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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

The Mission of Paul to the Ends of the Earth (15, 36–28, 31)

Second Missionary Journey ( 15, 36–18, 23 )

Paul now begins the journeys that will take the gospel throughout the rest of the empire. On this journey, he will take the decisive step of crossing from Asia Minor into Greece, where some of the most important Pauline churches would be founded. The New Testament contains Paul's own letters to churches in Thessalonica, Philippi, and Corinth. When Paul arrives in Europe, the narrative style suddenly changes from the third person to the first person “we.” Sections of journey narrative in the “we” style appear throughout the rest of Acts ( 16, 6–12 [beginning of the European mission]; 20, 1–7.13–16; 21, 1–9.15–17 [last journey to Jerusalem]; 27, 1–28, 16 [voyage to Rome]). Some scholars attribute the “we” sections to a travel diary kept by a companion of Paul. The content of these sections matches that of the journeys that Luke has already used to describe the Pauline mission. A shift into the first‐person plural was often used by ancient authors for its literary effect. The change in style may represent Luke's way of telling us that we have now arrived at the mission for which the rest of the narrative has prepared us. The gospel is to be taken completely beyond Judaism. In time these Gentile Christians will be the sole custodians of a tradition, which God has been preparing since Abraham. It will be their responsibility to see to it that the gospel continues to be preached in all the nations of the earth.

A dream vision takes Paul into Macedonia ( 16, 6–16 ). Dream visions were frequently cited as the source of divine guidance in the ancient world. Paul's first major foundation is at Philippi, a Roman colony that enjoyed the rights of an Italian city. Paul's letter to the Philippians indicates that he enjoyed close relationships with this church. They sent assistance to Paul when he was imprisoned or working in other areas, and both men and women from the Philippian church worked as missionaries preaching the gospel to others (see Phil 1, 14; 4, 2f ). Acts does not contain much information about the extensive periods of time that Paul lived in communities like Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth, nor does Luke refer to persons and issues mentioned in Paul's letters to those churches. There is no evidence in Acts that Luke was familiar with any of Paul's letters. If he had accompanied Paul on some part of his missionary work (see Phlm 24; Col 4, 14 ), Luke cannot have been involved in the major events of Paul's mission in the way that Timothy, Titus, and Silvanus were.

Luke appears to have drawn upon anecdotal material for the major events in each of the cities. He then shapes that material to illustrate his understanding of the growth of the early church. The Philippi episode repeats themes that we have already encountered. Christian preaching is well received by wealthy, respectable citizens, in this case Lydia, a woman who trades in purple cloth ( 16, 12–15 ). Christianity triumphs over pagan superstition and exploitation of the supernatural for personal gain when Paul exorcises the demon from a slave girl ( 16, 16–18 ). Like the demons in the Gospel stories (see Lk 4, 31–37 ), this demon recognizes the purpose for which the apostles have come.

Jealousy and lost profits once again fuel false charges against the apostles as persons who incite disorder and destroy ancestral customs. The real opponents of Roman order are the accusers, who stir up the mob with the charges, and the magistrates, who violate Roman law by flogging a Roman citizen. In this case, another miraculous deliverance from prison permits a dramatic conclusion in which the apostle confronts the magistrates with the illegality of their own behavior ( 16, 19–39 ). It also provides an opportunity for the gospel to be heard by the jailer and his household. We have evidence from Paul's own letters that his preaching in prison resulted in converts (see Philemon).

The episodes at Thessalonica ( 17, 1–9 ) and Beroea ( 17, 10–15 ) repeat the patterns of the Philippi episode. Initial success, including prominent converts, leads to jealousy and charges that the apostles are destroying public order and encouraging revolt against Rome. Luke's readers already know that such accusations are false and that hostility will not impede the apostles' mission.

Paul tells us nothing of his stay in Athens except that he remained there alone after sending Timothy to strengthen the faith of the recent converts in Thessalonica (1 Thes 3, 1f ). Paul may not have succeeded in establishing a church there. Luke, however, uses the occasion to advance his case for the religious superiority of Christianity by showing it to be equal to the philosophical understanding of the divine principle governing the universe, and not simply another form of religious cult, magic, or superstition that sought to sway the masses for the financial gain of its preachers. Its reputation was built on its philosophic schools. Luke refers to the two most popular types of philosophy among the Romans, Epicurean and Stoic ( 17, 18–21 ). The speech which Paul delivers at their request ( 17, 22–34 ) touches on common themes in the philosophical account of religion, which was opposed to the superstitious beliefs about the gods found among the masses. God, the invisible, omnipresent creator and sustainer of the universe, is not swayed by rituals nor partial to one group of people over another. Hellenistic Jews had also taken over the language of philosophical monotheism to advocate the superiority of their religious tradition.

