Book of acts

By Kieran Beville

Does the book of Acts simply record the history of the early church? Or does it also provide a blueprint for the church today? Do we read Acts as an interesting true story of how Christianity began, a story that gives us our roots and our identity or is it still normative for today? A passage or principle is normative if it can be regarded as applicable to us and required of us. This raises an important hermeneutical question ~ are we to read the book as though it were mainly prescriptive or purely descriptive? In other words, how relevant are Acts for the life of the twenty-first-century church?

The Problem

A quick guided tour of Acts will soon reveal what a huge question this is. The problem of normativeness stares the reader in the face on almost every page.

Chapter 1 shows the apostles are keen to fill the empty place left by Judas. Thus, the names of Joseph (called Barsabbas who was also called Justus) and Matthias are put forward. The choice is made by drawing lots (v. 26). Is that how we are to select church leaders today?

Chapter 2 opens in dramatic fashion. There was a sound like the blowing of a violent wind. Tongues of fire came to rest on all those who were present, and they began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Can these phenomena be expected wherever the gospel breaks new ground as it does in chapters 8, 10 and 19? Can they still be expected to happen whenever revival takes place?[1]

Later in the same chapter, Peter preaches a very effective sermon ~ that is his sermon on the day of Pentecost. Does this sermon establish the groundwork for apostolic preaching? Is it the paradigm for all future preaching or was Peter addressing a unique situation?

Further on in Acts 2, we are told something about the three thousand who were converted by Peter’s sermon, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (v. 42) Are these intended to be the basics of Christian worship? Are they valid for all time? These believers also had everything in common. They sold their possessions and goods to give to anyone in need. (vs. 44-45) Does that mean that the sharing of property is mandatory for believers today? We are also told that the original church at Jerusalem met both “in the temple courts” and “from house to house.” (v. 46) Does that mean that the church today should have both larger worship services and home groups? Is that the biblical pattern?

In chapter 3, Peter and John heal a cripple sitting outside the temple. Throughout Acts, there are many such healings and miracles. Should we still expect the same kind of dramatic healings today?

In chapter 4, the Sanhedrin threatens the apostles Peter and John, and so the church calls for a time of prayer. Is calling a prayer meeting at a time of need normative? At the end of chapter 4, the believers are again selling property and sharing goods. (as they did in Acts 2) Is a pattern developing here?

In chapter five, in the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, we have an instance of church discipline of the most drastic kind. Does the Holy Spirit still take such a dim view of lying to a church leader and might God still act in the same way? Later in chapter 5, the apostles are arrested and put in the public jail. However, during the night, an angel of the Lord opens the doors of the jail and brings them out (vs. 18-19). Could God still give gospel-preachers miraculous jailbreaks in our own time?[2]

how-to-interpret-the-bible2In chapter 6, the apostles vow to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. (v. 4) Should the same priority apply to ministers and elders today? At the same time, the apostles also told the church to choose seven men who were known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom to take care of the daily distribution of food. When these men had been chosen, the apostles prayed and laid their hands on them. Is this a good way to appoint deacons and other church leaders? Should deacons be men (not women) and should the number always be seven?

In chapter 8, the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit after they believed and were baptized. Could this also happen today? In v. 29 of this chapter the Spirit said to Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” Can we still expect such direct communication? The Ethiopian eunuch was baptized immediately after Jesus was preached to him. Should we follow this example and baptize people as soon as they respond to the gospel?

Chapter 9 starts with the conversion of the apostle Paul. Should we still expect “Damascus Road” conversions today? Or should we look for factors here that are essential to every conversion?

The way that Peter came to preach at the house of Cornelius was a masterpiece of divine choreography. Does God still make special arrangements like this for the sake of the propagation of the gospel?

At the end of chapter 11, the disciples at Antioch provided help for their brothers in Judea during a time of famine, and they sent their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul. Is this a good precedent to follow?

Does God still deal with rulers as he did with Herod Agrippa I who did not give praise to God and was eaten by worms and died? (Acts 12:23) For Paul’s first missionary journey Antioch served as the sending church. Is this just a good practice or should it be policy ~ i.e. normative?

