New Testament Lesson 29 (Acts 6–9)
NEW LEADERS FOR A RAPIDLY EXPANDING CHURCH
Under the leadership of its Apostle-leaders, the Church began to grow rapidly. This is a period of time that is very similar to the one in which we live today, with the gospel spreading around the world and with Church leadership quorums expanding to meet the needs of a growing Church.
Church Growth and Reorganization
● As the Church grew, the Twelve ordained seven men to supervise temporal work (Acts 6:1–7).
● Cultural differences among members had arisen as the Church grew.
● These seven men were Greek-speaking Jewish members of the Church.
● They were also very spiritual men who preached and prophesied.
The Stoning of Stephen
● Stephen was “full of faith and of the Holy Ghost,” magnified his priesthood, and performed miracles (Acts 6:5, 8).
● The Sanhedrin arrested him on false charges of blasphemy (Acts 6:11–15).
● He recited the history of the Israelites’ wickedness (Acts 7:1–50).
● He compared these leaders to their wicked ancestors (Acts 7:51–53).
● He saw the Father and the Son in vision (Acts 7:54–56). The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Stephen . . . saw the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God. [There are] three personages in heaven who hold the keys—one to preside over all . . . Any person that has seen the heavens opened knows that there are three personages in the heavens holding the keys of power.”1
● The Jews stoned him, making him the Church’s first martyr (Acts 7:57–60).
The Ministry of Philip
● Philip was one of seven men chosen to assist the Apostles in caring for the needy (Acts 6:1–6).
● He preached and performed miracles in Samaria and in the southern coastal plain of Judaea: first in the sand-desert of Gaza and then in Azores, the ancient Philistine and Judahite city formerly called Ashdod.
● Philip held the Aaronic priesthood; he taught and baptized but did not confer the Holy Ghost (Acts 8:5–8). But he also performed great miracles.
— President Wilford Woodruff said, “I desire to impress upon you the fact that it does not make any difference whether a man is a priest or an Apostle, if he magnifies his calling. A priest holds the key of the ministering of angels. Never in my life, as an Apostle, as a Seventy, or as an Elder, have I ever had more of the protection of the Lord than while holding the office of a priest. The Lord revealed to me by visions, by revelations, and by the Holy Spirit, many things that lay before me.”2
● Simon the Sorcerer had made a name for himself (and probably a living) performing magic and soothsaying in Samaria, causing the people to believe that he had great power from God (Acts 8:9–13).
● Simon believed the gospel preached by Philip and was baptized (v. 13).
● The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “In the case of Philip, when he went down to Samaria [he] was under the spirit of Elias. He baptized both men and women. When Peter and John heard of it, they went down and laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. This shows the distinction between the two powers.”3
— The Prophet Joseph Smith also said, “You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost.”4
● After Simon witnessed the power Peter and John had to bestow the Gift of the Holy Ghost upon people, he offered them money to obtain their priesthood power (Acts 8:14–20).
● Simon Peter rebuked Simon, making it clear that the priesthood cannot be purchased with money and operates only according to the will of the Lord (Acts 8:21–25).
● The Ehtiopian Eunuch. When commanded by an angel, Philip went from Jerusalem to Gaza. Along the way, he met an Ethiopian eunuch who was an important minister to the queen of Ethiopia. This Ethiopian officer was devoted to the worship of Jehovah, as evidenced by his study of the Hebrew prophets and his traveling to Jerusalem to worship (Acts 8:27–28).
● Convinced by Philip’s teachings, the eunuch requested and received baptism from Philip an went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:36–39).
— Note that baptism is performed by complete immersion in water (vv. 36–39).
● Philip finally took up residence at Caesarea with his four prophetess-daughters (Acts 8:40).
● Paul later stayed with Philip at Caesarea on his third missionary journey (Acts 21:8–15).
THE APOSTLE PAUL’S CALL
Saul’s Character Before His Conversion
● Saul’s early life was spent in Tarsus, a Roman city in the province of Cilicia (Acts 21:39; 22:3).
● His family rigorously observed the Mosaic tradition (Philippians 3:5, 6).
● His father, like himself, was a Pharisee (Acts 23:6).
● His education was primarily received in Jerusalem at the feet of the famed Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). He spoke both Greek and Aramaic—the language of the Jews.
● Saul may have belonged to the Sanhedrin, since he voted for Stephen’s death (Acts 26:10–11).
● If he was a member of the Sanhedrin, Saul would have been married, for that was a requirement for membership (Acts 21:37, 40; 22:1–2).
● Saul was born a Roman citizen (Acts 22:25–29; 16:37–39).
● Saul was a tentmaker by occupation (Acts 18:3).
● He had at least one sister, and she lived in Jerusalem (Acts 23:16).
● Saul was always proud of his Jewish background and blood (Romans 11:1).
Saul’s Vision of Christ
● Jesus appeared to Saul while he was on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1–3).
● Saul was an ardent persecutor, “breathing out threatenings and slaughter” against the Christians (vv. 1–2).
● Damascus, present-day capital of Syria, is located 130 miles northeast of Jerusalem and approximately 65 miles from the Mediterranean Sea, in the heart of a fertile plain (vv. 2, 3, 8). It was the terminus point for three principal trade routes of the ancient Near East.
