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Biblical Morality 44: Acts

SarnDuro

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rtwngAvngr

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SarnDuro said:
The book of Acts is history. Perhaps this is why I enjoyed it more than most that I’ve come across for some time. Part of the text covers several of Jesus’s disciples as they move out into the world, performing miracles and teaching to the people. The rest focuses primarily on Paul of Tarsus – his conversion and then his later travels and trials. I’ll begin with stating flat out that I like Paul more than any of the major figures I’ve seen yet. Not because I agree with his specific message, which I don’t yet know very well (that comes in the next 13 books), but simply because he’s the most human. He speaks clearly and acts for comprehensible reasons. He’s clever, and he gets to the point. During one of his later trials, rather than cryptically cite the power of God, he goes right for the jugular. In 23:6, ‘Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.)’ It may not be getting to the point of theology, but it sure gets to the point of divide and conquer. Paul simply speaks like a normal person.

There are four major themes that I can identify. For once, prophecy and faith are not among them, though both are present with lesser emphasis. Matters of belief and persuasion are one major theme. For once, I’ve seen some indication that disciples, such as Paul, have to actually spend some time convincing people to convert. And when this happens, it’s not everyone but only some. One of my biggest complaints in the Bible so far has been that entire crowds can listen to a one-minute sound bite and suddenly change their long held beliefs in some matter. Another major theme is the new Christian community. How do they organize? What are their expectations? Who may enter? Sadly, the third theme seems to be Jew baiting. The Bible has been setting them up for guilt ever since the end of Matthew. I’m going to try something new, however, and not go into this topic again as a major subsection. Virtually every instance is simply a citation that “the Jews” work as a group to thwart the Christians, despite frequently knowing (somehow) that the Christians are indeed correct. The final theme I identify is on the subject of suffering and martyrdom. As Christianity spreads, it attracts attention. The followers remain true to their God-centered philosophy and take their persecution as part of their lot.

The dominant figure in Acts is Saul of Tarsus, later known as Paul. He is a Pharisee and a persecutor of the Christians. He is also a man of power, and has the means to do this. He is responsible for arrests and deaths. On his way to Damascus to arrest and extradite some Christian leaders, he is struck blind and spoken to by Jesus. He is told to continue to Damascus and await further instructions. These turn out to be clear enough. He is to spread the word of Christ. From 9:17, ‘Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” I read this at first as a simple matter of using force to provide obedience. I’m not so sure this is the meaning any more, however, given the theme of suffering that seems to pervade Christianity. At least this is evidence. Paul was not expected to just believe in Jesus based only on a stranger’s words. Jesus showed up in person. Three days of blindness is a small price to pay for killing one’s religious enemies. It’s worth noting here the text of 14:3. ‘So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders.’ One of the emerging themes throughout is whether true faith requires evidence direct from God himself. Jesus occasionally did exactly what’s been cited here. Actually seeing a miracle of some kind is far more persuasive than hearing about it third hand from a total stranger.

Paul proves to be an able spokesman for the new sect, though the details are somewhat murky still. 9:22 reads ‘Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.’ What is this proof? I consider this an open question, pending the completion of reading the Letters of Paul in subsequent books.

Again, however, what seems most honest on this topic is the notion that people do actually need convincing. In Athens Paul uses the existence of an altar dedicated “To an unknown god” to explain to the people who that unknown god is. (Athenians were religiously prudent. They considered all gods to be possibilities, and didn’t want to risk the wrath of anyone left out.) In 17:32, ‘When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.”’ I can’t be sure, having never converted to anything, but I would imagine this is how it really happens. One hears something intriguing and wants to hear more. It takes time. Sadly, at least from my contemporary perspective, Paul teaches one thing that has been the bane of home dwellers ever since. In 20:20, ‘”You know that I [Paul] have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.”’ One can only hope that this means houses to which he was previously invited.

On that note, we move on to suffering. 7:59 is a clear expression of the new Christian attitude. ‘While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.’ I think anyone raised in a Western country has some notion of Christian martyrdom. Indeed, it’s made plain that a Christian should look to the next world and not to this one. When several of the apostles escape death but receive a flogging, in 5:41, ‘The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.’ In 21:13, ‘Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”’ God is on their side. In 14:19, ‘They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered round him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.’ This last line is telling. Compare it to Paul and Barnabas a short time earlier, in 14:5. ‘There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to ill-treat them and stone them. But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the good news.’ I think this dispels an exaggerated myth that these Christians were seeking out opportunities for martyrdom. Given the option of staying alive, they took it. And they were proactive in taking it. Indeed, most of chapter 12 recounts Peter’s escape, with God’s own direct help, from the dungeons of king Herod. Willingness to die doesn’t require seeking out opportunities for it, at least not in Christian teachings.

