BEFORE THE WEEKEND is over, I hope to do something new.
I hope to give you a new version of how the church got started. Free, online at the Casual English Bible.
It’s the story reported in the Book of Acts.
It’s a beta version, not-yet proofed. I’m looking for 12 volunteer readers to look for typos and other glitches. I’m giving away a signed copy of one of my newest books to each volunteer.
Here’s the first chapter, complete with footnotes and some tough discussion questions for Bible study groups.
Acts 1. Last words of Jesus
Jesus says goodbye
1:1. In the first book I wrote for you, Theophilus, I told you about Jesus. I wrote about what he did and what he taught.
1:2. I covered his entire ministry, clear up to the day he gave his apostles their last instructions, which he got through the Holy Spirit. After that, he was lifted up into the sky and out of sight.
1:3. But first, he proved he came back from the dead. He did this in a lot of ways. He spent 40 days on earth after his resurrection, before he ascended into the sky. During that time, he taught the apostles about God’s Kingdom.
1:5. John baptized people with water. But in a few days you’re going to get baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
1:6. When the apostles met with Jesus on the Mount of Olives, they asked him, “Sir, is it time yet? Are you going to give the nation of Israel back to its people?”
1:7. Jesus answered, “The Father’s in charge of what happens and when. You don’t need to worry yourself about it.
1:8. You’re going to get the power to do incredible things once the Holy Spirit comes to you. After that happens, you’ll start telling my story to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria—to the whole world.”
1:9. As soon as he was done saying that, he started to rise up in the air. He kept rising until a cloud finally carried him away. The people couldn’t see him anymore.
1:10. They kept looking, though. As they searched the sky after he was gone, two men wearing white robes showed up and stood beside them.
1:11. They said, “You guys from Galilee, what do you think you’re doing? Why are you standing around looking at the sky? The way you saw Jesus go—carried up into heaven—is the way he’ll come back when he’s good and ready.”
1:12. So the apostles left the Mount of Olives and went back to Jerusalem, just across the valley—about the distance Jews were allowed to walk on the Sabbath. It was roughly half a mile.
1:13. When they got to the city, they went back to the upstairs room where they had been staying. All 11 of the remaining disciples were there: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James.
1:14. All of these men were doing just one thing in that room: praying. Joining them were the women who had followed Jesus, including his mother Mary. His brothers were there, too.
1:15. During the days that followed, the group grew to about 120 souls. Peter stood up to talk to them. He said,
1:16. “Friends, the Holy Spirit inspired King David to predict what happened to Judas. That prophecy had to be fulfilled.
1:17. Judas was a part of our ministry team.
1:19. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about how he died. They started calling the land bought with his money “Field of Blood,” which is Akeldama in Aramaic.
1:21. So now we have to give Judas’ job to another person. This replacement has to be someone who has been with us from the beginning.
1:22. That’s from the time John baptized Jesus until the time Jesus ascended into the sky. This person needs to be someone who saw the resurrected Jesus.
1:23. The disciples nominated two candidates. One was Joseph, who had two nicknames: Barsabbas and Justus. The other was Matthias.
1:24. The group prayed about the choice they had to make. They said, “Lord, you know what kind of men these are. You make the choice for us.
1:25. Let us know who you want as an apostle to take over the ministry work left behind by Judas, who decided to follow his own path.”
1:26. They put God in charge by using a method of random selection; they threw dice. Matthias became the apostle who joined the other 11.
 1:1. The Gospel of Luke.
 1:2. It means “messengers.” It was a title that originally referred to the 12 disciples of Jesus. Later it became the title for top leaders in the early Christian movement—leaders who had personally seen the resurrected Jesus.
 1:4. The description could also mean when he ate with them.
 1:4. The gift of the Holy Spirit who would guide them as well as remind them of what Jesus had taught them (John 14:26).
 1:6. In the ancient manuscripts, the location isn’t identified as the Mount of Olives until 1:12.
 1:12. Almost one kilometer.
 1:13. Judas Iscariot hanged himself after helping Jewish leaders arrest Jesus (Matthew 27:5).
 1:16. See 1:20.
 1:18. Judas returned the reward, 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 27:4). The Jewish leaders didn’t want it back because it was blood money, linked to the execution of Jesus. So they used it to buy a potter’s field, which they turned into a cemetery for immigrants.
 1:18. He hanged himself, according to Matthew 27:5. Peter’s note seems to hint that he fell to his death. Otherwise, some scholars speculate, his body fell after he hanged himself, or perhaps in the process of hanging himself.
 1:19. Aramaic was a popular language among the Jews. Their ancestors picked it up in what is now Iraq, after many of them were exiled there when Babylonian soldiers conquered the Jewish nation in 586 BC and leveled Jerusalem.
 1:20. Psalm 60:25. Though it might seem a stretch to apply this and Psalm 109:8 to Judas, many Jews at the time taught that some of the Psalms predicted what would happen in the story of the Messiah.
 1:20. Psalm 109:8.
 1:26. Literally, “they threw lots.” Judas’ replacement was chosen by casting lots, perhaps dice-like objects they used to get a yes or no answer from God, since they believed God controlled everything that happened.
ACTS 1 DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
- Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke as well as the book of Acts to a mysterious man named Theophilus. Bible experts can only guess who he was. One guess, based on the fact that Luke addressed him as “honorable Theophilus” (Luke 1:3), is that he was a Roman official—perhaps someone involved in the trial of Paul in Rome. Luke may have been making the case that neither Paul nor the Christian movement he was helping lead were a threat to the Roman Empire. Other theories suggest Theophilus may have been a new Christian, or perhaps a patron who hired Luke to write the story of Jesus and the birth of the Christian church. Which theory do you think has most merit?
- Luke seems to say Jesus got the instructions he gave to the disciples from “the Holy Spirit” (1:2). And when the disciples asked Jesus when the Jews were going to get their country back, Jesus said, “The Father’s in charge of what happens and when” (1:7). How would you address the criticism that this makes Jesus look somewhat less important than the Father or the Holy Spirit?
- Why do you think that even after the Resurrection, the disciples were still expecting Jesus “to give the nation of Israel back to its people?” (1:6). Did they miss him telling Pilate that his kingdom wasn’t an earthly one? (John 18:36).
- Jesus said that after the Holy Spirit came, the disciples would receive “the power to do incredible things” (1:8). What kind of power do you think they expected, given that they already had the power to heal people and exorcise demons?
- Peter quoted Psalm 109:8 to make his case that the disciples needed to replace Judas. As a “psalm of David,” this song might be by David, about David, or simply dedicated to David. “Of David” is not necessarily a byline. Whoever the psalm is about, it’s about a God-loving person who feels under attack. It’s this person some other bad guys are trying to replace. Yet Peter uses the quote about a good guy to argue that the disciples need to replace Judas, a bad guy. What’s up with Peter apparently trying to make the Bible say something it’s not saying at all?
- Matthew reported that Judas hanged himself (Matthew 27:5). But Peter says the body of Judas fell and split open. What do you think of the theory that both reports are right?
- To select a replacement apostle—which became the highest office in the early church—the disciples nominated two candidates and then essentially rolled dice to pick a winner. They expected God to control the fall of the dice. How do you react to that?
- LIFE APPLICATION. When we have big decisions to make, we might not roll the dice and pray, “God, you got this,” which is pretty much what it seems the disciples did. But we often go through other steps to involve God. What are some of those steps that seem most helpful?