to Jewish people. However, others, from Cyprus and
Northern Africa ((Simon from North Africa carried Jesus' cross – Luke 23.26 – was he involved?)
announced the message to non-Jews who lived at Antioch with great positive results. Antioch was a
major centre in the ancient world, with an estimated population of about half a million in 50AD,
third in importance to Rome and Alexandria in Egypt. Herod the Great had paved its main street
and lined it with colonnades, which may help to explain why a leader in the Church there had
connections with Herod's court (Acts 13.1). Reaching out to the non-Jews seems to have been a
move independent from Rocky and Philip's ventures. When news reaches Jerusalem, Cheery is sent
to investigate, rather as Rocky and John had earlier gone to Samaria. Cheery was a good choice for
he was a native of Cyprus. He saw clear evidence of God at work, and rejoiced in what was
happening. Luke calls Cheery a “good” man – one of only two who receive this compliment, the
other being Joseph from Ram (Luke 23.50) who gave Jesus a decent burial.
Acts 11.25-30 (GAN pgs 263 -264)
Cheery sees further potential, and goes to Tarsus to enlist the help of Saul, probably having
recognised his qualities of enthusiasm for spreading the Christian message. Cheery finds him,
introduces Saul to the Antioch Church, bridge building as he already had with the Jerusalem
Church. The two spent a year in teaching the believers. Luke say the name “Christian” was first
used in Antioch, and was given by outsiders, rather than chosen by the believers themselves. The
new group is starting to be recognised as distinct from the Jews. The name does not seem to have
been used by Christians of themselves until the 2nd century. Early Christians described themselves
as disciples, believers, saints, brothers and sisters or “followers of the Way”. It is worth thinking
how these different names create different emphases on the nature of Christianity.
A prophet called Hopper comes with others from Jerusalem, and predicts a widespread famine.
Hopper appears again later in the story when he travels to speak with Paul about his future (Acts
21.10). Travelling speakers for God were part of the religion of the Jews, and this incident shows
the tradition continued in early Christianity. Amongst other messages from God, they did sometimes
predict future events. The predicted famine seems to have come about in around AD 46-8, partly as
a result of an extensive flood of the Nile in Egypt, a major supplier of grain to the Roman Empire,
which delayed and severely reduced the harvest. The response of the Antioch Church seems to have
been a voluntary collection among themselvesS to provide relief for their fellow believers in
Jerusalem, and the money was taken there by Saul and Cheery.
Acts 12.1-19 (GAN pgs 264-265)
Once more, the scene shifts back to Jerusalem. Herod (Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod
the Great) persecutes the Church. He has Jim, brother of John and one of the Twelve friends, killed
with a sword (rather than a knife as translated here), probably implying beheading, a Roman
method of execution. He may have wanted to curry favour with the Jewish authorities, and perhaps
thought that if the leadership of the Christians was destroyed, it would lead to the demise of the
movement. He also has Rocky arrested, and plans to try him after the festival of bread without
yeast, so as not to offend Jewish religious susceptibilities.
The other Christians were praying fervently for him. We are not told the content of their prayers, but
if they were seeking his release, they did not really expect it (v15 suggests they may even have
thought he was dead!).
Luke tells the story of Rocky's release with great vividness, clearly regarding it as miraculous. The
word Luke uses (angelos) may mean a human “messenger”,or a heavenly being on a divine mission,
an “angel”. This angel/messenger floods the cell with light and hits Rocky really hard to wake him
up. He has to tell him exactly what to do, he is in such a daze, only seeming to wake up fully once
he is free outside the prison (v 11).
Rocky makes for one of the meeting places of the church, the home of Mary, mother of John Mark
(introducing a character who is soon going to figure in the story). With no mention of a husband,
she is presumably a widow, and owner of a large house, more like an hotel. It has a courtyard and
outer gate, able to accommodate a large gathering of Christians. She was sufficiently well to do to
employ servants, and one of them, Rhoda , in one of Luke's comic anecdotes, recognises Rocky's
voice, runs to share the news with the others, but does not think to open the door to him. When he is
finally admitted, he tells the story of his escape, asks them to pass on the news to James and the
others, and then finds somewhere safe to stay for a while. James, though not one of the Twelve
special friends, is clearly a leading figure in the leadership of the Church, and will shortly play a
significant role in Luke's story.
There is great commotion in the prison when it is discovered that Rocky has disappeared, and
according to Roman law, the guards suffer the penalty that the escapee would have suffered. But
maybe one of them had indeed been the 'angel', as according to an early tradition, in which case it is
a story of heroic sacrifice. Herod leaves Jerusalem for his administrative capital, Caesartown.
Acts 12.20-23 (GAN pg 265)
The Jewish-Roman historian Josephus gives a somewhat similar account of the death of
Herod, saying that he suffered some kind of serious stomach ailment. Luke gives the divine purpose
behind his death. Josephus does not mention the embassy from Tyre and Sidon, who wanted a
meeting with Herod because of a food shortage, arranged by his chancellor, Bud. This detail seems
to have no relevance to Luke's story of the development of Christianity, and suggests he was
drawing on a reliable source of evidence, perhaps from Herod's court. Herod himself makes no
blasphemous claim, but fails to disassociate himself from the over-enthusiastic crowd's words. In
one of his typical summaries, Luke tells us that the Christian cause continued to attract more
Acts 12.24-13:12 (GAN pgs 265-266)
Luke usually mentions Cheery before before Saul at this stage – he is the senior figure, and either a
teacher or one of God's speakers in the church at Antioch, perhaps both. The ancient world knew no
colour prejudice, and the mention of Simeon's colour is only to identify him. He is unlikely to have
been the Simon from Northern Africa who carried Jesus' cross, because Luke spells his name
differently. Lucius is otherwise unknown, but is not likely to be Luke himself. The “we”sections do
not start here, and there are no traditions linking Luke with North Africa. Sturdy may have been the
source of some of Luke's information about the Herod family and their doings, but may just be
mentioned to show there were people of some social standing in the Antioch Church, perhaps an
important matter for new or potential Christians like Theo, who wanted to feel that their faith had
While these friends are worshipping God, including going without food. This practice is not
mentioned very often by Luke, and never by Paul in his letters, God makes it plain to them through
God's Spirit that it is time they set apart Cheery and Saul for the work of spreading the faith to
which God had called them (Acts 9.15), and this they do. This is not any kind of ordination, but a
change of direction, focusing of the activity of two men who were already called and already
teaching and inspiring God's people (Acts 13.1).
Acts 13.4-12 ( GAN pg 266)
It is characteristic of Luke to give details of travel, so he tells us the embarkation port, about 16
miles from Antioch for the three men on their way to Cyprus, which was about 60 miles away by
sea, and was the home of Cheery, again suggesting he was the senior partner in the enterprise. They
began work in the Jewish places of worship, hoping to win some fellow countrymen to the
faith.(The mention of more than one place of worship suggests a substantial Jewish community,
perhaps attracting non-Jews on the fringe of Jewish faith.) We see from 2 Luke that Paul followed
this pattern throughout all his missionary activity. (Romans 1.16). Luke only tells us what happened
in two major cities, and Paul's letters suggest he always focused his attention on capital cities and
Roman colonies. We do not know what they achieved in Salamis, but we are told of an impressive
event at their next stop, Paphos, the capital city. Here they meet the governor of the island, who is
friends with a Jew described by Luke as a magician and a false prophet. He may have claimed to
foretell the future using occult methods. There was a tremendous interest in Eastern religions in the
Roman Empire, and many forms of hybrid religions such as that practised by “Slippery Al”. So the
Governor sends for Cheery and Saul to hear their message. Al probably fears he will be out of a job
if the Governor listens to them.
Luke here introduces Saul's alternative name of Paul, by which he is better known, and was the
name he used in the Gentile world. He does not suggest that Paul adopted it as a result of contact
with this Governor, George Paul, but if not, it seems a remarkable coincidence!
Luke clearly thought Paul was acting under God's guidance and power when he confronted Al. His
real name is literally in Aramaic “Son of Jesus” but Paul calls him “Son of Satan or the Devil”. Paul
gives him a withering look and seems to put a temporary curse on him that robs him of his sight.
Luke understands this as a punitive miracle, something Jesus never did against people. Indeed, Luke
in his first volume even omits the story of Jesus cursing a fig tree that failed to give a crop. There
are great similarities with Saul's conversion. Both men strongly opposed God; both were struck
blind for a time, and needed to be led by hand. Perhaps Paul hoped that Al would be converted by
his experience, as he himself had been. Nothing more is said of Al, so presumably Paul's strategy
failed. The Governor is very impressed, and showed some kind of belief, though lack of any
mention of dipping or the coming of the Spirit leave the matter ambiguous. Generally, the friends of
Jesus in Acts are most effective when they are guided by God and follow the example and teaching
of Jesus, “walking in the way of the Leader.”
Acts 13.12-52 (GAN pgs 266-269)
John Mark decides to return to Jerusalem, and Paul's reaction in Acts 15-36-40 suggests that he
looked upon this as desertion, though we are not told John Mark's reasons, and Cheery's willingness
to continue to cooperate with him may indicate that he viewed things differently. Luke from now on
gives greater prominence to Paul than Cheery, generally naming Paul first, and not mentioning
Cheery at all at the beginning of this next stage of their journey. Antioch in Pisidia (not the same
Antioch from which Cheery and Paul had come) is perhaps an unlikely place for them to choose,
except that the family of Geroge Paul (Sergius Paulus) the Governor of Cyprus had strong family
connections there, with large estates nearby. It was the Roman administrative centre for part of the
province of Galatia, and had had a large Jewish population for about three centuries.
As usual, Paul begins with the Jewish community, and attends their worship centre on Saturday the
Rest Day. The officials in charge invite him to say a word of encouragement, so presumably they
had had a previous meeting with him, or some information about him, and recognised him as a
brother in the faith.. Luke's description of Paul's hand gesture before he begins to speak signals he is
picturing him as an orator, and in his opinion, a distinguished one. This is the first of three
significant speeches by Paul, to three different audiences. Here he speaks to a Jewish synagogue
community, Jews and sympathisers (Acts 13.16 and 43). Later we shall find him addressing pagans
in Athens (Acts17.22ff) and Christians in Miletus (Acts 20.17ff).