The goal, in all of this, is to increase the size of the Christian community. The disciples are men with a mission, and it’s a mission that has changed dramatically since the long Old Testament days. Mainly, the issue is Gentiles. Are they allowed in? Jesus indicated it was so, and God confirms it again in Acts. What shall their requirements be? Are they to become Jews or do they directly become Christians?

The issue of other nations is handled most directly in a lengthy story in chapter 10. To paraphrase, since direct quotes would be quite lengthy, Cornelius is a centurion who prays to God. He is not Jewish, but he accepts their god. An angel tells him to send for Peter, and tells him where Peter may be found. Cornelius does this, and the men he sends find Peter just as Peter is finishing a vision he received from God. In the vision, he is asked by God to eat food that Jewish law considers unclean. God’s response is that nothing God makes should be considered unclean. Then an angel tells him, while he is pondering that vision, that he should go with three men who are looking for him. It is at that moment that he finds the men waiting for him. He goes with them to Cornelius’s house, though Jewish law apparently forbids visiting with Gentiles. When Cornelius tells Peter why he sent for him, the meaning of Peter’s vision is clear. God created all men, and all should be welcomed into his home. Peter explains all of this to the other apostles when they hear of it. Besides the obvious consequences for dietary law, the issue of national exclusivity appears settled.

But what about Jewish law in other areas, such as the aforementioned dietary law? What about circumcision? These became real issues, as it takes considerable convincing to get an adult man to undergo circumcision in a dirty age without anesthesia. All these matters were discussed within a church council, and the results were formally published in a letter to Gentile believers. 15:28 specifies them. ‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, and from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.’

On the whole, though not as information dense as the Gospels, Acts is a somewhat clearer and certainly livelier text. It introduces Paul, who I suspect is the last chance for the Bible to present a sympathetic figure. My own atheist sensibilities were far less insulted than is usually the case. Perhaps this can be attributed to the mainly historical presentation within. I had much the same response in the history books of the Old Testament as compared to the other books found there. I look forward to seeing what Paul has to say in his letters.


Sarnduro, I'm actually sick of you and your negative attitude. Everything that's not ADL approved pro jew propaganda is not JEW-baiting.

Also keep in mind this is a DISCUSSION forum, please try to orient your post towards interaction with others, perhaps maybe separating your pointless mental diarrhea from the actual questions.
 

nt250

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rtwngAvngr said:
Sarnduro, I'm actually sick of you and your negative attitude. Everything that's not ADL approved pro jew propaganda is not JEW-baiting.

Also keep in mind this is a DISCUSSION forum, please try to orient your post towards interaction with others, perhaps maybe separating your pointless mental diarrhea from the actual questions.


I have to defend Sarn here. I know him from other boards and he posts his Bible essays in the hopes of stimulating discussion. He doesn't get much because the other boards we both visit are dominated by liberals.

Sarn is a liberal, and he drives me nuts. He hates me. But he is sincere with these bible essays. This board seems to lean more conservative, so I was curious to see if he got any good discussions going here. He's not spamming the board. He puts a lot of effort into these essays.

I can't wait until he finishes the frigging bible and tries to tackle the Koran.

Now THAT should be interesting!
 
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rtwngAvngr

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nt250 said:
I have to defend Sarn here. I know him from other boards and he posts his Bible essays in the hopes of stimulating discussion. He doesn't get much because the other boards we both visit are dominated by liberals.

Sarn is a liberal, and he drives me nuts. He hates me. But he is sincere with these bible essays. This board seems to lean more conservative, so I was curious to see if he got any good discussions going here. He's not spamming the board. He puts a lot of effort into these essays.

I can't wait until he finishes the frigging bible and tries to tackle the Koran.

Now THAT should be interesting!


Sorry, I think he's a dufus, with a bad attitude, and a pointlessly dense writing stye.
 

nt250

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rtwngAvngr said:
Sorry, I think he's a dufus, with a bad attitude, and a pointlessly dense writing stye.

I told you. He's a liberal.;)
 

rtwngAvngr

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SarnDuro said:
Want to guess how much I care?


