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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

New Testament Tales - the Holy Spirit in Acts

The Holy Spirit in Acts
1. What are the “gifts” of the Holy Spirit?
2. What’s the connection between the gift of “tongues” and the sacrament of baptism?
3. Which apostles are also described as prophets?
4. Whose daughters were prophets?
5. What’s the connection between anointing with oil and prayer for healing?
6. How does the Holy Spirit guide in the book of Acts?
7. Who prophesied that Paul would be arrested?
8. What miracles occur in Acts?
9. What prophesies are recorded in Acts?
10. Who said “We must obey God, not men”?

Paul lists nine gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:1-14, seven in Romans 12:6-8, and five ministries in Ephesians 4:11. All these gifts are apparent in the stories in the Book of Acts. The gift of tongues is frequently connected with Pentecost and baptism, but only because that is where it is usually seen first. Acts seems to accept tongues as evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit, perhaps in the same way as the Old Testament accepted ecstatic utterances (1 Samuel 10:5-12). In Acts the gift is given by the Spirit, not by the sacrament or minister, so it arises before or after baptism is administered. Also, it’s not always mentioned, and while sometimes its absence is used to indicate someone is not fully baptized, there are other baptisms mentioned where tongues don’t seem to occur. Paul notes in 1 Corinthians that tongues without interpretation aren’t terribly useful, and the story of Pentecost seems to indicate that everyone heard and understood, as if interpretation were given to the (unbaptised) listeners just as tongues was to the disciples. (Even allowing that the disciples may have been speaking in foreign human tongues, interpreting such a babble of different languages would require quite serious gifting.)

Prophecy appears in many different guises in Acts. Peter announces the expectation of prophecy at Pentecost (Acts 2:16) in fulfillment of Joel. When Ananias and Sapphira try to deceive God, Peter doesn’t so much condemn them as prophesy death (Acts 5:9). When Barnabus and Saul are staying in Antioch, some prophets (including Agabus) predict a famine, prompting Christians to send aid (and send Saul and Barnabas). Saul and Barnabas are both described as prophets before the Spirit calls them to be missionaries (Acts 13:1), and their journey begins with Saul prophesying the false prophet Elymas will become blind (Acts 13:6,11). At the end of Paul’s first journey, the apostles write a letter and Judas and Silas, described as prophets, offer encouragement (Acts 15:32). In Ephesus, Paul lays hands on the newly baptised so they speak in tongues and prophesy. Philip’s four daughters are described as prophets in Caesarea (so there are women prophets Acts 21:9), but it’s Agabus, the same one who foretold the Jerusalem famine, who ends Paul’s journeys with a prediction of his arrest (Acts 21:11).

The Spirit’s gifts also include wisdom and skills for teaching, as promised in Acts 1:8. Peter’s bold defense before the religious leaders is inspired by the Spirit (Acts 4:8, 31), and Stephen is described as speaking with irresistible wisdom given by the Spirit (Acts 6:10). The Holy Spirit is also credited with guiding the apostles in many different ways, something we should remember when praying for guidance or when wondering about “unanswered” prayer. The Spirit speaks to Philip encouraging him to evangelize the eunuch (Acts 8:29). Ananias receives a vision calling him to visit Saul (Acts 9:10). Both Cornelius and Peter receive visions leading to the baptism of Gentiles (Acts 10). We’re not told how the Holy Spirit chose Saul and Barnabas, but prayer and fasting seems to be involved (Acts 13:2). Afterwards the Spirit guides Paul’s journeys (Acts 16:6-9). And Paul resolves “in the Spirit” to go to Rome, interpreting the vision of Agabus rather differently from those who beg him to stay (Acts 21:4).

Although miraculous healings occur many times in Acts, James includes more prosaic healing prayer accompanied by “anointing with oil” (James 5:14) which, in that time, was equivalent to taking your medicine. The Spirit works, but we work too, not as slaves or automata but as gifted family.

1 comment:

Lloyd said...

Very good analysis of the Book of Acts. God bless, Lloyd