A Brief Survey of Crisis and Decision
In the Acts of the Apostles


Presented To James D. Hernando, Ph.D
In Partial Fulfillment of Course Requirements In
BNT 540
Studies in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts: Acts


Richard A. Tatum


Springfield, Missouri
November 30, 1993



Terms And Format

Brief Survey Of Veiwpoints Regarding Crisis And Decision

Traditional View
Biblical View

Texts for consideration 4


Conclusion 10

Identifiable Patterns of Response
Toward a Lukan Thelogy of Crisis

EndNotes 13

Works Consulted 14

Appendix Appendix 1

TABLE 1 - Major Crises In Order Of Textual Appearance
TABLE 2 - Major Crises Presented by Motif with staus quo, critical context, portrayed response, and possible deciding factors




Luke's continuing record of "all that Jesus began to do and to teach" (Acts 1:1), is an invaluable historical document detailing, among other things, the responses of the early disciples to crisis and dilemma. The early church faced a multitude of critical decisions, [endnote 1] and Luke faithfully recorded many of the attendant details and results. Some of the crises Luke records are personal while others are corporate. [endnote 2]

This paper assumes [endnote 3] that Luke's narrative serves a normative and paradigmatic use for the Church-at-large; therefore, it will be profitable to consider the patterns of response to crises which the early disciples modeled that we may better face our own dilemmas and crises. Thus, what follows is an examination of several representative crises found in Acts in order to: a) identify patterns of response to crisis, and b) articulate a possible Lukan theology regarding crisis and decision-making.

Terms and Format

The sheer quantity of decisions (explicitly and implicitly) portrayed in Luke's narrative militate against a comprehensive treatment of the subject within the scope of this survey. This discussion will be limited to those decisions which are in response to crisis. Thus, we now must define the critical framework shaping this discussion.

In medicine, crisis refers to that critical moment which determines the course of an illness or condition — symptoms will either improve or worsen. [endnote 4] In literature, crisis refers to a decisive moment, the outcome of which affects the course of the narrative. Pittman describes a crisis as a condition where a choice hangs in the balance between at least two possible courses of action. [endnote 5] Crisis may also describe that condition leading to one of at least two possible outcomes, of which one may be desirable and the other undesirable. Crisis, then, implies a dilemma (though there may certainly be more than two perceived outcomes), and this implies conflicting or at least divergent outcomes.

Yet the crises under consideration here are more than mere options for change. As noted above, crisis may be seen as resulting from conflict. (A decision between behaviors or conditions divergent from the status quo may be seen as being in conflict with the status quo.) Options alone, however, do not create crises. For a potential outcome to catalyze a crisis, the option must first be perceived and it must also entail sufficient motivation to be considered an option for change. (Without an attendant motive toward change, an option presents no conflict to the current status quo). The crisis may stem from the simple (versus complex) dilemma between maintaining status quo and adopting change; however, as more options for change (or outcomes) are perceived and as the motivation to change increases, the complexity and difficulty of the crisis also increases. A crisis, therefore, represents more than dilemma. Because of conflicting potential outcomes and conflicting motivations, crisis entails more than a simple choice between options. So, for our purposes, crisis shall be defined as a situation where existing behaviors or conditions are confronted by at least one other conflicting outcome presenting a motive for change.


This paper will consider those passags where critical decisions are explicitly described and where conflict between the status quo and at least one optional course of action (with motive either implied or described) may be discerned. In the passages selected for discussion, the status quo (the conditions or behavior confronted by potential change), the critical context (the conditions which engendered the crisis), the portrayed response, and possible deciding factors relevant to that response will be considered.

Because there are many critical decisions in Acts, and because many of those decisions exhibit common characteristics, this paper will deal with texts representative of certain kinds of crises found in Acts: [endnote 6] Mandate, Rejection, Need, and Threat. These categories are not exhaustive, not adequate to describe all crises, and not necessarily objective; but the categories are supported from the biblical contexts and will help deal with the selected texts efficiently.

A BRIEF Survey of Views Regarding Crisis and Decision

Traditional View

In conversation with colleagues and associates and in the context of liturgical discourse, this author has often encountered the idea of "The Center of God's Will." [endnote 7] The proponents of this concept assert that when making crisis decisions (especially important ones), one must first consult God to discern His perfect will; otherwise one may choose a course of action which lies outside of God's "perfect plan" and, thus, live in error. This viewpoint makes a slight provision for missing the mark by only a little bit and still being in God's "permissive" will instead of His "perfect" will. [endnote 8] "It's okay to be in His permissive will," they would say. "It's just not ideal."

The supporters of this view have been unable to provide exegetical support for their theology. While some are obviously comforted in the belief that all the really hard and important decisions have already been made for us, the overwhelming weight of Biblical evidence in Acts does not support this position.

Biblical View

Professor Charles Smith of Grace Theological Seminary has noted that most confusion regarding decision-making and the discernment of God's will is sourced in a misunderstanding of how God works through history, revealing himself to individuals as He chooses. Smith's point is, "You are not a Moses! Nor are you a Joshua, an Abraham, Ezekiel, Daniel, Matthew, John or Paul! You are not to expect the kind of revelation they received." [endnote 9]

Echoing John Calvin's assertion that God's "will is not to be sought anywhere else than in His Word," [endnote 10] Francis Shaeffer held that

We cannot bind men morally except with that which the Scripture clearly commands (beyond that we can only give advice), similarly, anything the New Testament does not command in regard to church form is a freedom to be exercised under the leadership of the Holy Spirit for that particular time and place (emphases his). [endnote 1!]

