When should our testimony of faith become civil disobedience?
This Week’s Passage: Acts 5:27-32
I. Establish the text
C. Other texts for Year C for 2nd Sunday in Easter
D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
27 – – Either expand the pericope or explain what has happened prior to the apostles return.
28 – – How does today’s culture limit our freedom to preach Christ and him crucified?
29 – – Choosing to obey God over human authorities will still get one arrested if not hospitalized for insanity.
30-33 – Peter summarized Christian faith and riled these religious leaders to violence.
E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?
- This episode begins in verse 17. The Chief Priest and his friends order the apostles arrested because they were jealous of healings that the apostles were performing. An angel released them and sent them back to the temple to preach. When the high priests discover the apostles missing they are arrested a second time.
- The episode continues through verse 42. After Rabbi Gamaliel counsels patience, the apostles are whipped and warned. The episode concludes with the apostles teaching in the temple every day.
F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?
- Some variants render verse 28 as a statement, others as a question. A question would be consistent with the circumstance.
II. Literary Study.
C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms
“Hanging him on a tree” a euphemism for crucifixion that parallels usage in Deuteronomy.
D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?
Rendered as a news report to give it credibility.
III. Question the text.
A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.
Peter and the apostles have decided to imitate Jesus and preach and to heal ignoring warnings of the consequences.
The priests are irate over being displaced from the focus of teaching and by Peter’s disregard of their theology.
C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?
- Center of Gravity: Preach at all costs, means even risking life itself.
- Emotional Center: Obey God not men.
D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.
- The apostles and high council talk past each other, ignoring legitimate points the other might offer, blinded by their own ideologies.
F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?
- We would like to believe that our society does not oppose God’s direction.
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
Robert W. Wall (“The Acts of the Apostles”, The New Interpreter’s Bible. Abingdon, 2002.) calls Acts 5:17-42 “Story Three: The Apostles vs. the Sanhedrin, Round Two.” He notes similarities with and expansions from the apostles’ previous arrest and trial for healing a man lame from birth (Acts 3:1 – 4:31). The earlier story resulted in warning, which the apostles ignored yielding this episode. He discerns the introduction of an angel, who facilitated Peter’s escape, and Gamaliel’s speech as the significant additions in this episode over the earlier episode. He also notes that the police fear being stoned by the people, demonstrating the apostle’s popular support over the council. He interprets the Chief Priest’s concern as political rather than theological. While Peter responded theologically, he defined the crucifixion as a lynching ordered by the council before whom he now stood and attributed their ability to understand as due to a lack of the Holy Spirit. Wall reflects that Peter’s speech “is Scripture’s leading justification for civil disobedience,” with the qualification that civil disobedience serves a missionary rather than political end, and is not a protest but a witness.
William H. Willimon (Interpretation: Acts. John Knox Press, 1988.) includes this episode within a section extending from 4:32 through 6:7 that deals with more mundane topics, particularly money. He opines: “The most eloquent testimony to the reality of the resurrection is not an empty tomb or a well-orchestrated pageant on Easter Sunday but rather a group of people whose life together is so radically different, so completely changed from the way the world builds community, that there can be no explanation other than that something decisive has happened in history.” The difficulty comes not from explaining how the resurrection happened, but because the church does not look more resurrected.
With regard to this passage, he perceives the ire of those on the high council, people who strove every day to live obediently to the will of God, on hearing Peter say: “We must obey God rather than men.”
V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?
Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond
A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?
This act of the apostles demonstrates how we might engage civil authorities as a resurrected people.
B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.
Obey God rather than men.
C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?
To consider what we might accomplish as resurrected people, boldly obeying God.