was successfully added to your cart.

Tag

Acts of the Apostles

Women in the Church: Part 7 – The Gospels and Acts

By | Exegetical/Study Series | No Comments

Having explored the subject of Women in the Church in the Pauline Letters, it is now time to turn and examine the relevant information from the Gospel Tradition, and in the book of Acts. I will be dividing this article according to the following outline:

  1. Sayings and Teachings of Jesus
  2. Jesus’ Interaction with Women (in the Gospel Narratives)
  3. Followers of Jesus in Gospel Tradition
  4. The Role of Mary
  5. Women in Luke-Acts

1. Sayings and Teachings of Jesus

There are actually very few sayings by Jesus involving women recorded in the canonical Gospels, and most of these are simply proverbial and tell us relatively little about his views on the position of women and gender relations. Women are featured in a couple of parables (Matt 13:33 par; Luke 15:8; 18:2-5) as stock characters. Two groups of sayings are perhaps a bit more significant:

(a) Traditional references to a woman’s pains in giving birth, symbolic of the suffering of the human condition—especially in association with the coming Judgment at the end-time (Mark 13:8, 17 par), which, in the Gospel narrative is set generally in the context of Jesus’ own suffering and death (cf. Luke 23:28-29; John 16:21).
(b) The illustrative image of the widow, again as a typical figure symbolizing human suffering and injustice—Mark 12:40-43 par; Luke 4:25-26; 18:2-5; cf. also Lk 7:12.

In several passages, Jesus addresses the topic of marriage, most notably in: (1) the sayings/discourse regarding divorce (Mark 10:2ff, par Matt 19:3ff; Matt 5:31-32; Luke 16:18); and (2) the case involving marriage and the resurrection (Mark 12:18-27 par). The latter passage seems to downplay the importance of marriage, to some extent; and, indeed, one detects an ascetic tinge in a number of Jesus’ sayings, such as Mark 10:29ff par; Matt 19:12. By all accounts, Jesus himself never married; and, according to the narrative context of Mk 10:29f, a number of his disciples had apparently left their families in order to follow Jesus (v. 28). In this regard, it is interesting to note an extra-canonical saying of Jesus which goes a step further in denying the significance of sexuality and gender distinction among believers. It is preserved in at least three sources—the (Coptic) Gospel of Thomas saying 22; 2 Clement 12; and in Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 3.13.[92] (attributed to the “Gospel of the Egyptians”). Gosp. Thom. 22 is presumably the earliest occurrence (late-1st/early-2nd century):

Jesus saw infants being suckled. He said to His disciples, “These infants being suckled are like those who enter the Kingdom.” They said to Him, “Shall we then, as children, enter the Kingdom?” Jesus said to them,

“When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female; and when you fashion eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, and a likeness in place of a likeness; then will you enter [the Kingdom].” (Translation by Thomas O. Lambdin)

This (purported) saying has similarities with mystic-ascetic and “Gnostic” thought, as attested, e.g., in the Gospel of Philip §73, 78, and Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 5.7.15 (citing teachings of the Naassene sect). In 2 Clement 12:5 the saying of Jesus is explained to the effect that a male believer should not look upon a female believer as a woman, that is, according to her sexuality or physical/biological gender (cf. Gal 3:28).

2. Jesus’ Interaction with Women

The Gospels record a number of episodes in which Jesus interacts with women. In some of these narratives he is depicted as disregarding or challenging certain social (and religious) conventions regarding the proper interaction of men and women—at least, the narratives may be read this way. Note, for example, the reaction of Jesus’ (male) disciples in Jn 4:27. Most significant, perhaps, is his friendship with Martha and Mary (the sisters of Lazarus, acc. to Jn 11:1-3); the authenticity of this relationship is confirmed by the fact that it is attested (independently) in at least two separate strands of tradition—Luke 10:38-42 and John 11:1-44; 12:1-11. The declaration by Martha in Jn 11:27 regarding Jesus’ identity (as Anointed One [Messiah] and Son of God) holds a place in the Fourth Gospel similar to that of Peter’s confession in the Synoptics (Mk 8:29 / Lk 9:20 / Matt 16:16). At the very least, this indicates that Martha (and Mary) were believers and followers of Jesus (cf. below).

Many of the episodes show Jesus responding with compassion to the poor and outcast elements of society—a familiar and popular theme in the Gospel tradition. This produced some degree of negative reaction, even scandal, from onlookers and opponents, much as his willingness to associate with “sinners” (Mk 2:15-17 par; Lk 7:39; 19:7, etc). These are the episodes of note (“par” indicates parallel narratives in the other Synoptic Gospels; negative reactions are indicated by the verses in square brackets):

  • Healing of the women with a discharge of blood (hemorrhage)—Mark 5:25-34 par
  • Healing (exorcism) of the daughter of a Syrophoenician woman—Mark 7:24-30 par [note the exchange in vv. 27-28]
  • Healing (resurrection) of a widow’s son—Luke 7:11-17
  • Healing of a crippled woman—Luke 13:10-17 [v. 14]
  • Discussion with the Samaritan woman—John 4:1-42 [v. 27, a woman and a Samaritan no less!]
  • Response to the “adulterous” woman—John 7:53-8:11 [vv. 3-5] (an authentic tradition, if not part of the original Gospel)
  • Response to the “sinful” woman who anointed him—Luke 7:36-50 [vv. 39ff]
  • Response to the woman who anointed him at Bethany—Mark 14:3-9 par in Matt [vv. 4-5]; in John 12:1-8 the woman is identified as Mary, sister of Lazarus (the precise relationship between the two version, as well as Lk 7:36-50, remains much debated). Later tradition conflated the two figures—Mary and the “sinful” woman—with Mary Magdalene (also healed by Jesus according to Lk 8:2, and cf. below).

3. Followers of Jesus

By all accounts, the first followers of Jesus (those called by him) were all men. This is certainly true with regard to his closest disciples, the circle of Twelve in early Gospel tradition (Mark 3:13-19 par; Acts 1:13, 16ff). These were the men whom Jesus sent out, on at least one occasion, to preach and work miracles in his name (Mk 6:7-12 / Matt 10:5-15 / Lk 9:1-6; 22:35ff). This is the fundamental meaning of the word apostle, from a)poste/llw (“set/send forth”); and the Twelve were closely identified with this title in early Tradition (Mk 3:14; 6:30 par; Lk 22:14; Acts 1:2, 25-26, etc). Luke records a separate tradition (or version) where Jesus sends out a group of 70 (or 72) disciples on a similar mission (10:1-12); most likely these also were men, though this has to be inferred from the context. This limitation of discipleship and missionary work to men may simply be a product of historical circumstance, since the idea of itinerant female preachers and healers traveling about would have been shocking indeed to the cultural sensibilities of the time. And yet, we do have at least one notice that there were women followers of Jesus, in Luke 8:1-3, where it is stated that Jesus passed through the cities and villages “proclaiming the good message of the kingdom of God…”

“…and the Twelve (together) with him, and (also) some women th(at) had been healed from evil spirits and infirmities… who served/ministered to them [i.e. Jesus and the Twelve] out of the (thing)s under their (control) [i.e. their goods/possessions]”

These women are identified as: (1) Maryam {Mary} called Magdalene, (2) Ioanna {Joanna} wife of Chuzas, (3) Susanna, as well as “many others”. It would seem that their service was more or less limited to material aid and support. This same tradition is confirmed by (and may actually derive from) the notice in Mark 15:40-41. Indeed, the women followers of Jesus play an important role in the Passion and Resurrection narratives, part of the earliest Gospel narrative, and attested variously in all four Gospels (the Synoptics and John):

  • There were women standing a distance away, watching the crucifixion of Jesus (Mark 15:40-41, par Matt 27:55-56; Luke 23:49; also John 19:25). It is said that they had come with Jesus from Galilee, where they had helped in the work of ministry (Mk 15:41, cf. above). Mark and Matthew single out three who will take part in the next episode—Mary Magalene, Mary mother of James (and Joses), and Salome. Luke likewise mentions the first two (Lk 24:10), while John records a different set of four (or three) women who stand nearby: Mary (Jesus’ mother), Mary’s sister and/or Mary wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
  • At least some of these women continued watching as Jesus was taken down from the cross, to see where he would be buried. Each of the Synoptics narrates this somewhat differently:
    Mark 15:47: Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of (James and) Joses saw where Jesus was buried
    Matt 27:61: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting opposite the tomb
    Lk 23:55-56: The women followed and saw where/how he was buried, then returned to prepare spices and ointment
  • According to Synoptic tradition, Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of James/Joses came early the next morning to see the tomb (Matt 28:1) and anoint the body (Mark 16:1-2; Lk 24:1). Mark mentions a third woman (Salome), while Luke may indicate the presence of others as well (Lk 24:10). The tradition(s) recorded in John differ in that Nicodemus brings the spices, etc to anoint Jesus before his burial (Jn 19:39-40) and Mary Magdalene is the only woman said to come to the tomb that morning (Jn 20:1ff).
  • The women (as variously mentioned): (a) see the empty tomb, (b) are greeted by angel(s) announcing the resurrection, and (c) encounter the resurrected Jesus. This common outline is old and reliable, but the specific details in the narrative (Mk 16:1-8, [9-11]; Matt 28:10; Luke 24:1-10; John 20:1-2, 11-18) vary to an astonishing degree, and are actually extremely difficult to harmonize intelligibly (for those who wish to do so).
  • The women (or certain of them) report the empty tomb and the resurrection to the other disciples, including the Twelve (Matt 28:10, 11, 16; Luke 24:9-12, 22-24; John 20:2ff, 17-18; [Mark 16:9-11]).

It can be said that Mary Magdalene (and other of the women) were the first to see the resurrected Jesus, and the first to preach the Gospel (i.e. announce the resurrection). Understandably, this has been a popular point to make by modern-day preachers, in relation to the question of the role of women in the Church. The point is dramatized even further by the tradition of the disbelief of the disciples (including the Twelve) at hearing the news ([Mark 16:11, 14]; Luke 24:11). This detail is likely to be authentic (on objective grounds), since the later tendency was to downplay anything which cast the apostles in a negative light (but see how it also enhances Peter’s role, Lk 24:12 cf. Jn 20:3ff).

According to Acts 1:14, women were together (along with Jesus’ mother Mary) with the Twelve in the ‘upper room’ following Jesus’ ascension, and may have been present (at the historical level) in the post-resurrection scenes in which Jesus addresses and commissions his followers (Matt 28:16-20; Luke 24:33-49, 50-53; John 20:19-29). Acts 1:4-11 seems to assume only the Twelve (Eleven), as also in Mark [16:14-20]. In 1 Cor 15:6, Paul mentions an appearance by Jesus to more than 500 disciples, which certainly would have included a good number of women (cf. below). Somewhat surprisingly, Mary Magdalene does not seem to be part of early Christian tradition (outside of the resurrection accounts) and is not mentioned in the book of Acts.

