The Book of Acts reads a bit like a ‘Boy’s own’ adventure story. It is fast moving and contains accounts of journeys, arguments, debates, conversions and ship-wrecks. It is an exciting read. Try reading it through sometime and you will see what I mean. The Book of Acts is also radical, in fact very radical if not ‘dangerously radical’. It is radical in the sense that it suggests that God, the God of the Hebrews, the chosen people is not just for them but for all people both Jew and gentile.
What was St.Luke, the Book of Acts probable author thinking of to imply such things?
In first century Jewish society to suggest that God was for all people would have been heresy. It felt like heresy to those first Jewish Christians too. Jesus was a Jew and he never changed his religion or established a new one either – it was his followers who did that. At first those Jews who were followers of Jesus continued to worship in the temple as normal but with a devotion to Jesus and a desire to repent as he had encouraged them to do. This was fine until Peter, one of Jesus’ closest followers decided otherwise.
Following Jesus’ ascension his followers continued with all the Jewish traditions and practices including as this passage tells us – circumcision of males. It was circumcision that singled the Jews out from others in their society. Remember too, at this time, women were not seen as being part of the chosen people, it was only men. Yet Peter tells these God fearing Jerusalem Jews that the Holy Spirit has told him not to make a distinction between Jew and Greek, circumcised or uncircumcised and by extension between men and women! To those Jewish Christians this would have been almost too shocking to contemplate. Peter obviously had his work cut out to convince them otherwise. He must have put up a good argument, however, as he did convince the Jerusalem party that no one was outside God’s favour and love and that Christ’s message was for all God’s people not just the chosen ones. I particularly like his comment at verse 18:
“Who was I that I could hinder God?”
This for me says it all. God’s spirit, God’s love cannot be stopped. It flows where it will and not where humankind thinks it should or might want it to go. It is inclusive and it should encourage all of us to be inclusive in our attitudes as well. For who are we to decide who is or who is not out with the bounds of God’s love and acceptance?