● In the present-day Christian quarter of the city is located what is thought to have been the famed street called Straight on which was found the house of one Judas, with whom Paul lived for a time following his conversion. The wall from which Paul was let down in a basket by friends at night so as to escape the infuriated Jews of the city (Acts 9:23–25) is, in all likelihood, that which still surrounds the city.
● In Saul’s first vision of Christ (Acts 9:4–6), he asked two important questions which show his willingness to obey the Lord and do whatever is right (vv. 5–6).
— “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (v. 5). A prick was a sharp spear or stick used to prick the hides of animals to make them move ahead. The tendency when pricked was to kick back or retaliate. Such a reaction merely brought added distress and drove the wound deeper while having almost no effect upon the goad itself.
— There is a discrepancy between the account in this verse and the account in Acts (v. 7; Acts 22:9). The JST corrects the discrepancy: “And they who here journeyng with him saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice (JST Acts 9:7).”
— Saul was blinded by the brilliance of the light which surrounded Christ (vv. 8–9; Acts 22:11).
— President Spencer W. Kimball said:
“But Saul of Tarsus saw Jehovah, the glorified Christ, and heard his voice and conversed with him. Even partially protected as he was, the brilliance of the light from heaven in which he centered-greater than the noonday sun-Paul collapsed to the earth, trembling, shocked. The voice said: am Jesus whom thou persecutest . . .” (Acts 9:5.).
“So intense and brilliant was the light that even with such protection, he was blinded. He said: ‘And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus.’ (Acts 22:11.).
“A priesthood miracle restored sight to Paul after three days of total darkness. The glory of the Lord! How great and magnificent!”5
“A Chosen Vessel unto Me”
● The Lord spoke to Ananias, the leader of the Saints in Damascus (Acts 9:10–16). This is the same pattern of speaking simultaneously to a convert and to a leader of the Church that took place with Peter and Cornelius.
— Saul was foreordained to his work because of his premortal and mortal qualifications (vv. 15–16). Unique and indispensable gifts and skills came together in this great man.
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “But why Saul, why this man who hated the Lord and sought to slay his saints? There can be only one answer—premortal existence; Saul had gained the talents and risen to the spiritual stature in the premortal life which qualified him to stand as an apostolic minister of Him who now chastened him on the Damascus road.”6
— President Harold B. Lee said, “You are all the sons and daughters of God. Your spirits were created and lived as organized intelligences before the world was. You have been blessed to have a physical body because of your obedience to certain commandments in that premortal state. You are now born into a family to which you have come, into the nations through which you have come, as a reward for the kind of lives you lived before you came here. . . . There are many who were foreordained before the world was, to a greater state than they have prepared themselves for here. Even though they might have been among the noble and great, from among whom the Father declared he would make his chosen leaders, they may fail of that calling here in mortality.”7
— President Spencer W. Kimball said, “We made vows, solemn vows, in the heavens before we came to this mortal life . . . We have made covenants. We made them before we accepted our position here on the earth. Now we made this commitment, ‘ . . . all things what-so-ever ever the Lord our God shall command us.’ We committed ourselves to our Heavenly Father, that if He would send us to the earth and give us bodies and give to us the priceless opportunities that earth life afforded, we would keep our lives clean and would marry in the holy temple and would rear a family and teach them righteousness. This was a solemn oath, a solemn promise. He promised us an eventful mortal life with untold privileges and providing we qualified in the way of righteousness, we would receive eternal life and happiness and progress. There is no other way to receive these rewards.”8
● Saul was healed and baptized (Acts 9:17–19).
● Thereafter, his name was changed to Paul, symbolic of his conversion and newness of life as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Many Are Called, but Few Are Chosen
● Why, according to the Lord, do so few become chosen vessels unto God? (D&C 121:34–35). Paul taught concerning the worldly obstacles to becoming chosen:
● Like all of us, Paul had to struggle daily (2 Cor. 11:24–29). He suffered hardship, difficulty, and indignity, as most of us have, although his suffering may have been more intense than any one of us has experienced.
● He had a “thorn in the flesh”—a painful hip condition that made his continuous walking very difficult (2 Cor. 12:7–10).
— President Spencer W. Kimball said, “Being human, we would expel from our lives physical pain and mental anguish and assure ourselves of continual ease and comfort, but if we were to close the doors upon sorrow and distress, we might be excluding our greatest friends and benefactors. Suffering can make saints of people as they learn patience, longsuffering, and self-mastery.”9
● The reactions of Paul’s family and friends (Acts 9:21–31).
— Paul’s former friends and family now hated and disowned him.
— The members of the Church also distrusted and feared him.
— Barnabus spoke in support of Paul and his conversion.
— Jerusalem was a dangerous place for Paul now.
— The brethren sent him back to his home town, Tarsus for awhile.
1. Kent P. Jackson, Joseph Smith’s Commentary on the Bible , 148.
2. Millennial Star, 53:629.
3. Joseph Smith’s Commentary on the Bible, 149.
4. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith , 314.
5. In Conference Report, Apr. 1964, 96.
6. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1966–73], 2:89.
7. In Conference Report, October 1973, 7.
8. “Be Ye Therefore Perfect,” Address given at the University of Utah Institute Devotional, 10 Jan. 1975, 2.
9. Faith Precedes the Miracle , 98.