4. The Role of Mary, Jesus’ Mother

Of all the women in Christian Tradition, (the Virgin) Mary, mother of Jesus is by far the most prominent. And yet, it is quite surprising how little she appears in the earliest strands of tradition. In the core Synoptic tradition, she hardly appears at all, briefly in one episode (Mark 3:31ff par); otherwise, she is only mentioned in Mk 6:3 / Matt 13:55. She has a somewhat larger role in two scenes in the Gospel of John—the wedding at Cana (Jn 2:3-5) and with the women and the ‘Beloved’ disciple at the cross (Jn 19:25-27). The latter episode presumably has greater symbolic meaning, perhaps suggesting that Mary is now the “mother” of the disciples (i.e. the Church). Of course, she is central to the Infancy narratives in Matt 1-2 and Luke 1-2 (as well as in later extra-canonical Gospels), and this would be the primary basis for the subsequent Catholic/Orthodox veneration of Mary, already evidenced in the so-called Proto-Gospel (Protevangelium) of James (early-mid 2nd century).

It is the Lukan narrative in which Mary plays the most prominent role, in several significant scenes:

  • Lk 1:26-38—The Angelic announcement of Jesus’ coming conception (and birth), indicating how she has been favored by God (v. 30), and will be touched by the presence and power of God (vv. 35-37)
  • Lk 1:39-56—The visit to Elizabeth, who utters the inspired blessing (vv. 42-45), and which is the occasion/setting for the oracle by Mary (in a few MSS it is by Elizabeth), the so-called Magnificat (vv. 46-55)
  • Lk 2:1-20—The birth and visit of the Shepherds; most significant is the statement in verse 19 that Mary “kept all these utterances [i.e. by the shepherds, etc] (close) together, throwing (them) together in her heart”. This shows her in the process of considering the meaning and significance of Jesus’ birth and the wondrous events associated with it.
  • Lk 2:22-35ff—The encounter with Simeon set in the Temple precincts, in the context of fulfilling the purification ritual (following childbirth), etc (vv. 22-24). Such details are brought out, in part, to show the faithfulness/devotion of Joseph and Mary in religious matters (vv. 21, 39, 41ff, 51). A portion of Simeon’s oracle is directed to Mary (v. 35, cf. my earlier note for more detail).

We may also mention her role in 2:41-51, which contains at least one important point of emphasis—that Jesus’ natural (family) relations are subordinate to his relationship to God (the Father), cf. the juxtaposition in vv. 44, 46, 48, and Jesus’ famous statement in v. 49.

According to some commentators, Luke’s version of the episode in Mark 3:31-35 par has been (re)interpreted to show that Mary, along with Jesus’ natural family (brothers, etc), are among those who believe and follow him (cf. the separate note on Lk 8:19-21). Whether or not this view is correct, Mary is clearly depicted as a believer in Acts 1:14, where she appears together with the Twelve (Eleven) apostles, other women followers, and (notably) Jesus’ brothers (at least some of them). Interestingly, Mary is not mentioned by name elsewhere in the New Testament, being referenced only indirectly in Gal 4:4 (cf. also Rom 1:3), and possibly the scene in Revelation 12 (vv. 4b-6).

5. Women in Luke-Acts

Many scholars and commentators have noted that, generally, the Gospel of Luke gives more attention to women. In addition to the expanded role of Mary in the Infancy narratives, etc (cf. above), we may point out the following episodes or details unique to Luke:

  • The role of Elizabeth (Lk 1:5-7, 13, 18, 24-25, 36, 39-56, 57-60ff), set parallel to Mary (part of the wider John/Jesus parallel in the narrative); she, like her husband Zechariah (vv. 67-79) is “filled with the Holy Spirit” and utters a prophetic announcement (vv. 42-45). In a few manuscripts, she is also the one who delivers the Magnificat (vv. 46-55).
  • The mention and description of Anna (2:36-38), a (female) prophet, just as Simeon was inspired to utter a prophetic oracle. They both are aged figures, frequenting the Temple precincts, representative of the righteous/pious ones of Israel (i.e., the Old Covenant) who are looking forward to the coming redemption (vv. 25, 38).
  • Sayings, parables and healing miracles involving women (cf. above)—Lk 4:25-26; 7:11-17; 13:10-17; 15:8-10; 18:2-5. As indicated above (section 1), such episodes in the Gospel tradition tend to relate to human suffering and injustice, which often afflicts women who are in an especially vulnerable position (widows, etc). Luke gives greater emphasis to matters involving the poor/outcast and what today we would call social justice. To these we can add the scene of Jesus being anointed by a “sinful” woman (7:36-50), seemingly a parallel version or ‘doublet’ of Mark 14:3-9 par; John 12:1-8, but with many important differences. Note also the scene on the way to the cross in Lk 23:28-29.
  • References to Mary Magdalene and the other women who followed Jesus—Lk 8:1-3; 23:49, 55-56; 24:1-12, 22-24—which, for the most part, Luke inherited as part of the wider Gospel (and Synoptic) Tradition (cf. above).

When we turn to the book of Acts, right away we see women, including Jesus’ mother Mary, among the close followers of Jesus waiting together in Jerusalem, in the ‘upper room’ (Acts 1:13-14). Women are certainly to be counted among the 120 who are likewise gathered together (1:15ff), and present when the Spirit comes upon them all on the day of Pentecost (2:1-4ff). This interpretation of the scenario is confirmed by the use of Joel 2:28-32 in the great Pentecost sermon-speech by Peter which follows (2:14-36, vv. 17-21). In that Scripture God declares that (in the last days)

“…I will pour out from my Spirit upon all flesh and your sons and daughters will prophesy…”
“(yes,) even upon my (male) slaves and my (female) slaves will I pour out from my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy…”

The implication is clear: God gives out his Spirit upon all believers equally, male and female alike, regardless of socio-economic position (i.e., even upon slaves). The implications of this equality are not really followed through in the narrative of Acts, but they are dealt with, to some extent, by Paul in his letters (cf. the earlier articles in this series, esp. Parts 1 and 3 on 1 Cor 11:2-16 and Gal 3:28). The only female prophets specifically mentioned in the book of Acts are the daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9). There are also several passages where believers are distinctly referenced as “men and women” (5:14; 8:3, 12; 9:2; 22:4; cf. also 17:4, 12). These references should not be limited to men and their wives—they are unquestionably to be read in the more general sense of male and female believers. Several of the verses refer to men and women sharing together in the persecution faced by believers (8:3; 9:2; 22:4). Elsewhere in the narratives, there are a number of episodes where specific women are involved; in at least some of these, we can infer that they likely played a significant role in the spread of Christianity and the establishment of churches:

  • 9:36-42—The disciple Tabitha/Dorcas, who was healed from a serious illness by Peter
  • 12:12ff—Mary the mother of John Mark, whose house apparently was used as a meeting-place for believers (a house-church? cf. Rom 16:3; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15)
  • 16:11-15—Lydia, who along with other (prominent) women of Philippi, became believers during the missionary work of Paul and Silas (and Timothy, etc); she apparently hosted Paul and his companions in her house for a time (v. 15)
  • 17:34—Damaris, a woman specifically mentioned, apparently one of the few converts during Paul’s brief (and turbulent) stay in Athens
  • 18:2ff, 18, 26—Priscilla (or Prisca), with her husband Aquila, was a leader/minister in the churches of Corinth (1 Cor 16:19), Ephesus (cf. 2 Tim 4:19), and then (apparently) back in Rome (Rom 16:3). They hosted congregations in their house, and were close companions of Paul. Priscilla was a capable enough teacher in the faith to instruct Apollos “more accurately… (about) the Way [of God]” (Acts 18:26); the extent to which she may have done this in consort with her husband would seem to be of relatively little importance. However, it appears to have been troubling enough for the author/editor(s) of the “Western” version of Acts (D gig syr copsah arm al), that her name was either omitted from the text or placed after her husband’s (cf. the UBS/Metzger Textual Commentary [2nd edition], pp. 413-14). Some traditional-conservative commentators today might sense the same difficulty.

Note of the Day – June 5

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

No survey or study of the references to the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts is complete without some mention of the unique passages in the so-called ‘Western’ text of Acts. For those unfamiliar with the terminology, in New Testament textual criticism, ‘Western’ refers to manuscripts and versions which share a specific set of textual readings (or tendencies), distinct from other text-groupings (Alexandrian) and/or the ‘Majority’ text (the reading of the majority of manuscripts). In particular, it refers primarily to the readings common to the Codex Bezae [D] and a good number of Old Latin manuscripts. However the term “Western” is something of a misnomer, since ‘Western’ readings are also shared by various Greek MSS presumably covering a relatively wide/disparate geographical range, as well as by Syriac, Coptic (Egyptian), Georgian, etc, versions. While ‘Western’ readings are attested in the Gospels and other New Testament books, the distinctive readings in the book of Acts are extensive (and different) enough to constitute an entirely separate recension, or version, of the book. The relation of this recension to the Alexandrian/Majority text has been the topic of discussion and debate among commentators and textual scholars for decades. The ‘Western’ version is longer and more extensive, containing more (and more verbose) literary/historical detail, especially in the introductory and summary portions of the narrative episodes. Of the many theories scholars have put forward, the most noteworthy (and interesting) are:

  • The Alexandrian/Majority text is the original (or more closely so), while the ‘Western’ text represents a secondary expansion by scribes or an author/editor
  • The ‘Western’ text is closer to the original, while the Alexandrian/Majority text is a truncated or redacted version (by a later scribe or author/editor)
  • The original author (trad. Luke) produced two versions or drafts of the book, each of which (somehow) was published or came into circulation
  • The original work was incomplete, surviving in a draft form which included notes/annotations by the author; subsequent scribes/editors created the two versions working from this draft text

The last theory is especially intriguing and offers an attractive explanation for several especially difficult passages; however, it remains highly speculative. Most scholars today would opt for the first theory, that the ‘Western’ text is a secondary expansion. Generally, this would seem to be correct, since the scribal tendency was to expand/add to the text rather than reduce/omit from it—hence the text-critical rule of thumb lectio brevior potior (“the shorter reading is preferred”). Also, many of the longer narrative sections seem to have the purpose of clarifying the context in detail, to the point of becoming excessively redundant and pedantic.

Some scholars have also thought that the ‘Western’ version shows distinctive doctrinal/theological tendencies (including an anti-Jewish bias); this has been discussed in a number of studies, most notably in Eldon J. Epp, The Theological Tendency of Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis in Acts (Cambridge: 1966). One feature of the ‘Western’ version of Acts is an increased emphasis on the Holy Spirit—including at least 10 distinct references, in addition to the 50+ in the Alexandrian/Majority text. It has been argued that this difference is theological as well—e.g., (a) the ‘Western’ author/editor wished to give greater prominence to the role of the Spirit (perhaps under Montanist influence), or (b) the Alexandrian/Majority text may have wished to reduce the role of the Spirit due to an anti-charismatic (or anti-Montanist) tendency. Matthew Black expounds this latter point in his article “The Holy Spirit in the Western Text of Acts” (in New Testament Textual Criticism: Its Significance for Exegesis. Essays in Honor of Bruce M. Metzger, eds. Eldon J. Epp & Gordon D. Fee [Oxford: 1981], pp. 159-70). I find such theories to be rather unlikely. Most of what I see in the ‘Western’ version can be explained simply as the result of a tendency to clarify and (over)explain the narrative context. If anything, there may have been a pious interest to enhance the role and prestige of the apostles by including reference to the Holy Spirit whenever possible.

