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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)

The Speeches of Acts, Part 13: Acts 10:34-43 and 11:1-18

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In this part of the series on the Speeches of Acts, I will be looking at the two speeches given by Peter in chapters 10 & 11. As speeches, they are quite different from each other, but they are both essential to the overall narrative in these chapters—the episode of Cornelius, which begins the early Christian mission to the Gentiles. In order to understand the context of this episode within the overall structure of Acts, I offer the following outline of 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)

These two speeches by Peter emphasize the importance and centrality of the Cornelius episode, marking the beginning of the mission to the Gentiles, and the first clear Gentile converts to Christianity. It is noteworthy that this episode appears prominently in the so-called Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 (cf. vv. 7-9, 14ff), serving to legitimize the mission of Paul and Barnabas. The main speech of Peter in chapter 10 concludes an extensive narrative, which I divide as follows:

  • The vision of Cornelius, 10:1-8
    The vision of Peter, 10:9-16
  • The visit (of Cornelius) to Peter, 10:17-23a
    The visit of Peter to Cornelius, 10:23b-33

These are two interconnected pairs, each scene serving to draw Peter and Cornelius (Jew and Gentile) closer together. Before proceeding to the speech itself, I will briefly discuss each of the narrative scenes.

Scene 1: The vision of Cornelius (10:1-8)

The personal character of Cornelius (vv. 1-2)—A Roman military commander stationed in Caesarea, Cornelius is described (in verse 2) as:

  • eu)sebh/$ (euseb¢¡s)—This word is a bit difficult to translate literally, but fundamentally it would be rendered something like “(having/showing) good/proper respect”, especially in religious matters (i.e. “pious, devout”); though originally the root verb se/bomai would have more concretely indicated “fall back (in fear/awe)”. It is generally synonymous with qeosebh/$ (theoseb¢¡s, shorthand for sebome/no$ to\n qeo\n, “showing fear/respect for God”). For the eu)seb- wordgroup elsewhere, see Acts 3:12; 10:7; 17:23; it is especially common in the later (Pastoral) writings, 1 Tim 2:2; 3;16; 4:7-8; 5:4; 6:5-6, 11; 2 Tim 3:5, 12; Tit 1:1; 2:12; 2 Pet 1:3, 6-7; 3:11; for qeoseb- see John 9:31; 1  Tim 2:10. On the similar use of se/bomai, cf. Acts 13:43, 50; 16:14; 17:4, 17; 18:7, 13; 19:27.
  • fobou/meno$ to\n qeo\n (“[one who] is in fear of God”, i.e. ‘God-fearer’)—This concrete expression is parallel to eu)sebh/$/qeosebh/$ (and the similar sebome/no$ to\n qeo\n); it also appears in Acts 13:16, 26, and generally seems to derive from the LXX (cf. Psalm 115:11 [113:19]; 118:4; 135:20). On the idea of “fearing God” in the New Testament, see Rom 3:18; 2 Cor 5:11; 7:1; Heb 11:7; 1 Pet 2:17; Rev 14:7; 19:5, etc.
  • “one doing (act)s of mercy [e)lehmosu/na$] for the people”—in such a context, the Greek word is typically understood as charitable gifts or contributions (“alms”); here “the people” specifically means the Jewish people.
  • “making request of God through all (things)”—The verb de/omai means to ask or request from someone (out of need); in a religious context, of course, it means requesting from God, but can have the more general sense of “prayer” as well as the specific sense of “petition”.
    —”prayer and almsgiving” came to be a typical expression of religious piety in Jewish tradition (cf. Tobit 12:8-9, 12, 15; Sirach 35:6; 38:11; 45:16, etc).

The vision of Cornelius (vv. 3-6)—He receives his vision at the Jewish hour for prayer (Acts 3:1); the angel specifically mentions his prayer and “gifts of mercy” (alms) which have gone up (like a sacrificial offering) as a memorial before God. For a similar angelic visitation and message, see Luke 1:13ff (and note Acts 9:10-12).

