Archive for April 2009

Acts 9

April 4, 2009

Acts 9 has two segments. In the first, Saul [1] is stricken with blindness as he tries to hunt down Jesus’s followers, is taken to Damascus [2], is healed by a follower of Jesus by the laying on of hands, and immediately turns around and preaches the gospel as passionately as he persecuted it. In the second segment, Peter heals a paralytic and raises a woman from the dead.

This chapter provides us with an exposition on religious experience and some guidance on what it means to be a member of the body of Christ. Saul initially is “breathing out murderous threats” but appears to be acting under the authority of the high priest to arrest followers of the Way. Jesus appears to him as a blinding light and Saul falls to the ground. In attacking Jesus’ disciples, Saul has attacked Jesus Himself [3]. His companions hear “the sound,” presumably of Jesus speaking, but they see nothing. In Damascus, Saul sat in blindness in the house of Judas on Straight Street [4] for three days, until Jesus directed Ananias [5] to lay hands on Saul. God says that He will show Saul how much he has to suffer. Ananias tells Saul that not only will he heal him but that Saul will be filled with the Spirit. Something like scales fall from Paul’s eyes, he is baptized, and begins preaching in favor of Jesus. The Damascus Jews conspire to kill Saul, but he is lowered in a basket outside the walls, and goes to Jerusalem. Barnabas takes him to the apostles and tells them Saul’s story [6]. Saul starts preaching to the Grecian Jews, who try to kill him, so the apostles dispatch Saul to Tarsus via the port of Caesarea [7]. The church had peace and grew stronger in all of Israel.

In the second part of the chapter, Peter goes to Lydda and performs a miracle much like Jesus’ . He tells a bedridden Aeneas to pick up his mat and walk, that Jesus has healed him. This miracle converted both Lydda and Sharon. In Joppa[8], Peter also raises a dead Tabitha/Dorcas [9] from the dead. Before he does so, the widows show Peter all the clothes that Tabitha/Dorcas made, presumably for them as a good work. Joppa was converted. Peter stayed with a tanner named Simon.

Notes
1. Saul means “desired.” The name occurs in Genesis 36 as an Edomite king, but more centrally was the name of the first king of Israel, a king the Lord rejected.
2. Damascus occurs many times in the Old Testament. It generally symbolizes foreign, pagan power. In Genesis 14, Abram pursues the four kings as far as Damascus. In 2 Samuel 8, David conquers as far as Damascus. In 2 Kings 8, Elisha goes to Damascus to encourage rebellion against the king.
3. Followers are as cells in Jesus’s body.
4. “Straight” (euthys) can mean “level,” “immediate” (straight away), or “upright,” “true,” or “sincere.” In the Gospels, it generally means “level” or “immediate”
5. Ananias means “whom Jehovah has graciously given.” In Acts, it has an ominous overtone, since Ananias and Sapphira were slain by the Lord for lying to the Holy Spirit. Ananias is also the high priest of Acts 24 who denounces Paul.
6. Barnabas means “Son of Consolation” or “Son of Exhortation”. It’s unclear why Barnabas tells Saul’s story. Perhaps the church elders would be disinclined to believe Saul.
7. Caesarea was built by Herod for Caesar Augustus. It was a town always associated with paganism, having begun as a Phoenician port.
8. Joppa is the port from which the prophet Jonah’s hoped to flee to Tarshish. In Mathew 12, Matthew 16, and Luke 11, Jesus says that this generation will not get a miraculous sign, but only “the sign of Jonah,” presumably the miracle of seeing the dead rise. And through Peter, Joppa receives the sign of Jonah.
[9] Tabitha/Dorcas means “gazelle,” the first in Hebrew, the second in Greek. Peter calls her “Tabitha.” The widows call her “Dorcas.” Presumably this means that the widows she had been tending were Greek, but that she was a Jew.