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Peter

Note of the Day – May 26 (John 6:63, 68)

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John 6:63, 68

These next two verses to be discussed are related, in some way, to the preceding Bread of Life discourse (vv. 22-59), though the precise relationship has proven difficult for commentators to determine. Verse 59 effectively serves as a conclusion to the discourse; and yet, without any other reference point, it would seem that verse 60 is referring back to the discourse (or a portion of it). The wording remains somewhat ambiguous:

“Then many out of his learners [i.e. disciples], (hav)ing heard, said, ‘This account [i.e. word/saying] is harsh [sklhro/$]—who is able to hear it?'”

There are two possibilities:

  • Verses 60ff are part of the same historical tradition, occurring in the aftermath of the discourse (as recorded in vv. 22-59)
  • The Gospel writer has joined to the discourse an entirely separate tradition, using the discourse, in the literary context of the narrative, as a way of demonstrating an example of Jesus’ teaching—i.e., the kinds of things he said which resulted in the sort of response described in vv. 60ff.

Most critical commentators would choose the second option, and there is much to be said in favor of it. In this particular instance, the view taken affects how one interprets the discourse—especially the eucharistic language and imagery in vv. 51-58. But, let us continue with the Jesus’ response to the disciples’ reaction:

“Does this trip you up? Then if you should look (and behold) the Son of Man stepping up (back to) where he was (at) the first(, what then)? The Spirit is the (thing) making (a)live, the flesh does not benefit anything! (and) the utterances [i.e. words] which I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life.” (vv. 61b-63)

The logical connection and flow of these statements is rather difficult, and may possibly reflect separate sayings which have been brought together. The basic idea behind vv. 61b-62, as we have it, is relatively clear. If the disciples find Jesus’ teaching difficult (while he is present with them), how will they respond when he has left them and returned to the Father? The Christological language in v. 62 has, I think, led some commentators down the wrong track, as though Jesus were suggesting that it would be more difficult for the disciples to behold Jesus’ ascension in glory. Much more likely here is a foreshadowing of the kind of discussion Jesus will have with his (close) disciples in the Last Discourse, where he speaks at length of his departure and return to the Father. The mention of the Spirit in v. 63 would seem to confirm this. His statement here regarding the Spirit may be seen as preparatory for the later Discourse. Let us examine verse 63 in more detail.

Verse 63

Whether or not this verse ultimately derives from separate sayings, there certainly are two distinct statements being made by Jesus:

  1. “The Spirit is the (thing) making (a)live, the flesh does not benefit anything”
  2. “The utterances [i.e. words] which I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life”

The first statement provides a clear contrast—between the Spirit (pneu=ma) and the flesh (sa/rc). Such a dualistic contrast is familiar from Paul’s letters, where he uses it repeatedly—cf. especially Romans 8:4-6ff; Gal 3:3; 4:29; 5:16-17; 6:8; Phil 3:3. It is much less common in the Johannine writings, but may be found in Jn 3:6 (cf. the prior note), and a negative connotation to the term “flesh”, as something contrary or inferior to God, is present in 8:15 and 1 John 2:16. Usually, this negative aspect is expressed by “(the) world” (ko/smo$). Here, in verse 63, the contrast is especially pronounced—not only does the flesh not give life, but it offers no benefit at all! This harsh statement must be understood properly, in terms of the comparison of the flesh with the Spirit. Compared with the Spirit, which gives everything (Life), the flesh offers nothing.

A difficult point of interpretation is whether (or in what sense) this statement should be applied to the Bread of Life discourse, and the apparent eucharistic allusions in vv. 51-58. I have addressed this question in the most recent Saturday series post.

The second statement provides the theme for this series of notes: “The utterances which I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life”. Again, there is some difficulty of interpretation here; consider the possible ways this may be understood:

  • Spirit and (divine, eternal) Life are conveyed to believers through Jesus’ words
  • This giving of “Spirit and Life” is parallel to the eucharistic (symbolic) act of eating/drinking the flesh/blood of Jesus—two aspects of the same basic idea
  • Jesus’ spoken words, i.e. his teaching, reflect part (or an aspect) of the Spirit (and Life) which he gives to believers
  • Trust in Jesus, through his words, will result in believers obtaining the Spirit and (eternal) Life

In my view, the statement is fundamentally Christological. Since Jesus is the Son (of God) sent by the Father, and since God the Father (who is Spirit, 4:24) gives the Spirit to Jesus, to say that Jesus gives the Spirit (3:34) to believers means that he conveys to believers everything that the Father is. This involves both the work, and the very presence, of Jesus—wherever he is, and whatever he does (or speaks), the Spirit of God is made manifest to those who trust in him. Jesus’ utterances are not merely the sayings and teachings recorded in the Gospel, but a manifestation of the life-giving, creative power, given to him by the Father. This interpretation will, I believe, be confirmed as we explore the remainder of the relevant passages in the Gospel (and First Letter) of John.

Verse 68

Jesus’ statements in vv. 61-63 are part of a larger narrative section; and here, beginning with verse 64, there is greater likelihood that a separate historical tradition has been joined—one which has important parallels with the Synoptic Tradition. Verses 64-71 deal specifically with the Twelve disciples, and the transition to this in v. 64 appears rather abruptly. The key saying by Jesus comes in verse 65:

“Through this [i.e. for this reason] I have said to you that no one is able to come toward me if it were not given to him out of [i.e. from] the Father”

In the narrative context, this relates back to vv. 37-40, and especially vv. 44-45, of the discourse, though it is also possible that similar sayings by Jesus were given (and circulated) separately, to the same effect. At any rate, this motif of election—of the disciples (believers) being given to Jesus by God the Father—starts to come into greater prominence at this point in the Gospel. As if in response to this declaration, we read that “many of his learners [i.e. disciples] went away, into the (place)s in the back, and no longer walked about with him”. This takes things a step further from the grumbling reaction in vv. 60-61; now many disciples drew back and no longer followed Jesus closely. What comes next in the narrative serves as a parallel, of sorts, with the confession of Peter in the Synoptic Tradition—note:

  • A direct and personal question (challenge) by Jesus to his close disciples:
    “And who do you count/consider me to be?” (Mk 8:30a par)
    “You do not also wish to lead (yourselves) under [i.e. go back/away] (do you)?” (Jn 6:67)
  • To which Peter is the one who responds with a declaration of faith:
    “You are the Anointed One (of God)” (Mk 8:30b par)
    “…we have trusted and have known that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:68b)

Just prior to this confession, in John’s account, Peter makes the following statement, in answer to Jesus’ question:

“Lord, to whom will we go away? You hold (the) utterances of Life of the Age” (v. 68a)

The last portion is made up of four Greek words which should now be familiar to you in studying the Gospel throughout this series:

  • r(h/mata “utterances”, i.e. spoken words, as in v. 63 (above)—cf. also 3:34; 5:47; 8:47; 10:21; 12:47-48; 14:7; 17:8.
  • zwh=$ “of Life”—the two words being in a genitival relationship, “utterances of life”, as in “bread of life” (vv. 35, 48), “light of life” (8:12), “resurrection of life” (5:29). This divine, eternal Life characterizes Jesus’ utterances—they belong to Life.
  • ai)wni/ou “of the Age”—the latest of many such occurrences of this adjective in the expression zwh/ ai)w/nio$ (“Life of the Age”). It reflects the idea of the divine, blessed Life which the righteous were though to inherit (and share with God) at the end-time, following the resurrection and Judgment. In the Johannine discourses, it tends to be used in the sense of the Life which believers in Jesus possess (“hold”) now, in the present, through trust in him—i.e. “realized” eschatology. The expression is typically translated as “eternal life”.
  • e&xei$ “you hold”—as indicated above, Jesus repeatedly states that those who trust in him hold eternal life. Peter here is expressing the belief that this Life comes from Jesus, who holds it, having himself received it from God the Father (cf. 5:26, etc).

While this language certainly reflects that of the Johannine discourses, it is interesting to see the way that it has developed here out of a core historical tradition, related to the calling of the Twelve and the betrayal of Judas. This framework has been chosen and utilized by the Gospel writer as a way to emphasize Jesus’ teaching on faith and discipleship, much as the tradition of Judas’ betrayal at the Last Supper has been used in the Gospel of Luke to introduce teaching of Jesus (cf. Lk 22:21-30). In the Johannine narrative, Judas has a special place in the “Last Supper” scene—his departure marks the moment when “the devil” has left, and only Jesus’ true disciples remain (13:2, 21-30; cp. 6:64, 70-71). It is at this point that the great Last Discourse can begin (13:31ff).

Note of the Day – May 9 (John 11:27)

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John 11:27

Verse 27 is the climax to the dialogue between Jesus and Martha, and it is her response to the question by Jesus in v. 26b—”do you trust this?” (cf. the prior note). As I discussed, the demonstrative pronoun “this” (tou=to) refers to Jesus’ statement in vv. 25-26a, which begins with the “I am” declaration (v. 25a). Thus Jesus is asking her about his identity—not only that she trusts in his word, but in who he is. In this regard, as I pointed out in the previous note, there is a basic similarity between the question to Martha, and that posed to Peter (and the other disciples) in Mark 8:29 par. In the Synoptic scene, the question is more direct in relation to Jesus’ identity—”But who do you consider me to be?”. The question of Jesus’ identity in the Johannine episode is framed differently, but, in many ways, remains quite the same—i.e. “do you trust what I have said (about who I am)?” Before proceeding to a detailed examination of verse 27, it is worth continuing the comparison with Peter’s confession. The beginning of both statements is identical:

su\ ei@ o( xristo/$
“You are the Anointed (One) [i.e. Messiah]…”

The Matthean version of Peter’s confession is closest to Martha’s:

“You are the Anointed (One), the Son of…God” (Matt 16:16)
“You are the Anointed (One), the Son of God…” (John 11:27)

In some ways, Martha’s declaration takes a central place in the Gospel of John, much as Peter’s confession does in the Synoptics. The Fourth Gospel has nothing corresponding to the scene in Mark 8:27-30 par, though there is a rough parallel, with certain points of similarity, in Jn 6:66-71 (compare v. 69 with Mk 8:29 par). With Peter and Martha, here we have disciples, through an expression (confession) of faith, making a fundamental declaration regarding Jesus’ identity. Both passages are also positioned at a similar point in the Gospel narrative—the conclusion of Jesus’ (Galilean) ministry and the start of his (final) period in Jerusalem.

If we turn specifically to Martha’s statement in verse 27, we see that there are three components to it, each of which involves a particular title applied to Jesus:

  • “You are
    • the Anointed One [o( xristo/$]
    • the Son of God [o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=]
    • the one coming [o( e)rxo/meno$] into the world”

Each of these important titles will be discussed in turn.

o( xristo/$ (“the Anointed One”)

This, of course, is the title applied to Jesus by early Christians, so thoroughly that it came to function virtually as a second name—”Yeshua (the) Anointed”, i.e. Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 1:17; 17:3). I have discussed the significance and background of this title at length in the series “Yeshua the Anointed“. It occurs less frequently in the Gospels than elsewhere in the New Testament, for obvious reasons. The historical tradition underlying the Gospel narratives reflects the fact that the title was applied to Jesus during the time of his ministry only on certain occasions, taking on greater prominence during the final period in Jerusalem. The title occurs 19 times in the Gospel of John, almost always on the lips of other people, not Jesus himself. The issue in these passages is whether Jesus might be the Anointed One (i.e. Messiah), a matter discussed and questioned by the people who saw and heard (about) him. A brief survey may be useful:

  • In 1:20 (also v. 25 and 3:28), John the Baptist declares that he is not the Anointed One
    By contrast, in v. 41, John’s followers (now disciples of Jesus) identity Jesus as this figure.
  • In 4:25, 29, the Samaritan woman refers to the expectation of the coming of the Anointed One (Messiah, Samaritan Taheb), and raises the possibility to her fellow villagers that it might be Jesus.
  • In 7:25-31, and again in vv. 40-44, people wonder, question and debate whether Jesus might be the Anointed One.
  • In 10:24 people want Jesus to tell them whether he truly claims to be the Anointed One.
  • In 12:34, again there are questions surrounding Jesus as the Anointed One, here connected with the title “Son of Man” so often used by Jesus in reference to himself.

There is some uncertainty as to the precise meaning of the title “Anointed One” in these passages, as there are a number of different Messianic figure-types to which it may refer. The type which came to be most prominent, that of the end-time Ruler from the line of David, is clearly in view only in 7:40-42, where “Anointed One” is contrasted with a Messianic Prophet figure. However, in 4:25ff and 7:25-31, the title seems to refer to an end-time Prophet. The references in chapter 1, in connection with John the Baptist, are harder to determine. As a result, we cannot be certain, at the historical level, just how Martha might have understood the title.

