Acts Facts – A Roadmap

Reading the short passages from Acts it is easy to miss the big picture, a captivating story easily read in a single sitting. Below is a brief summary of major events in each of the 28 chapters. It’s something I put together a few years ago and just thought it might be helpful. It is interesting that the first of the book (Chapters 1-12) is all about Peter and the remainder all about Paul.

In an earlier post, Luke/Acts Birth of the Church Luke and Acts are linked in a single narrative about the birth of the church. St. Luke was my confirmation saint, chosen because he wrote more than 25% of the New Testament.

St. Gregory of Nyssa

I fail to be inspired by many of the writings of the church fathers, but this beautiful writing from today’s Office of Readings, a sixteen hundred year old explanation of how everything changed with the Incarnation and Resurrection and presence of the Holy Spirit seems to be particularly clear and inspirational. I recommend the Office of Readings which often includes a short blurb from a church father. The Universalis app offers an expanded version of Morning Prayer which includes the selections for the Office of Readings.

 

Office of Readings – Revelation

For any of you struggling with Revelation in the Office of Readings, here is a link for a Catholic Answers article on the subject. The article focuses on Revelation 17-18, readings for yesterday and today. You will find this Imprimatur at the end of the article.

Nothing else in this post, my wonderings, is covered by the above Imprimatur.

Many have argued that, whether we understand Revelation or not, it is pretty sure that those 1st Century Christians to whom it was written understood it. Well, maybe, but the ancient Jews, the Children of Israel, had trouble understanding or at least obeying the Law and the Prophets.

Reading these chapters from Revelation makes me wonder if they were a warning to the Church against alignment with Rome (Babylon), the alignment that began with emperors Constantine and Theodosius, and resulted in church-state struggles and citizens being defined as Christian or not Christian based simply on who ruled. That didn’t end well.

It was Revelation 18:4-5 that made me think of that question:
Then I heard another voice from heaven say:“Depart from her,[d] my people, so as not to take part in her sins and receive a share in her plagues for her sins are piled up to the sky, and God remembers her crimes.

As I said, I’m just wondering, not teaching. Revelation has always been mysterious to me and to most people. I recall when a popular argument was that the locusts in Revelation were a prophecy of the helicopters in Vietnam. (Even now, Googling “revelation locusts helicopters” gets about 90,000 hits.)

May 15th, 2019 – Evangelization

Father Linsky led a discussion on evangelization beginning with these three Bible quotes.

Acts 12:24 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

24 But the word of God continued to spread and grow.

Romans 10:13-15 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 [a]But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? 15 And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring [the] good news!”[b

1 Peter 3:14-16 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

14 But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, 16 but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.

Father also shared a quote from a new book by William E. Simon, Jr., Catholic layman who failed in a 2002 bid for governorship of California. It was the third quote in the clip below from the Good Reads website. Simon, son of former Treasury Secretary William E. Simon, Sr., is in the investment business, chairs his own foundation, and is a member of the Society of Emeritus Trustees of the Heritage Foundation. The book looks pertinent and interesting. The Kindle version is available at Amazon for $9.99.

Also referenced was the Pope Paul VI Encyclical, On Evangelization in the Modern World. That book also shows up on Good Reads (screen shot below) and can be purchased at amazon.com for $4.95.


It might be said that the keys to successful evangelization are personal experience of life in Jesus Christ, in the Church (His Body) and at least basic theological and Bible education, both essentials for ability to “bring the Good News” and to “give an explanation to anyone who asks for a reason for our hope.” So, we may be well advised to increase our worship, service, study, speech, and writing, always praying for wisdom and understanding and demonstrating love as we do so.

 

And, of course, there is always opportunity for advancement as well as temptation to regress. So, we must persevere, moving always in the right direction.

And, finally, a minority opinion on horn blowing which may be, not a sign of rage, but a gift to the person who is distracted and especially to the line of following drivers who are hoping to get through the light before it changes.

May 8, 2019 – Prosperity and Good Health

Fr. Linsky began with the first Mass reading from Acts 8 about what happened in the very early church after the stoning of Deacon Stephen.

Acts 8:1b New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE) Persecution of the Church. On that day, there broke out a severe persecution[a]of the church in Jerusalem, and all were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.[b]

I think it is always a good idea to consider the footnotes when reading the Bible to get some idea of what Bible scholars are thinking. That is not to even suggest they are always right, but their comments, usually based on original languages and historical, theological, and literary context, are worthy of consideration and may be enlightening. Here is the text for footnotes (a) and (b) found at this LINK.

