â€śActs and Epistles of the Apostlesâ€ť -Walters Ms. W.533
This manuscript is one of the relatively few illustrated Byzantine copies of the Acts and Epistles of the Apostles, 12th Century CE.
Saturday, 25 September 2021
Note: You can listen to today’s introduction courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)
The Book of Acts; a Brief Guide on How to Interpret and Apply its Contents
Before beginning a detailed study of Acts, it should be noted that a vast majority of errors in proper doctrine within the church are found in ignoring the five main rules of sound biblical interpretation. They are –
Prescriptive. The verse or passage prescribes something. Descriptive. The verse or passage merely describes what happens without establishing a precedent that is to be followed, obeyed, adhered to, and so on. Context. This defines who is being spoken to, under what circumstances, under what covenant, under what dispensation, and so on. Context. See above. Context. See above.
In misapplying a verse as prescriptive or descriptive, a faulty view of what the Christian is to do will result. A prescriptive verse under one covenant is not necessarily prescriptive under another, such as –
“Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners.” Numbers 15:38
Obviously, we are not under the law of Moses, and we do not need to have tassels on our garments. This thinking is true within testaments when the author or speaker is referring to one covenant or another. In other words, Jesus’ words – when speaking to Israel in the synoptic gospels – do not necessarily apply to conduct within the church. This is because the context is:
He is speaking to Israel, not the church. He is speaking under the Law of Moses (the Old Covenant), prior to the establishment of the New Covenant in His blood – which sets aside, annuls, and makes obsolete the Old Covenant (see Hebrews 7:18, 8:13, and 10:9). For example –
“Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23, 24
“Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ 42 As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. 43 And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’” Mark 1:41-44
In the first example, under the New Covenant, there is no altar because there is not a temple to go to. Christ is the fulfillment of those things. In the second example, there is no priest (apart from our great High Priest, Jesus) to go to if cleansed, and there are no offerings to be made for such a cleansing. In both examples, Jesus was speaking to members of the Israelite society, under the law, prior to His fulfillment of the law.
These examples are obvious, but everything must be evaluated in this manner. In understanding these five principal rules of biblical interpretation, it must be noted that almost all doctrinal error within the Christian church stems from not properly following these basic rules. Inserting the synoptic gospels into one’s New Covenant theology will (not maybe) result in error –
“Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:36
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” Ephesians 1:3-6
There is no need for a believer in Christ to “pray always” that he “may be counted worthy” as Jesus said. Jesus was speaking to Israel about matters pertaining to Israel. In Christ, believers are accepted in the beloved, and are not appointed “to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9).
Understanding this, it must be noted that of all of the major doctrinal error found within the church, we can estimate that apart from the obvious error of improperly applying the synoptic gospels to one’s doctrine, 99.827635% (obviously this is intended as humor) of all major error can be avoided (or corrected) by properly applying the five basic rules mentioned above to the book of Acts.
The book of Acts is almost entirely a descriptive account of what occurred during the establishment of the church. Other than just a few verses, it prescribes pretty much nothing. And of that which is prescriptive at the time it was given to the church (such as the ruling of the council in Acts 15), even that is later explained, set aside, or expanded upon in the epistles. The things prescribed were often short-term expediencies that were given for guidance to the church until the epistles were written by the New Testament writers through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Luke merely documents these things.
Therefore, outside of a very small number of verses (such as Acts 1:7, 8) there is almost nothing that can be considered prescriptive for the church –
“Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 7 And He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’” Acts 1:6-8
A good example of the misapplication of a passage, which has resulted in faulty doctrine or even heresy within the church (such as in the Church of Christ denomination) is found in Acts 2 –
“Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.’” Acts 2:38, 39
Peter was speaking solely to the men of Israel who had just crucified their Messiah. The baptism was mandated as an outward demonstration of their inward repentance. And the repentance (the word means “to change one’s mind”) was necessary because they had just crucified Jesus. Paul’s epistles (and even later verses in Acts) clearly set aside both of these things. Believers now receive the Spirit immediately upon belief in the work of Christ (see Ephesians 1:13, 14), and belief alone – even without repentance, based upon the circumstances – is all that is necessary for salvation (see the gospel as detailed in 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4).
The number of failed points of doctrine and even heresy that have resulted from a misunderstanding, or a misapplication, of the book of Acts is immense. If Acts is taken in its proper light, error within the Church of Christ, the charismatic/Pentecostal movement, the heresy of hyperdispensationalism, and so on would be eliminated in part or entirely.
Acts is obviously a key transitional book, coming after the gospels but prior to the doctrine-setting epistles. It is indispensable in what it contains, but it is also to be handled properly, evaluated carefully, and applied correctly. With this approach, the faithful Christian will be properly trained in how to continue along his path of growth and understanding of this precious gift we call the word of God.
If you are willing to commit to the next 1007 days, one day at a time, to reading each coming commentary, I will attempt to provide you with my very best effort to instruct you properly in this marvelous treasure we call the book of Acts. May you be blessed as you seek the Lord’s face, and as you pursue Him through this study – and indeed all of your studies in His sacred word.
Emlen S. “Charlie” Garrett
Life application: Take time to memorize these five principal rules of biblical understanding: Prescriptive, Descriptive, and Context, Context, Context.
Lord God, help us to pursue Your word properly. Help us to maintain the proper context, and to never misapply verses or precepts. It is our hope and great desire that we will be pleasing to You because we have rightly applied Your word to our walk in Your presence. Thank You for Your wonderful word, O God. Amen.