He added a footnote declaring that "the opposite cannot be held, namely that only that which is commanded is allowed." [endnote 12]



What follows is a brief discussion of representative texts relative to crisis and response. As noted earlier, this discussion will be aided by considering relevant passages in light of the four motifs mentioned earlier. The rationale behind each category will be presented, followed by a discussion of one representative passage. Please note that while each crisis will be discussed under a specific rubric, this does not imply that elements of other motifs are absent from that passage. This survey gives an overview of the crises in Acts and does not attempt to explain them in full.


A survey of the material reveals that nearly every crises portrayed in Acts is fundamentally a response to Divine mandate, especially when viewed in the light of Acts 1:8, "you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Mandate generates a crisis either by a) challenging or b) requiring the continuance of the existing conditions.

An intriguing passage representing this type of crisis presents itself in Acts 19:21-21:15. Shortly after the Ephesians responded so overwhelmingly to Paul's ministry, Paul "decided to go to Jerusalem" (Acts 19:21). At this point Luke offers no other reason than Paul's straightforward decision.

Despite his decision though, Paul subsequently endures a riot in Ephesus, encourages the disciples there before leaving, finally sets out for Macedonia (Acts 21:1), heads to Greece, and, en-route to Asia, further decides "to go back through Macedonia" (Acts 21:3). He stops by Philippi for the Feast of Unleavened Bread and then spends a week at Troas. Paul's motivation to return to Jerusalem is not shown as his immediate, driving concern; Paul is evidently not in a hurry to fulfill his decision. On the other hand, Paul expresses at Ephesus an urge to travel to Jerusalem which is growing more powerful than a simple desire. He declares to the elders at Ephesus that he is "compelled by the Spirit" (Acts 20:22) to go to Jerusalem (Acts 20:22). Note that Luke records that the Spirit is motivating Paul to go and doesn't record how it is motivating him. The text does indicate, however, that Paul himself does not know much more than that he must simply go (Acts 20:22).

Here Paul begins to encounter emotional responses to his resolve to travel to Jerusalem, especially since he told the Ephesian elders they would not see his face again. Luke implies their departure was difficult with his phrase: "After we had torn ourselves away from them" (Acts 20:37).

When Paul arrived at Tyre in Syria, he found disciples awaiting him. These disciples strongly urged Paul "in the Spirit" not to continue to Jerusalem, but Paul pressed ahead. [endnote 13] Despite mounting opposition, Paul's inner resolve reveals itself as founded on a motive stronger than simple desire. Luke appears to portray Paul as a man being increasingly driven to his destination.

When Paul and his companions arrived at the house of Philip the Evangelist in Caesarea, Agabus prophesied that the Jews in Jerusalem would bind Paul up and deliver him to the Gentiles. At this point, the pressure mounts for Paul to discontinue his quest. Luke reports that those present wept and plead with Paul not to go to Jerusalem, but "he would not be dissuaded" (Acts 21:12). Of course, one can observe in the following chapters that Paul was indeed delivered to the Gentiles and eventually sent to Rome as a prisoner.

So, In spite of a strong desire to travel to Rome, Paul nevertheless interrupted his journey in order to return to Jerusalem for a reason he could not fathom and by a motivation he could not (or would not ) articulate. Romans 15 records Paul's intent to travel to Rome en-route to Spain, intentions which he apparently postponed when he suddenly decided to return to Jerusalem halfway between Jerusalem and Rome (Acts 21:21)! By Paul's own admission he had no idea why he was returning (Acts 20:22,23). However, the closer he traveled to Jerusalem, the firmer his conviction becomes and the more quickly the narrative pace picks up. Luke describes Paul's resolve to travel to Jerusalem three times (Acts 20:21; Acts 21:45, Acts 21:13-14), and two of those three occasions were accompanied by a majority dissent (Acts 21:4-5, 21:13-14). Yet by the time Paul's traveling companions begin to attempt to dissuade him, Paul had settled the question of God's purpose in his own mind and would not be persuaded otherwise. Agabus' prophecy does not negate the possibility of a Divine mandate for Paul to travel to Jerusalem. Luke does not provide an interpretation for the prophecy, only that a prophecy was delivered which indeed came to pass.(Acts 21:11).

In short, Paul chose a course of action while in Ephesus, and he pusued that course until he reached Jerusalem. Along the way he must have faced increasingly intense crises as fellow disciples discouraged him from his chosen course. Nevertheless, Paul would not be dissuaded. The single most important factor in Paul's decision to complete the journey is his apparent response to Divine mandate (Acts 20:22).


Rejection is often responsible for crises in Acts, especially when the gospel or the minister of the gospel is being rejected. Rejection inevitably demands that the individual being rejected decide whether to attempt reconciliation or to allow rejection to continue. As one traces the response of Paul to rejection throughout Acts, it becomes apparent that Paul reacts more quickly to the crisis of rejection when the people are rejecting him. This becomes especially apparent when plots are created and direct actions undertaken to kill him.

When the gospel is being rejected, Luke shows Paul displaying more tenacity; Acts 14:1-7 illustrates this. Luke places us in Iconium at the beginning of the passage — and we are in Iconium precisely because Paul and his companions have been rejected from Pisidian Antioch. As the passage begins, Luke reports that "Paul and Barnabas spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed" (Acts 14:1). Unfortunately, the Jews who refused to believe (i.e., those who rejected the gospel) began dividing the Gentiles against the brethren. While this establishes a minor crisis, the crisis is not grave enough for Paul and Barnabas to consider a new course of action. If anything, Luke records that they intensified their efforts, and that they "spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord" and performing miracles (Acts 14:3).

The crisis mounted when the antagonistic Jews succeeded in dividing the city and generated a plot to "mistreat" and stone the disciples. At this point, the crisis demanded a response; as soon as Paul's companions learn of the plot, Luke declares "they fled" to other cities where they "continued to preach the good news" (Acts 14:5-6).

