One of the best reasons to consider the Bible as a story isn’t just to reconcile the “God of the Old Testament” or something, to “soften” him with Jesus, but rather, to consider what part of the story we play. The Bible is a series of books written by some of the people that were closest to God in crucial moments of our faith tradition. Its Spirit inspiration helps us form our identity as a people, but it is also compels us to keep telling our story and to keep doing our part. The Circle of Hope proverbs quote James, in the first chapter of his old letter, when he tells us to be “doers of the word.” James and Circle of Hope are basically saying that it’s not enough to simply hear the word, or even memorize it or study it, we have to do it.
There are a lot of ways you can apply this basic teaching. I suppose you could go through the scriptures and place yourself in the middle of every story and image, figuring it must have some cosmic meaning for you specifically. Does doing the work literally mean doing everything that the people in the Bible do? Even just the “good guys.” I’m not so sure it’s that easy. I think it takes a little more thought. My instinct is to figure out how we can continue to story of God and the Church. I think the Acts of the Apostles is a great starting point for that though.
Acts is a piece of history that’s written by the author of Gospel of Luke. Most scholars think a man named Luke wrote them both, who admits he wasn’t an eye-witness to Jesus but interviewed many people to come up with his material. Acts is written in the same way that most Greek histories are written, in fact, there are other histories that have the title “Acts.”
Paul and Peter are definitely the main characters in the story, some say it would even be better to call this book the Acts of Peter and Paul (the addition of “of the Apostles” is only found in later manuscripts). The Peter portion of the text is roughly the first half, and the second half is about Paul. We start in Jerusalem with Peter and Pentecost and we end with Paul in the belly of the beast, Rome. What baffles commentators is the plot of Acts. What’s the story? Is it the story of the early church? Maybe. But since, it is possible that Luke wrote it after the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 CE (see the Olivet Discourses in Matthew, Mark, and Luke which predicted this event), if it was the story of the church and its Jewish influence, why would Luke omit this world-changing event? Some say that this proves that Acts was not written after it was destroyed since it seems like such a large oversight. With that said, is it then a biography of Peter and Paul? That also seems unlikely since the story doesn’t end with Paul’s death, which is dated in the late 60s. Why would a biography, especially of the ancient variety, written after the death of its subject not include his death? Again, for the rationalist, this may prove an earlier date for Acts. But there may me more to it than rationalism. Even if we look at Luke’s example of a biography of Jesus, his Gospel, we see not only Jesus’ death being mentioned, but Jesus’ death being a specific and important part of the story. So Paul’s death is not in this story and subsequently, I like to conclude that it isn’t really a story that is mainly about Paul. Some think that Luke was one of Paul’s companions, but it’s hard to prove that especially since it seems like many of the facts his lists about Paul aren’t exactly in sync with Paul’s own documentation of the events.
So if it’s not a story about the early church or Paul or Peter, then what is it about? Well, put frankly, it’s a story about God, his Holy Spirit, and the continuing work of Jesus. It is a book that inspires its audience to go and do the miraculous work of Jesus. Its characters have incomplete stories mainly because the story isn’t accomplished when the book ends. It’s an invitation for participation. It’s a way to get into the movement.
Circle of Hope, in some sense, models this incompleteness. Our PMs aren’t meant to be perfect, our cell’s meetings aren’t necessarily conclusive. There is more to talk about, more to do, and more love to go around. I hope this meeting and the entire books of Acts is an inspiration for you to do more then. To do the word.
Thursday will have part two of this post.