Lectionary Year B
April 30, 2000
Acts 4:32-35

Step III: Immediate Context


(WL) A. IMMEDIATE CONTEXT

Pre: Following Pentecost and the giving of the Spirit, Peter delivers the famous sermon of Acts 2. That chapter ends with a description of the community of faith, saying some of the same things about the nature of the community as cited in our pericope.
Chapter 3 begins with a story of healing and bold testimony to Jesus and the resurrection by Peter and John. Chapter 4 begins with the arrest of Peter and John. They are questioned by the Jewish leaders and released with orders to be silent on this matter of Jesus. They report what has happened to "their own." There is a prayer of thankgiving and for boldness and power. A shaking of the place where they have gathered is reported along with the testimony that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and were speaking God's word with boldness.

It is here that our pericope is introduced.

Post: It is followed by the story of Ananias and his wife Sapphire who sell property and kept back some of the proceeds. Ananias and Sapphire die as a result. This appears to terrify those in Jerusalem. No one else joined them but they were held in high esteem by all (5:13). Yet believers are being added to the Lord. They would bring the sick out so the apostles' shadows could fall on them.. (Interesting: "believers being added to the Lord, but no else dared to join them." Does this speak to the nature of the group described in the pericope: the apostles and the early converts but not all who accepted Christ?). Then we return to the Jewish leaders and the second arrest of the apostles.

(WL) B. COMPOSITIONAL WHOLE

Luke's stated objective is to offer an orderly account of the ministry of Jesus. The Gospel composes the first section. Then, in this second volume (Acts--which is again addressed to Theophilos ("lover of God")) beginning with Jesus the story spreads into all the known world: first to the disciples in Jerusalem, then to the city, then to Samaria, Asia Minor, Greece and finally Rome.

Luke, assumed to be the author of both Gospel and Acts since the mid- part of the second century, is reputed to be the traveling companion of the Apostle Paul. Some of Acts (beginning in the 16th chapter) is written in the first person plural. Linguistically and stylistically, both writings appear to come from a common hand.

Dating remains in doubt. The absence of a description of Paul's fate in Rome has led some to suggest an early dating of 65-67. Others suggest that the work reflects a perspsective not available at that time, suggesting a dating in the mid- to late-80s. As Luke's Gospel is often given a date in the late 70s to mid-'80s and if this is a companion piece written afterwards, then the later dating is to be favored.

Assuming Luke to be with Paul from the 16th chapter on, Luke is not reported to accompany Paul to the Council in Jerusalem in chapter 15. My conjecture is that Luke witnessed Paul seeking accord with the apostles in Jerusalem (as far as possible). He sees or hears of Paul taking collections to support their ministry. It would appear that those in Jerusalem are held in high esteem, even if the author knows of their activity only at a second hand level. It is clear that they are being lifted up as a norm for the behavior of the larger church--a norm that was not followed anywhere else in NT times, at least to my knowledge..

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