From Jerusalem To Rome: The Second Part And The First Journey

To the Jew first …

My dear readers, for a few weeks we are back to our journey through the book of Acts.  From the book itself, we know that it was a regular  custom of Apostle Paul to attend synagogue every Shabbat.  Even though Paul’s apostolic mission was to reach the Gentiles with the gospel, in every new town where he arrived (even in predominately Gentile regions), he went to a synagogue. In synagogues, he met with Jews and Gentiles alike who were interested in the Word of God. Again and again, we read about Paul attending synagogues:

When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. (Acts 13:5)

But they … came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down.( Acts 13:14-16)

Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed (Acts 14:1)

They came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures (Acts 17:1-3)

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue (Acts 17:10)

So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. (Acts 17:17)

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth… And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath (Acts 18:1-4)

And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. (Acts 18:19)

It’s important to understand that even though this pattern will be obvious throughout Paul’s entire ministry, it starts here, at the beginning of the second part, in chapters 13 and 14. Once again, Luke makes sure that his readers are aware of the unchanged and immutable attitude Paul:  To the Jew first …

The parallels

We know already that the book of Acts can be divided into two parts, in accordance with the words of Jesus to his disciples at the beginning of Acts:  they should be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”[1]. The first part, chapters 1–12, describe the events that take place in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. Peter is the central figure of these chapters: he delivers speeches, performs healings and, as the climax of this section, baptizes the first Gentile convert, the Roman centurion Cornelius.”[2] Peter baptizing Cornelius and reporting it to his Jewish brethren officially opens the door for Gentiles to be included in the community of believers.

Then, beginning from chapter 13, the focus of the book shifts to Paul – the Apostle to the Gentiles. We witness his missionary activity in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) and Greece, his arrest, questioning before Roman and Jewish authorities, his journey to Rome, and his preaching in Rome. Therefore, Acts presents a picture of the church expanding in full accordance with Jesus’ words: from Jerusalem through Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth.

We spoke already of the fact that Luke is an amazing master of transitions, and that chapters 13 and 14 could be seen as a very meaningful transition from the first part of the book of Acts to the second. Remarkably, Luke consciously builds parallels here: between the beginning of the second part and the beginning of the first part.  For example, in his speech in chapter 13, in much the same exegetical vein as Peter, Paul refers to these verses from Psalm 16:

For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.

Very similar to Peter, Paul “argues that since David is known to have died, the psalm speaks of his descendants”[3]. We are not surprised to find Paul arguing in the same way as Peter did: this principle is well known from rabbinic literature. Talmud says that “all the prophets prophesized only for the days of Messiah”. However, it is clear that as Luke opens the second part of his book, he purposefully builds parallels between the beginning of this section and the beginning of the first.

We find another parallel in chapter 14. Here we read about the miracle in Lystra. Once again we see “Luke clearly modelling Paul on Peter’s example”[4] from chapter 3. The verbal similarities between 14:10 and 3:8 are striking.

Of course, there are some differences between the stories: “whereas Luke describes the lame man in chapter 3 as expecting a monetary gain, this man succeeds in convincing Paul that his primary interest is in healing. His faith appears to express his trust that Paul is capable of physically curing him. We don’t know whether the man in Lystra was sitting in front of a temple (temple of Zeus). Finally, it’s interesting to compare the people’s response to the miracle. Usually, the response of Jewish leaders to the miracle performed by Peter (chapters 3-4) is seen as “severe Jewish opposition,” whereas the response of Lystranians in chapter 14 is perceived as almost nice misunderstanding. Let us try to sort it out.

In Acts 4, on the day after the healing, the Jewish leaders gathered together against Peter and John. Luke’s mentioning of “rulers and elders and scribes” probably means a convening of the Sanhedrin, since representatives of these three groups composed the so-called “Great Court”. (At this time, in spite of Roman occupation, the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem was still the highest judicial, political and administrative authority in the Land). The apostles were presumably standing in the center of the court, the interrogating members of the Sanhedrin sitting around them. The leaders began to inquire by what power, or by what credentials, Peter and John had healed the lame man. It’s important to understand that the leaders were obliged to inquire: “the act of healing per se invokes an authority which, because it is not normally granted to human beings, must be investigated to make sure that it does not involve sorcery or blasphemy.”[5] This procedure seems suspicious, almost hostile, but in fact the Jewish leaders are just doing their job— making sure that the miracle of healing was done in the God’s name. On the other hand, the people’s response to the miraculous event in Lystra is very enthusiastic, almost ecstatic; the local priest there doesn’t take offence at Paul and Barnabas’ miraculous powers and doesn’t see them as rivals. However, the whole scene in Lystra reveals a pagan piety and causes Paul and Barnabas to tear their clothes.  For Paul and Barnabas, being called gods was not just wrong – it was blasphemy, and as a reaction to this blasphemy, they tore their robes. So, even though the miracle was doubted and investigated in chapter 4, whereas it was received enthusiastically in chapter 14, still, the Jewish emissaries of Jesus felt much more at home in Jerusalem. We need to remember that as we continue our journey through the second part of Acts.

[1] Acts 1:8

[2] The Jewish Annotated New Testament, Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition, p.198.

[3] Hillary Le Cornu, Joseph Shulam, The Jewish Roots of Acts, vol.1, p.737

[4] Ibid,. p. 775

[5] Ibid., p.235

I would like to remind you, dear friendsthat eTeacher offers a wonderful course, Jewish Background of the New Testament. . As always, you are welcome to contact me for more information!  Also, if you like the articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books, you can get them  here.

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Jean M McDermott

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