Below I summarize the unique/distinctive passages in the ‘Western’ text which mention the Holy Spirit. I have made use of Black’s study as it provides a convenient compilation of the passages (the Western ‘additions’ are in italics):

  • Acts 6:10 (of Stephen)—”and they did not have strength to stand against the wisdom th(at) was in him and the holy Spirit in which he spoke” (D et al). The shorter text could be taken to mean “the wisdom and spirit“, but the Western version makes clear that this is a reference to the (Holy) Spirit; also the phrase “that was in him” likely is meant to emphasize the divine inspiration which resides within the early believers through the presence of the Spirit. There is a similar variant involving the specific adjective “holy” in Acts 8:18.
  • Acts 8:38—”and when they stepped up out of the water, the holy Spirit fell upon the chamber-official, and the Messenger of the Lord snatched up Philip” (Ac 1739 [and other minuscules] p w, the Harclean Syriac, and other versions/witnesses). It is perhaps incorrect to categorize this as a ‘Western’ reading, since it covers a rather wide and diverse range of textual witnesses. As noted previously, baptism in the book of Acts is always connected with believers receiving the Spirit, so the lack of any such reference in the Majority text of 8:38 is somewhat unusual. This could easily be the reason why a scribe or editor might have added it here; but it also could be an argument in favor of the longer text.
  • Acts 11:17 (Peter speaking)—”who was I powerful (enough) to [i.e. how could I possibly] cut off [i.e. block/prevent] God (so as) not to give (the) holy Spirit to them, the (one)s trusting in Him?” (D p vgms syrh etc). The longer text is curious in that it seems to misunderstand the context and central issue of the narrative in Acts 10-11—the inclusion of Gentile believers as part of the Christian Community. I.e., since the Holy Spirit came upon them miraculously (as a work of God), they certainly should be allowed admission to baptism and entry into the Community. Possibly the sense of Peter’s words underlying the longer reading is, “If I could not prevent God from giving them His Spirit, how could we (other Jewish Christians) dare to prevent them from being baptized?”
  • Acts 15:7—”Peter, standing up in the [holy] Spirit, said…” (D et al)
    Acts 15:29 (The decree)—”…from which [i.e. the things prohibited in the decree] watching (over) yourselves carefully, you (will) perform well carrying (yourselves) in the holy Spirit” (D etc)
    Acts 15:32 (of Judas/Silas)—”…and they, being Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] full of (the) holy Spirit, called the brothers along [i.e. encouraged them] with many words” (D)
    These additions (if such they be) presumably were intended to enhance the status and Spirit-inspired character of the Jerusalem Council, so central to the book of Acts and the account of the early mission to the Gentiles.
  • Acts 19:1—”Paul was wishing to travel unto Jerusalem according to his own plan/counsel (but) the Spirit said to him to turn back into Asia, and coming through…” (Ë38 D syrh mg etc). This is an example of the more expansive narrative introductions typical of the Western text; here it emphasizes the Spirit’s direction (and intervention) in Paul’s travels.
  • Acts 20:3 (of Paul)—”he wished to take up sail into Syria but the Spirit said to him to turn back through Macedonia…” (D syrh mg etc). A similar expanded introduction emphasizing the guiding direction of the Spirit.
  • Acts 26:1—”then Paul stretched out the hand, giving an account of himself, {confident and receiving help/encouragement in/by the holy Spirit}…” (syrh mg [the underlying Greek text is uncertain])

For more on the ‘Western’ version of Acts, consult any reputable critical Commentary. One of the earliest (and best) is The Beginnings of Christianity (5 vols), eds. F. J. Foakes-Jackson and Kirsopp Lake (1920-33), also available from Biblesoft in electronic form. A popular, compact and very readable modern Commentary is that of J. A. Fitzmyer in the Anchor Bible [AB] series (Vol. 31, 1998). Cf. also the commentaries by E. Haenchen (Westminster/Oxford: 1971) and F. F. Bruce (Tyndale: 1951, and in the NICNT series, 1954/1988), among others. There is a convenient summary of the topic in the Metzger/UBS Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd edition), pp. 222-36.

Note of the Day – June 4

By | Note of the Day | No Comments
  1. The Spirit comes upon people, including (and especially) the primary association with baptism.
  2. The Spirit fills people, usually in the context of inspired (prophetic) speech
  3. The Spirit leads/guides people, including passages which use the specific phrase “in the Spirit”

Today I am exploring the last of the three principal themes involving the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts, listed above.

Guided/Led by the Spirit (“in the Spirit”)

This theme is already set in the portion of the Infancy Narrative involving Simeon, who, like John and his parents (Zechariah/Elizabeth) are transitional figures in the Gospel—representing the end of the old covenant and the beginning of the new. In Lk 2:27, it is said that Simeon “came into the Temple in the Spirit [e)n tw=| pneu/mati]”—this presumably indicates a state of inspiration (cf. vv. 25-26 and the oracles in vv. 29-32, 34-35), but also that he was led into the Temple at just the right moment to encounter the child Jesus. This idea is expressed much more clearly in the case of Jesus himself, at the beginning of his ministry. Previously, I have noted the precise way the references to the Spirit help to structure the narrative in chapters 3-4:

  • Lk 3:22—The Holy Spirit came down upon [e)pi/] him (Baptism/Anointing)
    • Lk 4:1a—He turned back [u(pe/streyen] full of the Spirit
      • Lk 4:1b-2in the Spirit in the desert—being led by the Spirit—testing by the Devil
    • Lk 4:14—He turned back [u(pe/streyen] in the power of the Spirit
  • Lk 4:18—The Spirit of the Lord is upon [e)pi/] him (Anointing)

Note especially the three central references to Jesus being led by the Spirit:

  • full of the holy Spirit he turned back…” (v. 1a)
  • “and he was led [h&geto] in the Spirit [e)n tw=| pneu/mati] in the desolate (land)” (v. 1b)
  • “he turned back in the power of the Spirit…” (v. 14)

Clearly, the Spirit is understood as guiding and directing Jesus’ steps. Elsewhere in the Gospel, the Spirit’s guidance is related to inspired speech (proclamation), in two respects:

  • The source of inspiration (“in the Spirit”):
    “In that same hour, he [i.e. Jesus] lept for joy [i.e. rejoiced] in the [holy] Spirit and said…” (Lk 10:21)
  • Inspiration as teaching:
    (Jesus to his disciples): “…for (the) holy Spirit will teach you in that hour the (thing)s which it is necessary for you to say” (Lk 12:12)

These principal aspects of the Spirit’s guiding power continue, being developed in the book of Acts:

  • Acts 1:2—Jesus gave commands/instruction to his disciples through the Holy Spirit before he was taken up into heaven
  • Acts 2:4—The disciples speak in “other tongues” as the Spirit gave to them the ability to speak forth; this prefigures the believers fulfilling a role similar to the inspired Prophets of old (cf. Acts 1:16; 4:8, 25, 31; 11:28; 21:11; 28:25, etc). Speaking in foreign tongues also symbolizes the mission of the disciples out into the wider Greco-Roman (Gentile) world.
  • The Spirit gives direct communication to the disciples/apostles, especially in regard to the mission to the Gentiles—Acts 8:29; 10:44; 11:12; 13:2; 15:28
  • Acts 8:29ff—The Spirit guides and directs Philip in his missionary travels:
    —”And the Spirit said to Philip…” (v. 29), directing him to the Ethiopian official
    —”And when they stepped up out of the water, (the) Spirit of the Lord snatched (up) Philip and the (Ethiopian) chamber-official did not see him any longer” (v. 39)
  • Acts 13:2ff—The Spirit similarly provides guidance to Paul (and Barnabas, etc) throughout his journeys, cf. especially Acts 13:4; 16:6-7; 19:21; 20:22-23; 21:4, 11.
  • As a related (secondary) theme, we should mention references to the Spirit in the specific context of persecution or opposition, etc, to the disciples’ preaching and missionary work—Acts 4:31; 5:3, 9; 6:10; 7:51; 8:18ff; 13:9; cf. Luke 12:10-12.

In regard to these references, it is worth noting that the role of the Spirit takes on even greater prominence in the so-called “Western” version of the book of Acts, which I will discuss in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – June 3

By | Note of the Day | No Comments
  1. The Spirit comes upon people, including (and especially) the primary association with baptism.
  2. The Spirit fills people, usually in the context of inspired (prophetic) speech
  3. The Spirit leads/guides people, including passages which use the specific phrase “in the Spirit”

In the previous day’s note, I discussed the first of the three principal themes involving the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts, listed above. In the next two daily notes, I will be looking at the last two in turn.

Filled with/by the Spirit

This image (and vocabulary) is virtually unique to Luke-Acts in the New Testament; indeed, of the 24 occurrences of the verb plh/qw / pi/mplhmi (“fill [up]”), all but 22 are in Luke-Acts. There are 9 instances where people are said to be “filled” by the Spirit, and another 5 where they are said to be “full” of the Spirit (using the related adjective plh/rh$):

  • Luke 1:15 (of John)—”he will be filled [plhsqh/setai] by the holy Spirit” before he has even come out of his mother’s womb
  • Luke 1:41 (of Elizabeth)—”and Elisheba was filled [e)plh/sqh] by the holy Spirit…”
    Luke 1:67 (of Zechariah)—”and Zacharyah was filled [e)plh/sqh] by the holy Spirit…”
  • Luke 4:1 (of Jesus)—”And Yeshua, full [plh/rh$] of the Spirit, turned back…”
  • Acts 2:4 (of believers)—”and they all were filled [e)plh/sqhsan] by the holy Spirit…” (cf. also vv. 2, 13)
  • Acts 4:8 (of Peter)—”Then (the) Rock {Peter}, filled [plhsqei/$] by the holy Spirit, said…”
  • Acts 4:31 (of believers)—”…and they all (together) were filled [e)plh/sqhsan] by the holy Spirit…”
  • Acts 6:3 (of the Seven [incl. Stephen])—”…seven (who are) full [plh/rei$] of (the) Spirit and wisdom…”
  • Acts 6:5 (of Stephen)—”…a man full [plh/rh$] of trust [i.e. faith] and the holy Spirit”
  • Acts 7:55 (of Stephen)—”but being (in a state) full [plh/rh$] of the holy Spirit…”
  • Acts 9:17 (of Paul)—(Ananias): “…so that you might see again and be filled [plhsqh=|$] by the holy Spirit”
  • Acts 11:24 (of Barnabas)—”…he was a good man and full [plh/rh$] of the holy Spirit and trust [i.e. faith]”
  • Acts 13:9 (of Paul)—”But Shaûl, the one also (called) Paulus, filled [plhsqei/$] by the holy Spirit…”
  • Acts 13:52 (of believers)—”and the learners [i.e. disciples] were filled [e)plhrou=nto] with joy/delight and the holy Spirit”

In many, if not most of these instances, the filling by the Spirit produces inspired (prophetic) speech, just as the Prophets of Israel where inspired by God to speak. This is certainly the case with Zechariah and Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s parents, who each utter prophetic oracles (Lk 1:41ff, 67ff). It is said specifically of John the Baptist that he would have the spirit/power of a Prophet (i.e. Elijah, Lk 1:17, 76ff), which would be the source of the preaching/proclamation in his ministry (Lk 1:80; 3:2-3ff). Similarly, Jesus begins his public ministry with an inspired address in the synagogue at Nazareth, in which he identifies himself as the Anointed Prophet/herald of Isaiah 61:1ff (Lk 4:16-21ff). For the first believers, the filling of the Spirit was also principally for the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel, especially in the face of persecution (cf. Lk 12:11-12; 21:12-15 par). It would give to their proclamation a divine authority and power, both to bring about repentance and conversion but also it would also allow believers to resist the attacks of their opponents (Acts 4:8ff, 31; 6:10; 13:9, etc), just as Jesus withstood temptation by the Devil (Lk 4:1-13, 14).