In this instance, and in several like it [endnote 14] , Paul resisted the crisis until he was in personal danger. The deciding factors for the ensuing hasty departures are, in the final analysis, rejection of the Word and rejection of the minister himself.


Need also generate crises, especially when there are conflicting needs and conflicting ways to meet the needs. The needs involved may include physical, spiritual, emotional, or social needs. Luke provides many pericopes where need precipitates crises.

If one posits that the Great Commission (as reflected in Acts 1:8) is God's mandate that we work to resolve man's deepest need (separation from God), then perhaps all of the crises encountered in Acts reflect the conflicting outcomes of working to resolve that need while simultaneously encountering other needs demanding resolution.

Acts 6:1-6 portrays exactly that situation. While coping with the ongoing persecution from the Jewish quarter, specifically the Sanhedrin, the strength and size of the nascent Christian community continued growing (Acts 6:1). The apostles were certainly kept busy, working to fulfill the mandates of Christ "day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news" (Acts 5:42). In the midst of this work, we find that the physical needs of a specific sector of the community (the widows of the Grecian brethren) were not being met. Specifically, they "were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food" (Acts 6:1).

The disciples must certainly have faced a crisis in this context. For those who walked with Christ, talked with Him and dined with him, there must have been an overwhelming sense of mission — to make Him known! Yet here they are suddenly confronted with disgruntled members of the Body representing a minority which could ill afford to be neglected. The motivation to resolve their needs would have been profoundly strong, since care for the widows was integral not only to the faith of the Jews, but also to the Christians. [endnote 15] Yet while the apostles evidenced great concern for the widows, their priorities lay in doing what they best were prepared to do, that is, meeting spiritual needs via ministry of the word of God. The conflict here is between the resolution of basic needs; at stake also is the command of Christ to be witnesses (Acts 1:8) and the mandate to care for widows (cf. above).

The apostles' response was a pragmatic and successful attempt to satisfy to both needs. The apostles "gathered all the disciples together" (Acts 6:2) and reported their decision based on expediency: "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables" (Acts 6:3) (emphasis mine).

This situation also illustrates that a crisis does not necessarily present either/or options. In reference to the earlier definition of crisis: the apostles were confronted with "a situation where existing behaviors or conditions (the Grecian widows were being overlooked) are confronted by at least one other conflicting outcome (care for the widows) presenting a motive for change (sourced in apparent need as well as in previously received mandates)."


The use of the term threat does not refer to personal threat or injury which one might receive due to personal rejection or aggression. (This kind of crisis would be dealt with under the rejection motif.) For instance, an object of threat might be dogma, practice, or a current state of being. The crisis arises when an accepted condition is threatened by potential change. The range of responses might vary from defense to compromise, or outright acceptance of the potential change.

One passage portraying an interesting blend of responses is Acts 15:36-41, where Paul and Barnabas disagree over the inclusion of John Mark on what would be their second missionary journey. The crisis arose when Barnabas proposed taking John Mark (Acts 15:37) while Paul adamantly refused.

At first glance this crisis appears to belong under the Rejection motif, for Paul seems to be rejecting John Mark, and Barnabas and Paul seem to eventually reject each other. However, it is this author's contention that the basic issue at stake for Paul is not personal rejection but the protection of the mission and message of which Paul was an apostle.

John Mark, who is cousin to Barnabas, first joined Paul and Barnabas in Jerusalem. The two had just been appointed to bear a gift to Jerusalem from the church in Antioch. After dispatching their duties they returned to Antioch accompanied by John Mark (Acts 12:25), though the precise reason he began traveling with Paul and Barnabas is not given. By the time they all arrive on the island of Cyprus, though, John Mark is described as their helper (Acts 13:6).

John Mark first began traveling with his cousin Barnabas and with Paul. Note that they had not yet been set apart by the Holy Spirit for mission (Acts 13:2). Additionally, the two had not traveled extensively together except for when Barnabas found Saul in Tarsus and took him to Antioch to teach the new disciples there (Acts 11:26) and also when the church in Antioch subsequently sent them back to Jerusalem to deliver a gift (Acts 11:30). Also note that both missions were straightforward and were conducted among a Jewish community.

John Mark returned to Jerusalem early in the journey from Antioch — it didn't take long for him to change his mind and reexamine his purpose in traveling with Paul and Barnabas. Paul makes two important points in his explanation regarding why John Mark should not go on this journey: a) it is not wise, and b) John Mark deserted them.

Paul had several short-term traveling companions. Priscilla and Aquilla accompanied him only from Philippi to Ephesus. Silas traveled with Paul from Jerusalem to Antioch where the church sent him back to Jerusalem; and Luke himself, as indicated by the "we" sections, did not personally travel with Paul during every step of the missionary journeys. Paul probably wasn't reacting against the temporary nature of John Mark's dedication. Paul's reference to "desertion" here is especially important to note. Not only did John Mark physically desert Paul and Barnabas in Pamphylia, but in Paul's mind he deserted the mission. [endnote 16] Perga and Pamphylia are not Jewish strongholds — the land is Gentile, and Paul was likely to be ministering to Gentiles. Indeed, only a few verses after Luke records Mark's desertion, Paul addresses the Jews and declares that since they rejected the word of God "and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles" (Acts 13:46).

