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Lesson Plan for Acts 6-9



The Book of Acts begins where the gospels left off, specifically where the Gospel of Luke left off. The Book of Acts was written by Luke and addresses the book, just like he does with his gospel account, to a man named Theophilus (see Luke 1:3 & Acts 1:1). Some scholars point out that this is a Greek name that means "a friend of God" and might be symbolic of  Luke's intent to write more towards a Gentile audience. This is reflected later in Acts 10 when the account of the revelation Peter received to take the gospel to the Gentiles is given.

The Book of Acts begins on a very sacred note when Luke recounts the resurrected Lord showing unto the disciples many "infallible proofs" (see Acts 1:3), which comes from the Greek tekmeriois and more literally means "sure sign or token."(1) It is in this same verse he notes that the Savior ministered among the apostles and other disciples for forty days "speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." Many things can be said about these forty days, but none necessarily comes from scripture.

1. The number 40 is used often in the scriptures. For example, Christ's fasting in the wilderness after His baptism was forty days, the Israelite's Exodus was forty years, Elijah fasting on Mount Sinai for 40 days, the forty-day deluge in Noah's day, and several other instances. The number 40 symbolized a period of testing and renewal from God. To the ancient mind, it would invoke the idea of a divinely ordained period.

2. Some scholars have suggested that we, as Latter-Day Saints, get a unique glimpse of what happened during this forty-day period when we read 3 Nephi chapters 11-28. An apocryphal account known as the Gospel of the Twelve Apostles, discovered in 1904, has this forty-day ministry mirroring closely the account found in 3 Nephi. (2) It is interesting to note that another book, the "Ascension of Isaiah" (some scholars date it as early as 75 AD), says that Christ "will rise on the third day and will remain in the world for five hundred and forty-five days" (A of I 9:16). This tells us that it was possibly understood by ancient Christians that Christ would make his ministering rounds to the "other sheep" after his forty-day stint with the original apostles. One wonders if that was brought up during these forty days?

3. While we are on the topic of extra-biblical writings, the late Hugh Nibley did extensive work highlighting what ancient Christian texts said about these forty days. An article from Scripture Central sums up the findings and explains that Jesus taught the following according to these extra-biblical sources: the oncoming Great Apostasy, performances of sacred rituals like sealing of marriages and ritual retellings of the premortal councils in heaven, Jesus speaking of his organizing the work for the dead, and many stories of Jesus appearing unto many "righteous and pure souls."(3)(4)

Why is all this important?

Elder David B. Haight once taught:

"Perhaps no clearer declaration of fact has ever been made than those which tell of the literal resurrection of Christ. The record of appearances to the Apostles during the forty days following his resurrection—as a group or separately, to teach them “the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3)—leaves no cause for doubt." (5, bold added for emphasis)
With that stage set, we begin to get a sense of why the Apostles begin to have so much power and faith during their ministries. It is also worth noting that Jesus commands them to remain in Jerusalem after these forty days so they may be "baptized with the Holy Ghost (see Acts 1:5). While they wait, they call a new apostle to take the place of Judas. This underscores their ancient desire to keep the quorum of the twelve afloat for as long as they could. In addition, verse 22 in Acts chapter one gives us the ancient qualifications they were looking for in this newly called disciple. Thomas Wayment notes that "the Greek wording suggests that the person to be chosen would need to become a witness of the resurrection, but that he had not already physically witnessed Jesus' resurrected body" (NT Translation For Latter-Day Saints, p. 210). Matthias is chosen as this new apostle and we never hear him mentioned again in the New Testament.

They continue to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Ghost to descend. Why they had to wait might be confusing for some, but my best explanation is that the Savior had already given them the gift of the Holy Ghost when he told them to "receive the Holy Ghost" in John 20:22. Elder David A. Bednar explains the significance of that phrase:

"These four words—“Receive the Holy Ghost”—are not a passive pronouncement; rather, they constitute a priesthood injunction—an authoritative admonition to act and not simply to be acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:26). The Holy Ghost does not become operative in our lives merely because hands are placed upon our heads and those four important words are spoken. As we receive this ordinance, each of us accepts a sacred and ongoing responsibility to desire, to seek, to work, and to so live that we indeed “receive the Holy Ghost” and its attendant spiritual gifts." (5)

The apostles wait in Jerusalem to receive the Holy Ghost. For some reason, the Gift of the Holy Ghost was not operative during the Savior's mortal ministry... BUT they had already received the priesthood injunction to receive it. This is why the Day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 is so important. At this point, they have their many "infallible proofs" (or sure signs and tokens) and can now enjoy and bestow the full measure of the Gift of the Holy Ghost. This is where their power came from.