The remaining two titles, along with an interpretation of the verse as a whole, will be examined in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – April 12 (John 13:31-38ff)

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John 6:51-58; 13:31-38 (continued)

Today, I wish to explore the final difference between John and the Synoptics in the presentation of the Last Supper scene—the inclusion of the great Last Discourse (or series of Discourses) which follows the Supper and precedes the episode in the Garden (Jn 18:1-11). There is nothing remotely like it in the Synoptic Gospels, though perhaps a very loose parallel may be seen in the teaching which Luke records in 22:25-30, 35-38 (cf. the earlier note). It is not possible here to examine the Last Discourse (13:31-17:26, or, properly 13:31-16:33) in much detail, but a structural and thematic survey may help us to understand its place in the Passion Narrative (on this, cf. the supplemental note).

Jn 13:31-38—The Introduction to the Last Discourse

I regard 13:31-38 as the beginning, the introduction, of the Last Discourse. Indeed, these verses introduce the primary themes of the Discourse, weaving them around the Passion Narrative tradition of the prediction by Jesus of Peter’s denial. I will leave the role of Peter in the Passion (and Resurrection) Narratives for a later note. It is more important, at this juncture, to consider the place of this tradition in terms of the Last Discourse, and how it connects with the earlier Last Supper scene. I outline these verses as follows:

  • Narrative transition (v. 31a)
  • Saying of Jesus #1—Son of Man saying (vv. 31b-32)
  • Saying of Jesus #2—Declaration of his going away (v. 33)
  • Saying of Jesus #3—The Love Command (vv. 34-35)
  • Excursus: Prediction of Peter’s Denial (vv. 36-38)

Let us examine each of these elements briefly.

Narrative transition (v. 31a)—This short statement serves to join the sayings of vv. 31-35 with the Last Supper scene. It is parallel with the even shorter statement that closes the earlier scene:

  • “And it was night” (v. 30b)—darkness symbolizing the identification of Judas as the betrayer, his departure, and the beginning of the Passion.
  • “Then, when he [i.e. Judas] went out…” (v. 31a)

Judas’ departure is significant for a number of reasons, but it has special importance in terms of the Last Discourse. With Judas gone, only the true disciples, the true believers, remain in the room with Jesus. This allows Jesus the opportunity to begin his great “Farewell Discourse” with his faithful followers, imparting information and teaching which he could not have done earlier. Now it is the right time.

Saying #1 (vv. 31b-32)—This is a complex Son of Man saying with a clear earlier parallel in 12:23. Both sayings involve the verb doca/zw—which fundamentally means to regard someone with honor/esteem, but can also be used in the sense of “give honor”. Typically it is translated in the New Testament as “glorify” (i.e. give glory). For other occurrences of the verb in John, see 7:39; 8:54; 11:4; 12:16, 28. It will become an important keyword in the Last Discourse—14:13; 15:8; 16:14; 17:1, 4-5, 10, and cf. also 21:19. First consider the Son of Man saying in 12:23:

“The hour has come that the Son of Man should be given honor/glory [docasqh=|]”

The context is Jesus’ impending death (vv. 24-27, note the parallel with the Synoptic Passion narrative in v. 27), as well as the declaration of Jesus in v. 28:

“Father, give honor/glory [do/cason] (to) your name”

This emphasis on the name of God is also an important motif in the Last Discourse, especially the Prayer-discourse of chapter 17.

I mentioned the complex structure of the saying in 13:31:

“Now the Son of Man is given honor/glory, and God is given honor/glory in him; [if God is given honor/glory in him], (then) also God will give him honor/glory in him(self), and straightaway will give him honor/glory”

The textual evidence for the phrase in brackets is divided; a simpler structure results if it is omitted:

  • Now the Son of Man is given honor
    —God is given honor in him
    —God will give him honor in him(self)
  • Straightaway (God) will give him honor

The interrelationship between the Son (Jesus, here called by the self-title “Son of Man”) and the Father is a fundamental (Christological) theme in the Fourth Gospel, which reaches a high-point in the Last Discourse.

Saying # 2 (v. 33)

“(My) little children [tekni/a], (only) a little (time) yet am I with you—you will seek (after) me, and, even as I said to the Yehudeans {Jews} that ‘(the place) where I lead (myself) under [i.e. go away], you are not able to come (there)’, (so) also I relate (this) to you now”

This saying refers back to 8:21-22, and introduces the theme of Jesus’ departure—his going away—which covers the entire process of his Passion, much as the verb doca/zw does in v. 31 (cf. above). It refers, variously, and with complex layers of dual meaning, to: (1) his death, and (2) his return to the Father. The theme is especially prominent in chapters 14 and 16 of the Last Discourse, where it is also tied to the promise of the Spirit (the Helper/Paraclete). The word (tekni/on), used by Jesus to address his disciples, is a diminutive form of te/knon (“offspring”, i.e. “child”), which features in several key verses in the Gospel (1:12; 8:39; 11:52) and the Letter of John (1 Jn 3:1-2, 10; 5:2; 2 Jn 1, 4, 13; 3 Jn 4)—always in the plural (te/kna). It may indicate that Jesus is identifying the disciples (the true believers, with Judas absent) as the “offspring [i.e. children] of God” (1:12). The diminutive tekni/on (“little children”) occurs only here in the Gospel, but is used frequently in the first Johannine letter (2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21).

Saying #3 (vv. 34-35)—The last saying introduces another primary theme of the Last Discourse: the bond of love which binds the disciples to Jesus (and God the Father), and to each other. It had a precursor in the foot-washing scene of vv. 3-17 (cf. the previous note), especially Jesus’ teaching in vv. 12-17. Here Jesus frames it as a “command” (e)ntolh/), the literal Greek referring to something laid upon a person which he/she is charged to accomplish. The so-called “love command” is an essential aspect of Jesus’ teaching (cf. Mark 12:28-34 par, also Matt 5:43-46 par; Lk 7:41-48), and became a primary (and binding) component of the early Christian identity—Rom 12:9-10; 13:8-10; 14:15; 1 Cor 8:1-3; 12:31b-14:1; 16:14; 2 Cor 5:14; Gal 5:13-14; Phil 1:9; 2:2; 1 Thess 4:9; James 2:8; 1 Pet 1:22, etc. When the term “commandment(s)” is used in the Gospel and letters of John, it primarily refers to the love-command.

Prediction of Peter’s Denial (vv. 36-38)—As in the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 14:26-31) functions as an excursus within the Passion narrative, following the Passover meal scene. It is transitional to the Gethsemane scene (Mk 14:32-52 par), which in John’s version does not come until after the Last Discourse (18:1-11). The similar outline indicates that both John and the Synoptics are drawing upon a common historical tradition:

John’s version differs from the Synoptic primarily in the way that the core Peter tradition (vv. 37b-38) is incorporated into the Last Discourse. Verses 36-37a mark this joining transition:

“(Then) Shim’on (the) Rock [i.e. Simon Peter] says to him, ‘(To) what (place) do you lead (yourself) under [i.e. go away]?'” (v. 36a)
(to which Jesus answers:)
“(To) whatever (place) I lead (myself) under [i.e. go away], you are not able to follow me (there)—but you will follow later” (v. 36b)

Note the similarity in language and phrasing to verse 33 (Saying #2, above). The declaration that Peter will follow Jesus at a later point has a loose parallel in Lk 22:32. Peter’s response in v. 37a continues the same Johannine emphasis:

“Lord, through what [i.e. why] am I not able to follow you now?”

His declaration in v. 37b may also be shaped by the language and thought of the Fourth Gospel—compare with 10:11, 15, 17 (from the Good Shepherd parable):

Peter: “I will set (down) my soul [i.e. lay down my life] over you” (v. 37b)
Jesus: “I set (down) my soul [i.e. lay down my life] over the sheep” (10:15)

 

Note of the Day – February 20 (Luke 6:12-16; John 6:67-71)

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Today’s note continues the discussion from yesterday, on the tradition of the call/commission of the Twelve Disciples (or Apostles). Here we will explore the tradition as found in the Gospels of Luke and John.

Luke 6:12-16

The Lukan version of the call of the Twelve, like that in Matthew, is simpler than Mark’s version. It is possible that Luke has abbreviated the earlier tradition, though, in this instance, it is perhaps more likely that each Gospel writer has, in his own way, developed the core Synoptic tradition independently. Luke has also, it would seem, modified the tradition so as to emphasize certain themes which he brings out elsewhere in his Gospel. Consider the following observations:

  • Luke has the unique detail of Jesus first being alone on the mountain, in prayer (v. 12). A similar detail is found in the Lukan version of the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes (3:21; 9:28-29).
  • It is stated that Jesus gathered out (i.e. chose) the Twelve from among his disciples. Luke uses the verb e)kle/gomai, which, along with the related adjective e)klekto/$, is used of Jesus elsewhere in the Gospel (9:35 [v.l.], the Transfiguration scene; and 23:35), referring to him as the “Elect/Chosen One (of God)”—parallel to the titles “Anointed One” and “Son of God” (cf. also Jn 1:34 [v.l.]). Similarly in the Gospel of John, Jesus uses the verb in reference to his call/choosing of his disciples (cf. below). Elsewhere in the New Testament, both verb and adjective came to be applied to believers generally as the “chosen ones” (i.e. the elect), according to the pattern of the people of Israel in Old Testament tradition. Note how this verb is central to the statement in Lk 6:13 (re-translating slightly, to bring out the symmetry of the word order):
    • he called [lit. gave voice] toward
      —his disciples
      ——and gathering out from them twelve
      —whom also (were) “apostles
    • (so) he named (them)
  • Luke specifically refers to Jesus naming the Twelve, i.e. designating them, as apostles—lit. “ones (who are) se(n)t forth”. The majority text also reads this at Mk 3:14, but, as it is not present in certain manuscripts, and is perhaps suspect textually as a harmonization with Lk 6:13b, it remains in question.
  • There is no mention here of Jesus giving them authority, etc, to work miracles (cp. Mark 3:15; Matt 10:1)
  • The list of the Twelve in vv. 14-16 differs little from the main Synoptic tradition, except for the variant names for the 10th and 11th apostles, compared with those in Mark/Matthew.

As in Matthew 5:1ff and 10:1-4ff, a sermon (or collection of teaching) follows the call/gathering of Jesus’ disciples to him. In Matthean narrative, the “Sermon on the Mount” is placed earlier than the call of the Twelve. By contrast, in Luke, the corresponding “Sermon on the Plain” does follow Jesus’ calling of the Twelve.

In the Gospel of Luke, moreso than in the other Synoptics, the call of the Twelve lies at the center of the Galilean ministry period, especially as it begins in 4:14. The Nazareth episode (4:16-30) precedes the ministry narratives (4:31-6:11) corresponding to Mk 1:16-2:28. The call of the Twelve, and their parallel mission (9:1-6ff), each culminate (and mark off) the two periods of the Galilean ministry, as narrated by Luke. Here is an outline for all that comes after the opening Nazareth episode:

  • First period of Jesus’ Galilean ministry—miracles and teaching (4:31-6:11)
    • Calling of the Twelve (6:12-16)
      • and Jesus’ teaching them (6:20-49)—the “Sermon on the Plain”
      • with the example of his authority to cast out spirits/disease (6:17-19)
  • Second period of Jesus’ Galilean ministry—miracles and teaching (7:1-8:56)
    • Mission of the Twelve (9:1-6)
      • and Jesus’ teaching them (9:10-17)—the Feeding miracle
      • with the question of Jesus’ identity as one who acts with the authority to work miracles, etc (9:7-9)

The Galilean period culminates with Peter’s confession regarding Jesus’ identity (9:18-20)

John 6:67-71

There is no corresponding passage narrating the calling of the Twelve in the Gospel of John; however, there is at least one reference to this general tradition, occurring at the end of the great “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6. It would appear that a distinct tradition (vv. 67-70) has been joined to the end of the discourse. Thematically, a reference to “the Twelve” at this point would make sense, in light of the narrative context of the Feeding miracle (in 6:1-13f). Within the Synoptic tradition, the two Feeding miracles (Mk 6:30-44; 8:1-10, 14-21 par), are closely associated, in various ways, with the Twelve. The Bread of Life discourse which follows in vv. 22ff is typical of the Johannine narrative structure, whereby a miracle and/or saying by Jesus leads into a complex (and theologically significant) discourse between Jesus and the people (sometimes including his disciples) who hear him. The audience misunderstands the words and actions of Jesus, interpreting them on a superficial or conventional level, which brings about an explanation (exposition) by Jesus as to their true/deeper meaning. The core Bread of Life discourse—the most complex in the Gospel (outside of chapters 13-17)—is contained in verses 22-59. A second, simpler discourse, specifically involving Jesus’ disciples, follows in vv. 60-65, reprising the motifs and imagery of the earlier discourse—much as Jesus is recorded explaining his parables to his close disciples (the Twelve) in the Synoptics (Mk 4:10-11ff par).

As noted above, it seems likely that a (separate?) tradition (vv. 67-70) was joined to the discourse, creating a fitting (and striking) climax to the entire narrative of chap. 6. Verse 66 provides the transitional joining point:

“Out of this [i.e. as a result of his words, from this point on] many of his learners [i.e. disciples] went (away) from (him) into the back, and did not any (more) walk about with him [met’ au)tou=].”

The last phrase is reminiscent of Mk 3:14 (cf. yesterday’s note), where it is stated that a main purpose in Jesus’ calling the Twelve was “that they might be with him [met’ au)tou=]”. Then in the following verse 67 we read:

“Then Yeshua said to the Twelve: ‘You do not also wish to bring (yourselves) under [i.e. go back, sink/sneak away], (do you)?'”

