- In Luke 1:43, the Holy Spirit first works in the form of Elizabeth (Oxford). In this moment, she proclaims the coming birth of the Lord through her sister and exalts Mary as blessed.
Without the presence of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth would not have known these things. The Spirit then appears in Simeon to proclaim Jesus as Lord to both his parents. Unlike the first passage, this one further expounds on the baby’s purpose to be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel (Oxford Luke 2:32). He then further predicts the pain that Jesus will cause, both for the wrongdoers and his mother. Perhaps the most memorable and obvious working of the spirit came during Jesus’ baptism at the hands of John in Luke 3:22 (Oxford). In this moment, the Spirit declared Jesus as the son of God, the Messiah, and the one to which John was referring. From this point, Jesus’ ministry began. At this point, curiously, Jesus is also filled with the Holy Spirit and begins his journey through his temptation in the desert (Oxford Luke 4:1-2).
In Acts, the Holy Spirit first appears at Pentecost in form of tongues of fire. This representation allows the apostles to speak in tongues (Oxford Acts 2:1-4). This moment served as a second sending, allowing the apostles to begin their independent ministries. The Spirit continues to work through Peter as he begins to heal others in Jesus’ name. For example, in Acts 3:6-7, he commands the beggar to stand in the name of Jesus (Oxford). This act imitates the miracles of Jesus himself, who could only heal after he received the Spirit. The Spirit again comes, this time to all the disciples and strengthens them in Acts 4:31 (Oxford). It continues to embolden the believers to carry out their task with conviction despite Peter and John being threatened by the Pharisees to keep silent. The Spirit continued to work even in the disciples sent out, such as Stephen (Oxford Acts 7:10). This man further carried out the will of God, but only with the help of Spirit, as was the case with Jesus and the original apostles.
- In the early Church, the greatest debate over the inclusion of Gentiles involved the question of the promise of Jewish salvation. For many, this meant male circumcision. In the Jewish world, this process was not only a physical sign of one’s beliefs but also a remembrance of tradition. As far back as Abraham, Jewish men circumcised their children as a symbol of a covenant to their god to remain faithful. The outcome was a permanent reminder of that promise and, to an extent, a measure of discipline. Without this mark, Gentiles theoretically did not possess the discipline or heritage to receive the salvation of the new Church.
In opposition, Peter and Paul argued that salvation should not be reserved for just one group, no matter what examples of worthiness that their culture might demonstrate. For Peter,
“If God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” (Oxford Acts 11:17). This statement demonstrates the submission of the apostles to God’s plan for a universal Church. Ultimately, if God wished for a group to be saved, human decision could not deny that will. Additionally, since most male were circumcised at birth, it made no sense to fully convert the Gentiles to Judaism if baptism by the Spirit was enough. This decision ultimately led to a separation between Judaism and Christianity as believing in one did not necessary mean that a person believed in the other. Instead, Christianity developed its own practices, which eliminated the concerns about including Gentiles.
- When reading the New Testament, one could understand that a quoted speech came from a person connected to the events based on their faith and dedication. For example, many believe that Luke was a physician and scholar removed from the time of Jesus who used written and oral sources. As a scholar, he would most likely have wanted to be as accurate as possible in his portrayal of Jesus and the apostles. True, he might have emphasized or repeated some events and quotes more than others in order to fit his needs. However, with words as valuable as Jesus’ or Peter’s, it is unlikely that he would have tried to change them or their meaning.
- When Paul is called, one might say that he was called to an entirely new religion. At that time, the Christian differed greatly from the Jewish faith. For example, the Christian community regularly sold their possessions and used the proceeds to benefit the entire community. The Jewish community, in contrast, was clearly not following this tenet as there was a great divide between the wealthy and the poor in the community. If they were truly dividing their wealth, the high priests would not each possess the houses that they did. Additionally the leadership of the Christian Church was less segregated from the people. When the apostles went to preach, they often stayed with the people and taught new lessons about living a good life. Such lessons did not require a massive amount of wealth, but instead applied to the people with which they stayed. In addition, they included all people so as to further expand the kingdom of heaven.
Conversely, one could easily argue that Paul was called into a new position of the same church, in order to revitalize it. For example, the donation boxes evident in the synagogues clearly demonstrated the belief that the faithful should give to the poor. However, this encouragement to give was simply not as radical as the early Christians’ efforts. Similarly, the early Jewish leaders such as Moses and Abraham often immersed themselves in the lives of their people. Over the leader, perhaps the Jewish hierarchy became distanced from those which they served. By restoring the leaders to an equal level with the faithful, as Paul and Peter did, they were simply returning the Church to its roots, albeit in a radical way.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version. Eds. Michael D. Coogan, Marc Z. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.
Scholtz, Daniel J. Jesus in the Gospels and Acts: Introducing the New Testament. Winona, MN: Anselm Academic, 2009. Print.