The basic idea of filling comes originally from the fundamental meaning of pneu=ma (“spirit”) as “breath” or “wind” (cf. Acts 2:2, 4). However, the image of the Spirit as water is also clearly at work, in light of the central association with baptism. We see a play on the idea of believers filled with liquid in Acts 2:13; however, in Luke-Acts we do not find the symbolism of drinking associated with the Spirit as we do in the Gospel of John (Jn 4:7-15, 23-24; 6:53-55, 63; 7:37-39). In the account of Jesus giving the Spirit to his disciples in Jn 20:22, it is said that he “breathed in(to)” them, perhaps alluding to the creation account (Gen 2:7); in any case, it is certainly parallel to Acts 2:2-4, where the believers are filled by the Wind/Breath (Spirit) of God. We also find in Luke-Acts influence of the Old Testament/Jewish traditional imagery of being filled by Wisdom—i.e. the Wisdom of God—Lk 2:40; Acts 6:3 (cf. also Acts 6:5, 8; 9:36; 11:24). For the theme in the Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom literature, cf. Isa 11:9; 44:3; Psalm 107:9; Prov 3:19-20; 9:5; 18:4; Wisdom 1:7; Sirach 1:16; 2:16; 15:3; 17:7; 24:21; 39:6, 12, etc.

Note of the Day – June 2

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

Having discussed the Holy Spirit in the Lukan Infancy narrative in the previous daily note, today I will begin a short survey of how the theme/idea of the Spirit is used and developed throughout Luke-Acts. Luke has more specific references to the Spirit than any of the other Gospels (17/18 in Luke, compared with 6 in Mark, 12 in Matthew, and 15 in John), along with more than 50 occurrences in the book of Acts. These Spirit references can, I think, be divided into three basic categories:

  1. The Spirit comes upon people, including (and especially) the primary association with baptism.
  2. The Spirit fills people, usually in the context of inspired (prophetic) speech
  3. The Spirit leads/guides people, including passages which use the specific phrase “in the Spirit”

Like a developing musical motif, these three aspects are found in conjunction already in the early passages of the Gospel, in the Infancy narratives and at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry:

The Infancy narratives

  • The Holy Spirit comes upon Mary (Lk 1:35, “will come upon you”)
  • John and his parents are filled by the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:15, 41, 67); in the case of Zechariah and Elizabeth, this filling leads directly to an inspired (poetic) oracle
  • Simeon is led in the Spirit (Lk 2:27, cf. also vv. 25-26)

Similarly, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry

  • The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus at the baptism (Lk 3:22, cf. also 4:18ff)
  • Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit following the baptism (Lk 4:1a)
  • Jesus is led in the (power of the) Spirit (Lk 4:1b, 14)

I begin with the theme of the Holy Spirit coming upon Jesus and believers, etc. The first such reference is found in the Angel’s annunciation to Mary (Lk 1:35, cf. the previous note). This prophecy is similar in many ways to the declaration by Jesus in Acts 1:8, with each announcement holding a comparable place in the Gospel and Acts, respectively:

  • The Angel to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon [e)peleu/setai e)pi] you”—which will result in the miraculous birth of Jesus
  • Jesus to his disciples: “you will receive…(at) the Holy Spirit’s coming upon [e)pelqo/nte$ e)pi] you” [i.e. when the Holy Spirit comes upon you]—which will result in the supernatural ‘new birth’ of the disciples (cf. Jn 1:12-13; 3:3-8)

Again, there is a clear parallel between Jesus and the disciples in the context of Baptism (Lk 3:16; Acts 1:5):

  • Jesus: “…the Holy Spirit stepping [i.e. coming] down in bodily appearance as a dove upon [e)pi] him”—baptism by John in water (Lk 3:22)
  • Disciples: “…tongues appeared as fire and sat (down) upon [e)pi] each one of them” (and they were all filled by the Holy Spirit)—baptism (by Jesus) in the Holy Spirit and fire (Acts 2:3-4)

For a detailed study of the Pentecost scene in Acts 2:1-4, cf. my earlier series of articles. On the saying that Jesus would baptize believers in the Holy Spirit (and fire), cf. this discussed in several of the previous notes. In addition to the association with baptism (i.e. the Spirit as water), there is also the fundamental association with anointing (i.e. the Spirit poured out on the chosen one[s] as oil). Luke gives greater emphasis to this than do the other Gospels, especially in the scene at Nazareth set at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Lk 4:14ff), where Jesus specifically identifies himself with the Anointed herald of Isaiah 61:1ff: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon [e)pi] me, for (the sake) of which He anointed [e&xrisen] me…” (Lk 4:18-21ff). This passage is central to the idea of Jesus as the Anointed One [Christ/Messiah] in early Gospel Tradition (cf. Lk 7:19-23; par Matt 11:2-6, note also Matt 12:18 citing a different Isaian passage [Isa 42:1-3]), as I have discussed in detail elsewhere. The anointing of Jesus with the Holy Spirit is tied to his Baptism in Acts 10:38.

These two motifs—water (baptism) and oil (anointing)—are also combined in the image of the Spirit being “poured out” on believers in the book of Acts. The primary passage, of course, is the Pentecost speech by Peter in which Joel 2:28-32 is quoted, especially the key phrase (doubled in poetic parallel):

I will pour out [e)kxew=] from my Spirit
—upon [e)pi] all flesh…
—(yes,) even upon [e)pi] my (male) slaves and upon [e)pi] my (female) slaves
I will pour out [e)kxew=] from my Spirit in those days…” (Acts 2:17-18 / Joel 2:28-29)

This language is repeated in Acts 2:33; 10:45. The gift of the Holy Spirit coming on believers is usually connected with baptism in some way throughout the narratives in Acts (see the wording in Acts 2:38), though clearly as a distinct event:

  • In Acts 8:12-17, believers receive the Spirit subsequent to being baptized, through the laying on of hands by the Apostles (vv. 15-17)—cf. also Acts 19:2-6.
  • In Acts 10:44-48 (and 11:15-16), the Spirit comes upon believers prior to their being baptized, following the preaching of Peter

In both of these passage the sudden, dramatic experience of receiving the Spirit is described with the verb e)pipi/ptw (“fall [down] upon”)—”as Peter was yet speaking these words, the holy Spirit fell upon [e)pe/pesen e)pi] all the (one)s hearing…” (Acts 10:44, cf. 11:15). As in the case of Mary and Jesus (cf. above), the coming of the Spirit “upon” [e)pi] believers indicates the presence and power of God which has come near, transforming their entire life and being. It should be understood as the first, primary stage—the first of the three motifs listed above. The presence of the Spirit upon a person is necessarily prior to the filling and inspired leading/guiding by the Spirit. We also see this illustrated (and prefigured) in the brief account of Simeon in Luke 2:25-27:

  • The Holy Spirit was upon [e)pi] him (v. 25)
  • A special revelation was given to him by [lit. under] the Spirit regarding the Messiah (Christ) (v. 26)
  • He came (i.e. was led) in [e)n] the Spirit into the Temple (v. 27), where he encounters the child Jesus
  • He utters a pair of (inspired) oracles, prophesying as to the child’s future (vv. 29-32, 34-35)

Note of the Day – April 4

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

This is the last in the series of daily notes for Easter Season, during which we have explored the Son of Man sayings of Jesus in the Gospels of Luke and John. Today’s note is on Acts 7:55-56—the last Son of Man verse in Luke-Acts, and one of only four occurrences of the expression “Son of Man” outside of the Gospels (the others being Heb 2:6 [quoting Ps 8:4ff] and Rev 1:13; 14:14 [referring to Dan 7:13]).

Acts 7:55-56

Most of the Son of Man sayings in Luke relate either to: (1) Jesus’ suffering and death, or (2) his exaltation to Glory (and future return in Judgment). As I have previously discussed, the use of “son of man” in the first instance would seem to identify Jesus specifically with humankind in its mortality (weakness, suffering and death); in the second, he identifies himself as the Divine/Heavenly figure (of Daniel 7:13ff) who will appear at the end-time Judgment by God. These two aspects of the expression “Son of Man” are present during the night of Jesus’ arrest and “trial” before the Sanhedrin (Lk 22:22, 48 and Lk 22:69), and also in the Angelic announcement of Lk 24:7 where the predictions of Jesus’ Passion (Lk 9:22, 44-45; 18:31-33) are connected with the Resurrection.

