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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.

Mission in Judea and Samaria ( 8, 4–9, 43 )

Philip Preaches outside Jerusalem ( 8, 4–40 )

The gospel begins to be spread outside Jerusalem to those who have some contact with Judaism: the Samaritans, who had their own version of the Law of Moses, and an Ethiopian, who was already interested in the traditions of the Jewish people. Several Lucan themes appear in this section. Philip's instruction about Isaiah ( 8, 30–35 ) shows that Jesus is the fulfillment of what is written in the Prophets. Unlike the Jerusalem crowd who had turned a deaf ear to such arguments, the Ethiopian demonstrates the proper response: he becomes a disciple of Jesus by being baptized. This story also introduces a minor theme, which some scholars consider part of Luke's apologetic task. Prominent people either become Christians, listen to the apostles' preaching with sympathy and often ask them to return, or provide some other form of assistance.

The conversion of the Samaritans and the conflict with Simon the magician introduce two more themes: the continuity of the new Christian mission with the Jerusalem apostolate and the superiority of Christianity to all forms of pagan superstition and religion. We have already seen that the gift of the Holy Spirit defines Christian baptism for Luke (Acts 2, 38; 10, 48 ), who contrasts it with the water baptism of John the Baptist (Lk 3, 16; Acts 1, 5; 11, 16; 18, 25; 19, 3f ). Christians are baptized in the name of Jesus. Baptism involves forgiveness of the past sins of a life without God, as well as receiving the Spirit. Acts 8, 16 departs from the normal pattern, since Philip has baptized in the name of the Lord, but his converts did not receive the Spirit until Peter and John came from Jerusalem to lay hands on them ( 8, 14–17 ).

In Catholic tradition this text has been cited as one of the biblical foundations for the sacrament of confirmation in which the Spirit is conferred subsequent to baptism (see, for example, The Catholic Catechism, No. 1288). Pentecostal Christians affirm that persons who have not experienced the Spirit coming over them are not yet fully Christian. As presented in the Acts of the Apostles, episodes in which the Spirit is separated from water baptism reflect exceptional occurrences. In the conversion of Cornelius, for example, the Spirit will indicate that God has accepted the new converts even before water baptism. Here, the separation between water baptism and receiving the Spirit allows Luke to show that the new mission takes place under the sponsorship of Jerusalem. Luke indicates that the Spirit always operates in and through the church.

The encounter with Simon the magician allows Luke to address another possible objection to Christianity. We have seen that Luke frequently uses miracle stories or references to miracle working to initiate interest in the Christian preaching. In antiquity, healings and other extraordinary events that occurred through assistance from a god or goddess might be called miracles, but a hostile bystander might accuse the miracle worker of being nothing more than a magician. The contest between Moses and the magicians at Pharaoh's court (Ex 7, 8f.12 ) provides a biblical pattern for evaluating magic. Even though they may duplicate some of Moses' miracles, no magician can duplicate or withstand the power that comes from the Lord. The Simon incident demonstrates the power of Christianity to destroy such superstitions. Luke mentions another common charge against religious charlatans: greed. The Christian mission is not driven by desire for money ( 3, 1–10 ). Christians sell property and share their possessions.

Conversion of Paul ( 9, 1–30 )

Paul's conversion demonstrates God's power to use everything, even the hostile persecutor, to achieve the divine purpose. Paul himself tells us little about the call from God that transformed him from being an enemy of the Jesus movement to being its advocate (see Gal 1, 11–24 ). Luke then presents three versions of Paul's conversion (Acts 9, 1–19; 22, 4–16.17–21; 26, 12–18 ), which differ from each other. Each of the four accounts serves an apologetic purpose. Paul's own account in Galatians 1 belongs to an impassioned defense of his preaching to the Gentiles. He must show that, in telling them they could be saved through belief in Jesus without also taking on obligations of the Jewish Law, he is not distorting the gospel or breaking agreements made with Jerusalem. Acts 9 must vindicate Paul as the representative of God's offer of salvation to the Gentiles. The next two accounts (Acts 22 and 26) of Paul's conversion occur in speeches that Paul gives while imprisoned in Jerusalem.

Luke's accounts share a core of details: (a) letters from the high priest; (b) Paul is approaching Damascus; (c) light from heaven shines around Paul [and in #3, Acts 26, around those with him]; (d) he [#3: we] falls to the ground; (e) hears a voice speaking to him (#3: in Hebrew); (f) “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” [#3: “hard for you to kick against the goad”); (f) asks identity of speaker; and (g) “Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” This core suggests a common story about Paul's conversion. After this point the three accounts diverge. Acts 9, 12–16 expands on the theme of Paul's blindness. Ananias comes to Paul as “healer” (note the emphasis on the cure in v. 18). Acts 22, 11a.12f gives a more abbreviated account, and Acts 26 omits these details altogether as it does the details about the actions of Paul's companions after the appearance, the visit of Ananias, and Paul's baptism. In Acts 9, 16 , the Lord tells Ananias of Paul's commission. In Acts 22, 14f , Ananias gives the commission to Paul, but in 26, 16b–18 , Paul receives the commission directly from the Lord.

The blinding/healing sequence in Acts 9, 12–19 suggests that the blinding of Paul is an act of God's displeasure similar to the temporary blindness God inflicts on the magician Elymas (Acts 13, 9–11 ; see also the threat of divine punishment in Acts 8, 22–24 ). Paul's own version and the later stories in Acts emphasize Paul's commission, but this plays no role in the narrative about Paul. God uses it as an argument to persuade Ananias to go to Paul. Acts 9, 15 has been phrased so that it reflects the commission given the disciples in 1, 8 . The ensuing versions of the story will relate the commission to Paul's vision of Christ and to the details of his specific role in the Gentile mission as it has unfolded in Acts. Here, Luke uses the story of the miraculous conversion of the persecutor of Christianity to initiate the preparation for that global mission, which is the subject of this section of the book.

The Church Continues to Grow ( 9, 32–43 )

Luke concludes the section with two stories from Peter's mission. The healing of Tabitha follows the same pattern as Jesus' own healing of Talitha, (see Mk 5, 41; Lk 7, 15 ). Tabitha indicates the important roles that women believers play in the growth of Christianity. Not only is she an example of piety and charity, but she also has a group of poor widows who assemble in her home. This period of peace and growth shows that the community has successfully weathered the storm of persecution that began with Stephen's martyrdom.

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