Ooh, you make discussion so very tempting. But I think I'll pass. You're not worth it. If you don't like it, don't read it. This is so typical of conservatives. Can't just change the damn channel if they don't like something.

So you can dish it out, but you just can't take it. can you? your dense narcissistic style may gain you respect elsewhere, but your conclusions and actuals points are extremely subpar. We demand a higher standard here.
 

5stringJeff

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rtwngAvngr said:
So you can dish it out, but you just can't take it. can you? your dense narcissistic style may gain you respect elsewhere, but your conclusions and actuals points are extremely subpar. We demand a higher standard here.

If we demanded a higher standard, your ad hominem one-liners would have been gone a long time ago.

Sarn's essays are though-provoking, and take a while to digest. His POV, along with everyone else's, are welcome.
 

rtwngAvngr

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5stringJeff said:
If we demanded a higher standard, your ad hominem one-liners would have been gone a long time ago.

Sarn's essays are though-provoking, and take a while to digest. His POV, along with everyone else's, are welcome.


No. his essays mostly suck and he tries to present obvious things as "odd" or "absurd". That's my opinion.

Why have you not responded to any of them, if they're so thought provoking?

What is his point of view?
 

rtwngAvngr

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SarnDuro said:
Apparently you don't.

It's pretty simple. You recognize my name. If you don't like me, don't click the link. This isn't rocket science.

I like to read you and then refute you. It's what messageboards are all about. Maybe some equate lots of words with good ideas, but I'm not one of those.
 

Joz

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rtwngAvngr said:
I like to read you and then refute you. It's what messageboards are all about. Maybe some equate lots of words with good ideas, but I'm not one of those.
:clap:
 

nt250

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SarnDuro said:
Oh, and thanks. I'd sure like it if we could reach some happy equilibrium.

Easy. Just agree with me all the time.

:bow3:
 

Avatar4321

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It is amazing how someone can read and analyze a text and miss the entire point of it.

The point of it is to bring people closer to Christ because He is the only way to return to the Father.

Reading is good, but its pointless if you dont seek out the Spirit of the Lord for your understanding. And that takes prayer and exercising faith. Because God cant reveal anything to you unless you seek it out by going to Him.
 

no1tovote4

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rtwngAvngr said:
Sorry, I think he's a dufus, with a bad attitude, and a pointlessly dense writing stye.


I think his atheistic view of the Bible is interesting. It is unlike the same books spoken of by my mother's pastor...

You could introduce him to a different view.
 

no1tovote4

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The Acts is an interesting book of the Bible, it often speaks to the spiritual. As a Buddhist I am often attuned to that particular POV.

Stephen's selfless act when being martyred is one such moment. It was more than a new Christian outlook, he looked outside himself to the souls of others and considered them before his own. In the end he cared and his Compassion was particularly clear and present...
 

rtwngAvngr

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no1tovote4 said:
I think his atheistic view of the Bible is interesting. It is unlike the same books spoken of by my mother's pastor...

You could introduce him to a different view.


I don't. He's just trying to make things seem silly when they're straight forward, and is viewing the whole thing through a hypersensitive "christians are setting up the jews" frame of mind.
 

Joz

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rtwngAvngr said:
I don't. He's just trying to make things seem silly when they're straight forward, and is viewing the whole thing through a hypersensitive "christians are setting up the jews" frame of mind.
You really think that's it? I think he's blantantly anti-Christian.
 

rtwngAvngr

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Joz said:
You really think that's it? I think he's blantantly anti-Christian.

Well, I'm trying to be gracious. But yeah, he's basically here making fun of us to our faces.
 

rtwngAvngr

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SarnDuro said:
If I was making fun of you to your faces, you'd know it. Well, maybe not you. But others. I'm just reading it and responding to what the book actually says.


And pretending straight forward things are "odd" ....
 

nt250

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SarnDuro said:
If I was making fun of you to your faces, you'd know it. Well, maybe not you. But others. I'm just reading it and responding to what the book actually says.

You are giving your opinion of what you think the book actually says. The only reason you are reading the Bible at all is so that you can appear to be "informed" before you trash it.

Hurry up and finish the Bible, will ya? Are you still planning to read the Koran next? I'm curious what your approach to that will be. Will you read that with as much hostility going in as you did the Bible? Will your approach be to seek out all that peaceful stuff people keep saying is in the Koran? Or will you be just as hostile to that book as you are to the Bible and those that read it?
 

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