An Atheist Analyzes Acts (Introduction)

Growing up in the Church of Christ; the primary book of the Bible which somewhat underpinned our faith was the Canonical book of Acts of the Apostles. (aka: Acts).  Every Campbellite kid (a fellow “COC’er” will get the Campbellite reference) grows up learning about the Acts of the Apostles, and in particularly the Missionary Journeys of the beloved Apostle Paul.  I daresay if there were but one book of the Bible at the disposal of the Church of Christ (COC), the book of Acts would suffice to establish the rudiments of our doctrine.

Routine references to certain select passages; many in the book of Acts, are second nature to a Campbellite.  For example, just recently a loved one was in the hospital.  When I went to visit my acquaintance, I learned that he was in Room 238.  I IMMEDIATELY referenced his Room number in my mind to Acts 2:38; which amounts to a COC slogan:  “Repent and be baptized”.  The reference is so universally understood among my fellow Campbellites that even an average member of the COC knows these words, and most can cite the reference as well as quote the words.

Recently I have been studying the book of Acts.  It is amazing how a change of perspective can alter one’s hermeneutic!  It is like examining a house from inside a room, then stepping outside and assessing the edifice from across the street.  The last time I really studied the book of Acts I was still a fundamentalist Christian.  I perused the pages through the filter of faith.  Now I assess Acts as an Atheist who studies so as to analyze and assess without feeling the need to believe in the deeds or the doctrines recorded therein.  I find the experience enlightening.

There are many questions which come to mind now which I simply do not recall ever pondering in the past.  There are likewise many theories I now think on that I never would have postulated in years gone by.

For example, I now wonder why it was so important as recorded in the very first chapter to replace Judas Iscariot as the 12th Apostle, when the Apostles themselves seem to have played very little role in church history, at least per the book of Acts.  And I furthermore wonder why the Holy Spirit was given in such dramatic fashion to the Apostles in Chapter Two, yet for the most part of Acts the Spirit seems to have been primarily for Paul’s benefit.  I likewise ask myself why Jesus gave such a detailed dialogue to the Apostles about sending the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth, when in fact Paul seems to claim that privilege for himself.  I even wonder why Jesus did not merely foretell Paul instead of foretelling the Holy Spirit.

Then again, I wonder about such things as the dispute over the distribution of food to the Gentile widows as recorded in Chapter Six.  Was this historic, or is this symbolic I wonder?  And if symbolic, why is it the Gentiles who seem to be deprived, when history indicates that the poor Priests among the Jewish faith were deprived of food by the High Priests who were consorting with the Roman government?  Is this not a symbolic story which reverses the facts, I ask myself?  And why would such a reversal of the actual events be so portrayed, I ask myself?

I also wonder about the stoning of Stephen, as recorded in Chapter 7.  Odd that Acts would record the stoning of a relative unknown named Stephen, yet completely ignores the stoning of James, the brother of Jesus and Bishop of the church in Jerusalem, when that historic event occurred precisely where the book of Acts ends.  Why this omission I wonder?  Also, is it not odd that Josephus, the Jewish Historian, records the words of the dying James as being the same as those of Stephen, as well as those in fact likewise of Jesus as he hung on the cross?  Could in fact the stoning of Stephen actually be referencing the stoning of James the Just, I wonder?  If so, why change the identity of the victim?  And why change the time frame? Is there a reason that Luke (allegedly the author of Acts) would want to deter his readers from looking too deeply into the events surrounding the stoning of Stephen, I wonder?  Are there elements of the execution of James the Just that Luke would rather keep hidden?  Is this the reason why Luke did not record the stoning of James, if in fact he did not do so?

(I just reread the last few paragraphs and envisioned my dear cousin in Idaho who says that “I think too much” either rolling around on the ground laughing or banging his head against the wall saying “Don’t think so much!  Don’t think so much!”.   My beloved cousin is COC also)

These are but a few of the questions relative to my study of the book of Acts which I have been pondering and considering.

As to my theories (which are admittedly a work in process), I shall be sharing those one post at a time over this next year.

A detailed study and skeptical review of the book of Acts is my New Year’s Resolution for 2015.

Happy New Year’s everyone!!!

Dave Henderson

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One thought on “An Atheist Analyzes Acts (Introduction)

  1. I think you will find that Acts is a political hit piece designed to favor Paul’s version of “Christianity” over that of the Jerusalem sect. The remainder of Jesus followers were observant Jews who had no interest in setting up a new religion. The old was was quite fine, that you. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah who would return to lead them out of bondage to the Romans. Basically it was a political movement. Paul, on the other hand, had in mind the creation of a new religion that would have appalled Jesus and did appall the Jerusalem folks. There are several places in Acts where that truth came out. Paul was a dissembler and a manipulator who repeatedly defended himself in writing from being called a liar (by whom?).

    The “Christianity” we ended up with had very little to do with Jesus (what did he teach, really, that hadn’t already been taught by many?) and almost everything to do with Paul.

    I recommend to you “The Mythmaker” by Hyam MacCoby and “Acts and Christian Beginnings: The Acts Seminar Report.” I wish you good reading.

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