When we skip ahead to Acts chapter 6, we find the ancient apostles faced with a growing body of believers. They have to create a new office, which, possibly, is the forerunner of our modern-day Bishops.

There was a growing issue with the widows among the Saints being overlooked and not taken care of. The twelve recognized their calling to take the gospel to all nations and, therefore, saw a need to create a new 'office' or calling among the people. It is of interest to note that the word used for "serve tables" in verse 2 is diakono, which is the same word used later for the priesthood office of deacon. The point of this story is instructive in our day on how the Church always has the need and the responsibility to adapt to its circumstances.


Where have you seen the Church adapt to the needs of people, and how have you been blessed by it? Or what does this say about the priority of ministering to the widows and the fatherless in comparison to other items in the kingdom?

Elder Boyd K. Packer Once taught:

"Procedures, programs, the administrative policies, even some patterns of organization are subject to change. We are quite free, indeed, quite obliged to alter them from time to time. But the principles, the doctrines, never change.

If you over-emphasize programs and procedures that can change, and will change, and must change, and do not understand the fundamental principles of the gospel, which never change, you can be misled...

Because the Church is growing so fast, there is a temptation to try to solve problems by changing boundaries, altering programs, reorganizing the leadership, or providing more comfortable buildings. What we really need is a retrenchment such as we have read about in Church history. What we really need is a revival of the basic gospel principles in the lives of all the Latter-day Saints. The true essence of priesthood administration is not in procedure—it is in principle, in doctrine!" (6)

Here in Acts 6, we had a growing issue that had to be resolved through priesthood administration but also was partially due to ancient Saints not being as forthright in their service to others as they should be. 

The apostles ended up calling seven men; among them were Philip and Stephen. We are not told much about their ministry to the poor and widows, ironically, but we do get wonderful glimpses of their preaching and testifying of Christ. Apparently, Stephen was so full of the spirit that he was instrumental in converting many temple priests (see Acts 6:7).

Stephen is so successful that he ends up being arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin (see Acts 6:12). He is directly accused of trying to convince the people to not keep the law of Moses and trying to destroy all these holy traditions. Stephen's face begins to shine like Abinidi's in the Book of Mormon. Stephen gives what I believe is the best sermon on the Hebrew Scriptures ever given in Acts 7:1-53. The sum of his message was that they had records abundant of Israel being stiffnecked, persecutory towards prophets, and disobedient in their history. How could the Jewish leaders be so sure they were all of a sudden not like their fathers of old?

READ ACTS 7:51-60

"51 ¶ Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.

52 Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:

53 Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.

54 ¶ When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.

55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,

56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,

58 And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.

59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep."


Stephen accuses the leaders of always resisting the Holy Ghost; what does that look like? How did this lead to rejecting the Savior and His servants? How can we "receive the Holy Ghost" instead of resisting it?

Elder Neal A. Maxwell has taught:

"In the Holy Ghost’s role in the Godhead, He “witnesses of the Father and the Son” (2 Ne. 31:18), and further He actually glorifies Christ (see John 16:14). Ever relevant, this glorification of our Savior is so vital in the last days, when so many esteem Jesus, the Lord of the Universe, as “naught” (1 Ne. 19:7). Therefore, at the center of the gifts of the Holy Ghost is His unique witnessing to us of Christ’s atoning act, history’s greatest emancipation...