Athenians were well known for their piety and their curiosity. Following the practice of ancient rhetoric, the speech opens by seeking to render the audience friendly to the speaker. Paul praises them for these traits. In composing the speech, Luke has apparently modified a common type of altar inscription, “… altars of the gods, named unknown, and heroes …” to the singular (v. 23). Paul then develops three claims about God that were philosophic commonplaces among both pagan and Jewish authors: (a) God is the creator of the entire universe and consequently has no need of human service or temples (vv. 24f); (b) God has allotted certain zones of the earth for the nations of human beings, who should be grateful for God's ordering of the universe and seek to serve God, who sustains and is present to all created things (vv. 26–28); (c) true worship of God will reject all superstitious practices, such as identifying the creator with the products of human artistry and imagination (v. 29).

The conclusion shifts from the common ground between the Christian preacher and philosophical enlightenment to an appeal for conversion (vv. 30f). It recalls the “unknown” taken from the altar inscriptions, which had served as an example of Athenian piety in verse 24. Inscriptions to unknown deities are a feature of polytheism, since they point to an anxiety to honor deities who might influence events but who are not “named” in the local traditions. Now is the time for a true monotheism. God is not an abstract, creative, sustaining principle, called by many names in the different nations. God is the one who calls on Paul's listeners to repent (= abandon even their philosophical paganism) and accept the message about Jesus as the one in whom all the nations of the earth are to receive salvation. As was the case in earlier missionary speeches, the Resurrection appears as God's evidence for the status of Jesus as judge of all. This departure from the common ground with philosophical theism, however, only draws skepticism or, at best, a puzzled willingness to hear more. The church‐founding conversions of other missionary episodes do not occur.

Luke's account of Paul's extensive work in Corinth ( 18, 1–17 ) refers to the fact that Paul worked at his trade while preaching there, as he did in all of his churches (see 1 Thes 2, 9; 1 Cor 4, 12; 9 ). Luke supplies the additional information that Paul's trade was that of tentmaker, probably someone making tents of leather and rough cloth, as well as other items, such as harnesses. He mentions two of Paul's close associates from that mission, Priscilla and Aquila (1 Cor 16, 19; Rom 16, 3 ). Luke also tells the story of their instruction of Apollos ( 18, 24–28 ), whose apostolic work in Corinth Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 1–4. Luke's brief account of the founding follows the line he has already established: after success in attracting influential persons, hostility from the Jews forces the apostle to turn to the Gentiles. They bring Paul before the Roman proconsul Gallio, who refuses to hear a charge involving Jewish religious law. Gallio's response (v. 14f) reflects what Luke considers to be the ideal response when Christians accused of disturbances, which are internal Jewish affairs, are brought before officials. His reference to Priscilla and Aquila's suffering exile from Rome ( 18, 2 ) indicates that he knows that Romans often responded differently to disputes that Christian preaching generated within the Jewish community. Gallio's indifference is demonstrated in “burlesque” fashion—that is, by exaggerated and stereotyped actions—in verse 17. He remains indifferent when they beat Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, before his tribunal.

Third Missionary Journey ( 18, 24–21, 14 )

This section of Acts builds on episodes about the mission in Ephesus, which was the residence of the governor of the province of Asia and the fourth largest city in the empire. Ephesus was also the location of a famous temple of the goddess Artemis, which was one of the wonders of the Hellenistic world. Silver coins from the city depict the temple with the statue of the goddess inside. Paul's confrontation with that cult occupies most of the account of his mission there ( 19, 8–41 ). Later Paul delivers his farewell speech to leaders of the church in Ephesus ( 20, 17–38 ). Luke's emphasis on Ephesus may have led him to locate two episodes there that seem to come from separate traditions: (a) the instruction of Apollos, who had received only the baptism of John ( 18, 24–28 ) and (b) the conferring of the Spirit on persons who had received only the baptism of John ( 19, 1–7 ). Luke's account assumes that Priscilla and Aquila have moved to Ephesus from Corinth and that Ephesian Christians urged Apollos to go to Corinth. Luke seems to assume that Apollos and Paul had not met ( 19, 1 ), although Paul writes 1 Corinthians from Ephesus or its environs and says that Apollos was unwilling to return to Corinth (1 Cor 16, 8.12 ). And although Apollos had only received John's baptism, he is not rebaptized. Priscilla and Aquila are able to bring persons into full Christian discipleship. Yet, the disciples of 19, 1–7 have not even heard of the Holy Spirit! Scholars have suggested that this episode would be more appropriate in the area of Syro‐Palestine where Jewish baptismal sects would continue to exist well into the third century.

