Podcast Date: April, 01 2019
Speakers in the audio file:
Jon: In our culture, we're familiar with great endings in stories. In a good story, you're dropped into a new world. Music begins, the bad guy has been defeated. And you watch as all the tensions get tied up. The guy and the girl finally confess their love. There's that final line that leaves us with the feeling of satisfaction.
Man: I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Jon: But if you've ever read the book of Acts, it seems to have the opposite effect. Paul arrives in Rome, he's under house arrest waiting for his trial before Caesar. What's going to happen to Paul? What's going to happen to the church communities that he started? And Luke writes this.
Tim: So the last sentences in the book of Acts are "For two whole years, Paul stayed there in his own rented house, he welcomes to everyone who came to see him, and he proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Messiah with all boldness and without hindrance." That's how the book ends.
Jon: I'm Jon Collins, this is The Bible Project podcast. Today, we look at the ending of the book of Acts, and we ask, "Why does Luke end the book so abruptly?"
Tim: Luke wants his readers to find their own story for shadowed in Jesus full story. And so, you find yourself now invited to continue and perpetuate the story that started here.
Jon: Thanks for joining us. Here we go.
All right, homestretch of Acts. It's been a lot of conversation from the book of Acts.
Tim: So many good things to talk about.
Jon: We are now in the part of Acts where Paul is going to go to Rome.
Tim: That's right.
Jon: He's been kind of passed along from ruler. "Paul's your problem now." "Paul's your problem now." "Paul's your problem now."
Tim: That's right. Nobody wants to take responsibility for him. They can't figure out even what charges to post against him.
Jon: And he got there because the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem...Well, actually just the people were going to kill them. And so they're like, "We got to break up this fight." And now they're like, "Well, what do we do with him?" They want to kill him. "We can't find anything wrong with him." Then Paul puts his foot in his mouth. He's like, "All right, bring me to Caesar."
Tim: "Take me to Rome."
Jon: And then they're like, "Okay, guys, we have to take him to Rome now." Should they just not say that?
Tim: Well, it's interesting. Actually, there's one. I didn't include this in our conversation. In chapter 23, Paul has a dream where Jesus appears to him and says, "Listen, I'm with you. I'm going to be safe. And you're going to bear witness about me in Rome. Just hang tight." And then Paul stays in the system for another like two or three years waiting to go to Rome
Jon: It would be such a frustrating time after such a just fully lived life at least for those past few years of just all the travel and all the people and all just this perpetual road trip and then being almost killed all these times, and starting all these communities, changing people's lives. And just seeing all this have happened and then having to just sit around for years in prison because of the laziness and injustice of a few rulers.
Tim: Yeah, totally.
Jon: That would just be frustrating.
Tim: I bet that was a huge thing Paul had to pray and work through. It is during these years of imprisonment that he worked out, and then with a scribe wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon.
Jon: There you go.
Tim: These have been some of the greatest gifts that he's passed on to the church - his writings.
Jon: When he talks about being in prison in those letters, he's talking about this season of imprisonment.
Tim: Oh, man, yes. There was likely one other season of imprisonment. Many scholars think it was in Ephesus, that really took him to the bottom. He mentioned that in 2 Corinthians. It doesn't seem to be tied to this season, but the chronology is kind of complicated. But most likely, yeah, it's this Caesarea imprisonment that's connected to many of the prison letters.
Tim: That was something really significant that came out of this, but it must have drove him mad. Here we go. Paul's in the legal system, it's messed up. One thing that Luke is up to, the way that he's designed the stories about Paul from his missionary journeys, but especially up to his arrest is going to Jerusalem, what happens to him there, all of the trials, everything leading to Rome. This is really cool.
It's this like Old Testament narrative design patterns. He has designed the narratives of Paul going to Jerusalem, and then facing Roman officials, and then going to Rome. All of it has been mapped onto and hyperlinked key moments in Jesus's story in Luke. Remember it's a two-volume work of Jesus' missionary journeys, and then his decision to go to Jerusalem, and then what happens to him in Jerusalem.
