Our conversation through the book of Acts is going strong. Thanks to Debby and Ann for their contributions to the dialogue over the weekend. Today we begin to discuss Acts chapter 8. If you have missed any of our previous discussions and would like to get in on the action you can find them here http://wp.me/P39vIx-Gh
Now on to today’s discussion: If you remember from our last lesson, Christianity obtained its first martyr in Acts chapter 7 when the deacon Stephen was stoned to death… The Bible goes on to say…
And Saul approved of their killing him.
The Church Persecuted and Scattered
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. Acts 8:1-3
In Acts 8:1 we have the introduction of the man who is going to dominate the rest of Acts and indeed most of the New Testament, the Apostle Paul. By his own admission Paul was ...”5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal,persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. “Phil 3:5
We know he grew up in Tarsus the capital of Cilicia.
See if you can find it here http://www.bible-history.com/maps/romanempire/Tarsus.html
According to Acts 22 we know Paul was a student of the Pharisee Gamaliel. However it would seem that Paul and Gamaliel did not see eye to eye on every matter of faith. History shows us that over time a division had developed in Pharisaic theology. Two schools of Pharisaism emerged. The Hillel tradition (which Gamaliel held to) and the Shammai tradition (which Paul seems to have favored as a Pharisee)
Here is a good article on the difference between the two schools: http://www.centralcal.com/crist2.htm
So in Acts Chapter 8 verse 3 we see Paul as a Shammai Pharisee beginning to persecute the church with great zeal. We also see the people of the church fleeing for their lives.
In the free countries of the world today it is hard for us to imagine being persecuted right out of your home. Yet just today I received a prayer request from a church In Bangladesh whose members have been ordered to begin worshipping Allah at the mosque or suffer eviction from their homes by the town government. Acts 8:1-3 is very real for many of our brothers and sisters around the world. If you were faced with such a situation what would you do? Would you stand up for your rights and fight? Would you run? Would you go underground and become a secret believer and a public pagan?