April 26, 2013 10:44 pm

The New Testament Church Part 4

Posted In: The Blog, The Church

Re- Blogged From  Dewayne Dulaney


In the last article in the series, we saw that the Holy Spirit led Luke to record in the New Testament Book of Acts three occasions on which people asked how to be saved from their sins (Acts 2:37—41; 16:30—34; 22:10—16). Each time the question is asked, it is answered by a divinely-led individual. While the question is worded differently in each case, the intent is the same. In this post, we will examine the first of these occasions, recorded in Acts chapter 2.

The Background of Acts 2

We saw earlier that Jesus had commissioned the apostles to teach all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. First, however, they were to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon them (Acts 1:4—8). After giving them instructions over a period of forty days after his resurrection, Jesus returned to heaven (Acts 1:9—11).

So the apostles and Jesus' other followers waited at Jerusalem, praying and looking for Jesus' promise. While they waited, they were led to choose a replacement for Judas Iscariot, to fill out the number of the apostles to twelve once again. (Judas, who had betrayed Jesus to the Jewish religious leaders for money, felt remorse and hanged himself.) After they prayed about this, Matthias was chosen for this task (Acts 1:12—26).

As Acts chapter 2 opens, we read that they (the apostles, 1:26) were meeting together when the day of Pentecost came. Pentecost was a Jewish religious festival. According to Adam Clarke, the name “Pentecost”, Greek πεντηκοστή (pentēkostē), comes from πεντήκοντα (pentēkonta), “fifty”. (Clarke, Commentary on the Bible, digital edition) The festival was given that name because it was celebrated fifty days after Passover (Leviticus 23:15—16).The Greek name only occurs in the Apocrypha, not the canonical books of the Old Testament (2 Maccabees 12:32, etc.).

In the Old Testament the festival is called שָׁבֻעֹת (Shavu‛ot) or Weeks. It was celebrated with the firstfruits (NIV) or first grain (GOD'S WORD Translation) from the wheat harvest (Exodus 34:22). Shavu‛ot, or Pentecost, was one of the three annual religious festivals which all male Jews were required to attend (Exodus 23:14—17). This was expected of Jewish men no matter where they lived, so in accordance with the command, “...there were staying at Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5, TNIV). Clarke notes that the Jews regarded it as the anniversary of the giving of the Law of Moses on Mt. Sinai, and so referred to it in Hebrew as Simchat Torah, ”joy of the law”. (I have corrected and modernized his transliteration of the Hebrew name, as given in Lewis Glinert, The Joys of Hebrew, 225, 287.) Gareth L. Reese, however, states that Jews in New Testament times did not celebrate Pentecost or Shavu‛ot for that reason, although the festival was regarded as the anniversary of the giving of the Law in the pseudepigraphal Book of Jubilees (1:1; 6:17). In later Judaism it also was so regarded, as recorded in the Talmud (New Testament History, p. 43, f.n. 6). Judaism today celebrates it for this same reason.

The Holy Spirit Comes on the Apostles, Empowering them As Jesus Promised

With the sound of a violent wind, and what seemed to be tongues of fire resting on each of them, the Holy Spirit enabled the apostles to speak in other tongues (languages). This miracle both gained the attention of many of the people staying in Jerusalem for the festival, and helped them communicate God's message with the Jews visiting from at least a dozen countries outside Palestine. They were amazed to hear these Galileans, who at most spoke two languages, Aramaic and Greek (and at least a smattering of Hebrew from the synagogue service), speaking in the native language of each foreign Jew visiting (Acts 2:2—12). Now many who have read this account have assumed that the one hundred and twenty followers of Jesus mentioned in chapter 1 of Acts, including Jesus' mother Mary and his brothers, received the miraculous power to speak in other languages, not just the twelve apostles. Bible commentators who discuss Acts chapter 2 have frequently assumed this. Most religious art depicting the event also assumes this. However, this is ruled out by several considerations. First, as noted in the previous section of this article, Jesus' promise of the power of the Holy Spirit was made to the apostles, not the one hundred and twenty (Acts 1:1—9). Second, the nearest grammatical antecedent to “they” in Acts 2:1 is “the apostles” in verse 26 of Acts 1. (Readers should note that chapter and verse divisions were not placed in copies of the New Testament until the 16th century A.D.) To find the one hundred and twenty, we have to go back to Acts 1:15. Third, the crowd commenting on the miracle notes that the speakers were all Galileans (Acts 2:7). Galileans had a distinctive accent (Matthew 26:69—73). It would be difficult to demonstrate that all of the one hundred and twenty disciples were from Galilee. On the other hand, it is clear from the Gospels that the twelve apostles were all from Galilee, with the possible exception of Judas Iscariot (some believe he was from Judea).