Do miracles of judgment, like the blinding of Elymas the magician in Acts 13, still occur today?

Paul’s first recorded sermon was preached in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch. It is studded with Old Testament quotations and works its way through the redemptive history of Israel. Could this be a model for today’s preachers? In his missionary work, Paul made the synagogue his first port of call in every town that had one. Would this be a helpful strategy for mission agencies to follow?

Towards the end of the first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in every church with prayer and fasting. Should that also be the pattern for us?

Does the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 provide a biblical rationale for synods, general assemblies, and other church councils? The decision of the council is stated thus ~ “You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality” (Acts 15:29) ~ does this still apply to Gentile believers today? Should Christians today avoid all of these things, all of the time? Should Christians today avoid some of these things, all of the time? Should Christians today avoid some of these things, some of the time? The Jerusalem Council conveyed its decision to the Gentile believers by way of a letter. Is that still the best way to convey the decisions of governing bodies?

Does God always overrule disputes between Christian leaders so that the church benefits as much as it did in the case of Barnabas and Paul (Acts 15:36-41)?

The contrast between Lydia’s conversion (Acts 16:14) and the Philippian jailer’s (Acts 16:27-34) is quite marked. Is this a tacit warning against stereotyping conversion experiences?

In Ephesus, Paul placed his hands on twelve former disciples of John the Baptist. The Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied (Acts 19:6). Does this mean that tongues and prophecy are a “second blessing” experience after conversion? At Troas, the church came together on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). Does this mean that public worship should always be on the first day of the week? In Muslim countries, believers often meet on Friday.

Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders is perhaps the closest that Acts comes to recording a sermon addressed specifically to believers, as we do in our worship services. To what extent should this be a pattern for our own preaching? Alternatively, does the point lie elsewhere, e.g. in the way a pastor is to care for his flock?

In Acts 25, Paul appealed to Caesar (vs. 10-12, 25). Nowadays should Christians appeal to a higher court if they cannot get justice or satisfaction from a lower court?

At the height of the storm at sea in Acts 27, Paul gets a message from an angel to the effect that all the passengers and crew will be saved, but that the ship and its cargo will be lost (vs. 22-26). Can we still expect to receive such accurate angelic messages?

In the last chapter of Acts, on the island of Malta, a snake fastened itself on Paul’s hand, but he shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. (Acts 28:3-5) So should Christians today be expected to deal with serpents in the same way?

We cannot answer all these questions. It is beyond our scope to give exhaustive solutions to the problems raised. However, let me try to provide principles that can be used to help us answer these questions. We want to try to get a handle on the issue of what is normative in Acts. We can use three principles that will be helpful in specific cases.

The Principle of Non-Contradiction

First, is the principle of non-contradiction. We cannot claim to have discovered an absolute in Acts if it leads to a contradiction in either doctrine or practice. For example, how does the church select its leaders? To replace Judas the apostles cast lots. (Acts 1:26) To discover the seven who should wait at tables they handed the matter over to the church. They let the church make the decision, which they then ratified. (Acts 6:1-6) Towards the end of the first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders after prayer and fasting. (Acts 14:23) These are all very different approaches, and they are also mutually exclusive. We cannot cast lots, delegate and appoint all at the same time! Therefore, none of these should be elevated to an absolute.

This principle of non-contradiction applies not only to practice but to doctrine as well. When Peter had finished preaching his Pentecost sermon, the crowd responded in a way that would be the envy of every preacher. They said, “What shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized…and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). It sounds very straightforward. First, you repent and are baptized, and then you receive the Holy Spirit. In other words, repentance and baptism come before the receiving of the Holy Spirit. However, before this is elevated into a doctrine, it would be wise to check it out in the light of the unfolding story of Acts.