Cornelius’ response to the vision (vv. 7-8)—Cornelius’ obedience and care in responding is narrated simply (cf. Acts 9:17; 10:21; 11:12).

Scene 2: The vision of Peter (10:9-16)

Peter’s vision is something of a different character than that of Cornelius—it is a symbolic, revelatory vision, one which also takes place during a time of prayer (v. 9). It is also specifically related to food (note Peter’s hunger and the time setting for the noon-day meal), touching upon the dietary regulations in the Old Testament / Jewish Law (Lev 11:1-47; Deut 14:3-20). The revelatory character is indicated by:

  • Heaven being “opened” [a)new|gme/non] (cf. Acts 7:56; Lk 3:21)—v. 11
  • The vessel “stepping down” [katabai=non] (i.e., descending) out of heaven (cf. Mark 1:10 par; Jn 1:32-33, 51, and frequently in John)—v. 11
  • The vessel was “taken up” [a)nelh/mfqh] into heaven (cf. Acts 1:2, 11)—v. 16

Elsewhere in the Gospels, this sort of language and imagery is associated with the incarnation and theophanous manifestation of Jesus. The vision occurs three times (an echo of Peter’s three-fold denial? cf. Jn 21:15-17), each time accompanied by a (divine) voice. There is a two-fold aspect to the symbolism of the vision, marked by the adjective pa=$ (“all”):

  • “All [pa/nta] kinds of animals” (v. 12)—this indicates a removal of the clean/unclean distinction in the dietary laws; note Peter’s objection (“I have never eaten anything [pa=n] common or unclean”).
  • “All parts of the earth”—as symbolized by the vessel as a “great sheet” with four corners set down upon the earth (v. 11); this indicates the universality of the Christian mission (to the Gentiles), cf. Lk 24:47; Acts 1:8; 2:5ff; 9:15.

Note in particular the structure of Peter’s objection (following the dietary laws) and the divine response (vv. 14-15):

  • Not anything common [koino/$]
    • Not anything unclean [a)ka/qarto$]
    • God has cleansed [kaqari/zw]
  • Do not call/consider common [koino/w]

Some commentators have tried to suggest that the vision does not abolish the dietary laws, but is simply meant as an example that the Gentiles should be accepted into the Church. This is most unlikely; while the symbolism regarding acceptance of the Gentiles is certainly correct (see vv. 28b, 35, 45 and 11:1ff), the argument related to the dietary laws themselves seems abundantly clear and specific. I will deal with this question in more detail as part of my series on “The Law and the New Testament” (in the article “The Law in Luke-Acts“).

Scene 3: The visit (of Cornelius) to Peter (10:17-23a)

This visit, of course, is made by Cornelius’ representatives—two servants and a soldier (v. 7)—rather than Cornelius himself. It is interesting how the drama of the scene is heightened by verse 17a, reflecting Peter’s uncertainty regarding the vision (“as Peter was thoroughly without answer in himself [as to] what [the meaning of] the vision might be…”); this may well reflect the joining of a separate tradition (Peter’s vision) into the fabric of the narrative, but it is most effective—note how this motif repeats in verse 19 (“and [at] Peter’s being thoroughly aroused in [thought] about the vision…”). There are perhaps several other subtle echoes of the vision in this scene:

  • Another revelation, here by the Spirit—”See, three men are seeking you” (v. 19)
  • Three men, just as the vision appeared three times
  • Peter “steps down” (i.e. goes down) to meet them (vv. 20-21), just as the vision “steps down” out of heaven—in both instances the verb katabai/nw is used

There is an additional parallel to Scene 1 with the description of Cornelius in verse 22, which now also characterizes him as “just/righteous” (di/kaio$).