Peter Addresses the Crowd With the Message of Salvation

Some, as they heard and saw the miracle, accused the apostles of being drunk (v. 13). Simon Peter quickly disposes of this accusation by noting it is only nine in the morning: people who get drunk are not often drunk that early in the day (v. 14). This apparently was considered a truism in that time; in his first letter to the Thessalonian Christians, the Apostle Paul stated, “...those who get drunk, get drunk at night” (1 Thessalonians 5:7, TNIV). Instead, the apostle insisted, this miracle is a sign from God that the Old Testament prophet Joel's message concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit is starting to come true (vv. 16—18). Peter's words in Acts 2:17—21 are a quotation from Joel 2:28—32 (3:1—5 in the Hebrew text) .

Now Peter goes on to proclaim the message of salvation, in accordance with Jesus' command (Matthew 28:18—20; Acts 1:8). Remember, as I stated at the beginning of this article, the account in Acts 2 is the first one Luke records in that book which deals with the question of how to be saved from sin. In verse 37 of Acts 2, in response to Peter's sermon, the crowd cries out, “What shall we do?”, and after answering them in v. 38, he goes on in verse 40 to plead, “Save yourselves...”. Putting these together, and remembering that Peter quotes the prophet Joel's promise that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” in verse 20, it is plain that his remarks in vv. 16—36 and 38—40 deal with the need to be saved from sin and how this is accomplished.

In his sermon, and in his answer to the crowd's question, Peter makes the following points:

  1. God's judgment on sin is coming (“the day of the Lord”, v. 20; Joel 2:31).

  2. Everyone who “calls upon the name of the Lord” will be saved from that judgment (v. 21; Joel 2:32).

  3. They were guilty, along with the Romans, of putting to death Jesus, a man who was clearly sent from God, as shown by the miracles he did. Yet, this was also part of God's plan to bring salvation to the world (vv. 22—23).

  4. To complete his plan, God raised Jesus from the dead. This was predicted by King David, who had been promised by God that one of his descendants would rule on his throne (vv. 24—32; Psalm 16:8—11; 2 Samuel 7:11—16). Peter and the other apostles were eyewitnesses of the fact that Jesus came back from the dead.

  5. As also predicted by King David, Jesus has ascended to heaven, and has taken his throne beside God the Father. He has sent the Holy Spirit, as promised. Thus, the audience should be assured that God has made Jesus, whom they crucified, both Lord (Yahweh, the God revealed in the Old Testament) and Messiah (Christ), that is, the King and Savior predicted in prophecy (vv. 33—36; Psalm 110:1). By implication, Jesus then is both the Lord who is bringing judgment on sin, and the Savior on whom they must call to escape that judgment. Note: Peter's statement that God the Father “made” Jesus Lord and Messiah, as shown by Jesus' resurrection and ascension, does not imply that Jesus was not Lord and Messiah before those events. Instead, it means that the Father confirmed publicly and made known to all mankind by the resurrection that Jesus is the Lord and Savior to whom all mankind owes allegiance. (David L. Roper, Acts 1—14, Truth for Today Commentary, p. 79) Cf. Romans 1:4.

  6. The way to be saved from God's judgment on sin (“What shall we do?”, v. 37), and thus, “to call on the name of the Lord” (v. 21), is to repent and be baptized (immersed in water) in the name of Jesus Christ. To those who do, God promises forgiveness and the gift of his Holy Spirit (vv. 38—39). The way to have salvation from sin, and from judgment on sin is indicated by Peter’s words, and is confirmed by the following verse where Peter further said “Save yourselves” (v. 40). Luke, the author of Acts, also noted that “Those who accepted his message were baptized” ( v. 41). That baptism was necessary to have salvation, and is necessary now, is disputed by many, however, and we will look at this issue more closely below.

We will now look more closely at several of these points and explain them further, so that our readers may see clearly the answer God is giving to the question of how to be saved.

The Day of the Lord: A Day of Judgment, or of Salvation?

