Thursday, July 29, 2010

327: Sailing Around Europe & Acts: In Review

Acts 27-28
"We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us." - Acts 27:2

On Paul's trip to Rome the ship runs into a storm. This storm is so bad that the ships crew begin throwing supplies (including food) overboard. Paul continues to have visions and tells the men that and angel said everyone will be ok and only the ship will be lost.

After 14 days of this storm, the crew decides to run the ship aground on an island they've found. The Roman soldiers plot to kill the prisoners so they don't escape, but the centurion in charge wants to keep Paul alive.

When Paul reaches the shore, he starts to make a fire. As he is gathering brush, a viper jumps out and bites him. He has no adverse effects to this snake bite and the islanders declare him a god. I'll presume that this is meaning to imply that people with the Holy Spirit can withstand snake bites. For the sake of argument, lets presume that we can prove this was actually a venomous snake. Then why do people with the Holy Spirit die of snake bites today?

Paul then proceeds to cure a chief official on the island. This causes all of the islanders to bring their sick to Paul, and he heals them. This is the same situation as the snake bite. We're never told that Paul is endowed with any special power besides the Holy Spirit (he's not one of the twelve). So why are millions of people today who claim to have the Holy Spirit unable to miraculously cure people? This would certainly be a convincing conversion tool (which is essentially what Paul is using his powers for here).

Paul eventually does arrive in Rome. When he arrives there, he is given his own personal guard and allowed to wander around where ever he wants. He is even allowed to go to the Jews of Rome (weren't the Jews supposed to be kicked out of Rome?) and preach the message of Jesus. Isn't that the very thing he's being imprisoned for?

The book of Acts ends by saying that Paul stayed in Rome for two more years preaching the message of Jesus. Paul is getting a pretty sweet deal here. He got a free trip to Rome, and now he gets to hang out and do whatever he wants. Is he going to get a trial eventually? Maybe we'll find out it some other book.

Acts: In Review
Acts is interesting as the first New Testament book that's post-Jesus. It helps tell us how at least the disciples translated the messages of Jesus into action. Unfortunately, some of the ideas of Jesus seem to have been forgotten. Acts also helps illuminate what we (as mere humans) should be able to with this mysterious "Holy Spirit".

The new church run by Peter seems to be a tyrannical, money-centric organization. This is evidenced by people being killed for withholding money from the church. I'm not sure how this could be any further from what Jesus had in mind. Everyone was supposed to give away their money to the poor, not give it to the disciples. It's no wonder the Catholic church claims Peter as the first Pope. "Steal from the rich. Give to the richer and hope they'll give a little to the poor" seems to sum up both Peter's and the Catholic church's ideology.

My second problem is what the disciples (and others) seem to be able to do with the Holy Spirit. They are able to speak in tongues (actual other languages, not the gibberish of today), heal people, and withstand snake bites. This is all what Jesus predicted could be done with the Holy Spirit, but then why can't modern day people do these things?

Aside from the theological inconsistencies, Acts reads like a badly written fiction novel. Though it's still not as bad as anything from the Old Testament.

This is a lesson in how an argument becomes circular:
One lie that was in his letter is that "There is no God to save us from our undoing …"

The truth is that there is a God, the creator who created us and who tremendously loves us: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female. He created them." — Genesis 1:27.
This is the long version of "yuh huh, there is too a God". People can write down whatever they want and call it a holy book (see Scientology). This doesn't make it real. And until God can be proven in more empirical terms, "the bible says so" just won't do.
Mr. Kyde says, "… millions of normally rational and intelligent beings get on their knees to beg and worship a figment of their imagination." Let me emphatically state that God is not a figment of anyone's imagination. God exists from eternity past, exists now and will exist forever. God is worthy and deserves our worship.
Well, the writer emphatically stated it, so it must be true. In fact the writer makes a couple of giant leaps. First that God exists, and second that God is deserving of worship.

I haven't talked about this a whole lot, but even if someone could prove to me that God does exist, I'd have some major reservations about actually worshiping him. Is it really good to worship a being just because you're afraid of it? That's like saying an abusive spouse is deserving of worship. And an abusive spouse couldn't get close to the atrocities committed by God.
The reason it is possible to believe that this universe and every living thing was created in six days, some 6,000 years ago by God is simple. Faith. It takes just as much faith, or more, to believe in the theory of evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact.
Now we're getting somewhere. Faith: firm belief in something for which there is no proof (Merriam Webster). In fact, the writer's faith goes a step beyond that. The writer believes in something for which there is contrary evidence. No serious geologist/physicist/scientist believes that the earth is 6000 years old.

As for belief in the theory of evolution, I don't think that fits any definition of "faith". Unless you are in complete denial of all the evidence in it's favor. Incidentally, I think that's probably the problem here.
I and other Christians are praying for Mr. Kyde to accept God's gift of eternal life so you can truly know the truth and so you can be happy.
Yes, I'm sure if it's ever proven that there is a God that wants to send you to hell if you don't obey his every demand, Mr. Kyde will be just giddy with glee. Especially after reading the bible, I'm not sure how the existence of God is supposed to make me a happier person.


