Voddie Baucham, the author of my current study, The Ever Loving Truth, opened today’s lesson by talking about the Supreme Court of the United States. This interested me, so I looked up some facts about the court:
- Each year, the Supreme Court receives about 10,000 petitions to review cases, but only about 100 receive any such review, and only 40-50 are allowed to be argued fully.
- In order for an attorney to argue before the Court, he/she must be a member of the bar of the Court, which requires that he/she be admitted to practice before the highest court of a state or territory for the last 3 years.
- If the court chooses to hold a hearing, each side of the case has only 30 minutes to present their case.
- When the court publishes it’s decision, it’s precedent binds all lower courts and can only be overturned by itself (which is extremely rare).
In other words, the Supreme Court is the highest judging body in the land – it decides who can speak, how long they can speak, and then makes a final decision that can almost never be overturned. As Baucham said in the lesson, it must be extremely intimidating to be someone giving an argument in that court.
Back in the first century, the government that ruled most of the known world at that time was the Roman Empire. One of the ways it was successful at governing such a large empire was by allowing local councils to govern small local areas, thereby giving the impression of allowing the conquered people to govern themselves (though they were watched over by a Roman governor). Jerusalem and the Jewish people were governed by a local council called the Sanhedrin. It was composed of 70 men and was presided over by the High Priest. Much like the Supreme Court, it had very broad powers, and unless you were a Roman citizen, it had final say over almost all matters. This was the council that we find the apostles Peter and John brought before in Acts 4:5-18, after having healed the crippled man in Acts 3:
The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is” ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.” Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.
I found it interesting that the Sanhedrin seemed to have very little concern for the beliefs of Peter and John. They didn’t condemn them for having beliefs outside of the Jewish system – they only told them that they could not speak of their beliefs, so that they would not be “spread among the people.”
Why wouldn’t this governing body want these beliefs to spread? One reason, which was discussed some by Baucham, I had not heard before – that of the Roman Edict of Religio Licitae:
“The Roman policy was to grant freedom to all existing religions in the lands and among the peoples whom they conquered but to ban new religions for fear of social turmoil. Once the Romans realized that Christianity was not a sect of Judaism but was in fact a distinct religion, it went from being protected by the edict of religio licita (a legal religion) to be prosecuted as religio illicita (an illegal religion).”
Thus, the Sanhedrin was concerned about the Roman government stepping in to crush this “uprising” of a new, illegal religion. They most likely were worried about losing their power, or perhaps of the ruthless Roman military arriving and bringing violence with it.
Whatever the motivation of the Sanhedrin, it is amazing to look at how Peter and John respond. Standing among the most powerful group of men in the area, the two apostles spoke with parrēsia – a Greek word meaning “freedom in speaking, unreservedness in speech” (v. 13). The reason this was so amazing was because, as must have been evident since the Sanhedrin could recognize it, the two men were agrammatos and idiōtēs (v. 14). Do these Greek words look similar to any english words you know? To me, it looks like they are saying they lacked grammar and were idiots. Basically, they were illiterate and uneducated, and definitely not trained in speaking before major courts. Yet they did so with boldness, freedom, and no reservedness. This goes to show that the power behind contending for the faith, facing opposition, and arguing with our opponents comes from Jesus. It’s not dependent upon training and education. Anyone who has a solid relationship with Him – a strong prayer life, a mind transformed by His Word, and an attitude of being guided by the Holy Spirit – can effectively contend for the faith, even among the hardest opponents.
In starting off this post, I tried to picture myself standing before the Supreme Court of the United States, arguing for some cause. The thought alone intimidates me! But with the power of Christ inside of us, we are fully capable of doing just that and even more when it comes to standing for His cause.