Scene 4: The visit of Peter to Cornelius (10:23b-33)

The narrative builds as Peter’s arrival and his reception is described in solemn fashion (vv. 24-27); the “Western” text of Acts shows many differences in these verses. Peter states the central issue (and the basic conflict) clearly in verse 28:

  • It is contrary to law/custom [i.e. unlawful, a)qe/mito$]
    • for a Jewish man
  • to join [kolla=sqai] or come toward [prose/rxesqai]
    • (one) of another fulh/ [i.e. tribe/clan/race, etc]

Peter interprets or applies his vision in terms of people—no person should be treated as common or unclean. In verses 30-33, Cornelius reprises his own vision, setting the stage for the speech of Peter to follow.

The Speech of Peter (10:34-48)

Verses 34-48 could be broken into two scenes (5 and 6): the speech of vv. 34-43 and the effect/result of the speech (the manifestation of the Spirit) in vv. 44-48; however, I will deal with both under a single heading. Here is an outline of the speech, which loosely follows the basic sermon-speech pattern I have recognized and used earlier throughout this series:

  • 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)

The two speeches of 10:34-38 and 11:1-18 will be examined in detail in the next part of this article.

 

The Speeches of Acts, Part 7: Acts 5:27-32

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Acts 5:27-32 is the sixth speech in the book of Acts (by my reckoning), and the fifth given by Peter. A careful study of the speeches in the book to this point reveals something of the way the author incorporates them into the overall structure, central to each major narrative section. For an outline of how this functions in chapters 3-4, see parts 5 and 6 of this series. In Acts 3-4 there are three main (connected) narrative sections, each of which contains a speech (following a basic sermon-speech pattern); here in chapter 5, there are two speeches set side-by-side within an extended narrative:

  • Narrative Summary (5:12-16), which follows upon the narrative in 5:1-11, and emphasizes healing miracles performed by Peter and the Apostles.
  • Main narrative (5:17-26), centered on the Apostles’ miraculous release from prison, and divided into two parts:
    (1) vv. 17-21: The arrest of the Apostles (miracle)—who are told (by the Messenger) to go and  preach in the Temple
    (2) vv. 22-26: Officials go to the prison (result/reaction)—told (by a messenger) to go to the Temple, where the Apostles are preaching
  • Speech of Peter (5:27-32) before the Sanhedrin
  • Narrative transition (5:33)
  • Speech of Gamaliel (5:34-40) to the Sanhedrin
  • Narrative Conclusion (5:41-42)

There are some significant parallels to the narrative in chs. 3-4:

  • Context of healing miracle(s)—3:1-10; 5:12, 15-16
  • The Temple setting—3:1ff; 5:20-21, 25-26
  • The Apostles (including Peter) are taken into custody by the religious/temple authorities—4:1-3; 5:17-18
  • The Apostles appear before the religious leaders (the Sanhedrin) and are interrogated—4:5ff; 5:27ff
  • Question/Address by the High Priest—4:7; 5:28
  • Response/Speech by Peter—4:8-12; 5:29-32
  • Peter’s response esp. in 4:19-20; 5:29
  • The Apostles are released (4:21; 5:40) and rejoice/worship together (4:23ff; 5:41-42)

There is clearly a narrative pattern at work here; critical scholars debate the extent to which this matches historical reality (two separate, but similar incidents) or is a literary doublet (based on a single historical incident or tradition). It has even been suggested that the Sanhedrin setting is a literary construct, patterned after Jesus’ ‘trial’ in the Passion narratives, and added for dramatic effect. This would possibly be more likely here in chapter 5, where vv. 26, 33 suggest something of a mob scene, with the ‘Sanhedrin’ setting of vv. 27ff conceivably inserted by the author (cf. the similar setting around Stephen’s speech in chapter 7). There are also literary/narrative parallels between 5:17-21 and Peter’s miraculous (Angelic) release from prison in Acts 12:6-11.