This day is yom Yahweh (יוֹם יהוה), “the day of Yahweh” in the Hebrew text of Joel. It is called “the day of the Lord”, hēméra kyríou (ἡμερα κυρίου) in the Greek version of the Old Testament (the Septuagint, abbreviated LXX; the name refers to the traditional number of translators, seventy) and in Peter's quotation. The same Greek term is used in a number of New Testament passages to refer to the return of Jesus to judge the world and to claim his people (for example, 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 1 Corinthians 11:8; 2 Corinthians 1:14, and Philippians 1:10). Before looking at those places, however, we need to consider the usage in Joel and elsewhere in the Old Testament, as Simon Peter, a Jew himself, was addressing a Jewish audience which was familiar with the writings of the Hebrew prophets.

Brother J.W. McGarvey points out that everywhere the phrase “the day of the Lord” is used, it is a day of terror and danger. He notes two views have been held as to its application by Peter: either the coming destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70, or the final judgment at the second coming of Jesus. (Both were still future at this point; Peter's address took place in A.D. 30.) The best way to determine which Peter means is to look at how the phrase is used in both the Old and New Testaments. First, then, we look at the Old Testament. In the first part of Joel chapter 2, it is used to describe a locust plague sent on the Jewish people as divine judgment. It is also used in the Old Testament to refer to judgments from God on other nations. Isaiah calls the day Babylon is to be destroyed “the day of the Lord” (Isa. 13:9—11). Ezekiel used it to describe Egypt's destruction (Ezek. 30:3). Obadiah used “the day of the Lord” to describe the fall of Edom (Ob. 15). Amos used it for the captivity of Israel (Am. 5:18), and Zechariah used it for the final siege of Jerusalem (Zech. 14:1). Now, as brother McGarvey points out, Peter's quotation draws from the second part of Joel 2, and it includes the phrase “all flesh” [TNIV: “all people”]. He notes further that only the Jewish people were in danger from the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. And, McGarvey adds that the usage of the New Testament writers after this point refers to the day of the Lord as one of a judgment that will affect everyone. Therefore, Peter's intent was to show that the coming judgment Joel referred to was one that would affect all mankind, Jews and non-Jews alike. (McGarvey, A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, pp. 31-32) That being so, his answer to the question of how to be saved applies to everyone alike, as well.

The coming day of the Lord would be a day of judgment for those who did not respond appropriately to the Lord, while those who “called on the name of the Lord” would be saved from it. For the latter group it would be a day of salvation. If we wish to be among the saved, we must understand, accept, and do what Peter told the Jews on Pentecost to do—how to “call upon the name of the Lord” and thus be saved. As we continue this study, we will see just what those things were.

The Crowd's Question About Salvation (v. 37)

Luke records that when Peter’s audience heard that Jesus of Nazareth, the one they murdered, was now recognized by God as their Lord and Messiah (v.36), “...they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” (v. 37). This tells us several important things.

First, it tells us they believed Peter’s message, and that it touched them deeply. As Brother Edwin Broadus wrote:

Peter’s words not only convinced them intellectually; they pierced them to the heart, causing them to cry out in guilt and bewilderment,’What shall we do?’ Do for what? The circumstances imply that they wanted to know what to do to make amends for a horrible miscarriage of justice, what to do to escape what seemed to be inevitable divine wrath for killing God’s Son, and what to do find some relief from the anguish of their own guilt. (“The Question of the Pentecostians”, Gospel Advocate, January 16, 1986)

Second, it tells us that they came to faith by means of hearing God’s message preached by a human messenger—Peter. This is in accordance with the teaching of the New Testament that “...faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:17). Now since Jesus promised that when he had sent the Holy Spirit, the Spirit would convict people about sin or prove them to be in the wrong about sin (John 16:8—9, NIV, TNIV), we know the Holy Spirit was involved in bringing about their faith. This is also clear from the miraculous working of the Spirit mentioned earlier in the chapter (the apostles’ speaking in foreign languages). However, even though it is commonly taught and popularly believed today that the Holy Spirit must work directly in a miraculous way on the heart of a sinner to bring about faith in Christ, there is no evidence here, or anywhere else in the New Testament that this ever happened. In fact, in Romans 10, a few verses before he stated that faith comes by hearing, (quoted at the beginning of this paragraph) Paul asked, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Rom. 10:14). The same inspired writer later wrote that the sword of the Spirit, which God uses to cut the heart and produce faith, is the message or word of God (Ephesians 6:17; cf. Hebrews 4:12). Taking these together, it is clear that God used then, and uses now, human messengers speaking for him to produce faith. The New Testament also indicates that the message in written form serves this purpose also: the Apostle John states concerning his record of Jesus’ miracles: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30—31). So the Holy Spirit makes use of human means to deliver his messages, whether they come in spoken or written form, when it comes to informing people how to be saved from their sins.