Paul begins by affirming his belief that God had chosen the Jews, and made them his people by the
events of their escape from Egypt and gift of the Holy Land. After brief reference to the able
leaders, Paul moves on to the establishment of a monarchy, firstly Saul, followed by David. He now
comes to his main point, that God had now given a rescuer, descended from David, as he had
promised, namely Jesus. Paul looks back to the work of John the dipper, perhaps because he knew
there were many followers of John in this part of the world (Acts 19.3-4). He describes John as
having appealed to the whole nation to change their ways, implying that all the Jews were estranged
from God. The leaders and people of Jerusalem proved the point by rejecting Jesus and having him
murdered. But God raised him from the dead, as witnessed by his friends from Galilee, and God
offers forgiveness and a fresh start to all. Paul shows how the resurrection of Jesus was promised in
the old books, and claims that belief in Jesus also offers freedom from sins, which the law given
through Moses could never achieve.
The whole speech so far leads up to the final appeal, not to miss or reject what God was offering
them. The two missionaries are invited to return the following week, and when they leave are
followed by a crowd of those who had been listening to them. The two messengers spoke further to
them, and encouraged them to continue to stay close to God. (GAN avoids using terms that require
a wealth of theological background to understand, such as 'grace' and 'eternal life', which Paul uses
in this section. By using the word 'grace' here Luke may want us to understand that God was
already at work in these people before they became Christians.)
Luke is probably using poetic licence when he says nearly the whole city came to hear them the
following Rest Day. The two messengers begin to meet opposition from some of the Jewish
community, who were jealous of their success in attracting the non-Jews. There is some evidence
that Jews at the time had a missionary outlook, and welcomed interest in their religion from non-
Jews. Paul and Cheery seem to have made a more deliberate effort to attract non-Jews. They
contradicted Paul's words, and either insulted him, or blasphemed, perhaps cursing Jesus or using
Paul is not deterred, but responds with boldness. He says the Jews by their attitude had shown
themselves unworthy of what God offered them through the message he Paul had delivered. So he
will now offer it to non-Jews. This was not a second best. Paul (and Luke) believed God's good
news through Jesus was for all (Luke 2.30-32) but that the Jews should hear it first as his chosen
people (Romans 1.16), the ones to whom the Chosen One had been promised. Some of the non-
Jews respond enthusiastically and opt for God's gift of life to the full (eternal life). (The Greek
suggests they were already on the way.) The message spreads in the region too.
The Jews use their contacts with highly placed sympathisers, apparently mostly women, but perhaps
also the magistrates, to have Paul and Cheery thrown out. They follow the instructions of Jesus
about how to behave when a town or city rejects his messengers (Luke 9.4; 10.11) and they move
on to another town, leaving behind a vibrant community of believers, full of the Spirit and joy. Luke
generally records a sympathetic response to Christianity among educated and socially well placed
people, presumably to commend the faith to Theo and others like him. However, he is sufficiently
honest as a historian to record the opposition among such folk in Antioch, proving his high
standards. Equally, his sympathy with women generally does not stop him mentioning their
opposition in this case.
Acts 14.1-20 (GAN pgs 269-270)
They move on to Konya, about 90 miles south east of Antioch.. Paul and Cheery again
begin with the Jewish community, with similar results. The Jews who did not respond positively
stirred up the unbelieving non-Jews, and there was a plot to ill treat the messengers and stone them,
so they fled to Lester, about eighteen miles away, and Derby (not of course the ones in the Midlands
of England!), a further 55 miles or so, and the countryside between, but were not put off continuing
to pass on their message.
In the Greek text, at Konya Luke calls Paul and Cheery 'apostles'. He may not here be using 'apostle'
in the same special sense as when he uses the title for the 'twelve'. On the other hand, Luke may be
voicing his agreement with Paul that the twelve have no right to hog the title to themselves. (See
1Cor. 9: 'Am I not an apostle?' GAN pg 338 'one of God's Special Branch'. )
Luke records a particular incident in Lester. There was a local legend, recorded by the poet Ovid,
that Zeus (Jupiter) the chief of the gods and his son Hermes (Mercury) their messenger had visited
the area in human guise, and failed to find hospitality with anyone until a poor elderly couple made
them welcome. All the other inhabitants were punished by being drowned in a flood. The elderly
couple's home was transformed into a Temple, and they were allowed a wish, which the gods
granted. Their request was that they should be priests in the Temple and die simultaneously.. There
were statues of Zeus and Hermes in the locality, some have been excavated, and not surprisingly
they portray Zeus as an older man with a beard, Mercury as a younger one. Some have guessed that
Cheery and Paul bore physical resemblances to these statues, but since we have no knowledge of
their appearance, this can only be speculation. However, it does seem likely that Cheery was older
This legend and possible physical likeness to local sculpture may have produced the extreme
reaction of the locals to Paul and Cheery. They may have been afraid of punishment if they again
failed to make the gods welcome on a visit. Further, Zeus and Mercury were the patron gods of
ambassadors and messengers, and were thought to protect them if they delivered their message
faithfully. The miracle of the healing of a lame man seemed proof. This story is told in language
very similar to a similar healing, of which Rocky is the agent (Acts 3). Clearly, Luke is showing
both leaders as involved in the same work of God, also making it clear that in both cases the power
and the glory are God's. Luke says that just by staring at him, Paul claimed to know the man had the
faith to be healed.
The locals would have understood Paul speaking in Greek, the lingua franca of the ancient world,
but he and Cheery would not have known the local language, a language similar to Welsh.
However, they had seen enough pagan religion to understand the arrival of a procession with
garlanded oxen, a prelude to the animals being slaughtered in honour of the gods, followed by a
feast in the temple. Soo they tear their clothes and run into the crowd to prevent any such
blasphemous action. Paul then delivers an address, his first to non-Jews recorded by Luke. In
contrast with most modern evangelists, he does not mention the old books at all! It is notable that
like the longer speech to a similar but more sophisticated audience in Athens, Paul tries to make
contact with his listeners in their existing life and beliefs, and speaks of their experience of creation,
of God's care and his patience with pagan ignorance. He claims to be bringing them good news
about the creator with whom they had already had dealings, without knowing it, and invites them to
turn away from the emptiness of their pagan religion with its multitude of divinities to the one true
God. This speech closely resembles Paul's own words to his converts in Quaketown (1 Thess. 1.9)
His words do not calm the situation, but if anything seem to inflame it (v18). Then when Jews
arrive from Antioch and Konya, the crowd becomes as hostile as it had been enthusiastic. Paul is
stoned and dragged out of the city by the mob, unconscious, and left for dead.(Cheery is probably
ignored as neither having spoken much, nor having been involved in the healing. He might even
have had the sense to realise that Paul would get into trouble if he healed a man without adequately
explaining his credentials.) It is not clear whether Paul's converts surrounded him to save him from
further harm, or actually administered some sort of first aid. At any rate, he recovered consciousness
and returned to the city, where he no doubt needed wounds dressed, rest and food before he could
move anywhere else. Next day Paul and Cheery set out for Derby, which was more than 50 miles
Acts 14.21-28 (GAN pg 270)
The two men gradually retrace their steps encouraging the young Churches they had founded and
warning them that their life as believers would sometimes be hard, a truth the two men themselves
knew very well. They also appointed leaders to oversee the life of the new communities, probably
following the pattern of Jewish worship centres. They also preached in Perga, though Luke says
nothing of the results. Finally, they report back to the Church at Antioch which had commissioned
them for the work they had done. They share their story of God's actions, and especially that God
had “opened a door of faith” for non-Jews ( GAN "made it easy for them to put thier trust in Jesus).
The picture of the open door is often used by Paul in his letters (e.g. 1 Cor 16.9). Now that a
deliberate mission to non-Jews has been completed, and with considerable success, the Jerusalem
Church again needs to catch up and re-think its mission and methods.
Acts 15.1-35 (GAN pgs 270-272)
This chapter is central both literally and theologically in Acts. After it, the Jerusalem Church and
Rocky virtually disappear from Luke's story, and his focus is almost entirely on the non-Jewish
world of the west. This chapter is concerned with how the ethnic division of Jew and non-Jew could
both be contained within the Church, despite the objections of Jewish Christians who thought that
the new people of God should be subject to the same old laws as the Jews.
Luke seems to suggest that the Jewish Christians preaching compulsory removal of the foreskin for
non-Jewish Christians were acting on their own initiative. He does not mention that they
represented any Church or leader, only that they came from Judea. Luke's “the matter was debated
hotly” with Cheery and Paul probably means a flaming row! The Church in Antioch appoints Paul
and Cheery to lead a delegation to consult with the leaders of the Jerusalem Church. On their
travels, they report to believers in Syria and Samaria the spread of the faith among non-Jews, news
which is received with joy. On arrival in Jerusalem, they meet the whole Church, not just the
leaders, and report what God has been doing through them. A group of members of the Strict Set
insist that the whole people of God, not just the Jews must keep to all the laws found in the Old
Books. We perhaps need to remember that the situation in the Holy Land was explosive, as Jewish
nationalism built up. It was to lead to a revolt against Roman rule within a few years. The
extremists were very impatient of any perceived compromise, and wanted to maintain “pure”
Jewish faith and exclude non-Jews. The Christians must have felt this pressure of militant
The leaders of the Church meet to discuss the matter. The issue did not appear straightforward, and
Luke says there was much debate, perhaps signalling a long period and divergent opinions. Rocky
reminds them of his experience with Neil and his friends (Chapters 10-11) “in the early days”
indicating a significant time had elapsed. God had then taken the initiative in including non-Jews
without any necessity for keeping the Old Laws. If God accepted them, what grounds could there be
for excluding them? He adds a further argument, that the Jews had not managed to keep the laws
faithfully themselves, so why try to impose them on others? Jews and non-Jews alike depend on
God's unmerited favour and willingness to forgive. Rocky's emphasis on grace and faith closely
resemble Paul's own thought and teaching. Barnabas and Cheery presumably repeat their story.
James, the brother of Jesus, not only makes a short speech, but also plays the part of judge or
arbiter, and rules on the matter. He seems to accept Rocky's arguments and Paul and Cheery's
evidence, only adding that the inclusion of Gentiles was promised for the future in the Old Books,
quoting from Amos 9.11-12 in the Greek translation – perhaps because some of the Antioch
delegation were unfamiliar with Aramaic and Hebrew. James came from Galilee with its substantial
cosmopolitan population. So he was almost certainly somewhat bilingual. (In the Greek text James
refers to Rocky by his original name, Simon. Perhaps James had known Rocky from the very early
days, so thought of him by his original name. Or perhaps he thought a nickname was not suitable to
use in a formal assembly.) James proposes that a letter should be written to the non-Jews setting out
necessary conditions for full fellowship.