The episode is similar to one in which Peter and John confer the Spirit on Samaritan converts ( 8, 14–25 ). It serves two functions in Luke's schema for the expanding mission: (a) it shows that Paul is able to win over Jewish sectarians, and (b) it demonstrates the continuity between the Pauline mission and the activity of the Jerusalem church. He brings persons into the community that the Holy Spirit has been creating through the apostles since Pentecost.

Paul's mission in Ephesus is the last story of Paul's activity that is not shadowed by his impending arrest at Jerusalem. Luke's summary continues the pattern of synagogue preaching followed by withdrawal to a Gentile environment. Miracles draw attention to the new movement. They also demonstrate the power of Christianity to destroy superstition and magical practices among the people ( 19, 8–20 ). The success of Christian preaching, however, awakens hostility from persons who exploit the presence of the temple of Artemis. Demetrius's speech (see v. 26) to his fellow silversmiths alludes to the speech of Acts 17, 24f . Christian preaching teaches people that human temples and artifacts do not represent God. As had been the case in earlier conflicts with magicians, fears for the economic loss that would result from accepting the Christian gospel spark the hostility. As in the Gallio case, the local town clerk refuses to become involved. The Christians have not committed any impious acts such as robbing the temple or dishonoring the goddess. Demetrius is the one who is endangering public order by inciting the crowds.

This conclusion seems to represent an ideal rather than reality. As Luke fills out the rest of the journey with brief notices of stops and miracles performed by the apostle ( 20, 1–16 ), he makes it appear that Paul left Ephesus of his own volition and that he avoided returning there in order to save time needed to reach Jerusalem by Pentecost ( 20, 16 ). Yet the summons to the officials of the church in Ephesus for a farewell meeting at Miletus ( 20, 17f ) suggests that in fact Paul may have been banished from Ephesus. Paul's obscure reference to conflict in Ephesus (see 1 Cor 15, 32a ) implies that at one time he suffered imprisonment or punishment there.

Paul's farewell to the Ephesians ( 20, 17–35 ) provides the occasion for Luke to reflect on the transition from the generation of the apostles to the church of his own day. The farewell speech of the dying patriarch was an established genre in Hellenistic Jewish writing. The Old Testament contains a farewell speech from Moses to Israel (Dt 29–32). In such speeches, the dying patriarch exhorts his offspring to follow the Law, anticipates their future disobedience (in most cases), and sets before them the example of his own life. Moses also provides for the future leadership of the people by appointing Joshua as his successor. You can see that Luke has incorporated many of these elements in this speech. The Spirit has been warning Paul that he faces imprisonment and hardship in Jerusalem. He holds up his own life as an exemplary model of complete devotion to bearing witness to the gospel no matter what the circumstances. Unlike the pagans, who sought to enrich themselves from the superstitions of the people, Paul has never sought money from his converts. He commends his own example of working at a trade, not only because it frees the apostle and his associates from suspicion of greed but also provides the opportunity to give aid to the weak (v. 35). Thus we find Paul's final word of admonition returning to the example that the earliest Jerusalem community had set. Christians donate their property for support of the poor.

The farewell speech is also the time to look from the ideal of the past into the dangers of the future. Paul warns of divisions even within the ranks of the community's leaders. He admonishes the presbyters and “overseers” (v. 28; see Phil 1, 1 ), who have charge of the community left behind by the apostles, to watch over themselves as well as the church. They must continue proclaiming the gospel and exhorting others to faith and repentance. In Luke's narrative we have now seen the completion of the apostolic period. Officials from local churches, who are called “elders” or “overseers,” must take over the community. These persons have been appointed by apostles and commissioned by imposition of hands ( 14, 23 ). In that sense, they appear as successors to the apostles. But just as Joshua could not be another Moses, so they are not replacement apostles. The Spirit that has guided the church throughout the developments of the apostolic period must continue to direct her course.

Paul's dedication to his mission, even in the face of sure suffering, leads him to continue the journey ( 21, 4 ). Even the Christian prophet Agabus, whom we know to be reliable because he predicted the famine under Claudius (see 11, 28 ), warns Paul that in Jerusalem the Jews will bind him and hand him over to the Romans. See what Paul himself wrote to the Romans just before he left for Jerusalem (Rom 15, 31 ). He was concerned about what he might suffer from unbelievers as well as the fact that the Jewish Christian church might reject the offering that he brings.