When we turn to the book of Acts, the theme of Jesus’ suffering (and death) continues—both with regard to the message that is proclaimed by the disciples (Acts 1:16; 2:23ff; 3:13-15, 17-18; 4:10, 27-28; 5:30 etc), and as a pattern for their own experience of suffering and persecution (cf. throughout chapters 3-7), predicted by Jesus himself (Lk 12:11-12; 21:12-19). So also the theme of Jesus’ exaltation (cf. below). Acts 7:55-56 represents the climactic moment of the Stephen narrative, which spans chapters 6-7:

  • 6:1-7: Introduction, setting the stage for the conflict
  • 6:8-15: The conflict with Stephen, including his arrest and appearance before the Sanhedrin
  • 7:1-60: The Sermon-Speech and Execution of Stephen
    • 7:1: The question of the High Priest to Stephen, which serves as the immediate narrative introduction to the Speech
    • 7:2-53: The Sermon-Speech of Stephen (for a detailed examination of this speech, cf. my earlier article)
    • 7:54-60: The response to the Speech and Execution of Stephen
  • 8:1a: Transitional verse, mentioning Saul/Paul’s role in the execution
  • 8:1b-4: Narrative summary describing the onset of Persecution (led by Saul)

Of the three major scenes in Acts which show the early believers in conflict with the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 4:1-22; 5:17-42), it is the Stephen narrative which most clearly follows the pattern of Jesus’ Passion. The parallels (some more precise than others) may be outlined as follows:

  • Stephen was “full of faith/trust and the Holy Spirit” and “full of the favor (of God) and power” (Acts 6:5, 8)
    —Jesus likewise, at the beginning of his ministry (Lk 4:1), was said to be “full of the Holy Spirit”; cf. also Lk 4:14 and Lk 1:15, 17; 2:40.
  • Stephen did “great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8)
    —Cf. especially the notice of Jesus’ miracles in Acts 2:22
  • It is stated that Stephen’s opponents “did not have strength to stand against the wisdom and the Spirit in which he spoke” (Acts 6:10)
    —Cf. Luke 20:26, etc; 21:15
  • The accusation of blasphemy (i.e. insult/slander against God) (Acts 6:11)
    —The declaration of the High Priest (Mark 14:64 par), implied in Lk 22:71
  • Stephen’s opponents “stirred together” the crowds etc. against him (Acts 6:12)
    —The Jewish authorities “shook up” the crowds against Jesus (Mark 15:11, not in Luke)
  • “They seized him and led him into the Sanhedrin” (Acts 6:12b)
    —Cf. Luke 22:52, 54, 66; 23:1, also the specific mention of “Elders and Scribes” (Lk 22:66)
  • False witnesses give testimony, involving the Temple (Acts 6:13)
    —False witnesses against Jesus rel. to the “Temple-saying” (Mark 14:57-59 par, not in Luke)
  • The claim that Jesus would destroy the Temple (Acts 6:14)
  • Stephen stands in the middle of the Council (cf. Luke 22:66)
  • The question by the High Priest regarding the truth of the accusations (Acts 7:1)
    —The specific question in Mark 14:60 par (not in Luke); cf. also Mk 14:61 par; Lk 22:67, 70
  • Stephen’s vision of the Son of Man (Acts 7:55-56)
    —Jesus’ answer to the Council regarding the Son of Man (Lk 22:69 par; in Matt/Mark, seeing the Son of Man)
  • The reaction of the Council (including tearing their garments) (Acts 7:52; Mark 14:63-64 par, cf. Lk 22:71)
  • Stephen is taken outside of the city to be put to death (Acts 7:58, cf. Lk 23:26, 33)
  • Stephen’s dying words: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59)
    —Jesus’ dying words: “Father, into your hands I place [i.e. give] along my spirit” (Lk 23:46)
  • Stephen asks God to forgive those putting him to death: “Do not hold up this sin against them” (Acts 7:60)
    —Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness on the cross (Lk 23:34 [not in some MSS])
  • After Stephen’s death “there came to be… a great persecution upon the Church” (Acts 8:1)
    —After Jesus’ death “there came to be darkness upon the whole land” (Luke 23:44)

From a narrative standpoint, these parallels illustrate vividly the disciple following in Jesus’ footsteps, even to the point of death (Lk 5:11, 27-28; 9:23, 57-62; 18:22, 28; 21:12-19; 22:39, 54; 23:27, 49 pars; cf. also Mk 10:38-40, etc). Let us compare specifically the Son of Man parallel:

Jesus’ saying (Lk 22:69):

“From now on, the Son of Man will be sitting out of [i.e. on/at] the right hand of the power of God”

The formula in Mark/Matthew is:

“[From now] you will see the Son of Man sitting out of [i.e. on/at] the right hand of the Power, and coming with/upon the clouds of Heaven

The declaration by Stephen (in Acts 7:56) is:

“I behold the heavens opening through and the Son of Man standing out of [i.e. on/at] the right hand of God

The preceding narrative in verse 55 adds the following details: (1) he saw the glory of God, and (2) Jesus is specifically identified as the Son of Man (“Jesus standing at the right hand of God”).

The use of the verb dianoi/gw (“open through[out], open thoroughly”) is interesting, as it appears to be a favorite of Luke’s—7 of the 8 occurrences in the New Testament are in Luke-Acts, and five of these refer to the knowledge and awareness of Jesus, and of coming to faith, etc. Note:

  • Luke 24:31—”and their eyes were opened through [dihnoi/xqhsan] and they knew upon [i.e. recognized] him…”
  • Luke 24:32—”Were our hearts not burning [i.e. being set on fire] [in us] as he spoke with us in the way, as he opened through [dih/noigen] to us the Writings [i.e. Scriptures]?”
  • Luke 24:45—”Then he [i.e. Jesus] opened through [dih/noicen] their mind for th(eir) bringing together the Writings [i.e. understanding the Scriptures]”
  • Acts 16:14—”a certain woman {Lydia}… of whom the Lord opened through [dih/noicen] (her) heart”
  • Acts 17:3—Paul gathered through [i.e. discussed, argued] with them from the Scriptures, “opening through [dianoi/gwn]…that it was necessary for the Anointed (One) to suffer and stand up (again) out of the dead, and that this Yeshua is the Anointed (One)…” (cf. Luke 9:22; 24:7, 26, 46)

The early chapters of Acts (chs. 1-7) are still connected in many ways with the Gospel narrative, so it is fitting perhaps that they close with this vision by Stephen of the Son of Man, a fulfillment of the sayings by Jesus such as that in Luke 22:69. His vision confirms the reality of Jesus’ exaltation to heaven (at the right hand of God) and of his identity as the divine/heavenly Son of Man. Christ’s presence in heaven at God’s right hand was a common motif in early Christian tradition (Acts 2:25, 33ff; 5:31; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; 1 Pet 3:22; Heb 1:3, etc), largely influenced by Psalm 110:1 (Acts 2:34; Heb 1:13). The remainder of the book (chapters 8-28), on the other hand, narrates the spread of Christianity outside of Judea, out into the wider Greco-Roman world, and thus focuses more precisely on the message (the Gospel) of Jesus, and how people respond to it. If Stephen saw a vision of heaven “opened”, that is, the revelation of God in the person of Jesus, so also do believers have their hearts and minds “opened” to the truth, and, in turn, proclaim the message of Christ to others, “opening” and explaining the Scriptures.

Note of the Day – March 30

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

Today’s note for Good Friday continues the series of notes on the Son of Man sayings in the Gospel of Luke. There are no occurrences of the expression “Son of Man” (ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) in the account of Jesus’ trial and death in Luke 23, nor in the Synoptic tradition, but there are several instances where the expression “this man” (a&nqrwpo$ ou!to$) is used, and these are especially significant in the Lukan context.

Luke 23:4, 14, 41, 47

The expression “this man” (a&nqrwpo$ ou!to$), or “this (one)” (ou!to$), occurs 5 times in four key verses, all of which specifically relate to Jesus’ innocence:

  • V. 4—Pilate states: “I do not find any cause (for guilt) in this man
  • V. 14—Pilate again: “I did not find any cause (for guilt) in this man
    • —contrasted with the Jewish authorities: “You brought this man to me… you spoke out [i.e. brought a charge] against him”
  • V. 41—Man on cross: “This (man) has not done anything without place [i.e. out of place, improper]”
    • —contrasted with the two on the cross, who have been judged/sentenced rightly/justly [dikai/w$]
  • V. 48: Centurion: “This man (truly/really) was just [di/kaio$]”

The first two instances use the substantive ai&tion (“cause”)—Pilate find no cause or basis for guilt in Jesus, even after examination; that is to say, Jesus is innocent of the accusation brought against him (vv. 1-3). The last two refer specifically to justice (using di/kaio$/dikai/w$)—not only was Jesus innocent, he was also just or righteous. This appears again in the use of the title “Just/Righteous One” (o( di/kaio$) of Jesus in Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14.

In addition, there are two important aspects to this expression, represented by the two words or elements which comprise it:

“This (one)” (ou!to$)—The use of the demonstrative pronoun becomes a way of referring to Jesus in the early Gospel proclamation (kerygma) as recorded in the sermon-speeches of the book of Acts:

  • “This Jesus”—in Acts 1:11; 2:32, 36; 6:14; 17:3
  • “This (one)”—in Acts 2:23; 13:38-39

Note also:

  • “This man” (‘the blood of this man’, cf. above)—Acts 5:28
  • “This name”—Acts 4:10, 17; 5:28; 9:21
  • “This Moses” (Jesus/Moses parallel)—Acts 7:35, 37-38, 40

It indicates that it is specifically Jesus, in the context of his death and resurrection, in whom healing and salvation may be found.

“Man” (a&nqrwpo$)—The specific usage in Luke 23 is almost certainly an intentional echo of the Son of Man sayings related to his suffering and death, especially the Passion predictions by Jesus in Luke 9:22, 43-45; 18:31-34 (cf. the earlier notes on these–March 10, 15, 25). I have argued that in the use of “son of man” in such a context, Jesus is identifying himself with the human condition, in terms of mortality—i.e. weakness, suffering and death. Note, in particular, the Lukan version of the second Passion prediction (in 9:43b-45) with its precise parallel “son of man”–”men”:

“the Son of Man is about to be given over into the hands of men” (v. 44b)

The importance of the Son of Man in the Passion narrative has already been discussed (cf. the previous two notes), where the two main aspects of its association with Jesus are emphasized:

  1. The suffering (and death) of the Son of Man—Lk 22:22, 48
  2. His coming in glory as end-time Judge—Lk 22:69

The occurrence of “this man” in Lk 23:4, 14 (above) has a parallel in the Gospel of John:

  • John 18:29—”What charge do you bring against this man?”
  • John 19:5—”See—the man!”

In the latter reference, Pilate brings Jesus out (after the flogging) “…so that you may know that I find no cause (for guilt) in him” (cf. Lk 23:4, 14). The declaration in v. 5 may indicate contempt and ridicule, or even pity. However, it is also possible that, from the standpoint of the Gospel writer, there is a Messianic allusion (of sorts) at a deeper level for early believers. Consider the interesting parallel with Zechariah 6:12:

i)dou\ o( a&nqrwpo$ (“See—the man”)
i)dou\ a)nh/r (“See—a man”) [Zech 6:12 LXX]

Zech 6:11-12 is definitely a passage that would have been understood in a Messianic sense at the time of Jesus, based on evidence from the Qumran texts and other Jewish writings of the period. The key phrase is omv= jm^x# vya! hN@h! (“See, the man—’Sprout’ [is] his name”), cf. also in Zech 3:8. The Hebrew jm^x# refers to something springing up, i.e. a sprout (from the ground) or a branch (from the root of a tree). The use of the term in association with prophecies regarding David in Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15 (cf. also Isa 11:1) proved to be influential on Messianic thought and expression. The Messianic title “Sprout/Branch of David” [dw]d* jm^x#] appears 5 times in three different texts from Qumran. In the Septuagint (LXX) of Zech 6:12, the Hebrew vm^x# is translated literally by a)natolh/ (“springing up”), related to the verb a)nate/llw, which also occurs in this verse (a)natelei=, translating Hebrew jm*x=y]). As it happens, there is another important text where a)natolh//a)nate/llw is connected with the coming of a Man—Numbers 24:17:

“a Star will march (forth) from Jacob, and a Staff will stand (up) [i.e. arise] from Israel”
which, in the LXX, reads—
“a Star will spring/rise up [a)natelei=] out of Jacob, and a Man [a&nqrwpo$] will stand up out of Israel”

Balaam’s prophecy of the Star and the Staff was a prime Messianic text in the 1st-century B.C./A.D. (see the current series “Yeshua the Anointed”), though, interestingly, it was not applied to Jesus in the New Testament, apart from a possible allusion in Matt 2:1-12.

