The Content of the Prayer in question:
“O Lord, it is You who MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM, who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said, ‘WHY DID THE GENTILES RAGE, AND THE PEOPLES DEVISE FUTILE THINGS? ‘THE KINGS OF THE EARTH TOOK THEIR STAND, AND THE RULERS WERE GATHERED TOGETHER AGAINST THE LORD AND AGAINST HIS CHRIST.’ “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” (NASB)Acts 4:24-30
“O Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them, You spoke long ago by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, Your servant, saying, ‘Why were the nations so angry? Why did they waste their time with futile plans? The kings of the earth prepared for battle; the rulers gathered together against the LORD and against His Messiah.’ In fact, this has happened here in this very city! For Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate the governor, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were all united against Jesus, Your holy servant, whom You anointed. But everything they did was determined beforehand according to Your will. And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, Your servants, great boldness in preaching Your word. Stretch out Your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” (NLT)Acts 4:24-30
“Strong God, you made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. By the Holy Spirit you spoke through the mouth of your servant and our father, David: Why the big noise, nations? Why the mean plots, peoples? Earth’s leaders push for position, Potentates meet for summit talks, The God-deniers, the Messiah-defiers! For in fact they did meet–Herod and Pontius Pilate with nations and peoples, even Israel itself!–met in this very city to plot against your holy Son Jesus, the One you made Messiah, to carry out the plans you long ago set in motion. And now they’re at it again! Take care of their threats and give your servants fearless confidence in preaching your Message, as you stretch out your hand to us in healings and miracles and wonders done in the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (MSG)Acts 4:24-30
I suggested in the last Gem that you take a second look at the prayer and see if you can see some strange aspects to it.
Overall, you have to admit it is a strange prayer in the way it is constructed. Essentially, the heart of the prayer is “Lord of Heaven and Earth and Sea and everything that is in them. Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles and your people Israel are arrayed against [the name of] your Holy Son Jesus, the Messiah. Now Lord they are making threats again. Hear their threats and give us boldness to speak Your Word. Manifest Your hand with healings, miraculous signs and wonders in the Name of Jesus.” Short, punchy and succinct. Focused on what it is they need as a group to counter the threats against them.
But this prayer is not like that at all. It is not in the same league as the majestic prayers of David, Solomon, Nehemiah, Paul and many others. It is rather disjointed and doesn’t flow. Notice the way in which the three various translations we have before us, vary in the way they handle the prayer. Notice how the quotation marks vary in their position. In general, it seems difficult to decide exactly where the speech marks should go. Certain sections have double speech marks, often not closed off; other sections have single speech marks which don’t match with the double speech marks near by. It seems difficult to figure how this prayer goes together in terms of the details. Which parts go with which other parts? It is a rather wandering and convoluted prayer. There seem to be a number of times when the central issue is lost in the midst of side issues.
Notice too, this statement in the more literal NASB translation – “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” This segment operates as a bracketed side bar explaining what happened in this very city! The link doesn’t flow well. It is like an explanation in parenthesis (brackets) to link back to the quote from the words of David. Clearly the note links the idea of the angry Gentiles making futile plans to thwart the purposes of God. Back in David’s time, they made their futile plans against the Messiah. Now the same thing is happening. All this is concocted by the God-deniers and the Messiah-defiers (as Eugene Peterson puts it) gathered together against the LORD and against His Messiah – God’s Holy Servant, whom God Himself anointed. Everything they did in their rage and their futile plans, was determined beforehand according to Your will.
Well, what does that mean exactly? These people in opposition are depicted as joining together in a coalition against the Lord and His Anointed. They are the words used. They are aligned for battle on the battlefield. Behind the text is a distinct sense of rage, or haughtiness or snorting against the Lord and His anointed. The Greek reads, “why, or for what possible reason” could the Gentiles have for snorting indignantly at the LORD and His Anointed?” Why would they do something so crazy and futile and furthermore, why would the people of Israel (especially the leaders) unite against Jesus?
Not only that, what is meant by “who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said . . .”? There are two problems with this text.
- 1) What is the correct text?
- 2) What is the intended meaning?
The Greek for this portion has been described by Torrey as “an incoherent jumble of words”. The problem is the likely translation which is reflected by- “who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said . . .”is rather hard to work out. The original text in Greek is ungrammatical and a mismatch for what was intended to be said. The text is almost certainly corrupt or at best the speaker was garbled in what they said. The only way to interpret the words as they are written is by assuming that David himself is the mouth piece of the Holy Spirit. This is a questionable interpretation and is an abuse of the word order and a problem for interpreting the pronoun included. Is it masculine or neuter? It is either, “that which our ancestor David, Your servant, said by the mouth of the Holy Spirit” or as above “who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said . . .” The latter is the interpretation for the more difficult “that which our ancestor David, Your servant, said by the mouth of the Holy Spirit” which is a theological problem. Also the word ancestor or forefather appears in some manuscripts and not in others. Determining the original text is therefore difficult and results in “an incoherent jumble of words” in the minds of the textual experts.
Who is the person praying? We don’t know. It is unlikely to be Peter. It is likely that one person was praying dominantly and others were following suit. Most of us hesitate to pray in a group because we feel we are not eloquent enough or not as skilled at praying in public. This prayer is an example of a rather less-than-eloquent prayer in numbers of ways, yet it is still recorded in the Bible. Look at verses 27 and 28. The way in which these elements go together is confusing as to what is being meant.
“For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, Whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, Act to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”Acts 4:27-28
It is like one of those classic examples of a phrase misplaced in a sentence which leads to misunderstanding.
Like the classic ad – One sewing machine for sale. Cheap. Phone 9480707 and ask for Mrs Kelly who lives with me after 7.00 pm. “After 7.00 pm” goes with “when to phone”. But put where it is here in the sentence infers Mrs Kelly, the housekeeper, lives with the house owner only after 7.00 pm. Mmm, interesting. Similar difficulties are found in verses 27 and 28.
Continuing story in the next Gem.
God doesn’t look for the most gifted speaker but the one whose heart is pure before Him.Ian Vail
I may not be the smartest cookie in the pack, but when I am filled with the Spirit of the Creator of the Universe, who cares?Anon
The successful warrior is the average man with laser focus.Anon
Don’t allow negative people to convince you that keeping it real means settling for less!Rick Godwin
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.Holly Wagner
It’s easier to educate a doer that to motivate a thinker.Andy Stanley