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Unlock the BibleKeys to Understanding the Scripture
By Ronald F. Youngblood
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2011 Thomas Nelson Publishers, Inc.
All right reserved.
ABBA [AB ah] (father)—an Aramaic word that corresponds to our "Daddy" or "Papa." It is found three times in the New Testament: in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, "Abba, Father" (Mark 14:36); the apostle Paul linked the Christian's cry of "Abba, Father" with the "Spirit of adoption" (Rom. 8:15); and, again, Paul writes, "Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His son into your hearts, crying out, 'Abba, Father!'" (Gal. 4:6). What a blessed privilege it is to be given the right to call the great Creator, "Our Father"!
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES—the one historical book of the New Testament, which traces the development of the early church after the ascension of Jesus. Standing between the Gospels and the Epistles, the Book of Acts is a bridge between the life of Jesus and the ministry of the apostle Paul. As such, it offers invaluable information about the development of the early church.
The title of Acts is somewhat misleading, for only a few of the apostles of Jesus are mentioned in the book. In reality, Acts relates some acts of some of the apostles, primarily Peter and Paul, and involves a time-span of about 32 years—from the ascension of Jesus (about A.D. 30) to Paul's imprisonment in Rome (about A.D. 62).
Structure of the Book.
The Acts of the Apostles is like a drama with two main characters, Peter and Paul. This drama portrays the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem—the city where Jesus was crucified—to Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire.
Authorship and Date.
There can be little doubt that the Book of Acts and the Gospel of Luke come from the same author. Each book is the length of a scroll (about 35 feet), and each is addressed to the same individual, Theophilus. The similarities between the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts in literary style, vocabulary, and theological ideas are unmistakable. Although the author does not identify himself by name, scholars have ascribed the authorship of both books to Luke, the companion of Paul.
It is difficult to say when Acts was written. We know only that it follows the Gospel: "The former account [Gospel of Luke] I made, O Theophilus" (Acts 1:1). If the Gospel were written in the early 70s, Acts would have been composed shortly thereafter. Many scholars date Acts as early as A.D. 62 because it ends abruptly with Paul's imprisonment in Rome.
Luke is a reliable historian, in part because of the sources he used. He was closely associated with many events of Paul's mission, and this results in greater vividness in the latter half of Acts. At three places in Acts (16:10–17, 20:5–21:18, and 27:1–28:16) the narrative changes to the first person plural ("we"), indicating that Luke was personally present. Luke also may have had access to written documents (for example, the decree of the Council of Jerusalem, Acts 15:23; or letters from early Christian leaders).
Above all, Luke had the benefit of a wide circle of contacts. In the Book of Acts he mentions 95 different persons from 32 countries, 54 cities, and 9 Mediterranean islands. From these he gathered information for the first part of Acts (especially chaps. 1–12) and for the gospel. Luke, however, writes selective history, focusing only on the course of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome.
As in the Gospel of Luke, Luke writes to Gentiles. He wants his audience to know the truthful and triumphant course of the gospel, beginning in Jesus and continuing in the church (Acts 1:1).
This is his primary motive for writing the Book of Acts. In addition, however, Luke defends, where possible, the Christian faith from suspicion of sedition or superstition. The "Way" (9:2) is not a secret, subversive cult (26:26). On the contrary, it is proclaimed in the city squares for all to hear and judge. This is one reason the many public speeches were included in Acts. Neither is Christianity politically dangerous. If Christians are suspected of sedition against Rome, Luke shows that in each instance where they are brought before Roman authorities they are acquitted (Acts 16:39; 17:6; 18:12; 19:37; 23:29; 25:25; 26:31). Luke devotes nearly one third of Acts (chaps. 21–28) to Paul's imprisonment. He does this not only to show that the gospel reaches its destination in spite of insurmountable obstacles, but also to show that Paul and his message are not politically subversive.
The Acts of the Apostles could justly be entitled "The Acts of the Holy Spirit," for the Spirit is mentioned nearly 60 times in the book. In His parting words, Jesus reminds the disciples of the promise of the Father (1:4–8); ten days later the power of the Spirit descends at Pentecost (2:1–4). Persons "from every nation under heaven" (2:5) are enabled by the Holy Spirit to hear "the wonderful works of God" (2:11), and so the Christian church was born.
Pentecost was a reversal of the Tower of Babel, where language became confused and nations were separated by misunderstanding (Gen. 11:1–9). At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gathered persons from every nation into one united fellowship. From Pentecost onward, the Holy Spirit directs the unfolding drama of the growth of the church.