Here is an outline of Peter’s speech in Acts 5:27-32:

  • Narrative Introduction (vv. 27-28), including a question/address by the High Priest (par. to 4:8).
  • Introductory Address (v. 29)
  • {Citation from Scripture} (vv. 30-31)—instead of a direct Scripture citation, there is a central kerygmatic statement, with an allusion to Deut 21:22-23 in v. 30b.
  • Concluding Exhortation (v. 32), with the conclusion of the kerygma and an application to the current situation.
  • {Narrative Summary}—v.33 is a narrative transition to the speech of Gamaliel in vv. 34ff.

Narrative Introduction (vv. 27-28)—this is parallel to Acts 4:5-7, but told in abbreviated form. Here they are simply brought before the “Sanhedrin” (sune/drion, “sitting together”), i.e. the council of Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Again they are questioned/interrogated (e)perwta/w, the vb. punqa/nomai in 4:7) by the High Priest, who is not named (Annas and Caiaphas are listed among the Chief Priests who question the Apostles in 4:5-7). It is not clear that verse 28 is actually a question; many of the best manuscripts read:

“We gave along the message to you not to teach upon this name [i.e. of Jesus]…”

Some MSS include the negative particle ou) which would more properly make it a question: “Did we not give along the message to you…?”; however, the negative particle is probably a (scribal) addition to better fit the context of v. 27. The Greek paraggeli/a| parhggei/lamen—literally, “we gave along (as a) message a message given along”—highly redundant in English, reflects Hebrew syntax, with the duplication (using an infinitive absolute form) serving to intensify the main verb; i.e. in English, “we clearly/certainly gave you the message not to teach…!” The verb paragge/llw (parangéllœ, “give/pass along a message”) often has the meaning “pass on an order”, and so generally, “order, command, enjoin,” etc.

The High Priest’s address continues in dramatic fashion:

“…and see!—you have filled Yerushalaim (full) of your teaching, and you wish to bring upon us the blood of this man!”

The last statement is a bit harsh and troubling for those familiar with the Gospels (and sensitive to Jewish-Christian relations); it is a response to the accusation implicit in statements such as those of Peter in Acts 2:23, 36; 3:13-15; 4:10-11. We would be inclined to regard it as an exaggeration and distortion by the High Priest, however it matches words spoken by the Jewish crowd in at least one version of the Passion narrative (Matt 27:25). Christians today are extremely cautious about attributing to the “Jews” (in the ethnic-religious sense) responsibility for the death of Jesus. The situation was somewhat different in the early Church, where believers (primarily Jewish Christians) were often at odds (and in conflict) with their own countrymen (sometimes simply referred to as “the Judeans/Jews”).

Introductory Address (verse 29)—Peter (along with the [other] Apostles) respond with a declaratory statement:

“It is necessary (for us) to obey God more than [i.e. rather than] men”

The verb translated “obey” (peiqarxe/w) is somewhat difficult to render literally—it has the fundamental meaning “persuade [or be persuaded] by [i.e. submitting to] (that which is) chief [i.e. ruling]”, especially in the sense of submitting to the rule of law or government. One might render the statement as—

“It is necessary for us to submit to [or trust in] the rule of God rather than (the rule of) men”

or something similar. This declaration reiterates the words of Peter (and John) in 4:19-20:

 “If it is just in the eyes of God to hear [i.e. listen to] you more [i.e. rather] than God, you (be the) judge;
we are not able (but) to speak the (thing)s we have seen and heard”

They are responding to the directive (or threat) by the Jewish leaders in 4:17-18, which the High Priest makes reference to here in 5:27. The use of peiqarxe/w (a component of which is the verb pei/qw), introduces the theme of obedience (i.e. being persuaded by, obeying) which become prominent in vv. 32, 36-37, 39b.