In chapter 8, we read about the conversion of the Samaritans, and sure enough, the hypothesis holds. At the preaching of Philip, they believe and are baptized. (Acts 8:12) Only after the apostles Peter and John arrive do they receive the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:17) Before we think we have proved our point, however, we need to keep reading. In Acts 10, in the case of Cornelius and his household, the Holy Spirit came on all of them while Peter was still preaching. (Acts 10:44) As a result, they broke out in tongues and started praising God. Only then did Peter order them to be baptized. (Acts 10:48) In Acts 19, we meet a dozen or so disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus. They too were baptized and received the Holy Spirit. In addition, it seems that in this case, the two events were almost simultaneous. (vs. 5-6) At least there does not seem to have been an interval between their water baptism and the giving of the Holy Spirit.

All four instances are therefore different enough that we need to be cautious. We cannot take Peter’s words – “Repent and be baptized…and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” as the basis of an order of salvation experience that is relevant to every believer. It is always dangerous to base a doctrine on isolated texts from Acts. Fee and Stuart comment on this:

Luke’s interest does not seem to be on standardizing things, bringing everything into uniformity. When he records individual conversions there are usually two elements included: water baptism and the gift of the Spirit. But these can be in reverse order, with or without the laying on of hands, with or without the mention of tongues, and scarcely ever with a specific mention of repentance, even after what Peter says in 2:38-39…Such diversity probably means that no specific example is being set forth as the model Christian experience.[3]

Prescriptive or Descriptive?

The second principle, which helps find the normative in Acts is to differentiate between what is prescriptive and what is descriptive. When an action is commanded, it is far more likely to be normative than when it is merely described. Fee and Stuart state the matter even more strongly ~ perhaps too strongly. They operate on the assumption that, “…unless Scripture explicitly tells us we must do something, what is merely narrated or described can never function in a normative way.”[4] For example, it is simply there for the record that Paul made the synagogue his first stop in every town that had one. Nowhere does he command others to do so. In a similar vein, we are told that at Pentecost believers sold their possessions and goods so that they could alleviate the needs of others. Nowhere are they told to do so.

Repentance and Baptism

Compare these examples to Peter’s call to the Jerusalem crowd to repent. (Acts 2:38) This command occurs again and again in Acts. He issues the same command in his sermon in chapter 3, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out and that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” (v.19) In Samaria, he challenges Simon Magus, “Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.” (Acts 8:22) At Athens, Paul declared, “God now commands all men everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30) In his defense, before King Agrippa Paul gave a summary of his ministry to both Jews and Gentiles, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20) Therefore, when Peter tells the crowd at Pentecost to repent this is a universal command. He is not just telling Jews in Jerusalem to repent of their involvement in the death of Jesus. This is a command to all people everywhere. It is normative. The same goes for the command to be baptized which he issues in the same breath. Throughout Acts, people are baptized, Jews and Gentiles alike. “Repent and be baptized” is, therefore, a universal command that should be proclaimed as much by us as it was by Peter at Pentecost.

Dietary Issues and Sexual Morality

What about the verse, “You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.” (Acts 15:29) This command occurs more than once. It is addressed specifically to Gentile believers. But does this still apply to Gentile believers today? This was a decision made by the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 and was addressed specifically to Gentile Christians. For good measure, this prohibition is stated on three separate occasions. (cf. Acts 15:20; 21:25) So it must be very important, but is it normative in the same way as Peter’s command to repent and be baptized? Should pastors and preachers tell their congregations to abstain from the same things as those Gentile believers in Acts 15? Are there really certain meats which Christians shouldn’t eat today? We can keep on reading in Acts, but that will not answer our question. We need to cast our eyes further afield, and that will also bring us to our next principle.

Reinforcement in Other Parts of the New Testament

The third principle that helps us find the normative in Acts is that of reinforcement in other parts of the New Testament. In other words, a command (or even a practice) in Acts carries more weight if it is repeated elsewhere in the New Testament. Here we need to think particularly of the teaching of Jesus and the Epistles. This is where we are more likely to come across timeless truths and normative commands. So let us put the Jerusalem decree through this grid and see what the outcome might be. John Stott says:

