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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 in Jerusalem ( 2, 14–8, 3 )

Two Sermons by Peter ( 2, 14–3, 26 )

Luke follows a similar pattern in all of Peter's sermons. His Pentecost sermon is the most famous ( 2, 14–36 ). It begins with the theme of prophetic fulfillment. The prophets anticipated a powerful outpouring of God's Spirit in the last days. Though the world is not ending, God has given that Spirit to the disciples. Peter uses several Old Testament quotations to demonstrate that the risen Jesus is the Messiah whom God had promised. God has established the crucified Jesus as Lord and Christ in heaven (v. 36).

Peter's speech has a profound impact on the crowd. The universality of the Christian mission is represented by these converts from the distant corners of the earth. Baptism is the rite though which the new converts receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit ( 2, 37–41 ). Acts 2, 42–47 describe the unity of the growing community. The fundamental elements of Christian community are presented: teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer.

Christians demonstrate their care for one another by giving to the poor. The early church did not force members to renounce everything, as Peter and the others had done. Many would continue to own property and practice their trade. In this the church was different from groups like the Jewish sect called the Essenes. It expected members to turn over property to the sect as a condition of joining monastic‐like groups. Essenes who lived in villages were required to turn over a set number of days wages to the group's overseer. Ancient philosophers described the ideal relationship between friends as sharing all things in common. Acts depicts a Christian community that spontaneously fulfills such ideals.

Luke frequently uses miracles to provide evidence for the faith that people should have in Jesus. The healing of a crippled man ( 3, 1–10 ) provides the occasion for Peter's second speech ( 3, 11–26 ). Once again the speech is a brief recitation of the salvation history, which has been fulfilled in Jesus. God's promise to Abraham has been realized in Jesus ( 3, 25f ).

Peter and John before the Sanhedrin ( 4, 1–31 )

This scene is the first of a number of trial scenes in Acts. A pattern is developed: (a) the miracle attracts attention; (b) the apostles teach those who have been attracted by the miracle; (c) arrest of the missionary by jealous (Jewish) officials; (d) trial of the missionary; (e) miraculous escape or vindication of the mission. At first, the trials are orderly. The judges take a moderate approach and only warn the disciples, but opposition to the Christian mission will increase until Stephen is murdered by an enraged mob. You will notice that the apostles never claim any miraculous powers for themselves. Miracles are done in the name of Jesus (v. 10). All of the miracles have some connection with the mission to spread the gospel. Acts 4, 12 expresses the belief that motivates preaching the gospel throughout the world: “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

The communal prayer that follows the apostles' release ( 4, 23–31 ) shows that Christians never lost their confidence in God's power to rescue them from danger. What happened to Jesus, and will shortly happen to martyrs like Stephen, is not a defeat for Christians. God's plan for salvation can make use of such events. God responds to this prayer with a second Pentecost: the Holy Spirit comes to all who are present.

Sharing Possessions in the Community ( 4, 32–5, 16 )

Luke elaborates on the theme of shared property. He first presents striking examples of generosity by persons who were willing to follow the sayings of Jesus that encouraged people to sell all and become disciples (see Lk 12, 33; 16, 9.11.13 ). The story of Ananias and Sapphira provides a somewhat comic illustration of what might happen to persons who attempt to pretend that they have the generosity of disciples while secreting money for their own use (compare the Rich Fool, Lk 12, 16–21 ). Once again, death is viewed as God's judgment against persons who have done something blasphemous. They were not required to sell the property in order to be part of the community. Their sin was in the attempt to deceive the Holy Spirit. Human beings can be taken in by fraud, but God will always know what is in a person's heart. No one can cheat God. We may refuse to follow these examples of Christians helping those in need. We may even devise a scheme to appear to help the poor while keeping more for ourselves, but if we do, we will have to answer to God.

Trial before the Sanhedrin ( 5, 17–42 )

The miracles of the previous passage lead to jealousy and another imprisonment. This time we learn that no one could keep the apostles in jail if God wished them to continue preaching elsewhere. An angel takes them from prison to preach in the Temple area. This miraculous sign further enrages the opposition. The apostles are released thanks to the judicial prudence of Gamaliel, a Pharisee who demonstrates respect for God's plan (v. 39), but some people are now angry enough to kill the apostles (v. 33).

Deacons for the Hellenists ( 6, 1–7 )

This passage presents several difficulties, since it does not fit with what follows. The distinction between Hebrews and Hellenists seems to be based on an individual's mother tongue. The Hellenists would be Jewish converts to Christianity who spoke Greek. The description of the Seven as persons who would take care of the distribution of food, so that the apostles could devote themselves to prayer and preaching, suggests that the Seven were to be like deacons in the church at a later date. They must oversee the material arrangements and aid to the poor. Verse 6 describes the process, prayer, and laying on of hands by which persons were installed in offices in the church during Luke's time. In the next episode (v. 8) we learn that the most famous of the persons chosen engages in ministry of preaching like Peter and the other apostles.