Fr. Linsky focused attention on the severe persecution, contrasting that with the way prosperity and good health are sometimes today presented as the major benefits of the Christian faith. Such slanting of the Gospel (Good News) is sometimes referred to as prosperity gospel or prosperity theology.

Catholic theology is more aligned with early Church teaching that the Christian faith empowers us to deal with adversity and suffering, offering them as sacrifices, even as we continue to think positively about the true good news we have heard and gifts we have received and the eternal abundant life we have been promised if we persevere.

A few of us have engaged in some online discussion about a couple of articles on the prosperity gospel. First was a blog post by Southern Baptist Convention President Dr. Albert Mohler, JR., Would You Trade Eternal Life for A Ferrari? The False Gospel of Prosperity Theology. You can read his blog post HERE.

I am not up-to-date with typical Southern Baptist theology of today, but what Dr. Mohler writes rings true with what I learned there in the middle of the last century and with what Southern Baptists I know today believe and practice.

The subject of Dr. Mohler’s post was an insightful article published, of all places, in the Financial Times. The article, by Edward Luce, is entitled A preacher for Trump’s America: Joel Osteen and the prosperity gospel. FT articles are usually available only to subscribers, but this one seems to be accessible HERE. It is all about Mr. Luce’s visits to Joel Osteen’s Houston TX Lakewood Church and his interview with Osteen. It’s worth your time (and money) even if you must do a $1.00 trial subscription.

All this made me think about a chart I created a few years ago about Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Fruits of the Holy Spirit, Virtues, and Vices. I have shared it before, but here it is again, all based on Sacred Scripture and the Catechism of the Church.

Here is the blog post in which I first published that chart, October 2010, while in the St. Peter’s RCIA class preparing for Confirmation at Pentecost 2011. Suffice it to say that neither prosperity nor good health shows up on the chart. There are, however, several items related to preparation for and dealing with whatever adversity we may face and with putting love of others ahead of concerns about ourselves.

PS: Special thanks to Steven for sharing his personal experience with prosperity theology and a clear explanation of it.

May 1, 2019 – John 3:16

John 3:16 King James Version (KJV)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Importance of Context

Thanks to Father Linsky for putting these beautiful, encouraging, and famous words from the Gospel of St. John  in context, an essential step in correct interpretation and understanding of Sacred Scripture. It is important to remember that the writers of the various books of the Bible did not divide them up into chapters and verses. The divisions we commonly see in current English versions are only about 600 years old. So, St. John might be quite disturbed to find that Christians are going around quoting that one sentence from his theologically deep and profound story of Jesus’s encounter with Nicodemus, often not even knowing from whence the sentence came.

OT – NT Connections and Paragraphs

Speaking of verses and chapters, and the OT connections, some translations even go so far as to add paragraphs. I’m not a student of typology so have never given serious thought to those OT connections with Moses and with Abraham and Isaac, connections that were very important to first century Jewish understanding of who Jesus was and of the meaning of this encounter with Nicodemus. The online NABRE linked at this blog shows verses 14 and 15,  the reference to Moses and the serpent, at the end of a paragraph and John 3:16 as the beginning of a new paragraph. Given the discussion this morning, I would acknowledge the connection only son sacrifice connection between God/Jesus and Abraham/Isaac by beginning a new paragraph with verse 14. But, that is just an idea of course.

john 3 14 15 16

The Whole Story

We can be easily misled and even build heresies on single “verses” pulled out of context and perhaps even by single books pulled out of context. As Dan pointed out, John 3:16 is true, the Gospel in a nutshell, but doesn’t tell the whole story. Where are the Beatitudes and the Our Father? They are not in the Gospel According to St. John.  And with only John’s Gospel, we know nothing of the birth, baptism, temptation, or transfiguration of Jesus Christ, and find no mention of repentance. So, in seeking the whole truth, we have to consider the Sacred Scriptures in their entirety.

Translation Difficulties

Another issue, even with single verses, is difficulty in translation of ancient Greek and Hebrew into meaningful modern English language. Bill pointed out that the Greek word translated “believe” really means trust and goes far beyond mere intellectual belief. Below is what a Bible Greek dictionary says about the word and about the following little three-letter Greek word which is translated “in” or “into” and, according to the Greek Bible dictionary, “denotes purpose and sometimes result.” One could say that since the verb can be translated “believe in,” the verb plus the preposition gives double emphasis much as when Jesus proclaims “I Iam” or “Amen amen.” All three examples are characteristic of the Gospel of John.

definitions

And here is what the subject verse looks like in Greek, the two key words being highlighted in yellow. More information HERE.

pistueo eis

It is interesting to see how various translators of English versions have handled that little highlighted Greek phrase. Of fifty-six versions checked, fifty-two translate it as belief in or on. The Amplified Bible hedges the bet a bit by translating as “believes and trusts.” The Amplified Bible Classic Edition adds parenthetically “(trusts in, clings to, relies on).” The Contemporary English Version translates as “has faith in.” The New Life Version translates as “puts his trust in.” The Complete Jewish Bible translates as “trusts in.” So, even without looking at the Greek, insights can be gained from considering how different translators have handled the problem.

