Our First Introduction to Saul of Tarsus and beginnings of Persecution . . . (Acts 7:58, 8:1-4) [5 verses]
His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.) But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison. But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went.Acts 7:58, 8:1-4
I had one of my Deeper Bible students ask me if I was up to my old tricks of hiding little subtle contrasts or clues along the way. “Pak Ian, did you deliberately include the long speech with the shortest speech?” The longest speech in the book of Acts (Stephen’s) with the shortest speech recorded from a great man (Churchill’s) “Never give up. Never give up. Never ever ever give up!” The answer: Yes. I thought it was a nice contrast. A little remez if you noticed it. That is what Luke is doing to us.
Now for the questions we have before us:
- Why does Luke introduce Paul as he does?
- Why does Luke split the coverage of (S)Paul into two parts?
- If Paul was such a major figure of the New Testament why does he get such a bad introduction?
- Is the persecution that came on the church linked to Paul? (Paul)
- Who were the devout men who came to bury Stephen? Why is this part even included? What importance does it have? (Gillian)
- It seems as though Saul was one of the religious leaders in Jerusalem, Ian. Is that true? (Cynthia)
- Why are those places mentioned and why them only? (Cynthia)
- Why were the apostles immune to the persecution? (Gillian)
- Did Paul really go from house to house to find the Christians and put them in prison? Could that happen to us? (Gillian)
I am about to teach Deeper Bible 201’ers in NZ all about Sense Units. Gordon Fee first coined the term “Sense Unit” back in the early 1990’s and applied it to discourse analysis. It is what helps you understand the Bible and how the pieces fit together. I have never told people about “sense units” outside of a DB class before. It’s a secret. I must be getting soft in my old age. Ha ha. The higher levels of Deeper Bible are all about learning what a sense unit is by the process of doing and practising what we learn of the principles of Deeper Bible. We need to develop the skill in learning to find them. When people understand what a sense unit is all about and understand how to find them, it turns them on to Bible Study. Simply put but not strictly correct in constructing a definition by using the terms you are defining in the definition – a sense unit is that which constitutes a block of writing which goes together as a common unit of meaning and which makes sense. I won’t quote Gordon Fee on the matter – his definition is too technical and comes from the field of text criticism and not strictly just applied to a level of the grammatical sense of a block of text. In short, what makes paragraphs hang together and gives them the unity which makes them make sense together as a unit? I can’t wait to begin with the these current two classes. I am experimenting this time to see how I manage it all, to eventually make it available on the worldwide web to anyone and everyone. Be patient with me.
Why does Luke introduce Saul in the way he does? Isn’t it fascinating that he gives us this little taster, which talks about Saul being the one to whomthosewho stoned Stephen, gave their coats. That is all he tells us for a few verses. Then he tells us that Saul was in total agreement with the killing of Stephen. In the very next breath he tells us, “A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria.” Then Luke tells us, “Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.” Then he adds, “But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went.” Paul asked, “Is the persecution that came on the church linked to Paul?” It is almost like Luke has hidden the connection from us. He has simply juxtaposed several comments which hint at the idea but it is understated for a purpose. The way Luke has introduced us to Saul and linked him to the persecution is brilliant. Yes Paul, Luke does link Saul strongly to the persecution which followed. Notice he links Saul, not Paul. More on that at the right time. It is clear that Saul becomes the main agent of persecution and that persecution initially extends all the way through Judea to Samaria. In the beginning of Acts 9, Luke gives us the hint that Saul is intent on pursuing these Christiansall the way to Damascus. Saul’s ‘house to house’ is apparently far wider than just Jerusalem. Yes, you are right Paul, to consider the implication of this. I jokingly linked your name to (S)Paul but it is true. Persecution can extend to all who name the name of Jesus as Lord.
