A presentation prepared for the “Luke-Acts Colloquium” sponsored by the South Ohio Diocese of the Episcopal Church, delivered at St. George’s, Dayton.

 

The Gospel of Luke and its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, together lay out the story of God’s mission in the world of the first century AD.  The story of this mission takes place in the midst of the world of the early Roman empire, beginning during the reign of Augustus and extending as far as the reign of Nero – though we only hear the names of Augustus, Tiberius, and Claudius in the course of the story, and always quite tangentially.  It is the story of a mission that is decidedly uninterested in the mission of the early Roman empire and the missions of various other groups and parties active in that world.

As we read Acts, we learn of several Jewish freedom fighters, would-be leaders of insurrections hoping to change the story of Judea and to sideline Rome’s mission in that region in favor of a nationalistic mission of independence.  Early in Acts (5:36-37), Gamaliel makes reference to the revolt led by Judas the Galilean in connection with the imperial census taken under Quirinius, the legate of Syria famous for being mispronounced in nearly every reading of the Nativity story that I’ve ever heard, and the movement led by Theudas, who led a large mass of followers to the Jordan River in the expectation of a new parting of the waters and divine conquest of the land currently under Roman domination.  Later in Acts, when Paul is arrested, the commander of the barracks in Jerusalem wondered if Paul might be the Jew from Egypt “who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand assassins (Sicarii) out into the desert” (21:38), another abortive revolt quickly put down by the Roman governor just a few years prior.  These revolutionaries grounded their mission in a particular story, believing that God’s former acts of deliverance on behalf of Israel would be repeated in the present conflict against Roman domination and lead to a restored kingdom of Israel. It appears that one man formerly enamored of this story and the mission it supported – Simon, “known as the Zealot” – detached himself from it and found himself caught up in another story, another divine mission.

The chief priests and leading elites that constituted the Sanhedrin throughout the period of Jesus’ ministry and the activity of Jesus’ apostles in Judea were also people on a mission that was rooted in a particular story.  In their case, this story focused on the covenant originally forged at Sinai and on the Temple that was so central an organ for the covenant’s ongoing operation, and their mission was to preserve both Temple and covenant as the indispensable and unsurpassable venue for the mediation of God’s favor and blessings for the people.  Of all the other stories and missions, theirs is the one to which Luke gives the greatest outright attention, no doubt because the story and mission of the Jesus movement clashed so directly with theirs.  Indeed, Luke’s story from Jesus’ indictment and occupation of the Temple after his triumphal entry through the sermon of Stephen can be read as a story of the shift of divine authority from the Temple administration to the apostles and the shift of divine presence and power from the Temple to the Spirit-empowered community of Jesus’ followers.

Luke knows that, if followers of the Christ were truly and fully to invest themselves in seeking the kingdom of God and in living out their allegiance to Jesus as their Lord, they would need to divest themselves fully from their investment of themselves in alternative, essentially incompatible stories and missions.

Luke’s primary audience is none other than the members of the communities of faith whose early formation is the subject of the Acts narrative.  What are Christians in Pisidian Antioch or Ephesus or Philippi or Corinth “hearing” when they hear Luke and Acts read to them in their assemblies?  How does it transform (or, at least, reinforce for them) their identity and location in “story and mission” in their world?  How can recovering this experience help us to hear the implicit challenge of Luke and Acts in our location?  As I reflect on the dominant story about divine mission in the world of these early Christians, I read Luke’s Gospel and Acts quite differently. Luke appears to me to work to displace that dominant story to make room for the new story of how the God of Israel is accomplishing his good ends through the mission of Jesus and of the early church, inviting Christians to locate themselves in the world no longer in terms of that dominant story, but rather in terms of the story of God’s kingdom.

In what follows, I will introduce that dominant story about the divine mission in the world, the ways in which Luke may be heard to subvert that story, and finally the ways in which Luke’s agenda in this regard bequeaths an agenda to us to take up in our setting.

