THE ACTS 1:8 CHALLENGE

In their book, “When everything is missions”, Matthew Ellison and Denny Spitters make a profound statement, “most churches do not do missions well because they don’t think about missions well.”1 One of the area’s churches have failed to “think about missions well” is in the interpretation of scriptures, especially those directly about missions.

An example is Acts 1:8. Churches have interpreted Acts 1:8 in three ways. One is correct according to the original languages of scriptures while the other two are not, yet are very popular.

Let us consider these three interpretations.

  • SEQUENTIAL or “FIRST/THEN” INTERPRETATION

    Many churches do missions as if Acts 1:8 reads, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses FIRST in Jerusalem THEN in all Judea THEN Samaria, THEN to the end of the earth.” This is the SEQUENTIAL or “FIRST/THEN” interpretation of Acts 1:8, suggesting the gospel should be taken to these four geographical areas step by step.

    We should first reach everyone in our local setting while Samaria (Foreign peoples in our country) is waiting and perishing. Second, we make sure everyone in our country has heard the gospel while the ends of the earth (the unreached people groups) are languishing. There are several reasons why this interpretation is incorrect.

    1. It adds words to scripture. The words “FIRST” and “THEN” are not actually in this scripture.

    2. It prioritizes local evangelism while neglecting global evangelism.

    3. Its success is difficult to measure. It is not easy or possible for one to know when Jerusalem is fully evangelized before crossing over to other regions.

    4. It favors Jerusalem over lost people against others. Evangelizing “Jerusalem first” can mean favoritism on our part.

    5. It cannot help finish the Great Commission. If reached people groups keep on reaching themselves, the gospel will not reach the ends of the earth.

  • SELECTIVE or “EITHER/OR” INTERPRETATION

    Many churches do missions as if Acts 1:8 reads, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses EITHER in Jerusalem OR in all Judea OR Samaria, OR to the end of the earth.” I call this SELECTIVE or “EITHER/OR” interpretation, putting Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth on a multiple-choice level. The church is free to pick either of these regions for church planting ministry.

    While it sounds logically correct to share the Great Commission workload in this manner, this interpretation falls short in many ways.

    1. It adds words to scripture – The words “EITHER/OR” is not in the original text.

    2. It indirectly favors Jerusalem people. Because of the “multiple choice” attitude suggested, no one will pick Judea, Samaria or the ends of the earth.

    3. It contradicts other Biblical scriptures. The Bible in Matthew 28:18-20 and other places call the church to disciple all nations. No choices are given.

    4. It cannot help to finish the Great Commission. No one will choose hard places.

  • SIMULTANEOUS or “BOTH/AND” INTERPRETATION

    Very few churches do missions as if Acts 1:8 reads, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses BOTH in Jerusalem AND in all Judea AND Samaria, AND to the end of the earth.” (New American Standard Bible) This is the correct interpretation. The church has been mandated to take the gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth at the same time. Not one place at a time. Not in steps. Not according to our preferences. Every church in every region of the world has been called to evangelize every region of the world at the same time.

    Why Simultaneous Interpretation is the correct one?

    1. It is the best English translation from the original language of the Bible.

      The words Both/And are the key to our simultaneous interpretation. When these words are left out or ignored, Acts 1:8 will not be interpreted or applied well. We will be stuck in our “Jerusalems”

    2. It helps every believer or church to become globally focused.

      Once embraced this way, Acts 1:8 helps every believer to be focused on the whole earth. Every church thinks global while acting locally.

    3. It assumes all people on earth are equal.

      If all have sinned and have come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), then all should be reached at the same time. No need to go step by step. No need to select where to go. John Stott has said, “We must be global Christians with a global vision because our God is a global God.”4

    4. It agrees with other Biblical scriptures

      Simultaneous interpretation of Acts 1:8 agrees with other scriptures. We must reach all nations everywhere before Jesus comes. And they must be given an equal chance to hear the gospel regardless of where they are. Oswald J Smith has said, “No one has a right to hear the gospel twice while someone has heard it once.”

    5. It will help the church finish the Great Commission.

      Simultaneous interpretation of Acts 1:8 will help the church to fulfill the Great Commission soon. All the 7,000 unreached people groups will receive the gospel adequately and equally just like those reached people are.

The blessing of Abraham was meant to be translated into spiritual blessings for all nations – ethnic people groups (Genesis 12:1-3; 18:18; 26:4; 28:14). But how should we reach these nations? Sequentially, selectively or simultaneously? Should we reach some while some are waiting?

Should we choose the easiest ones while the hard are perishing? Let us start thinking and doing missions well (simultaneously) so that God’s name may be glorified among all nations.

References:

  1. When Everything is Missions, BottomLine Media, USA
  2. www.joshuaproject.net
  3. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/acts/1-8.htm
  4. John Stott in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, Reader, 4th edition
    pg. 9; William Carey Publishing.

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