There are some divergent traditions in early manuscripts as to what these conditions should be. It
seems most likely that what is being prohibited is involvement in pagan Temple life. Much of the
social and political life of the ancient world, and the activities of some trade guilds, were centred on
pagan temples. There, not only were animals killed to honour pagan gods, so that in Jewish
understanding they were contaminated with animal blood and by the idolatrous worship of these
false gods, but they were also the venues for meetings, and feasts which often involved drunkenness
and orgies, particular in those Temples which provided Temple prostitutes.
The prohibitions seem to be agreed without further discussion, and the whole Christian community
chooses delegates to accompany Paul and Cheery to deliver a letter setting out the ruling. We know
nothing else about Jude, but Silas was very likely Paul's later travelling companion (v40) and co-
author of some of his letters. James' letter is drafted after the model of an official Roman letter, and
copies were probably distributed to individual Churches or areas during Paul's later missionary
travels. As his companion, Luke could very well have seen copies, and reproduced it accurately
here. Interestingly, the letter disowns the activity of the Christians who had first created the
problems in Antioch, speaks warmly of Paul and Cheery and is appreciative of their work and the
personal danger it has involved. The letter calls in divine authority by citing the approval of the
They travel to Antioch, and deliver the letter to the Church there, where it is received with great
joy, and perhaps great relief too. The two Jerusalem leaders speak to them to encourage and
strengthen them in their faith, before returning to Jerusalem with the blessing of the Christians in
Antioch. What Luke describes here – a letter entrusted to reliable envoys, who personally delivered
it, authenticated it, ensured it was read, and were able to give further verbal background and
teaching – was typical of official letter-writing in the ancient world. The letter was seen as
secondary to the verbal message from the delegates, and may very well give us insight into how
Paul's letters were delivered to his Churches.
Acts15.36-16.10 (GAN pgs 272-273)
Luke records a serious disagreement or even quarrel between Cheery and Paul some time later
which results in the end of their partnership. Paul saw John Mark's previous behaviour as
“desertion” and presumably did not want to risk his missionary task by relying on someone he
thought unreliable. Whether because Cheery disagreed with Paul's interpretation of Mark's reasons
for leaving last time, or because he had a more forgiving and trusting nature than Paul, Luke does
not tell us, though it looks as though he agreed with Paul about Mark's actions because he uses a
word to describe it that implies desertion. John Henson believes Mark was upset by Paul's treatment
of Slippery Al. (See 'Bad Acts of the Apostles') Even if Luke saw Paul as a hero, he does not
describe him as without faults. Paul's letters indicate that he was eventually reconciled with Mark
(Philemon 24; Col. 4.10) and probably also with Cheery (1 Cor 9.6 where Paul speaks of him as a
fellow missionary and evangelist, with no hint of bad feeling).
Cheery and Mark sail for Cyprus to continue work there, while Paul decides to cooperate with Silas,
perhaps sending for him from Jerusalem. Silas could represent the views of the Jerusalem Church,
and interpret James' letter authoritatively to the non-Jewish believers. He turned out to be a reliable
and effective co-worker, as Paul's letters to Quaketown and Corinth show (2 Cor 1.19) and helped
Paul with some of his early letters, either as secretary or co-author. The two set out with the blessing
of the Church at Antioch, indicating its continuing support for Paul.
Their first task was to visit and strengthen existing Churches in Syria and beyond. The first event
Luke describes is the recruitment of Timothy at Lester. Timothy was already a believer, well
regarded by the Christians in the locality.. He may well have been a convert of Paul's during a
previous visit, since Paul calls himself a father in faith to him ( 1 Cor 4.7). Timothy was the child of
a mixed marriage, so could have been regarded as Jewish or non-Jewish. Paul never taught that
Jews who were Christians should not continue to practice their ancestral religion, only that it was
not essential for a true relationship with God. Paul's missionary strategy, which he believed arose
from God's own plans, was to begin in a new situation with the Jews in their meeting place. If a
close colleague, who could be argued to be Jewish, had not had his foreskin removed, then this
could have been a problem. To avoid causing any unnecessary offence to Jews or Jewish Christians,
he removes Timothy's foreskin. He himself was willing to “become a Jew to the Jews” (1 Cor 9.19)
and probably thought that the same attitude needed to be made plain for Timothy. Luke here
demonstrates that the charge to be made against Paul, that he was insisting that Jews should not cut
of the foreskins of their children or follow the ancient laws (Acts 21.21), had no substance.
Nevertheless, this incident is surprising, and has led to accusations of inconsistency in Paul.
The plans of the travelling companions seem to be frustrated, but Luke attributes this to the
guidance of God's Spirit (v6), which is also the Spirit of Jesus (v 7) This is the only time the phrase
'the Spirit of Jesus occurs in the whole New Testament. It is probably a way of saying that God's
Spirit, was a gift made possible and sent by Jesus (Lk 24.49; Acts 1.8). Luke does not say how the
guidance came, but definite direction does come in a dream or night-time vision, in which Paul sees
a Macedonian man pleading for help. Luke gives no hint who this man might be, nor how Paul
knew he was from Macedonia. However, he and his companions including Luke himself, are
convinced this is a message from God. Luke here begins his “we” narration. (The common
speculation that the man from Macedonia was Luke himself seems illogical, because Luke at the
time was not in Macedonia, but with Paul, and could have asked for help for his native land in
person. But then, dreams are illogical!). So far as Luke understands, each step in the spread of the
Good News is directly controlled by God.
Luke 16.11-40 (GAN pgs 273-275)
The “we” passages tend to be more vivid, have more descriptive detail and less set speeches
than the rest of Acts. These characteristics are immediately obvious in the account Luke gives of the
establishment of a community in Philiptown, illustrated by the stories of three people, most notably
Lydia, with whom the story begins and ends, and whose generous hospitality makes possible the
existence of the Church. Luke's choice of a woman again emphasises his view of their equal
significance in the life of the Church. Paul in Philippians 4.3 mentions two other women who
struggled with him in establishing the Church there.
There does not seem to have been a religious meeting place for Jews within Philiptown.
Probably there were insufficient of them, or perhaps the authorities would not allow them to meet
within the city walls, an action Roman colonies took with foreign cults, especially when not well
established. Paul and his friends find a place outside the city walls on the Rest Day by a river. Since
the group seemed to be mostly women, they probably found the river useful for their ritual washing,
which the Old Books prescribed for women after their monthly periods. (John Henson believes they
were a pagan spirituality group.)
Luke tells of the conversion of Lydia. She was a business woman, probably a widow, with an
international business in a rare and expensive dye, which was particularly valued by the Roman
Emperor. There is evidence that at a later period, use of the dye was a monopoly of the royal
household, but it is not known whether this applied at the time of Acts. The dye was extracted from
a particular kind of shellfish, in a very smelly process. She was head of a household, suggesting a
substantial home with a number of servants and employees, as well perhaps as family, a woman of
some means and importance in her community. Her house was big enough to provide hospitality
for the missionaries, and a meeting place for the newly established church (verses 15 and 40). Luke
states quite clearly that it was God's work in her that made her receptive to Paul's message. She was
dipped, and the members of her household followed her example, suggesting that they looked to her
as the natural head. Her invitation to Paul, Silas, Timothy, Luke and whoever else was part of the
group to accept her hospitality was phrased in such a way that if they refused to accept it, they did
not believe that her conversion was real. Clearly she was a woman used to having her own way.
While Lydia used her wealth unselfishly, the next incident shows paganism as a means of money-
making. Both themes are frequent in Luke's writings. Since Paul and his friends were on their way
to the place of prayer, presumably at least a week had passed, probably more. The slave girl fortune
teller was a nuisance to Paul. Although what she cried out could be understood to show that she
knew instinctively that they came with God's power, her words would have communicated the
wrong message in a pagan city, where casual listeners would have understood it to mean whichever
of the many Greek gods they thought the most powerful would bring them health or healing. Her
attentions continue day after day, so Paul becomes annoyed, and orders the evil spirit to leave her in
the name of Jesus. In his first book, Luke shows us Jesus performing similar acts in his own name
and power. But Paul's annoyance, reluctance to act, and seeming lack of compassion seem to show
him falling short of Jesus' example.
The girl's owners have lost their income, so perform a citizens' arrest of Paul and Silas and lodge a
complaint against them with the magistrates. Timothy and Luke presumably did not have such a
high profile, or were more recognisably non-Jews, so escape arrest. The owners were probably
reasonably well-to-do to risk the costs of going to law, and in their accusations stress that they were
Romans (citizens), while blackening the characters of the missionaries as rabble-rousers and Jews.
The crowd in the market place join in the attack, and the magistrates order the men to be stripped
and flogged, probably one of the occasions Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 11.25.
After a severe flogging, they are handed over to the town jailer, who puts them into his most secure
cell, with their feet in stocks. Despite their miserable circumstances and injuries, at midnight they
were praying and singing hymns of worship. An earthquake then took place, not unusual in this part
of the world, severe enough to shake loose the doors and chains, but not enough to cause the whole
building or even the roof to collapse. When the jailer wakes up and sees the door open, he draws his
sword to commit suicide, not a surprising reaction because according to Roman law, he was liable
to suffer the fate due to any prisoner who had escaped from his custody.
Whether Paul could see what was happening, or knew by inspiration, he calls out to the jailer and
thus saves his life. Maybe in gratitude, or maybe because he thought the earthquake indicated
displeasure of the gods, he takes the two men outside. He asks them the familiar question that Greek
and Roman philosphers set themselves to address. Rather than the "how do I get saved?" of the
contemporary fundamentalist preacher, the question meant something like, "how do I lead the ideal
life?" The jailer, whose name may have been Clem (Clement see Phil. 4 GAN pg 391) obviously
believed Paul and Silas had found the answer by their conduct. Perhaps it reminded him of Stoicism
or the teachings of Seneca. There is no evidence that he had heard them preach or teach, but Paul
seizes the opportunity to share God's message, which Luke summarises as “put your trust in the
Leader Jesus” Paul obviously teaches at much greater length, not only to the jailer, but his whole
household. The jailer then washes Paul and Silas, no doubt bloodied and dirty after their ordeal, and
they wash him, dipping him as a sign that he is now a believer, and as in Lydia's case, the whole
household, family and servants, follow the jailer's decision and example and become believers. This
is followed by a joyful celebration meal, young and old, prisoner and jailer, Jew and Gentile, the
kind of communion meal envisaged and started by Jesus, and typical of God's New World..