Peter’s Answer (v. 38)

“Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.“ (TNIV)

Peter gives his hearers two commands: repent and be baptized. We need to look carefully at both of these, and what follows in his statement. This is necessary because there is a great deal of misunderstanding about what is involved, and a great deal of wrong teaching in the religious world about what Peter meant. Before we go on, let me remind the reader that Peter was not just giving an opinion: he was giving God’s commands by the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit. Therefore, if we desire to be right with God, we must understand and comply with the divinely-given instructions here. We must do so whether or not these instructions are different from what we have understood earlier, or from what we have taught earlier, or been taught; whether or not they are what we might prefer or desire to do. We must pay heed to the Savior’s challenging words: “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15, NIV). And, as we saw earlier, Peter and the apostles are starting here to carry out Jesus’ command about teaching all nations and making disciples or followers of Jesus. They were to receive power to do this, and then begin to do so, as we saw in Acts 1. Therefore, what Peter told them to do is what Jesus commands people to do. If we love Jesus, and wish to follow him, we must obey his commands.

First, the apostle told his audience to repent—Greek μετανοήσατε (metanoēsate). Brother B.W. Johnson explains, “Not sorrow. They already sorrowed; but a change of purpose; the internal change which resolves to serve the Lord. The Greek term rendered repent, means a change of mind.” (The People’s New Testament with Notes, digital edition). Brother David L. Roper adds:

It is brought about by godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10) as we come to see sin as God sees it and as we realize how horrible sin is. It is contrasted with “the sorrow of the world” [in 2 Cor. 7:10—D.D.], which is sorrow about the consequences of one’s sin. Note that being sorry for sin is not within itself repentance. Peter’s hearers were “pierced to the heart”—they were obviously sorry for what they had done—but Peter still told them to “repent”. True repentance produces a change of life. Paul later told the Gentiles “that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance” ([Acts] 26:20; emphasis added). Repentance is difficult because it calls for a new lifestyle. (op. cit., p.82)

Repentance, then, involves a change of heart and a change of life. Notice some alternate translations of the word metanoēsate, “repent”:

Turn back to God!—Contemporary English Version (CEV)

...turn away away from your sins—Good News Bible (GNB)

..turn to God and change the way you think and act—GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)

Change your hearts and lives—Easy-to-Read-Version (ERV)

Change your hearts—McCord’s New Testament; Simple English Bible New Testament (SEB)

Reform—Living Oracles New Testament

Second, Peter told his audience to be baptized—Greek βαπτισθήτω (baptisthētō)—to be immersed in water. Although many modern religious groups professing Christianity practice something they call “baptism”, not all practice it correctly. I say this because there is ample evidence that in Bible times, baptism was done by immersion in water, not by sprinkling or pouring as many practice today. The Greek verb for “baptize”, βαπτίζω (baptízō), means, according to the standard lexicon for New Testament Greek, “dip, immerse, mid. dip oneself, wash (in non-Christian lit. also ‘plunge, sink, drench, overwhelm’; fig. ‘soak’...)”—Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker (BAGD), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 131. The Greek verb is even used in the Septuagint version of 2 Kings 5:14 where Naaman “dipped himself” (TNIV, NIV) in the Jordan River. The fact that baptism was immersion in the first century is acknowledged by theNIV Archaeological Study Bible in its article “Baptism in the Ancient World”, p. 1562—both as a Jewish purification rite, as administered by the prophet John the forerunner of Jesus, and as commanded by Jesus and practiced by the early church. Roman Catholicism, even though it practices sprinkling, or aspersion, and calls it “baptism”, admits the original meaning and practice was immersion (“Baptism”, in The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1917 ed., online; Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph # 628, 1997 ed., online). If the Holy Spirit had intended for Luke or the other New Testament writers to describe this act as sprinkling or pouring, instead of immersion, the verbs ῥαντίζω (rantízō) and ἐκχέω (ekchéō), meaning “sprinkle” and “pour”, respectively, were available. However, they are never used in the New Testament to describe baptism in water.

