CAN YOU PLEASE EXPLAIN PAUL’S MINISTRY DURING THE BOOK OF ACTS?
by Shawn Brasseaux
During the book of Acts, why did the Apostle Paul heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out devils, water baptize, offer sacrifices in Jerusalem’s Temple, physically circumcise Timothy, and place his hands on people to impart the Holy Ghost to them? Did these practices and miraculous demonstrations not belong in Israel’s program? Then why was Paul involved with them? Was Paul preaching in Israel’s program? As always, when we have Bible questions, we appeal to the Bible to get Bible answers. Not “For what saith the grace preacher” or “For what saith the grace seminary,” but “For what saith the Scriptures?”
In the Bible, from Genesis chapter 12 and Abram/Abraham until we come to the ministry of the Apostle Paul (Saul of Tarsus was saved in Acts chapter 9), JEHOVAH God is dealing almost exclusively with the nation Israel. Hence, John the Baptist’s ministry was limited to Israel (Luke 1:16-17,80; Acts 13:24), Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry (recorded in the books of Matthew through John) was restricted to Israel (Matthew 10:5-7; Matthew 15:24; Luke 19:9; John 1:11; John 4:22; Romans 15:8), and Peter and the 11 other apostles’ ministries were limited to Israel during early Acts (Acts 2:36; Acts 3:13,25; Acts 4:8; Acts 5:30-31; Acts 7:2). For those four years, Israel refused to listen to and believe the preaching of Jesus, Peter, the 11, and Stephen. The Jews refused to trust Jesus as their Messiah-King, so in Acts chapter 7 (when Israel’s leaders stoned Stephen), Israel’s program fell away (albeit temporarily). That is when the risen, ascended, and glorified Lord Jesus Christ began a new program by raising up Saul of Tarsus, saving him, making him Paul, a new apostle, and giving him a new message, the Gospel of the Grace of God (Acts chapter 9 and onward).
The latter part of the book of Acts (chapters 9-28) can be awfully confusing and downright impossible to understand unless we keep Romans 11:11-14 in mind. The first step in understanding Paul’s ministry during the Acts period is to read and believe Romans 11:11-14: “ I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.  Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?  For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:  If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.”
According to the Old Testament prophetic program, the nation Israel should have risen to her kingdom glory. She should have accepted and trusted her Messiah-King Jesus, and in the literal, physical, visible kingdom He would then establish on the earth, Israel would be a kingdom of priests who would evangelize the Gentiles (see Exodus 19:5-6; Isaiah 59:21–60:3; Isaiah 61:6; Zechariah 8:20-23; Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15; et cetera). When national Israel refused Jesus but rather crucified Him, and then refused to repent (change their mind about who He was) in early Acts, God caused her program to fall away temporarily. That is what Paul is saying in Romans 11:11-12. Israel stumbled at Calvary’s cross when she crucified her Messiah, but she did not fall (Romans 9:32-33). Israel later stumbled in early Acts by rejecting God the Holy Spirit who was speaking through Stephen (Acts 7:51,55), and Israel finally fell here. Today, national Israel is “fallen” (Romans 11:11-12); now, God sees no difference between Jew and Gentile (Romans 3:22; Galatians 3:28; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 2:13-18; Colossians 3:11), but rather sees sinners (lost, those in Adam) and saints (saved, those in the Body of Christ). Throughout the book of Acts, from Acts chapter 7 to the end of the book of Acts (chapter 28), Israel and her program are “diminishing” (Romans 11:12)—the internal scriptural evidence suggests that Paul wrote the book of Romans during the book of Acts. One day, after God is finished dealing with the Church the Body of Christ, it will be raptured, and then He will resume Israel’s program (see Romans 11:25-32, 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:9, and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17). After our dispensation ends, Israel will be preeminent again in God’s dealings with mankind.
Romans 11:13 quoted above says that Paul is “the apostle of the Gentiles.” Paul has a ministry that is not limited to Israel. Paul is God’s spokesman to Gentiles (which would include lost Jews, since Israel fell before God years earlier in Acts chapter 7). But, in order to validate Paul’s ministry, in order to show Israel that her program was diminishing, God temporary granted Paul the power to perform miraculous demonstrations and exhibit other “Jewish-related behavior” (Acts chapters 9 through 28). Regarding the supernatural gift of speaking in tongues (intelligent human languages never formally learned), the Apostle Paul wrote: “ In the law it is written [Isaiah 28:11-12], With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.  Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe” (1 Corinthians 14:21-22). By temporarily granting the supernatural gift of tongues to Gentiles, JEHOVAH, Israel’s God, was communicating to unbelieving Israel that He had now started a new program with Paul’s ministry.