The tradition, such as it may have existed earlier, has been shaped into a Johannine (mini-)discourse, which also (as it happens) has a general similarity to the scene of Peter’s confession in the Synoptic tradition:

  • Jesus asks the disciples a question, regarding his identity—i.e. their relationship to him (as followers/believers) [v. 67; Mk 8:27-29]
  • Peter responds with a declaration regarding Jesus’ identity [vv. 68-69; Mk 8:30]
  • Jesus responds in turn (or afterward) with a statement involving the “Devil” and teaching regarding discipleship [v. 70; Mk 8:33, 34-37f]

What is most striking about the tradition(s) in Jn 6:67-71 is that they involve details otherwise attested in the Synopic call of the Twelve:

  • An introductory reference to “the Twelve” (v. 67; Mk 3:14a, par)
  • The reference to Jesus’ disciples as those who were “with him” (v. 66; Mk 3:14b, cf. above)
  • The primary/leading position of Peter (v. 68; Mk 3:16 par)
  • The use of the verb e)kle/gomai (“gather out”) to refer to Jesus call/choice of the Twelve (v. 70a; Lk 6:13)
  • A concluding reference to Judas Iscariot as the one who betrayed Jesus (vv. 70b-71)

This presentation (of the traditional material) in John is also significant for the way it foreshadows the scene in chapter 13, with strands relating to: (a) the disciples (the Twelve) and their relationship to Jesus, (b) the betrayal of Jesus, (c) the central presence/position of Peter, and (d) the idea of Jesus choosing his followers, again using the verb e)kle/gomai (v. 18).

Note of the Day – February 19 (Mark 3:3-19; Matt 10:1-4)

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The next topic to be discussed regarding the Call of the Disciples in the Gospel Tradition is the tradition of the Twelve Disciples (or Apostles). Three distinct aspects will be examined:

  1. The tradition of the call/commission of the Twelve, and how this functions in the Synoptic Gospels
  2. The list(s) of the Twelve, along with brief discussion of the details related to Peter and Judas Iscariot, and
  3. The significance of the (number) Twelve within this tradition

I begin with the first aspect, starting with the tradition as recorded in the Gospel of Mark.

The Twelve Disciples

Mark 3:13-19

It is worth noting that here, with regard to this particular tradition, Mark actually has a slightly longer (and more elaborate) version. Usually the longer form of a tradition indicates some degree of (secondary) development, though occasionally the process of development may work in the opposite direction—toward the simplifying or condensing of an earlier tradition. The call/commission of the Twelve is set after an initial period of teaching and (healing) miracles by Jesus, as recorded in 1:21-3:12. The Markan narrative at this point may be outlined as follows—first, for the specific tradition in 3:13-19:

  • Verse 13—The call of the Twelve is narrated simply, with three details or elements: (a) the location on a mountain, (b) the call, and (c) the response. As in 1:16-20, an immediate, obedient response is indicated:
    • Jesus calls them toward [pro$] him
    • They go away toward [pro/$] him
  • Verses 14-15—The commission: “he made twelve”, where the verb poie/w (“do, make”) can be understood in the sense of “appoint, designate”. The majority text adds “whom he also named apostles“, though the phrase is omitted by a number of manuscripts and may reflect a harmonization with Lk 6:13b. A two-fold purpose is expressed, by use of the conjunctive particle i%na (“[so] that”):
    • “that [i%na] they might be with him”
    • “that [i%na] he might set [i.e. send] them forth”, using the verb a)poste/llw, related to a)po/stolo$ [apostle]
      the purpose of his sending them is also two-fold, expressed by a pair of infinitives (and a third joining infinitive):

      • “to proclaim (the message of the Kingdom)”
        —”and to hold authority [e)cousi/a]”
      • “to cast out the daimons [i.e. demons, (evil) spirits]”
        These represent the two principal activities of Jesus in his Galilean ministry, and are both characterized by the authority which he possesses.
  • Verses 16-19—The names of the Twelve; this consists of two overlapping components:
    • Vv. 16-17: A specific notice of the naming (implied) of the Twelve, echoing verse 13 [v.l.], and the new names given by Jesus (“he set a name for [them]”) to the first, and best known, of the Twelve—Peter, James, and John
    • Vv. 16b-19: The list of the Twelve, according to the (Synoptic) tradition shared with Matthew

The Markan narrative which follows, spanning the entirety of the Galilean ministry period (3:208:30), appears to be governed by this passage, and may reflect a specific (Markan?) development of an earlier stage of the Gospel tradition. Note the following outline, as I suggest it may relate to the two-fold purpose assigned to the calling of the Twelve in 3:14-15 (above):

1. “to be with him” (3:206:6a)—this theme is expressed, in various ways, in each of the passages or episodes which make up this section, which one might organize into a chiastic outline:

  • Contrast of the disciples with Jesus’ natural family and acquaintances, etc (3:20-21, 31-35)
    —Jesus’ proclamation (and teaching) of the Kingdom, i.e. in parables (4:1-34); by which he also gives the secrets of the Kingdom to his closest followers (the Twelve, v. 10)
    ——The disciples together with Jesus in the boat (4:35-41), along a manifestion of the authority he holds
    —Jesus’ healing (exorcism) miracles (5:1-43), i.e. the authority to “cast out the daimons”
  • Contrast (implied) of those who trust in him (i.e. disciples) with the people of Jesus’ home town (6:1-6a)

2. “he would send them forth” (6:6b-8:30)—the section is introduced with a summary of this activity by the Twelve in 6:6b-13; “the Twelve” are mentioned specifically as such in verse 7. A similar chiastic outline may be established for this section as well, framed, for example, by three pairs of episodes:

  • Reference to the healing miracles, worked by the Twelve (6:13)
    —An episode involving Herod (6:14-29)
    ——Feeding miracle (6:30-44)
    ———{the remainder of 6:45-7:37}
    ——Feeding miracle (8:1-10)
    —An episode in which Herod is mentioned (8:14-21)
  • Narrative of a healing miracle, worked by Jesus (8:22-26)

Clearly the commission of the Twelve in 6:6b-13 is parallel to the call of the Twelve in 3:13-19—and each introduces the two main sections of the narrative (3:13-6:6a and 6:6b-8:30). Beyond this point, the narrative clearly depicts the Twelve remaining with Jesus during his journey to Jerusalem (9:35; 10:32), and also during the time in Jerusalem (11:11).

Matthew 10:1-4

By comparison with Mark, the narrative of the call of the Twelve is much simpler; it also functions thematically, and within the structure of the Gospel, rather differently. To begin with, the mountain setting of Mk 3:13 is not mentioned, occurring at an earlier point, as the setting for the “Sermon on the Mount” (chaps. 5-7); the wording in 5:1 is generally similar to that in Mk 3:13: “he stepped up onto the mount(ain)/hill”. In this scene, Jesus also gathers his disciples together, again using similar language (“they came toward him”); only here the purpose is not to commission the Twelve, but to teach (v. 2). On the theory that Matthew has made use of Mark (or a comparable Synoptic narrative), the collection of teaching making up the “Sermon” (primarily “Q” material) has been ‘inserted’ into the first period of the Galilean ministry at a point corresponding to Mark 1:21. The preceding summary of Matt 4:23-25 anticipates the episodes following in chapters 8-9, which essentially ‘pick up’ the Markan narrative—8:1-9:17 corresponds with Mk 1:29-2:22.

As mentioned, the version of the call tradition in Matthew is simpler that that of Mark, and may reflect an abbreviation of the Synoptic tradition (note how Matthew paraphrases the details in Mark). Moreover, the emphasis is more specifically upon the authority Jesus gives the Twelve to work healing miracles:

“And calling his twelve learners [i.e. disciples] toward him, he gave to them (the) authority [e)cousi/a] o(ver) unclean spirits, so as (also) to (be able to) cast them out and to heal every sickness and every disease.” (10:1)

Healing sickness/disease is mentioned as distinct from the casting out of unclean spirits (exorcism miracles), whereas in Mark, both kinds of activity are combined under the basic idea of expelling demons (understood as being responsible for disease). The names of the Twelve follow in vv. 2-4, but without the Markan reference to Jesus’ giving names to Peter/James/John (Peter’s new name is mentioned in passing).

Also different from Mark’s treatment is the way that the mission of the Twelve (Mk 6:6b-13) follows immediately after the call, in 10:5-16. It also serves as the setting for another collection of teaching (vv. 16-42), similar to the earlier “Sermon” in chaps. 5-7. This material is found in other locations in Mark and Luke (including “Q” material). Matt 11:1 concludes this teaching to the Twelve and focuses back again on the ministry activity of Jesus—11:116:20 generally follows Mk 3:208:30 (cf. above), with some differences in ordering and emphasis, and also inclusion of other “Q” and “M” material. Consider the general outline:

  • Narrative introduction/summary of Jesus’ ministry work (4:23-25)
    • Jesus gathers his disciples to him (5:1)
      • He instructs them—collection of teaching (chapters 5-7, “Sermon on the Mount”)
        • First period of the Galilean ministry—teaching and miracles of Jesus (8:1-9:34)
          —development of the Synoptic tradition, including “Q” and “M” material
  • Narrative introduction/summary of Jesus’ ministry work (transitional, 9:35-38)
    • Jesus’ call/commission of the Twelve (10:1-5)
      • He instructs them—collection of teaching (10:6-42)
        • Second period of the Galilean ministry—teaching and miracles of Jesus (11:116:12)
          —development of the Synoptic tradition, etc.

As in Mark, there is also a notice that the Twelve follow Jesus to Jerusalem; two specific references contain this information:

  • The saying in 19:28, added to the core narrative of vv. 27-30 (= Mk 10:28-31); this tradition will be discussed in a subsequent note.
  • 20:17—the third prediction by Jesus of his upcoming Passion (Mk 10:32 par)

This topic will continue in the next daily note, where the call/commission of the Twelve in the Gospels of Luke (and John) will be examined.

Note of the Day – February 18 (John 1:35-51)

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Yesterday’s note explored the tradition(s) related to the call of Peter and the first Disciples, in the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 1:16-20 par). Today I will be looking at the very different line of tradition preserved in the Gospel of John. While it is not entirely impossible to harmonize the Synoptic and Johannine accounts (for those who wish to do so), it should be noted that there is scarcely a single detail in common between them, other than the presence of the brothers Andrew and Simon, and the introduction of the name “Peter” for the latter.

John 1:35-51

As discussed in earlier notes, these verses are part of the larger narrative block of 1:19-51—a sequence of four episodes, set as occurring on four consecutive “days” (a literary device, as much as historical). Verses 35-51 make up the last two “days”. Here again is an outline of vv. 19-51, indicating how deftly the author has blended together traditions regarding the baptism of Jesus and the call of the first disciples, into a single narrative:

  • 1:19-28—Day “1”: The testimony of John the Baptist regarding his own identity
  • 1:29-34—Day “2”: The testimony of John regarding the identity of Jesus
  • 1:35-42—Day “3”: Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of John’s witness
  • 1:43-51—Day “4”: Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of his (and other disciples’) witness
Day “3” (John 1:35-42)

Verses 35-36 essentially repeat the opening from the previous “day” (v. 29f), in which the Baptist sees Jesus (coming) and declares, “This is the lamb of God!”. What follows in the earlier episode (vv. 30-34) is the Baptist’s narration of Jesus’ baptism and his witness as to Jesus’ true identity as the “Son of God” (v. 34 [some MSS read “Elect/Chosen One of God”]). This is treated as a public declaration, for all people to hear. In verses 35-36, on the other hand, it is (only) heard by John’s immediate followers (disciples), two of whom, upon hearing it, leave the Baptist to follow Jesus (v. 37). Compare this with the Synoptic tradition (in Mark):

  • “Jesus said to them, ‘Come (here) behind me…’ [Mk 1:17] and straightaway, releasing th(eir) nets, they followed him” [v. 18]
  • “…looking on Jesus, John says, ‘See! the lamb of God’ [Jn 1:36] and the two…heard him speaking and followed Jesus” [v. 37]

There is a general similarity, but the details differ considerably. It is interesting that, in both traditions, two disciples are involved, and one of them is Andrew (Mk 1:16; Jn 1:40). This cannot be mere coincidence; rather, on entirely objective grounds, it almost certainly reflects authentic (historical) tradition. It is likely that the original Johannine tradition, in its simpler form, continued from verse 37 on (directly) to vv. 40-41:

37…they heard him speaking and followed Jesus. 40Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two…following (Jesus)… 41He finds his own brother Simon and says to him…”

This tradition follows the Synoptic by recording Andrew and his brother Simon (Peter) as the first two disciples (known by name) who follow Jesus. However, the entire setting in John appears to be quite different from that of the Synoptics. There is no mention of fishing; indeed, Andrew appears not to be engaged in fishing at all, but has been a disciple of the Baptist. Nor does Jesus take the initiative, speaking first to Andrew and Peter both, but a very different process and order of events seems to be involved. Moreover, this distinct Johannine tradition has been further adapted by the Gospel writer in light of the overall narrative in chapter 1. This has been done through the inclusion of a number of details:

  • The emphasis on the disciples responding to the witness of John the Baptist regarding Jesus (cf. verses 7-8, 15, 19, 31-32, 34). This is made all the more emphatic by the repetition of verse 29 in vv. 35-36.
  • This begins a chain of witness from John to the disciples in turn (cf. 17:20; 20:31, etc), as narrated in vv. 40-42 and 43-46.
  • The central encounter with Jesus in vv. 38-39, told with distinctly Johannine language, including the special use of the verbs e&rxomai (“come”), me/nw (“remain”) and the motif of seeing/knowing.
  • The declaration of Jesus as “the Messiah” (i.e. Anointed One, Christ); cf. the parallel declaration in v. 49 (also in v. 45), whereby the first disciples bear witness to the identity of Jesus (20:31).