Gareth Reese, op. cit., p. 75 gives the following helpful chart about what the baptisms mentioned in the New Testament record required (including that practiced by John, Jesus’ forerunner). By looking at it, we can see whether immersion, sprinkling, or pouring would fit the description given:

Reese-Baptism 2

It is regrettable, and inexcusable, that most English Bible versions refuse to translate βαπτίζω (baptízō) and the related nouns in the New Testament when they refer to the religious act. Only a few translators have had both the courage and the respect for God’s word to do so: the translators of the Living Oracles New Testament (1835), the Simple English Bible New Testament (1980), and McCord’s New Testament (1989). (If the reader is aware of any English version other than these that does give the meaning, please let me know.) “Baptize” and “baptism” are not translations, but transliterations, of the Greek terms: they do not give the meaning but simply offer an English respelling of the original terms. Thus, rather than giving the meaning, these terms hide the meaning: this is unfaithfulness to the task of translation. This would be wrong in any case, but it is even worse when dealing with God’s message of salvation. T.J. Conant, who produced a classic study of the usage of the Greek verb showing that both in secular and in religious usages it always retained the idea of immersion, gives a strong argument for translating it. In “Section 9: Obligation to translate this word”, the last chapter of his studyThe Meaning and Usage of Baptizein [the infinitive form of the verb; baptízō is the present active indicative form, D.D.], Conant writes:

...On the ground alone, were there no other, that the Greek word means ‘to immerse’, is the translator bound so to render it. The general rule no one disputes. It is an axiom, and needs no proof. It is simply the rule, when one professes to communicate the words of another, to tell the truth as to what he has said. Any author, purposely mistranslated or obscured, is falsified by his translator. Just so far as this is done, the translation is a literary forgery; for it conceals while it professes to exhibit what the author has said, or it represents him as saying what he did not say. When applied to the Word of God, the rule is one of paramount force.

But in the form of the initiatory Christian rite, there are references vitally connected with the nature and development of the Christian life. To obscure the word which describes this form is, therefore, to obscure to the mind of the recipient, the nature of the rite, the specific ideas symbolized in it, and the obligations to which it binds him.

The word baptizein, during the whole existence of the Greek as a spoken language, had a perfectly defined and unvarying import. In its literal use it meant, as has been shown, to put entirely into or under a liquid, or other penetrable substance, generally water, so that the object was wholly covered by the inclosing element. By analogy, it expressed the coming into a new state of life or experience, in which one was as it were inclosed and swallowed up, so that, temporarily or permanently, he belonged wholly to it. The word was a favorite one in the Greek language. Whenever the idea of total submergence was to be expressed, whether literally or metaphorically, this was the word which first presented itself....

The act which it describes was chosen for its adaptation to set forth, in lively symbolism, the ground-thought of Christianity. The change in the state and character of the believer was total; comparable to death, as separating entirely from the former spiritual life and condition. The sufferings and death of Christ, those overwhelming sorrows which he himself expressed by this word (Luke 12:50), were the ground and procuring cause of this change...In respect to both, it was called a burial. By it the believer was buried, as one dead with Christ to sin and to the world; and by it he pledged himself to newness of life, with him who died for him and rose again. Can it be supposed that to obscure these ideas, by virtually canceling the term on the clear expression of which the apprehension of them depends, is a trivial wrong against the body of Christ! (The Meaning and Usage of Baptizein, pp. 187-189)

Peter explains further that they are to be immersed (baptized) “in the name of Jesus Christ”. In the ancient world, the “name” represented the person, and often referred to the authority of the person; in this case, Peter is pointing out that the command to be immersed rests also on the authority of Jesus, and not merely on that of God the Father, under whose authority people were immersed by John (J.W. McGarvey, op. cit., p.40). Brother David Roper adds that in light of “calls on” in verse 21 it is probable that there was a verbal confession of their faith in Jesus before being baptized. Later, in his comments on Acts 8:37 and the confession of Christ by the Ethiopian eunuch, Brother Roper notes that passages such as Romans 10:9—10 and 1 Tim. 6:13 make it clear that requiring a verbal confession of Christ was the practice of the early church (op. cit., pp. 83, 308—310). Indeed, Jesus himself stated that we must acknowledge or confess him before other people if we wish to be acknowledged by him as his people on the day of judgment (Matthew 10:32—33).

In the next post, we'll continue this study of the question about salvation on Pentecost and Peter's answer. Please join us. (Note: the Works Cited entries for reference works and Bible versions used in the two articles will be with the next post.)

Works Cited: Images

Stained glass window with the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove: I found this online about 3 years ago, and failed to note the source. If a reader happens to find the source, please let me know so I can properly credit it.

Microsoft Office 2004: Mac: (Clip Gallery included images). I found the green question mark image here. © 1983-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Microsoft Office Online: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/default.aspx (Clip art and photos). I found the "Roman Librarian" image (by the "You're Invited to Comment" statement) at this site. © 2008 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Mac Gallery http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Ridge/1217/MacGalleryIndex.html(No copyright info listed). I found the paint roller "Made with Macintosh" banner here.

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