Throughout Acts, we read how the Apostle Paul healed the sick (Acts 14:8-18; Acts 19:11-12; Acts 28:8-10), he physically circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:1-3), he water baptized new converts (Acts 16:14-15; Acts 16:30-33; Acts 18:7-8), he cast out a devil (Acts 16:16-18), he laid hands on people for them to receive the Holy Ghost (Acts 19:1-7), he raised the dead (Acts 20:7-12), he offered sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem (Acts 21:18-30), he spoke in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:18), and he survived a snake bite (Acts 28:1-6). The miraculous demonstrations and other behaviors associated with Jesus and His 12 apostles in Matthew through John and early Acts, Paul did them during the Acts period. Paul’s “strange” behavior in Acts was God’s way of communicating to unbelieving Israel that her God was now amongst the Gentiles through Paul’s ministry. Acts chapters 9 through Acts 28 is a transitional section of the Bible—it is the record of God being just/fair in setting Israel aside for a time and going to the Gentiles through Paul’s ministry (you can study the book of Acts to see how unbelieving Israel continually harassed and hindered God’s ministry through Paul).
Let us re-read Romans 11:14: “If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.” Paul would “provoke to emulation them which are my flesh”—that is, the way Paul would encourage his lost Jewish brethren to behave like Gentiles and trust Jesus Christ—was by magnifying his Gentile apostleship (verse 13), and that Gentile apostleship involved Gentile believers experiencing Israel’s signs, miracles, and wonders. Although unbelieving Israel hated Paul (actually, they hated the Jesus Christ whom Paul served), and unbelieving Jews desperately tried to hinder Paul’s ministry throughout Acts, they were fully aware that the God of their fathers was working in and through him. Their miracles were now evident amongst the Gentiles; their God had signified to them that He was now working apart from them. They knew Paul’s ministry and message were valid, albeit they rejected it in unbelief as they had rejected Peter and the 11’s ministries.
Before we leave this section, notice what the Church at Jerusalem, Peter and the other Messianic Jews, witnessed: “ Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.  And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me:  Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name” (Acts 15:12-14). Even believing Israel had to learn that God was now working through Paul.
The Dispensation of Grace began with the salvation of the Apostle Paul. Nevertheless, to validate Paul’s ministry for the lost Jews’ sakes, God temporarily granted Paul the gift of miracle-working and had him perform other “Jewish” behaviors. The signs, miracles, and wonders of Israel’s program were carried over into Paul’s ministry because God was demonstrating to Israel that her program was falling away and Paul’s ministry was replacing Peter’s (Romans 11:11-13; 2 Corinthians 12:12). Paul did the same things Peter did: water baptism—Acts 2:38-41 cf. Acts 16:30-33, healing the sick—Acts 3:6-8 cf. Acts 14:8-10, raising the dead—Acts 9:36-42 cf. Acts 20:9-11, laying on hands to give the Holy Ghost—Acts 8:14-20 cf. Acts 19:1-7. Eventually, Paul quit water baptizing (1 Corinthians 1:14-17), Paul could no longer heal himself and other Christians who were sick (Galatians 4:11-13; 1 Timothy 5:23; 2 Timothy 4:20), and so on.
Paul’s odd Acts ministry was God demonstrating to Israel that He was working through Paul, for Paul did the same things Israel’s apostles did. The strange and often controversial and confusing passages in Acts where Paul does things that belong in Israel’s program, is actually the Lord Jesus Christ validating Paul’s apostleship for unbelieving Israel’s benefit; those strange, Pauline Acts passages have nothing to do with us because they occurred during the transitional period of Acts, while God was moving from Israel to the Gentiles. Paul, when teaching the Church the Body of Christ in his epistles of Romans through Philemon, never instructs us to be water baptized, never instructs us to lay hands on sick people in order to heal them, never instructs us to lay hands on people to give the Holy Ghost to them, never instructs us to raise the dead, never instructs us to be physically circumcised for salvation, never instructs us to cast out devils, never instructs us to offer animal sacrifices, et cetera. When Paul did those things, it was not a pattern for us to follow; it was simply something God wanted Paul to do in order to teach Israel doctrine (that his ministry was replacing Peter and the 11’s, and if any lost Jews wanted salvation, they would have to come to Paul’s ministry and message/gospel).
By the time we get to Paul’s latter (that is, post-Acts) epistles (his prison epistles of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon; also 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus), Paul has no more relation to water baptism, laying on lands to receive the Holy Spirit, physical circumcision, raising the dead, healing the sick, animal sacrifices, devil casting, et cetera. By Acts chapter 28, Israel’s program had fully diminished and she had fallen (she had fallen back in Acts chapter 7). The 30-year-long Acts transitional period was over, and the Dispensation of Grace remained. Nothing began at the close of the book of Acts, but something ended—Paul’s transitional ministry ended. Just a few years after that, the Holy Bible was completed, and the spiritual gifts were no longer necessary (1 Corinthians 13:8-13). How simple!