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NT Sunday School Lesson 30 (JF): Acts 10-14; 15:1-35

Posted by Jim F. on July 17, 2011

This part of Acts tells the story of the beginning of the mission beyond the area immediately surrounding Jerusalem to “the uttermost part of the world” (Acts 1:8).

As you read these stories, notice how important the Twelve are in that work. Why do you think that they didn’t delegate more of the missionary work? Is there any connection between the extreme dependence of the early Church on the Twelve and the later apostasy?

Notice also that the members of the Church come into greater conflict with traditional Judaism because of this missionary work. For most of the first century and perhaps even into the second, Christians did not think of themselves as a different religion from Judaism. Why did missionary work eventually change that? Does that perhaps suggest something about our relation to contemporary Christianity?

To try to keep these materials to a reasonable length, I will concentrate on chapters 10 and 15.

Acts 10

Verses 1-8: Where was Caesarea and what was its importance to Palestine? “Italian” was the name of the infantry cohort to which Cornelius belonged.

The phrase translated “feared God” is a technical phrase which tells us that Cornelius was a person who believed in the God of Israel and attended services in the synagogue, but did not keep the whole Law of Moses and was probably not circumcised. Another term used to describe such people (and there seem to have been many of them) was “proselyte of the gate,” in other words, people who had been converted but had not come all the way in.

Why does Luke tell us the time of day when this occurred?

What does the angel mean when he says that Cornelius’s prayers have come up to God as a memorial? (Compare Exodus 17:14; and Leviticus 2:2, 9, and 16.)

Verses 9-18: For the origin of the differentiation between those animals that could be eaten and those that could not, see Leviticus 11:2-23 and Deuteronomy 14:3-20. What does verse 17 mean in saying “Peter doubted in himself what this vision . . . should mean”? “Doubted” is a good translation; “was perplexed” would be another.

Verses 19-33: Given the content of his vision, how did Peter come to the conclusion that he had been told not to consider any person unclean? The vision was about food, so it could easily have been understood to be a revocation of the laws concerning what could be eaten and what not. How might Peter have gotten from that understanding to the understanding he expresses in verse 28?

As for food, how do we square the Word of Wisdom with this vision? Does the Word of Wisdom declare some foods unclean?

In verses 6 and 32 we learn that Peter was staying with a man who was a tanner. Because it deals in the hides of dead animals, tanning was one of the unclean professions; the Pharisees called all of those who had such unclean professions “sinners” (something to remember when we read about Jesus dealing with sinners).  How does knowing that Peter was staying with a tanner, by definition a sinner, someone unclean, give this story nuance?

Verses 34-48: Had Peter previously believed that God was a respecter of persons, in other words, a person who showed favoritism to some (verse 34)?

Verses 36-39 give a résumé of Jesus’ ministry, presumably focusing on its most important parts. How is the gospel an announcement of peace? Peace between whom (verse 36)?

How could Peter expect Cornelius already to know the word that was preached (verse 37)?

Why was it important that Jesus’ ministry was throughout Judea?

Peter speaks of the Father anointing Jesus with the Holy Ghost and with power (verse 38). Why might he use that word, “anointing”? Who else would have been anointed in Israel?

Why was it important for Peter to testify that Christ went about doing good and healing? Why does he characterize those healed as “oppressed of the devil” (verse 38)? Is he just speaking in their terms or is could we also reasonably say that those who are ill are oppressed by the devil? If so, how?

Why is it important that Peter and the other eleven are witnesses of what Jesus did during his lifetime? That he was crucified (verse 39)?

Verse 40 is Peter’s testimony of Christ? Why does he speak of the resurrection rather than the Atonement?

What does Peter mean when he says that the witnesses were chosen before (verse 41)?

The Twelve are witnesses of Christ. Here Peter says that they are witnesses that Christ was ordained to judge the living and the dead (verse 42). Why is that the important point to make?

Of what have all the prophets been witnesses (verse 43)?

How is the remission of sins related to the rest of Peter’s testimony?

What do those who are with Peter find astonishing (verse 45)?

Why didn’t the Lord just tell Peter that he wanted the Church to baptize non-Israelites from now on? Why have him go through this experience to learn?

Why does the conversion and baptism of Cornelius bring about a change in Christian practice when the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch did not?

Chapter 11

Verses 1-18: Why does Luke describe those who disagree with Peter as “they that were of the circumcision” rather than “the Jews”? What is Peter’s proof that what he did was of God (verses 15-17)?

Verses 19-30: Does “Grecians” in verse 20 mean the same as it meant in Acts 6:1?

Why did Barnabas go to Antioch (verses 22-23; compare Acts 8:14)? Why did Barnabas go fetch Saul (verse 25)?