Consider Paul's response in light of both a) the preceding Jerusalem Council mandating an egalitarian acceptance of Gentile brethren, and b) Paul's decision to visit the churches where they had already traveled. If John Mark had first experienced any difficulty in mission with Paul to the Gentiles it would have likely been evident. His desertion of the mission would have made it manifest in a powerfully tangible way. Consider the possible reaction of a new Gentile convert if a family member abandoned the ministry because of theological reasons — that the Gospel was not for the Gentiles! For Paul, it would have been unwise to compromise the integrity of the message of God's grace to the Gentiles by endorsing the ministry of a young man who had shown himself to be a dissenter to that grace. It was too great a risk, and so Paul acted to protect the message and the ministry from what he considered a possible threat. Paul's concern for the integrity of the message and the mission also asserts itself when he had Timothy circumcised to avoid offending Jewish sensibilities. It is equally possible that Paul refused to take John Mark to avoid offending the sensibilities of Gentile Christians that might have been deeply hurt by John Mark's previous desertion.

Yet Barnabas also acted in defense . . . in defense of John Mark. It may very well have been Barnabas' contention that John Mark be given a second chance to prove himself (especially in light of the recent council in Jerusalem). Note that even after Paul and Barnabas parted ways, Barnabas and John Mark did not strike out for Gentile territory, but toward Barnabas' home-region: Cyprus (Acts 15:39).

This crisis was resolved on two fronts. On one hand, Paul could not be persuaded otherwise; he rejected the alternative and continued with his plans. Barnabas, however, could not embrace Paul's position and so he accommodated John Mark's needs and traveled elsewhere. Again, Paul's primary interest was the preservation of the work and the message. Barnabas' primary interest in this case was the person of John Mark.


Patterns of Response

There are easily identifiable patterns of response given the passages just discussed as well as in the other passages related to the motifs proposed. There are only a few points in Acts where God directly intervenes and communicates His intent in the course of history. On those occasions where God does not remain silent, He communicates His intent distinctly and clearly to those concerned. [endnote 17] On those occasions where there is no clear direction from the Lord from Scripture, from the teaching of Christ, or in revealed communication, the disciples relied on wisdom and expediency as their measure for the necessary course of action. [endnote 18] J. I. Packer described this kind of wisdom as "the power to see, and the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it." [endnote 19] There are also many occasions where the chosen course of action was defined by circumstance and proscribed by inevitability. For instance, in the many occasions where Paul found it necessary to depart a region quickly, there is little or no apparent thought given regarding when to leave (the situation inevitably demanded he leave immediately), and Luke does not show Paul stopping to consult a "divine compass" to determine the next place to minister (circumstance and need defined that), Paul simply ministered where he was. [endnote 20]

Toward a Lukan Theology of Crisis

How one interprets Luke's portrayal of crisis will depend upon how one reads Luke's purpose in writing Acts and his theological filter for the selection and framing of the material in his narrative. This author approaches the task with the following assumptions: a) Luke wrote Luke-Acts as a unit, b) the combined work of Luke-Acts reveal a unified literary approach, theme, and purpose, and that c) Luke achieved his goals with the completion of his second volume.

Given these premises, note the opening and closing items in Luke's account. Acts opens by detailing the disciples' question about the expected establishment of God's Kingdom. Christ responded with the mandate to witness and the promise of power to do so unto the ends of the earth (Acts 1:6-8). Then as Luke closes, he portrays Paul at the "ends of the earth" in Rome "boldly and without hindrance (preaching) the kingdom of God and (teaching) about the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 28:31). Luke's purposes are fulfilled by showing how God's purposes were fulfilled (note, the account of the "things that have been fulfilled among us" in Luke 1:1). For Luke, all that falls between is his charting of the progress of the gospel from its inception with a small band of disciples in Jerusalem to its fulfillment as a world-wide kingdom of God with its tendrils reaching even to the heart of Rome, the seat of the natural government.

The crises of Acts must be seen against this backdrop of promise and fulfillment. For Luke, nothing is nearly so important as communicating the certainty of Christ and what He has done (Luke 1:4, Acts 1:1), thereby establishing God's rulership in the hearts of men. Acts demonstrates that nothing on the face of the earth can stop the progress of God's kingdom. There is no persecutor tenacious enough and no crisis big enough to ultimately hinder the continuing acts of Jesus Christ through His Church.

It is this author's conviction that the controlling idea underlying each crisis in Acts is complete dependency on the sovereignty of God [endnote 21] . When God spoke, the disciples listened and responded. When He was silent, the disciples relied on the Holy Spirit and pursued His revealed will in Scripture, wisdom, and expedience. [endnote 22] Underlying Luke's portrayal of each crisis is his understanding and assertion that Christ lives and is acting through His Church in a vital and powerful way.

If we could recapture that kind of assurance and certainty, we would certainly worry less about threading our way through crises according to "God's perfect will" and would instead, like the early disciples, spend more of our energy fulfilling the mandate God gave us — to be filled with the power of His Spirit that we might do His work and be His witnesses.


[1] For an excellent discussion on the decision-making processes of the Apostles, see chapters 11 and 14 in Garry Friesen's Decision Making and the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View. Portland, Oregon: Multnomah (1980).

[2] See Table One in the Appendix for an overview of the crises considered for this paper. Though a personal crisis may be defined as a crisis faced alone, by an individual, it can be argued that Luke does not portray any truly personal crises, for every decision portrayed in Acts has a resultant effect on the corporate body.

[3] See my conclusion for additional items of assumption.

[4] Pittman, Frank S., III. Turning Points: Treating Families in Transition and Crisis. New York: W. W. Norton and Company. (1987)

[5] Ibid.

[6] See Appendix A, table two for the texts under consideration listed by reference and also by type of crisis.

[7] For an excellent analysis of the traditional view, see Garry Friesen's work, Decision Making and the Will of God. (Pages 15-59)

[8] Lloyd Olgivie affirms this view, especially in his discussion of Acts 15:36-41, except he uses the term "Intentional Will." The Communicator's Commentary: Acts. Waco, Texas: Word Books (1983). (Page 237) Reference the discussion later in this paper relative to that passage.