In the morning, the magistrates send a message ordering Paul and Silas' release. Presumably they
think a flogging and a night in jail are adequate punishment. But Paul and Silas now reveal that they
are Roman citizens, and demand an apology from the magistrates. It was a serious offence for a
magistrate in a Roman colony to take action against a Roman citizen. In particular, if there was not
adequate reason, it could result in loss of post, or even re-call to Rome and disgrace. It is not
surprising they were afraid, came to apologise, and asked Paul and Silas to leave, which they do,
but only after reporting to the Christian community at Lydia's house. Luke wants us to understand
that this was the beginnings of the Church in Philiptown.
We have seen that the encounter between Christianity and the Roman world was not always smooth,
any more than that with the Jewish world.
Acts 17.1-9 (GAN pgs 275-276)
Luke does not go with Paul and Silas, and the narrative no longer mentions “we” so as a
result is less fresh with less detail. The two missionaries travel about 100 miles along the main
Roman road, and arrive in Tessatown. 1 Thess 2.9 suggests that Paul established himself there
financially, perhaps with a tent making business. He adopts his usual pattern of beginning work in
the Jewish worship centre, where some accept the message, though the majority reject it. Paul does
not rely on an emotional response, but uses reason and persuasion. The missionaries are more
successful with the non-Jews who were on the fringe of Jewish worship, Luke as usual emphasising
the leading women among them, and this provokes a jealous reaction The Jews stir up the mob,
probably layabouts from the marketplace, who try to hunt down Paul and Silas. Failing to find
them, they attack Jason's house, thinking that was where Paul and Silas were staying, and dragging
Jason and some other believers before the magistrates. The two charges laid were that Paul and his
colleagues were troublemakers who were upsetting things both in Tessatown and other places, and
that they were contradicting the Emperor by saying there was another ruler, Jesus. Jason had to
provide security for the good behaviour of his friends, which probably means that Paul and Silas
could no longer work and preach openly. So they left the city and were not able to return. Paul
speaks of the Jews as having driven him out, and persecuted the new believers (1 Thes. 2.14-15,
while 18 may refer to the legal ban on his return). If Paul did call on the people to turn from idols,
this would have included statues of the current and previous Emperor. Paul certainly taught that
believers were under God's direct rule. (1 Thess 2.12) So the charges against him had some merit.
Acts 17.10-14 (GAN pg 276)
Paul and Silas leave that night for Berea, about 50 miles south west. As usual, the synagogue is
Paul's first stop, and this time, his reception is much better. Luke tells us the Jews here were more
noble (GAN translates “tolerant”). Did Luke know these people, from having grown up in the area?
Once more, the emphasis is on the intellectual aspect of conversion – so great is the interest, that the
Jews meet daily, rather than only weekly to consider Paul's message. Once more, there is a good
response from the non-Jews. The high status women are mentioned before the men, perhaps
because there were more of them. The news of Paul's success reaches Tessatown, and some of the
Jewish community arrive to make trouble. Paul is immediately hurried away towards the coast,
while Silas and Timothy, less obviously targets for the wrath of the crowd, stay behind, quite likely
in order to strengthen the new Christian community and help them to cope with the crisis.
Acts 17.15-34 (GAN pgs 276-277)
Pauls' first letter to Tessatown confirms what Luke says, that Paul went to Athens. ( GAN pg 372 -
Thess. 3.1) While Paul was awaiting his fellow workers, he walked around the city, and was
extremely upset by all the idols he saw. (GAN translation “competing religions” hardly does justice
to the situation). These were not only elegant statues of the Greek gods, but also of the royal family,
and some indecent images. He reasoned with the Jews in their meeting place, and also in the market
place with the Greek philosophers (GAN 'students'). The Epicureans were materialists who believed
that pleasure was the main purpose of life, while the Stoics believed that God was in everything and
everything was in God, and should be honoured by living according to reason, not emotion. The
reaction to Paul was not favourable. Some thought he was just stringing together snippets of ideas
he had picked up here and there, without order or understanding. Others thought he was teaching
about two new gods, Jesus and the female “Anastasia”, (the Greek word for resurrection) mistaking
the idea of resurrection for the name of a person. Talking about new foreign divinities was
potentially dangerous, so they took him to the Areopagus, either a particular place in Athens ( GAN
“large courthouse”), or perhaps more likely, the council that met there. They invited Paul to explain
Luke in an aside to Theo and other early readers, either explains the popularity of intellectual
enquiry in Athens, or more likely, makes a rather dismissive remark about the seriousness of the
people, calling them in effect busybodies who wasted time while pretending to be intellectual. Paul
seizes his chance, and takes the stance of a public speaker. This speech is very important in Luke's
account of Paul. It is the fullest account of his approach to pagans who had had no influence from
the Jewish faith or the Old Books, so had no background knowledge of the God he was tryting to
present to them.
Paul tries very hard to make contact with his audience, and give a fresh turn to some of the ideas
and experiences they already had, but he does not compromise. His aim is to persuade them to turn
away from idols, and serve the one true and living God, through his special likeness, Jesus, who had
risen from the dead, and would finally judge everyone (1 Thess.1.9-10). Paul says that they are very
religious, perhaps he means superstitious, even building an altar to an unknown god, presumably as
a safeguard in case any divinity is missed out and be offended. Paul then proceeds to speak of the
God he believed in, previously unknown to the Athenians. Paul quotes two Greek poets with
approval to find common ground with his audience. In v 30, Paul suggests that they can perhaps
not be blamed for past ignorance. Now however, the true God is being proclaimed to them, the
Creator of the whole universe, giver of all life, the one in whom all life finds its meaning. This God
is beyond any temple or image, the ruler of human history, and wishes to interact with people. They
should change their attitudes and lifestyles to ways pleasing to God, ready to explain themselves
and their actions to the man God has chosen, (Jesus) on a day of judgement. This is Jesus who God
had raised from the dead.
We have already seen that the idea of resurrection was strange to the Greeks, as was the idea of a
final judgement, and at this point, some dismiss Paul's message as rubbish, while others say they
will hear him again some other time. However, there is a small positive response, one member of
the council, Dennis, a woman called Pet and others unnamed become believers. Paul's speech at
Athens and his method of being relevant to Greek culture is often thought to have been a failure.
But most preachers today would be pleased to convert the number of people Paul converted on the
spot at Athens.
Acts 18.1-18 (GAN pg 278)
Paul moves on to Corinth, where he needs to earn his living, so teams up with Cilla and William,
fellow Jews who were also tent-makers, and who had been expelled from Rome, probably in AD
49, giving us an approximate date for these events. He only had the Rest Days available to him for
spreading the news of Jesus, and as usual starts in the Jewish meeting house He again uses reason in
discussion with both the Jews and Gentiles who attended there. Paul himself in 1 Corinthians tells
us he worked for his living; that he co-operated there with Cilla, William and Timothy, and that one
of his converts was Cris.
The arrival of Silas and Timothy frees him to work on his evangelism full-time, presumably
because they have brought a gift of money (see GAN pg 292. Phil.4:14) By now, Paul is
proclaiming that Jesus is God's chosen, and this provokes a hostile response. Paul leaves the Jewish
meeting house, showing by shaking his clothes symbolically that he is separating from them. He
only moves next door for his preaching and teaching, to the house of a non-Jew, Titus, who already
believed in the single God of Jewish faith, even though he had probably never become a full Jew by
having his foreskin removed. Paul then makes a very notable convert in Cris, the Jewish community
centre leader, followed by other members of his family, and perhaps servants too. Many other
inhabitants of Corinth followed his example, probably including other Jews and also non-Jews who
had been regular worshippers in the synagogue. Paul must have sensed trouble brewing for him,
which in the light of previous experience might well involve physical punishment, imprisonment or
hurried departure. So it is not surprising he is worried. However, he is re-assured by a vision or
dream, probably from Jesus but possibly God . (The Greek word meaning 'Lord' or 'Leader' could
be used of either.) The message is similar to the promises given to people like Moses, Joshua and
Jeremiah in the Old Books. God does not promise no trouble or difficulty, only safety from harm,
and reassures Paul that he is among friends – God has many followers in the city. As a result, Paul
stays for a year and a half.
Leo was appointed the ruler of Corinth, probably in AD 51. We know about him from non-
religious history writings. He was a younger brother to a famous Roman speaker, Seneca, who
mentions him in his books. Paul is brought before him, and accused of teaching illegal behaviour,
though it is not clear they mean Roman or Jewish law is being broken. Leo's reaction suggests he
thought it was an internal Jewish matter. Maybe his accusers deliberately left the question open,
hoping Leo would think it was Roman law, and take action accordingly. Leo was probably
prejudiced against the Jews, certainly impatient of them, not allowing Paul even to speak, “driving”
them out of the court and taking no action when Sonny is beaten up. Paul stays on in Corinth for a
considerable time, before leaving by sea for Syria. Syria at that time was a large area of the Roman
empire, not the modern country.
Before embarking Paul cuts off all his hair, which he had been growing long, as part of a solemn
promise to God. This may well have been his way of saying thanks to God for his safety and
success in Corinth. He would aim to carry the hair with him until he reached the worship centre in
Jerusalem, where it would be burned as a special way of worshipping God.
When they broke their journey at Ephesus, Paul began work as usual in the Jewish place of worship.
He seems to have had a favourable response, and the people wanted him to stay. But he wished to
be in Jerusalem for the festival of bread baked without yeast, and so could not delay his sea voyage.
However, he leaves Cilla and William in Epheses, presumably continuing their tent-making
business, and laying foundations for further work Paul intends to do there, God willing, at some
future date. When he lands, he visits previous churches to help establish them more securely.
Acts 18.24-28 GAN pg 279)
Luke's attention now turns to Ephesus, the last major city evangelised by Paul as a free man, where
he was to spend three years. It was a key location in the culture and commerce of western Asia,
from which the Christian message was to spread. It is possible Luke received these stories from
Cilla and William.
Ray was ethnically Jewish, from the Egyptian city of Alexandria, a well-known centre of learning in
the ancient world. Luke tells us either that he was learned or a good speaker (the same word can
mean either). He had been fully instructed about Christianity, described by Luke in one of his
favourite phrases as “the way of the Lord”, and was very knowledgeable about the Old Books and
how they applied to Jesus. He had not been dipped as a Christian, but for Luke, what made someone
a Christian was the reception of the Spirit, which may or may not be connected with dipping (Acts
10). Ray speaks in the synagogue, and Cilla and William give him further instruction, though Luke
does not say on what topics. Perhaps Luke is more concerned to show Cilla in an advanced
teaching role to emphasise the part of women in the Christian church than explain just what was
taught. Nothing is said about dipping Ray – just as nothing is said of dipping the twelve after the
Spirit came on them in Jerusalem. Clearly the rules on the necessity of dipping so important to the
later Church are not an issue for Luke and his readers.
