There are several stories in these chapters:
|In chapter 1, we learn that Jesus ministered to the apostles for forty days after his resurrection and that Matthias was chosen to fill the vacancy left by Judas.|
|Chapter 2 tells us of the visit of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, the gift of tongues given to them as a sign of the Holy Ghost, and Peter’s sermon admonishing those who hear them to repent and be baptized.|
|Chapters 3-4 tell of Peter and John healing a lame man which resulted in many people believing their preaching, and the high priest, Caiaphas, and his family demanding that they cease preaching that Jesus was resurrected. Of course they didn’t heed that demand.|
|Chapter 5 begins with the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who withheld part of the money they received for the sale of their property, lying to Peter about how much they had received—and dying as a result of their lie. Because many were converted as a result of the preaching of Peter and the other apostles, the high priest had all of the apostles arrested and imprisoned, but they were released by an angel. Called on to account for their refusal to obey the high priest’s command not to teach in Jesus’ name, they said they would obey God rather than men: as witnesses of Christ, they cannot refrain from preaching him.|
We can understand each of these stories not only as historical stories, but also as stories that help us understand how to live in the world as Christians. Why do stories do that better than lists of principles for life? Pick one or two of these stories and use them to reflect on what it means to be a Christian.
Verses 1-14: These verses are Luke’s prologue to Acts. It is a literary prologue, carefully structured.
Why do we have nothing in Acts of the teachings of the 40-day ministry (verse 2)? Why was that ministry important to the apostles?
How does Jesus convey his teachings after his ascension (verse 2)?
To what does the word “passion” (verse 3) refer, to the suffering in the garden and death on the cross, or does it also include the resurrection? Why does Luke use that word, a word that could also be translated “experience” (Galatians 3:4), “suffering” (Luke 22:15), or “enduring” (Mark 8:31)?
What do the apostles hope that the risen Lord will do (verse 6)? How do you think they understood what it meant to restore Israel? How do we understand it today?
The Jerome Bible Commentary points out that the order of preaching commanded by Jesus in verse 8 corresponds to the parts of Acts: Jerusalem—Acts 1-7; Judea and Samaria—Acts 8-9; and the ends of the earth—Acts 10-28, with Rome being the end of the earth. Does that teach us anything about the book of Acts? Is it history as we think of history? That, of course, does not mean that the book is not a record of events that occurred, only that Luke may have had different ideas about how best to compose that record than we do.
Does verse 8 mean that the apostles had not previously received the Holy Ghost, or does it mean that after they have a future experience of the Holy Ghost, they will receive the power to be witnesses? If it means the first of these, how do you explain Luke John 20:22?
What do you make of the angels’ response to the Eleven in verse 11?
Verses 15-26: Since Mathias never again appears in Luke’s account, why was it important that Luke tell us about his election to the Twelve?
In verse 8 Jesus tells them that they will be witnesses of him in Israel, Samaria, and the whole earth. Why is the first thing they do in response to that prophecy / command gather together in prayer (verse 14)?
Note that the Greek word translated “bishoprick” in verse 20 means simply “office.” The literal meaning of the Greek word is “to have the duty of watching over others.”
Why did the new apostle have to be chosen from among those who had been disciples from the time of Jesus’ baptism until the resurrection (verses 21-22)? To what is the new member of the Twelve specifically to be ordained (verse 22)? What do those things mean for us?
Verses 1-13: The festival of Pentecost (also called the “Feast of Weeks”) was originally an agricultural feast, but since it coincided with the date when the Israelites arrived at Sinai (Exodus 19:1), it became a feast in which Israel celebrated the covenant of Sinai. That is why, for Qumran Jews, Pentecost was the most important feast of the year. For other Jews, however, it appears to have been a feast of secondary importance. Are there any parallels between the events of Sinai—or the Sinai covenant—and the events portrayed in these verses that would make the day of Pentecost particularly appropriate as the day when the Holy Ghost was given?
Why does the Spirit’s appearance come in an audible sound, “as of a rushing wind” (verse 2)? Why such a public manifestation rather than a still, small, interior voice?