[9] Though this declaration may be somewhat extreme, and seems to preclude the paradigmatic value of Scripture, Smith's point is well taken that we must first work to conform ourselves to the pattern of God's will revealed in Scripture, and allow God to speak to man as He will, not as we wish. Charles R. Smith Can you Know God's Will for Your Life? Winona Lake, Indiana: BMH Books (1977), page 2.

[10] John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, Calvin's Commentaries, translated by THL Parker, edited by David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans (1965). (Page 304)

[11] Francis Shaeffer, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press (1970). (Page 67)

[12] Ibid.

[13] Some pulpiteers and commentators assert that Paul was in disobedience here because the disciples in Tyre urged Paul "through the Spirit" not to continue to Jerusalem (Acts 21:4). However, as Garry Friesen asserts, there is no "direct comment in the book of Acts that shows Paul as traveling in disobedience. Luke seems favorable in his comments with the possible exception of Acts 21:4. It is best to consider the Jerusalem trip as free of disobedience, but full of risk to Paul. The trip itself is the result of Paul's planning" (page 240).

[14] See Appendix, Table two.

[15] From the Old Testament, see Job 22:9, Psalm 68:5, Isaiah 10:2, Jeremiah 49:11, and Malachi 3:5; for the New Testament, see Mark 12:40, Luke 20:47, and James 1:27.

[16] I am indebted to Longenecker's analysis here in, The Acts of the Apostles: Introduction, Text and Exposition, in The Expositor's Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank Gaebelein, vol. 9. Grand Rapids: Regency Reference Library, Zondervan (1981). (Page 453-455)

[17] Notice the angel's comments to the disciples in Acts 1:11, the mandate discerned in Scripture regarding Judas' office in Acts 1:20, the disciples' obedience to Christ in Acts 4:20 and Acts 5:32, Peter's resonse to his vision in Acts 10:1-11:19, the commission of Barnabas and Saul in Acts 13:2, Paul's constraint to ministry in Acts 16:7-9, his unusual response to the Corinthian persecution in light of God's assurances in Acts 18:6-11, and Paul being bound by the Spirit to travel to Jerusalem in Acts 20:22.

[18] The Apostles sending Paul to Tarsus after initially provoking the Jew's reaction in Jerusalem in Acts 9:30 was probably a course of action chosen for its expediency and wisdom, the response to the Grecian widow in Acts 6:1-6 was governed by wisdom, the response to the Judaean famine in Acts 11:27-30 was likely expedient and compassionate, the conclusions reached at the Jerusalem Council in chapter 15 were a combined result of wisdom, expediency, and the understood will of the Lord, Paul and Barnabas' resolution of the crisis over Mark in Acts 15:36-41 was based on wisdom and compassion, the Jewish brethren's constraints on Paul when he returned to Jerusalem in chapter 21 were sourced in expediency and a wise concern for consequences, and the churches decision to recommend Apollos to the church in Achaia followed expediency as well (Acts 18:27-28).

[19] J.I. Packer, Knowing God (page 80).

[20] Note that it is after the Jerusalem crowd begins to riot that Paul decides the need for irenic silence is abolished and he speaks in his defense as the circumstance dictates (Acts 21:27-23:11), note his hasty, circumstantial departures: Acts 9:23-25, Acts 9:29-30, Acts 13:49-52, Acts 14:4-7, Acts 14:19-20, Acts 16:16-40, and Acts 17:5-15.

[21] Kistemaker asserts this was Paul's attitude in Acts 20:22, especially when his companions attempted to dissaude him from travelling to Jerusalem when he was compelled to go by the Spirit. (p 751). Kistemaker also asserts that Paul was completely yielded to the prompting and guidance of the Holy Spirit (p. 729).

[22] Olgilvie comments that the "Holy Spirit became the source for wisdom and discernment for . . . decisions after Pentecost, The Communicator's Commentary. (Page 52)


- Table 1 -

Major crises in order of textual appearance

Acts 1:10-11 The Ascension
Acts 1:15-26 The Vacant Apostolic Office
Acts 4:13-30 First Response to Sanhedrin
Acts 5:27-29 Second Response to Sanhedrin
Acts 6:1-6 The Needs of the Grecian Widows
Acts 9:26-31 Saul Recieved by Jerusalem Brethren
Acts 9:23-25 The Jews Threaten Saul
Acts 9:29-30 The Jews Threaten Saul
Acts 10:1-11:19 The Commission to the Gentiles
Acts 11:27-30 The Roman Famine
Acts 13:1-3 Commission of Barnabas and Saul
Acts 13:49-52 Rejection of the Gospel
Acts 14:4-7 Threat to Paul and Barnabas
Acts 14:19-20 Paulís Stoning
Acts 15:1-35 Circumcision Schism
Acts 15:36-41 Disagreement between Paul and Barnabas
Acts 16:6-10 Divine Constraints to Minister
Acts 16:16-40 Philippian Persecution
Acts 17:5-15 Thessalonian Persecution
Acts 18:6-11 Corinthian Persecution
Acts 18:27-28 Apollosí Desire to Minister in Achaia
Acts 19:8-10 Ephesian Jews reject the Gospel
Acts 19:21-21:15 Paul Bound for Jerusalem
Acts 21:20-26 Jewish Misunderstanding in Jerusalem
Acts 21:27-23:11 Jerusalem Uproar
Acts 27:9-44 Shipwrecked
Acts 28:28-31 House Arrest in Rome

- Table 2 -

Major Crises presented by MOTIF
with Status Quo, Critical Context, Portrayed Response,
and possible Deciding Factors

Acts 1:10-11 The Ascension (Status Quo) The disciples were in a natural state of loss, grief, contemplation, and reflection.

(Critical Context) The disciples were interested in establishing a Kingdom, however, Christ told them to wait in Jerusalem. In light of their reflective and contemplative postures upon Christ's ascension, they were further reminded by an angel that Christ would return. The implication is "And shouldn't you be about your business?"