A Simple Example

To take a simple example to illustrate the difference between believing that and believing in or into, it is one thing to believe that global warming is real but something entirely different to “believe into” global warming which might result in getting off the grid and going 100% solar, giving up driving, beef, air conditioning, moving to higher ground further north, shutting down the churches as unjustified energy consumers, etc. In Bible Greek terms, in John’s Gospel, believing in or into something means a change in one’s life. (I’m not suggesting that we all “believe in” global warming. I think that is, or at least should be, more political than religious.)

Occurrences of That Two-Word Greek Phrase

An interesting fact about the two-word Greek phrase highlighted above is that it never occurs in Matthew, Mark, or Luke but occurs 14 times in John, once in 1st John, and once in Acts. For the really curious, here are all sixteen occurrences, NABRE English but based on a search of the Greek Phrase.

believe in verses

Skipping the Greek – Conclusion

This suggests that “belief in Jesus” is a key theme of the Gospel of John. Backing off from consideration of any Greek, we can search just the NABRE for instances of appearance of believe, believes, believer, believing, and believed. It is interesting that we find only one in Matthew, three in Mark, one in Luke, but twenty nine in John. That clearly supports belief in “belief” as a key theme of John and suggests value in paying especially close attention whenever forms of that word are encountered in John. And the general idea for John seems to be that “belief in” involves faith and trust and reliance and motivates and results in change and action. It is not just mental or intellectual.

 

April 24, 2019 – Redeem

Luke 24:21But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place.

After discussion about the fact that it took some time for Jesus’s followers, and takes time for us today, to begin understanding the significance of the crucifixion and resurrection, Father Linsky challenged me to explore the meaning of redeem in the above verse.

The words come from dialogue, on the road to Emmaus, between the risen but unrecognized Jesus and two of his followers not included in the eleven. After describing, for the stranger walking with them, recent disheartening events, one of the two followers made the statement in the verse above. What did he mean, and why was redemption of Israel a common hope?

Those who were at the recent Basilica retreat may recall Father Dempsey frequently referring to the necessity of studying the Bible in the original languages. Easier said than done, but, thanks to the internet, it is now possible for any of us to do that to some extent even without being able to read those ancient languages. Here is one approach to learning more about redeem.

Step 1 – Find places the English word is used in the Bible

It is quick and easy (and recommended by Fr. Dempsey) to use the Bible Gateway searchable Bible linked on stpetersmpg.blog. Here is what the result of such a search for redeem looks like:

 

I was surprised to find that the word occurs 102 times in the NABRE Old Testament but only once in the NABRE New Testament. And that one time is in the verse we had read. So, let’s forget the Old Testament for now since that exploration might be worthy of a thesis.

Step 2 – See what other translators (besides NABRE translators) came up with

Bible translation is difficult and controversial. Even for those who can read Greek and Hebrew, figuring out what an ancient word or phrase meant to ancient people in their own culture and context and then coming up with a modern English word or phrase that conveys that same meaning to us in our 21st century culture and context is a formidable task.

Bible Translations range all the way from Young’s Literal Translation (YLT) which tries to maintain the same word order, using word-for-word translation, to such as The Voice (VOICE) and The Message (MSG) which focus on dynamic equivalency, conveyance of the same message but in modern language. Some call them paraphrases rather than translations.

So, to find out what other translators came up with, search, on the same screen as in the first example, for the verse in question, Luke 24:21, and then click on “Luke 24:21 in all English translations.” Here is the link, and here is what the screen will look like. Note the last line.

There are 59 English translations included! Scroll down and look at how various translation teams have translated that one Greek word. A quick and dirty count says that 38, about two thirds, used “redeem.” Other translations include liberate, set free, rescue, deliver, and buy as the key words.

Step 3 – See if the Greek word translated as “redeem” is translated differently elsewhere

This is a bit more difficult because a bit of research into the Greek is required. But, it is possible with the internet. Just search “Greek words for redeem.” An option that pops right up is this one which tells us that the Luke 24:21 Greek word translated as redeem means redeem, set free, or liberate and can be pronounced as lutrow.

But here is a twist. That same Greek word is used in Titus 2:14 and in 1 Peter 1:18, translated in the first as deliver and in the second as ransomed. So, why three different translations of the same Greek word?

