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In Acts 17:6-7, Jason and some of the other believers, dragged before Roman officials, are charged with turning the world upside down and "defying Caesar's decrees, saying there is another king, one called Jesus."

From Luke's view, does the crowd understand the situation rightly? Does Luke affirm the basic validity of these charges - that Jesus' kingdom is in conflict with Caesar's and turns the world upside down? Or does Luke intend to show that the charges are basically false and that Jesus' kingdom does not in fact mean trouble for Caesar?

  • My kingdom is not of this world... – Lucian Aug 1 '17 at 12:12
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N T Wright argues that the crowd have understood correctly - Jesus is king and therefore Caesar isn't. He's developed this in his book When God became King, and also states it in his For Everyone commentary on Acts.

Wright's book When God became King develops this point as part of what he sees as the fundamental message of the NT - that Jesus was king, bringing God's rule.

1

Luke has a pattern of letting Christianity's accusers speak for themselves. It is true that Christianity was causing trouble throughout the Empire wherever it went. However, Luke's record attempts to show that it was not Christians who were causing the trouble. (This accusation in 17:6f is especially harmful if the Romans decide it is treason and sedition.)

In verse 5, Luke points out:

But the Jews became jealous, and gathering together some worthless men from the rabble in the marketplace, they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. They attacked Jason’s house, trying to find Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly. (Acts 17:5)

Luke is being very specific that it is not the Christians who caused this trouble. You can see that the instigators of the trouble and civil unrest are:

  1. certain Jews (13:45)
  2. Certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium win over the crowd (14:19)
  3. the slave girl's owners (16:19)
  4. The crowd (16:22ff)
  5. Certain Jews (17:13)
  6. Demetrius the silversmith (19:23-40)

Consistently, Luke shows that Christians are not causing civil unrest. Christians are not the threat to Caesar's empire, Luke says, their enemies are.

-4

If the Jews were correct in their claim that Christians had come into Thessalonica claiming there to be another king, called Jesus, then the charge would be both valid and serious. Within the empire, there was no king but Caesar. Rome may appoint kings to conquered territories outside the empire proper or to client states, but Thessalonica was part of the empire.

However, Acts 17:5 ("But the Jews became jealous and recruited some worthless men loitering in the public square, formed a mob") suggests that the 'Jews' were wilfully acting out of spite, knowing that the charge was false. The reference to "worthless men" seems to suggest that these men were unconcerned with anything other than causing trouble. If the 'Jews' told these troublemakers that Jason was harbouring troublemakers who defied Caesar, I doubt that a mob like this would care much about the issues. So, we can say that the crowd neither understood nor cared about the issues that worried the Jews who incited them.

Further to the validity of the charges, and especially to Luke's intentions, is whether there is any hint of this in Paul's epistles. Raymond E. Brown says in An Introduction to the New Testament, page 268, the main objection against authorship by a companion {Luke) of Paul comes from Acts in terms of historical and theological differences/discrepancies from the Pauline letters.

There is nothing in any of Paul's undisputed epistles that shows he ever taught of Jesus as a king. True, 1 Timothy 6:15 refers to Jesus as "the King of kings, and Lord of lords," but the strong consensus of New Testament scholars is that First Timothy was written in Paul's name early in the second century Burton L Mack says in Who Wrote the New Testament, page 206, that the Letters to Timothy and Titus were written at different times, undoubtedly during the first half of the second century. So referring to Jesus as king of the Jews is out of character for Paul and belongs to a later period of time.

Writing around the turn of the century, the author of Acts might well have been unaware of whether Paul ever used this term. However, the context in Acts suggests that the purpose here was to dramatise the opposition of the Jews to the missionary work of Paul. Far from showing that Jesus' kingdom does not mean trouble for Caesar, the passage might risk the opposite. Although an unlikely scenario, a zealous official could read Acts 17:6-7 and believe that Christians really do regard Jesus as an earthly king.

  • +1 For pointing out the issues of "Kings" within the Empire, (indirectly noting Israeli kings might have accepted, like Herod - and even Pilate's acceptance of Jesus' claim to be king). However - I feel that the authorship issues detract, and "authorship" is moot anyway, (unknowable), and ultimately irrelevant - since it didn't even matter to the author, (imho). – elika kohen May 18 '17 at 1:10

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