(Portrayed Response) "Then they returned to Jerusalem" (Acts 1:12). Upon their return they immediately elected someone to fill Judas' vacant office and after obediently tarrying, were filled with the Spirit as the Lord had promised.

(Deciding Factors) Christ's mandate (Acts 1:7-8)
Acts 1:15-26 The Vacant
Apostolic Office
(Status Quo) Judas had hanged himself after betraying Christ, not only leaving his office vacant but in an apparent state of disgrace. On one hand, who would want to fill that office which had so recently and so disgracefully abandoned? On the other hand, Jesus had chosen the twelve himself.

(Critical Context) The Kingdom of God is foremost on the disciple's minds, as evidenced by their questions in "center">Acts 1:6. It might have thus been unthinkable for the disciples to proceed toward the inauguration of that Kingdom (the enduement of power Christ promised in "center">Acts 1:8) with a vacancy.

(Portrayed Response) They established a standard set of qualifications for one who could be considered a suitable replacement. They proposed two men as a result, and left the rest up to God by casting lots.

(Deciding Factors) The mandate found in Scripture, "May another take his place of leadership" (Acts 1:20). The imminence of Christ's promised "enduement" fulfilled in Pentecost which may have had a special inaugural meaning for the disciples.
Acts 4:13-30 First Response
to Sanhedrin
(Status Quo) The disciples were being obedient by being witnesses of what they had seen and heard.

(Critical Context) The Sanhedrin became upset due to the uproar catalyzed by the healing of the lame man by the Gate Beautiful. The Sanhedrin was also upset because the disciples were teaching the resurrection of the dead (Acts 4:2).

(Portrayed Response) The disciples declared, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God." They responded in obedience to their previously received mandate.

(Deciding Factors) The mandate of Christ to be witnesses (Acts 1:8). The undeniable testimony of all the disciples had seen and heard (Acts 4:20, 5:32).
Acts 5:27-29 Second Response
to Sanhedrin
(Status Quo) The apostles were continuing in obedience to what had gotten them in trouble with the Sanhedrin earlier.

(Critical Context) The Sanhedrin were becoming intensely jealous of the response the disciples were receiving from the population (Acts 5:17).

(Portrayed Response) The disciples reiterated, "We must obey God rather than men!" (Acts 5:29)

(Deciding Factors) The mandate of Christ to be witnesses (Acts 1:8). The undeniable testimony of all the disciples had seen and heard (Acts 4:20, 5:32).
Acts 10:1-11:19 Commission
to the Gentiles
(Status Quo) The disciples of Christ were ministering primarily (though not exclusively) to the Jews. The Gentiles were not targeted as a primary audience.

(Critical Context) Christ commanded the disciples to be witnesses unto the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). This was also reflected in the prophecy that the promise of the Spirit was to all people (Acts 2:21,39). The Lord gives Peter a vision commanding him to call nothing He has created unclean and Peter is commanded to go the a Gentile home.

(Portrayed Response) Peter invited the Gentile men (who were sent by a Gentile, Cornelius) into his home (Acts 10:23). Peter subsequently travels to Cornelius' home (Acts 10:27) and while he relates his vision and mandate to call no man impure (Acts 10:28), the Holy Spirit fell on them.

(Deciding Factors) Peter received a clear mandate through a vision and by the Spirit.
Acts 13:1-3 Commission of
Barnabas and Saul
(Status Quo) Paul and Barnabas had raised up leadership in the Antiochan church. After having been sent to Jerusalem bearing a gift for the Judaean brethren experiencing a famine, Paul and Barnabas return to find that the word of God had continued to increase and spread and that there was now an abundance of qualified leaders for the Antiochan church (Acts 12:24, 13:1).

(Critical Context) There was not as great a need for their leadership in this context as there had been in chapter 11 (Acts 11:19-26) As they fasted and prayed, the Lord commanded that Barnabas and Saul be set aside for His work (Acts 13:2).

(Portrayed Response) "After they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off" (Acts 13:3).

(Deciding Factors) The clear mandate of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 16:6-10 Divine Constraints
to Minister
(Status Quo) Paul had determined to "go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where [they had] preached the word of the Lord and [to] see how they [were] doing" "center">Acts 15:36.

(Critical Context) As they traveled they attempted to enter Asia, the border of Mysia, and Troas. They were not allowed to enter Asia or Mysia. As they approached Troas, Paul received a vision relative to ministry in Macedonia.

(Portrayed Response) "After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them" "center">Acts 16:10.

(Deciding Factors) A clear vision interpreted as a mandate from the Lord.
Acts 18:6-11 Corinthian
(Status Quo) After Silas and Timothy joined Paul in Corinth, he devoted himself exclusively to ministry (Acts 18:5).

(Critical Context) While fulfilling the mandate to be a witness, the Jews "opposed Paul and became abusive (Acts 18:6).

(Portrayed Response) "He shook out his clothes in protest" and promised to go to the Gentiles from then on. However, the Lord subsequently spoke to Paul that he not worry (Acts 18:10), Paul stayed for another year and a half.

(Deciding Factors) A clear reassurance and/or mandate from God.
Acts 19:21-21:15 Paul Bound for Jerusalem (Status Quo) Paul was instrument in helping bring the people of to a renunciation of sorcery and such practices. As a result, "the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power" (Acts 19:20).

(Critical Context) Paul is closer to unreached territories than he is to Jerusalem at this point. However, he had a desire, or was compelled, to go to Jerusalem. Acts "center">Acts 19:21 says "Paul decided to go," in "center">Acts 20:22, Paul says of himself that he is "compelled by the Spirit" to go to Jerusalem, and in "center">Acts 21:14, he would not let himself be dissuaded — being ready to die in Jerusalem if necessary.