Acts contains portraits of many outstanding Christians of the early church. Barnabas exemplifies generosity (4:36–37), Stephen forgiveness (7:60), Philip and Paul obedience (8:26; 26:19), Cornelius piety (10:2), and the witness of the early church vibrates with boldness (2:29; 4:13, 29, 31; 28:31). Ordinary people are empowered to perform extraordinary feats. A faltering apostle is empowered to address multitudes (2:14) or make a defense before rulers (4:8). A prayer fellowship is shaken (4:31); a deacon defends his faith by martyrdom (7:58). The despised Samaritans receive the Spirit (8:4–8), as does a Gentile soldier (10:1–48). A staunch persecutor of the gospel is converted (9:1–19), and through him the gospel reaches the capital of the world!
Paul reaches Rome in chains. Circumstances, too, may be adverse: persecutions (8:3–4; 11:19), famines (11:27–30), opposition (13:45), or violent storms (27:1–44). Through it all, however, the Holy Spirit directs the drama so that "all things work together for good" (Rom. 8:28) to further the cause of Christ.
Nearly one fifth of Acts consists of speeches, primarily from Peter, Stephen, and Paul. Common to each of the speeches is a basic framework of gospel proclamation. This proclamation can be outlined as follows:
1. The promises of God in the Old Testament are now fulfilled.
2. The Messiah has come in Jesus of Nazareth.
a. He did good and mighty works by the power of God.
b. He was crucified according to the purpose of God.
c. He was raised from the dead by the power of God.
d. He now reigns by the power of God.
e. He will come again to judge and restore all things for the purpose of God.
3. All who hear should repent and be baptized.
This outline is our earliest example of the gospel proclaimed by the early church. It is the "foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone" (Eph. 2:20), upon which the church is built. In this sense, the Book of Acts is not yet completed, for each generation is enabled by the Holy Spirit to add its chapters by proclaiming the "wonderful works of God" (2:11).
ALLEGORY—a symbolic representation of a truth about human conduct or experience. The word "allegory" is found only once in the King James Version. In Galatians 4:24 it translates the Greek verb allegoreo, which means to say something different from what the words normally imply. The NKJV translates it by the word "symbolic."
As a literary device, an allegory may consist of only a few lines or it may be sustained through an entire book. According to traditional Jewish and Christian interpretation, the entire book of the Song of Solomon is an allegory: of God and his wife, Israel (Jewish), or of Christ and his bride, the church (Christian). Other examples of allegory in the Old Testament are Psalm 80:8–19 and Ecclesiastes 12:3–7. In Psalm 80 the pronouns "we" and "us" identify the vine as Israel (vv. 18–19).
In the New Testament, Jesus' parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13:24–30, 36–43) is a good example of allegory. The apostle Paul also used allegories when writing. In Ephesians 6:11–17 he urges his readers to "put on the whole armor of God" and then gives the symbolic spiritual designation for each article worn by the Christian soldier. And in 1 Corinthians 10:1–4, Paul gives an allegory that compares the experience of Moses and the Israelites to Christian baptism and the Lord's Supper.
Perhaps the most memorable of Paul's allegories, however, is found in Galatians 4:21–31: Hagar and Sarah, Ishmael and Isaac. One of them (Ishmael) was born to the bondwoman Hagar; the other (Isaac) was born to a freewoman, Sarah. Hagar and Ishmael are symbolic of the Old Covenant: the law from Mount Sinai that brings all people into bondage. Sarah and Isaac are symbolic of the New Covenant: the gospel of grace from Mount Calvary that gives spiritual freedom. When Paul concluded by saying, "So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free [woman]," he was urging his readers to reject the bondage of legalism—salvation by keeping the law—and to live by faith in Christ.
AMOS, BOOK OF—a prophetic book of the Old Testament noted for its fiery denunciation of the northern kingdom of Israel during a time of widespread idol worship and indulgent living. The book is named for its author, the prophet Amos, whose name means "burden bearer." Amos lived up to his name as he declared God's message of judgment in dramatic fashion to a sinful and disobedient people.
Structure of the Book.
The nine chapters of the Book of Amos emphasize one central theme: The people of the nation of Israel have broken their Covenant with God, and His judgment against their sin will be severe. After a brief introduction of Amos as the prophet (1:1–2), the book falls naturally into three major sections: (1) judgment against the nations, including Judah and Israel (1:3–2:16); (2) sermons of judgment against Israel (3:1–6:14); and (3) visions of God's judgment (7:1–9:10). The book concludes with a promise of Israel's restoration (9:11–15), ultimately fulfilled in the church's mission to the Gentiles (Acts 15:15–21).
