Studies in the Book of Acts
The Jerusalem Ministry of Peter and John
Peter and John (3:1)
Acts 3 describes the dramatic healing of a beggar. How soon after Pentecost this occurred is not clear. Days, weeks or months may have elapsed. The story begins with the indefinite, “One day…” This chapter describes the preaching of the gospel in Jerusalem (specifically, at the temple) by Peter and John, two of the church’s leaders. What Luke wrote is important because it shows us how the apostles preached the gospel.
Luke began his story by referring to John (presumably the son of Zebedee) as teaching alongside Peter. We do not know why Luke mentioned him, for he had no active role in Luke’s story. John was the silent partner in this story, as well as on one other occasion where his name appeared (8:14-17). Some scholars suggest that Luke referred to two apostles witnessing together for “legal” purposes, following the biblical pattern that two witnesses were needed to establish a matter. [Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15; Matthew 18:15; 1 Timothy 5:19.]
We are not sure why Luke included John’s name, or why he left out the other apostles. But his stress on Peter is clear. Luke’s account is, in some ways, a “Tale of Two Apostles” — the acts of Peter, and then those of Paul. (Of course, the real “actor” is the Holy Spirit, who guides the church and its preaching.)
Praying in the temple (3:1)
In chapter 3, Luke described Peter and John going to the temple for a formal prayer time. It was the ninth hour of the day, about 3:00 p.m. Devout Jews observed three times of prayer at the temple — at 9:00 a.m., at noon, and at 3:00 p.m. The special feature of the first and last prayer time was the offering of the morning and evening sacrifices (Exodus 29:38-42; Numbers 28:1-8). The Jewish historian Josephus gives an example of how important these daily sacrifices were for the Jews. They continued to be offered even when food was scarce when the Romans besieged the city during the Jewish War of a.d. 66-70. [Josephus, Antiquities 14:65.]
The fact that the apostles went to the temple to pray at these times indicates that they were continuing to follow Jewish forms of worship and Jewish customs. The apostles remained at the heart of Jewish national life, where they could reach people with the gospel message.
Crippled beggar (3:2-6)
“Many wonders and miraculous signs [were] performed by the apostles” (Acts 2:43). The healing of the beggar was a striking exhibit of this apostolic power. A man crippled from his birth, a beggar, regularly asked for charity at the temple gate called Beautiful. Scholars are not sure which gate this was, as neither the Talmud nor Josephus mention a “Beautiful Gate.”
Among Jews of the time, almsgiving was considered an act that gained a person religious merit. Giving to the poor was emphasized in the rabbinic tradition and in Jewish writings such as the book of Tobit (4:7-11; 12:8-9). In line with this tradition, Jews coming to the temple would often give people a coin or two. Beggars stationed themselves in strategic positions to receive some of these alms.
So, as Peter and John approached the gate, this beggar asked them for money. But Peter spoke to him, saying, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (3:6). Peter didn’t mean he had absolutely no money — as though he didn’t have access to a single coin. Rather, he was stressing the much greater value of God’s healing.
Peter was also making a statement about the role of the messianic community in the world. Its main mission was to enable humans to partake of the spiritual gifts God gives. “A crippled man asks for alms but the community which holds all goods in common has little silver or gold to offer him. Temporary modest financial gain and charitable handouts are not what this community is primarily about.” [Willimon, 44.]
We shouldn’t assume that it is useless to give financial help to the poor and needy. The church can make available the knowledge of spiritual salvation and provide material help where possible and appropriate.