The Church will pass through some turbulence that lies ahead. We will be all right. However, do all you can to be connected with the gifts of the Holy Ghost, and He will glorify Christ. He will give you a precious reassurance about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." (7)

 This echoes the oft-quoted words of President Russell M. Nelson:

"Our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, will perform some of His mightiest works between now and when He comes again. We will see miraculous indications that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, preside over this Church in majesty and glory. But in coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost." (8)

In this story, Stephen becomes the first Christian martyr who is not the Savior of the world. Beautifully, Stephen in Greek means 'crowned.' He was crowned with being full of the Holy Ghost and, eventually, in his death, for his witness of Jesus Christ.

It is of interest to note that a man named Saul was present for this murder, and the people were laying clothes at his feet. The stoning of Stephen was the people trying to keep the law found in Deuteronomy 17:7. The removal of their cloaks (the more precise meaning in Greek) might have just been to make the throwing of stones easier. To lay them at the feet of Saul might have been Luke's way of identifying that Saul was sort of a supervisor in the Sanhedrin at just 30 years of age and to preview Saul's coming conversion and becoming an Apostle of the Lord. This is suggested by some scholars who cite Acts 4:35 & 37 as what the ancients did in living consecrated lives and bringing all their substance to place at the apostles' feet. (8) It is a beautiful literary tool that highlights the horror of Saul but his wonderful future as the apostle Paul.


The beginning of Acts chapter 8 emphasizes the chaos and horror Saul inflicted upon the ancient Saints. Before we get him on the road to Damascus, we get a few stories about the disciple, Philip. He is teaching in Samaria and having great success with many baptisms. Apparently, it appears Philip had not the authority to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost. Peter and John hear about the success in Samaria and make a trip down to lay their hands on the people to confer said gift. A man named Simon, a sorcerer and anciently regarded as the origin of Gnosticism (see Ogden & Skinner, p. 48), sought to buy the priesthood authority to confer the Holy Ghost from Peter. Peter, obviously, teaches Simon otherwise.

Philip comes back into the picture quickly when he ministers unto an Ethiopian eunuch. He finds this man sitting in a chariot, trying to read Isaiah. Long story short, Philip elucidates the scriptures unto this man and shows how Isaiah prophesied of Christ. The eunuch asks to be baptized, and Philip obliges. Philip is caught away by the spirit as he comes out of the water if we read the verse literally. Elder Bruce R. McConkie comments on this by saying, "It is not an unheard-of thing for the Lord, by the power of the Spirit, to transport mortals from place to place" (The Mortal Messiah, p. 413). Philip finds himself in southern Palestine, where he continues his missionary work.

This brings us to Acts Chapter 9, where Saul asks the High Priest to travel to Damascus so he can take prisoners who were believers in Christ. Verse 2 is not the best translation in the KJV because you do not get the clear name the very earliest members of the Kingdom gave themselves, "The Way." There are better translations that make it absolutely clear that Saul was after members of "The Way." Scholars note this is one of the names the early Christians called themselves before they were more universally known as Christians by their enemies (see NT In Its World, Wright, p. 344). It is a fitting name since Jesus referred to Himself as "the way" in John 14:6 before He traveled to Gethsemane.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland echoes the beauty of this ancient name:

"When He says to the poor in spirit, “Come unto me,” He means He knows the way out and He knows the way up. He knows it because He has walked it. He knows the way because He is the way.

Brothers and sisters, whatever your distress, please don’t give up and please don’t yield to fear." (9)

The reason why the ancient Church didn't follow the instructions plainly given in 3 Nephi 27 on what the name of the Church should be is sort of a mystery. Some scholars suggest this is because the ancient members of The Way, at least in the beginning, didn't really see themselves as a Church as much as they saw themselves as a new messianic sect of Judaism. This partly explains why Saul and the Jewish leaders are so frustrated by this movement. They view it as a total perversion of Judaism. This is why, years earlier, they became so angry at Christ that they conspired His death.

We return to Saul making his way to Damascus.


"3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:

4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.

