28 Sep 2022

High Noon? or Head South? What did Luke say?

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Acts, Exegesis, Jewish Backgrounds, Patternism, Prayer
Wait! South? or Noon?

What Did Luke Say? Acts 8.26: Does Philip “head south” or does he “set out at noon?”

Many English translations read essentially, “the angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go toward the south ...” (NIV, etc) and that is it.

What does μεσημβρίαν mean? The term occurs one other place in Acts when Paul is explaining what happened on the Damascus Road. “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me” (22.6).

In Paul’s recounting we have another supernatural happening, as we do in Acts 8. Saul encounters the voice and a blinding light at noon. Throughout the Septuagint the term μεσημβρίαν means “midday” or noon” with only two exceptions in Daniel.

If we read Acts 8.26 in the Jerusalem Bible and New Jerusalem Bible we read, “the angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, ‘Be ready to set out at NOON ...”

Likewise if we read in the Contemporary English Bible (CEB) we have a time indicator rather than a direction given. “An angel from the Lord spoke to Philip, “At noon, take the road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.)

And if you read in the NRSV or the ESV there will be a footnote that suggests, “or at noon.”

So is it South? or is it Noon?

If we go to BDAG (Baur-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich) 3rd edition and turn to page 634 we read that the suggested reading is “noon” as is typical of the word. For the sake of full disclosure BDAG gives a secondary meaning as “south” with Acts 8.26 is the only suggested possible example of that. But the normal gloss is “noon.” It is a time indicator not a point on the compass.

Contrary to the many English translations, quite a few scholars argue that “south” is not what Luke intends. I have concluded that it should be “noon.” There are a few reasons for this. I think it fits nicely with Luke’s larger and surprising interest in “all things Jewish” (and Luke does have a major interest in Jewish “stuff.”

1) that is the normal idea of the word and it makes as much sense in the context as the much rarer idea of “south.”

2) the hours of prayer seem to be significant to Luke. The hour/s of prayer are 9, Noon, and 3.

The morning and evening hours coincide with sacrifice. The Gospel of Luke begins with Zechariah offering sacrifice at the morning offering, and an angel shows up (Lk 1.8-20).

Jesus is crucified and dies at the hour of prayer in Luke 23.44. Luke notes it was “dark” at “noon” (23.44, More supernatural stuff).

The Way keeps the hours of prayer (Acts 2.42). (See my article, What Does Luke Say the Disciples are doing in Acts 2.42?). A man is healed/saved at the “hour of prayer” (3 pm) in Acts 3.1-9. Cornelius is praying and visited by an angel at the hour of prayer in Acts 10.3, 30. More supernatural stuff. Meanwhile, Peter was praying at the hour of prayer (noon) when he fell into a supernatural “trance” and had a vision from God (10.9).

In the book of Judith, the heroine whom God uses to deliver the people of Israel is at prayer at hour of prayer/sacrifice (Judith 9.1f). In Jewish tradition “strange things” can happen at the hour of prayer, thus Daniel is praying at the hour of prayer/sacrifice and low and behold … Gabriel shows up just as he did to Zechariah at the beginning of Luke’s story (cf. Daniel 9.21).

All of these “coincidences” that Luke narrates seems to suggest that Acts 8.26 is not giving ancient MapQuest directions. Rather, Luke is, yet again, saying God acted decisively at the hour of prayer for the salvation of one historically excluded.

One might encounter angels, visions, and even encounter Jesus himself as Paul did at “noon” in 22.6. And though Luke does not give a time stamp, Paul was in the temple “in prayer” when he (like Peter) fell into a “trance and saw Jesus” (22.17).

At any rate, I think the footnote is right in the NRSV/ESV and the text is correct in the Jerusalem Bible, New Jerusalem Bible, Contemporary English Bible. The angel of the Lord appeared and told Philip to be ready at the hour of prayer for an act of God.

Also of Interest

Luke the Priest? Was Luke Gentile or Jewish?

2 Responses to “High Noon? or Head South? What did Luke say?”

  1. JT Says:

    Based on what you’ve presented I tend to agree with “Noon” rather than “south”. Context is always important. The Big Picture, too is helpful more often than many would realize. That is, a deeper understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures and how they relate to things in the apostolic scriptures usually brings more meaning, or at least, helps make sense of things that otherwise are sort of “head scratchers”.

    I have great respect for men who have devoted their lives to God’s word, the study of languages, etc. Translators. But, that’s not to say that learned men of old, or of modern, cannot present a view that misses if only because they have biases and/or views toward The Big Picture that help them “miss”. I mean to say the Big Picture is the Story, a seamless description of God’s plan for restoration.

    Here, “south”, seems far less relevant, less meaningful than the time of day since the time of day for the people of that day included prayer at designated times. Yes, prayer is hugely relevant for people of God, people of faith, those who would have the Father direct them daily and show them the Way.

    Thanks Bobby.


  2. Robert Limb Says:

    See Parsons & Culy, in loc.

Leave a Reply