The purpose of God in Scripture should be sought primarily in its didactic rather than its descriptive parts. More precisely, we should look for it in the teaching of Jesus, and in the sermons and writings of the apostles, rather than in the purely narrative portions of the Acts. What is described in Scripture as having happened to others is not necessarily intended for us…What is descriptive is valuable only in so far as it is interpreted by what is didactic.[5]

We begin with the simplest example ~ the warning to abstain from sexual immorality. The word πορνεία (porneia) which refers to sexual immorality could be used in a more restricted sense. F. F. Bruce says:

The most elementary teaching given to converts from paganism almost certainly made it clear that fornication and similar practices were incompatible with the Christian way. Even so, the Jerusalem leaders may have felt that no harm would be done by underlining this in the decree. But fornication could bear a more technical sense of marital union within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity or affinity laid down in the Hebrew “law of holiness” (Leviticus 18:6-18).[6]

Consanguinity refers to determining whether a couple can marry. Some United States jurisdictions forbid first cousins to marry, while others limit the prohibition to brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles.

Outside of the Jerusalem decree, Acts never again refers to immorality. But this warning is repeated time and again in the New Testament ~ in the teaching of Jesus (Mt. 5:32; 15:19; 19:9), in the Epistles (Rom. 1:29; 1 Cor. 6:13, 18; 7:2; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:3; 1 Thess. 4:3) and in the book of Revelation. (2: 21; 9: 21) Throughout the New Testament, both Jesus and the apostles take a dim view of immorality and speak against it repeatedly and consistently. So it may be said with certainty this part of the Jerusalem decree was intended to apply to all believers at all times and in all places. As such it applies to us, and it is required of us. In other words, it is normative.

After this, it begins to get more difficult. There are no more references to abstaining from blood and the meat of strangled animals either in Acts or anywhere else in the New Testament. This instruction concerning abstention is confined entirely to the Jerusalem decree. So what do we do with it? Can we eat any meats or do we have to be selective? Should we ask the butcher (or the supermarket manager/purchasing officer) if the meat we are buying is from a strangled animal?

Should we eat only kosher foods that conform to the regulations of כַּשְׁרוּת (kashrut) Jewish dietary law? In the early church context, the eating of such foods would be particularly offensive to Jews. F. F. Bruce says:

Eating with blood was absolutely taboo for Jews: it is expressly forbidden in Leviticus 17:10-14 and even earlier, in the commandments enjoined on Noah and his family (Genesis 9:4). People who had been brought up in the Jewish way of life could not be expected to accept such food at Gentile tables.[7]

That brings us to the last requirement of the Jerusalem Council. The Gentile believers were also to abstain from food sacrificed to idols. This is an issue that comes up again in the New Testament. Paul has an extensive discussion on it in 1 Corinthians 8-10. It is a question that the Corinthians have raised in a letter to Paul. The significant point here is that they raised this with him long after the decision that was reached by the Jerusalem Council. Probably from six to eight years later ~ yet Paul does not quote the Jerusalem decree to the church at Corinth. Even though he was present when the decision was taken and he was one of those who conveyed it to the church at Antioch.

What Paul does is very enlightening. He does not appeal to the decision made at Jerusalem. Rather he takes a very pastoral approach. He asks the Corinthians to remember those with weaker consciences. Then there follows a nuanced discussion and in this discussion, he shows how they are to take account of their weaker brothers. Essentially, he makes three points. First, never eat in an idol temple ~ that could be spiritually damaging for your weaker brother. Second, if you buy meat at the meat market don’t ask any questions ~ what you don’t know won’t hurt you, and it won’t hurt anyone else either. Third, if an unbeliever invites you to dinner don’t ask any questions. But if he tells you that this is meat that has been sacrificed to an idol, don’t eat it. Paul’s directions have therefore clearly gone beyond the Jerusalem decree.

Why does he feel free to ignore or at least modify what the council agreed? Does he take matters into his own hands? Not really. The Jerusalem decree was not intended to be forever binding. It was a temporary measure designed to appease the Jewish believers who had lost the debate over Gentile circumcision. The letter that contained the decree was addressed to “the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia.” (Acts 21:23) It had only limited application and was designed to be temporary. The gospel had now moved on (or rather people’s understanding of the gospel had progressed). The Jerusalem decree did not apply in the same way to the Corinthians as it had to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. It had permanent aspects like the warning against sexual immorality, but it was not intended to be permanent or binding in all its proscriptions.