Rewriting the “Saecular” Ideology

I use the somewhat archaic word “saecular” to describe “ideology” here because I mean to denote “the ideology that belonged to the age in which Luke wrote and into which all his readers or hearers had been born.”  It was certainly not a “secular” ideology in the more common sense of “not religious, that which is not set apart as ‘sacred’.”  The “saecular” ideology was also a deeply religious one with its own body of faith claims, symbolically enacted in its own rites and liturgies.

The dominant story in the world of Luke’s audience is the story of the mission of Rome as the fulfillment of a divine plan for the world. One of the great evangelists of the Gospel of Rome was Virgil, a poet in Augustus’s court and author of the Aeneid, the court epic of the Augustan age.  The public story of Rome begins with the fall of Troy, from whose ashes emerges a hero, Aeneas, whose divinely-appointed mission would be to plant the seeds of a world empire.  The Aeneid celebrates the destiny of Rome, glimpses of which encourage the hero Aeneas on to the end of his quest.  Zeus, the king of the gods, promises that the Romans would “rule the sea and all the lands about it” (Aen. 1.236-37).  Zeus announces that Rome’s destiny would be to “bring the whole world under the rule of law” (Aen. 4.232), a mission that it came ever closer to fulfilling throughout the first and second centuries AD with each new conquest (and to preserving with each suppression of a new revolt). The fruits of this mission were widely celebrated as “stability and security” by creating “a single, unwavering cycle and world order of peace” (thus Plutarch, “On the Fortune of the Romans” 2 [Moralia 317]).

The power of Rome was visually portrayed in the image of the goddess Roma, the visible representation of the “order,” the “rule of law,” the “peace” and “stability” that Rome’s imperial rule brought.  She was often featured on the reverse of coins; she is more prominently visible in the cult statues throughout the Mediterranean.

Roma

Roma was given the epithet Aeterna, an epithet that persists to this day when we hear Rome called “the Eternal City.”  Thus Rome’s supporters and propagandists advanced the bold claim that Rome’s mission and destiny were unchanging and everlasting, in contradiction to all the lessons of world history.

According to this widely celebrated story, divine Providence – the provision of the gods for the good ordering of the world – was at work in the rise and reign of Rome, and it was particularly at work in the rise and reign of Augustus and his successors.  Augustus, formerly known as Octavian, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, brought an end to three major rounds of civil wars – in two of which he was a major player.  But, as the last man standing, it was he who restored “peace” to the whole world and, indeed, set in place a far more stable “peace” than had been known prior to the onset of the civil wars.

Let me take you next to the Roman province of Asia in what we would call the year 9 BC, where chance has left us a marvelous snapshot of how this dominant cultural story about a divine mission was articulated and celebrated.  I think the location of this snapshot in the Roman province of Asia – the area of what is now Western Turkey that contained cities with churches born of the Pauline mission like Ephesus, Colossae, Hierapolis, and Laodicea – is significant.  In 9 BC, the 22nd year of the reign of the emperor Augustus, the Provincial Council of Asia invited proposals for the best way to honor Augustus for the gifts he had brought to the world.  Paullus Fabius Maximus, provincial governor at the time, offered the winning proposal, namely that the birthday of Augustus should become the official “New Year’s Day” of the calendar year, since his coming marked the beginning of a new era of peace and order.  The Council agreed that this should indeed be done,

because Providence … has set all things in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom      she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a savior [sōtēra], both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things well, and because he, Caesar, by his appearing [epiphaneis], … surpassed all previous benefactors and leaves posterity no hope of another surpassing what he has done, and because the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good news [euangeliōn] for the world that came by reason of him.

The word from the inscription translated as “good news” here is a form of euangelion, the same Greek word that appears no fewer than seventy-five times in the New Testament (whether translated as “good news” or “gospel”).  This inscription lauded Augustus as Providence’s provision for the “highest good” of the people, a ruler whom Providence “filled with excellence for the benefit of humanity.”  It hailed him as “savior,” one whose gifts to humankind no one would ever surpass in the future, and as a manifestation of the divine (as the verb epiphanein was typically used to speak of the appearing of a god or goddess among or to mortals).  The word “savior” here admittedly comes from a portion of the inscription that had to be reconstructed, but Augustus, like other generally beneficent emperors, was frequently hailed as “savior,” as in the inscription over the temple of Augustus and Roma on the Athenian acropolis, located just behind the great Parthenon.   The word was part of the stock repertoire of acclamations of the emperor.