(Portrayed Response) Paul went to Jerusalem, and would not allow himself to be deterred, though he did pause for ministry and teaching along the way.

(Deciding Factors) It is unclear whether Paul's decision to return to Jerusalem came before his sense of compellment, or if it was the other way around. Luke is not clear on this, and it may not be relevant. However, it is clear that Paul's intention to fulfill that initial desire is definitely due to his perception of a clear mandate from the Lord (Acts 20:22) — despite the negative reaction of some very spiritual people, his traveling companions, and a prophet (Acts 21:12)
Acts 21:27-23:11 Jerusalem Uproar (Status Quo) Paul has arrived in Jerusalem where he knows he may possibly die (Acts 21:14), and went to the temple (Acts 21:27), presumably to worship

(Critical Context) Though Paul knows many people will be sensitive to his presence and that he may be persecuted (Acts 21:20-22), he also is assured of his "compelling" need to be there. While in the temple, some Jews from Asia stirred up the crowds and had him seized. He was eventually arrested.

(Portrayed Response) Paul requested to speak to the people and, given the opportunity, makes his defense and preaches to the assembled crowd.

(Deciding Factors) Paul is apparently fulfilling his mandate to witness. The content of his speech is partly apologetic for his defense, but is also evangelistic in nature.
Acts 9:26-31 Saul Received by Jerusalem Brethren (Status Quo) The brethren in Jerusalem didn't really believe Paul was a disciple, as was also the case with the brethren in Samaria (Acts 9:21-22).

(Critical Context) Barnabas, a trusted brother, vouched for Paul's authenticity. Yet, the Jerusalem brethren were not ready to embrace one who had inflicted so much pain on the church.

(Portrayed Response) They allowed Paul to stay and move about freely in Jerusalem (implying that they did not welcome him yet also did not reject him.)

(Deciding Factors) Their ambivalent response was a tensional rejection of Paul (or delayed acceptance?), and a conflicting acceptance of Barnabas.
Acts 9:23-25 The Jews
Threaten Saul
(Status Quo) Saul was teaching in the synagogue and baffling the Jews in Damascus with his evident change of lifestyle and his reasoning, thus fulfilling the mandate to proclaim the gospel.

(Critical Context) While fulfilling the mandate to be a witness, the Jews conspired to kill him, and Saul learned of their plan.

(Portrayed Response) Paul does not confront the opposition. He hastily leaves Damascus by a basket let out through an opening in the outer wall and goes to Jerusalem to find the disciples there (Acts 10:25).

(Deciding Factors) Rejection of Paul and/or the gospel combined with a threat to his life.
Acts 9:29-30 The Jews
Threaten Saul
(Status Quo) Though not being readily accepted by the Jerusalem brethren, Paul moved about in Jerusalem speaking boldly in the name of the Lord and debating. Thus fulfilling the mandate to proclaim the gospel.

(Critical Context) While fulfilling the mandate to be a witness, the Grecian Jews tried to kill him (Acts 9:29).

(Portrayed Response) "The brothers learned of this … took him down to Caeserea and sent him off to Tarsus." (Paul's home town.)

(Deciding Factors) Rejection of Paul and/or the gospel combined with a threat to his life.
Acts 13:49-52 Rejection of
the Gospel
(Status Quo) In Pisidian Antioch, Paul, with his traveling companions, spoke in the Synagogue (Acts 13:13). They were invited to speak further about such things on the next Sabbath (Acts 13:42). On the next Sabbath the whole city came to hear the word of the Lord.

(Critical Context) While fulfilling the mandate to be a witness, "The Jews were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying" (Acts 13:44). Subsequently, despite the spread of the gospel in that region, the Jews stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their region.

(Portrayed Response) "They shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium."

(Deciding Factors) Rejection of the Word of the Word of the Lord, and rejection of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:50).
Acts 14:4-7 Threat to
Paul and Barnabas
(Status Quo) At Iconium, Paul and Barnabas went to the synagogue, as usual, and spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed.

(Critical Context) While fulfilling the mandate to be a witness, the Jews who refused to believe, "stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers" (Acts 14:2). There was an eventual plot "to mistreat them and stone them" (Acts 14:5).

(Portrayed Response) Paul and Barnabas spent "considerable time" speaking boldly as the persecution rose. Yet when the plot to stone them got underfoot, "they found out about it and fled to … Lystra and Derbe … where they continued to preach the good news" (Acts 14:7).

(Deciding Factors) Rejection of the Gospel and rejection of Paul and Barnabas.
Acts 14:19-20 Paul's Stoning (Status Quo) The response to Paul and Barnabas at Lystra and Derbe was so enthusiastic, they were venerating them as though they were gods.

(Critical Context) While fulfilling the mandate to be a witness, some Jews from Iconium came down and won the crowd over and stoned Paul. (Acts 13:19)

(Portrayed Response) Paul went back into the city, but the next day, he and Barnabas left for Derbe.

(Deciding Factors) Rejection of Paul and Barnabas and the Gospel, versus acceptance of the Jewish instigators from Iconium.
Acts 16:16-40 Philippian
(Status Quo) After establishing a body of believers in Philippi, Paul begins to face resistance from the owners of the slave girl out of whom he cast out a demon, the magistrates, the crowd, and eventually the authorities (Acts 16:19-20).

(Critical Context) While fulfilling the mandate to be a witness, Paul and Silas are stripped, beaten and thrown in prison.

(Portrayed Response) They prayed and sang hymns to God. After being released from prison, they went to Lydia's house where they met with the brothers and encouraged them. "Then they left" (Acts 16:19).