The “man” of Zech 6:12 is also associated with building the Temple (“…and he will build the temple/palace of YHWH”), which creates another connection with Jesus’ death and the Passion narrative:

  • An accusation against Jesus during his appearance before the Sanhedrin involved a reported saying that he would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days (Mk 14:58 / Matt 26:61, cf. also Acts 6:14). Mark and Matthew attribute this to false testimony, however, John records a similar saying by Jesus (Jn 2:19). Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple (Mk 13:1-2 par) also has a Passion setting in the Synoptic narrative.
  • The Temple-saying in Jn 2:19, along with the exposition in vv. 21-22, interprets the destruction and rebuilding of the Temple in terms of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Finally, we might also note another eschatological reference to “the man”, similar in some respects to Jesus’ usage of the title “Son of Man” in Lk 22:69 etc—namely, Acts 17:31:

“(God) has set [lit. made stand] a day in which he will [lit. is about to] judge the inhabited (world) in justice [dikaiosu/nh], in a man that he has (already) marked out [i.e. appointed, ordained], holding along as a trust (of this for us), standing him up [i.e. raising him] out of the dead”

In other words, Jesus is the man through whom God will judge the world at the end-time (i.e. the coming “Son of Man”); the sign/proof of this is that God has raised him from the dead (and exalted him to His right hand). Interestingly, we find in Acts 17, both aspects of the Son of Man outlined above:

  • This Jesus, the Anointed (One), who I announce to you…” (v. 3)
    —”the Anointed (One)…to suffer and to rise from the dead
  • The man through whom God is about to Judge the world, having raised him from the dead (v. 31)

It is the supreme paradox of the Gospel message and narrative that in Jesus, at the moment he his most fully identified with humankind and human weakness—at the time of his humiliation, suffering and death—we also find a declaration of his divine status and glory, both aspects being wrapped up in the powerful and challenging expression “the Son of Man”.

For more on the associations related to Zech 6:12 etc, above, cf. R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 29A), p. 876.

Note of the Day – December 30

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

In the previous note, I looked at Acts 2:29-36 (the last section of Peter’s Pentecost sermon) from the standpoint of the earliest Christian view of Jesus—focusing on the Christological statement in verse 36 and citation of Psalm 110:1 in vv. 34-35. Today, I turn to another major sermon-speech in Acts: that by Paul in Acts 13:16-41. As I have discussed earlier, in my series of articles on the Speeches in the book of Acts, these sermon-speeches by Peter and Paul are remarkably similar in many respects, both in terms of structure and content. Verses 26-41 form the major Christological/kerygmatic section of the speech, parallel to 2:29-36; similarly, this section contains a principal Scripture passage from the Psalms, Ps 2:7, parallel to Ps 110:1—both of which represent key “Messianic” prophecies applied to Jesus.

Acts 13:26-41

Here there is a similar identification of Jesus as Savior and (Messianic) descendant of David in verse 23:

“of this (man)’s [i.e. David’s] seed [tou/toua)po\ tou= spe/rmato$]… a Savior, Yeshua [swth=ra  )Ihsou=n]”

Verse 26 emphasizes again the Gospel as the message of salvation (“the account/word of salvation”, o( lo/go$ th=$ swthri/a$). The centrality of the resurrection is also clear, in vv. 30ff, but also (perhaps) within verse 23:

“of this (man)’s seed, God, according to (His) announcement/promise, led/brought (forth) to Yisrael a Savior Yeshua”

There are two elements which are italicized above:

  • kata\ e)paggeli/an (“according to [his] announcement/promise”)—which should be understood according to three aspects in early Christian thought:
    • God’s promise(s) to Abraham and “the Fathers”, i.e. to Israel—the covenant, including the promised land
    • The (Messianic) promise of salvation/restoration—realized in the person and work of Jesus
    • The Holy Spirit specifically as the “promise of God” (cf. Acts 1:4; 2:33; Gal 3:14)
    • —all three aspects come together in Acts 2:39; 13:32; Rom 1:2; Gal 3:14ff, etc
  • h&gagen tw=|  )Israh/l (“he led/brought [forth] to Israel”)—this primarily refers to the appearance of Jesus and the beginning of his ministry; however, a number of manuscripts read h&geiren (“he raised”) instead of h&gagen, perhaps influenced by the presence of this verb in v. 22.

In verse 32, the promise of God (to the Fathers) is connected more specifically to the resurrection, as indicated by the Scripture citations which follow, beginning with Psalm 2:7:

“…that God has fulfilled this to us [their] offspring, making Yeshua stand up (again) [i.e. raising Jesus], even as it has been written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my Son, I have caused you to be (born) this day'” (v. 33)

The chain of references helps to illustrate how the speaker/author understood Ps 2:7:

  • “Son” of God (“My Son”)
    —Davidic heir (v. 34, Isa 55:3)
    —Holy One (of God) (v. 35, Ps 16:10)—connection with David (the Psalmist)

There is a similar associative matrix in Acts 2:29-36 (drawing upon the earlier citation of Ps 16:8-11 in vv. 25-28):

  • “Lord” (ku/rio$)—connection with YHWH, God the Father (vv. 25, 34, Ps 16:8; 110:1)
    —Descendent/offspring of David (v. 30)
    —Holy One (of God) (v. 27, Ps 16:10)

With the use of Ps 2:7 in Acts 13:32ff, there is evidence of a transition having taken place between:

  1. The original context of Psalm 2, and
  2. Its application to Jesus as an exalted/divine figure

Originally, the 2nd Psalm referred to the (human) king as God’s “son” in a symbolic or ritual sense, the setting of the Psalm (as with Ps 110) being the coronation/inauguration/enthronement of the (new) king. Israel shared this basic idea as part of the thought-world of the Ancient Near East, where exalted/divine imagery and epithets were frequently applied to rulers; at times, kings were thought to achieve a divine status, at least after death. Only in the royal theology of Egypt do we find anything like Divine Sonship ascribed to rulers in the metaphysical sense. Certainly in ancient Israel, this “sonship” was only symbolic, tied to the idea of God’s covenantal protection of the ruler; even so, reference to it in Scripture is rare, limited mainly to several key passages—especially Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel 7:8-16. In the latter passage, the context is a promise (by God) regarding the Davidic line and kingdom, which we also see expressed in Psalm 89. These two elements—the king as God’s “son” and promise of kingship for David’s descendents—coalesced into a “royal Messiah” concept, such as we find coming into prominence within Jewish tradition and literature in the 2nd-1st centuries B.C. Jeremiah 33:14-26 is the main prophetic passage which influenced the idea. There is no special comment on Psalm 2:7 in the surviving texts from Qumran, but 4QFlorilegium(174) does provide a Messianic interpretation of 2 Sam 7:10-14 (cf. lines 10-13). Acts 13:33 is probably the oldest surviving “Messianic” use of Psalm 2:7, with the possible exception of the variant reading at Luke 3:22 (cf. below).

Orthodox Christians may be accustomed to reading Ps 2:7 in terms of Jesus’ pre-existent Deity, and this does seem to be assumed in Hebrews, where Ps 2:7 is cited (along with 2 Sam 7:14 and Ps 110:1) in Heb 1:5ff and 5:5f. However, in the early Gospel preaching recorded in the book of Acts, the context is clearly that of Jesus’ resurrection. After the resurrection, Jesus is exalted and made to sit at the right hand of God the Father (YHWH) in heaven—this is the setting for the citation of Ps 2:7 in Acts 13:33 (as well as of Ps 110:1 in Acts 2:34-35). Almost certainly, then, the focal point of the conceptual transition regarding Ps 2:7 (cf. above) was not a belief in Jesus’ pre-existent deity, but rather his resurrection and exaltation. Only subsequently, as the result of further thought and (progressive) revelation, was this Christological connection widened. Interestingly, if Ps 2:7 is applied to the resurrection in Acts 13:33, and (it would seem) to Jesus’ divine pre-existence in Hebrews, there is a kind of ‘intermediate’ application—to Jesus’ baptism—attested in certain manuscripts and textual witnesses for Luke 3:22 [D a b c d ff2 etc and a number of Church Fathers], where, instead of the generally accepted reading—

su\ ei@ o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaphto/$ e)n soi\ eu)do/khsa
“You are my Son the (be)loved (one) [i.e. my beloved Son], I think good in [i.e. think well of, take delight in] you”

the voice from Heaven quotes Ps 2:7:

ui(o\$ mou ei@ su e)gw\ sh/meron gege/nnhka/ se
“You are my son, I have caused you to be (born) today”

In such a context, the implication might be that Jesus “becomes” God’s Son during the baptism (with the descent of the Spirit upon him). Whatever the origins of the variants in this verse, it clearly demonstrates that early Christians were beginning to apply Ps 2:7—along with the idea of Jesus as the “Son of God”—outside of the traditional Messianic (Davidic) setting. However, as I have indicated in these notes, the early preaching preserved in Acts 2 and 13 still maintains a vital connection with the earlier setting, emphasizing Jesus as a descendant of David (“son of David”). This will be explored further in the next daily note.

I have consistently translated the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”) in the transitive/causative sense as “caused to be (born)”. It hardly need be said that the precise, technical meaning in context differs slightly depending on whether the subject is male or female. In conventional English expression (and from a biological standpoint), only the female (mother) bears and gives birth, while the male (father) contributes toward conception. Older English had a convenient verb for rendering genna/w from the male standpoint—”to beget“—but, unfortunately, this no longer part of the regular vocabulary. Instead, we have to use inaccurate and awkward phrasing such as “become (the) father”, etc. It is indeed tempting to translate Psalm 2:7 along the lines of the old KJV (“…this day I have begotten thee”), still maintained in translations like the ESV (“…today I have begotten you”); however, I have tried to keep my (glossed) translations excessively literal, preserving, as far as possible, the fundamental meaning and etymology of each word.

Note of the Day – December 29

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

In this series of Christmas season daily notes on the theme “The Birth of the Son of God”, I now turn to examine what the earliest Christian preaching may have said about Jesus as the “Son of God”. Based on the assumption that the sermon-speeches in the book of Acts, to a greater or lesser extent, genuinely reflect early preaching and Gospel proclamation (kerygma), I will be looking at passages in two of the most prominent sermons in the book—the Pentecost speech by Peter (Acts 2:14-41) and the speech by Paul in Acts 13:16-41. I have treated both of these, each in considerable detail, as a part of a series on the Speeches in the book of Acts; here I will focus only several elements related to early Christological belief. I begin with one section of Peter’s Pentecost sermon.