Inscription

Another particularly important term in this repertoire is “son of [a] god.” After the assassination of Julius Caesar, the Roman Senate declared him to have become a god.  Their decision was based, among other things, on the testimony of reliable witnesses to have seen a new star appearing in the heavens, an image frequently represented thereafter on the coins of Julius’s adopted son and successor, Octavian – who would shortly come to be named “Augustus.” Temples were erected in Rome and throughout the eastern provinces to this new deity. Thus Octavian became “son of the divine Julius” and this title divi filius, “son of the deified one,” would be featured prominently in every inscription and on every coin connected with Octavian.  Augustus was given divine honors during his life and, predictably, officially consecrated a god after his death, allowing his own adopted son and successor, Tiberius, to continue the tradition of being styled “son of a god.”  Nero, Titus, and Domitian were all also able to make use of this title after the divinization of Claudius and of Vespasian.

 

In this inscription from a triumphal arch honoring the emperor Hadrian, he is lauded, among other things, as “son of the God Nerva Traianus.”  This particular inscription shows us something important: if there was any distinction in Latin between the deus (god) and the divus (deified one), that distinction disappeared in the Greek-speaking world, where the divus was simply rendered theos, “a god.”

Son of a god

It is in the midst of such a world that Luke’s archangel Gabriel appears to Mary to announce that she will give birth to a child who “will be called ‘Son of God’” (Luke 1:35), a status that the voice of God itself confirms at both Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration (Luke 3:22; 9:35).  It is in the midst of such a world that Luke’s anonymous angel appeared to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem to deliver an alternative announcement of good news: “The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord’” (Luke 2:10-11 NRSV).[1] When Luke speaks of the birth of Jesus, the “son of God,” as the “good news” concerning the appearing of a “savior” who will benefit “all people” – a story in which Augustus now appears offstage merely as the person drawing up a census to make sure he can get his tribute from all the subject peoples of his empire – his readers would have understood the political implications of his proclamation of Jesus’s place in the divine scheme of things.

Very significantly, Augustus, Tiberius, and Claudius are introduced into the narrative only as background scenery, at most as part of an explanation for how the events that really matter in the divine story and mission unfolded.  Thus Augustus is named only as the cause of Joseph and Mary’s migration to Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth; Tiberius is named in connection with providing something of a date for the beginning of the ministry of John, Jesus’ forerunner; and Claudius is mentioned only as the person whose expulsion of the Jews from Rome landed Prisca and Aquila in Corinth where they would make Paul’s acquaintance (Luke 2:1; 3:1; Acts 18:2).  They are not themselves the agents of the divine, and they are themselves far removed from the arena of divine action. The Christian gospel was thus very much a counter-gospel.  It both declared how God was intervening for the benefit of all humankind and sought to correct how the majority of people in the Roman world had thought that the divine had intervened for the benefit of all humankind, through whom, and to what end.

There is a “divine Providence,” to which Luke refers most often as “the plan of God” (Luke 7:30; Acts 2:23; 4:28; 13:36; 20:27), behind the counter-gospel.  This “plan” was announced in the Scriptures of Israel and was put in effect in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and in the mission of the disciples whom he commissioned:

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you – that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke. 24:44-47 NRSV)

It is also a divine plan with a universal scope, the goal of which is to unite people from Israel and from all the nations together into a new political entity, the “kingdom of God” that is thematic throughout Luke-Acts.[2]  Jesus had outlined the strategy by which this invasion and annexation would take place:

“What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” (Lk. 13:18-19 NRSV)

“To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” (Lk. 13:20-21 NRSV)

Unlike Rome’s forging of an empire through heavy-handed military conquest and political coercion, God’s kingdom would insinuate itself everywhere as yeast works through a lump of dough until it has taken over the whole.  And this is the process that we see beginning in the narrative of Acts as the seed is planted or the yeast injected in city after city in the northeast quadrant of the Mediterranean region.