This particular episode also concludes with the naming of Peter (as “[the] Rock”, pe/tro$), by Jesus. This is associated with a different point of the Gospel narrative in the Synoptics (Mk 3:16 par; Matt 16:18). The naming of Peter will be discussed in a subsequent note.

Day “4” (John 1:43-51)

Much that has been said of the prior episode applies to the fourth “day” as well. One main difference is that the disciples are shown responding to Jesus’ call directly, rather than the testimony of John the Baptist (compare vv. 35-37 and 43). Indeed, verse 43 is similar to the Synoptic tradition in Mk 1:16-20 par, though a different disciple (Philip) is involved; yet the basic motif is very close, as Jesus says to the person:

  • “Come (here) in back of me…!”
    Deu=te o)pi/sw mou (Mk 1:17 par)
  • “Follow me!”
    Akolou/qei moi (Jn 1:43)

Again, as in the Synoptics, we are dealing with a second pair of disciples who come to follow Jesus—Philip and Nathanael (instead of the brothers James and John). That this reflects an authentic (historical) tradition, however different from the Synoptic, would seem to be confirmed by the presence of disciples (Philip and, especially, Nathanael) who otherwise play little role in the Gospel narrative. A Christian tradition from a later period would almost certainly have involved better known figures. It is interesting, again, how it is said of Philip (in v. 44) that he was from the same town (Bethsaida) as Andrew and Peter; similarly, in the Synoptics, Andrew/Peter and James/John are, it would seem, from the same area (Capernaum).

From the standpoint of the Johannine narrative (and theological) context, note how in this episode we find the same keywords and motifs as in the prior one—e&rxomai (“come”), me/nw (“remain”), and seeing/knowing (vv. 46-48, 50). All of these common words are given a special meaning and significance in the Gospel of John, involving the relation of the believer to Christ:

  • Jesus comes into the world from the Father, and also comes to those who will believe. Believers, in turn, come to Jesus
  • Believers remain/abide in/with Jesus, and Jesus in/with them

This same dynamic is defined in terms of seeing/knowing—Jesus sees/knows from the Father, and sees/knows those who will believe; then believers also come to see/know Jesus (the Son).

The saying/statement of Jesus in the closing verse 51—a suitable climax to the entire section (and, indeed, chapter 1 as a whole)—draws together all of these motifs, as well as the entire Baptism scene, in the vision promised to the disciples (believers). This remarkable verse has been discussed in considerable detail in an earlier note.

Note of the Day – February 17 (Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11)

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Today’s note begins the next division of our series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”, focusing on the Galilean Ministry of Jesus (cf. the Introduction). The first topic of study is on traditions related to the Call of the Disciples. There are four primary traditions found in the Gospel narrative:

  1. The call of the first Disciples—esp. two pair of brothers (Peter/Andrew, James/John)
  2. The call of Matthew/Levi
  3. The call and commission of the Twelve
  4. The naming of Peter

Only the first and third of these will be dealt with in detail.

The Call of the First Disciples

Mark 1:16-20 par

Following the baptism of Jesus (and the testing in the desert), the period of Galilean ministry, according to the Synoptic narrative, begins with announcement of Jesus’ activity. In the Gospel of Mark, this is found in 1:14-15:

“And with the giving along (of) Yohanan {John} (into custody), Yeshua {Jesus} came into the Galîl {Galilee} proclaiming the good message of God and giving account [i.e. declaring/saying] that ‘The time has been (ful)filled and the kingdom of God has come near! Change your mind [i.e. repent] and trust in the good message!'”

Matthew (4:17) generally follows Mark, though without the preceding message of John the Baptist’s arrest. Luke has set the notice of John’s imprisonment at a different point in the narrative (right before Jesus’ baptism, 3:18-20), and makes no mention of Jesus proclamation of the coming of the kingdom or need for repentance (but cf. Lk 4:43; 8:1). This has essentially been replaced by the narrative summary in 4:14-15, emphasizing the role of the Spirit and Jesus’ activity of teaching (in the Synagogue), which sets the scene for the episode at Nazareth in 4:16ff. In the quotation of Isaiah 61:1 (vv. 18-19), Jesus declares, as part of his mission, that he is to “give/proclaim the good message”, much as is stated in Mk 1:14-15.

Mark 1:16-20 records the call of the first disciples. The parallel in Matthew (4:18-22) is very close; while Luke, has supplemented the basic narrative (5:1b-2, 10-11) with a miracle story involving Peter and his co-workers (5:4-9). This unique handling and development of the tradition will be discussed below. The narrative in Mark is extremely simple, with action and dialogue kept to an absolute minimum:

  • Notice of the location, along the Sea of Galilee (v. 16a)
  • Jesus encounters a two pair of brothers—Simon/Andrew & James/John—in turn (vv. 16b, 19a)
  • These men are all fishermen, busy working their nets (vv. 16b, 19b)
  • Jesus calls to them (to follow him) (vv. 17, 20a)
  • They all leave their nets and boats (and family, etc) to follow Jesus (vv. 18, 20b)

The central element is the saying of Jesus in verse 17, and the structure of the narrative gives the impression that it was built up around the saying. Here is the saying (in Mark):

“Come (here) in back of me [i.e. follow me], and I will cause you to become salt-water (fisher)s of men” (Mk 1:17)

Matthew’s version (4:19) is virtually identical, reading “make you” instead of “cause you to become”. In Luke, the comparable saying is quite different:

“Do not be afraid! From now on you will be catching men alive” (Lk 5:10b)

What is striking about the main Synoptic tradition, as given simply in Mark/Matthew, is how the sparse narrative detail gives the impression of an immediate response by the disciples—at the very (first) word from Jesus, they leave everything and follow him. This, of course, will become a motif—i.e. of obedience and commitment in following Jesus—repeated on several occasions in the Synoptic narrative (Mk 2:14; 8:34; 10:21 par; Lk 9:57-62 par). The core saying itself contains certain elements which summarize and reflect the ministry of Jesus, and are worth noting:

Verse 17a—the emphasis and motif of discipleship:

  • The expression deu=te (“come [here]”) is as much an invitation or exhoration as it is a command, and indicates one’s coming close, toward Jesus—Matt 11:28; 25:34; cf. also 22:4; Mark 6:31.
  • The preposition o)pi/sw (“in back of, behind”) is often used specifically in terms of a disciple following a master (Mark 8:34 par, etc). Its occurrence in the saying(s) of John the Baptist (Mk 1:7 par; Jn 1:15, 27, 30) was discussed in previous notes.

Verse 17b—the illustration from daily life (cf. the parables of Jesus):

  • The word a(lieu/$ refers to someone who works on/in the salt-water, here meaning specifically a fisherman. The activity from daily life is applied to the religious/spiritual life of the disciple (believer) who follows Jesus.
  • The genitive “of men” (a)nqrw/pwn) establishes the point of contrast—instead of gathering in fish for the catch, the disciples will be gathering in human beings for the kingdom of God. This latter detail is not stated explicitly, but such a connotation is likely, given the frequent references to the kingdom of God/Heaven in the parables and teachings of Jesus.

Luke 5:1-11

As noted above, Luke’s version of this episode represents a significant development, in which the core Synoptic narrative (found in vv. 1b-2, 10-11) has been expanded to include a distinct miracle story featuring Peter (vv. 4-9). Verses 1a & 3 may reflect Lukan editing/authorship in order to blend the two traditions effectively into a literary whole. In particular, they seem to echo the setting in Mk 4:1-2, which Luke may have transferred from that location in the (Synoptic) narrative. This is likely, since in 8:4ff, the passage parallel to Mk 4:1-2ff, there is no corresponding mention of Jesus teaching the crowd from a boat.

This is all relatively straightforward—the Synoptic narrative, supplemented by another (“L”) tradition related to the call of Peter—were it not for the fact that the miracle narrated in vv. 4-9 is remarkably similar to that found in John 21:1-8ff. The problem is that the Johannine episode is said to have occurred at a much later time, after the resurrection of Jesus. It is not just a question of a general similarity; rather, there are a number of specific details shared by the two narratives, which include:

  • Peter and his colleagues had fished all night and had caught nothing (v. 3, 5; Jn 21:3)
  • Jesus is standing on the shore of the lake (v. 1; 21:1, 4)
  • Jesus tells them to go and cast out their nets again (v. 4; 21:6)
  • The result is an enormous catch of fish (v. 6b; 21:6, 11)
  • Reference to the stress (tearing) on the nets, and to the help required to bring in the catch (vv. 6-7; 21:8, 11)
  • A reaction by Peter to(ward) Jesus as a result of the miracle (v. 8; 21:7)
  • Jesus is called “Lord” [ku/rio$] (v. 8; 21:7)
  • The catch of fish is symbolic of the work of Christian ministry, and is connected in the narrative to a (separate) tradition involving the commission of Peter and the other disciples (vv. 10-11; 21:11, 15ff)

Also notable is the use of the dual name “Simon Peter” in both narratives (v. 8; 21:7), as it is the only such occurrence in the Gospel of Luke (and only once elsewhere in the Synoptics, Matt 16:16); cf. J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX (Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 28), p. 561.

These similarities have been explained various ways by commentators:

  • As two separate historical episodes, at different points in the life of Peter, during his time with Jesus—one at the beginning, and the other at the end. The shared details would be either coincidental or providential.
  • Two separate traditions have been shaped by a distinct miracle-story form—i.e. the miraculous catch of fish.
  • A tradition with an original post-resurrection setting (John) has been given an earlier setting at the time of Peter’s calling (Luke).
  • A tradition originally associated with Peter’s calling has been set after the resurrection. I.e. the reverse of the view above.
  • It is a piece of “floating” tradition, which came to the Gospel writers (and/or their sources) without a specific narrative (or chronological) context; each writer made use of the tradition at the most meaningful (or logical) point.

The first option generally follows the traditional-conservative view. Those who hold to it would quickly point out the many differences between the two narratives, in addition to the similarities. Critical scholars, on the other hand, are more likely to accept either the second, third, or fifth options (e.g., Fitzmyer, Luke I-IX, pp. 561-2). The fact that Luke has apparently adapted an (earlier) Synoptic narrative, by adding/inserting the miracle episode, as a distinct unit (vv. 4-9), would perhaps favor (some form of) the critical view. For those who would argue between the Lukan and Johannine setting as the “original” setting of the historical tradition, the evidence seems to be fairly evenly divided. On the one hand, the fact that Luke and John (according to the Alexandrian/Majority text of Lk 24), have inherited common traditions related to the resurrection, supports the post-resurrection setting in John 21. On the other hand, the idea of Peter and the other disciples returning to the ordinary life of fishermen after the resurrection has always seemed a bit odd (even unlikely) to many. The overall milieu of the scene (esp. vv. 1a-8 in John) better fits the period of Jesus’ Galilean ministry (as narrated in the Synoptics). It would be easy enough to adapt such an “earlier” or “floating” tradition to a post-resurrection setting, as could have been done in John simply by adding vv. 1 and 12b-14 (try reading the text without these framing verses) to an episode otherwise very close to Lk 5:4-9.

Speaking of the Gospel of John, it should be mentioned, in closing, that the Fourth Gospel has nothing like Mark 1:16-20 par, but records/preserves an entirely different tradition regarding the call of the first disciples (Peter/Andrew, etc). This will be discussed in the next daily note.