  1. Bryan,
    In one sense, all of the NT is "post-Jesus," since all of the books were written well after his time. In fact, many of the books in the NT were written before the Gospels. OTOH, Acts is the only book in the NT that is a narrative that takes place after his death.

  2. Acts 27-28

    Acts 27:1. The "we"-passages begin again here, to comical effect. Is the narrator a fellow prisoner with Paul? No, Paul was clearly arrested, imprisoned, and tried alone, as one can see from the past 4 chapters. So did Luke just happened to get independently arrested and appeal to Casar as well? The only way it would even be possible for the narrator to be on this ship if Paul's friends (such as Aristarchus) were allowed to come along, which is theoretically possible since it was a commercial vessel, not a military one. But as we shall see, Luke is not consistent in his use of the pronoun.

    This verse also begins by saying that the time of their departure was "determined." Determined by whom? In the case, by the Romans, of course. But Luke, not being a prisoner, would not have been subject to the same compulsion, so it should have only been Paul's (and the other prisoners) sailing that was determined.

    Acts 27:2. Now "we" means Paul and one or more other people, including the narrator, but not Aristarchus.

    Acts 27:3-5,7-8. Now "we" refers to the entire ship.

    Acts 27:6. Again, the centurion is said to have put "us" on the next ship, including Luke. But since Luke was not a prisoner, the centurion would not be in a position to make him board.

    Acts 27:9. The "fast" is the Day of Atonement, which falls in September or October. As we shall see, this creates problems with the dates later on.

    Acts 27:9b-11. This part is probably an insertion into an original sea voyage tale without Paul. The centurion, ship owner, and skipper would hardly have cared what Paul's opinion on the matter was. In fact, even the centurion would have no say in whether to set sail or not. In verse 12 it says that the majority made the decision - the way Luke presents it, 4 of them discussed it and it was 3 to 1 against Paul. But actually if you exercise v. 9b-11, the story flows much better: "And much time being spent, and the sailing being now dangerous, and the haven being incommodious to winter in, the majority gave counsel to sail thence also..." (Young's Literal Translation), with the majority referring in this case the sailors.

    Acts 27:12-13. Now Luke switches from "we" to "they." "They" originally means the sailors (in v. 12, being a continuation of the idea of the majority of the sailors), but by the end of v. 13 it means the entire ship, as "we" did earlier in v. 4-8.

  3. Acts 28

    Acts 28:1-15. No mention is made of the soldiers or the fact that Paul is a prisoner for the rest of this voyage. Paul moves about freely. "We" may refer to everybody on the ship or only a subset of them, until we get to v. 14, but in any event, as usual, it disappears when the journey ends.

    Acts 28:4. A poisonous snake would not be hanging on after he bites.

    Acts 28:3-6. This passage is what motivated whoever added the long ending to Mark to say that one could recognize people who believe in Jesus by the fact that "they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all."

    Acts 28:6. Why doesn't Paul try to dissuade the people from the notion that he is a God? And why doesn't God strike him down for it, the way God did to King Agrippa?

    Acts 28:11. There were about 15 days from the end of the Fast to when the ship ran aground, and they remained on Malta for 3 months. That would still make it too early for them to make the trip to Italy, since the seas were not passable until February or March.

    Acts 28:14-15. Note that there are Xians in Rome already.

    Acts 28:16. As a rule, prisoners were guarded by 2 Roman soldiers, not 1.

    Acts 28:17. Paul begins as usual, "Men, brothers." But note that he is still calling the Jews brothers.

    Acts 28:19. Paul is blaming the Jews for his appeal to Caesar when it was his own fault - Festus proposed a Roman trial Jerusalem and he overreacted by demanding an audience with Caesar, thus preventing Festus and Agrippa from releasing him.

    It's also in poor taste to blame "the Jews" when he is speaking to a group of them, and is purporting to be one himself.

    Acts 28:22. The Jews speak of the "sect" of Xianity as if they are unfamiliar with it. But Luke has just told us (in vs. 14-15) that there were Xians there already.

    Acts 28:26-28. Paul's final "fuck you" to the Jews. He quotes the same Septuagint Isaiah section (6:9-10) which Jesus uses (in Mark, Matt, and John) to explain why he is intentionally vague, so that people will misunderstand him and go to hell out of ignorance.

    Acts 28:31. Why doesn't Luke tell us what happened to Paul aftyer those 2 years are up? He plainly knows that something about Paul7s situation changed, so Acts couldn't have been written at that time (as many Xians imagine). Moreover, the farewell speech in Miletus is of a standard type in Greek literature that foreshadows his death.

    Xian tradition has that Paul was executed in Rome, but there are no accounts of his trial or death. 1 Clement mentions, in about 95 CE, that both Paul and Peter (remember him? He disappeared after chapter 11) were martyred, but he doesn't mention when or where, even though Clement was supposedly bishop of Rome (and there's a tradition that Peter was executed there, too, with even less evidence to support it).

    There's also a tradition that Paul was released and went on to missionary work in Spain, but that is even less well founded.

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