Citation from Scripture (vv. 30-31)—instead of a Scripture citation, we have here a kerygmatic statement (with a Scriptural allusion, cf. below), elements of which can be found in the prior sermon-speeches of Acts:

“The God of our Fathers raised (up) Yeshua, whom you took thoroughly in hand [i.e. to kill], hanging (him) upon (a piece of) wood [i.e. tree]—this one [i.e. Jesus] God lifted high to his giving [i.e. right] hand (as) a leader and savior, to give a change of mind [i.e. repentance] to Yisrael and release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins”

o( qeo\$ tw=n pate/rwn (“the God of our Fathers”)—cf. 3:13, and (possibly) underlying the apparent corruption in 5:25a.
h&geiren  )Ihsou=n (“raised Yeshua/Jesus [from the dead]”)—cf. 3:15; 4:10; also 2:24, 32.
o^n u(mei=$ diexeiri/sasqe krema/sante$ e)pi\ cu/lou—the language is different here, but the same idea (that they took and crucified Jesus) is found in 2:23, 36; 4:10.
o( qeo\$ . . . u%ywsen th=| decia=| au)tou= (“God … lifted high to his right hand”)—cf. 2:33-34 (and note esp. 7:55-56).
a)rxh=gon kai\ swth=ra (“[as] a chief/leader and savior”)—cf. 3:15-16; 4:12; for a similar combination, see Hebrews 2:10.
dou=nai meta/noian . . . kai\ a&fesin a(martiw=n (“to give change of mind/understanding … and release of sins”)—cf. 2:38; also 3:19, 26.

Somewhat contrary to the (critical) view that the speeches of Acts are largely the product of the author (trad. Luke), such phrases and expressions almost certainly preserve pieces of early Gospel preaching and proclamation (kerygma). There are two distinctive details added here:

  1. The verb diaxeiri/zw—”handle throughout/thoroughly, take thoroughly in hand”, or “lay hands (forcefully) on”, that is, in order to “put to death, kill”; elsewhere in the New Testament it is used only in Acts 26:21.
  2. Instead of the verb stauro/w (“put to the stake”, i.e. crucify), we have the expression krema/sante$ e)pi\ cu/lou, “hanging (him) upon (a piece of) wood [i.e. tree]”. We find the same expression in Acts 10:39.

The description of crucifixion as “hanging upon a tree”, and the Greek wording in particular, are derived largely from Deuteronomy 21:22-23 (LXX). The original context is the regulation that a criminal hung to death on a tree not be left there overnight—otherwise the dead body of such a person (“cursed by God”) would defile the land. By the time of the New Testament, however, the expression came to be a euphemism for crucifixion—cf. the Qumran texts 4QpNah i 6-8 (alluding to those crucified by Alexander Jannaeus, cf. Jos. Ant. 13.379-80, War 1.93-98) and 11QTemple 64.7-12. Paul famously applies the same Old Testament reference to Jesus in Galatians 3:13.

Concluding Exhortation (v. 32)—properly the declaration in this verse serves to conclude the kerygma of vv. 30-31 and apply it to the current situation:

“And we are witnesses of these things (I have) uttered, and (also) the holy Spirit which God has given to the (ones) obeying him”

The theme of the Apostles as witnesses (esp. to Jesus’ resurrection) is an important one in Acts (cf. already in 1:8, 22; 2:32; 3:15), as is God’s sending/giving the Spirit (Acts 1:5, 8; 2:17-28, 33, 38; 4:31, and of course the Pentecost narrative of 2:1-4ff). An exhortation is embedded in the last words of the verse (“to the ones obeying him”)—the verb translated “obey(ing)” is the same used in verse 29 (peiqarxe/w, see above).