Paul's Arrest and Imprisonment at Jerusalem ( 21, 15–26, 32 )

As soon as Paul arrives in Jerusalem, James warns him that devout Jewish Christians suspect Paul of leading Christians who are Jewish away from their ancestral traditions. James proposes that Paul demonstrate his own piety by paying the expenses for some persons who had taken a private vow. Ironically, Paul's participation in these rites leads to his arrest. We have already seen that the charges against him for turning people against the Law and the Temple were anticipated in the story of Stephen's martyrdom. Luke uses the situation of Paul's imprisonment in Jerusalem to provide speeches in which Paul defends and explains his mission. His first speech to the Jerusalem crowd ( 22, 1–21 ) points to the extreme piety of his early life. Only the direct intervention of God could change Paul's behavior. Paul refers to his conversion as evidence for God's direction of his life and ministry. This theme is underlined by a second vision of Christ as Paul is praying in the Temple ( 22, 17–21 ).

During his imprisonment at Philippi, Paul said nothing about his Roman citizenship until after he had been flogged ( 16, 37 ). Here he stops the Roman commander as he is about to interrogate Paul under torture ( 22, 25–29 ). Though Paul is able to stall the Sanhedrin by pitting the Pharisees against the Sadducees, the Romans must intervene by moving Paul to Caesarea under heavy guard (Acts 23). With the transfer to Caesarea, Paul is now in Roman hands. However sympathetically they listen to Paul's preaching, the Roman authorities take no steps to gain his release. Paul's first speech before Felix, the Roman procurator of Judea, defends the Jewish character of his own personal conduct ( 24, 10–21 ). He remains in prison through a change in the Roman administration of the province. The Jews hope that the new procurator will turn Paul over to them. Faced with the possibility that he might be tried in Jerusalem, Paul invokes the ultimate privilege of a Roman citizen, the right to be heard by a court in Rome itself ( 25, 1–12 ). The Roman procurator repeats the details of Paul's situation to the visiting Jewish king, Herod Agrippa II. Festus, Felix's successor as procurator, clearly understands that Paul has not been charged with any crime under Roman law. At best, the squabble concerns points of Jewish law. Since Agrippa is curious about Paul, Felix arranges for a final speech by the apostle ( 26, 1–23 ). Paul defends himself by repeating the circumstances of his life as a devout Jew who was converted by a divine vision which no one could ignore. In this account of Paul's conversion, Luke focuses upon the divine commission to be a missionary to the Gentiles ( 26,16–18 ). After the hearing, both Festus and Agrippa agree that Paul is innocent. Luke may be following the pattern set out in Jesus' trial. Pilate and Herod both agree that Jesus is innocent. But Paul cannot be released, since he has demanded a hearing in the imperial court ( 26, 30–32 ).

Paul's Journey to Rome ( 27, 1–28, 31 )

We have already seen that the conclusion of Acts, in which Paul is preaching the gospel at Rome, though under house arrest ( 28, 17–31 ), brings Luke's plot to a climax. The gospel has reached the capital of the civilized world. Luke's account of how Paul came to Rome makes use of another type of ancient adventure story, the sea voyage. Such voyages frequently included descriptions of how the hero escaped from shipwreck, pirates, and other such dangers. The story of Paul's journey is told with all the high drama of such tales. During the vicious storm that destroys the ship and has the survivors washed up on the beach at Malta, Paul demonstrates his own confidence in God and superiority to the fears of the ship's crew. Paul is even able to celebrate a meal of bread, which he has blessed ( 27, 35f ). The wording reminds Christians of the Eucharist (note to 27, 35 ). It is impossible to sail across the Mediterranean in winter, so the group is forced to stay on Malta. The episode associated with that stay includes the drama of native peoples watching the shipwrecked party. When Paul is unharmed by a poisonous snake, they conclude that he must be a god ( 28, 3–6 ). Paul wins more friends on the island by healing the sick, and they are provided with everything needed to continue the journey (vv. 7–10). Although clearly narrated with an eye toward entertaining the reader, the Malta story also points out that God will provide whatever is necessary for the apostle to fulfill his mission. The superstitious pagans had ignored Paul's prophetic warning that attempting to sail so close to winter would destroy both ship and cargo. The island natives thought that the snake was divine punishment for some evil Paul had committed until they saw that he escaped unharmed. In each case, the apostle comes through the threat to his life because he places all of his trust in the Lord.

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