The Speeches of Acts, Part 19: Acts 15:6-21 (continued)

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In Part 18, I looked at the first twelve verses of chapter 15 which comprise the first half of the main section of the so-called “Jerusalem Council” narrative. Here is an outline for the chapter as a whole:

  • Part 1: Main Narrative (15:1-21)
    Narrative Introduction (vv. 1-6)
    Speech of Peter (vv. 7-11)
    Transition (v. 12)
    Speech of James (vv. 13-21)
  • Part 2: Letter from the Council (15:22-35)
    The Letter (vv. 22-29)
    Narrative Conclusion (vv. 30-35)

Verse 12 is transitional between the twin speeches of Peter and James, concluding the one and leading into the next. The two speeches are thus closely connected—two parts of a single message—and within the literary context of the book of Acts it truly represents a transitional point: Peter’s speech looks back toward the Cornelius episode and the early apostolic mission, while James’ looks ahead to the wider mission to the Gentile world. Unlike Peter’s speech, that of James more closely follows the sermon-speech pattern found in the earlier speeches of Acts:

  • Narrative Introduction/Transition (v. 12)
  • Introductory Address (vv. 13-14)
  • Citation from Scripture (vv. 15-18)
  • Concluding Exhortation (vv. 19-21), with implicit exposition/application of the Scripture
  • Narrative Conclusion (v. 22), leading directly into the Letter from the Council (vv. 22-29)

Narrative Introduction/Transition (v. 12)

There are two elements in this verse, related to the response of the assembled believers (pa=n to\ plh=qo$, “all the full [crowd]”, i.e. the number of those present/inolved):

  1. It (sg., the crowd) became silent (e)si/ghsen)—Peter’s words effectively put an end to the (immediate) dispute, cf. a similar reaction in 11:18.
  2. They (pl.) heard (h&kouon)—the people listened to the account of Barnabas and Paul (v. 12b)

It is interesting that the author does include any of Paul and Barnabas’ actual words; from the standpoint of the overall narrative, this of course would not be necessary, since the reader/hearer of the book would already be familiar with the events of chapters 13-14. It is also possible that the author was unaware of precisely what was said, and/or simply chose not to include it for other reasons. The simple statement in v. 12b is effective, however, and quietly serves the purpose of connecting the missionary work of Paul and Barnabas with the miraculous work of God in the Cornelius episode (vv. 7-9).

Introductory Address (vv. 13-14)

The opening of verse 13 (“and with/after their having kept silent…”), following upon the notice in v. 12a, may be an indication of editorial joining of separate traditions, or as a literary device to bring together the two speeches. James uses a vocative address (“Men, brothers…”, a&ndre$ a)delfoi/) familiar from earlier speeches (Acts 1:16; 2:14, 22, 29; 3:12; 5:35; 7:2; 13:15, 16, 26, 38; 15:7). The imperative “hear (me)!” (a)kou/sate) also occurs in the prior speeches (2:22; 7:2; 13:16; 22:1); on the importance of hearing (i.e. listening/understanding) in relation to the Gospel witness, etc., see the frequent use of the verb in this context in 1:4; 2:6, 8, 11, 33, 37; 3:22-23; 4:4, 19-20; 8:6; 9:21; 10:22, 33, 44; 11:18; 13:7, 44, 48; 14:9; 15:7, 12 and throughout the book.

In verse 14, James confirms (and re-affirms) Peter’s message regarding the earlier conversion of the Gentiles (in the Cornelius episode):

Shim±ôn [Simeon, i.e. Peter] has brought out [i.e. explained] even as at (the) first (how) God looked (closely) upon (them) to take out of [i.e. from] the nations a people (for/unto) his Name”

The use of the adverb prw=ton (“at [the] first”) clearly relates to Peter’s use of the phrase a)f’ h(merw=n a)rxai/wn (“from [the] beginning days”) in verse 7. The use of these expressions in reference to fairly recent events is perhaps a bit unusual, but the basic idea seems to be that from the very beginning of the Christian mission, and with such purpose and intention, God has included Gentiles among those who would come to believe. The meaning is thus twofold: (1) temporal (from the very start), and (2) in terms of importance (a primary, leading purpose). In this light, it is most significant the way that James uses vocabulary and expressions, normally applied specifically to Israel, in reference to Gentile believers:

  • “God looked (closely) upon (them)” (o( qeo\$ e)peske/yato)—By the time of the New Testament, the verb e)piske/ptomai (cf. also the less common e)piskope/w and the related noun e)piskoph/) was often used of God’s care and concern for his people (Gen 21:1; 50:24-25; Exod 3:16; 4:31; Deut 11:12; Ps 8:4; Zeph 2:7; Zech 10:3 etc), sometimes in the semi-technical sense of his coming (eschatological) visitation, for salvation/deliverance and also judgment/punishment (the emphasis on judgment tends to dominate in the OT, Exod 32:34; Job 35:15; Ps 59:5; 89:32; Jer 5:9, 29; 9:9; 11:22; 30:20; 36:21 etc, but contrast Ps 65:9; 80:14; 106:4; Jer 15:15; 29:10; Ezek 20:40; Sirach 46:14). In the NT, see especially Luke 1:68, 78; 7:16; also Lk 19:44; 1 Pet 2:12; Heb 2:6.
  • “to take out of the nations” (labei=n e)c e)qnw=n)—For the fundamental idea of God choosing Israel from among all the nations to be his (holy) people, see esp. Exod 19:5; 23:22 [LXX]; Deut 7:6; 14:2; 26:18-19. Often the verbs used in Greek are ai)re/w (“take/seize [for oneself]”, cf. Deut 26:18) or e)kle/gomai (“gather out”, Deut 14:12 and cf. its use in Acts 15:7). On a similar use of the common verb lamba/nw here (“take/receive”), see e.g. Num 8:6; Amos 2:11.
  • “a people (for/unto) his Name” (lao\n tw=| o)no/mati)—For the idea of God’s name upon, in, and among his people, see esp. Exod 23:21; Num 6:27; Deut 12:5, 11, 21; 14:23-24; 18:19f; 28:10; 2 Sam 6:2; 7:13; 1 Kings 8:16-19, 29; 2 Kings 21:4, 7; 2 Chron 6:6; 7:14; Psalm 69:36; 91:14; 118:26; Isa 29:23; 43:7; 52:6; 65:1; Jer 13:11; 23:27; Mic 4:5; Zech 10:12; 13:9; Mal 1:11; 3:16.

These themes continue on in the Scripture citation (from Amos 9:11-12) which follows.

Citation from Scripture (vv. 15-18)

James cites Amos 9:11-12, in a form which generally corresponds with the Greek (LXX) version; this is noteworthy, since it has several significant differences from the Hebrew (MT) version, differences which are actually essential to the interpretation and application given to the passage here.  A comparison of Amos 9:11-12:

Translation of the Hebrew (MT)

11 In that day I will raise up [lit. make stand] the woven-shelter of David th(at) is fallen,
and I will wall up her [pl.] (holes that are) bursting out;
And I will raise up [lit. make stand] his [sg.] torn-down-remains [i.e. ruins],
and I will build her [sg.] as in (the) days of distant (past)
12 In order that they possess the remainder of Edom
and all the nations (for) which my name is called upon them—
utterance of YHWH (the one) doing this.

Greek (LXX) with translation

11 e)n th=| h(me/ra| e)kei/nh| a)nasth/sw th\n skhnh\n Dauid th\n peptwkui=an kai\ a)noikodomh/sw ta\ peptwko/ta au)th=$ kai\ ta\ kateskamme/na au)th=$ a)nasth/sw kai\ a)noikodomh/sw au)th\n kaqw\$ ai( h(me/rai tou= ai)w=no$
12 o%pw$ e)kzhth/swsin oi( kata/loipoi tw=n a)nqrw/pwn [to\n ku/rion] kai\ pa/nta ta\ e&qnh e)f’ ou^$ e)pike/klhtai to\ o&noma/ mou e)p’ au)tou/$ le/gei ku/rio$ o( qeo\$ o( poiw=n tau/ta

11 In that day I will raise [lit. stand] up/again the tent of David th(at) has fallen and I will build up/again her [sg.] fallen-parts, and I will raise [lit. stand] up/again her [sg.] dug-down-remains [i.e. ruins] and I will build her [sg.] up/again even as (in) the days of the (past) age
12 how that the (ones) remaining down [i.e. the remainder] of men, and every nation upon whom my name has been called, might seek out [the Lord], says the Lord God the (one) doing these things.

Acts 15:16-18

11 meta\ tau=ta a)nastre/yw kai\ a)noikodmh/sw th\n skh/nhn Daui\d th\n peptwkui=an kai\ ta\ kateskamme/na au)th=$ a)noikodomh/sw kai\ a)norqw/sw au)th/n
12 o%pw$ a&n e)kzhth/swsin oi( kata/loipoi tw=n a)nqrw/pwn to\n ku/rion kai\ pa/nta ta\ e&qnh e)f’ ou^$ e)pike/klhtai to\ o&noma/ mou e)p’ au)tou/$ le/gei ku/rio$ poiw=n tau=ta
gnwsta\ a)p’ ai)w=no$

11 After these (things) I will turn up/again [i.e. return] and I will build up/again the tent of David th(at) has fallen and her [sg.] dug-down-remains [i.e. ruins] I will build up/again and I will set her [sg.] straight up/again,
12 how that the (ones) remaining down [i.e. the remainder] of men, and every nation upon whom my name has been called, might seek out the Lord—says the Lord doing these things,
known from (the) age.

The LXX generally follows the Hebrew of v. 11, although in very flat translation, having lost nearly all of the color and texture of the verse. The citation in James/Acts matches neither the Hebrew or LXX all that closely; it generally follows the vocabulary of the LXX, but in a much simpler form. The most notable differences between the LXX and James/Acts for v. 11 are:

LXX:

e)n th=| h(me/ra| e)kei/nh| (“in that day”)

{no corresponding phrase}

repeats a)noikodomh/sw (“I will build up/again”)

kaqw\$ ai( h(me/rai tou= ai)w=no$
(“even as [in] the days of the [past] age”)

Acts/James:

meta\ tau=ta (“after these [things]”)

a)nastre/yw (“I will turn up/again [i.e. return]”)

uses a)norqw/sw (“I will set straight up/again”)

{no corresponding phrase}
(reflected in gnwsta\ a)p’ ai)w=no$?)

For verse 12, LXX (A) and James/Acts are nearly identical, and both are very different from the Hebrew: “they may possess the remainder of Edom” has turned into “the remainder of men might seek out [the Lord]”—this seems to be the result of a two-fold error in translation:

  1. <d)a$ (Edom, defective spelling) was mistaken for <d*a* (Adam/man)
  2. Wvr=yy] (“they [may] possess”) was either mistaken for (or ‘corrected’ to) Wvr=d=y] (“they [may] seek”)

The lack of a clearly identified subject for the verb in Hebrew would have added to the confusion: the ‘remainder’ and ‘all the nations…’ became the subject (who/what seeks out) in the Greek version. There being no clear object for the ‘seeking’ it was easy enough to add a pronoun or “the Lord” as both the A-text and Acts/James do. That these verses would have proved difficult for Greek translators to understand, several centuries after the fact, is not surprising; it remains troublesome even today. Consider, for example, the complex set of referents indicated by the various pronominal suffixes in verse 11. As for verse 12, there are three ways to read the text:

  1. “all the nations…” is a coordinate object with “Edom”. That is, Israel will possess “Edom and all the nations”. There are two difficulties with this view: (a) the lack of a parallel object marker (Áta) for “all the nations”, and (b) the phrase “my name is called upon” being applied to the nations, which is unusual in the Old Testament. The sense would be that the nations possessed by restored Israel will come to have God’s name called upon them—that is, they will effectively be converted.
  2. “all the nations…” is the subject, coordinate with Israel (implied). This would be translated as follows: “They—even all the nations (for) which my name is called upon them—will possess the remainder of Edom”. Though such a role for the nations may fit the outlook of the LXX and Acts, it seems rather foreign to the original context of Amos; however the idea of nations united/cooperating with Israel could conceivably be in mind.
  3. The phrase “which my name is called upon them” is substantively the subject, but does not apply to “all the nations”. This would be translated: “They—(those for) which my name is called upon them—will possess the remainder of Edom and all the nations”. Here the sense would be that the (restored) Israel is identified (only) with those upon whom God’s name is called. This is an interesting possibility, and one which does fit the context of Amos to some extent.

Despite some syntactical awkwardness, I feel that the first way of reading the verse remains the best option. Of course, there is always the possibility of corruption having crept into the Masoretic text; unfortunately, only one Dead Sea document (a Prophets scroll from Wadi Murabba‘at) contains v. 12, highly fragmentary, but apparently conforming to the MT. Otherwise, apart from the variant reading of LXX/Acts, there is little basis for asserting textual corruption here.

There are other textual, literary and historical-critical difficulties regarding the citation of Amos 9:11-12 in Acts, such as:

  • At the historical level, would James have cited such a passage of Scripture from the Greek? If so, did he recognize a discrepancy with the Hebrew?
  • To what extent is this quotation the product of the author (traditionally Luke) rather than the speaker (James), whether in terms of translation or insertion?
  • What is one to make of either author or speaker using a version of Scripture which is apparently at odds with the original (inspired) Hebrew text?

These are important questions, both for an understanding of the composition of the book (Acts), and in terms of how we regard the nature and extent of inspiration. For more on this, see the supplemental articles on critical questions related to Acts 15.

Admitting that there are difficulties with the version of Amos 9:11-12 cited by Acts/James, just how does the author/speaker make use of it, and how does this differ from the original context of the passage?