People have noticed these correspondences parallels for a long, long time. It was a scholar in the 20th century named Charles Talbert, who brought it all together and made like...We're not making this up. Once you see it all together - I've tried to bring it together in a chart here - it's just overwhelming and clear what Luke is doing. His book is called "Literary Patterns, Theological Themes, and the Genre of Luke-Acts." Bestseller, I'm sure.
Jon: Literary patterns. You're like, "Let's talk about that."
Tim: Let's work through a few these, which just kind of point them out. In Luke chapter 10, Jesus sends out the 70 as a preview of the Gentile mission to the church. Remember, he sends out the 12 to announce the kingdom of God. That's in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But then in Luke preserves the memory of Jesus also sending out a group of 70, which sending out 12—
Jon: It makes sense for the...
Tim: ...tribes of Israel. And then sending them also into non-Jewish territories up in Galilee, 70 Seventy is the number of nations in the table of nations in Genesis 10. Jesus, dude, is symbol nerd.
Jon: That's how many nations are listed in Genesis 10? 70.
Tim: Correct. It's the map of all the sons of Noah. Yeah, correct. That opens up the travel section of Luke in Luke's portrayal of Jesus. There's the Galilee section, and then there's the long travel narrative.
Jon: Right, to Jerusalem.
Tim: And so, exactly mapping on to that, the middle part of Acts is Paul's journey narrative, the missionary journeys out there. Then on turn to the dime, Jesus, in Luke 9, it says that Jesus fixed his face to go to Jerusalem. Or when he is transformed on the mountain with Moses and Elijah, they're talking about his Exodus that he's going to fulfill in Jerusalem.
So within the span of a couple of scenes, Jesus is now on a mission to go to Jerusalem. Just like we saw with Paul, he's out, they're planting churches, and then he just gets a bee in his bonnet, "God telling me to go to Jerusalem." But he's on it.
Everybody around Jesus doesn't understand why he has to go to Jerusalem. Multiple conversations. He's like, "I'm going to go to Jerusalem, and they're going to kill me there." And then Luke will say, "But no one understood what he meant by this. They didn't know why he had to go to Jerusalem." This happens multiple times.
Jon: Now Jesus didn't have as many enemies in Jerusalem is Paul would have had, right?
Tim: Oh, yeah, totally. He's going about, he's having all of his run-ins with Sadducee’s, Pharisees, and leaders.
Jon: He's got his reputation proceeding him.
Tim: It's precisely parallel. Just Paul and Jesus on their journeys are building up a bad reputation in Jerusalem, and then they make a decision both to go there. In the same way, Paul's friends don't understand why he has to go to Jerusalem, they are trying to persuade him not to go.
This is interesting. In the journey narrative, from the moment Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem to arriving in Jerusalem, there are seven references to Jesus going to Jerusalem. So it'll be like, "While Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, a blind man approached him..." So seven times is mentioned in between in the journey narrative.
After Paul first decides to go to Jerusalem and upon his arrival in Jerusalem, seven times, that the journey to Jerusalem is mentioned. Both Jesus and Paul, when they first arrived in the city, gained a positive reception. So for Jesus, it's Palm Sunday. Remember?
Tim: They're giving glory to God. Actually, this is a verbal link here, where the crowds are saying, "Blessed is one comes in the name of the Lord, peace in heaven, glory in the heights." When Paul arise in Jerusalem, the apostles receive us gladly, Luke says, "The following day Paul went up to James, the elders were there. He related one by one all the things that God had done among the Gentiles. And when they heard it, they gave glory to God." So Jesus comes into Jerusalem to the glory of God and Paul comes to Jerusalem to the glory of God.
Where do both of them go immediately upon arriving? They both go to the temple. Literally just same phrase. "Entered into the temple." Both of them end up getting arrested and seized by a crowd. So for Jesus is in Gethsemane. "While Jesus was speaking in the garden, behold, a crowd came and one called Judas and they seized him." Same with Paul.
Jon: Wait. That was in Gethsemane?
Tim: In the Garden of Gethsemane.
Jon: There was a crowd. They call it a crowd.
Tim: That's what Luke calls it. He calls it a crowd. Storm the garden, and then seized him and took him to the high priest. When Paul is in the temple precincts, a crowd is stirred up, and they laid hold of him and dragged him outside the temple. Jesus undergoes four stages to his trial, four leaders. He's brought before the Sanhedrin, Pilate first time, Herod, then Pilate a second time.
