Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing on the Pharisees, analyzes the reasons for their continuous condemnation. Having their origin in the days of Ezra, the Scribes and Pharisees were extremely zealous for the law, separating themselves for this exclusive purpose. Over time, this originally noble purpose devolved into a rigid, exclusivist sect, separating themselves from foreigners, heretics, or base people, manufacturing strict, repressive rules for the Sabbath; supporting and detailing the Temple service; and promoting strict observance of the tithing laws. As the teachers of the people, they held a great deal of power, which soon became corrupt, turning them into arrogant, desiccated legalists, ignoring the redemptive aspects of God's law. Pharisees sought after signs, interminably multiplied regulations concerning ceremonially clean and unclean, and developed elaborate regulations for washings, actually leading to the breaking of God's law.
John Ritenbaugh explores the conversion of Cornelius, a Gentile. This event is nearly as pivotal a benchmark as the original Pentecost because the Gentiles at this point are given the same portal of salvation (repentance, belief in Christ, and receipt of God's Holy Spirit) originally offered to Israel. This portion of Acts highlights: (1) The church's initial resistance to Gentiles fellowshipping in the church, (2) God's leading the church into the right understanding of Gentile conversion, (3) God's using Peter (originally relatively rigid and unyielding in his scruples) instead of Paul (more cosmopolitan), and (4) Jerusalem's acceptance of Gentiles (originally considered ceremonially unclean from the Jewish point of view) apart from the influence of Judaism. Peter's vision about the unclean beasts is to be interpreted metaphorically or symbolically rather than literally: Gentiles are not to be regarded as impure or ceremonially unclean.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the martyrdom of Stephen, largely instigated by Hellenistic Jews, actually had the paradoxical dramatic effect of spreading the Gospel into Gentile venues, enabling individuals like Cornelius and the Ethiopian Eunuch, upon repentance, belief, and baptism to be added to the fellowship. Even more remarkable in this section of Acts was the miraculous dramatic conversion of the zealous learned Pharisee Saul (virtually handpicked by Jesus Christ and rigorously trained in Arabia for three years) into Paul the Apostle, fashioned (his intense zeal redirected or refocused) for great accomplishment as well as great suffering. Like Jeremiah and John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul was sanctified in his mother's womb, set apart for a specific purpose. At the conclusion of the chapter we find the account of the resurrection of Tabitha (or Dorcas) following Peter's fervent prayer.
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