And, of course, every kingdom has a “Lord” to whom allegiance, and to whose commands obedience, is ultimately due.  Luke proclaims the crucified and risen Jesus as this “Lord,” acting as the vice-regent of God in this kingdom – this empire that God is forming out of former subjects of “all the kingdoms of the world” (Luke 4:5) through the mission of the apostles and the sealing of the Holy Spirit.

Rewriting “Saecular” Geography

Luke’s neutralizing of Rome’s ideology – its presentation of its own role and importance in the unfolding drama of this world – is evident also in how Luke presents the geography of God’s story and mission, and particularly how he allocates “gravity” in his map.

There can be no doubt that Jerusalem stands at the center of Luke’s map.  All four Gospels, of course, place the climactic action of Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem as a matter of public record, but Luke begins Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem as early as Luke 9:51, about two-fifths into the narrative: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  Luke will not let his readers lose sight of the fact that the actions of the next ten chapters occur “on the way to Jerusalem”:

“Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.” (Luke 13:22 NRSV)

“Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.” (Luke 13:33 NRSV)

“On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.” (Luke 17:11 NRSV)

“Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished’.” (Luke 18:31 NRSV)

“He went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.” (Luke 19:11 NRSV)

After Jesus’ resurrection, Luke departs from the tradition of the other Gospels by not speaking of the disciples returning to Galilee at any point.  In Mark, for example, the message is sent to the disciples: “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:1 NRSV).  In Matthew, the encounter between Jesus and his disciples in Galilee is narrated.  In John’s Gospel as well the disciples are found in chapter 21 having relocated to the Sea of Galilee after the initial resurrection appearances in Jerusalem.  In Luke, however, Jesus appears to the disciples in Jerusalem and tells them: “see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49 NRSV).  The disciples must remain in Jerusalem because just as it was the focal point for Jesus’ mission of redemption, it will also be the center from which God’s mission to all nations will break forth.  Once again, in Jesus’ summary of the witness of the “hope of Israel” as attested in its Scriptures: “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47 NRSV).

Acts, then, opens in Jerusalem, with Luke reminding the readers why: “While staying with them, Jesus ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4).  Immediately prior to his ascension – in Luke, from the Mount of Olives immediately across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem – Jesus says: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NRSV). This programmatic statement creates an expectation in the hearers that, as Acts unfolds, this commission will be fulfilled.  The propriety of such an expectation is confirmed as the story of the apostolic mission proceeds: bold and effective witness to what God has done in Christ and the summons God has issued in Christ happens first in Jerusalem (Acts 1-7) and moves out into Judea and Samaria (Acts 8-9): “The church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers” (Acts 9:31 NRSV).

From here, the witnesses begin to move out beyond Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria towards “the ends of the earth.”  What we notice as we read on, however, is that Luke does not speak of Thomas’s mission to India (if that tradition is reliable), the eunuch’s possible evangelistic activity in Ethiopia, and the like.  Rather, Luke speaks of the steady progression of the witness to God’s kingdom moving further and further out from Jerusalem in the direction of Rome – first through Syria and Cilicia, then through Cyprus and Anatolia, then through Macedonia and Greece.  And just as Luke’s Jesus began his journey to Jerusalem quite early, Paul similarly sets his face to go to Rome as early as Acts 19:21: “Paul resolved in the Spirit to go through Macedonia and Achaia, and then to go on to Jerusalem. He said, ‘After I have gone there, I must also see Rome’” (Acts 19:21 NRSV).  We are reminded of this divine necessity throughout Paul’s legal trials which, ironically, become the means by which he arrives in Rome, “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” for two whole years (Acts 28:30-31).  The expectation for the story of Acts raised by Jesus’ declaration that his witnesses would reach “the ends of the earth” is fulfilled, most ironically, as this witness proclaims the good news in Rome.