Luke has four. The moment before Herod isn't mentioned in Mark or Luke. Paul also undergoes four separate trials before the Sanhedrin, just like Jesus, before Felix, who's the governor. Just like Pilates's the governor in Jerusalem, Felix is the governor. Then before Festus and then also Herod, Herod Agrippa. So he's lined up even the representatives just precisely.
While they're in Jerusalem, Jesus enters into a debate with Sadducees and Luke makes a little note. "Sadducees don't believe in the resurrection." Paul, when he's
on trial before the Sanhedrin, he recognizes, "Ooh, there's Pharisees and Sadducees in the room. The Sadducees don't believe in the resurrection." So what Paul says is, "I'm on trial for believing in the resurrection." And then the Sadducees are like, "There is no resurrection." And the Pharisees were like, "What?" Then a commotion starts and the trial gets canceled.
Jon: Smart move.
Tim: It's totally Paul's work in the room. Both Jesus and Paul stand before someone named Herod. Pilate says to the crowd, "Jesus should be released." King Agrippa says, "Paul should be released, but he appealed to Caesar." The crowd shouts about Jesus, "Take him away." The crowd shouts about Paul in the temple precincts, "Take him away."
Jon: Same phrase.
Tim: Same phrase. In both cases, a Roman centurion acknowledges Jesus's identity. "Surely he's a righteous man."
Jon: Who's that in Paul's case?
Tim: In Paul's case, it's the Roman centurion who takes him on the ship through the storm, and so on, and he says he treated Paul with kindness and he wanted to deliver Paul safely. In both narratives, a Roman centurion is given this positive portrait, which is surprising. Then this one takes the cake. At Jesus's Passover meal, "He took the bread and giving thanks, he broke it." When Paul is on the shipwreck, he's thrown the cargo overboard, the ships that drift in the storm. And then Luke creates this little still moment where Paul performs the Last Supper on the boat. He prays for everybody safety. And it says, "Paul took the bread and giving thanks he broke it."
Tim: This 16. Those are the most prominent ones. So like, "What's going on here?" I have some quotes and different observations what the people have made. But I'm just curious. I've been looking at this for a long time. You're looking at this for the first time.
Jon: Well, I mean, you've been showing how this is a typical thing in the Hebrew literature. All these callbacks.
Tim: Luke, Acts is Jewish literature written in Greek by somebody who's a master of the Hebrew Bible and the Greek Bible.
Jon: So I guess that's my first thought is just, "Well, that seems par for the course that he would be doing that." But it's interesting that to me, I would tell Luke like, "Well, take it easy. Paul isn't Jesus."
Tim: You might be a little bit bothered.
Jon: Yeah. "Don't push this so far. I mean, I see what you're doing and that's really clever, but Jesus was the Son of Man who can unite heaven and earth. Paul, you're rad. You're working by his Spirit to go and proclaim his kingdom." I would almost try to tell Luke like, "Calm down a little bit on this parallelism between Jesus and Paul." It makes me feel a little uncomfortable.
Tim: Got it. Yeah, that's really interesting. The apostles, especially Luke but also Paul, they aren't as bothered by that. If anything, they want to heighten the connection and the similarity ... obviously.
Jon: And it's always bothered me that Paul's thought of his suffering that way.
Tim: Yeah, totally. I'm looking at this line - it's in Colossians 1 where he says, "I rejoice in my sufferings that I share on behalf of Christ body size body, Messiah's body. I am filling up what remains of the Messiah's sufferings in my body."
So he sees literally, if my life is the Messiah's life, I no longer live, it's the Messiah, the new human living in and through me, and my body isn't my own, it belongs to the Messiah, then the hardships that I undergo for the Messiah and the new humanity are his sufferings.
Jon: He could say that. I would be comfortable with him saying that. "When I suffer it's the same type of suffering...
Tim: Well, it doesn't say same type.
Jon: I know. I don't I like what he said.
Tim: You're telling me what you wish he said.
Jon: What you kind of said was like, they could even say, "I'm sharing in the suffering Jesus, and I'm participating in his suffering." And I think he uses the phrase like that. But what he says - I don't have it in front of me...What does he say?