An Important Principle

So we can eat anything from the butchers. But we might need to be sensitive if we are having a meal with a young Jewish believer or, indeed a Muslim. In the example of the Jerusalem decree, we have identified a very important principle. A command or a practice in Acts can only be considered normative if reinforced elsewhere in the New Testament. The command to abstain from sexual immorality is permanently valid as it is repeated again and again. The command to abstain from meat offered to idols is modified in the light of the different situation in Corinth. The commands to abstain from blood and the meat of strangled animals are never mentioned again. These will only be relevant in situations that are very similar to the situation in Acts 15. For example, if you are working among Jewish people who eat only kosher foods.

The command, “you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it” (Gen. 9:4) was given to Noah, and it predates the laws of Moses. It cannot be argued that it has universal validity. It is another dietary law that is no longer binding because of the completed work of Christ, which abolished the ritual law.

In his own ministry, Jesus declared all foods clean. (Mk. 7:19) For this reason, Peter could be told to “kill and eat” (Acts 10:13) and not to “call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15) For the same reason, Paul could say, “I am fully convinced that no food is unclean of itself.”―Romans 14:14.

The death of Jesus radically altered all the Old Testament food laws. Although concessions still needed to be made to those who had tender consciences on the issue. (Rom. 14:1-8) None of the dietary laws remain absolutely binding on Christians today.

Norm or Normative?

The Bible contains teachings and mandates that apply to all cultural situations, but it also contains teachings and mandates that apply only to particular situations. It is not always easy to determine which is which, and hence there is not always consensus among Christian communities about what is universal and what is particular. What is merely cultural for then and there? What is universal and applicable to all cultures and times, including here and now? What is the norm and what is normative? The norm refers to something that was normal then and there but is not necessarily expected to apply in the here and now. Normative refers not only to the normal practice then and there but also to principles that apply to the here and now. Some biblical commands are directed to specific situations but may also be be normative. Consider the following passage from the book of Acts:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.―Acts 2:42-47.

Why is v.42 considered to be normative and vs.44-46 considered to be the norm for then but not normative for now? Why do we preach the importance of being devoted to apostolic teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer, while neglecting to emphasize selling our possessions and distributing the proceeds to the needy? The reason is connected to the eschatological hope of first-century believers that the second coming of Christ was imminent. They lived in the light of that understanding. Two millennia later believers accept the truth of Christ’s return as something that is taught in Scripture but is not, rightly or wrongly, so obsessed or confident that it is something about to happen at any moment.

Although it is important to be devoted to apostolic teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer it must be said that this passage from Acts is not a proof text for such attitudes and actions in the church. In other words, it does not directly teach that these things must be observed. It is descriptive rather than prescriptive. Obviously, this hermeneutical understanding of the text will have implications for homiletics (preaching). In preaching the importance of being devoted to apostolic teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer then it becomes important to use texts that clearly direct believers to do so. It is still very useful to use the Acts passage as an example of a thriving, vibrant church. But bear in mind that to do so while separating the first part of the passage from the latter part needs some careful thought and explanation. One can abuse a text by using it to teach something wrong (i.e. not the intended meaning) but one can also abuse a text by using it to teach something right ~ i.e. not the intended meaning in the text, though such a meaning may be taught elsewhere in Scripture.

A Purely Descriptive Statement

This is a purely descriptive statement. There is nothing prescriptive about it. There is no imperative, no warning and no prohibition. It is just a description pure and simple. It is an observation made by Luke the historian. It is part of his narrative. Here you have the essential elements of a worship service ~ teaching, fellowship, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer. But the foundation for such activity is not taken just from this one verse of narrative. All of these elements can be found again in the Epistles. Here we have in seed form what comes to full flower elsewhere in the New Testament, especially in 1 Corinthians.