Narrative Summary (v. 33)—as indicated above, this verse serves as a narrative transition between the speeches of Peter and Gamaliel:

“And (at this) the (one)s hearing were cut [lit. sawn] through and wished to take them up [i.e. do away with them, kill them]”

The same verb diapri/w (“saw/cut through”) is used in Acts 7:54 for a similar reaction to Stephen’s speech; only we find a dramatic progression—here the crowd (i.e. the Jewish leaders) wants to kill Peter and the apostles but are kept from doing so, there they carry through and execute Stephen (7:58). Critical scholars have noted that both episodes seem to better fit a (public) mob scene than a private Sanhedrin session, leading to the theory that the setting of the Sanhedrin is a literary construct by the author (drawing upon the ‘trial’ of Jesus in the Gospels) added to heighten the dramatic effect. The argument is, I think, perhaps stronger in the case of Stephen’s speech, which I will be discussing in turn.

The Speeches of Acts, Part 6: Acts 4:23-31

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This is the fifth speech in the book of Acts, and the first not directly by Peter. In part 5 of this series, I presented an outline of chapters 3 and 4, dividing the overall arc into three distinct narrative sections, each of which contains a speech. Acts 4:23-31 belongs to the third (final) section:

  • Introductory/Core Narrative—the healing Miracle (3:1-10)
  • First speech by Peter (3:12-26), with narrative introduction in v. 11 joining to v. 1-10
  • Narrative Summary (4:1-4)
  • Second Narrative (introduction)—Peter and John brought before the Sanhedrin (4:5-7)
  • Second speech by Peter (4:8-12)
  • Narrative Conclusion/Summary (4:13-22)
  • Third Narrative (introduction)—Disciples gather together (4:23)
  • Speech (Prayer) by the Disciples, addressed to God (4:24-30)
  • Narrative Summary (4:31)

Actually, 4:23-31 is properly not a speech, but a prayer to God; however, it very much follows the same sermon-speech pattern which I have outlined and utilized in previous studies:

  • Narrative Introduction (v. 23)
  • Introductory Address, with kerygmatic detail (v. 24)
  • Citation from Scripture (vv. 25-26)
  • Exposition and Application (vv. 27-28)
  • Concluding Exhortation (vv. 29-30)
  • Narrative Summary (v. 31)

Narrative Introduction (verse 23)—this introduction also joins with the narrative in vv. 13-22, emphasizing succinctly several points which are key motifs in the book of Acts:

  • the disciples are loosed [i.e. set free] from (custody)—the opening participle a)poluqe/nte$
  • they go (return) to “th(eir) own (people)” [tou\$ i)di/ou$]—i.e. their fellow believers, gathered together (implied)
  • they give forth the message (a)ph/ggeilan) regarding what was said and done to them—part of the overall message/proclamation of the apostles

Introductory Address (verse 24)—this follows the same narrative pattern used in v. 23:

  • “and being loosed from (custody), they went…and announced….” (v. 23)
  • “and (the ones) hearing,… they lifted up voice…” (v. 24)

Here we also find the keyword o(muqumado/n (homothumadón), “of one impulse” (or, “of one mind, of one accord”), used numerous times throughout the early chapters of Acts (1:14; 2:46; 5:12; 8:6); to express Christian unity and solidarity.

Since vv. 23-31 represents a prayer (and not an ordinary speech), the address is not to a surrounding crowd, but to God. Parallels to this prayer in Isaiah 37:16-20; 2 Kings 19:15-19 (Hezekiah’s prayer) have been noted, and the author (or an underlying tradition) may have used the OT passage as a pattern; note also similarities of language in Psalm 146:6; Neh 9:6. The title despo/th$ (despót¢s), “master, ruler”, used in addressing God, is somewhat rare in the New Testament, though by no means uncommon (Lk 2:29; 1 Tim 6:1-2; 1 Pet 2:18, etc). For the use of this conventional, ritualistic language for God as Creator elsewhere in early Christian preaching, see esp. Acts 14:15.

Citation from Scripture (verses 25-26)—this is from Psalm 2 (vv. 1-2), one of the most popular and often-cited “messianic” Psalms in the early Church, verse 7 being especially applied to Jesus (in Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5, and Luke 3:22b [v.l.]). But verses 1-2 also seem early on to have been related to Jesus’ suffering and death, in much the same way that they are interpreted here in Acts 4:25b-26. Cf. on the Exposition below.