Does the fact that “Christian” is a Latin rather than a Greek word shed any light on the end of verse 26? One scholar (Erik Peterson) suggests that the passive voice (“were called”) suggests that this is a name the Romans gave to the early Church. Hans Conzelmann agrees, but he argues that the name wasn’t an official designation. What do you think of Peterson’s proposal? How does it compare to us being called Mormons?

Why did the brethren raise money for the saints in and around Jerusalem (verses 27-30)? Historical records are evidence that the famine occurred during the year 46/47 A.D. and that, on top of the famine, the year was a Sabbath year (Conzelmann, Acts of the Apostles 90). What does it mean that it was a Sabbath year?

Chapter 12

Verse 1: Luke has already mentioned the persecution of the Church that began with Stephen. How does this persecution differ from that?

Verses 1-19: Why would this story have been important to the early Church? How might it be important to us?

Chapter 13

Verses 1-3: Previously we have seen everything in the Church coming out of Jerusalem. What does it mean that now we see it coming also from Antioch?

A tradition says that Saul changed his name from Saul to Paul after he was baptized. However, notice that verse 1 speaks of him as Saul after his baptism. Notice, too, that verse 9 says he was also called Paul: he was called both Saul and Paul. Roman citizens (Paul was a Roman citizen) had three names, a personal name (roughly equivalent to our given name), a clan name, and a family name (like our last name). Saul seems to have been his personal name, and Paul seems to have been his family name, as it was for his first convert, Sergius Paulus, though there is no evidence that they were related. The name Paul occurs frequently in Roman documents as a family name, but it never occurs as a personal name. So calling Saul “Paul” is like calling a friend by his last name: “Hey, Jones!” We don’t know what Paul’s clan name might have been.

Verse 5: Who is this John whom Barnabas and Paul have as their minister or assistant? (See verse 25 as well as Colossians 4:10.)

Verse 31: Does Paul claim to be one of the special witnesses? Why or why not?

Verses 42-43: What kind of response did Paul get to his preaching?

Verse 46: What is Paul’s message to the Jews of Antioch who will not accept his message?

Chapter 14

This is an excellent and interesting story, but what has it to do with us today? Is there a spiritual lesson in it that applies to us?

Chapter 15

This chapter tells us of what was perhaps the most important general conference of the early Church.

Verses 1-5: What is the problem that Paul and Barnabas must deal with? Which members of the Church seem to have been the problem? Who are on the two sides of the dissension? Hadn’t they already heard Peter declare that the Gospel should be preached to Gentiles? How might they have answered him? What lesson might there be in this for us?

How does Luke explain the decision that Barnabas and Paul should go to Jerusalem (verse 2)? How does Paul explain it (Galatians 2:2)?

Verses 6-21: What yoke is it that neither the fathers of those at this council nor those at the council could themselves bear (verse 10)? Is it relevant that the view Peter expresses was probably not the view of Jews at his time?

Why is it important for Paul and Barnabas to report on the miracles they have wrought among the Gentiles (verse 12)?

In verse 13, who is James and why does he seem to have such authority in this group? (He cannot be James the brother of John, for that James is already dead; see Acts 12:2.)

Who do you think Simeon (verse 14) is? Consider the spelling of his name. What person whom we have already frequently seen goes by a name that is spelled much like that? This name is just a version of that name.

Why does James propose to require only the four things that he mentions in verse 20? (Compare Leviticus 17-18, particularly 17:8-9, 10-12, and 15; and 18:6-18.)

Verses 22-30: Note that the name Silas in verse 22 is the Aramaic equivalent of Saul.

How many were sent to Antioch, including Paul and Barnabas? How have those who demanded circumcision subverted the souls of others (verse 24)?

Verses 30-35: Compare Galatians 2:11-14. Is this the same or a different disagreement?

In these confrontations with other church leaders, could Paul expect to win? Why or why not? What do you make of these disagreements which, from all we can tell, were quite strong? Do we learn anything about being a leader or being a follower from these stories?

2 Responses to “NT Sunday School Lesson 30 (JF): Acts 10-14; 15:1-35”

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  2. Jim Siniscalchi said

    What is “the Italian Regiment” (Acts 10:1)? The Roman army drew regiments from throughout its empire. The Italian Regiment was one drawn from Italy.

    What was this regiment doing in Caesarea? Caesarea, the regions’ largest and the most strategic port city, was the capital of the Roman province of Judea, and therefore the home of the Roman governor and the home base of his military garrison.

    What is a “centurion” (Acts 10:1)? At full force, the Italian Regiment (or any other Roman regiment) would have been 6,000 soldiers, organized into 10 “cohorts” of 600 soldiers each. Each cohort was in turn organized into 6 “centuries” of 100 soldiers, comparable to a “company” (typically 120 soldiers) in the modern army. A centurion was the officer in charge of a century of soldiers and therefore comparable to the commanding officer of a company in today’s army.

