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  • Dewayne Bryant, Ph.D.

Apologetics Questions In The Book Of Acts

The Bible generates many questions for the modern reader. Written to an ancient audience but for a modern one as well, God’s Word is a timeless gold mine of opportunities for thoughtful reflection and inquiry. There are times when such questions become more than a mere matter of intellectual curiosity. Some of them need, if not demand, a response.


The Bible brilliantly anticipates questions modern people have about the Christian faith. We should expect no less from the inspired Word of God. Let’s look at some of the more noteworthy issues addressed in the Book of Acts.


Is Christianity The White Man’s Religion?


We live in a polarized world. One topic that often sparks debate is the applicability of the Christian faith to people from differing ethnic backgrounds. In America, Christianity is sometimes labeled as a religion for Caucasians or people of European descent; a religion fit only for oppressors and colonizers. This criticism is entirely unjustifiable when looking at the biblical text.


One of the most important features of Christianity is its cross-cultural nature. It crosses every dividing line that human beings can draw, whether it be nationality, ethnicity, gender, age, language, or socioeconomic status. The apostle Paul makes this clear in his letter to the Galatians when he says that ethnicity, social standing, and gender make no difference because we are all one in Christ (Gal. 3:28). He includes similar statements elsewhere in his other letters (Rom. 1:16; 3:29-30; 9:24; 10:12-15; Eph. 3:5-10; Col. 3:11). James indicates that discrimination based on individual prosperity is forbidden (James 2:1-7).


Perhaps the most significant statement on the universal applicability of the Christian faith to all people is found in Acts 2. People from many different places came to Jerusalem and heard the disciples preaching in their native languages. This should have come as a refreshing fulfillment of messages delivered by the Hebrew prophets. We can see examples in Isaiah and Micah, who said that many different nations would gather at the mountain of the Lord to learn his ways (Is. 2:2-3; Mic. 4:2-3). This faith was never intended for only one group of people, but for every human being so they could come to know their Creator in whose image they had been made (Gen. 1:26-27).


The claim that Christianity should be limited to only one group is a modern perversion of God’s intent. Those who gathered from all across the Middle East on Pentecost to hear Peter’s preaching would agree (Acts 2), as would the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8). So would early Christians in Egypt and Asia Minor, who had thoroughly populated those areas as early as the 200s BC, barely a century after the death of Jesus.


Did Jesus Have Siblings or Cousins?


Roman Catholic apologetics has become more popular in recent years. One of the most significant areas of difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants involves the perpetual virginity of Mary. This doctrine is vitally important for Roman Catholics for several reasons, making the question about Jesus’ family—and whether he had brothers and sisters—an important one.


The book of Acts refers to Jesus’ brothers without naming them (Acts 1:14). The Gospels of Matthew and Mark also mention Jesus’ family, naming his brothers James, Joses, Simon, Jude, and at least two unnamed sisters (Matt. 13:55; Mk. 6:3). Our Roman Catholic neighbors believe that these were Jesus’ cousins or Joseph’s children from a previous marriage.


We have two considerations here. First, the Greek word used (adelphos) could mean “cousin,” but this is not the normal use of the word. The common term for cousin is anepsios, which is not used to identify Jesus’ siblings. Second, the claim that these individuals are Joseph’s children from a previous marriage is an argument from silence. These six older children are not mentioned in the family’s trips to Bethlehem (Lk. 2), Egypt (Matt. 2), or back to Nazareth. It appears they are Jesus’ younger half-siblings because that is the most natural reading of the text.


For our Roman Catholic neighbors, this theological conviction comes not from exegesis but eisegesis because they are reading their theology of the perpetual virginity of Mary into the text. Defenses of Mary’s supposed perpetual virginity do not start with the Bible but with tradition and extrabiblical sources.


Can People Still Speak in Tongues?


In modern charismatic churches, the primary litmus test for true discipleship is whether a person can speak in tongues. Many have been disillusioned by and subsequently left the charismatic movement because they never developed this gift and were viewed as having a suspect faith by their fellow church-goers. In truth, modern speaking in tongues differs significantly from what we find in the first century.


In Acts 2, the disciples astonished visitors to Jerusalem by speaking in foreign languages (vs. 7-11). This use of known human languages seems to have been natural at the beginning of the church. As time passed and miracles became unnecessary, tongue-speaking disappeared as well.


Today, most charismatics see speaking in tongues as virtually intrinsic to biblical faith. For many people, it is a private prayer language used by each individual that is not understood by them or anyone else. The need for an interpreter, as required by Scripture (1 Cor. 14:28), is typically ignored—as is Paul’s apparent downplaying of the gift in favor of speaking intelligibly for others’ benefit (1 Cor. 14:19). The book of Acts portrays speaking in tongues as a phenomenon used to address other individuals in an understandable way. The biblical portrayal and modern use of languages could hardly be more different.


These questions and many more like them continue to stimulate the hearts and minds of Jesus’ followers. Authoritative answers to humanity’s questions cannot be found in cultural traditions, extrabiblical sources, or private experiences. They must be rooted firmly in the Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

 

This post first appeared in The Carolina Messenger: https://carolinamessenger.wordpress.com/2023/10/26/apologetics-questions-in-the-book-of-acts-dewayne-bryant-ph-d/. We thank the brethren for allowing us to reproduce their work for the benefit of the kingdom and to the glory of God!

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