(Deciding Factors) Rejection of Paul and Silas and the Gospel.
Acts 17:5-15 Thessalonian
(Status Quo) Paul persuaded some Jews, a large number of God-fearing Greeks and some prominent women in Thessalonica to believe while reasoning in the Synagogue (Acts 17:2:4).

(Critical Context) While fulfilling the mandate to be a witness, the Jews became Jealous, rounded up "some bad characters … formed a mob and started a riot" (Acts 17:5). They dragged Jason and some others before the city officials.

(Portrayed Response) In the night Paul and Silas were sent to Berea.

(Deciding Factors) Rejection of the word of God.
Acts 19:8-10 Ephesian Jews
Reject the Gospel
(Status Quo) Paul spoke persuasively in the Ephesian synagogue for months, arguing about the Kingdom of God.

(Critical Context) While fulfilling the mandate to be a witness, some of the Jews they were speaking to "became obstinate," refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way.

(Portrayed Response) Paul left them. Subsequently, Paul "took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus … for two years" so that all the Jews and Greeks in that area heard the word of the Lord (Acts 19:9-10).

(Deciding Factors) Rejection of the Gospel (though not widespread) led to Paul changing venue from a synagogue to a lecture hall. There was no apparent rejection of Paul himself (or the others).
Acts 6:1-6 The Needs of
the Grecian Widows
(Status Quo) "Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, [the apostles] never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news" "center">Acts 5:42. The number of disciples in Jerusalem was increasing and the focus was on the proclamation of the good news of Christ.

(Critical Context) The Grecian Jews complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. (Acts 6:1)

(Portrayed Response) The apostles gathered all the disciples together, gave them guidelines by which they should choose seven men to meet the need, and laid hands on the ones chosen. (Acts 6:2-6)

(Deciding Factors) Need and/or pragmatism: "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables" (Acts 6:2).
Acts 11:27-30 The Roman
(Status Quo) In the initial flush of the spread of the church following the death of Stephen, a prophet predicted a severe famine would sweep over the entire Roman world.

(Critical Context) Great numbers are being brought into the church at this point. It may be safe to surmise that the resources of the church were not terribly expansive.

(Portrayed Response) Given the prophetic foretelling of the eventual need to be faced by the Judaean brethren, the disciples "each according to his ability, decided to provide help." And they sent their gift via Barnabas and Saul.

(Deciding Factors) The need foretold by Agabus.
Acts 27:9-44 Shipwrecked (Status Quo) Paul is a prisoner on ship in great danger at sea.

(Critical Context) Paul anticipated there would be great trouble (Acts 27:10); things only got worse. Tackle and cargo was being thrown overboard, ropes were passed under the ship to keep it from being broken apart.

(Portrayed Response) Paul encouraged them with the courage he had received from the Lord (Acts 27:21).

(Deciding Factors) Need for the men to be encouraged.
Acts 28:28-31 House Arrest
in Rome
(Status Quo) We are aware from his letter to the Romans that Paul had a great desire to travel to Spain and really only wanted to stop in Rome on his way. (Romans "center">Acts 15:24, 28).

(Critical Context) However, the fact is, he is a prisoner.

(Portrayed Response) "For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 28:30-31).

(Deciding Factors) The need of the Romans, as well as the mandate Paul lived his life under to minister the Gospel.
Acts 15:1-35 Circumcision Schism (Status Quo) Some men were teaching the brothers that they must be circumcised according to the law of Moses to be saved (Acts 15:1)

(Critical Context) Paul and Barnabas were brought into sharp dispute and debate with them to the extent that they were appointed to go to Jerusalem to see the elders about the question.

(Portrayed Response) The council resolved the question on the side of grace and sent a letter to the concerned brethren asking that they only abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality (Acts 15:29).

(Deciding Factors) The circumcision issue was contrary to their understanding of grace. The fact that "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit," Peter's vision, and the Lord giving the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles helped clarify that.
Acts 15:36-41 Disagreement
Paul and Barnabas
(Status Quo) John Mark had started out as a helper to Paul and Barnabas (Acts 12:25). However, he returned to Jerusalem before finishing the journey (Acts 13:13). Paul and Barnabas decide to revisit the places they'd been before to strengthen the brethren.

(Critical Context) Paul's view of the matter prevented him from allowing John Mark to desert them again. Barnabas' view of the matter prevented him from abandoning John Mark.

(Portrayed Response) "Barnabas took mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord" (Acts 15:40)

(Deciding Factors) Paul perhaps viewed John Mark's desertion as a threat to the integrity of the mission. In the same way the he didn't want Timothy to remain uncircumcised in Jewish territory and suffer the loss of credibility among the Jews, he probably didn't want to suffer the loss of a traveling companion and gain the subsequent weak testimony as well.
Acts 21:20-26 Jewish Misunderstanding in Jerusalem (Status Quo) The Christians in Jerusalem had apparently obtained a delicate balance between living the Christian lifestyle while not offending the Jewish sensibilities in the culture they were in.

(Critical Context) In the midst of this balance steps Paul, who will certainly inflame the passions of the crowds (Acts 21:22).

(Portrayed Response) The Jerusalem brethren ask Paul to observe Jewish culture while there to avoid stirring up trouble.

(Deciding Factors) There is a distinct threat to the accommodations the Jerusalem brethren apparently sought to maintain.
Acts 18:27-28 Apollos' Desire to Minister in Achaia (Status Quo) The disciples in Ephesus were benefiting from the eloquence and passion of the articulate Apollos. Though not thoroughly indoctrinated in the "way of God," he was being instructed by Aquilla and Priscilla.

(Critical Context) Apollos desired to go to Achaia.

(Portrayed Response) "The brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him" (Acts 18:27).

(Deciding Factors) Apollos desire provided the occasion and the reason to send him with a good report to Achaia.


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