Tim: "I'm filling up what is lacking in the Messiah's suffering in my body."
Jon: That's always, was a weird verse, because if the point of Jesus suffering was to create a way forward, then is what he didn't wasn't complete in some way and that Paul feels like he needs to complete that? But I have a feeling and maybe that's not exactly what it means, but when he says...Sorry, read it again. Where are we at Colossians?
Tim: Colossians 1.
Jon: "I rejoice when I'm suffering for you and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regards to Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, which is the church." So there was something lacking.
Tim: Maybe it's that phrase "lacking."
Jon: Yeah, I mean, that's the phrase lacking.
Tim: And maybe it's because there's that theme in Hebrews about the Messiah's death and then resurrection was complete and perfect. I mean, there's nothing lacking.
Jon: Yeah, exactly.
Tim: And that's true in terms of that as our substitute and forerunner, he goes into death and out the other side on our behalf, it's done. It's done.
Jon: He didn't halfway come back alive.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. It's a done deal. What Paul's focusing on, though, is my participation in the kingdom ruling as the new humanity over the world. This is the theme in Luke. The Risen King is the suffering crucified one. And so, to rule the way Jesus rules will mean self-denial and hardship. If I'm so closely joined to Jesus, that my life is his life, then my sufferings, are his sufferings in a really...I don't know. An existential way?
I mean, Paul doesn't even flinch. He's just like, "Yeah, I'm in prison, that's Jesus suffering. I'm continuing the suffering."
Jon: Jesus didn't stick around to suffer for you guys in prison, I'm doing it on behalf of Jesus.
Tim: "I'm doing it for you and for him." Yeah, totally. It seems to me Luke is making the same point through narrative. That's exactly right.
Jon: That by Paul suffering and him coming back to Jerusalem and being sent to Rome that is also Jesus suffering.
Tim: Actually, here, this is good. I have a couple of quotes here of people who have reflected on these parallels patterns. One is a scholar named Michael Golder. Here's how he frames it. He says, "Luke is writing a typological history." He's using the word typology in a technical sense of tupos, is the Greek word for pattern. So a patterned history. "The life of Jesus provides the template for the life of the church. This is the Pauline doctrine of the body of Christ finding here a literary expression and the patterns and cycles of Luke's narrative. Christ is alive. He's continuing his own life through his body that is through the church."
His point is, in Acts, Luke's bringing two literary expressions through the patterns the same idea that Paul was making. That it is Jesus continuing his life through his Father.
Jon: This is Jesus continued legacy through the body, now through others.
Tim: Yeah. Through misunderstood cultural influencers who aren't doing anything to break the law. Everything we've talked about in the series, Paul is doing the same thing. So Peter and Paul, but especially Paul, Paul really embodies what's going on here for Luke in an important way. Putting it that way, does that make you nervous?
Jon: No, no. I like it.
Tim: It doesn't activate the same hesitation?
Jon: I think the hesitation is, are you trying to equate Paul with Jesus – versus what I hear Golder here saying is that Jesus is working through Paul in which case, Paul's activity here is Jesus' activity.
Tim: Therefore, it will mirror.
Jon: So to really show that to make that plain as day, actually making it mirror Jesus's activity in that typological way really brings home that point. Yeah, that's cool.
Tim: Let's see. Just a couple other just Bible nerds who talk about this. One is Charles Talbert who compiled this detailed list. It's the most exhaustive kind of collection that anyone's ever made. He says this about it. He says in Luke, Acts, we find an architectural pattern of correspondences between the career of Jesus and the life of the apostles.
In this way, Luke portrayed the deeds and the teachings of Jesus as the pattern for the acts and instruction of the Apostolic Church in the book of Acts. It's near impossible to avoid the conclusion that these correspondences between Jesus and his followers serve this purpose. Jesus is the master. He's the source of the Christian way of life, which is imitated by his disciples."
He's actually kind of dialed it down from Golder's observation. For him is just Jesus is like the teacher and then apostles are the imitators. Golder wants to make it even a little more bold to say it's literally Jesus his own life being played out. And so it will look the same. It's interesting. They're both probably right. It's just a matter of emphasis.