Acts 2:29-36

This is the last of the three sections, or divisions, of the sermon—vv. 14-21, 22-28, and 29-36—each of which includes a central citation from Scripture (Joel 2:28-32 and Psalm 16:8-11 in the first two sections). The concluding statement in verse 36 offers a concise and effective summary of early Christology:

“…let all (the) house of Yisrael know that God made him (both) Lord and Anointed, this Yeshua whom you put to the stake”

The key phrase is indicated by italics—God made [e)poi/hsen] Jesus to be both Lord [ku/rio$] and (the) Anointed [xristo/$]. What is most important to note here is that this statement is centered (and predicated) clearly upon the resurrection (and exaltation) of Jesus. God’s act of raising Jesus from the dead is even more prominent in the kerygma of the second section (vv. 22-28), with its climactic quotation (and application) of Psalm 16:8-11. Apart from the association with Jesus’ resurrection (especially in the interpretation of verse 10 of the Psalm), there are several key details which carry on into the next section of the sermon, and which should be noted:

  • Being in the presence of the Lord [o( ku/rio$], i.e. YHWH (v. 25)
  • The appellation “Holy (One)”—the adjective o%sio$ as a substantive (v. 27)
  • The connection with David (the Psalmist)

Let us now examine the two titles used in verse 36:

“Lord” (ku/rio$)—The Scripture cited in this section (in vv. 34-35) is Psalm 110:1, a key “Messianic” passage in early Christian tradition. Jesus himself cites it (Mark 12:36 par) in the context of a Scriptural discussion regarding the “Anointed One” (Messiah/Christ) as the “son of David” (cf. below); the precise interpretation of this discussion, as it has come down to us in Gospel tradition, remains difficult and much debated. Later, v. 1b is cited in the letter to the Hebrews (Heb 1:13; cf. also 10:12-13 and the use of Ps 110 in chapters 5, 7). The first “Lord” (ku/rio$) in v. 1, of course, is YHWH (hwhy); originally, the second “Lord” (ku/rio$, Heb. /oda*), referred to the (human) king—the original context of the Psalm being the king’s coronation/inauguration/enthronement. However, early on, Christians understood the second “Lord” as a reference to Jesus, in his divine status and/or nature; this was made possible as soon as the distinction between the original Hebrew words was lost, and the same Greek word (ku/rio$) was used twice—ku/rio$ being the typical word used to render hwhy/YHWH. Eventually, Christians would come to interpret Ps 110:1 in the light of Jesus’ divine pre-existence—a belief already assumed, it would seem, in Hebrews 1:13 (where Ps 110:1 is cited, but note the rather different context of Heb 10:12-13). In Acts, however, Psalm 110:1 is applied specifically in relation to Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation; the interpretive setting clearly is that of the exalted Jesus sitting at the right hand of God (Acts 2:33). This status/position next to God the Father (YHWH) means that Jesus is able to carry the same divine name (“Lord”, ku/rio$), cf. Phil 2:9ff. It may also be the basis for understanding Jesus as God’s Son—note the reference in v. 33 to Jesus receiving the “promise of the Spirit” from the Father (lit. “alongside [para/] the Father”, cf. Jn 1:14, discussed in an earlier note). Also related, perhaps, to the idea of Jesus as God’s Son is the use of o%sio$ (as a substantive title, “Holy One”) in verse 27 [Ps 16:10], parallel to the substantive a%gio$ (also typically render “holy”) in Luke 1:34—”(he) will be called Holy, the Son of God”.

“Anointed” (xristo/$)—This particular title, in context, relates to Jesus’ role as descendant of David (vv. 29-34, esp. v. 30). From the standpoint of Jewish tradition, this means, especially, the “Messiah” (jyvm = xristo$, “Anointed”)—i.e., the eschatological (Davidic) ruler who would bring about the salvation/restoration of Israel. This “messianic” expectation is clearly indicated in a number of New Testament passages (e.g., Luke 2:25, 38; Acts 1:6). It is within this same background that we should understand the title “Son of David”, which is applied to Jesus on a number of occasions. This particular title will be discussed in more detail in upcoming notes, but I would point out here that, within the Gospel tradition, it seems to come to the fore in the Passion narratives, beginning with the entry into Jerusalem. However, in the Infancy narratives Jesus as “Son of David” takes on special significance, in connection with his birth. To judge from contemporary Jewish material, we would not necessarily expect an immediate identification of the “Anointed” (Christ/Messiah) with the title “Son of God”, except in light of Psalm 2; 2 Sam 7, and the ancient ritual/symbolic tradition of the king as God’s “son” that underlies the Messiah concept—this will be discussed more in upcoming notes.

Both of these titles—”Lord” and “Anointed”—are brought together in the Lukan Infancy narrative at the birth of Jesus: “…produced [i.e. born] for you today a Savior which is (the) Anointed, (the) Lord [xristo/$ ku/rio$] in the city of David” (Luke 2:11; cf. also Ps Sol 17:36 for a similar conjunction). Note the way that these two titles qualify Jesus as the Davidic savior:

  • A Savior (swth/r), who is
    —(the) Anointed (xristo/$)
    —(the) Lord (ku/rio$)
  • in the city of David

Interestingly, we find this same sort of combination in Philippians 3:20, only there the reference is more properly to Jesus as an eschatological Savior who will come from the ‘heavenly city’ (i.e. Heaven).

Fundamentally, of course, it is the message of salvation that is central to the Gospel proclamation, such as we see in Peter’s Pentecost speech in Acts 2. In conclusion, I would note the elements here that can be found, generally, in the announcement of Good News to Mary and Joseph in Lukan/Matthean Infancy narratives:

  • Salvation from the coming judgment, involving repentance and forgiveness of sin
  • The name of Jesus (note the traditional etymology in Matt 1:21)
  • Receiving the Holy Spirit—cp. Acts 1:8 with Luke 1:35, where the Holy Spirit will “come upon” [e)pe/rxomai] believers just as the Spirit will “come upon” [e)pe/rxomai] Mary

This last point of comparison is especially important—ultimately the birth of the Son of God (Christ) cannot be separated from the birth of believers (in Christ) as sons/children of God.

 

Paul’s View of the Law: Acts vs. the Letters

By | Exegetical/Study Series | No Comments

The articles in this series of Paul’s View of the Law (part of “The Law and the New Testament”) conclude with a short comparative study of the Pauline letters and the book of Acts. Commentators frequently note a number of differences and/or apparent discrepancies between the narratives (involving Paul) in the book of Acts and what he himself relates in the (undisputed) letters—in matters of chronology, the itinerary of the missionary journeys, and so forth. In such instances, critical scholars tend to give priority to the letters, regarding the information in the book of Acts as less reliable; traditional-conservative commentators, on the other hand, generally consider both Acts and the letters as authentic (and reliable), seeking to harmonize the two as far as possible. Perhaps the most well-known (and often-discussed) historical-critical issue involves the relationship between the so-called Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 and Paul’s narrative in Galatians 2. However, important differences have also been pointed out regarding the portrait of Paul painted in Acts, as compared with what he states himself in the letters, and especially in regard to his view of the Law (the subject of these articles). This may summarized by two related questions:

  1. Did Paul himself continue to observe the Old Testament/Jewish Law following his conversion? and
  2. Did he consider that Jewish believers were still obligated to observe the commands and regulations of the Law?

1. Did Paul continue to observe the Law?

Paul states on several occasions in his letters that, prior to coming to faith in Christ, he was most devout and scrupulous in matters of religion, including strict observance of the (written) Law, the Torah (Gal 1:13-14; Phil 3:4b-6, and Acts 22:3; 26:5). Did he continue to observe it so after his conversion? Many scholars today would say yes, and simply take for granted that he did. However, it must be observed that there is very little actual evidence of this in the letters; in fact, he never makes such a statement about himself, but it could be understood from two passages: 1 Cor 9:20 and Rom 3:31.

  • 1 Cor 9:20—”to the ones under the Law, (I came to be) as one under the Law”. This indicates that Paul voluntarily continued to observe the Law, at least when among his fellow Jews, in order to win them to Christ (cf. below).
  • Rom 3:31—”then do we make inactive/invalid the Law through th(is) trust (in Christ)? May it not come to be (so)! but (rather) we make the Law stand!” Many commentators today read this as if Paul is saying that he and his Jewish Christian co-workers continue to observe the Law. However, there is nothing in the context of the passage to indicate this; the emphasis in Romans 3, especially in vv. 21-31, is the declaration that Jews and Gentiles both are justified through faith, and not by works of the Law (i.e. observing the Law). For more on this passage, see the earlier note and discussion in this series.

By contrast, the following passages indicate that Paul, along with all believers, is free from the Law: 1 Cor 9:20-21; 2 Cor 3:6; Gal 5:11; 6:14; Rom 6:15; 7:6; Phil 3:3, 7-9.

In the book of Acts, there is somewhat more evidence that Paul continued to observe the Law. First, we have his statements generally to this effect, in Acts 24:14, 17-18 and 28:17 (?). We also see:

  • His presence in the Temple (Acts 21:26-27; 22:17-18; 24:17-18); along with other early believers in Jerusalem (Lk 24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1ff; 5:21ff, 42; 21:22-27), Paul continued to frequent the Temple. However, it is not clear to what extent he participated in the sacrificial ritual; on only one occasion is he seen involved in ritual activity (21:26-27, cf. below).
  • His traveling to Jerusalem for the feasts, at least on several occasions (Acts 18:21 v.l.; 20:16); but note that Acts 20:6 indicates that Passover would have been observed away from Jerusalem.
  • Acts 18:18 refers to a vow (Nazirite?) he had taken, which presumably was done according to the regulations in the Law.

In none of these instances is it recorded that Paul was under obligation, or felt required, to observe the Torah. The most relevant passage is Acts 21:21-26 (cf. below); but even here, his involvement in the Temple ritual was done voluntarily, at the recommendation of James.