Consider first the original setting of these verses in the book of Amos: they are part of an ‘epilogue’, both to the sequence of visions (7:1-9:6) and the book as a whole. After searing proclamations of judgment, concluding with a vision of destruction for Israel (9:1-6), there is a promise of restoration, beginning in vv. 7-8, and more fully in vv. 11-15. The “woven-shelter” (hKs often translated “hut”, “booth”) of David, central to this passage, is a curious image—overall, the reference seems to be to the Kingdom (of Judah) and Jerusalem (but perhaps representative of the whole Kingdom) in ruins; however the “booth”, with its echo of the exodus and wilderness wandering (commemorated by the festival of toKs), may refer to an Israelite identity that predates/transcends the Kingdom (at least the divided Kingdom of Amos’ time). The restored Israel will possess again the land (vv. 14-15), including the territory of Edom and, it would seem, the surrounding nations (v. 12), accompanied by a time of renewed prosperity (vv. 13-14).

In James’ speech (Acts 15:13-21), these verses are applied to the early Christian mission to the Gentiles, in particular to the episode of Peter and Cornelius (vv. 7-11, 14; cf. 10:1-11:18). This is done by “catchphrase bonding”, an ancient interpretive method, but one which is rather foreign to us today. By this method, different passages of Scripture (which may be otherwise unrelated), are connected by the presence of a common/similar word or phrase. Here the triggering phrase is “a people for/to His Name”:

V. 14: Simeon [i.e. Simon Peter] has related [lit. led out] even as (at the) first God looked closely upon (it) to take out of (the) nations a people for/to His Name.

One well-versed in the Scriptures—whether James of the author of Acts—might quickly associate this phrase with the reference in Amos 9:12; and, while the context of the Hebrew is perhaps not so suitable, the Greek of the LXX is very much to his purpose, for it speaks of the nations “upon whom My Name is called” seeking out [the Lord]. Unmistakably, this here is a reference to ‘God-fearing’ Gentiles (such as Cornelius) seeking God (the Lord) and responding to Christ (the Lord) in the proclamation of the Gospel. In other words, James associates the LXX version of Amos 9:12 with the early Christian mission and conversion of the Gentiles. Interestingly, in the Greek, it is no longer the remnant of Israel specifically involved but rather the remnant of (all?) men. Note how Paul treats Hosea 1:10; 2:3 in a similar manner in Romans 9:25-27.

It is all the more extraordinary that this universal reference to the nations would be associated with the “fallen booth/tent of David”, which in Amos clearly refers to Israel and the Davidic Kingdom. However, this is fully in accord with the implicit theme (in Luke-Acts) of the “restoration of Israel” in terms of the early Christian mission—beginning with the Twelve (symbolic of the twelve Tribes) and other believers in Jerusalem, to the Jews of the dispersion (among the nations), and then to ‘God-fearers’ and other Gentiles (non-Jews among the nations). Even in the Hebrew of Amos 9:12 there is the idea of nations who are (or come to be) associated with Israel and share “God’s Name upon them”.

In this light, one should also recognize an eschatological aspect of this reference in Acts. The introductory phrase itself (“after these [things] I will return”), found neither in the LXX or the Hebrew, seems to carry such a nuance. God returns to His People (cf. for example the echoes of the Sinai theophany in Acts 2), establishing His Kingdom in the new Age (“last days” cf. Acts 2:17ff, etc) which now consists of both Jews and Gentiles (cf. Paul’s grand eschatological hope/expectation in Romans 9-11). It is clear from the Qumran texts that Amos 9:11 was understood in an eschatological/Messianic sense. The Florilegium (4Q174), which strings together related Scripture passages (with a brief interpretation), associates Amos 9:11 with the promise of the Davidic dynasty in 2 Sam 7:

This (refers to the) “Branch of David”, who will arise with the Interpreter of the Law who [will rise up] in Zi[on in] the [l]ast days, as it is written: “I will raise up the hut of David which has fallen”, This (refers to) “the hut of David which has fall[en”, which he will raise up to save Israel. (translation from García Martínez & Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition Vol. 1 [Leiden/Brill, 1998/2000], p. 353)

Here the “booth/hut of David” is identified with the Messianic designation “Branch of David”, that is to say with a specific Anointed (Messianic) figure. A similar use of Amos 9:11 is found in the Cairo version of the Damascus Document (CD 7:15-16 [MS A]); this passage mentions in sequence: (a) coming days of judgment and tribulation [citing Isa 7:17], (b) exile of the ‘booth of the king’ [Amos 5:26-27], (c) raising up the ‘booth of David’ [Amos 9:11], (d) the coming of the ‘star’ [Interpreter of the Law] and ‘sceptre’ [Messiah/Prince] who will smite the nations [Num 24:17]. Such eschatological expectations are very far removed from the book of Acts (cf. 1:6ff, not to mention most of the New Testament as a whole); that is to say, they have been transferred into a different framework:

Jewish expectation c. 1st century B.C./A.D.
(Qumran texts, etc.)

  • Signs of travail, persecution, etc
  • Appearance of an Anointed figure (Messiah)
  • Judgment/war on the (wicked) nations
  • Restoration of the Kingdom

Early Christian expectation (1st cent. A.D.)
(Jesus’ teaching, Apostolic preaching, rest of NT)

  • Signs of travail, persecution, etc
  • Judgment on the World
  • Return of Christ (Parousia)
  • Entry into Life in Heaven with God/Christ
    (references to an earthly ‘Messianic’ kingdom are rare in the NT)

Concluding Exhortation (vv. 19-21)
and Narrative Conclusion (v. 22ff)

James concludes his speech with an authoritative determination, confirming Peter’s message and effectively affirming the missionary approach of Paul and Barnabas among Gentiles—

V. 19: “Therefore I judge (we/you are) not to crowd in alongside the (one)s from the nations turning upon God…”

that is, Jewish believers are not to cause (extra) trouble for Gentile converts by demanding (or expecting) that they should be circumcised and observe fully the Law of Moses (v. 1, 5). This, indeed, seems to accord with the “Law-free” Gospel proclaimed by Paul (esp. in Galatians), and is now so familiar (if perhaps somewhat misunderstood) by non-Jewish believers today that what follows from James in vv. 20-21 could come as a bit of a surprise: “…but we set upon them [i.e. send to them] (in writing) to hold (themselves) away from…”, citing four specific prohibitions (requirements) derived, it would seem, from the Law (apparently from Lev 17-18). These four legal requirements are indicated in the letter which follows (vv. 22-29). The nature and historical context of this resolution continues to be debated; and, of course, as the Church grew to become predominantly Gentile, and influenced greatly by Paul’s writings, these restrictions soon disappeared, and their precise meaning and significance is, to some extent, lost to us today. However, they are important for a proper understanding of the passage, and, as such, I have discussed them in more detail in the article on Acts 15 in my series on “The Law and the New Testament” and in a supplemental note.

The association of Amos 9:11-12 with this question of keeping the Law has an interesting parallel in the passage from the Damascus Document (mentioned above). There the “fallen booth of David” is specifically identified with the Books of the Law (Torah), related to the congregation as a whole. The reference in Num 24:17 (“star” and “sceptre”) was understood as foretelling the coming of an “Interpreter of the Law” and a “Prince of the Congregation”—these two will restore obedience to the Books of the Law (and Prophets) “whose sayings Israel has despised”. So here we have two distinct interpretations of the “booth of David” found in the Qumran community (and related groups):

  • Identified with the coming (Anointed) One who will save/restore Israel
  • Identified with the Torah, which the coming (Anointed) One[s] will restore to Israel

Can we not see Jesus as both Anointed (Christ) and Torah (Word of God), who comes to save His People?

The Speeches of Acts, Part 18: Acts 15:6-21

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In this article, I will be discussing the pair of Speeches (by Peter and James) which are set together in the narrative of the so-called “Jerusalem Council” in Acts 15. This episode is central to the overall narrative of Acts, occurring virtually at the mid-point of the book, though I prefer to regard it as the culminating (and climactic) episode of the first half (chapters 1-15). Here is how I would outline the first half of the book:

  • Introduction—the Disciples with Jesus (Acts 1:1-11)
  • The Believers in Jerusalem (Acts 1:12-8:3)
    Acts 1:12-26: The reconstitution of the Twelve, with a speech by Peter
    Acts 2:1-47: The Pentecost narrative (the coming of the Spirit), with a speech by Peter
    Acts 3:1-4:31: The healing miracle and the Apostles before the Sanhedrin, with two speeches by Peter and a prayer
    Acts 4:32-5:11: Conflict among the Believers—Ananias/Sapphira
    Acts 5:12-42: Miracle(s) and the Apostles before the Sanhedrin, with two speeches (by Peter and Gamaliel)
    Acts 6:1-7: Conflict among the Believers—the appointment of the Seven (incl. Stephen and Philip)
    Acts 6:8-8:3: The Stephen narrative, with a major speech, concluding with onset of persecution
  • The Early Mission outside of Jerusalem (Acts 8:4-12:25)
    Acts 8:4-40: Two episodes involving Philip (in Samaria and on the road to Gaza), along with an episode of the Apostles in Samaria (Peter and Simon Magus)
    Acts 9:1-31: The Conversion and early Ministry of Saul Paulus (Paul) (around Damascus)
    Acts 9:32-43: Two episodes (healing miracles) involving Peter (in Lydda/Sharon and Joppa)
    Acts 10:1-11:18: Peter and Cornelius (in Caesarea): first outreach to Gentiles, with two speeches by Peter
    Acts 11:19-30: Introduction to the Church in Antioch
    Acts 12:1-25: The arrest (and miraculous release) of Peter, followed by the death of Herod Agrippa
  • Paul’s (First) Mission to the Gentiles (Acts 13:1-15:35)
    The sequence of the mission (Acts 13-14): (a) Departure from Antioch (13:1-3); (b) On Cyprus (13:4-12); (c) In Pisidian Antioch, with a major sermon-speech (13:13-52); (d) At Iconium (14:1-7); (e) At Lystra, including a short speech (14:8-20); (f) The Return to Syrian Antioch (14:21-28)
    Acts 15:1-35: The Jerusalem Council—The Reaction/Response to Paul’s Mission

I would further outline Acts 15:1-35 as follows:

  • Part 1: Main Narrative (15:1-21)
    Narrative Introduction (vv. 1-6)
    Speech of Peter (vv. 7-11)
    Transition (v. 12)
    Speech of James (vv. 13-21)
  • Part 2: Letter from the Council (15:22-35)
    The Letter (vv. 22-29)
    Narrative Conclusion (vv. 30-35)

There are major longstanding (and much debated) critical issues associated with Acts 15, involving: the historical background, chronology, the blending of separate traditions, the authenticity of the speeches (and the letter), the relationship to Paul’s account in Galatians 2, and so forth. I am dealing with the historical background and questions related to the Torah as part of my current series on “The Law and the New Testament”; several of the critical difficulties will be treated, to some extent, in a supplemental article. Here I am limiting discussion to the speeches in 15:6-21, though in so doing I will touch upon several of the critical points.

Narrative Introduction (vv. 1-6)

These verses provide a narrative summary of events leading to the meeting in Jerusalem. The ‘Western’ text typically shows significant expansion and other differences (indicated below) compared with the Alexandrian/Majority text—most scholars today would regard these as secondary expansions, but it is possible that they reflect authentic tradition.

Verse 1: This states the conflict—”some coming down from Judea taught the brothers that ‘if you are not circumcised in the customary way of Moses [i.e. according to the Law of Moses], you are not able to be saved'”
Western MSS specify the people from Judea as being believers (“ones having trusted”) from the Pharisees (cf. verse 5); other MSS (including D) read “and walk [kai…peripathte] in the customary way of Moses”, indicating that they believed it necessary for Gentile converts to observe the Torah completely.

Verse 2: The controversy is stated simply—”and (as there was) coming to be no little standing (up) and searching [i.e. uproar/commotion and dispute] toward them for Paul and Barnabas…”; it follows that “they [i.e. the congregation of Antioch] set/appointed Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them to step up into Jerusalem, toward the apostles and elders, about this searching [i.e. dispute]”
Note the differences in the Western text (italicized), in the context of more conventional translation:
“And Paul and Barnabas had no small confrontation and dispute with them, for Paul told them [i.e. Gentile converts] strongly to remain just as (they were when) they came to believe; but the ones coming from Jerusalem gave the message to [i.e. ordered] them, Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them, to go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, so as to be judged before them [i.e. before the apostles and elders] about this question”
The Western version presents a somewhat different picture, emphasizing the role and authority of the Jerusalem church.

Verse 3: This verse narrates the journey of Paul and Barnabas (and the others), mentioning their travel through Samaria. Two points are emphasized especially: (1) that they were sent forth by (lit. “under”) the congregation [e)kklhsia] (of Antioch), and (2) along they way they explained (lit. “led out thoroughly”) the conversion of the Gentiles, which brought great joy to the other believers.

Verse 4: The arrival in Jerusalem—”and coming to be along in(to) Jerusalem, they were received along (Western MSS add ‘greatly’) from [i.e. by] the congregation [e)kklhsia] and the apostles and the elders, (and) they gave the message (again) as many (thing)s as [i.e. all of the things] God did with them”.

Verse 5: This summarizes the opening of debate, along the conflict lines established in verse 1 (note the similarity here to the Western text of v. 1). Certain men from the Pharisees (who had come to believe in Jesus) “stood up”, saying that “it was necessary for them [i.e. Gentile converts] to be circumcised and (also for them) to keep the law of Moses”. Western MSS (including D) identify these Pharisees with “the ones who gave the message [i.e. ordered] them [i.e. Paul and Barnabas] to go up to the elders”, according to the Western text of verse 2.