In the first major section of the book Amos begins with biting words of judgment against the six nations surrounding the lands of Judah and Israel. These nations (or their capitals) are Damascus (1:3–5), Gaza (1:6–8), Tyre (1:9–10), Edom (1:11–12), Ammon (1:13–15), and Moab (2:1–3). Next he announces God's judgment against Judah, Israel's sister nation to the south (2:4–5). Because of Israel's bitterness toward Judah, Amos' listeners must have greeted this cry of doom with pleasant agreement.
But Amos was only warming up to the main part of his sermon. Suddenly he launched into a vivid description of God's judgment against the nation of Israel. With biting sarcasm, Amos condemned the citizens of Israel for their oppression of the poor (2:7), worship of idols (2:8), rejection of God's salvation (2:9, 2:12), and defilement of the Lord's holy name (2:7). Hypocrisy, greed, and injustice prevailed throughout the land. True worship had been replaced by empty ritualism and dependence on pagan gods. And Amos made it plain that Israel would be judged severely unless the people turned from their sin and looked to the one true God for strength and guidance.
In the second major section of his book (3:1–6:14), Amos preached three biting sermons of judgment against the nation of Israel. He referred to the wealthy, luxury-seeking women of Samaria—the capital city of Israel—as "cows of Bashan" (4:1). He also attacked the system of idol worship that had been established in the cities of Bethel and Gilgal (4:4; 5:5).
Following these sermons of judgment, Amos moved on in the third major section of his book (7:1–9:10) to present five visions of God's approaching judgment. The prophet's vision of a basket of fruit is particularly graphic. He described the nation of Israel as a basket of summer fruit, implying that it would soon spoil and rot in the blistering sun of God's judgment (8:1–14).
Following these messages of judgment, the Book of Amos ends on a positive, optimistic note. Amos predicted that the people of Israel would be restored to their special place in God's service after their season of judgment had come to an end (9:11–15). This note of hope is characteristic of the Hebrew prophets. They pointed to a glorious future for God's people, even in the midst of dark times. This positive spirit, which issued from Amos' deep faith in God, sustained the prophet and gave him hope for the future.
Authorship and Date.
The author of this book was the prophet Amos, since it is clearly identified in the introduction as "the words of Amos" (1:1). Amos was a humble herdsman, or shepherd, of Tekoa (1:1), a village near Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah. But God called him to deliver His message of judgment to the people who lived in Israel, Judah's sister nation to the north. Amos indicated in his book that he prophesied during the reigns of King Uzziah (Azariah) in Judah and King Jeroboam II in Israel (1:1). This places his prophecy at about 760 b.c. He must have written the book some time after this date, perhaps after returning to his home in Tekoa.
In one revealing passage in his book, Amos indicates that he was "no prophet, nor was I a son of a prophet, but I was a herdsman and a tender of sycamore fruit" (7:14). In spite of this humble background, he was called by God to preach His message of repentance and judgment to a rebellious nation (7:15–16). His unquestioning obedience and his clear proclamation of God's message show that he was committed to the Lord and His principles of holiness and righteousness. Amos' keen sense of justice and fairness also comes through clearly in the book.
Amos prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel (793–753 b.c.), a time of peace and prosperity. The prophet speaks of the excessive luxury of the wealthy (6:3–7), who had no concern for the needs of the poor. Religiously, the nation had departed from the worship of the one true God. Jeroboam encouraged the practice of fertility cults, mixing an element of Baal worship with Israel's faith in their Lord of the Covenant. The situation clearly called for a courageous prophet who could call the nation back to authentic faith as well as a policy of fairness and justice in their dealings with their fellow citizens.
Amos is known as the great "prophet of righteousness" of the Old Testament. His book underlines the principle that religion demands righteous behavior. True religion is not a matter of observing all the right feast days, offering burnt offerings, and worshiping at the sanctuary. Authentic worship results in changed behavior—seeking God's will, treating others with justice, and following God's commands. This great insight is summarized by these famous words from the prophet: "Let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream" (5:24).
Although Amos was a shepherd by occupation, his book gives evidence of careful literary craftsmanship. One technique that he used was puns or plays on words to drive home his message. Unfortunately, they do not translate easily into English. In his vision of the summer fruit, for example, Amos spoke of the coming of God's judgment with a word that sounds very similar to the Hebrew word for fruit (8:1–2). The "summer fruit" (qayits) suggested the "end" (qets) of the kingdom of Israel (NRSV). Like "ripe" summer fruit, Israel was "ripe" for God's judgment.
Excerpted from Unlock the Bible by Ronald F. Youngblood Copyright © 2011 by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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