7 And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.

8 And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.

9 And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink."

It is worth mentioning a bit about Saul's background. He grew up in Tarsus and probably was very fluent in Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Arabic. Tarsus was a Hellenistic city (meaning it was heavily influenced by the Greek lifestyle) where he grew up as a minority, as a Jew, within the community. He is very familiar with greco-roman literature, as you will see later on in the New Testament, which really contrasts with what he learns in the Torah. Probably in his teens, he leaves Tarsus to be trained in the Pharisaic tradition in Jerusalem. He, as scholars suggest, aligned himself with the more politically militant and religiously zealous wing of the Pharisees - known as the Shammaites. (see NT In Its World, Wright, p. 340)

What this all suggest is that Saul was a teen prodigy within the Jewish community. He probably saw himself as doing the will of Jehovah in his treatment of the ancient Saints. He knew his scriptures forwards and backward.

On the road to Damascus, his whole worldview is shattered.


What can we learn from Saul here? Would you consider this moment a possible faith crisis for Saul?

N.T. Wright, the foremost historian of the life of Saul/Paul, writes about what must have been going on in Saul's head:

"Suddenly, everything Saul has hoped for is fulfilled and everything he has hoped for is dashed to pieces. Those two things are happening simultaneously in his mind. It takes him three days of prayer and fasting (see Acts 9:9) even to get to the point where he is ready for Ananias to come unto him." (10)

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has recently said:

"I bless any among you who might be speaking these days of a “faith crisis.” Real faith, life-changing faith, Abrahamic faith, is always in crisis. That is how you find out if it is faith at all. I promise you that more faith will mean less crisis until finally God says, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”" (11)

We read on to see the revelation the presiding authority in Damascus, Ananias, receives about Saul. Probably in response to Saul's desperate prayers and fasting, Ananias is told by the Lord to go find Saul. He tells him he will find him praying. Ananias sort of barks back at the Lord, saying, in effect, "Lord, do you know who this guy is and what he has done?" The Lord, in effect, says, "Go anyways! He is my chosen instrument!" Ananias obeys and goes unto Saul, where he heals him of his blindness and baptizes him. This plays well on the meaning of Saul's name, who was named after the first king of Israel. In Hebrew, it means "to pray for." Saul finds himself in a faith crisis and then calls on the Lord diligently to make sense of such.


If Saul can change, what does that mean for us? What can we learn from how Saul reacted to his faith crisis?

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf has commented:

"This transformative moment changed Saul forever. Indeed, it changed the world... There are some who feel that unless they have an experience similar to Saul’s, they cannot believe. They stand at the waters of baptism but do not enter. They wait at the threshold of testimony but cannot bring themselves to acknowledge the truth. Instead of taking small steps of faith on the path of discipleship, they want some dramatic event to compel them to believe... The truth is, those who diligently seek to learn of Christ eventually will come to know Him. They will personally receive a divine portrait of the Master, although it most often comes in the form of a puzzle—one piece at a time. Each individual piece may not be easily recognizable by itself; it may not be clear how it relates to the whole. Each piece helps us to see the big picture a little more clearly. Eventually, after enough pieces have been put together, we recognize the grand beauty of it all. Then, looking back on our experience, we see that the Savior had indeed come to be with us—not all at once but quietly, gently, almost unnoticed." (12)

This is an excellent segue for the rest of chapter 9. Even after three days of fasting, having Ananias lay his hands on him, being baptized, and having seen what he had seen on the road to Damascus, we have Paul telling us in other places throughout his epistles he was still piecing things together. If you read verse 19 in the original Greek, we see that Saul spends some amount of time in Damascus. The Greek word here is tinas which can literally mean "a while." In other words, there is a long length of time between when Paul's sight was restored and baptized to when he started to preach in Damascus.

 (**This is a good reminder that the scriptures move rather quickly, often through large gaps in time.**)

We learn from Paul that he departs to Arabia and then returns to Damascus to perform the preaching he does in Acts 9:20-22. He says this is a period of three years (see Galatians 1:17-18). What is he doing in Arabia, perhaps, for such a long time?

