SOMETHING IS TO BE GAINED BY bringing today’s two readings, Nehemiah 8 and Acts 18, into juxtaposition.
Much of Acts 18 is devoted to preaching and teaching the Word of God and to the issue of how to understand God’s revelation aright. When Silas and Timothy arrive in Corinth from Macedonia (Acts 18:5), presumably bringing with them some support money, Paul is set free to devote himself “exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:5). Eventually the heat of opposition drives him to spend more time with Gentiles. No longer free to use the synagogue, he uses the house of Titius Justus next door. Soon the synagogue ruler himself is converted (Acts 18:8). Some Jews mount a legal challenge against Paul, but the local magistrate perceives that the dispute essentially involves controverted interpretations of Scripture (Acts 18:12-16). The end of the chapter introduces Apollos, learned in the Scriptures and a powerful speaker, but still somewhat ill-informed regarding Jesus. He “knew only the baptism of John” (Acts 18:25). He may well have known enough of John the Baptist’s teaching to announce the coming of Jesus and perhaps even details of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection; but like the “believers” at the beginning of the next chapter, he might not have known of Pentecost and the gift of the Spirit. After all, many Jews from around the empire visited Jerusalem at the time of the feasts and then returned home. If Apollos and others had left Jerusalem after the resurrection but before Pentecost, it was not impossible that years could have elapsed before they became better informed. And information is precisely what Priscilla and Aquila provide Apollos, explaining to him “the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18:26).
In Nehemiah 8, Ezra begins a seven-day Bible conference. He carefully reads “the Law” to the assembled crowd. The Levites join in; they “instructed the people in the Law…. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read” (Neh. 8:7-8). The expression “making it clear” could be rendered “translating it”; after all, the Law was written in Hebrew, and by this time most of the people spoke Aramaic. The Bible had become a closed book to them. Whether through translation or exposition or both, the people are understanding it again. Joy dawns “because they now understood the words that had been made known to them” (Neh. 8:12).
Whether under the old covenant or the new, nothing is more important for the growth and maturation of God’s people than a heart hungry to read and understand what God says, and people to make it plain. (Italics mine)