Verse 6: This describes the meeting proper—”The apostles and elders (Western MSS add ‘ with the full [congregation]’) were brought together to see about this word/account [i.e. this particular subject or issue]”.

The question clearly had to do with whether Gentile converts were (or should be) required to observe the commands and regulations of the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah). The principal issue, in terms of Jewish identity, of course, was circumcision—but this reflected the wider point of dispute regarding Torah observance. The controversy itself suggests that the early (Jewish) Christians observed the Law faithfully (cf. Acts 10:13-14, 28; 11:1-3, 8; 21:20-26), and would have expected other Christians to do the same. The conversion of Gentiles created an understandable religious difficulty (addressed in the Cornelius episode of chaps. 10-11). The debates must have been fierce—the author of Acts does not express this in any real detail, taking care to present a more harmonious overall picture of the Church. The disputes themselves in chapter 15 are hardly described at all, being mentioned only to set the narrative, by way of introductory participial clauses:

  • genome/nh$ de\ sta/sew$ kai\ ou)k o)li/gh$… (“and [there] having come to be no little standing [up] and searching [i.e. debate/dispute]…”), v. 2a—this leads into the appointment of Paul and Barnabas (and others) to go to Jerusalem.
  • pollh=$ de\ zhth/sew$ genome/n$… (“and [there] having come to be much searching [i.e. debate/dispute]…”) v. 7a—this leads into the speech by Peter.

Speech by Peter (15:7-11):
Introductory Address (v. 7)

The participial opening clause of 7a is followed by Peter’s response (“standing up Peter said toward them…”); this “standing up” (a)nasta/$) by Peter in response to the disputing (zhthsi$) may be seen as parallel to the “standing” (sta/si$, i.e. commotion, dissension, uproar) which accompanies the disputing (zhthsi$) in verse 2. Ultimately, Peter’s speech silences the commotion (verse 12). He begins with a vocative address (a&ndre$ a)delfoi/, “Men, brothers…”) used elsewhere in the speeches of Acts (cf. 1:16; 2:14, 22, 29; 3:12; 5:35; 7:2; 13:16, 26, 38). Notes on each phrase follow in turn:

u(mei=$ e)pi/stasqe o%ti, “you (may) stand (your mind) upon [i.e. understand] that”—i.e., “you know/understand that…”, for a similar address, cf. Acts 10:28; 19:25; 20:18.

a)f’ h(merw=n a)rxai/wn, “from beginning/leading days”—this expression normally would mean “from days (long) ago”, which is a bit unusual in context here, since the events to which Peter is referring (the Cornelius episode in Acts 10-11) cannot have taken place all that long ago; however, it may be have a rhetorical or literary usage here, to emphasize that it took place at the very beginning (and in a central/leading position) of the Gospel proclamation (see a similar play on words in 11:15).

e)n u(mi=n, “in/among you”—this is connected with what follows (“God gathered out [from] among us”); there should probably be understood here also a subtle emphasis on Jewish identity, cf. the reference to “the ones fearing God [i.e. Gentile ‘Godfearers’] among you [e)n u(mi=n]” in Paul’s speech, 13:26).

e)cele/cato o( qeo\$ “God gathered (me) out from”—the verb e)kle/gomai (“gather out”, i.e. “choose, select”) and the related noun e)klekto/$ (“[one] gathered out, chosen, ‘elect’), may be used (a) of disciples and believers chosen by Christ (and/or God), Lk 6:13; 18:7; Jn 6:70; 13:18; 15:16, 19; Acts 1:2, 24; 1 Cor 1:27-28; Rom 8:33; Eph 1:4; James 2:5; 1 Pet 2:9 etc; (b) Israel and the Fathers chosen by God, Acts 13:17; (c) Jesus as the Elect/Chosen One, Lk 9:35; 23:35; 1 Pet 2:4, 6; (d) believers chosen for a special mission or duty, Acts 6:5; 15:22, 25. The specific Greek expression (with the preposition e)n “in/among”) can be found in the LXX (1 Sam 16:10; 1 Kings 8:16, 44; 11:32, etc). The noun e)kklhsi/a, customarily rendered “congregation, church” is derived from a verb with a similar basic meaning, e)kkale/w (“call out”), which is used only rarely in the LXX (not in a religious sense) and never in the NT.

dia\ tou= sto/mato/$ mou, “through my mouth”—on this idiom, often used in the sense of the revelation (by the Prophets, etc) in Scripture, cf. Lk 1:70; Acts 1:16; 3:18, 21; 4:25; for the apostolic witness (preaching/proclamation) taking place through “(opening) the mouth”, see also Acts 8:35; 10:34; 18:14.

a)kou=sai ta\ e&qnh… kai\ pisteu=sai, “(for) the nations to hear… and trust”—hearing and trusting (i.e. “believe, have faith”) are commonly associated with the Gospel proclamation and conversion throughout Acts (and elsewhere in the New Testament); the emphasis on the Gentiles (“the nations”) is clear, especially in the context of the current controversy (cf. Acts 10:45; 11:1, 18; 13:46-48; 14:27; 15:3).

to\n lo/gon tou= eu)aggeli/ou, “the word/account of the good message [i.e. Gospel]”—this seems to be a combination of two separate, but related, expressions used throughout Acts: (a) “the word/account of God” (or “…of the Lord)”, Acts 4:31; 6:7; 8:25; 11:1; 12:24; 13:5, et al, and (b) “the good message” (“good news”/Gospel), Acts 20:24, also 8:12, 35; 10:36; 13:32, etc. See also the related expressions in Acts 5:20; 13:26; 16:17.

Central Narration: Citation from Recent History (vv. 8-9)

The sermon-speech pattern for many of the prior speeches in Acts includes a central citation from Scripture (see the speech of James, below); here, the citation consists instead of a narration of recent events, similar to that in 11:1-18 (for the notes on this earlier speech by Peter, cf. Part ). The narration in chapter 11 is much more extensive, here it is limited to a pair of concise statements:

  • “And the heart-knowing God witnessed to them, giving the holy Spirit, even as he did to us” (v. 8)
  • “and he judged/separated through [die/krinen] nothing between us and them, cleansing their hearts by/in trust” (v. 9)

It is also possible to discern a chiastic structure:

  • God who knows (all) hearts—witness
    • giving the holy Spirit
      • to them just as (also) to us
      • no separation between us and them
    • cleansing (i.e. making holy)
  • Their hearts (in response to God)—trust/faith

For an interesting association between the Holy Spirit and cleansing, see the rare (but notable) textual variant in the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer (Lk 11:2). For the descriptive epithet “heart-knowing” (kardiognw/sth$) applied to God, see its use earlier (by Peter) in Acts 1:24; cf. also 1 Sam 16:7; 1 Kings 8:39; Psalm 7:9; Jer 11:20; 17:10.

The first half of Peter’s statement (verse 8) summarizes Acts 10:44-48 (also 11:15ff). In the second half (verse 9), Peter comments on the events described in v. 8, explaining them, much as one might expound and apply a Scripture passage (as in sermon-speech pattern). Two actions of God are mentioned, indicated by the verbs:

  • diakri/nw—this is an intensive compound form of kri/nw (“to separate, judge”, sometimes with the nuance of “make distinction, discriminate”), the idea here being that God does not make any distinction between Jew and Gentile. See the careful use of this verb in chapter 10-11 (10:20; 11:2, 12), with clever wordplay covering its various shades of meaning. Note also in this regard Peter’s reference to God in 10:34 as one who is not a “taker/receiver of faces” (proswpolh/pth$), a Semitic idiom (“to raise/lift the face”), which in a judicial context often carries the meaning of showing favoritism or partiality in rendering judgment. The message is that God shows no preference or partiality—in God’s eyes, and in Christ, Jews and Gentiles are on an equal footing (see Paul’s famous declaration in Galatians 3:28f).
  • kaqari/zw (“cleanse, make clean”)—the only other use of this verb in Acts, also occurs in chapters 10-11, from the heavenly voice in Peter’s vision (10:15; 11:9): “that which God has made clean, you must not treat as common”. The voice tells Peter that God has made/declared clean all animals (i.e. all food, related to the dietary laws), but with the deeper meaning as well that all people (Jews and Gentiles both) are clean (from a ritual standpoint), and may be cleansed (from a spiritual standpoint). There is certainly also a reference to baptism, involving the forgiveness of sin, though this is usually understood in terms of release/freedom rather than cleansing. However, the association of the Holy Spirit and baptism with water and fire—both are agents and images of purification—is longstanding in Christian tradition, going back to the early Gospel tradition (Matt 3:11 / Lk 3:16, cf. Acts 1:5; 11:16). It is interesting to note that in Acts 10-11, the Holy Spirit is manifest (baptism by the Spirit) prior to baptism with water (10:44-46; 11:15-16). The question is whether the Gentiles should be allowed to be baptized as fellow Christians (with water), 10:47; 11:17—in other words, God has already chosen to accept and baptize them (with the Spirit), now it is up to other (Jewish) Christians, whether or not to accept them. Peter, by his use of the verb kwlu/w (“cut off, prevent, hinder”) in 10:47 and 11:17, equates preventing Gentiles from being baptized (“cutting off water”) with opposing (trying to “cut off”) God.

Syntactically, the verbs in verse 9 form a parallel with the two in verse 8:

  • e)martu/rhsen, aorist active indicative, positive—”he witnessed” (to them [i.e. Gentiles])
    • dou/$ (participle)—”giving” (the holy Spirit)
  • die/krinen, aorist active indicative, negative—”he judged/separated” (nothing between [Jews and Gentiles])
    • kaqari/sa$ (participle)—”making clean” (their hearts)

Concluding Exhortation (vv. 10-11)

This also is comprised of a pair of statements—one negative (regarding the Law), one positive (regarding favor/grace):

V. 10—”Now, therefore, (for) what [i.e. why] do test God to set a yoke upon the neck of the(se) learners [i.e. disciples] which neither our Fathers nor we had strength to carry?”
V. 11—”but through the favor of the Lord Yeshua we trust to be saved, according to the (same) way as those also (do)”

There is something of a ‘Pauline’ ring to this—trust (faith) and favor (grace) juxtaposed with observance of (i.e., works of) the Law. For a statement similar to that in verse 11, see Eph 2:5, 8; cf. also Rom 3:24; 5:2, 15ff; 6:14-15; 11:6; Gal 2:21; 2 Thess 1:12; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 2:11, etc. The statement in verse 10 sounds very unusual (from a Jewish-Christian perspective); in Jewish tradition, the Law is sometimes referred to as a “yoke”, but in a positive sense (m. Abot 3:5), as part of the covenant that binds the people of Israel to God (cf. also in relation to Jesus’ teaching, Matt 11:29-30). Some critical scholars have questioned whether the historical Peter would have made such as statement as we find here (on this point, see further below at this end of this article). Paul does once refer (in a rhetorical flourish) to the the Law as a “yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1); for similar thought along these lines, see Acts 13:38-39; Gal 2:16; Rom 2:25-27.

Narrative Conclusion (v. 12)

In response to Peter’s speech, the full assembly is silent (the same result we see in 11:18). This means that the dispute effectively came to an end; whether or not this entirely resolved matters (at the historical level), there can be no doubt that, from the standpoint of the author of Acts, Peter’s message (with the declaration in verses 10-11) is to be regarded as decisive, waiting only to be confirmed by the words of James which follows. It is the speech of James (Acts 5:13-21) which will be discussed in detail in the conclusion of this article (in Part 19 of this series).

