Acts 1:8 and Biblical Theology, Part 1

Acts 1:8 says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”
Generally when people teach on this verse, they focus on geography. The move from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the ends of the earth involves a geographical progression from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. That explanation appears to make good sense as long as you skip over Samaria.

A few years ago, I began to think more carefully about Samaria in Acts 1:8. The Jerusalem, Judea, and the ends of the earth made sense to me in terms of the spread of the gospel from Jews to Gentiles. But what about Samaria? Why would Samaria be mentioned here as part of a programmatic verse that anticipates the progress of the gospel in the book of Acts? Why would Samaria stand in between the Jews and the Gentiles? It dawned on me that Samaria might be included here due to its connections to biblical theology rather than just geography.

In terms of biblical theology, Samaria is a familiar name, because King Omri makes it the capital city of Israel, the northern kingdom (1Kgs. 16:24). After this, Samaria is sometimes the name of a city and sometimes it is a name used to refer to the northern kingdom. Likewise, Jerusalem is both a city and can refer to the southern kingdom, Judah (Isa. 10:10-11). In 722 B.C., Samaria and her kingdom fall to the Assyrians, who take many Israelites into exile (2 Kgs. 17:6). The Assyrians also resettle the land of Israel with exiles from various other nations who worship various gods (17:24, 26). These exiles experience the wrath of God due to their idolatry. They appeal to the king of Assyria and he sends a priest from Israel to teach them how to worship the Lord.The priest settles in Bethel, a former center of worship for Israel (17:26-27).

The informed reader of 2 Kings 17 is immediately struck by what a poor solution this is to the problem faced by the new settlers. After all, God sent the kingdom of Israel into exile, because she was guilty of trying to worship God while also worshiping idols and other gods. She learned her disobedience from her first king, King Jeroboam (1 Kgs. 12:26-33). Her priests are not legitimate priests from the house of Levi, who could potentially teach people how to worship God without compromising (12:31). The predictable conclusion of 2 Kings 17 states that the people of Samaria worshiped God, but continued to worship idols as well (17:41).

What does this review of the story of Israel and Samaria have to do with Acts 1:8? That is going to require more explanation in a future post.
Note on sources: It is important to have sources when making points like the ones above. One can find a similar reading of Acts 1:8 and further sources in the excellent work by David Pao, Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus (pp. 94-95, 127-9).

Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus

Tagged on: ,