    What else is known about Cornelius? He was generous to the people and prayed to God of the Jews constantly, but was a gentile who had not been circumcised, in which he would have been referred to as a ‘proselyte’ instead of a ‘God-fearer’: “one who feared God” (Acts 10:2). “All his household” were also God-fearers.
    As JimF already stated above, “The phrase translated “feared God” is a technical phrase which tells us that Cornelius was a person who believed in the God of Israel and attended services in the synagogue, but did not keep the whole Law of Moses and was probably not circumcised. Another term used to describe such people (and there seem to have been many of them) was “proselyte of the gate,” in other words, people who had been converted but had not come all the way in.”

    What does the angel mean when he says that Cornelius’s prayers have come up to God as a memorial? (Compare Exodus 17:14; and Leviticus 2:2, 9, and 16.) I was really moved from this study of memorial.

    As I understand Acts 10, “memorial offering” having relied on the Old Testament, and other sources listed below and my own mind, and then applied that understanding, to the way I understood it was used in the Book of Acts. This story falls within a line of redemptive history, which is very intimately faithful to the purposes of God since the creation.

    Does it appear to be the language of acceptance by the Lord?

    Often we pray, and though we may pour out the desires of our hearts and offer at the alters of sacrifice an eye single to his purposes, it may feel as though our prayers & deeds go unheard and unnoticed, or rather, REMEMBERED, by Him, who sits on a throne of glory while we may be suffering. Yet, we must learn patience, remain steadfast and learn to trust God while in our dire extremities and darkest moments, and when we do so, we will have worshipped him in the deepest way. Our sacrifice will have become as a memorial unto the Most High God.

    In his book “Life of Holiness, Jim Faulconer says, “Paul’s point is that we learn to be like God, steadfast in our covenants even in the face of difficulty, only through tribulations. So we ought to celebrate our tribulations, speaking of them with confidence and hope rather than with fear and despair”.

    He hath created all things above and below, all things in and under, heavens and earth, worlds without number. If He could create and do all that, do you think He could not remember that which He created by the workmanship of His almighty hands?

    Paul, the great apostle who suffered so much for Christ, wrote, “All things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28)

    Now, having thus said all that is it all of the significance or meaning of a “memorial offering”?

    The Greek word here is μνημόσυνον mnēmosunon ‘memorial’, something that enables someone to remember.

    If a memorial goes up before God, then it makes possible sense that it functions as a memorial for God to remember something about the one who gives the memorial.

    But this word was used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew אזכּרה ’azkārâ, the ‘memorial portion’ of the grain offering in Leviticus 2:2, 9, 16; 5:12; 6:15; Numbers 5:26. Driver (Journal of Semitic Studies, 1 [1956], 100) described it this way: “It is the sign whereby the worshipper is reminded or taught that the whole offering is in fact owed to God but that He is pleased to accept only a part of it as a ‘token’ while remitting the burning of the rest of it on the altar so that it may be otherwise consumed.” Thus, it puts the focus of the remembering on the worshipper, not on God.

    Whether we think the memorial is more for prompting the worshipper or for God to remember something, the particular thing that it identifies as the thing to be remembered may be key for understanding the significance of Acts 10:4. The “memorial offering” was only a portion of the grain offering. God was pleased to accept this small portion and allow the rest of the grain offering to be left for the priests to eat even though the whole offering was due him. In Acts 10 we find that Cornelius and his household function in the story as a representative portion of the Gentiles. Just as the prayers of Cornelius and his charity to the poor arose as the “memorial portion” of an offering before God, Peter recognized through the grace given to the one man Cornelius that God “accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”

    Paul, who suffered so much for Christ, wrote, “All things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28)

    Thus, in drawing attention to the piety of Cornelius as the ‘memorial portion’ of a worship offering to God, the angel of God anticipates how Cornelius will function later in the episode as a representative of men from all nations who receive grace and peace from God through Jesus Christ.
    Jesus forbade his disciples from preaching the gospel unto the gentiles, said he, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not” (Matt. 10:5); and yet there were hints in (Matt.10:5) that they would someday be included, why?

    Miracles were wrought amongst the faithful gentiles

    There were indication that things were about to take a turn, and they did; Gentiles were included in this directive, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19).

    Let me not forget to include the second part of that injunction,”…teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…” (Matt. 28:20). What things were being commanded? Had it to do with the Law of Moses? Were they to convert to Judaism b4 converting to Christianity? What would be the connection to (Acts 10:3-6)?

    He saw, “an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, [Who is he here?] Cornelius. And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, what is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. And now send to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: He lodgeth with one Simon a Tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do” (Acts 10:3-6).