Ray wanted to continue evangelizing in Greece, where there were already Churches in existence. So
the believers in Ephesus, including Cilla and William write him a letter of introduction, which
would help him find hospitality, assistance if needed, and the chance to teach and preach in their
meetings. He was welcomed by these believers, and effective in debates with the Jews. One place
he visited was Corinth, (1 Cor 3.5-9), where admiration for his speaking gifts unfortunately led to
divisions (1 Cor 1.12). This could not have been his intention, because Paul insists he and Ray were
working together in a single task. Perhaps this explains why Ray was later reluctant to visit them
while their divisions persisted (1 Cor 16.12).
Despite the illogical chapter break which divides them, Luke has obviously grouped this acount of a
group of Christians with a limited or distorted understanding of their faith with that of Ray. The
movement started by John the Dipper carried on into the 4th C AD, and these stories suggest it was
widely dispersed – already in Alexandria in Egypt and Ephesus. We know John called and trained
disciples (Luke 5.22; 7.18-19) and Luke is at pains to make plain the relationship of his work with
Christianity, inspired by God to prepare the way. In the ancient world, the two movements would
have looked similar, both having a rite of water dipping for those who responded. Paul's question
whether they received God's Spirit gets to the heart of the matter, as Luke understood it, because it
was the presence of the Spirit in someone's life that made them a Christian (Acts 11.17). Paul does
not deny the value of their dipping by John, nor of his activity, but points out that his role was to
prepare the way for Jesus. Paul dips them in the name of Jesus and as he embraces them, they
receive the Spirit, as indicated by their ecstatic speaking and preaching. This is the same kind of
response that happened earlier for the Samaritans (Acts 8.17) and Neil and his friends (Acts 10.44-
Acts 19.8-10 (GAN pg 280)
Paul began work with the Jewish place of worship, and as usual had a mixed response. When his
opponents start to slander the Christian way, Paul leaves, the other believers coming with him, and
moves to a public hall, where he spoke daily. In such a setting, he would have been seen as a
philosopher, because most pagans would not have recognised Christianity as a religion. It had no
temples, idols, sacrifices, priests and so on. Indeed, the early Christians were sometimes called
atheists. His work continued for two years, so if he had to pay for the hire of the premises, he must
have had the support of some well-to-do friends. He would still have met Jews outside their place of
worship. There was a very large Jewish presence in Ephesus, and under pressure of the surrounding
culture, some dabbled in pagan ideas and magic, while continuing in some of their traditional
Acts 19.11-20 (GAN pg 280)
Although Luke was not writing for entertainment, he does not neglect the comic aspects of the the
situation which follows. Jesus works mighty deeds through Paul as he had previously through
Rocky, and during his ministry. The reaction to the healings, believing that Paul had power that
could even be transmitted by his handkerchief, seems to verge on the superstitious, but such is the
power of faith in human beings that healings were seen. Some wandering Jewish wonder-workers
from a leading family from the Jerusalem Temple staff decided to cash in on Paul's evident success,
and cure the mentally ill (literally 'drive out evil spirits'), using the formula that worked so well for
him. However, using the correct words without the relationship to Jesus is ineffective, and they are
driven out instead of the demons, and leave in disarray, battered and with their clothes torn off!
Not surprisingly this spectacular and comic event provokes a big reaction from the whole
population, Jew and non-Jew alike. They do not all become believers, but take the power of Jesus
seriously and with respect. Some of the Christians publicly confess that they had been dabbling in
magic, showing what has always been true, that a truly Christian lifestyle takes time to develop.
They now burn their magic books. The fact that they owned books, a relatively rare and expensive
commodity in a society where most could not read or write, implies that they were reasonably well-
to-do people. The value of the books was substantial. Magic was very widely practised in ancient
Ephesus, and the phrase “Ephesian writings” was used to mean documents containing magic spells.
As a result of the change of heart and similar events (Luke here seems to be summarising, so
presumably could have told much more), God's message spread powerfully. Here Luke ends his
account of Paul's activity as a free man. From now on, Paul will be involved in trouble, travel and
Acts 19.23-20.1 (GAN pgs 280-281)
Luke tells the dramatic story of a riot in Ephesus. It is full of detailed knowledge about the place, its
religion and bureaucratic organisation, which indicates personal knowledge by the author, or at least
a source with direct experience of the town. Paul is not really the main character, rather it is the new
Christian movement in opposition to paganism. Paganism was a lucrative business for some. This
seems to be the main reason why Des stirs up trouble. He can see that Christianity, with its deep
opposition to idolatry, is a threat to the whole religion of Diana in general and to his job in
particular, if it continues to spread. The mob behave in a confused way, but know that Paul had
played a leading part in establishing this new rival religion. They do not find him, but pick on two
of his travelling companions, Guy and Harry, and drag them to the large theatre, whose
archaeological remains can still be seen. They may be the same people mentioned in Paul's letters,
and later in Acts, but we cannot be sure. Paul bravely wanted to be there, but his friends and even
some of the town officials realise this is more likely to inflame the mob than pacify them.
Alexander, probably chosen by some of the Jewish community to distance them from Paul and the
Christians, tries to quieten the crowd and address them, but they continue chanting their slogan
about Diana for two hours. Finally, the town clerk quietens them, and tells them that if there are
issues of complaint, they should be settled properly in the law courts. So there is no excuse for
riotous behaviour which could bring trouble and loss of civic privileges to the city from the
Romans. The crowd finally disperses, and Luke has shown that Christianity is not a threat to law
and order in the opinion of a responsible official. After all the commotion has died down, Paul calls
together the young church, and after encouraging them, takes his leave, though he will have a final
meeting with its leaders (20.17-38).
Acts 20.2-16 (GAN pgs 281-282)
Paul always tried to strengthen his churches after their foundation, and so undertakes a general tour.
Acts gives no clue how long he spent, and it may well have been at this time that he sent delegates
to Corinth, and wrote his second letter to them. .The three months in Greece, may have included a
visit to Corinth, during which he could have written Romans. The plot against him may have been
planned to take place on a ship, away from the forces of law and order, so Paul changes his plans
and travels instead by land. He is going to deliver the collection taken in his churches for poverty
relief in Jerusalem, and the rather long list of his travelling companions (abbreviated in this
translation) may well be because they represented many of his churches, or their general locations
in roughly the order in which he visited them. Perhaps Paul was regarded as the representative from
Corinth, and Luke when he joins them a little later (19.6) represented Philiptown. The mention of
the Festival of Bread without yeast (translated here as Easter) signals that Paul and his companions
had fifty days in which to reach Jerusalem in time for the Pentecost festival.
Before this, they spent a week in Troy. The young Church met on the first day of the week, Sunday,
resurrection day, and their celebration included breaking bread together, almost certainly a
communion meal, a continuation of the meals Jesus ate with his disciples and all kinds and
conditions of people, to celebrate God's New World. Paul was planning to leave next day, and his
speech went on for a very long time, too long for one there, whose name meant “Lucky Fall”. He
was either a boy aged between about nine and fourteen, or a young slave aged anywhere up to about
thirty. The meeting in a second (third) storey room implies an apartment block, rather than the home
of anyone wealthy. Because it was dark, there were many oil lamps burning, which would increase
the stuffiness of the atmosphere. Lucky was sitting in a window space. He dozed off and fell out of
the window. Luke says that he was dead. This was 2,000 years before the concept of being
'clinically dead' . Anyone unconscious and unresponsive was regarded as dead in those days. There
must have been many mistakes. Paul however noticed signs of life in the young man. Paul's
physical contact with the lad we should probably identify today as 'artificial respiration'.
Resuscitation techniques were known to the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Luke does not portray the
event as a miracle. He quickly picks up on Paul's meeting with the church. Paul does not resume his
sermon, but shares in a communion service and then answers questions. (The name 'Lucky Fall'
may have been given to the young man later, at his dipping, as his Christian name.)
Paul then makes the roughly twenty mile journey to Assos where Luke and the others, who had
gone ahead, meet him according to plan. Luke then describes briefly their sea voyage.
Acts 20.17-38 (GAN pgs 282-283)
Since Miletus was about thirty miles from Ephesus, it would take four to five days in total for a
message from Paul to reach Ephesus and for the leaders to travel back. Most of this section is then
devoted to Paul's farewell speech, the only time in Acts that Luke records a substantial address by
Paul to Christians. Luke sees some similarities between Paul's journey to Jerusalem at this point,
and that of Jesus to his passion, so like Jesus (Luke22.14-28) he delivers a final address. There are
many parallels to be found with Paul's letters and as Ben Witherington (The Acts of the Apostles p
610) says “It is not an accident that this speech sounds more like Paul of the letters than any other
of his speeches in Acts.” In the original, there are many words favoured by Paul, and some
otherwise rare in Luke, for instance “wonderful generosity” (grace) in verses 24, 32.
Paul begins by reminding the Ephesians what they already know, recapping his methods and
experiences among them. It is interesting that he singles out speaking in a number of people's
houses, as well as teaching publicly (v22). He then explains his current situation. He describes
himself as “bound” by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem, but though he has no clear idea of what might
happen to him there, he is clearly considering the possibility that he might die (vv24 and 25). He
warns of dangers to the Church from within as well as without.
Acts 21.1-17 (GAN pgs 283-284)
Paul and his companions have to tear themselves away from the Ephesians, so deep is their
affection. Luke and the others welcome Paul on board, and they begin their journey to Jerusalem.
The first ship, probably a small coaster, takes them near in to land to Patara on the south west coast
of Asia Minor. Here they find a large vessel which takes them non-stop to Tyre, about 400 miles
away. The mention of Cyprus becoming visible on the left looks like an eyewitness touch, the kind
of thing noticed by a sailor or keen traveller. In Tyre, they make contact with the Christians. Paul
had visited the area before (Acts 15.3) so probably knew there was a Christian community. They
spend a week together, and the Tyre Christians are convinced that a message for Paul has been
given them by God's Spirit, that Paul should not go to Jerusalem. This conflicts with Paul's belief
that the Spirit wanted him to go there (Acts 19.21; 20.22).. Luke seems to agree with the Christians
of Tyre. Later someone recognized by the Christian commuinity as a speaker from God (Acts 21.12)
joins in attempts to dissuade Paul from his visit. Clearly, Luke is not portraying the life of the early
Church idealistically, and if he thought Paul was mistaken in his “guidance”, then he clearly does
not intend any close parallel between Paul's journey to Jerusalem, and Jesus' final journey there, for
that was undertaken in obedience to God's intentions.