It is worth noting that much of Galatians chapter 1 is Paul's defense against the accusation that he received his testimony of the risen Christ second-hand from the likes of Peter, James, and John. It should be remembered that one of the qualifications, at least anciently, to be an apostle was to be a witness of the Savior's resurrection (see Acts 1:22, the Greek plainly translated says, "one of these must become a witness of his resurrection together with us"). Saul's vision or visitation on the road to Damascus does not cut it because he didn't actually experience the resurrected Lord like the others had, but it did compel him to go and get answers. The Lord tells Saul in Acts 9:6 that there was more He had to tell him in Damascus. In Acts 9:16 the Lord tells Ananais that Saul will be told what he will suffer for Christ's sake. We never are told the fulfillment of either of these things in Acts chapter 9. Again, this appears to happen during the unwritten three years spent in Damascus and Arabia. It is worth noting here that Paul didn't wait to get baptized before he went and got answers. He took the necessary steps still to echo Elder Uchtdorf's words above.

It is my opinion that this restructured history is indispensable for enhancing our readings of Paul in the coming months.

So what happens in Arabia? The only other time Arabia is mentioned in the New Testament is in Galatians 4:25, where Paul directly ties it to the location of Mount Sinai. Even further, in Galatians 1:14, Paul directly quotes Elijah's experience on Sinai found in 1 Kings 19:14, where Elijah also admits to being very zealous for the Lord. It should be remembered that Elijah is on Mount Sinai, completely depressed and dejected because he is running for his life still, even after the brilliant miracle of calling fire from heaven in 1 Kings 18. Saul and Elijah both used to be very zealous for the Lord. Both go to Mount Sinai to come to grips with their worldviews being shattered. Both had previously been instrumental in the death of many, Paul with the early Saints (see Acts 8:3 & 26:10) and Elijah commanding the death of the prophets of Baal (see 1 Kings 18:40). Both leave Mount Sinai to travel to Damascus (see Galatians 1:17 & 1 Kings 19:15).

What does Saul see at Mount Sinai? Since he hasn't started his ministry yet, he is still wrestling with what he has just experienced. It is slight speculation, but some scholars suggest this is what Paul is referring to when he speaks of his revelation of Jesus Christ that he got for himself and not from any other source (see NT In Its World, Wright, p. 350 & Galatians 1:11-19). He had this experience on Mount Sinai. He, like Jacob of old, had a good wrestle before the Lord. Mount Sinai is the same place Elijah and Moses, two of his former heroes, had their worldviews shattered. Saul is there for, at most, three years. What is he learning? Who is he teaching? The three years are of interest because it matches the same amount of time the rest of the apostles had with Christ during His mortal ministry.


Understanding that the nature of scripture gives us a hurried pace of events, what does it mean for us that Saul has to go to Arabia to continue to wrestle with what he learned on the road to Damascus? Why did he not wait for baptism until after he had answers?

Sheri Dew has given the following insight that also describes Paul:

"Champion wrestlers tell me that it isn't necessarily the strongest wrestler who wins. It is the wrestler who knows how to leverage his strength to overpower his opponent. Spiritual wrestling leverages the strength of true doctrine to overpower our weaknesses, our wavering faith, and our lack of knowledge. Spiritual wrestlers are seekers. They are men and women of faith who want to understand more than they presently do and who are serious about increasing the light and knowledge in their lives." (13)

When Saul returns to Damascus and begins to preach, he has such power and is a witness of Christ now that can really only come after a process of time. It should bring us comfort that Paul did not just go out immediately and start to be the amazing missionary that he would eventually become. 

Saul has to flee Damascus because he is being so successful and goes to Jerusalem to meet the brethren. They are at first skeptical, but Saul goes out to Jerusalem to preach and has a repeat of what happened to him in Damascus. He is sent to Tarsus for at least 4 years before we hear about Saul again (see Acts 11:25).

The rest of Acts 9 deals with the wonderful miracles Peter is performing. He heals a paralyzed Aeneas and raises Tabitha from the dead. What a transformation, like Saul's, that Peter has undergone! It is back in Acts 5:15-16 that we learn Peter is now healing multitudes and that people would lay their sick out on the street so Peter's shadow would heal them.

President Russell M. Nelson's words echo Peter's transformation:

"There is nothing easy or automatic about becoming such powerful disciples. Our focus must be riveted on the Savior and His gospel. It is mentally rigorous to strive to look unto Him in every thought. But when we do, our doubts and fears flee." (14)


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