Handling the Evangelistic Accounts in Acts More Accurately: Part II

May 11, 2011

In Part I of this series, I pointed out the two explicit indicators in the Pentecost account that tell us that we do not have an exhaustive record of the testimony that Peter gave at that occasion. Based on that evidence, I argued that we should not hold that any record in Acts of an evangelistic encounter provides us with sufficient evidence to argue that testimony to a particular truth was not given in that encounter.

An analysis of three other passages in Acts reinforces this point.

Acts 9

Very soon after his salvation, Paul “preached Christ in the synagogues that He is the Son of God” (9:20). He “confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ” (9:22).

After Paul had come to Jerusalem, Barnabas informed the apostles that Paul “had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus” (9:27). In Jerusalem, Paul then “spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus” (9:29).

Some have argued from these statements that Paul preached only about Christ in these messages. Luke’s later record of Paul’s own testimony before king Agrippa about his ministry in Damascus shows that it is illegitimate to argue in this manner:

Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance (26:19-20).

Paul emphatically testified that he had declared first in Damascus that the Gentiles “should repent and turn to God.” This testimony shows that Luke’s earlier record of Paul’s same ministry in Damascus is not exhaustive and is not intended to be taken as evidence that Paul had not preached repentance toward God in those messages.

Acts 13

Luke informs us that Barnabas and Saul entered a synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia on a Sabbath day (13:14). He tells us that there was a reading of the law and the prophets (13:15) followed by Paul’s message (13:16-41).

Many have overlooked the contribution of the reading from the OT to the total testimony received by Paul’s hearers on this occasion. We have no way of knowing what content his hearers received through that reading prior to his message. We, therefore, cannot legitimately assert with certainty that they did not receive testimony in this evangelistic encounter to any particular truth that is taught in the OT.

Acts 16

Following the miraculous events that took place, the Philippian jailor asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (16:30). They responded, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (16:31).

Based on these statements, a person argued with me years ago that the jailor was saved without testimony to the resurrection. The next verse, however, makes clear that he was not saved just hearing that one sentence: “And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house” (16:32).

Paul and Silas testified more from the word of the Lord than just what verse 31 records. Luke does not tell us what that additional testimony was. Because we know that the record of the testimony that the jailor received is not exhaustive, it is illegitimate to say with certainty that he did not receive testimony to any particular truth, especially to God’s raising Jesus from the dead.

The following verses implicitly confirm this assessment. Luke tells us that the jailor was baptized (16:33), but he does not tell us how it came about that he knew that he was to be baptized and that he assented to that act. Plainly, we are to understand that Paul and Silas bore testimony to him to do so.

Luke concludes his record by saying, “And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house” (16:34). Although it is possible that Luke intends for us from this statement to believe that these people believed in Jesus as God, it is at least equally likely that this statement reflects their salvation through belief in testimony about God the Father’s raising Jesus from the dead and through their subsequent confession of Jesus as Lord (cf. Rom. 10:9-10).

Along with the statements in Acts 2, these statements from Acts 9, 13, and 16 further teach us that we should not take the lack of mention of any particular truth in an evangelistic account in Acts as proof that no testimony to that truth was given in that encounter.

Rajesh

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