The Speeches of Acts, Part 14: Acts 10:34-43 and 11:1-18 (continued)

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The narrative setting and background (10:1-33) were discussed in part 13 of this series; here the two speeches themselves will be treated. For the first speech of Peter (10:34-43) the outline is as follows:

  • Narrative introduction (vv. 30-33)—the entirety of the narrative in Acts 10:1-33 (esp. vv. 23b-33) really should be considered here (see above), but I isolate verses 30-33 as the proper introduction to the speech itself.
  • Introductory Address (vv. 34-35)
  • [Citation from Scripture] (vv. 36-42)—instead of a Scripture citation (and exposition), we have a central kerygma (Gospel proclamation), the most complete and developed thus far in Acts.
  • Concluding Exhortation (v. 43)
  • Narrative Conclusion (vv. 44-48)

Narrative Introduction (vv. 30-33)—All of chapter 10 up to this point serves as an introduction to the speech, in particular the section narrating Peter’s visit to Cornelius (vv. 23b-33). Here I focus on verses 30-33, in which Cornelius recounts his visionary experience of vv. 1-8. Verse 33b sets the stage for the speech:

“Now therefore we are all along (here) in the sight of God to hear all the (thing)s set in order toward you under the Lord [i.e. appointed/arranged for you by the Lord]”

Introductory Address (vv. 34-35)—this consists of two theological statements:

  1. “God is not a ‘receiver of the face’ [proswpolh/pth$]” (v. 34)
  2. “In every nation, the one fearing Him and working justice/righteousness is accepted by Him” (v. 35)

The word proswpolh/pth$ (“receiver of the face”, “one who takes/receives the face”) is taken from the Old Testament (LXX)—lamba/nein pro/swpon—and based on the Hebrew/Semitic idiom <ynp acn (“lift/raise faces”), cf. Deut 10:17; 2 Chron 19:7, etc. In the ancient Near Eastern world, a greeting of respect or honor (esp. to a superior) involved prostrating oneself and/or lowering one’s face toward the ground. Lifting or raising the face is a sign that the person so greeted recognizes and accepts the one greeting. However, in a judicial context especially, the expression could have the sense of favoring one person over another, showing partiality or preference, superficial flattery, and the like. From a social-ethical standpoint, judges were expected to render verdicts and decisions without regard to a person’s status or the extent to which one sought to influence the judgment (by offering a bribe or other incentive). The noun proswpolh/yia (“receiving the face”, i.e. showing favoritism/partiality) came to be part of Hellenistic Jewish vocabulary, and is used in the New Testament (Rom 2:11; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25; James 2:1). When applied to God, it means that he is a completely fair and just judge, who does not act with regard to a person’s status, outward appearance, and so forth. The expression ‘Godfearer’ (“one fearing God”, o( fobou/meno$ to\n qeo/n) has already been used of Cornelius in verses 2 and 22 (on which see part 13), as has the description di/kaio$ (“just/righteous” [in the traditional sense], v. 22). The idea here is that Gentiles like Cornelius who are (or would be) sympathetic to the Israelite/Jewish religion, devoted to prayer, charitable giving and other acts of mercy, are accepted (dekto/$) by God, just like Jews who faithfully uphold the Covenant and observe the Torah. Verses 34-35 do not entirely equate Jews and Gentiles before God, but they do lay the groundwork for that doctrine.

Citation of Kerygma (vv. 36-42)—In place of the citation from Scripture (in the sermon-speech pattern), here we have a central kerygma (Gospel proclamation). In earlier speeches, there were kerygmatic elements and statements in and around a central Scripture citation; here the kerygma is greatly expanded and developed, bringing together the various strands found in the prior sermon-speeches. We can almost see the formation of the core Gospel narrative taking shape before our eyes. The kerygma is introduced in verse 36 (note the emphatic chain-structure):

  • The word/account [lo/go$]
    • which He sent
      • to the sons/children of Israel
        • announcing [lit. bringing the good message of] peace
          • through Jesus the Anointed (One)
            • this One is Lord of all

The accusative object “the word/account” (to\n lo/gon), which effectively serves as subject of the clause in v. 36, picks up again in verse 37, but with an odd shift in vocabulary: “you know the word/utterance [r(h=ma] (which) came to be down (through) the whole of Judea…”. This may be a sign that a kergymatic (credal) formula has been incorporated (somewhat awkwardly) into the speech (note also the use of the ‘frozen’ participle a)rca/meno$ which follows); Acts 1:1b-5 may draw upon a similar formula. I will now note briefly the key kerygmatic elements and phrases in each verse, with details found in prior speeches indicated; new/additional details are italicized.

V. 37—”beginning from [a)rca/meno$ a)po\]… the dipping/dunking [i.e. baptism]…” (1:22); the baptism by John is specifically mentioned in 1:5 (cf. also 13:24-25). For the idea of “beginning from Galilee”, see 13:31.
V. 38—”God anointed him” (4:27; cf. 2:36; 3:18); on his being anointed by/with the Holy Spirit (and power), cf. Lk 3:22; 4:1, 14; 5:17. For the association of the (Holy) Spirit and power, cf. also 1:8; 8:19; Lk 1:35; 4:14. The idea in Acts 2:22—Jesus’ doing works of power, signs and wonders—is here specified as doing good works, healing those down under the power of the devil (depicting numerous times in the Synoptic tradition). We have also the additional detail that God was with him.
V. 39—The apostles (and other early believers) are witnesses to all that happened (1:8, 22; 2:32; 3:5; 5:32; 13:31; Lk 24:48) in Jerusalem and Judea (1:8; Lk 24:47), especially to the death (2:36; 3:15; 4:10) and resurrection (in v. 40) of Jesus. The verb a)naire/w is also used of Jesus’ death in 2:23; 13:28; his death as “hanging upon a tree” occurs in 5:30.
V. 40—The demonstrative pronoun “this (one)” (ou!to$, acc. tou=ton) is used frequently referring to Jesus (2:23, 32, 36; 4:10-11; 5:31; 9:20; 10:36; cf. also 3:16; 4:17; 5:28; 7:35-38 [Moses/Jesus parallel], and similar usage in 6:13-14). Of course God’s raising of Jesus is central to the kerygma (2:24, 32; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30, etc), with the formula on the third day (or “after three days”) familiar from Synoptic tradition. The post-resurrection appearances (v. 41) are described here in unusual terminology: (God) gave him [i.e. made him] to come to be in (a manner of) shining forth [i.e. to appear clearly].
V. 41—The apostles are witnesses of the resurrection appearances (1:3, 22; 2:32; 13:31 etc); the emphasis on eating and drinking with Jesus after the resurrection is attested in Gospel tradition, and may be suggested in Acts 1:4a. Here the apostles are uniquely described as those chosen [lit. by raising the hand] before(hand) under [i.e. by] God; on witness to the resurrection appearances as a requisite qualification for apostleship, cf. 1:21-22.
V. 42—The disciples are commanded by Jesus to proclaim what they have witnessed (Lk 24:47-48); and they are to witness thoroughly/throughout (Acts 2:40; 8:25). Verse 42 concludes with a final kerygmatic statement, again using the demonstrative pronoun “this one” (ou!to$); Jesus is described as:
“the (one) marked out [i.e. appointed, w(risme/no$] under [i.e. by] God” (2:23; 17:31, cf. also Rom 1:4)
“(to be) judge of (the) living and dead” (cf. 17:31)

Concluding Exhortation (v. 43)—In many ways, this verse continues the central kerygma; note the following:

“to this one” (tou=tw|)—on this use of the demonstrative pronoun for Jesus, cf. vv. 40, 42 above.
“the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] give witness”—cf. Lk 24:25-27, 44; Acts 3:18, 21-25; 8:34; 13:27, etc.
“to receive release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins”—Lk 24:27; Acts 2:38; 5:31; 13:38.
“through his name”—Acts 4:30, and cf. 2:21, 38; 3:6, 16; 4:10, 12; 8:12, 16, etc.
“(for) every (one) trusting in him”—cf. Acts 2:44; 3:16; 4:4, 32; 5:14; 8:12-13; 9:42, etc.

The adjective pa=$ (acc. pa/nta), “all/every (one)” in context here means both Jews and Gentiles—cf. the use of pa=$ in Peter’s vision (v. 12, 14).

Narrative Conclusion (vv. 44-48)—The inclusion of Gentiles is thus emphasized in the first and last verses (vv. 34-35, 43) which bracket the speech. This theological (missionary) theme is played out dramatically in the narrative, as the Holy Spirit suddenly (“as Peter was yet speaking these words…”) falls upon all (e)pi\ pa/nta$) the ones hearing the word (v. 44). Clearly, this re-enacts the Pentecost manifestation of the Spirit (Acts 2:1-4ff), a fact which amazes the Jewish Christians who are with Peter (referred to as “the ones of circumcision [who also] trusted [in Jesus]”), v. 45-46. The central underlying conflict (see verse 28) is addressed forcefully by Peter, with a question that effectively serves as a command: “(Surely) no one is powered [i.e. able] to cut off water for these (people) not to be dipped/dunked [i.e. baptized], (these) who have received the holy Spirit as we also (have)(—are they?)” It is important to note that the “baptism by the Spirit” takes prior to any baptism with water, which expressly emphasizes the miraculous, divinely-ordained sign that the Gentiles are to be included and accepted as believers in Christ.

The Second Speech of Peter (11:1-18)

This section is unusual in that it largely repeats (in summary fashion) the narrative of chapter 10. The only other such example we find in Acts is the conversion of Paul (Saul) in Acts 9:1-19ff, which Paul re-states and describes (in considerable detail) on two other occasions in his (defense) speeches (Acts 22:4-16ff; 26:9-18). This demonstrates the central importance of the Cornelius episode for the author of Acts (and/or his underlying sources). Before briefly treating the second speech of Peter in ch. 11, it is worth re-iterating the theological and apologetic character of the narrative, which dramatically illustrates a key controversy in the early Church—that is, the acceptance and admission of Gentile believers (cf. Haenchen, p. 360):

  • Thematic strand #1—(Jewish) Christians resisting admission of the Gentiles (10:14, 28, 47; 11:2, 8, 17)
  • Thematic strand #2—Admission of Gentiles confirmed as God’s work (10:3, 11-16, 22, 30; 11:5-10, 13)

When confronted with the miraculous and divine nature of the mission to the Gentiles, Jewish believers are forced to recognize its validity (cf. the conclusion at 11:17-18, echoing 10:47).

The second speech of Peter has a different character and purpose from the first—it is not a sermon-speech, but an (apologetic) address to fellow believers. The outline is relatively simple:

  • Narrative Introduction (vv. 1-3)
  • Citation from (recent) History (vv. 4-17)
  • Narrative Conclusion (v. 18)

Narrative Introduction (vv. 1-3)—This sets the basic conflict:

  • Other Christians (“the apostles and brothers down [through] Judea”) hear that the Gentiles (“the nations”) also have “received the word of God” (v. 1).
  • When Peter arrives in Jerusalem, certain believers are said to have “judged thoroughly [diekri/nonto] toward him”, that is, they marked/separated Peter out and disputed/contended with him about the matter (v. 2). These believers are described as “the ones of/from circumcision” (cf. 10:45), which has a two-fold significance here: (a) it means, of course, that they are Jewish Christians, but also (b) it is a foreshadowing of those Jewish Christians who would require that Gentile converts be circumcised and observe the Torah (cf. 15:1, 5).
  • They are critical of Peter, saying “you went in toward men having a foreskin [i.e. uncircumcised men] and you ate with them” (v. 3). On the essential conflict involved, see 10:28 and the significance of Peter’s vision in 10:9-16 (related to the Jewish dietary regulations).

Narration of Recent Events (vv. 4-17)—Here Peter narrates the recent events of the episode with Cornelius (chapter 10); in the speech-pattern it effectively takes the place of the Gospel kerygma and citation(s) from Scripture. It also serves much the same role as the narratio in classical (deliberative) rhetoric (cf. Galatians 1:11-2:14). This recapitulation can be divided into three sections:

The Vision (vv. 5-10; cf. 10:9-16)—there is very little difference from the account in Acts 10, but note the way that the three appearances of the vision and the arrival of three messengers in vv. 10-11 are related even more directly (cp. 10:16-18).
The Message (vv. 11-14; cf. 10:17-22)—this corresponds with the visit of the men from Cornelius to Peter and the message which they bring from Cornelius.
Verse 12 is especially notable (cf. 10:20): “and the Spirit said to me to go with them, not judging one thing thoroughly”. There is a bit of wordplay involving the verb diakri/nw (also used in 11:2; 15:9)—it is an intensive compound form of kri/nw, usually rendered “judge”, but with the fundamental sense of separate. In English it corresponds with the idea of making a distinction, i.e., distinguishing, discerning, judging. It can have the secondary meanings of “giving (considerable) thought” to something, even “to question (or doubt)”; also the idea of distinguishing or separating one person from another may carry the nuance of “oppose, contend (with), dispute”. In the simple narrative context of 10:20 and 11:12, the Spirit may be telling Peter not to hesitate or doubt, but the real underlying message (via the wordplay) is not to make any distinction between people; similarly, in 11:2, the Jewish Christians are judging Peter and contending with him, but again the underlying emphasis is on judging/distinguishing between people (i.e., Jews and Gentiles, cf. 15:9).
In verse 12, then, there are two themes embedded: (a) the role of the Spirit in the mission to the Gentiles, and (b) the divine command not to make any distinction between Jew and Gentile.
The Manifestation of the Spirit (vv. 15-17; cf. 10:44-47)—this is narrated in abbreviated form, with one additional detail, the kerygmatic mention of John’s baptism in verse 16 (see 1:5, also 1:22; 13:24); thus we have both aspects of baptism re-iterated: by water and the Spirit.
The possible objection to accepting Gentile believers (10:47) is also presented here, by way of conclusion to the speech, in verse 17, with one particular difference: to cut off [kwlu=sai, i.e. prevent/hinder] water (for baptism) from the Gentiles is the same as (attempting) to cut off [kwlu=sai, prevent/hinder] God!

Narrative Conclusion (v. 18)—Upon hearing these things, those who questioned or contended with Peter were silent (see the same reaction to Peter’s speech in 15:12)—indicating that the dispute came to and end, the conflict being resolved through hearing the word/account of God—and they honored/esteemed (i.e. gave glory to) God in response. This, of course, parallels and foreshadows the events of the “Jerusalem Council” in chapter 15, as does the ultimate declaration, with tacit or basic acceptance of the Gentile converts, in verse 18b:

“Then also God has given to the nations change-of-mind [i.e. repentance] unto/into life!” (cf. 2:38; 5:31)