Luke describes a touching farewell on the beach, and not surprisingly mentions the women of the
Church in Tyre, but uniquely also speaks of the children. The early Church was a fully inclusive
organisation. Clearly Paul had won the affection of the whole community. The journey continues
with one more stop at Acre, where the travelling companions spend a day with the Christians there,
before finally arriving at Caesartown, either continuing by boat along the coast, or travelling about
thirty miles by land.
In Caesartown, they are given hospitality by Philip, last mentioned in Acts 8. Luke makes sure we
do not confuse him with Philip the apostle, by calling him the 'Good News spreader' ('evangelist'),
one of the seven 'helpers' of Acts 6. Luke makes a point of mentioning Philip's four unmarried
daughters, who all had the gift of handing on special messages from God This put them into the
distinguished succession of John the dipper, Elizabeth, Mary, Anna, Jesus himself, as well as
various men in Acts. Undoubtedly Luke sees these young women as evidence that Rocky's claim
that the promise of Joel about the Spirit coming on women and on young people, had come true in
When Hopper arrived from Judea after a few days he showed symbolically in God's name that Paul
would face serious trouble in Jerusalem. No doubt he sensed the hostile atmosphere there to Paul
and his work. Luke mentioned him earlier (Acts 11.27-30). He was from Antioch, and had predicted
the famine that prompted the relief collection Paul was now travelling to Jerusalem to deliver. So
Hopper knew Paul, and understood all the complications of the situation.. Everyone, presumably
Philip and his daughters, Hopper, the church in Caesartown and Paul's travelling companions try to
persuade him not to go to Jerusalem, but he is determined, and expresses himself willing to take the
consequences, even death. They have no choice but to leave the outcome in God's hands.
Some of the disciples from Caesartown accompany Paul on the final stage of his journey by land to
Jerusalem, about sixty miles. Perhaps they want to make sure he arrives safely and finds a safe
lodging. Luke names his host, Mason from Cyprus, an early disciple, perhaps a convert of Cheery
or Paul. Since he was also able to accommodate Paul's travelling companions, presumably he was
reasonably well to do with a large house. Mason may have regularly given accommodation to
travelling missionaries and leaders, so would have been a good source of information. Luke seems
to like giving the names of hosts, and perhaps Mason was one source from which he obtained
information about the Church in Jerusalem.
Acts 21.17-26 (GAN pgs 284-285)
Luke devotes a lot of space to the events of less than a fortnight, indicating the importance to his
story. He drops the “we” narrative after one verse, presumably because he was not personally
involved in what follows. Paul and his friends are welcomed when they arrive in Jerusalem, and the
very next day meet James and all the leaders of the Jerusalem Church. They were no longer the
Twelve. It seems the first disciples of Jesus like Rocky and John were no longer there. We need to
remember that in only a few years, the Jewish nation revolted against Rome, so Jewish nationalist
feelings were already running high, and these feelings were probably reflected among the Christians
of Jerusalem. Paul speaks of what God had done among the non-Jews, and James speaks of his
great work among the Jews too, many thousands by this time being believers. They had heard, we
do not know how, the false story that Paul was actively encouraging Jews to abandon their
adherence to the Jewish customs laid down in the Old Books. James suggests a way to demonstrate
that this is not Paul's view. Some observant Christian Jews had taken a vow for a temporary
lifestyle, rather like that of a monk, and the idea was that Paul should pay their expenses, which
included an expensive gift of food to the worship centre Then, after himself undergoing the rituals
of cleaning demanded from a Jew who had lived abroad, he should join in with them. The reference
back to James' letter to the non-Jews(Acts 15) makes it plain that Paul's involvement in Jewish
ceremony does not alter what is demanded of non-Jews who are Christians.
Acts 21.27-36 (GAN pg 285)
Some Jews from Asia are obviously keeping a close eye on Paul. They had spotted him around
Jerusalem in the company of a non-Jewish friend from Ephesus, Tommy, and they also saw him in
the worship centre, where they stir up trouble, grabbing him, repeating the lie that he encouraged
Jews no longer to observe their religion, adding the lie that he had brought a non-Jew into the
worship centre. A stone with an inscription threatening death to any non-Jew who trespassed
beyond the outmost courtyard has been discovered by archaeologists. This created a riot and Paul
was dragged out of the worship centre, and physically attacked. Roman soldiers always watched
from towers in their adjacent fort, and officers and soldiers of the guard are quickly on the scene,
which frightens the crowd and stops the violence. Paul is arrested and chained, while the officer in
charge asks for an account of who he was and what he had done. In the confused and excitable
circumstances, he cannot make sense of what is shouted So he withdraws his prisoner to the
barracks, the crowd once more attacking Paul and yelling for his death, so that the soldiers have to
rescue him by carrying him up the stairs to their headquarters.
Acts 21.37-22.21 (GAN pgs 285-286)
Paul addresses the officer in polite educated Greek, so he realises that Paul is not the
particular Egyptian trouble-maker he had in mind. This Egyptian is also mentioned by Josephus in
the history written at about the same time as Luke wrote. In AD 54, the Egyptian's followers were
attacked by the Roman forces in the Holy Land, 400 were killed; 200 captured, but the man himself
escaped. Paul makes it clear that he is from Tarsus, and hints that he is a Roman citizen. He asks
permission to speak to the crowd, which is granted. He makes the sign used by public speakers to
indicate they were about to start, and then addresses the crowd, either in classical Hebrew, or more
likely, the popular dialect Aramaic. Paul is shown as a man of learning, able to speak at least two
languages fluently, and since the Romans were not likely to be very familiar within Jewish
languages, Luke makes it clear he is defending himself to his own people, not the Romans.
He begins by trying to establish rapport with his audience, using the phrase “fathers and brothers”
(GAN translate “friends old and young” which does not do justice to the implication of family
links) to stress that he and they were one in many important ways. Stephen (Acts 7) used the same
phrase to a hostile Jewish crowd (there translated by GAN as “my own people”). Paul shares his
pedigree with them, and even identifies with them as himself having been one who persecuted
others. There could be no doubt as to his zeal for God and observation of the Jewish lifestyle.
Paul tells in his own words, the story of his encounter with Christ. This is portrayed as an
actual event, not a vision or a dream (unlike Rocky's dream before visiting Cornelius). Ian's status
as a reliable Jewish witness is emphasised.. We learn for the first time that during Paul's initial visit
to Jerusalem he fell into a trance while praying in the worship centre, and was instructed by Jesus to
leave Jerusalem quickly. Paul refers again to his complicity in the death of Stephen. There is an
implied message to the crowd in all that Paul says. He identifies himself as a deeply committed Jew,
who persecuted those he disagreed with, and who discovered to his horror that he was actually
opposing God and his chosen leader. The crowd are also enthusiastic for their Jewish faith, and are
also persecuting, and Paul is showing them that they too are wrong, but could change and accept
both Paul's message and more importantly, God's Chosen One. However, when he ends with the
commission from Jesus to go with the message to nations other than the Jews, the crowd reject Paul
and his message, and begin to become angry again, in word and attitude. The same thing had
happened to Jesus in his home village of Nazareth – his illustrations of God's love for non-Jews
provoked a hostile response (Luke 4).
Acts 22: 22-30 (GAN pg 287)
The commander has probably not understood Paul's speech, and decides for safety's sake to take
him into the Barracks, and then discover, if necessary with the use of torture, what about Paul was
so upsetting the Jewish crowd. Paul is bound, ready to be flogged, but then asks the army officer
supervising whether it is legal to treat a Roman citizen in this way, knowing perfectly well that it
was not. The officer tells the commander, who comes to check for himself. Paul claims to be a
citizen by birth, whereas the commander had bought the privilege. This hereditary status gives Paul
a higher status in the relationship between them. Realising that he had already mistreated a citizen,
even if he had acted in ignorance, he released him from his bonds and the threat of flogging, even
though he kept him in custody. Luke makes it clear that the Romans are still in charge, and Paul's
appearance before the Jewish leader is part of their evidence-gathering investigation, not a trial.
Acts 23: 1-11 (GAN pgs 287-288)
Paul was released to appear before the Jewish council. This may have been a temporary release
from custody, or perhaps, release from the chains binding him to a Roman soldier. Paul's aim in this
examination is to persuade the Romans that the dispute is within the Jewish faith, so that he is not
involved in anything the Romans would regard as a dangerous or treasonable offence. In this he is
successful, as Claude Lewis's letter proves (Acts 23.28-9). Luke also wants to show us that Paul is
primarily defending the Good News, not himself.
Paul makes eye contact with his listeners, perhaps to sum them up, and then addresses them as his
equals, men and brothers (GAN “friends”) not as judges or superiors. Paul claims to have lived as a
good citizen to God. The action of the Chief of the clergy is in character for him, so far as he is
known from history. Striking Paul on the mouth was a dramatic way to accuse him of lying. Paul
points out the inconsistency of a judge in court himself behaving illegally, and uses a comparison
from the old books, of a crumbling wall in danger of collapse, its true state hidden by a thin coat of
paint. When Paul says he did not know this was the Chief of the clergy, he may be speaking
ironically – how could a man like this possibly be the Chief of God's representatives? - rather than
literally.. Paul starts a quarrel between different factions of the Jewish leaders. The Strict Set, like
Liam earlier, are open to the possibility that Paul may have had a genuine experience of God.
Luke's explanation that the easy-going set did not believe in angels or spirits, may be because
popular Jewish belief thought there was a phase after death when people lived in the realm of angels
and spirits, sharing their nature. The situation was in danger of turning violent. The Romans rescue
Paul and take him to their barracks for safety. The climax of a tumultuous day for Paul was an
experience of Jesus' presence, thanking him for standing up for him in Jerusalem, and predicting
that he would witness also in Rome itself. There are no more miraculous escapes in this book, only
God's presence in dire situations.
Acts 23 12-31 (GAN pgs 288-289)
Paul becomes the subject of an assassination plot by a large group of Jews who opposed him. Luke
gives us no clue who they were, but they seem to have been independent of the Jewish authorities,
though obviously feeling that what they were planning was not unwelcome to them, and later we
shall see that they had agreed to the plan. We also find here the only mention in the New Testament
of members of Paul's family, a sister and her son, his nephew. The young man gets access to his
uncle, who is in military custody, not yet convicted of any wrong-doing, and warns him of the plot.
The commander treats the young man with respect, and believes his story. Knowing that Paul is a
Roman citizen, it is his responsibility to protect him, so he rapidly makes plans to keep Paul safe.