Tim: Here's something interesting about the book of Acts how it concludes. The book of Acts, you know, Paul's in all these mistrials, the famous shipwreck story. And you got Jonah—
Jon: We got some good shipwreck stories.
Tim: Yeah, totally. There's just a handful actually. One other main shipwreck story, Jonah. But then you also have all of the symbolism connected to dangerous waters - passing through the dangerous waters. But that's all under the surface for Luke. But surely he's aware of that.
And so Paul has safely brought through - this is cool - he's safely bought through the shipwreck, the ship breaks apart, as they get close to a little island called Malta. So they float all the pieces of the ship to the Island. There are some islanders there and they are the tribe chief’s names Publius. I'm not sure that's how you say it. Publius, they're preparing a fire on the beach. And then Luke includes this random story of Paul getting bitten by a snake, and then he shakes it off. Everybody was waiting for him to puff up.
Jon: Yeah. They are like, "We know what happens when you are bitten by a snake."
Tim: And nothing happens. And then they think he's deity or something like that. But there's a stop just. So Paul just passed through the chaos waters. And then he gets struck by a snake. Genesis, Exodus stuff is just all firing here.
Tim: And Paul's not touched by any of it. The snake bites him and he just shakes it off. Jon: The boat goes under and he just floats to land. You're just like, "Wow, this guy." Jon: "He's living on another level."
Tim: Yes, it's interesting. So he ends up in Rome. In Rome, he ends up in the sponsored house arrest situation and has a Roman soldier guarding him. But he's able to host friends. He starts inviting all these Jewish leaders, Bible studies. A phrase occurs describing what Paul's announcing. It occurs two times and we've hardly heard it throughout the book. It's the phrase "kingdom of God."
The last sentences of the book of Acts are: "For two whole years, Paul stayed there in his own rented house, he welcomes everyone who came to see him, and he proclaimed the kingdom of God, and taught about the Lord Jesus Messiah with all boldness and without hindrance." Then that's how the book ends.
Notice, he begins that paragraph with "For two whole years, here's what Paul did. Kingdom of God, nobody stopped him." You're like, "What happened after the two years?" Why did you just mention two years? He's begging the question or baiting you.
Jon: And the whole, the whole thing about the trial hasn't been resolved.
Tim: Yeah, it's totally unresolved. He spent a quarter of the book building up this trial. Jon: Did he forget to end the book.
Tim: Man, welcome to like a cottage industry in biblical scholarship - people theorizing about why the book of Acts ended this way. For somebody as sophisticated as Luke to do this, end the book this way, I can't but draw the conclusion that it's intentional. He's doing something to us.
Jon: He didn't just run out of time.
Tim: He didn't just run out of time. He didn't just run out of source material.
Jon: He's like, "Yeah, actually, I don't really know what happened to Paul after that."
Tim: "Didn't know what happened to Paul? What do you mean, he didn't know what happened to Paul?"
Jon: He's like, "I've hit my word count, I'm done."
Tim: End of the scroll over this. Think back. The phrase "Kingdom of God" appears twice in the opening scene of Jesus commissioning. "If you're going to be my witnesses announcing good news of the Kingdom, Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria to the ends of the earth." So here we are now on other side of the Mediterranean Sea, and the Kingdom of God has spread from one end of the Sea to the other. All the obstacles overcome all the crazy, unlikely things have happened.
This is one of my favorite commentators on the book of Acts. His name is Ben Witherington. I think he's right. I can't claim to have exhaustively researched the topic, but I think he has.
Jon: You like what Ben says.
Tim: I like Ben a lot and I like what he says. He says, "The ending of the book of Acts makes it clear that Luke's purpose wasn't simply to chronicle the life and death of Paul. Yeah, but rather, the rise and spread of the gospel and the social and religious movement to which it gave birth." Let's register that point. If he was just writing a history of the early church, why contain a quarter of it about the six trials of one missionary? It's like, "What?"
"Luke has provided a theological history," Witherington says, "that traces the spread of the good news from Jerusalem to Rome, from the eastern edge of the Roman Empire right into it's very heart." This is interesting. I had never thought of this before. Rome wasn't viewed in Luke's day as the edge of the known world. It's not the ends of the earth. The Spain.
Jon: It's the center of the earth.