The text of Psalm 2:1-2 here matches that of the Greek LXX precisely. However, nearly all scholars and textual critics are in agreement that the sentence which introduces the Scripture (in v. 25a), at least as reflected in the ‘earliest and best’ manuscripts (Ë74 a A B E 33 al), is syntactically garbled, preserving a primitive corruption. This is not so obvious in standard English translations (which attempt to smooth over the text), but is readily apparent in Greek. A literal rendering of the text as it stands (such as in the NA27 critical edition) is nearly impossible:

“the (one who) of our Father through the holy Spirit (of[?] the) mouth of David your child, said…”

The Majority text (primarily much later MSS) reads simply “the (one who) said through the mouth of David your child…” But this is generally regarded as a natural simplification and clarification; for, if it were original, how could the apparent mess in early, otherwise reliable MSS such B et al ever have been introduced? There are a number of suggestions to explain the older text, such as mistranslation from an Aramaic original. An interesting theory holds that Acts was left in an unfinished state, and v. 25a had different drafts of the sentence which accidentally were combined; indeed, there do appear to be three distinct phrases jumbled together: (a) “through our father (David)…”, (b) “through the holy Spirit…”, (c) “through David your child/servant…”. I am somewhat inclined to think that tou= patro\$ h(mw=n was originally a reference to God as “the one (who is) of our Fathers [pl.] (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob)”, as in Acts 3:13, but was subsequently misread as referring to David. The remaining confusion then has to do with the position (and place) of pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou (“[of] the holy Spirit”), either as a mistaken insertion, or as part of a complicated syntax which scribes found difficult to follow. Perhaps the original text (at least the basic sense of it) would have been something like:

“the (God) of our Fathers, (who) by the holy Spirit, through the mouth of David your child/servant, said…”

For more on detail on the text of v. 25a, see the UBS/Metzger Textual Commentary of the Greek New Testament (2d edition), pp. 279-281.

Exposition and Application (verse 27-28)

The key verb from Ps 2:1-2 (suna/gw, “lead/bring together”) is given in emphatic position in verse 27: “For upon truth [i.e. truly] they were brought together [sunh/xqhsan]…”, using the same form of the verb as in the Psalm (cf. also a similar use earlier in 4:5). The expression e)p’ a)lhqei/a$ (“upon truth, truly”) is common in the LXX and is used elsewhere in Luke-Acts (Lk 4:25; 20:21; 22:59; Acts 10:34); here it emphasizes the fulfillment of the Psalm (understood as prophecy). The specific application continues with the next phrase—”in this city, upon your holy child Yeshua whom you anointed…” The use of “child/servant” (pai=$) and the image of Jesus specifically as “Anointed” (xristo/$, here the verb xri/w [cf. Lk 4:18; Acts 10:38]) echo kerygmatic statements in the earlier sermon-speeches (in Acts 3:13, etc). Also expressed previously (cf. Acts 2:23), is the idea that the suffering and death of Jesus took place according to the sovereign will, foreknowledge and (predetermined) plan of God (v. 28). There seems to be a precise fulfillment for each of the four groups mentioned in Ps 2:1-2:

  1. The Nations [i.e. Gentiles/non-Jews] (e&qnh)—in v. 27 the e&qnh are principally the Romans (i.e. Roman government).
  2. The Peoples [laoi/], originally synonymous with e&qnh, but in v. 27 clarified as the “peoples [pl.] of Israel” (i.e. the Jewish people collectively, or generally).
  3. The Kings [oi( basilei=$]—here, king Herod (cf. Lk 23:6-12, otherwise Herod does not appear in the Passion accounts).
  4. The Chiefs/Rulers [oi( a&rxonte$]—i.e. the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who plays a key role in the Passion narrative and early kerygma.