However, notice the big BUT in all of this. “But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went.” The “but” here is adversative or contrastive. Saul meant it to stamp out the church but succeeded only in stamping it in. The believers who were scattered were not silenced as the Sanhedrin were insisting the apostles be in Jerusalem. Saul’s actions were intended to get rid of this contagion. But it had the opposite effect. As we saw in earlier Gems, just like the Apostles would not stay silent, so too, these disciples or believers in Jesus wouldn’t stay silent and simply ended up preaching the Good News about Jesus wherever they went. Persecution only served to spread the Good News of the Gospel. That’s how it has always been. Yes Paul, it has come down to the present day. The question for us is, are you contagious? Are you so influenced by the Good News that you spread it everywhere you go? Persecution or no persecution. As I once quoted in Gems, “If you were on trial for being a disciple of Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Hence my delight in Paulina calling me a contagion for the Bible. High praise indeed and thanks indeed for the perfect timing of your description of me Paulina.
I think with the opening paragraphs of this Gem, I have answered all the questions posed above. But now you all need to work through the inferences and implications behind the following questions:
- Why does Luke split the coverage of (S)Paul into two parts?
- If Paul was such a major figure of the New Testament, why does he get such a bad introduction?
- It seems as though Saul was one of the religious leaders in Jerusalam, Ian. Is that true? (Cynthia)
For the answer to this question Cynthia, you will have to go back to Gems 1482 – 1485 but especially 1485 and my comments on whether Saul was a member of the Sanhedrin or not. The text is not conclusive.
- You can work out for yourself, Cynthia, “Why are those places mentioned and why them only?”
- I don’t think the apostles nor us as disciples, have ever been immune to persecution Gillian.
The fact is that you must learn to press on, no matter what the opposition says about you, or more importantly, what they threaten to do to you. I love the supposedly true story of a group of masked men in balaclavas armed with AK 47s who burst into a church in a country where persecution was occurring and a group of believers were huddled hiding out. They threatened to shoot all who refused to deny their faith in Jesus. Anyone could confess their error and leave if they wanted to, before they would shoot all those who remained. When all who chose to recant their faith had left, those who had burst in threatening to shoot those inside, put down their weapons and took off their balaclavas and said, “Now they have left, we can worship the Lord together in Spirit and in truth.”
There is one remaining question I should address before I close this Gem. Its another of Gillian’s questions. “Who were the devout men who came to bury Stephen?”
There is much debate among the commentators as to what this term refers to. The options are:
- Jewish Christians
- Non-Jewish Christians
- Both Christian and Non-Christian Jews
Another term which fits the idea is “God fearers”. Just who are these devout men? The term hints at those who have Old Testament piety or sincere religious beliefs to the extent they follow the requirements of their religion. Or those who have sincerity in their religious practice and habits. Devout or possessing moral and religious integrity. However it is being used, Luke usedit in contrast to the members of the Jewish religious leadership – the Council and Saul. Those who are devout do what they know is right, at the risk of their own lives. There is an air of willingness to be martyrsinsuch people. They will do right no matter what it costs. To come forth and bury Stephen WITH GREAT MOURNING was a brave thing to do. In doing so, they clearly identified themselves with the very ones Saul then proceeded to persecute. This verse is bracketedby/ inmost translations. It is almost like a throw-away line, a nothing comment. Something that perhaps another copyist added to the text. But no, this is relevant to all Luke wrote for us. With slipping in this little phrase, or description of those who came to bury Stephen, Luke hints at the nature of those who are on the pro-Stephen side and those who are on the anti-Stephen side. The nature of who is on which side soon becomes apparent – as it always has down through the ages. God knows those who are His; you can too, if you just open your eyes and your discernment.
One of my students told me today: So glad to see many other classes [of DB] starting in NZ. You are a contagious bible-loving virus Ian.Paulina Ongkowidjaja
I told her: No one has ever paid me a greater compliment. I am delighted with her comment. It’s the quote of the year. I loved being called a contagion.Ian Vail
I tell students in Deeper Bible, “I want to infect you to the point where you become addicted to the Bible. When that happens I’ll consider myself a success.”Ian Vail
Thanks Paulina for paying me such a compliment. I am sure God and the angels are looking down and smiling.Ian Vail