Two officers were told to assemble a substantial military escort, both against the Jewish plot and
against any dangers on the road to Caesartown. Paul was to be mounted too, either needing more
than one horse to allow a change during the journey, or to carry his baggage and perhaps
companions, possibly including Luke himself who reappears in Caesartown (Acts 27.1).
He is to be handed up the chain of command to the Governor of the province, Felix, so Claude
Lewis writes a letter to go with him, explaining the situation. This letter is not an honest account of
events, but shows Claude in a flattering light! Luke has already told us that when he intervened to
rescue Paul, he had no idea who he was, yet now he claims he was acting to protect a Roman
citizen1 Luke does not necessarily himself agree with what his characters say or write – a very
important point to remember when reading his books. As an honest writer, he set out what actually
happened when he tells the story, but also tells us what his characters claim, even if he knows they
were not being truthful. The letter repeats Claude's understanding, that the trouble concerning Paul
was over disagreements within Jewish religion, and was not a matter of any breach of Roman law. It
also tells us that Claude had instructed representatives of the Jewish leaders to go to the Governor
with their accusations.
The Governor reads the letter, has a short interview with Paul, decides it is not worth sending him
on to anyone else responsible for the Tarsus, and keeps him in military custody in his official
residence, originally built as a summer palace by Herod the Great. “Good as New” seems to suggest
that he was treated as an honoured guest – but this seems very unlikely. The Governor's official
residence would have included barracks for his guards at the least, and very likely confinement cells
and guard rooms, where it is more likely :Paul was kept. Nevertheless, he is being treated in a
Acts 24.1-21 (GAN pgs 289-290)
In less than a week, Paul's trial begins. Although GAN does not make it plain, Ninus is the chief
Jewish Leader and clergyman. So important is this trial to the Jewish leaders, that they have brought
a professional lawyer to prosecute their case – perhaps because they knew it was weak. The lawyer
begins by trying to establish favour with Felix, addressing him as “Your excellency” (“Sir” in GAN
is too weak), and making and flattering and untrue compliments about how well he had ruled the
country – in fact, he is generally regarded as having stirred up much of the ill will and resentment
which led to the ill-fated Jewish War of AD 66 by his brutal suppression of many Jewish and
Samaritan movements. By contrast, Paul is then accused of the opposite – disturbing the peace and
deliberately stirring up trouble as ringleader of the Christians, who he describes in such a way as to
imply that they are terrorists. The lawyer ends with the deliberate lie that the Jewish authorities had
Paul defends himself by denying all of the trouble-making claims, stressing that they had no
witnesses for what they said about him. He freely admits he is a follower of the “way”, one of
Luke's favourite designations for Christianity, and that the Jewish leaders call it “way out” or a
heresy. However, he claims to believe in everything they believed in - the same God, the same rules
and the same holy book. His only motives for coming to Jerusalem were to worship in the Worship
Centre, and deliver the collections his churches had been making for the needy. It is perhaps
surprising that this is Luke's only mention of Paul's main reason for coming to Jerusalem, to deliver
the collection, which concerns him greatly in his letters. Paul stresses that he does differ from his
accusers in his beliefs on life after death (particularly as revealed in the return to life of Jesus),
which for him was not just a head belief, but a powerful motivation to keep his conscience clear
before God and other people. By ending his defence on this topic, he seeks to focus the trial on
theological differences between him and the Jewish leaders, which would not concern the Romans.
Although Paul's case is presented by Luke as much better than the prosecution's, Felix merely
adjourns the case. He had been governor for some years, and almost certainly knew enough about
the followers of Jesus to realise the accusations were bogus. Luke may actually mean he knew more
about Christianity than the Jewish leaders did! His motive for not giving a judgement seems to have
been a mixture of curiosity about Paul's beliefs, and the hope that a bribe for Paul's freedom might
come his way if he delayed. He and his Jewish wife Drew were sufficiently interested to find out
more from Paul about Christianity (her presence suggests personal rather than official questioning.)
The words Luke uses to describe appropriate behaviour (good conduct and self-control) could be
translated as “justice” and “not lusting”. Festus did not implement justice in his official role, and he
had lusted after Drew when she was the teenage bride of a minor king. So he found Paul's talk of
God's final establishment of justice too uncomfortable. Paul was still in custody when his successor
Festus took over two years later.
Acts 25.1-12 (GAN pg 291)
Festus was more concerned to get on well with the Jewish leaders than do what was just, so he kept
Paul in custody. On an early visit to Jerusalem, the leaders ask for Paul to be transferred there. The
wish to have him murdered was undiminished. The little evidence we have about him from
historians of the time suggests that Festus was more able and honest than Felix, so did not agree to
the request for Paul to be handed over, as a special favour, but instead insisted that his opponents
confront him face to face in Caesartown.
Festus returns there, together with some of the Jewish leaders. He opens a court of enquiry but the
accusations are confused. Paul again insists on his innocence of every conceivable charge, including
significantly, any offence against the emperor. Festus wants to do the leaders a favour. Although the
Romans had superior military power in their empire, harmonious relationships with local political
figures helped smooth matters out and keep situations peaceful. But Paul is unwilling to return to
Jerusalem. He suddenly decides to take his case to the emperor. This is not a final appeal against a
verdict given, but an appeal as a Roman citizen to have the case decided by the highest human
authority at the time. Paul must have been very frustrated by being so confined for so long, with no
sign that his case was likely to be resolved, and this may have been his reason. Festus adjourns the
court and consults with his advisers, probably military personnel and officials, some of whom may
have been lawyers. We do not know enough about Roman practice at the time to know whether
Festus had to grant Paul's request, or exercised some choice, but he pronounces that what Paul
requested will be what happens.
Acts 25.13-24.1 (GAN pgs 291-292)
Festus is now in some difficulty. He does not really understand the reasons for the hostility between
Paul and the Jewish leaders, but he must write a report to send with Paul to Rome, and the charges
against Paul must make enough sense for the emperor's officials not to think him stupid or
incompetent. The Roman-appointed ruler of the next territory (which included some of Galilee),
Griff, arrives on a state visit with his sister Bernice to welcome Festus. He is from the Herod royal
family, had been a personal friend of the Emperor Claude and had recently had his territory
extended by Nero. The Herod's claimed some Jewish blood, so might be expected to understand
Jewish affairs, and Claude had given him oversight of the Jewish Worship Centre in Jerusalem
which should also help him to understand Jewish afairs. Festus speaks of his problem, and was no
doubt pleased when Griff asked to meet Paul, thinking he might clarify the situation. It would be a
feather in his cap if a personal friend of the emperor backed his actions, and he can say so in his
letter. In explaining the situation, he puts himself in a very favourable light. He implies that the state
of affairs was the fault of Felix; but that he is a diligent upholder of proper Roman justice who acts
decisively and promptly to sort things out. There is no mention of doing the Jewish leaders a
favour! When he speaks of “someone called Jesus” it suggests that he knew very little about him.
The word he uses to speak about Jewish religion could be translated “superstition” - it is the word
Paul had used for the religion of the people of Athens (Acts 17.22)
An event which seems to be somewhere between a formal hearing and a state entertainment, as
suggested by the dress of Griff and Bernice, and presence of local worthies, is arranged for the next
day. Festus introduces the problem. There is an illogicality in what he says. If he really believed that
Paul was not guilty of any charge, he could and should simply have released him whatever the
Jewish leaders thought! And so Paul has the opportunity to address a distinguished gathering.
Acts 26.2-29 (GAN 292-293)
This is the longest speech in which Paul puts over his views, and his perhaps most important speech
not only in Caesartown, but in the whole of the book. Paul is not on trial. The purpose of the
hearing is to help Festus with his letter, and Paul does not defend himself against any particular
charges, but addresses himself to Griff. Several times during the speech as well as at the beginning.
He treats Griff as a fellow Jew, one familiar with Jewish parties and ideas, even an expert. He bears
witness to his life experience, but also ends by making almost an evangelical appeal to Griff and
others to join him in his faith. The speech is interrupted twice.
It seems clear from Paul's remarks that quite a bit of his early life was lived in Jerusalem, and he
was well known as an enthusiastic member of the strict set. He makes the claim that his beliefs as a
Christian were the true fulfilment of Jewish hopes and the promises God had made to them. These
were centred on life after death, and Paul, believing in the power of God, can see no reason why
anyone should doubt such an idea. Paul now confesses his role in trying to stamp out the Christian
movement, even admitting his approval of the murder of Christians.
Paul then speaks of his encounter with Jesus on one of his persecuting missions. The voice Paul
hears, though in Aramaic, the everyday language of Jewish people, also quotes a Greek proverb, in
Greek presumably. Since the voice identifies himself as Jesus, we are perhaps given a little hint that
Jesus, like Paul was bilingual and multi-cultured. Paul is to become his agent for preaching to the
nations and winning them to join Jesus' friends. Unlike previous accounts, there is no mention of
Paul being blinded, nor of the role of Ian in helping him and delivering to him the missionary call.
Verse 16 Jesus says, "I've met you here". This means that Paul can regard himself as an eyewitness
of the risen Jesus. Jesus gives Paul a "special purpose". So Paul sees himself as a member of Jesus'
crack troop, on a par with the twelve. He had fulfilled the two necessary requirements. He had met
Jesus face to face and received his comission. The promise that through Paul people will see the
world in a new light reflects a theme throughout Luke's books, beginning with Kerry's song in
Paul gives a brief account of how he has since lived, devoting himself to inviting people to change
their ways, trust in God and lead better lives. Festus interrupts. He does not deny Paul's intellectual
power, but thinks he has gone beyond the bounds of what is credible. Paul realising the Roman is
out of his depth, addresses Griff and tries to rope him in as an ally. It is not clear from Griff's
response whether he is partly persuaded, making a joke, being sarcastic or showing anger. Paul's
last words make it clear that he has been trying to persuade them of the truth in which he believed,
and wished with all his being that they shared his convictions and followed God's chosen one as
Christians. Jews and non-Jews are seen here as both being legitimate targets for Paul's evangelism.
The non-Jews are represented by Festus, and the Jews by Griff and Bernice. Griff was not a very
good Jew, but Bernice, in the style of Esther in the Hebrew scriptures, on one occasion
courageously interceeded with the Romans to prevent a Jewish massacre. They all agree that Paul is
guilty of no serious offence. We are left thinking that if Felix and Festus had behaved properly, Paul
would have been a free man. Luke has been careful to record the “innocent” verdict from as many
responsible officials and politicians as possible.