One scholar has written: “Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire—it would have been absurd to describe the power center of the Roman Empire with the label ‘end of the earth’.”[3]  This is no more absurd, I would say, than to claim that one of Rome’s crucified victims was, in fact, the agent at the center of God’s pre-determined plan for the redemption of Israel and the gathering of the Gentiles, the agent through whom and in whose name “the kingdom of God” would take shape in response to the proclamation of God’s mighty acts in Jesus Christ, beginning “in Jerusalem in all Judea and Samaria” and extending “to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NRS).[4]

Luke’s Challenge to Us in Regard to Story and Mission

I have dwelt on the linear stories and the horizontal maps at such length to show how Luke was hard at work making room in the Roman world for God’s story and God’s mission.  There was a lot out there in the way of Roman imperial ideology and in the way of people overtly and enthusiastically embracing and advancing that ideology.  Every last one of Luke’s readers and hearers was also nurtured in that world and had been extensively exposed to that ideology – and many if not most of them would have been among those who enthusiastically embraced it.  They had to stop believing in one gospel, one proclamation of “good news,” if they were fully to embrace and live from the other gospel proclaimed by Luke and his peers in the name of Jesus Messiah and if they were to fall in line with the One God’s mission in the world.[5]  They needed to cease to take their bearings from one story along with its preoccupations, its trajectory, its mission, and begin to take their bearings from – and live to advance – another story with its preoccupations, trajectory, and mission.

And – it also seems to me – we have to work just as hard to make room in our world, in our case the world of the United States of America, for God’s story and God’s mission.  We are bombarded with stories every day from conservative and liberal media framed from concern with our nation’s story and its contested future, stories that invade – or that we promote on, our social media feeds.  We need to think clearly about whether it is our mission to get fired up about the things that these media want to fire us up about, or whether we need to attend more conscientiously to a different mission that takes its bearings from the Holy Spirit and not the spirit of the age.

The national story of race and the various ideologies it has spawned continues to divide people from one another here, but it must cease to divide Christians of one range of colors from Christians of another range of colors here.  We are called to live from a different story, the story of a different political entity, God’s kingdom, that has made us parts together of one Body, and live into a different future together.

We are pushed – and often push those around us – into supporting the mission of one of two political parties as if either one would bring salvation to the nation.  But God’s mission is not going to be accomplished by either political party, nor advanced by our investment of ourselves in getting any political party into power.  At best, we can try with our voting to promote the conditions that will least hinder God’s mission.  God’s mission is advanced and accomplished through God’s people, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.  Acts gives us a picture of the Church as a powerful, energetic, effective, ever-expanding body that is both the result of God’s mission and the vehicle for God’s ongoing mission.  It challenges us to stop waiting for the secular systems around us to accomplish the good we long to see and to become ever more completely that powerful, energetic, effective, ever-expanding body through which God accomplishes that good.  It calls us to stop sidelining ourselves as the Church, politely lobbying the secular powers to do what is right, and to take over the doing of what is right as we respond with our full investment of ourselves and our resources to the Holy Spirit’s direction and visions for us.

What we read of the story of God’s mission in Acts is just the beginning.  Think for just a moment about how that story has expanded – how that mission’s reach has expanded – across the centuries and across the continents to arrive at the point where we have been incorporated into that story along with our sisters and brothers ransomed, by this point indeed, from every nation, language, tribe, and people group.  Just as Acts was a sequel to Luke’s Gospel, there is a grand sequel to Acts – any good account of the history of the Church’s mission, preferably one that gives lavish attention to the work of the Holy Spirit throughout the majority world rather than one that supplies merely the “Church History” component of a Western Civilizations class.  Granted this is a story in which rulers and colonizers and venial people have coopted the Church’s mission for their own ends – and thus a story full of poignant warnings to help us become more vigilant in this regard now – but it is also a story in which the Holy Spirit has broken loose from those ends to reassert God’s mission again and again.