Trial and Death of Stephen ( 6, 8–8, 3 )

This trial scene is the longest in Acts. Stephen emphasizes Israel's past failures. His speech prepares for the mission to the Gentiles as it develops in the plot of Acts. Luke creates a link between Stephen and the hero of that mission, Paul, by picturing Paul—who tells us that he had persecuted the church out of zeal for ancestral tradition (see Gal 1, 13; 1 Cor 15, 9b; Phil 3, 6 )—as a witness to Stephen's death ( 8, 1 ). Luke's Paul later refers to this event as evidence of his initial hostility to Christianity ( 22, 20 ). Luke also uses the Stephen episode to tie the emergence of a non‐Jewish Christianity to the ministry of Jesus. The charges against Stephen ( 6, 13f ) are similar to those brought against Jesus. False witnesses testify that Stephen attacks the Temple and the Law, and they predict that Jesus will destroy the Temple. The tradition that Jesus' predictions about the destruction of the Temple were brought into his Jewish trial is well established in the Synoptic Gospels (see Mk 14, 58; Mt 26, 61; Mk 15, 29; Mt 27, 40 ). Luke omits this detail from the appearance of Jesus before the Council in his Gospel and places it here.

Predictions that God will destroy a corrupt Temple to establish one that is a holy place appear in the Prophets (see Jer 7, 11; Zec 14, 21; Mal 3, 1; Is 56, 7 ). The Jewish sect (known as the Essenes) was severely critical of the corrupt priesthood and calendar used in the Temple. Their criticism stems from a concern for more exact observance of the Law. By contrast, the Stephen episode ties criticism of the Temple to an attack on the Law.

Later in Acts, similar suspicions will be voiced against Paul (see 22, 20f ). Like Stephen, he will be seized on the grounds that he is attacking the Temple (= “this place”) and the Law. Two further charges are made against Paul. He speaks against the Jewish people, and he has committed a sacrilegious act by bringing a Gentile into the area reserved for Jews ( 22, 28 ). Luke's narrative shows that Stephen and Paul were not attacking the Law. Luke has shown that the Jerusalem Christians were constantly in the Temple praying. There is no basis for the accusations brought against either Stephen or Paul, just as there had been no basis for the charges against Jesus (see Lk 23, 4f.13–15.22 ).

Many interpreters have suggested that Luke is using the trial scenes in Acts to defend Christianity against the suspicions of outsiders (see introduction to Acts, p. 1443 ). Political insurrection, disregard for ancestral traditions, and acts of impiety like defiling a temple were terrible deeds, all of which could stir local as well as Roman officials to punish the perpetrators. The Roman authorities were particularly suspicious of groups that they thought might lead to rebellion among the peoples of the empire. At the same time, the Romans protected sacred places and traditional religious practices. Special edicts from the emperor prohibited local officials from taking advantage of their Jewish populace by seizing money collected for the Temple in Jerusalem, forcing Jews to appear in court on the Sabbath, and the like. Christians were particularly suspect, since their religious practices were not the traditions of an ancient people. Luke may be attempting to answer this objection by demonstrating that Christianity is the true heir of the Jewish tradition.

Stephen's speech ( 7, 2–53 ) recites salvation history to indict Israel for failure to obey God's commands. Such a speech would not be out of place in a Jewish context. One of the rule books of the Essene sect, The Damascus Document, begins in a similar way. It concludes that because Israel had been unfaithful, even though she had suffered punishment for various misdeeds, God had taken the promises away from the nation as a whole. Only the small remnant of righteous Jews who made up the Essene sect will experience the blessings of salvation when the Messiah comes.

By implying that the audience shares an ancestral hostility to God's prophets (vv. 51–53), Stephen fuels a rage that not only kills him but also spawns persecution against other Christians. Since it scatters Christians outside Jerusalem ( 8, 1 ), this hostility indirectly furthers God's plan. Stephen's vision of the risen Lord exalted in heaven recalls a saying that Mark reports Jesus using before the high priest (Mk 14, 62 ). Visions of the heavenly Son of Man usually carry overtones of divine judgment in the New Testament (compare Rv 1, 7–18 ). As readers, we know that God will vindicate the faithful witness. You may have picked up another similarity between the death of Stephen and that of Jesus. Stephen dies peacefully with words of forgiveness on his lips (compare Lk 23, 34.46 ). There is one important difference. Jesus had prayed to God, the Father; Stephen addresses his prayer to Jesus whom he has seen standing at God's right hand.

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