Originally, Psalm 2 was a royal psalm presumably set in the context of the inauguration/coronation/enthronement of the (new) king. The accession of a new king (often a child or young man) was typically an occasion when vassals and ambitious nobles might take the opportunity to rebel and carve out power or territory for themselves. This is the situation generally described in vv. 1-3; God’s response, with a promise to stand by the king and secure his rule, follows in vv. 4ff. The king was anointed (v. 2) and, symbolically, was also God’s son (v. 7)—two titles and expressions which, of course, caused this Psalm to be applied to Jesus from the earliest time.

Concluding Exhortation (verses 29-30)

As this speech is a prayer, the exhortation primarily takes the form of a request/petition to God: “And now [kai\ ta\ nu=n], Lord, look upon [e)pi/de]…” For the expression  kai\ ta\ nu=n, cf. 2 Kings 19:19 [LXX] and in Acts 5:38; 17:30; 20:32; 27:22; or a similar contextual parallel to the imperative e)pi/de, cf. Isa 37:17 [LXX]. There are two parts to the request:

  1. look upon [e)pi/de] their [i.e. the religious leaders’] threatening (words and action)s
  2. give [do/$] to believers [God’s slaves/servants] so that they are able, with all parrhsi/a
    to speak [lalei=n] God’s word (i.e. God speaking through the believers)
    to stretch out [e)ktei/en] God’s hand, in order to bring about healing and for there to be “signs and wonders”

They clearly ask to be made instruments of God’s own work and power, with the emphasis that miracles come to be done “through the name” [dia\ tou= o)no/mato$] of Jesus (cf. Acts 2:21, 38; 3:6, 16; 4:7, 10, 12, 17-18). Note also the references again to Jesus as “holy” [a%gio$] and “child/servant” [pai=$], titles characteristic of early Gospel preaching in Acts.

Two other expressions are worthy of special notice:

  • the term parrhsi/a, “speaking out (with) all (freedom/boldness)”, i.e. “out-spokenness”—a key word in Acts (cf. 2:29; 4:13, 31, and again in the concluding verse 28:31); it implies speaking openly, in public.
  • “speak the word (of God)” [lalei=n to\n lo/gon]—a common theme and expression in the book, cf. Acts 4:29, 31; 8:25; 11:19f; 13:46; 14:1, 25; 16:6, 31; and similarly (with variation) in several dozen other verses. Lo/go$, typically translated “word” is perhaps better rendered “account”, as this emphasizes the descriptive and narrative element central to early Gospel preaching and proclamation.

Both of these details appear together again at the end of verse 31 (below).

Narrative Summary (verse 31)

“And (on) making their need (known) [i.e. making their request], the place in which they were brought together was shaken, and they all were filled (full) of the holy Spirit and spoke the word/account [e)la/loun to\n lo/gon] of God with all (freedom/boldness) of speech [parrhsi/a$].”

This verse echoes the earlier manifestation of the Spirit in the Pentecost narrative (Acts 2:1-4); the common elements are:

  • The disciples are all together (in one place) [2:1, the expression e)pi\ to\ au)to/]
  • The manifestation of the Spirit is accompanied by theophanous elements—in 2:2 there is the sound of a mighty wind and appearance of fire; in 4:31 there is shaking (saleu/w), as of an earthquake.
  • The disciples are all filled with the holy Spirit (2:4)

Shaking (or an earthquake) is a common feature of God’s manifestation (theophany) to human beings—cf. Exodus 19:18; 1 Kings 19:11; Isa 6:4; also Josephus Ant. 7.76-77. This sort of divine appearance in response to prayer may not have a precise parallel in the Old Testament, but it is certainly common enough to ancient religious thought (and experience)—for examples from the Greco-Roman world, cf. Ovid Metamorphoses 15.669-72, Virgil Aeneid 3.88-91 [for these and several other references above, I am indebted to E. Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles (Westminster Press: 1971), pp. 226-229].