NAB Titus 2:14 who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.

NAB 1 Peter 1:18 realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold

Step 4 – See if “redeem” shows up elsewhere in English Bible translations other than NABRE

And here is another twist. If all the English translations (not just the NABRE) are searched, the word redeem appears not just once in the New Testament but eight times. Five of those instances are cases in which only one English version uses redeem, so let’s ignore those. But Luke 24:21 uses redeem in thirteen English translations, Galatians 4:5 in eighteen, and Titus 2:14 in fifteen.

We already know that Titus 2:14 uses the same Greek word as Luke 24:21, but what about the Greek word in Galatians 4:5 which means set free; make the most of, make good use of? It is used in four NT verses. It seems obvious which English words are translations of that Greek word.

NAB Galatians 3:13 Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree,”

NAB Galatians 4:5 to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption.

NAB Ephesians 5:16 making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.

NAB Colossians 4:5 Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.

It’s a good thing we forgot the Old Testament because, not only are there 102 appearances of redeem in the NABRE, there are at least three Hebrew words that are sometimes translated as redeem in one or more of those 102 verses and probably as lots of other English words as well in other verses.

And to top it off, we haven’t even considered redeemer or redemption, other words derived from redeem. This could become a big project.

Step 5 – What have we learned?

Not a lot in this case (though we have spent valuable time reflecting on the words and gaining familiarity with Sacred Scripture) since those words translated as redeem and other translations of those words all seem synonymous. We have redeem, ransom, set free, liberate, rescue, deliver, buy, etc. (Such consistency is not always the case because key words in John 3:3, for example, are sometimes translated as born again, sometimes as born anew, sometimes as born from above, and sometimes as born again from above. There is plenty of opportunity for reflection and discussion there.)

The big issue in Luke 21 is not the word redeem but what that unnamed follower of Jesus meant when he spoke of hope that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel? Israel had been enslaved in Egypt, wandered homeless in the wilderness, suffered civil war, been led by a series of unfaithful kings, had worshiped foreign gods, had been defeated and exiled or occupied by Assyrians and Babylonians, had been ruled by Greeks and Maccabees, and were at the time of Jesus ruled by Romans. When could they expect fulfillment of all those ancient promises of a king of Israel before whom all peoples would bow in Jerusalem? That is probably the source of the follower’s disappointment. He hadn’t learned that it wasn’t all about them.

It was sometime later, after Pentecost and arrival of The Holy Spirit, that Peter and Paul and the other apostles, and hopefully the unnamed follower as well, realized that Jesus had died to offer redemption, salvation, deliverance, freedom, etc. to all people, Jews and Gentiles, Greeks and Romans, and even the worst of all, Samaritans and Americans. That was what had been promised in The Law and The Prophets.

Maybe the unnamed followers in Luke 24 even got the point once Jesus gave them very detailed explanation in the following verses 25-31. At least they later recognized him in the breaking of the bread:

Interesting Links on Greek/Hebrew (For the truly curious)

Greek Words Translated as Redeem: http://internetbiblecollege.net/Lessons/Relevant%20Greek%20Words%20On%20Redemption.htm

Hebrew Words Translated as Redeem: https://judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/11142/two-words-for-redeem-whats-the-difference  and  https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/redeem-redemption.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 17th:Self Examination

Fr. Linsky talked about the responses of all the “characters” surrounding Jesus as “his hour” approached and the importance of reflecting on those responses especially during this week. Doing so can be helpful in improving our own responses to the Gospel.

There were Judas’s overt betrayal and acceptance of thirty pieces of silver for it, Peter’s triple denial around in the courtyard even as Jesus was being questioned by High Priest Caiaphas,  the  weeping women at the foot of the cross and at the tomb, the disciples in hiding, the men who gambled for his clothes, the soldiers who testified,“Truly, this was the Son of God!” and others as well.

The reading for today is from Matthew 26 about the Last Supper and identification of Judas as the betrayer. St. Luke adds some information about a surprising argument that broke out among the disciples when the question of betrayal came up. It is in Luke 22:21-30 and includes some suggestions about achieving “greatness.”

Given the beauty of the Stations of the Cross at this Basilica of St. Peter, it is also worthwhile to reflect on  the expressions depicted on the faces of those who played roles in the Passion and to consider what was on their minds and what their attitudes were at the time.

Given Ephesians 2:10, it is a good time to reflect on how we fall short of what has been prepared for us and how we can do more as we strive to be humble servants, last of all.

Here is interesting and well-documented information about history and observance of the Easter Triduum in various Christian traditions. If you see errors or inaccuracies, send me a note with some documentation, and I will try to correct Wikipedia.