What does “speaking in tongues” mean? Does it have more than one meaning? Does it mean something different here, for example, than it means in 1 Corinthians 14? What is the significance of speaking in tongues at this time? Does it have symbolic significance?
One popular non-LDS interpretation of this event is that it parallels the disruption of language that happened at Babel: human beings were divided into different factions by language at Babel; at Pentacost, they are once again united through language. Do you think that is a viable interpretation, or does it read too much into the biblical stories?
Verses 14-39 give us the main part of Peter’s sermon. C. H. Dodd (The Apostolic Preaching and Its Development [New York: Harper and Row, 1937]) sees the structure below in apostolic preaching in Acts. All but one of these points (#5) can be found in Peter’s sermon:
|1.||The kingdom of God is at hand (verses 16-21).|
|2.||That kingdom has come through Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection (verses 22-23).|
|3.||Jesus now sits at the right hand of God as the Messiah of Israel, the new David (verses 24-36).|
|4.||The coming of the Holy Ghost is the sign of Christ’s power|
|5.||Jesus will come again.|
|6.||Forgiveness comes through repentance (verses 38-39).|
Are these also central to preaching the gospel today? How do we incorporate these into our preaching? How does testifying of the Restoration fit in with these? What additional points does it add to this basic outline?
Within the sermon, verses 23-31 are a long interjection. Read verses 22 and 32 together—and then verse 33—skipping the verses between. Of what is Peter testifying? Why is it important that “we all are witnesses”? The Twelve are called as special witnesses (D&C 27:103), but are they the only witnesses of Christ’s divinity?
Verse 37: How do you explain this immediate reaction by the crowd? What convinced them to ask what they should do, having heard the message?
Verses 3:1-3:11: We have heard about the Seventy doing miracles, but we’ve not seen any disciples do them. However, we frequently saw Jesus doing miracles. What does Peter doing a miracle suggest?
Verses 3:12-3:26: Why does Peter refer to “the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob” in verse 13?
In verse 17 Peter says that he assumes that the people of Jerusalem, and their leaders, executed Jesus out of ignorance. (And surely, given the story we’ve read, he must mean primarily the leaders of the temple and members of the Sanhedrin.) Is he giving them the benefit of the doubt here or does he really think that their ignorance explains what happened? (Compare Luke 22:34.) Does their ignorance explain why preaching is required, namely to remove their ignorance?
When are “the times of refreshing” (verse 19)? Jewish tradition seems to have associated the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the restoration of Israel with the end time. But they have just seen the former (Acts 3:1-13) and the Lord has made it clear that he will not tell them about the latter (Acts 1:7). So, to what does this phrase refer?
Is there a connection between the reception of the Spirit and restoration? Individually? For the church?
Why does Peter make an appeal for conversion by referring to the prophets in verses 22-26?
Have Peter and the other church leaders had a recent experience like this one? (See, for example, Luke 24:27 and 24:44-46.)
Verses 4:1-4:31: Why would the Saduccees, which included the temple priests and the captain of the temple, have been angry about Peter’s preaching? Why do the Twelve say they preach (verse 20)? For what do they pray (verse 29)?
Verses 4:32-4:37: If, as some assume, each member of the Church was required to give his possessions to the Church, why is Barnabas in particular remembered?
Verses 1-11: Verse 4 suggests that Ananias’s donation was voluntary rather than a requirement of membership. What, then, was his sin and that of his wife?
Verses 12-16: Why do the saints meet at the Jerusalem Temple? What does verse 13 mean? Why are healings so important to the story?
Verses 17-42: About what is the high priest indignant? Does verse 28 answer that question?
Compare the Twelve’s response here with their response to persecution in chapter 4.
What does Peter mean when he says “We are his witnesses” (verse 32). What does he mean when he says “so is also the Holy Ghost”? To whom does the Holy Ghost bear witness of Jesus Christ?
What does Gamaliel, a Pharisee, suggest about Christianity in verse 39? What is he worried about?
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