December 11, 2011

No Spirit for Eunuchs! (or Gentile widows, apparently)

In the earliest days of the christian church in Jerusalem, under Peter's Regime, there were two tiers of Christianity.  This becomes unarguably clear when we read of Cornelius, but that discrimination must have been going on from the start.  What Peter blessed should be counted as spiritually unconscionable - that Jewish believers were permitted instructed to receive the Holy Spirit, but the Gentile believers were not.

In retrospect, this comes out nowhere more forcibly than Acts 8, where Philip meets the Ethiopian eunuch, and especially because this occurs fresh after Philip gets schooled in Samaria by Peter & John, about how to make converts, and when to "give" them the Spirit.  Evidently, Philip had not known that Samaritans - while not 'Judean' - were indeed people of Abraham.  Thus, all their men were circumcised.  Thus, Holy Spirit.  But, alas, Philip had no special grace for his second-tier convert, the eunuch.

Seen in this light, I believe it shines clear that Luke's purpose in Acts 8 was far less to foreshadow the great reach of the Gospel's Global Advance than to show what a dangerous state that GGA was in about to be in, under Peter's direction.  For Luke, this is not a good ending:  an entire continent had just been inflicted with a Holy Spirit-less Gospel!  And as Acts goes on to show, later, even Jewish Apollos, the African, was some time later producing disciples who had "not even heard" of the HS.

Of course, it's only on a second read-through of Acts that we can retroject these attitudes into the otherwise glorious sounding adventures in Acts' early chapters.  Yet, retroject them we must, and by doing so we may be surprised in quite a few ways.

For example:

It was a genuine, righteous fury that inspired Stephen in denouncing the Temple (that very place where the Twelve had met daily since Pentecost, and the same place Luke later shows leading Paul towards his doom) but perhaps Stephen's anti-Temple rhetoric was being aimed in two directions at once.  Given the full picture, it couldn't have been merely the Sanhedrin's entrenched institutionalism that Stephen strongly resented.  Consider also the mindless heartless traditional bigotry of Peter and the Apostles.

We know Stephen was circumcised because "the seven" were allowed to take food directly from the responsible hands of fellow Jewish believers, but it must have grated on Stephen to be told he could share only food with these widows - with these unmarried women who could not be converted by the proxy of husbands submitting to cutlery.  Under Peter's instructions, Stephen had HS, but these widows did not.

Again, please imagine at some length the daily pleasure of being tasked to bring food to the needy, but the daily pain of being told it was unrighteous to share with them also what the rest of Christ's body was sharing.  That daily, from house to house, the believers were eating and praying together, instructing one another with words from the Apostles, and having spiritual fellowship with the Father and Son.  But if these gentile widows were so unclean that they couldn't come into the house of a Jewish Believer, to even eat together, then how could the church think they were holy enough to pray, learn and fellowship with?  If you can't even break the same bread with us, how can you ingest the same Spirit as us?

I expect Stephen was frustrated with many things in Jerusalem, of which the Temple was roundly symbolic.

Extrapolate as you may...

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