2. Did he consider that Jewish believers were still obligated to observe the Law?

Again, a good many commentators today would answer in the affirmative—while Gentiles were not required to observe the Old Testament Law, Jewish believers were still bound to do so. I find not the slightest indication of this in the letters, not even in the most positive references to the Law (Rom 3:1-2; 7:12-14 [cf. also 1 Tim 1:8]; Col 4:11, and, possibly, Rom 4:12; 1 Cor 7:19). As mentioned above, some commentators would read Rom 3:31 as though Paul believed that the Law continued to be binding (for Jewish believers), but I consider this a serious misunderstanding of the passage. The overwhelming number of references, indicating that the Law is no longer in force for believers in Christ, would seem to speak decisively against it—cf. 2 Cor 3:7-18; Gal 2:11-14ff, 19; the illustrations in Gal 3-4 (esp. 3:25, 28; 4:2, 5, 31); 5:1, 6, 13-14, 18; 6:15; Rom 2:28-29; 3:21ff; 6:14-15; 7:1-6; 8:2f; 10:4; Phil 3:3; Col 2:16-17; 3:11; Eph 2:15. There are, however, three passages in the book of Acts, which could suggest that Paul held the Torah to be binding for Jewish believers; each of these will be discussed in turn:

Acts 16:3—Paul had the half-Jewish Timothy circumcised, prior to his joining the mission effort. This has often been seen as contradicting Paul’s own teaching regarding circumcision in the letters (Gal 2:3; 5:2-3, 6, 11; 6:12-15; 1 Cor 7:18-19; Rom 2:28-29, also Phil 3:3; Col 2:11; 3:11; Eph 2:11), causing some critical scholars to question the historicity of the detail in Acts 16:3. Much depends on the reason why Timothy was circumcised; there are several possibilities:

  • Jews, including Jewish believers, were obligated to observe the Law, with circumcision being a central covenant obligation; according to later Jewish tradition (m. Kidd. 3:12), children from mixed marriages were still regarded as Jewish.
  • It was a practical measure, to avoid unnecessary hostility and opposition among Jews to the mission.
  • It is an example (and extension) of Paul’s missionary principle expressed in 1 Cor 9:19-23—of becoming like one under the Law in order to reach those who are under the Law.

There is nothing in the context of 16:1ff itself to indicate that Timothy was circumcised because he was required to do so, as would be suggested in the first view. The only reason given in the passage is that he was circumcised “through [i.e. because of] the Jews that were in those places”, which would seem to fit the second interpretation above. However, it is also possible that Paul was generally following the principle he would later express in 1 Cor 9:19-23; for more on this, see the conclusion below. One would like to think that Timothy willingly (and voluntarily) agreed to circumcision, though this is not indicated in the text.

Acts 16:4—In the next verse, we read that Paul delivered the decisions (do/gmata) from the ‘Jerusalem Council’ (Acts 15:19-31) to the believers in the cities of Pisidia and Lycaonia (i.e. Lystra, Derbe, Iconium, etc) in SE Asia Minor, which had been evangelized during the first Missionary journary (Acts 13-14). The letter from Jerusalem (15:23-29) is addressed to Antioch, Syria and Cilicia; Paul is extending it northward and westward in the region. There are two major critical issues involved here:

  1. Paul’s knowledge (and support) of the Jerusalem decrees. He never once refers to these in his letters, even on occasions when the decisions would have been relevant (1 Cor 8-10; Gal 2:11-14, etc; Rom 14; Col 2:16ff). In particular, the decisions appear to be directly on point with the very question Paul addresses in 1 Cor 8-10; if he knew of the decisions, and considered them to be authoritative (and binding) for Gentiles, it is rather strange that he does not refer to them. Many critical scholars consider the detail of Acts 16:4 to be inaccurate—e.g., note how in Acts 21:25 Paul appears to learn of the decrees then for the first time. More to the point, commentators have argued that the Paul of the letters would not have supported the decrees, especially with regard to the dietary restrictions placed on Gentiles (cf. issue #2).
  2. The relation of the decrees to the Torah. In Acts 15:21, James (the speaker) clearly connects the decisions of the Council with the fact that Moses (i.e. the Old Testament Law) is proclaimed and read in cities throughout the region, and followed by devout Jews (including Jewish believers). I have discussed this aspect of the Jerusalem decrees in some detail in a previous article. It is possible, but by no means certain, that, in observing the decrees, Gentile believers are thereby expected to follow the Torah in a limited sense. The emphasis is squarely on the idolatrous and immoral aspects of the pagan culture in which the Gentiles live—things which would also offend the religious and moral sensibilities of Jewish believers everywhere. I believe that the primary focus of the decrees is twofold: (1) as an authoritative exhortation for Gentiles to abstain from things associated with idolatry, and (2) as a way to ensure fellowship and unity between Jewish and Gentile believers.

The apparent discrepancy between Acts 16:4 and Paul’s failure to mention the Jerusalem decrees even once in the letters, can be explained one of several ways:

  • Paul was not aware of the decrees when he wrote his letters (contrary to Acts 16:4)
  • He did not consider (or would not have considered) the decrees authoritative and/or binding on Gentiles (again contrary to Acts 16:4)
  • The decrees had only a limited (regional) scope—the areas in Syria and Asia Minor surrounding Antioch—and were not considered binding for Gentile believers in territories further away
  • The decrees had only a limited scope, insofar as they related to places with large Jewish populations (such as the regions around Antioch)—in support of healthy relations between Jewish and Gentile believers—but were not necessarily binding on Gentile believers en masse.
  • The decrees were only binding for a time, eventually being abolished or superseded as circumstances dictated, or through “progressive revelation”; at the time of Paul’s writing, the decrees were no longer in force.

According to a strict, traditional-conservative (harmonistic) reading of the New Testament, only the 3rd and 4th interpretations above are viable options. A consistent and thorough analysis of Paul’s letters, taken by themselves, would, I think, lead one to adopt the 2nd interpretation. Overall, the last view is perhaps the simplest and most practical solution, but it is nowhere so stated in the New Testament, and would have to be assumed.

Acts 21:21-26—This is almost certainly the most direct (and controversial) passage in Acts related to Paul’s view of the Law. It must be examined in some detail:

  • The Context—At the conclusion of his (third) major missionary journey (18:23-21:16), Paul travels to Jerusalem, and is greeted by the believers there (vv. 17-19), including James and other leaders (elders) in the Church. Presumably he presented the collection of funds for the needy in the Jerusalem Church, which he had laboriously organized and gathered from the congregations in Greece and Macedonia (1 Cor 16:1-4; 2 Cor 8-9; Rom 15:25-28), and which is mentioned (it would seem) in Acts 24:17, but not here in chap. 21.
  • The Issue—James’ address to Paul is recorded in vv. 20b-25, in which the following points are made:
    —In Jerusalem there are many Jewish believers, who continue to be zealous in observing the Torah (v. 20b)
    —It is reported that Paul instructs Jews to forsake the Torah, and not to be circumcised, etc (v. 21)
    —It is assumed that: (a) this cannot be true, and (b) Paul himself continues to observe the Torah (v. 24b)
    —To prove this, James recommends that Paul take part in a purification ceremony (in the Temple) (v. 23-24a)
    —The Jerusalem decrees are also mentioned, indicating, at the very least, that Gentile believers honor and respect the customs of (observant) Jewish believers (v. 25)
  • Summary exposition—James effectively summarizes the controversies between Paul and Jewish believers, regarding his view of the Old Testament Law (as expressed in Galatians and Romans). Admittedly, nowhere in the letters does Paul say anything quite like the claim in verse 21, though the teaching that believers in Christ (Jew and Gentile alike) are “free” from the Law (cf. above) certainly could be characterized this way. It is perhaps such a (mis)representation that Paul combats, or attempts to avoid, in passages such as Gal 3:21ff; Rom 3:31; 7:7ff. Above, I have examined evidence regarding the extent to which Paul continued to observe the Law himself after coming to faith in Christ, such as James assumes here in v. 24b; the evidence is hardly conclusive, as I shall discuss again below. However, Paul does go along with James’ recommendation and participates in the purification ritual (vv. 26-27), at considerable personal expense it would seem, giving at least a general affirmation of his support for the position of observant Jewish believers. But based on what we have studied thus far in the letters, can we truly say, with James, that “all that of which was sounded down [i.e. reported] to them about you [i.e. Paul] is nothing”? What of the many potentially controversial passages regarding the Law, such as 2 Cor 3:7-18; Gal 2:11-14ff, 19; 3:25, 28; 4:2, 5, 31; 5:1, 6, 13-14, 18; 6:15; Rom 2:28-29; 3:21ff; 6:14-15; 7:1-6; 8:2f; 10:4; Phil 3:3; Col 2:16-17; 3:11, et al.?

Conclusion

A fair and unbiased view of the evidence, from both the letters and Acts, would have to affirm that Paul did continue to observe the Law, but only in a special and qualified sense. Ultimately, the clearest declaration of his own view of the matter comes from 1 Cor 9:20:

“And I came to be to the Jews as a Jew, (so) that I might gain Jews (for Christ), to the (one)s under (the) Law as (one) under (the) Lawnot being under (the) Law (my)self—(so) that I might gain the (one)s under (the) Law (for Christ)”

Here he clearly states that:

  1. He observes the Law (i.e. is “under the Law”, u(po\ no/mon) for the purpose of winning Jews to Christ, and not because he is still obligated to observe it—indeed:
  2. He himself is not under the Law. It should be noted, that some manuscripts omit the phrase mh\ w*n au)to\$ u(po\ no/mon (“not being under the Law myself”), but it is present in a wide range of witnesses (including many of the “earliest and best” MSS), and is almost certainly original. While some commentators might dispute it, I regard this as a decisive statement that, along with all other believers in Christ (Jew and Gentile alike), Paul is no longer required to observe the commands and regulations of the Old Testament Law. Note also, in v. 21, that:
  3. He is not without the “Law of God” (cf. also Rom 7:22, 25), and identifies himself as now being under (lit. “in”) the “Law of Christ”. This (being “in Christ”) is an altogether new covenant, as he makes clear in 2 Cor 3:1-18.

The basic principle of freedom in Christ, which Paul consistently teaches (cf. Gal 2:4; 3:25, 28; 4:21-31; 5:1ff, 13; 1 Cor 9:19ff; 2 Cor 3:17; Rom 6:7ff; 7:2-6; 8:2ff, 21, etc), also means that believers—certainly Jewish believers—may continue to observe the Torah, and other Jewish customs, either voluntarily, or as a matter of personal conscience. There is a world of difference between “may observe” and “must observe”—I believe Paul would affirm the former, but definitely not the latter. All of the passages in the book of Acts examined above can be understood and interpreted as voluntary observance. In this sense, the claims reported about Paul (according to James) in Acts 21:21 are false; but there are actually two erroneous claims which ought to be rejected:

  • He teaches that Jewish believers must, or should, cease observing the Old Testament Law—false
  • He teaches that Jewish believers must continue (strict) observance of the Old Testament Law—likewise false

When it comes to Gentile believers, the situation is somewhat different; Paul, especially in Galatians, takes the more forceful position, that they should not observe the Torah, and speaks in the harshest terms regarding those who would influence them to do so. However, this must be understood in the historical (and rhetorical) context of the letter, and not turned into any sort of absolute rule. Early Christianity was dominated by Jewish traditions and patterns of thought, and initial Gentile converts could easily be compelled to adopt Jewish religious practices as well. For the most part, this dynamic has long since disappeared from the Church, and there is little inherent danger in (Gentile) Christians today voluntarily adopting customs and practices set forth in the Torah. I will discuss this point again at the very conclusion of this series on The Law and the New Testament.