Acts 27. (GAN pgs 294-296)
Luke again tells the story as “we”, signalling that he was part of Paul's group. There are about
twelve reports of Paul travelling by sea in Acts, totalling about 3,000 miles according to one
scholar, and this is by far the most detailed account. Some have wondered why Luke gives so much
space and provides so much detail when more important events in the foundation of the Church are
missed out or summarised. However, to some extent, Luke's work is limited by the sources
available to him, and his own experience was obviously a major source, and one which helped to
establish his credibility as a historian. In these stories, in the words of one scholar “ he... reveals
himself to be a Gentile, with a Greek (and decidedly non-Jewish) love of sea travel and tales about
such travel, and an audience who would appreciate such an account.” Such stories are common in
books of the time, histories, romances and novels alike.
The Roman officer had a royal name “Julius” so he is most likely to have been a Roman citizen,
and treats Paul with respect as a fellow citizen who at present is not a convicted criminal. He found
a passage on a commercial boat, because there were no passenger boats at this time. The boat hugs
the coast – very few ships, only the largest, sailed across the open sea. No doubt it suited him not to
have to feed Paul while they were in port at Sidon, but he no doubt sent a guard with him. Harry
who is with them was one of the delegates who had travelled with Paul to Jerusalem (Acts 20,4) and
is called a co-worker in Philemon 24 and is in prison with Paul in Colossians 4.10.(It is interesting
to notice that Luke is also mentioned in both these places, further confirmation that he is the
author). They arrive at Myra which was a regular stopping place for grain ships from Egypt to
Rome, and join what was probably such a ship.
Their progress which was slow and difficult, can be traced on a map, and they got as far
west as the south coast of Crete, which is generally very rocky, to a port called Fairhaven which was
not big enough for their large ship to over-winter. According to a Roman writer of the time, sailing
between mid September and mid November was regarded as dangerous; for the rest of the winter,
impossible. Paul was a seasoned sea traveller advises against sailing any further. However, the
majority opinion, including that of the captain and owner of the boat, is to carry on to a safer
harbour called Phoenix, whose location is not known for certain. The winds seemed favourable, but
on the way, they met an extremely strong wind that blew them dramatically off course. Crete has
very high mountains (Mount Ida is 8,000 ft high) in a very narrow land mass, and the winds funnel
down to the coast with great force, and can blow up very suddenly, as many holidaymakers can
testify today. They were blown about 25 miles off course to the small off-shore island now called
Guzzo where they tried to find shelter from the wind.
The sailors manage to secure a dinghy on the deck, and strengthen the boat with ropes. Although the
sandbanks were about 400 miles away, so fierce was the wind that they were afraid of being blown
on to them. So they allowed the boat to drift, and lightened it by jettisoning cargo and fittings that
could be spared. The clouds by day and night robbed them of any chance of navigating by sun or
stars, the only means open to them. The picture is one of increasing desperation, and even Luke
seems to have given up hope, together with almost everyone else.
Either anxiety or sea-sickness, or both, may have kept many of them from eating. Paul makes a
brief speech, urging them not to become depressed and sharing a message he had received from
God, promising survival of the humans, but not of the ship. No doubt Luke saw the irony of Paul
saying “I told you so” because they had not followed his advice not to undertake this journey.
Neither Paul nor Luke would have been on this journey at all if he had listened to advice from
various people, including Luke, a few years earlier not to go to Jerusalem! They had been drifting
for a fortnight, which is about right for the four to five hundred miles they have travelled. The
sailors have a hunch they are nearing land, and taking soundings proves they are correct, so they
drop anchors to try to stop the boat being driven on to rocks or sandbanks. They try to put into
effect a plan to save themselves and leave the passengers to their fate by launching the dinghy but
Paul spotted what they were doing and alerted the soldiers who cut the ropes and allowed the
dinghy to float away without the sailors. Paul encourages everyone to eat, and again assures them of
their safety. He sets an example by very publicly taking some bread, thanking God for it, and eating
it. Luke's language here is very much like his account of Jesus' last supper with his friends (Luke
22.19) and it seems very likely that he understood this meal on the boat as a fellowship meal, not
unlike the feeding of the 5,000, a sign of the coming of God's New World, though not necessarily
recognised as such by all those taking part, who are not seen as Christians or potential Christians.
This is just one of many such fellowship meals Luke describes, especially in his first book.
After eating, the surplus grain is jettisoned. Incidentally, this confirms that the ship was a grain
carrying vessel, and the total number of people on it suggests that it was fairly substantial in size,
though bigger boats were around at the time. When morning came, the sailors did not recognise the
land they saw, but thought they could beach the ship. They took appropriate action, but the plan
failed when the front of the boat ran aground (not necessarily on rocks as GAN translates, but
possibly on a sand bar or mud bar). The stern of the boat is battered to pieces by the presumably
still substantial waves. The soldiers do not want their prisoners to escape. The Romans could be
very harsh with guards who allowed this to happen, resulting even in capital punishment for the
offending guard. (We remember the jailer in Philiptown who was going to commit suicide, and the
guards who were executed when Rocky escaped from prison.) Their officer, who seems to have
developed a respect or affection for Paul prevents them and orders everyone to jump overboard and
make their way to land as best they can, by swimming, by clinging on to wreckage from the ship, or
just possibly, clinging to the backs of strong swimmers. This is the last of many references by Luke
to Roman army officers' sympathetic to Jesus or his followers. Previous notable instances are the
one in charge of the crucifixion and Neil. Everyone reaches dry land safely, and there is a sense that
because of Paul, God has over-ruled all the circumstances that could have led to disaster. The
traditional location in Malta is still known as St Paul's Bay, where there are two small islands,
around which high tides driven by wind could have swirled and been very dangerous.
Acts 28.1-10 (Pg 296)
The shipwrecked travellers learn they have landed in Malta, whose native people did not speak
Greek, the common language of the Roman world. Luke, who alone records Jesus' story of the
kindness of a Samaritan to a traveller in trouble obviously appreciates the welcome they were given
by the Maltese. Clearly, there was no hostility to pagans or even suspicion of them among the early
Christians, but a positive appreciation of their goodness when it was shown. This initially took the
form of a fire to warm them and dry them after their time in the sea, compounded by rain. There are
today no poisonous snakes on Malta, but species could have died out over the past 2,000 years.
Alternatively, Luke may not have used the term “viper” with its specialised meaning, or the
inhabitants may have regarded all snakes as poisonous, much as most British people regard all fungi
apart from mushrooms as poisonous. One ancient writer, Pliny, says the idea that all snakes were
poisonous was widely held.
Paul shakes the creature off his hand into the bonfire, and when he suffers no ill effects, either
swelling of the hand or death, the religious or superstitious natives change their view that he was a
murderer who was being punished by the gods to the idea that maybe he was a god himself.
Lee, who was either the Roman governor or the leading Maltese citizen invites at least some of the
party to his home. It does not seem feasible he would take in all 276 survivors, but the “we”
included at least Paul and Luke. They were well looked after for three days. Their host's father was
ill in bed with a gastric fever. There was an illness known until near modern times called “Malta
fever” now known to be caused by drinking unpasteurised goat's milk. Paul prays for the man, and
hugs him or touches him with his hands, and he is healed (the only time in this book that the acts of
prayer and touching combined in a healing). The news gets around, and sick people from all over
the island gather to seek healing through Paul. The story is rather like that Luke tells when Jesus
healed Rocky's mother in law of a fever, and crowds are attracted to him for healing (Luke 4). Luke
likes to show the friends of Jesus continuing in his ways.
Luke does not tell us where they spent the next three months, but they were very well treated.
Maltese hospitality continues when they were given adequate provisions for the rest of their
journey, when they boarded what was probably another grain ship from Egypt which had over-
wintered in Malta. They probably set sail sometime in February or early March when favourable
west winds began to blow. The mention of Castor and Pollux may simply be the plain fact of the
case, but since in the ancient world, they were widely believed to be the “patron deities” of sailors
and innocent travellers, Luke may have seen this as a God-inspired “coincidence” pointing to Paul's
The rest of Paul's voyage to Rome is straightforward. Their first port of call was about 90 miles
away in Sicily, where they have a three-day stay, long enough to drop any passengers and cargo and
take on fresh supplies, and then after a brief stop at the southern part of Italy, they disembark in
Naples. We do not know how Christianity arrived in Naples, though there was a large Jewish
community there, and it is not unlikely, given that Christianity must have arrived from the east, and
this port was a main entry point for people moving on to Rome (Luke has already told us that
visitors from Rome were involved when the Spirit filled the friends of Jesus for the first time (Acts
2). The week's hospitality with the Christians certainly included Paul and Luke, but could have been
extended to the Roman officer, and perhaps to other prisoners and soldiers.
Paul and his party seem to have been met by two groups of Christians from Rome, who both
travelled significant distances. He was obviously seen as some kind of celebrity, and he was
encouraged by the reception he received. Having told us that Paul lived in his own accommodation
with a live-in soldier as escort, probably under some kind of house arrest, this travelogue ends and
Luke as personal narrator disappears.
Even this last glimpse of Paul, shows him continuing with his normal method of starting with the
Jewish people in passing on his message. He first reassures them he is not bringing any counter-
charge against them which might damage them or their reputation in a court of law. He is somewhat
surprised the Jewish community had received no letters about him from the Jewish leaders in
Jerusalem, which may suggest that in view of all the delay, they had decided not to go to the
expense of pursuing Paul to Rome to bring any case against him. Paul makes it plain that so far as
he is concerned, he is in trouble not because of his opposition to Jewish beliefs, but because of his
loyalty to them. He goes on to explain his beliefs in God's New World, and how the story of Jesus
fitted in with it. As ever, some believed and others rejected his message. To the latter, Paul says they
are only bringing about what God has said through his messenger in the Old Books, and that non-
Jews will accept the good news. As the years passed, this became increasingly true. Jews rejected
Christianity and it spread among other nations.
Luke's story ends two years later. He does not tell us the outcome of any trial which may or may not
have taken place. There are traditions that Paul was released, perhaps exiled, and went even as far
as Spain to pass on his message, before returning to Rome and meeting his death in one of the
persecutions of Christians which happened under the emperor Nero. Others believe he was
condemned and executed on this occasion. Luke's motive is not to write a biography of Paul, or
indeed of anyone, except Jesus. His motive is to make clear the message of Christianity, to present it
in an attractive way and show its positive results, and to illustrate how it gave rise to a social
movement, or new religion. Once he has shown the message and movement have reached the heart
and capital of the Roman World, Luke's intentions are fulfilled, and he writes no more.