Tim: The reader would know very well that Jesus' mission to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth was still ongoing in his own day. However, for Luke, it was critical and symbolic that the message reaches the heart and hub of the Empire as a challenge to Caesar and as a gateway to the ends of the earth. All the highways lead to Rome and all the highways go out of Rome.
Witherington says, "The open ended-ness that a modern reader's senses in the ending of Acts, it's intentional. Luke isn't chronicling the life and times of Paul or any other early Christian leader. That kind of story would have a definite conclusion. Rather, he's chronicling a phenomenon on and a movement that was continuing and alive and well in his own day. For Luke. Paul's story is really about the unstoppable Word of God, which no obstacle, no shipwreck, no snakebite, no Roman authorities could hinder from reaching the heart of the Empire, and the hearts of those who live there."
So there are multiple points here. One is that Rome isn't the ends of the earth. So Luke actually never ties a bow on that. That was the last—
Jon: The whole structure of Judea, Samaria, ends of the earth. Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria ends of the earth, they got to the center of the earth.
Tim: Right, the center of the Empire.
Jon: The center of the known world.
Tim: His point is, if you're reading this book, it's likely because you're part of the movement. And so, you find yourself now invited to continue and perpetuate the story that's started here. The ends of the earth, that mission is still going, what am I doing to be part of that? Why Rome? His point is that Rome is a symbolic place to conclude the story for right now.
There are lots of debates. Some people think Paul was executed here. People debate the historicity but there are early traditions of a whole other season of Paul's productivity of another missionary is released, acquitted, has a whole nother season in prisoned again, and then that accounts that would be the imprisonment that is referred to in 2 Timothy. 2 Timothy's sounds like he knows he's going to die. It's like his last will and testament kind of letter.
Wetherington's point is that for Luke, that wouldn't serve its purpose. His point is for the reader to feel like, "I'm a part of the living continuation of the story, I want to be like Jesus, and I want to be like Peter, and I want to be like Paul, as I now go out and participate." That makes such sense.
Do you remember how the Gospel of Mark ends in the short ending? Most likely the original ending, it ends with the women running from the tomb, but not telling anybody?
Jon: Yeah, they don't tell anyone. And you're like, "Okay."
Tim: And it's like Mark is of course aware. He's living in the days of the missionary. Jon: Of course they told someone.
Tim: Totally. It's clearly intentional. It's a way of including and challenging the reader to consider your own response. And I think there's something similar here where Luke wants his readers to find their own story foreshadowed in Jesus and Paul story, and participate in the spread of the good news.
Jon: No, that's cool. I mean, that makes it a really complete, nice, compelling arc of like, "Why did Paul care so much about the unity of the church? Why was that such a big deal to him? It's a great time to reflect, like, is that a big deal to me? That seems to be like Paul's most significant thing. What would we define as our most significant thing? And that was represented in the gift that puts him in danger? But as he suffers, he sees himself as participating in Jesus suffering. He's part of that and it's for the sake of this thing he cares so much about.
And then the book leaves us kind of without a bow on it so that we can then sit back and go, "Do I care that much?"
Tim: Yeah, sure.
Jon: When I suffer—
Tim: Do I suffer? Is there anything that I am striving to contribute to...
Jon: Am I striving to contribute—
Tim: ...to my community, or the Jesus movement that cost me anything?
Jon: I love the phrase he uses cosmic significance to it. Suffering has this cosmic significance to it. Luke, Acts and we'll be good.
Tim: Dude, nine videos.
Jon: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bible Project podcast. We have finished our conversation on the book of Acts. But if you're still interested in learning more, Tim Mackie has his own podcast. It's called Exploring my Strange Bible. It's an archive of a lot of his teachings and sermons, and he has some great content. Check it out.
If you've been enjoying this podcast, please consider leaving a review and sharing it with others. We love reading the reviews and they also really help other people find the show as well. Today's episode was edited and produced by Dan Gummel, the music by the band Tents.
Kate: Hi, this is Kate Ferrario. I'm from Westland, Oregon. My favorite thing about The Bible Project is the Read Scripture Coffee Table book. It's awesome, and my kids are going to love it. We believe the Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus. We're a crowdfunded project by people like me. Find free videos, study notes, podcasts and more at thebibleproject.com.