And in regard to maps.  We wake up, move about, and lie down to sleep in a country that is very much concerned about its borders – in the days of this particular administration, preoccupied with those borders and with inscribing those lines more concretely.  I have the distinct impression that we typically think about (and are led by most media to think about) the stories in our world in terms of how our country is impacting other nations, how what is happening in those nations is impacting our country, about our nation’s interests as the lens through which we look at what it happening globally and the filter through which our media prioritize what they put before our eyes to look at in the first place.

How radically different is the map configured in accordance with God’s interests and God’s mission in the world.  It remains a map with Jerusalem conceptually at the center – not because of any misplaced Zionist ideology, but because Jerusalem remains the historic “ground zero” of the explosion of God’s work in the world through God’s Anointed One, Jesus.  Every one of us has been invited into the people whose story began there, not here.  I suspect that a focal theater of action in that story now is far removed from Washington, DC, and from the obsession with border walls, and is to be found in spaces far removed from the center of our nation’s map of the world (that is, us!), far beyond our borders.  It is probably, rather, to be found in those places where the Church is most actively and wholeheartedly engaged in precisely the same mission of God that we see driving the plot of Acts forward from beginning to end. It is in the explosive expansion of God’s kingdom into South America, Africa, and the Far East.  It is in the courageous and costly witness of our sisters and brothers across North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia who say, with the apostles, “we must obey God rather than human authorities.”  It is in the struggle for daily survival and finding some modicum of safety that untold millions in our world face, who need to have the good news of God’s kingdom brought to them and who need to be embraced by the care of the global citizenry of that kingdom.  But if we are to be part of that effective citizenry, we will need to make a great deal of room for God’s story and God’s mission through intentional divestment of our attention and energies from the stories and missions to which we are being otherwise constantly recruited.

[1] Luke admittedly shows a preference for the verb “to announce good news” (εὐαγγελίζεσθαι) over the noun “good news” (εὐαγγέλιον), though he does use the latter one occasion.  Peter speaks of his proclamation to Cornelius as “the message of the good news (τὸν λόγον τοῦ εὐαγγελίου; Acts 15:7); Paul speaks of his being commissioned “to testify to the good news (τὸ εὐαγγέλιον) of God’s favor” (Acts 20:24).

[2] For “kingdom of God,” see Luke 4:43; 6:20; 7:28; 8:1, 10; 9:2, 11, 27, 60, 62;  10:9, 11; 11:20; 13:18, 20, 28, 29; 14:15; 16:16; 17:20-21; 18:16-17, 24-25, 29; 19:11; 21:31; 22:16, 18; 23:51; Acts 1:3; 14:22; 19:8; 28:23, 31; for “kingdom,” referring to the same, see Luke 11:2; 12:31-32; 22:30; Acts 20:25.

[3] Eckhard Schnabel, “Jesus’ Missionary Commission and the Ends of the Earth,” in Lexham Geographic Commentary: Acts through Revelation (ed. Barry Beitzel; Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018).

[4] The Judean author of Psalms of Solomon 8 also appears to have spoken of Rome as “the end of the earth”: “He brought someone from the end of the earth, one who attacks in strength; he declared war against Jerusalem, and her land” (Psalms of Solomon 8:15), referring to Pompey the Great, the Roman senator and general who came to intervene in Judean affairs in 63 BC.

[5] Where Luke’s Gentile readers see themselves in the narrative, they are leaving behind – perhaps indeed remembering their own leaving behind of – those practices that marked their embeddedness in that alternate story of the gods who had brought about peace and order for the world in the rise of Augustus – the Savior, Lord, and divine son of a divine father – and his successors.  Paul’s messages to the people of Lystra and to the council that met on the Athenian Areopagus encapsulate this fairly well.  If Gentiles respond favorably to those who proclaim God’s mission in the world and accept the invitation to become part of that story and mission, they must cease “to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals” (Acts 17:29) and “turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them” (Acts 14:15).  Their involvement in such things no longer marks their support for and participation in the alternative story of divine providence; instead it marks their groping during “the times of human ignorance” (Acts 17:30).   There was nothing salvific in that period – quite contrary to the dominant story – apart from the traces of the providence of the One God in creation.