    While the two servants and the soldier approached, it was about the sixth hour, and at that time it was another regular hour of prayer, and Peter could be found praying on the housetop.
    The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. 10 Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance 11 and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. 13 And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” 15 And a voice spoke to him again the second time, 16 “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” (Acts 10:11-16).

    The Mosiac Law, or the Law of Moses, if you recall, placed severe dietary restricts on the type of animals that were considered clean and in which they could eat. What kind of animals were they forbidden to eat and why?

    They were forbidden from eating birds and animals that were carnivores or scavengers, and they were forbidden from eating animals that ate their own feces. So the term “unclean” is very much literal here. What foods could they eat and what was different about the types of food allowed and not allowed?

    They could eat things such as, herbivores, they feed on fresh non-plants (scaled fish and some birds).

    What point was being made by allowing us to eat food of a lesser class of species then a species of a higher class? Could it have something to do with being easier for a rich man getting through the eye of a needle than him being able to get into the Kingdom of Heaven?

    “Our Lord, on one occasion, entered the house of Martha and Mary. Martha was cumbered about much serving, desirous of giving the Master many courses, and all in grand style. Mary was anxious to listen to the Master. To Martha’s rebuke of her younger sister, our Lord gently replied, ‘But one thing is needful.’ This might well be always remembered on our Lord’s day.” (Commentary, p. 352.)

    They were Jews but many were Greek, Galatian, or Roman in lineage, what religion were they?
    Why do important messages from Heaven often come in three repetitions? Does it have to do with the Godhead?

    What was a one word description of the entire Law of Moses? (Doesn’t Jim F gives us the answer in his questioning.) Circumcision.

    Because the dietary law had become one of the main cultural barriers between Jews and gentiles, which God was about to use Peter to tear down (Acts 10:15) “God has cleansed”

    Jesus said, “There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!” When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” (Mark 7:15-19). The only things forbidden are blood and food used in idol worship: “But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.” (Acts 21:25)

    “We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter anymore.
    “It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June 1978.” (Bruce R. McConkie, “The New Revelation on Priesthood, p. 130-132, quoted in Ogden/Skinner, p. 59. Also quoted on Wikipedia.)

    What is the significance of prayer and what about to offer up thy sacraments and oblations as recorded in the D & C. When you have done it unto to the least of these my brethren, you have only done it unto me?

    We are to care for the poor and how did the Lord show this remembrance?

    [ACTS 10:24-33] 24 And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. 28 Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. 29 Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?” 30 So Cornelius said, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. When he comes, he will speak to you.’ 33 So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.”

    D&C 59:11–12. What Is an Oblation?
    Elder Bruce R. McConkie defined an oblation in the highest sense as “giving full devotion to the Lord, of offering him a broken heart and a contrite spirit. (D. & C. 59:8–12, 3 Ne. 9:19–20.) In a lesser and more temporal sense, an oblation is the offering of sacrifices, or of fast offering, or of any charitable contribution to the Church. (Ezek. 44:30.) Isaiah spoke of vain oblations meaning the ritualistic offering of sacrifices when the spirit and meaning of the ordinance and offering had been lost. (Isa. 1:13.) Ezekiel foretold that oblations would again be offered by Israel in the day of gathering. (Ezek. 20:33–44.)” (Mormon Doctrine, pp. 541–42.)

    How poetic are the words that echo across time to all souls that love God!
    Then in a moment to my view The stranger started from disguise.
    The tokens in his hands I knew; The Savior stood before mine eyes.
    He spake, and my poor name he named, “Of me thou hast not been ashamed.
    These deeds shall thy memorial be; Fear not, thou didst them unto me.”

    D&C 59:13–14. How Can One’s Fasting Be Done with Singleness of Heart?

    Fasting is sometimes thought of as going without food and drink. Here the Lord uses the terms joy and rejoicing to describe fasting. The preparation of food and fasting can go together. Smith and Sjodahl pointed out that “upon the Sabbath, even the food should be prepared ‘with singleness of heart’; that is to say, in simplicity. Our hearts, our desires, on that day should not be elaborate feasts, whereby some are prevented from having a Sabbath. A simple meal should suffice. To that extent every Sabbath should be a fast day, one bringing perfect joy.

    “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” The Lord wants to bless this family and anxiously awaits their obedience so He can.

    I truly believe that God remembers and helps us in countless ways, through our cultures, history, language, and with solid exegetical principles of interpretation that allows us to use the mind he has given us to gain greater and deeper understanding of his word and holy ways that will lead us towards eternal life.

    The Scriptures
    A Life of Holiness, by Jim Falcauner
    Nancy W. Jensen, New Testament Lesson #30 “God is No Respecter of Persons”
    1 May, 2009 — bzephyr
    “A Poor Warfarying Man of Grief” LDS hymn Book 29

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