When it comes to possessions what happens when we read the rest of Acts and the rest of the New Testament? This idyllic situation that we have in Jerusalem is never repeated in Acts or anywhere else. Some have suggested that it was an experiment gone wrong. That later the church in Jerusalem had to be bailed out, first by the church at Antioch and later by the churches that Paul established in Greece and Asia Minor. E. M. Blaiklock says, “…the poverty of the Jerusalem church, which later called for worldwide charity, may have been occasioned by this over-hasty dissipation of capital.”[8] But that view is not only uncharitable; it also misses the point. In later years the church in Jerusalem was poor. But it was not because of financial mismanagement but because of famine and persecution. Paul writes very eloquently about this to the Corinthians. The classic chapters on this are 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. There he tells the Christians at Corinth to give systematically, generously and cheerfully. He does not tell them to sell private property. Perhaps some of them did so, but we are never told. To the Ephesians, Paul gives this command, “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” (Eph. 4:28) In 1 Timothy, he has some direct challenges to the rich:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.―1 Timothy 6:17-18.

Notice that here too there is nothing about selling property. He is not saying, “Let’s go back to the paradigm of the early Jerusalem church.” But he is telling them to be generous and to be willing to share. That is what is normative for Christians today. That is what is applicable to us and required from us. In the affluent church of the West, we are to be generous and willing to share. If that means selling property, so be it. But that is not part of the command. The basic principle is generosity and willingness to share. John Stott says:

Certainly, the generosity and mutual care of those early Christians are to be followed, for the New Testament commands us many times to love and serve one another, and to be generous (even sacrificial) in our giving. But to argue from the practice of the early Jerusalem church that all private ownership is abolished among Christians not only cannot be maintained from Scripture but is plainly contradicted by the apostle Peter in the same context (Acts 5:4) and by the apostle Paul elsewhere. (e.g. I Tim. 6:17)[9]

Now let us come back for a moment to what Luke said about worship in the Jerusalem church after Pentecost. Not only does he report that, “…they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42) he also adds later that they met together in the temple courts and in their homes (Acts 2:46). Is this also to be a model for us? Like those early believers, should we meet in larger gatherings at church on Sundays and in smaller groups in people’s homes during the week? In the early church in Jerusalem, they met together in the temple courts and broke bread in their homes. However, it does not seem to be a pattern that is repeated anywhere else. For a start, only Jerusalem had the temple. And in many situations, the only place where the church could meet was in people’s homes.

Handle with Care

Preachers need to be careful in the way they handle Acts. We must not see directives where none are given. Proper hermeneutics is required before we proclaim some command or practice to be normative. So let us first apply these three hermeneutical principles that we have discovered so far. First, we need to consider the principle of non-contradiction. Does the practice or doctrine we think we have discovered contradict another teaching or practice in Acts? Second, we need to ask whether we are dealing with a command or a description. Third, is the command or practice reinforced in other parts of the New Testament? This is the most important principle because it is not the nature of narrative to be normative. Acts is essentially a narrative. A story may have a moral but not every detail implies a command to obey or an example to follow.

[1] I do not intend to deal with cessationist or continuationist positions in relation to the “controversial” gifts. Cessationists argue that the gifts of prophecy, speaking in tongues and miraculous (dramatic and instantaneous healings, including raising people from the dead) ceased in the first century. They contend that they were a special dispensation for that time in order to demonstrate the power of God in the formative years of the church’s history, thus allowing the church to become established. Continuationists, such as Pentecostals and Charismatic believers assert that these gifts are still operative in the church today.

[2] Perhaps the question could God do it is not the right way to phrase it, the real question might be does God do it?

[3] Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth: A Guide to Understanding the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 92.

[4] Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, 97.

[5] John R. W. Stott, Baptism and Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today (2nd ed.; Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1975), 15.

[6] F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Free Spirit (rev. ed.; Carlisle: Paternoster, 1992), 185.

[7] F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Free Spirit, 185-86.

[8] E. M. Blaiklock The Acts of the Apostles: An Historical Commentary, (London: Tyndale, 1959), 69.

[9] John R. W Stott, Baptism and Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today, (2nd ed.; Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1975), 16.